Sunday, June 20, 2004

Who Was the Woman Who Wore the Hat?

York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0525463330 [Suggested Grade Levels 3-6]


WHO WAS THE WOMAN WHO WORE THE HAT? by Patz is a deep, reflective meditation about a woman’s hat on display in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. Patz unites a melancholy prose poem with strikingly, arresting illustrations in collage artwork that enliven probing and poetic questions: “Did she put cream in her coffee?” “Did she like the way she looked with her hat down over one eye?” “…I wonder if she wore it the day she left home the last time, that cold, cruel day…when the Jews were herded together and arrested in the Square?” “Or did they even bother with photographs in Amsterdam—in their fierce, efficient rush to get the Jews on the trains…?”

In the author’s note at the back of the book, Patz states that she wishes to “convey a sense of loss,” which she does brilliantly with her sepia-toned drawings and old photographs pasted into her sketchbook. The double spread pages in black with sparse white text in the middle of the book leave the reader with a poignant sense with only these words: “It might have been my mother’s hat. It could have been my hat. Or yours.” The book is tastefully and delicately presented as a solemn moment in time. Readers will enjoy the “Author’s Note” at the end, and the fact that she revisited the museum ten years later and the hat was gone. The why’s and where’s were never answered for her, which simply adds to the fragmentary feeling of the tragic details.

Children could discuss experiences of their own when they felt sad or lonely or when they experienced cruel prejudices for some reason. They can draw sketches from the book that interested them: the lady in the hat, the hat itself, the train, or the poignant pictures of the faces aboard the train. The teacher or librarian can find German/Jewish
names or show the children how to find the information and allow the children to choose names to go with the faces. The book could be used to discuss social history and as a supplement to Holocaust curriculum.

Other books that deal with prejudices, “a sense of loss,” and the struggle for freedom:
Holms, Anne. I AM DAVID. ISBN 1850899207
Levine, Karen. HANA’S SUITCASE. ISBN 0807531480
Lowry, Lois. NUMBER THE STARS. ISBN 0395510600
McSwigan, Marie. SNOW TREASURE. ISBN 0590425374

By Rita Pickett

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