Nancy Keane's Booktalks -- Quick and Simple

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Hesse, Karen
New York : H. Holt, 1992.
IL 3-6 RL 5.1
ISBN 0805019642
(2 booktalks)
Booktalk #1

Twelve-year-old Rifka tells her story through a series of letters written to her cousin Tovah. Rifka and her Jewish family have fled Russia for America in 1919. They have a dangerous escape, and meet some unpleasant people along the way. The family contracts and survives typhus, but Rifka is then detained because she has ringworm. The rest of her family goes to America while she stays behind for treatment in Antwerp, Belgium. Finally, Rifka is allowed on the ship and makes the stormy voyage. When she arrives at Ellis Island, however, she is again detained because her hair has not grown back, and she is seen to be an undesirable wife without hair. With her family nearby, there is once again a chance that she will not be allowed into America. * * Finally, the doctors allow her into the country and she is reunited with her family, including the three brothers she has never met.
(Linda Wolfgram,, Middle/High School Media Specialist, Benton Community Schools, Van Horne, IA)

Booktalk #2

How many of us have wished we had asked more questions of our parents and grandparents? We carry on too few of the stories of the trials and tribulations of their immigration from the far corners of the world to this country.  LETTERS FROM RIFKA provides an unforgettable picture of the immigrants perseverance, courage, and ingenuity. This memorable reading experience offers a sense of the losses, hardships, and apprehensions faced along the way.  In 1919, Rifka, age 12, and her family escape from Russia. On their departure, Rifka is given a book of Pushkin poems by her cousin Tovah. Knowing she will not likely see her cousin again, Rifka begins to write a series of letters to her cousin on the blank pages of the Pushkin book and eventually on the end papers and margins. Here is recorded a diary of her experiences: her bravery in fooling the train station guards; her embarrassment and humiliation at receiving a medical examination before entering Poland; the typhus epidemic the family faces along the way; the plans to finally cross the ocean to America; her devastation at being rejected for a ticket because of ringworm; her support by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; the next to impossible decision to leave Rifka behind as the family continues to America; the experiences Rifka faces as she resides in Antwerp and awaits the time when she can follow her family; and her dreadful experiences at Ellis Island. Finally, Rifka is reunited with her family. "I will write you tonight a real letter, a letter I can send. I will wrap up our precious book and send it to you too, so you will know of my journey. I hope you can read all the words squeezed onto the worn pages. I hope they bring to you the comfort they have bought to me. I send you my love, Tovah. At last I send you my love from America."  And with her love comes an understanding of much that our ancestors felt, experienced, and valued during their own immigration. Be sure to share this book with your children. And be sure to read it yourself for you too will be enlightened. And beyond this, be sure to share your own memories with your loved ones.
(Barbara Goldenhersh, PhD, Assistant Professor, Harris Stowe State College, St. Louis, MO)

SUBJECTS:     Emigration and immigration -- Fiction
                        Jews -- Fiction
                        Letters -- Fiction
                    Folklore -- Mexico


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