Wren and the Sparrow

J. Patrick Lewis (Author) Yevgenia Nayberg (Illustrator)

Product Details

Kar-Ben Publishing (R)
Publish Date
January 01, 2015
9.4 X 0.3 X 11.1 inches | 0.88 pounds
Library Binding

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About the Author

J. Patrick Lewis has published over eighty-five children's picture and poetry books. He was recently given the NCTE Excellence in Children's Poetry Award, and was the Poetry Foundation's third US Children's Poet Laureate (2011-2013).
Yevgenia Nayberg is an illustrator, painter, and set and costume designer. She received a Sydney Taylor Silver Medal for her illustrations for Drop by Drop. She lives in New York.


"Set during the Holocaust, this fable takes readers to a small Polish town where life 'hung on the edge of despair.' The Nazis have silenced protest and inflicted deprivation on the inhabitants, but when 'the Tyrant's guards' confiscate all the musical instruments ('Once, many years ago, music could be heard in the streets at all hours'), a hurdy-gurdy player nicknamed the Wren and his devoted student, the Sparrow, take one last stand to preserve their humanity. Through a twist of fate and the dedication of one person, their story of artistic courage is kept alive. Lewis (Harlem Hellfighters), the former U.S. Children's Poet Laureate, writes in elevated, allusive, but always approachable language: 'A six-year-old's only possession, ten finger cymbals, tinkled like the sound of spring escaping winter.' Nayberg's solemn, stylized images portray people who are exhausted and terrorized (several images are genuinely frightening) but holding onto hope. Rendered in fragmented curvilinear shapes and translucent, mottled browns and greens, they may remind young readers of stained glass, while adults will see the influence of European expressionism." -- Publisher's Weekly


"The musical legacy of one man reaches through the dark days of the Holocaust to a young survivor in this fable about the power of music and memory. In a Polish town 'hung on the edge of despair' lives the Wren, a poor old man with a beautiful voice and a sole pos-session, his beloved hurdy-gurdy. When the Nazis force the people to give up their musical instruments, the Wren defies the order by playing one last song before being dragged away to his demise. The poetic words of the song and the raised voices of the townspeople bring a brief moment of catharsis in the midst of so much anguish. That night the Sparrow, the Wren's student sneaks through the village and recovers the instrument, hiding it behind the boiler of her apartment building. Years later, after the end of the war, a boy discovers the hurdy-gurdy with a letter from the Wren tucked inside. 'Finder, if you are not the Sparrow, know that once a young girl risked her life for an old man who lived...in the key of despair, but the octave of truth.' As the young boy grows into a man, he keeps the instru-ment safe throughout his travels, vowing to leave his own letter in it '...so that no one will ever forget.' The affecting text is filled with both pathos and hope, befitting the author's status as U.S. Children's Poet Laureate (2011 - 2013). Somber watercolor and pencil illustra-tions convey the historical darkness of the time, yet are punctuated with the Sparrow's red hair and the rich tones of the instruments that invoke the hope of better days to come. A poetic tribute to the resilience and continuity of the Jewish people following the nightmare of the Holocaust. Includes an afterword and archival photo describing the role of music in the Lodz ghetto and concentration camps." -- Jewish Book World


"An old man called the Wren because of the beautiful music he makes must give up his beloved instrument during the Nazi occupation of his Polish town.This Holocaust fable keeps its true subject understated. Hitler is simply called the Tyrant, and all the audience knows is that it was a dark time. Lewis' poetic phrases collide with harsh realities. 'Food and clothing were strictly rationed. Stores that once provided necessities were boarded up . . . The town shriveled up like a rose without rain.' For the Wren, the most devastating day is the one when the Tyrant's guards collect the town's musical instruments. Before giving his pear-shaped hurdy-gurdy away, he pleads for one more song. The crowd rises up and sings as one. The Wren is taken away, never to be seen again. Luckily, the Wren's student, a girl with fiery red hair called the Sparrow, saves the instrument, and it is passed on to future generations with a secret note tucked inside, so the music will continue and no one will ever forget. Nayberg's stylized brush strokes initially take tones of brown and drear, but they warm with hope toward the end. The textured creases and cracks of paint echo the deliberate folds of the letter that holds such importance. A lyrical look at a horrific time; an appeal to the necessity of remembering." -- Kirkus Reviews


"Wren, an old man who weaves carpets by day and plays the hurdy-gurdy by night, has one student - a young girl named Sparrow. One day, the Tyrant's guards arrive and force everyone to surrender their musical instruments. Wren plays one last tune, inspiring the townspeople but resulting in his own arrest and demise. Sparrow later rescues and hides the instrument, and after the war, the hurdy-gurdy and a hidden message from Wren are discovered by the author, who gratefully adopts it as his own. This allegorical tale set in the Lodz Ghetto of World War II conveys a sense of the Holocaust without the specifics of its brutality. Nayberg's mixed-media illustrations employ an earthy palette, well suited to the book's somber tone. The story has a universal feel - only the afterword identifies Lodz - although the guards are depicted wearing swastikas. A beautiful tale emphasizing the importance of music - especially during times of despair - share this with readers not quite ready for Jennifer Roy's Yellow Star (2006)." -- Booklist