I don’t often review children’s books on this blog, but then again, there are few that use New York City history in such a spellbinding way as Oskar and the Eight Blessings, a winter’s taleÂ spun from nostalgia.
Oskar, a waif with wide eyes and curly hair, is sent toÂ New York by his parents under troubling circumstances. They are JewsÂ in Nazi-controlled Europe and have sent their son away to an aunt who lives in upper Manhattan.
Nobody knows he’s arrived in New York. It’s duringÂ a snowstorm (albeit of the very bestÂ kind). He has to get to his aunt’s house before sundown. Oskar just needs to walk 100 blocks by himself through a completely foreign and bewildering city.
His journey is the basis of an extraordinary story about generosity and kindness that, believe it or not, can stillÂ exist in New Â York, can still exist, maybe, in humanity. Authors Richard Simon and Tanya Simon aren’t setting Oskar out on a random landscape, but one uniquely tied to a specific time — the seventh day of Hanukkah 1938, which also happens to be Christmas Eve.
Through a gauze of magic realism, theÂ New York Oskar experiences is a real New York.Â Oskar visits Trinity Church, Central Park, Carnegie Hall, the Dakota Apartments and other places, running intoÂ a host of New Yorkers (including a couple famous ones) who teach him a little something about being a decent human being.
I was brought to this book because of my interest in the work of illustrator Mark Siegel who I’ve been a fan of since Sailor Twain, his terrific graphic novel about Hudson River steamships and enchanted mermaids. His work here wonderfully captures New York as a sort of wistful historicÂ mirage, a child’s distorted gaze over a city, enchanting and endless. Â His illustrationsÂ seem to generate warmth as the story progresses towards its poignantÂ and beautiful ending.
Oskar and the Eight Blessings
Richard Simon and Tanya Simon
Illustrated by Mark Siegel
Roaring Brook Press