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Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Rose Blanche

Rose Blanche
Text by  Ian McEwan  (based on a story by Christophe Gallaz)
Illustrator:Roberto Innocenti
Publisher: First published by Jonathan Cape, 1985, edition featured Red Fox Books (Random House) 2004

Goodness me, this packs a mighty punch. I read this for the first time tonight, borrowed from our local library. I normally find books that I can read aloud to a few of my children at once, but I read this tonight with just Alf (age 7). It was a tender read. He asked lots of questions about this book, a book which depicts a German child's experience of World War II. It really was hard not to well up when he said, 'Rose Blanche looks the same age as me is she?' In bringing the horrors of the Holocaust to such a young audience, the author and illustrator have been very brave here, and have as such, offered a remarkable and valuable piece of Holocaust education.    

The sepia grain of Roberto Innocenti's illustrations are haunting, and his work in this book resonates that of political mural artists, such as Diego Rivera, with emotions etched on the faces of the victors and the victims alike. With shallow eyes and the shadow on faces of those exhausted, desperate and afraid, my son really studied the page as we read. Alf responded to the realism in the illustrations particularly, associating Rose Blanche with a girl in his class at school. Both age and appearance of the protagonist allowed my seven year old to relate to the story, making this book very significant in terms of its contribution to the wider body of Holocaust literature, again being aimed at and indeed about, such young children. 

The heart wrenching subject matter of the Holocaust is introduced sensitively, through the eyes of the bystander child Rose Blanche.  The book is written from an observational perspective, in third person narration, but more so, in that the central character, Rose, is managing to carry on with her life relatively untouched by what is happening around her, until she witnesses children in her town being mysteriously taken away against their will. 'Innocence' and especially the innocence of children, is a prevalent theme here, and contrasts nicely against the fat, vulgar, cowardly mayor character. As the story unfolds, Rose's curiosity, sympathy and compassion, lead her to follow the lorry that 'pale faces in the gloom' are packed in to.The child victims in the concentration camp are at first, poignantly portrayed in long shot, as 'motionless' as their description. Their faces are obscured by the wire, which led Alf to ask questions about why these children were inside, and Rose was on the outside, then why the children were not fed, and why Rose brought them food. Alf was also able to pick up on a lot of the danger and fear faced by the children in the camp and Rose herself, as Ian McEwan uses a subtle, age appropriate signifies, such as 'winter', 'chilly', 'silent', 'sad', 'hungry' keeping the language of the book comprehensible to young children (6 and upwards I would suggest). 

The conclusion of the book is incredibly sad, with Rose Blanche being shot as she makes her way to feed the children in the camp, her friends. Symbolism of hope rather than death is offered at the end of the book, with spring emerging from the battlefield wastelands; 'spring has triumphed' closes the story.  
This book makes such a compelling and important contribution to foundation years children's literature. It's a hard hitting read, raising lots of questions, on a subject that, as Alf and I agreed tonight, must always be remembered. 

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