The Lady with the Books: A Story Inspired by the Remarkable Work of Jella Lepman

Kids Can Pr. Oct. 2020. 32p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781525301544.
Gr 2-4–Anneliese and her little brother Peter are hungry the day they wander a war-torn city and happen upon a hall filled with children’s books. The books are in many different languages and can’t be borrowed, but the siblings are eager to return the next day. The lady in charge shares The Story of Ferdinand and recommends Pippi Longstocking, stories that charm both children. That night Anneliese resolves to work to bring the city’s damaged library back to life. The reader is dropped right into the aftermath of war with its destruction and scarcity of food, and learns in passing that the children’s father was shot for “standing up to men whose orders he didn’t want to follow.” The power of children’s books to lift spirits is conveyed, but it isn’t explained until the back matter that the children have visited an exhibition. There one also learns of the real life Jella Lepman, who conceived of the exhibition to help children feel connected to others around the world and to give them a sense of hope. Lepman’s work led to the founding of the International Youth Library and the International Board on Books for Young People. Lafrance’s enchanting artwork, created with graphite pencil and colored digitally, falls somewhere between that of Lois Lenski and Alison Jay. Her figures are daintily doll-like, and she uses a second, finely detailed, diaphanous style to evoke the fantasy worlds that flow out of books.
VERDICT Most young readers will need the help of an adult and the back matter to appreciate the significance of Jella Lepman’s exhibition, which may resonate most with adults.

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