The Promise

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Apr 2018

Member Reviews

I'm amazed at the true stories that are still being told from World War II. The Promise is one that I just found. This is the true story told by their daughters, of two sisters who survived a concentration camp only because of their love for each other.
When Rachel and Toby's parents were taken by the Nazis, they gave their daughters a tiny box with three gold coins. These coins were only to be used when they had to be, and the girls would know when that time came. Then, the girls were taken to the concentration camp and made to work hard doing nonsensical jobs. As the stronger of the two, Toby kept the coins safe. When Rachel fell sick one day and was taken away, would Toby be able to find her and save her before it was too late?
Just enough is shown in this book to give children a vague idea of the horrors of the concentration camps. The main focus is on the girls and their love for each other. Do be prepared to answer some questions about what happened in the camps; some of the horror is alluded to but not stated directly. For example, a girl got sick one day and disappeared; the others knew they would never see her again. The pictures help to create the feeling of the camps. There is a little color, but mostly the pictures are gray. 
One thing I noticed that I'm not sure is accurate was when the guard was taking roll call. The girls in Barrack 25 were called by name. From what I've read, they were called by number rather than name. This change did make the story better for young children, though.
This book would be a good supplement to a study of World War II and the Holocaust. It is also a heartwarming story showing love between sisters. I'm glad we stumbled across it!
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On the night that the Nazis took all the adults in their town away, sisters Rachel and Toby are separated from their parents but not before they are given a shoe paste tin with three gold coins in it. Not knowing what is going to happen to them, they are told to use the coins only if they have to, that they would know when the time was right. And most importantly, they must promise to try to always stay together.

Two years later, the sisters are now in Barrack 25 in Auschwitz, along with many other Jewish girls. Every other day, the girls build a wall of heavy fieldstone, and then, they tear it down only to begin again. When a girl gets sick, she is taken to the hospital and never seen again. Everyone in the barrack knows what has happened to her and do their best not to get sick, despite insufficient clothing, food, and bedding in bad weather.

When Rachel becomes ill, there is nothing Toby can do to prevent her from being taken to the hospital while she is working. Discovering Rachel gone when she returns, Toby knows she needs to do something quickly, or she will never see her sister again. Is this the right time to use the gold coins her parents gave them?

Using her wits, some clever planning, some luck, and the gold coins, Toby manages to get Rachel out of the hospital and back to the barrack. But the next day at roll call, she pays dearly for what she has done when the guard sees Rachel on line but not in her roll book. The guard whips Toby on her back with the leash of her dog, but she didn't send Rachel back to the hospital. Both sisters survive the war and walk out of Auschwitz together.

The Promise is a compelling and inspirational picture book for older readers about the importance of keeping promises, of family, and of the strength of sisterly love, particularly under the kinds of circumstances Toby and Rachel found themselves in trying to survive Auschwitz. And although it is a fictionalized biography, it is based on the real life experiences of sisters Toby, mother of author Margie Wolfe, and Rachel, mother of author Pnina Bat Zvi.


Photos of Toby and Rachel
The illustrations by Isabella Cardinal are done in a mixed-media of collage and photos together with textural drawings and finished in Photoshop, and really capture the emotions that sisters were feeling, and the anger and hate the guards had for them. The Holocaust was a very dark time in history and the illustrations aptly reflect that.

Holocaust picture books are always a difficult subject for young readers - how much graphic description to include. If too much is included there's the risk that the young reader will be so traumatized by what they read, that they never want to read about the Holocaust again. And although Toby and Rachel, like everyone in a Nazi concentration camp, faced beatings, brutality, starvation, and death everyday, Wolfe and her cousin Bat Zvi have managed to find a balance between the mistreatment and the love and resilience that kept these two sisters fighting for their lives.

The Promise is an important addition to the literature of the Holocaust, especially as it recedes into history. Keeping the Shoah alive by remembering it is so important now.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley
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Rachel and Toby are two Jewish sisters trying to survive in Auschwitz. Before their parents were taken away, they gave their daughters three gold coins with the instruction to use them to save their lives and make them promise to stay together. In Auschwitz, the girls manage to stay together--until Rachel gets sick and is taken away. Toby must risk her life and use their coins to see if she can save her sister. 

This book tells a true story from the lives of the authors' mothers. While there are lots of Holocaust books out there, this is an important and memorable story. It doesn't go into all the horrors of the Holocaust, but it doesn't shy away from tough topics (such as the girls' parents being taken away and Toby being whipped), either, making it appropriate for a young audience and a good introduction to an essential topic. Based on the text alone, I'd give it four stars.
Unfortunately, the illustrations didn't work so well for. The colors, dark and muted, were appropriate and well-done. I didn't care for the photograph collages, with large photographic heads on small illustrated bodies. The proportions were off and I personally found it jarring, every single time, which took me out of the story. Art is highly subjective, of course, so I'm sure there will be others who really like the style and aren't bothered by it in the least. So, based on the art alone, I'd give it two stars. 
Overall, that gives it an average of three stars for me; I think others could reasonably rate it higher if the art appeals to them. 

I read an arc from Second Story Press via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
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This is an odd book. The illustrations -- digital collages by Isabelle Cardinal -- are quirky, and while not necessarily the wrong choice for a book about Auschwitz, over power the story, which starts abruptly and rather cliched (waking up), and then finishes just as abruptly. This isn't Holocaust 101 For Kids -- we aren't given a primer on Nazis or concentration camps or the Second World War. And that's the saddest thing about this book -- my daughter is privileged enough that she would need a Holocaust 101 before reading this book to understand it. Imagine if you don't have to do that, to introduce that narrative to a child because the existence of it (or similar events like what happened in Rwanda, Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, etc.) is omnipresent in her and her family's history. That makes me so sad, even if I found the book so uneven.

The Promise by Pnina Bat Zvi and Margie Wolfe went on sale April 18, 2018.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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I am interested in this topic, so I read a lot about this period of history, but I never read a children book about Holocaust. 
It is a story of two sister that are struggling to survive in Auschwitz. It has all it needs so the one who reads the story can imagine a little how the life in a concentration camp it could have been. It is not a happy life. Even if we like to think that life should be easy and beautiful, for many human it is a struggle for survival.  Toby and Rachel had each other in this struggle. They are motivated to stay alive and together because of a promise Toby made to  her parents. Thins promise give her the courage she needs to help her sister even when it seemed she could not do anything else.
A short story that is perfect for introducing children in the sad history of the Holocaust.
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Separated from their parents, but in the Auschwitz camp together, Rachel and Toby have been left three gold coins to use only in case of an emergency. The mixed media collage illustrations are striking, and draw the reader into this Holocause survivor's tale. 

This is a perfect addition to an elementary classroom study on World War II and the Holocaust. Students are able to glean information about life in the concentration camps without being overwhelmed with information they may not be able to handle yet. The Promise would also serve as a good launching point for middle grades readers who are interested and ready to learn more about this time in world history. 

Thanks to Second Story Press and NetGalley for the free advance copy.
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This was an incredibly sad story told by family members of the sisters portrayed in the story. But it is a story that needs to be told and it was kept simple enough for an elementary child to learn about the Holocaust without being too traumatized. 

I loved the importance of the sisterhood in the book. I also loved the camaraderie among the women in the camp. The horrors they lived through were awful but it is nice to hear family stories told where the friendships lasted through the terrible times.

I received an advanced copy of this book. This is my honest review.
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A true story of survival passed down in the family, The Promise tells of how sisters Rachel and Toby survived the loss of their parents and their own imprisonment in Auschwitz. When the girls lose their parents to the Nazis, all they have left are 3 gold coins hidden inside a tin of shoe polish. They manage to hang onto the tin and stay together as they promised their parents, until one morning when Rachel is too sick to report to their assigned work detail. When Toby finds her sister gone from their barracks that evening, she risks everything and uses the gold coins to get her sister back.

The haunting digital collage illustrations show Toby the night their parents are taken. Her curly shoulder-length hair is held back neatly by a ribbon and she wears a beautiful dress. That image is a stark contrast to the shaved heads and ragged dresses of the girls during their time in Auschwitz. The angry faces of the guards and the snarling teeth of the German Shepherds hint at the atmosphere inside the camp. But the kindness of other prisoners is also portrayed as girls share their meager soup or wrap their own blankets around Rachel as they try to help her get well.

For those looking for an introduction to World War II and the Holocaust, this personal story provides a window into that time without including graphic descriptions or images. While the disappearance of sick and elderly prisoners is mentioned, there are no specifics given. And the text tells that Toby is whipped for rescuing Rachel, but the beating is not shown. The book has a happy ending, and there are even photos of the sisters from after the war and later in life.

Recommended as a read-aloud for classes studying World War II, or as part of classroom and library collections for groups who have that time period in their social studies curriculum.
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The Promise
by Pnina Bat Zvi and Margie Wolfe, illustrated by Isabelle Cardinal
Second Story Press

Children's Nonfiction
Pub Date 18 Apr 2018


I am reviewing a copy of The Promise through Second Story Press and Netgalley:


The night Rachel and Toby's parents were taken away their parents gave them three gold coins with the instructions use them to help save lives.  They also ask the girls to promise they will stay together forever (because they have a better chance of surviving together.

This is a compelling true story with beautiful illustrations to help introduce young children to these two sisters and the horrors they face in Auschwitz , protecting one another, sharing memories fears and even laughter despite the horrible living conditions.  When Rachel becomes ill and is taken by the Nazi guards likely never to be seen again.  Toby risks her life in order to use the gold coins to save Rachel's life.


I give The Promise five out of five stars!


Happy Reading!
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This is an excerpt of a review was originally published on my website: Miss Jenny's Classroom

Rachel and Toby are left three gold coins in a tin by their parents who they never see again. Forced into a the Auschwitz concentration camp the girls make a promise to stay together always. Then Rachel becomes sick and is taken away. Toby must decide on her own what she must do next

I'm going to start off by commenting on the illustrations because that's what's at the front of my mind. The illustrations are not going to appeal to everyone. They are described as being a mixed medium collage with texture and colours added. I don't hate the illustrations but I don't feel that this is the book where they are best suited. I liked the tonal quality, the darkness of the page, but...and it's a big but...I found the illustration style distracting and a bit jarring. The heads just didn't look right to me and it threw off the entire composition.

What about the story though? I've had an interest in the events of WW2 for a long time - going all the way back to my teens - for me history is an important part of my life as it expands my knowledge and mind and helps me better understand now because of then. The story itself is not an overly happy one (which considering the topic I would be surprised if it was) but is told in a manner that does engage. You feel sympathy for the girls and sort of have an underlying hope for them that they'll be okay at the end.

Depending on your taste you may/may not find this one useful in the classroom.
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Short story/picture book written for children (and based on a true story) set during the holocaust. Hard hitting topic told in a very accessible way for littlies, although not TOO little because of said topic! Ugh, the illustrations though. I'm sorry, just ugly and jarring :(
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The story was interesting but I did not like the illustrations at all.
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It was a different look at the holocaust.  I liked the fact that they stay together and the fact that they realize so much more than that without saying blatantly.   I liked that because although it happened, the book that doesn't throw it in your face addresses in a way that is easier for children to deal with.  As an educator, I appreciate this style when introducing a sensitive subject to classes.
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I enjoyed the story. I have a sister myself, so I am glad that the authors shared it. However, I personally was not a fan of the art style.
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An excellent and cogent story of bravery and familial bonds. Brava.
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The Promise is a wonderful read, perfect for introducing young children to the reality of the Holocaust. Put beside beautiful illustrations, it would capture the attention of any young reader. There is always a fine balance between too much and not enough in children's fiction about delicate subjects such as the Holocaust, but The Promise is masterfully handled and toes that balance marvellously. The icing on the cake is that this was based on a true story!
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Four stars for a quick read for the under-twelves concerning two sisters in Auschwitz, and the legacy that will help them stay together. It clearly benefits from being a true story, told with heartfelt compassion, and it's also commendable that all the characters are female, from the heroic sisters down to the guards.  What I took issue with was the artwork - yes, I know it's an ugly place, and all the people in there were dehumanised, but did the collage effect have to make everyone so unpleasant-looking?  Still, if your child can cope with a lot of words on just a few heavily-illustrated pages, then I'd go for this book.
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What a heartwarming little tale about love. A simple message about love that it never fails during difficult time. Great story but I think the illustration is a little creepy but the text is excellent: simple yet powerful, poignant and sublime.

A great introductory book to children about Nazi, concentration camps and Holocaust. 

E-gallery is provided by Second Story Press via Netgallery. Second Story Press   continues to deliver high quality reading materials for both adults and children. This is a great press that worth checking out.
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What lengths would you go to protect your family?  "The Promise"  is the story of a family torn apart by the Holocaust. Toby and her sister, Rachel, are sent to a concentration camp together. As Toby’s parents are being wrenched away by the Nazi soldiers, they provide her with three gold coins. They tell her that she will know when she needs to use them. She promises that she will not be separated from Rachel and says goodbye to them for the last time. This story is based on the true experiences of the authors’ mothers. It depicts the terror the children feel at the hands of their captors in a sensitive, age appropriate fashion. Cardinal’s digital collage art captures the haunting hues of their prison. The epilogue provides information and photographs of the real Toby and Rachel. Recommended.
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One of the traditions, in Judaism, is to retell the story.  This is especially true of the Holocaust. The people who survived it are dying off, as it gets further and further away from the present generation.  The stories we are hearing now, are those that are being told by their children and grandchildren. It is good that there is some witness, even though it is once or even twice removed.

You might think we have had enough stories of the holocaust, be they novels or picture books, but each story is different, and each story should be told. This one, of two sisters, who survived the camps, was apparently written by first cousins, who had heard their mothers tell the story often enough that they could tell it as their own.

The pictures, as seen here, are very bleak, but then, so is the story and subject itself.



and here is the picture of the sisters all grown up.


This is a very harsh, but very easy to read book on the holocaust, which would be good in school libraries, as well as public libraries.

Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.
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