No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War
The beloved Caldecott Honor artist now recounts a tale of vastly different kind—her own achingly potent memoir of a childhood of flight, imprisonment, and uncommon bravery in Nazi-occupied Poland. Anita Lobel was barely five when the war began and sixteen by the time she came to America from Sweden, where she had been sent to recover at the end of the war. This haunting book, illustrated with the author’s archival photographs, is the remarkable account of her life during those years. Poised, forthright, and always ready to embrace life, Anita Lobel is the main character in the most personal story she will ever tell.
Nominated for a 1998 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War is Anita Lobel’s gripping memoir of surviving the Holocaust. A Caldecott-winning illustrator of such delightful picture books as On Market Street, it is difficult to believe Lobel endured the horrific childhood she did. From age 5 to age 10, Lobel spent what are supposed to be carefree years hiding from the Nazis, protecting her younger brother, being captured and marched from camp to camp, and surviving completely dehumanizing conditions. A terrifying story by any measure, Lobel’s memoir is all the more haunting as told from the first-person, child’s-eye view. Her girlhood voice tells it like it is, without irony or even complete understanding, but with matter-of-fact honesty and astonishing attention to detail. She carves vivid, enduring images into readers’ minds. On hiding in the attic of the ghetto: “We were always told to be very quiet. The whispers of the trapped grown-ups sounded like the noise of insects rubbing their legs together.” On being discovered while hiding in a convent: “They lined us up facing the wall. I looked at the dark red bricks in front of me and waited for the shots. When the shouting continued and the shots didn’t come, I noticed my breath hanging in thin puffs in the air.” On trying not to draw the attention of the Nazis: “I wanted to shrink away. To fold into a small invisible thing that had no detectable smell. No breath. No flesh. No sound.”
It is a miracle that Lobel and her brother survived on their own in this world that any adult would find unbearable. Indeed, and appropriately, there are no pretty pictures here, and adults choosing to share this story with younger readers should make themselves readily available for explanations and comforting words. (The camps are full of excrement and death, all faithfully recorded in direct, unsparing language.) But this is a story that must be told, from the shocking beginning when a young girl watches the Nazis march into Krakow, to the final words of Lobel’s epilogue: “My life has been good. I want more.” (Ages 10 to 16) —Brangien Davis