March 23, 2018

Fania's Heart

Written by Anne Renaud
Illustrated by Richard Rudnicki
Second Story Press
978-1-77260-057-5
32 pp.
Ages 7-10
March 2018

When a little girl finds an old heart-shaped book wrapped in a lace handkerchief hidden in her mother's dresser, she could not have imagined the horrors her mother would share and the joy and courage that decades old keepsake memorialized.

Words have power.
There are words that injure and words that heal.
Then there are words that can save your life. 
From Fania's Heart by Anne Renaud, illus. by Richard Rudnicki

When a young Sorale discovers that small fabric-covered booklet of heart-shaped pages that open like wings, her mother finally tells the child the truth about the number tattooed on her arm and the origins of the keepsake.  Her mother, Fania Landau Fainer, reveals that she was a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp and that the heart was a birthday gift constructed by the young women who were like sisters to her.  Fania tells Sorale of the horrific life in the camp, including the near starvation, the grim living conditions, the forced labour and the mistreatment.  And she tells her what happened for her 20th birthday.
"...I told my friends I would soon be an old lady, since my twentieth birthday was fast approaching." 
"But twenty is not old," I said.
"Twenty can be a lifetime.  We were all so worn and rope-thin.  People did not live to be old in that place," said my mother.
From Fania's Heart by Anne Renaud, illus. by Richard Rudnicki
In a small cake of scraps of bread rations, Fania's friends hide the special heart-shaped booklet in which they wrote messages of encouragement and wishes for freedom outside of the camp.
"Their words saved me."
Fania's Heart is a true story.  It is Sorale's story of learning at about age 9 (in 1955) about her mother's incarceration at Auschwitz and an act of defiance and love that gave Fania the courage and determination to survive.  That solitary memento is now an exhibit at the Musée Holocauste Montréal (Montreal Holocaust Museum) which will host the book launch for Fania's Heart this weekend.  Not since Second Story Press's publication of Hana's Suitcase (named the Ultimate Silver Birch Book in 2014) will a story of a historical artifact of the Holocaust touch readers with such sadness and humanity.  Author Anne Renaud who effortlessly weaves stories based on history (including the recently reviewed Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament) reveals so much about a mother's relationship with her child and her past, as well as about her own courage and fortitude that Fania's Heart could be envisioned as an illustrated documentary, not just a piece of creative non-fiction to inform and enlighten. Like the little heart that represents so much more than the few words inscribed on pages created out of sacrifice and secrecy, Fania's Heart is a token of appreciation, realistically but emotionally illustrated by Richard Rudnicki, from a time of war atrocities and a time of familial safety.
From Fania's Heart by Anne Renaud, illus. by Richard Rudnicki

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