A mother and child in 1939 Poland are talking. This is the way into a new children’s book—The Crystal Beads, Lalka’s Journey written by Pat Black-Gould and illustrated by Katya Royz.
The time and place alert adults immediately to the context but for children they are gently led into the experience. A mother has found a way to gently guide her seven-year-old daughter on a safe path while terror stalks right outside their door. She guides her daughter to make a trade: crystal beads for the Star of David. Why?
The author guides readers along with the illustrations giving the narrative texture. Tension builds as the story unfolds, with a terrifying encounter with Nazi interrogators. We do not know what might happen. We think the worst. The horrible men leave, and we breathe again. Lalka asks a question of the Mother Superior. It is not just any question: it is the question, yet unresolved among us.
Pat Black-Gould weaves a story of trust and love confronted with the worst in human nature. Evil is brilliantly captured in Katya Royz’ art and serves to intensify the narrative.
When I finished reading it, my first thought was of Leo Tolstoy’s parable The Bear. Written for children it has lasted through the centuries as a warning about the perils of oppression. Likewise, I foresee The Crystal Beads will find its place among these beloved stories that illuminate dark times with truth.
The book is appropriate for 3rd grade and up with excellent questions provided for teachers, parents, and adult groups using the book to prompt discussion.
Pat Black-Gould is a practicing psychologist, playwright, and fiction writer. Perhaps this is why her book is so moving.