Museum Fellowship Book Reviews

 
 

book cover used with permission of publisherRose Blanche
Roberto Innocenti
New York: Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, 1985

Reviewed by:
Brian Wray

Linkhorne Middle School
Lynchburg, Virginia

 
 

Roberto Innocenti's picture book Rose Blanche views the grim impact of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust through the eyes of a young German girl who is a witness of the tumultuous events happening in her town. Rose discovers a concentration camp near her home and takes food on a daily basis to the children imprisoned there until, near the end of the war, she is killed in the crossfire of war-weary troops. The beautifully graphic illustrations are outstanding and give the reader a realistic view of the devastating effects of the war on the innocent, as compared to the simple prose with which the book is written from the perspective of the little girl, Rose Blanche. The heartbreaking prose and vivid pictures provide a useful contrast to stimulate discussion about life in Nazi Germany and the way children perceive incomprehensible events.

To teach the impact of the Nazi regime on the children of Europe, Roberto Innocenti's Rose Blanche is a powerful instructional resource. Although seemingly written as a children's picture book, and recommended for grades five through nine, it is entirely appropriate for older adolescents as well as adults. Educators may at first be skeptical as to the book's potential use in the secondary setting for teaching such a complex and horrific topic. Actually, Innocenti has brilliantly used this medium to address an older audience than the book's appearance would suggest. Innocenti did not wish to simplify the Holocaust, but rather he wanted the reader to be taken back to the memories of his childhood and his first experiences with literature. Once the reader has returned to this state of mind, the saga of Rose Blanche has a more poignant effect. 

Critics of illustrated war narratives, which introduce and interpret difficult issues to a juvenile audience, argue that this format has difficulty tackling the complicated sequence of events. Additionally, they contend that in choosing an illustrated format, the authors are not able to fully develop their characters and their experiences and must compress historical conditions. They feel that older readers will crave a fuller representation and younger readers will need considerable interpretation. In five years of utilizing Rose Blanche I have not found this to be the case. Certainly, thorough preparation of the targeted audience is an instructional necessity. 

Every aspect of this haunting story from its 'picture book" format to its dedication, from its illustrations to naive prose, is a valuable teaching tool. There are numerous ways these elements of Rose Blanche might be used in a lesson. Throughout the book, graffiti spray-painted on the walls of the town's buildings accurately traces the public's sentiment as the war progresses. Roberto Innocenti's effective use of color symbolism is helpful for soliciting discussion. For example, Innocenti uses Rose's red hair ribbon and the red swastika as the contrasting signs of innocence and hatred. Clearly, the illustrations' potential use for instructional purposes are innumerable. 

Other elements are helpful for addressing the affective domain. A character study of Rose can serve as a lead-in for a discussion of how people, in this case a child, instinctually put themselves at risk to help others. The close proximity of the town to the concentration camp shows the complicity of the town's citizens in the Holocaust. Even the book's dedication is a useful tool. Innocenti cleverly dedicated the book to the resistance group the White Rose which consisted of several medical students who spread anti-Nazi leaflets. The author derived the name Rose Blanche from the name White Rose, reversed and in French. Innocenti explains his admiration of this group stating "They had understood what others wanted to ignore .... They were killed." Once again Rose Blanche provides a teachable moment. A teacher might ask "Is this statement true of Rose?"

I have found a most useful aspect of this book to be its impact on the affective domain. It is interesting to note that when introducing this picture book to students you can actually see the simple joy in their eyes of returning to a time when their teachers first read to them. To ensure that this takes place, my co-teacher and I use a rocking chair and have the students sit around on the floor as we share the book with them. As a springboard to a lesson on children during the Holocaust, Rose Blanche sets an appropriate tone for the lesson. Simply put, it touches their hearts. I have seen some of the most hardened students awkwardly rub their eyes when they find out the fate of little Rose.

Innocenti has masterfully taken the complex events occurring during World War II and put them into the words of a six-year old child’s innocent understanding which results in the reader having a greater understanding of the tremendous loss of innocence and innocents during the Holocaust. With its unique perspective of a young gir, as well as the provocative message, Rose Blanche serves as an excellent tool for teaching both middle and high school students about the Holocaust.


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