Oskar and the Eight Blessings, by Ricahrd Simon & Tanya Simon/Illustrated by Mark Siegel, (Sept. 2015, Roaring Brook Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596439498
Recommended for readers 4-8
Oskar is a young, Jewish refugee arriving in New York to stay with his aunt after the horror of Kristallnacht. He arrives in New York on the seventh day of Hanukkah in 1938, which also falls on Christmas Eve. He has no money, and faces a long walk from Battery Park to his Aunt Esther’s apartment on West 103rd Street. As he walks the length of Manhattan, he keeps his father’s words in mind: “…even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.” And sure enough, he encounters blessings, in the forms of people whose paths he crosses, that provide him with small moments of kindness, from a woman who gives him bread to newsstand man who gives him a copy of a Superman comic. Two legendary figures pop up to show kindness toward Oskar, whistling a tune with him and giving him a wink. Each act of kindness sustains Oskar on his journey, which ends in his aunt’s arms.
This is a gorgeous book. It’s about the power of empathy, and how the seemingly smallest kindnesses can make the greatest differences. It’s about the resilience of the human spirit and the strength of children. The book begins with a gut punch, and ends with a crescendo; you can’t be unaffected by Oskar’s story. The artwork relies on close-ups of faces, particularly eyes, to convey emotion, and it’s through Oskar’s eyes that we see the fear of being in a strange, new place; wonder and joy at the connections he makes, and finally, the comfort of home. I need my own copy of this book.
Oskar and the Eight Blessings received the National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature and was chosen for both the Booklist Editors’ Choice and Kansas State Reading Circle. The book received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.