Letters From Rifka

My fifth book for the Young Readers Challenge is “Letters from Rifka” by Karen Hesse. It received the National Jewish Book Award and was published in the US in 1991 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

It is a true story of the author’s family’s immigration to the US from Russia during World War I. Even though there were some changes by the author it is the story of her Aunt Lucy.

The story details the family’s life in Russia, their dangerous flee from their home and the perils along the way that separated the main character, Rifka, from her family for over a year. While that sounds quite dire for a twelve year old, she did have some good adventures and new experiences along the way — like learning about bananas.

The story showed amazing maturity and insight for a 12 year old girl, a good example for girls that age who would be reading this book. It also showed how children in other places don’t necessarily have the same things that we have — like bananas. It gives the reader a glimpse into the life of people from other countries and in another time. In spite of the dire circumstances of the times, the book was not depressing. Even though it dealt with death, loss, and change, the main character is positive and tries to make the best of her situation.

I would recommend this for a reader at the upper end of the age range of our challenge. It does take a bit of maturity to read it and I think a younger reader simply wouldn’t have an interest in it. This could coincide nicely as a supplement for a history class.

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