Roberto Innocenti is a fairly new discovery of mine, and I am glad to know more of his works, many thanks to our public libraries who have a few of his titles. Rose Blanche is among his powerful picture books that deals with the gritty theme of the Holocaust and the war – but from a child’s perspective.
Child’s Joy and Wonderment. One of the reasons why I was moved deeply by this book is the way that Rose Blanche’s voice seems achingly real and innocent and joyful. Her unsullied, red-ribboned-carefree nature is such that you wish you can just create a safe world filled with kind-hearted people and well-intentioned beings just for her. I was struck by how she viewed the coming of the soldiers as a cause for festivity – a proud moment that warrants the waving of the red Nazi flag.
The narrative is made rich by the sounds and smells as distinctly recalled by Rose Blanche:
They drive tanks that make sparks on the cobblestones. They are so noisy and smell like diesel oil. They hurt my ears and I have to hold my nose when they pass by.
She does not know where the tanks and the trucks go – except that they are fun to watch with soldiers who wink at the young German kids when they pass by.
Rose Blanche’s Sense of Justice and Compassion. Our wide-eyed protagonist, however, feels a sense of foreboding when she saw a little boy who tried to escape from the truck being grabbed and led back to the soldiers by the fierce-looking Mayor. Naturally, Rose Blanche was curious and she wanted to see where the truck is bringing the young boy.
It was beyond that clearing in the forest that Rose Blanche discovered truths that her young mind is incapable of comprehending. All she knows is that there were children just like her beyond those barbed wires: starving, gaunt, and cold – with helpless, pleading eyes that are old beyond their years. It is clear to Rose Blanche what she must do: it was matter-of-fact, her humanity apparent in the risks she took to do what little she could to alleviate the pain of another human being.
Rose Blanche is a heartbreaking reminder of the real costs of war – and the fact that nothing is worth the gaping black chasm that takes the place of youth, and friendship, and the lovely act of becoming. In war, there is nothing but abrupt ends, cut-off laughter, and discarded dreams. I invite you to open this book and celebrate the sweet song of spring – and perhaps, in time, we can indeed, create a world that is worthy of the beautiful children we have brought into this world. Collectively, we can strive to be the heroes and peacekeepers that our children have always thought we are.
Teacher Resources and Links. This lesson plan is created by Arlene Logan and Laura Krenk from Alice Buffet Magnet Middle School. They have included lesson objectives, learning advice, and possible assessment activities that can be used in the classroom as well as other links and resources that teachers can make use of. The Historical Association, T.E.A.C.H. Online has this amazing online resource about Rose Blanche that contains discussion points and downloadable .doc and .ppt files that teachers can use inside the classroom.
Rose Blanche by Christophe Gallaz and Roberto Innocenti. Published by Creative Paperbacks, Minnesota, USA, 1985. Book borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.
Winner of the Batchelder Award, 1996. AWB Reading Challenge Update: 79 (35)
Picture Book Challenge Update: 85 of 120