Karen Hesse wanted to preserve her familys history and interviewed her great aunt Lucy Avrutin, who provided a treasure trove of stories for her to use in her writing. Aunt Lucys memories combined with Hesses ability to weave a story gives way to an award winning tale about perseverance of a young immigrant girl. It was time for the Nebrot family to join their Jewish brothers and sisters in leaving Russia. Rifka Nebrot, aged twelve, is the youngest child in the family and the only girl. Rifka writes letters to Tovah in the margins of the book of poetry because she has no other paper and she wants to preserve this journey for both her cousins and herself. Karen Hesses personal tale won her the Jewish Book Award and Christopher Award for young readers in 1992.
Twenty years ago I was in third grade reading my first Karen Hesse book, Letters From Rifka. I dont remember which school I was going to at the time of reading or why I even picked up this story, but I vividly remember the impact it had on me. To my delight, one day I asked if they were ready for me to read Rifka and his response was, Yes, I love that book! At the time, I wrote letters to my friends back home and drew strength from those relationships when I had no friends at my new school. I loved sharing this book with them and being able to explain the things they didnt quite understand. So many years later, this book is still making an impact in the lives and hearts of children and I could not be more grateful to Karen Hesse.
Letters from Rifka is the riveting story of a young girl and her family who make a daring and courageous escape from the progroms of 1919 Russia. Her courage, brilliance, determination, and lovingkindness give her the strength to finally enter America, be reunited with her family, and meet the brothers she had never me who had immigrated years before she was born. I encouraged my students to interview a family member in order to learn how and why their own ancestors (or perhaps their own generation if they are new Americans)came to America.
It's very hard to get those to work right, and in this case it has the usual problem: the narrative is WAY too detailed to make a convincing letter.
This book is well deserving of the many accolades it received, including some of the following: Horn Book Outstanding Book of the Year American Library Association Notable Book National Jewish Book Award ------------------- Travel with a twelve-year old Jewish young woman Rifka as she and her family dangerously slip out of Russia to avoid persecution. The book is a series of letters of Rifka's journey and her dramatic experiences as her family flees senseless hate and bigotry with the hope of a new life in America.
As they travel, Rifka finds solace in writing letters to her cousin in a poem book called a Pushkin. One teaching idea that I believe would very beneficial for 8th grade students would be to read this book about immigration during times of turmoil and then describe what they know about how immigrants lived in the United States during this era. The students will choose to be one of the main characters in the book and then write a journal entry about their average day...what their housing would be like, what jobs they would do, how were their religious beliefs received, etc.
In this day and age, when there is so much turbulence in the world and so many people are being forced from their homes, Rifka story is a universal one.