Saturday, May 5, 2012

Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti

At the end of every year for the last 25 years I have read Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti to my Grade Six students. I read this book because it contains an important story of courage and a view of war from the perspective of a child. Roberto Innocenti was a young child during World War II. He asked his father questions but received no answers. He knew something terrible was happening. This was the inspiration to write the story of Rose. She is a young German girl who observes changes in her community and instinctively knows some things need to remain a secret.

One day Rose sees a lorry break down in the street. A young boy jumps out but he is chased and roughly shoved back inside the lorry. Just as the door closes Rose sees other faces inside. She follows the lorry and discovers a place of unspeakable horror. “Dozens of silent, motionless children stared out at her from behind a barbed wire fence. They hardly seemed to breathe. .. One of them called for food and the others took up the cry. Food, food, please be our friend. Please give us something to eat, little girl."

Rose embarks on a dangerous mission to help these children. Each evening she walks to the fence and carefully hands over small amounts of food all the while being careful to avoid the electrified barbed wire.

The ending of this book is gently understated. In fact the first time I read this book I had to go back and re-read the last 4 pages so I could make sense of what happened to Rose. There are always one or two students who also need to go back a few pages.

Years ago I discovered a copy of Rose Blanche in a bookshop. I bought it for myself. I had copies in all my school libraries but when I sat down to look at my new copy I discovered it had a completely different text from the one I had been reading for years. This week I read a fairly negative review of the US edition of Rose Blanche. I must say the UK edition is a much better one and it is interesting to show children how translators interpret things working, in this case, from the same Italian text. Here is an example taken from the opening lines :

US edition “My name is Rose Blanche. I live in a small town in Germany with narrow streets, old fountains and tall houses with pigeons on the roofs. One day the first truck arrived and many men left. They were dressed as soldiers. Winter was beginning

UK edition “When wars begin people often cheer. The sadness comes later. The men from the town when off to fight for Germany. Rose Blanche and her mother joined the crowds and waved them goodbye. A marching band player, everyone cheered, and the fat mayor made a boring speech. There were jokes and songs and old men shouted advice to the young soldiers. Rose Blanche was shivering with excitement. But her mother said it was cold. Winter was coming.”

Seasons, as you can see, are also used as a story device. Of course the war was much longer than one year but Innocenti has this war starting in the Winter and ending in the Spring – a time of hope and renewal.

Look closely at the cover of this book. It is just so amazing. You can see Rose looking out through a window. In the glass window panes you can see the view outside – the scene that Rose can see. Then look again at her face and you can gauge her reaction to the tanks and wounded soldiers being driven down her street. The cover also gives you a hint of the richness of the illustrations all through this amazing book.

When I read Rose Blanche I also include Let the Celebrations begin by Margaret Wild, The Children we remember by Chana Byers Abells and the picture book edition of Anne Frank by Josephine Poole.

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