Sonderbooks Stand-out

Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Tower of Life

How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs

by Chana Stiefel

illustrated by Susan Gal

The Tower of Life

How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs

by Chana Stiefel
illustrated by Susan Gal

Review posted January 16, 2024.
Scholastic Press, 2022. 40 pages.
Review written January 11, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review
2023 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Children's Nonfiction

The Tower of Life is a beautiful and bright picture book biography. As the book opens, we're introduced to the main character as a child:

There once was a girl named Yaffa.
She was a spirited girl who loved her home and her family. She was born in a shtetl, a small Jewish town that pulsed with love, laughter, and light. The name of her shtetl was Eishyshok (Ay-shi-shok).

The acccompanying picture shows a happy chld playing in the bright yellow-green grass above a village with people in groups interacting with one another.

We're told that Yaffa's family had lived in Eishyshok for 900 years. We see a picture of a grandmother telling stories as the community gathers around. The following pages show a happy community, enjoying both snow and sunshine. We see a bustling marketplace.

But then we learn that Yaffa's grandmother had a photography studio. She took photographs of all the people in the village. On Jewish New Year, it was a custom to send photographs to family all over the world, so that's what people in the community did. We even see a reproduction of a photograph of Yaffa, smiling broadly as she feeds the chickens.

But then hard times came. The Germans came and rounded up the people of Eishyshok. But Yaffa's family escaped and lived in the forest. The pictures describing that time are darker, but they are accented with bright red paint that keeps a sense of hope. Yaffa brought her family pictures along.

After the war, Yaffa ended up in America, and she became a professor of history. So she was asked by President Jimmy Carter to help make an exhibit for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Thoughts of her own treasured photographs made her think of basing her exhibit on photographs from the rich lives in happier times.

Yaffa decided she would find the survivors and rebuild Eishyshok, not brick by brick, but photograph by photograph, story by story.

And the book concludes with a vertical format spread showing how Yaffa's exhibit looks in the museum.

Today, if you travel to Washington, DC, you can see Yaffa's "Tower of Life" in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. More than 1,000 photos of the people of Eishyshok soar three stories high for all the world to see. A world filled with love, laughter, and light -- a world that will never be forgotten.

I love the way this picture book makes something beautiful out of a story of the Holocaust, as Yaffa did herself, emphasizing life and light and including beautiful pictures. The book shows the reader that these people were so much more than victims, living beautiful lives.