Reviews /

Please Write Soon

Authored by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Michael Foreman
Published by Scholastic

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Please Write Soon is a touching illustrated story told through a series of letters between two Jewish cousins is inspired by Michael Rosen’s father’s cousin’s experiences during the Second World War.

We first meet Solly in 1946 in his London classroom where he shares the letters he exchanged with his older Polish cousin Bernie between 1939 and 1945. In Solly’s letters, he describes wartime Britain, including the Blitz and his evacuation to a farm in the countryside. The latter provides some of the lighter moments of the book: one particularly enchanting scene describes going to the woods at night to watch badgers, whose tunnels remind Solly of air raid shelters. Bernie’s war is rather more eventful. He initially travels from West Poland to East Poland to escape from the Nazis but ends up in a Russian work camp before going to Persia with the Polish army and ultimately fighting in the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. Throughout the war, Bernie worries about what has become of his Mami and Tatte, particularly after he starts to learn more about the fate of Poland’s Jews.

Michael Rosen has done an excellent job of writing about the Second World War in a way that is appropriate for younger readers. The book never sugarcoats the worst aspects of war but there is the gentleness in the cousins’ letters which makes this a suitable way to introduce this topic to children – the sadness and loss associated with the Holocaust in particular is unavoidable, but Rosen steers clear from more explicit descriptions of concentration camps. Equally, the book has plenty to offer those who are already more knowledgeable on this topic, and even as an adult, I learnt about several things for the first time: the Bethnal Green Tube Disaster, the Football League South War Cup and, most amazingly of all, Wojtek the bear who was enlisted in the Polish army! There are some other lovely touches in Solly and Bernie’s letters, such as the Yiddish phrases they exchange, a way of celebrating and keeping alive their Jewish culture even as others attempt to destroy it.

The book has been produced in association with the Royal British Legion, and an afterword by Lieutenant General James Bashall reflects on the theme of remembrance more widely, drawing parallels between war and our more recent experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. The theme of memory is also thoughtfully explored by the story’s framing device which introduces us to Solly’s teacher Miss Drury who lost her fiancé during the previous war. It is a beautifully designed book, using different handwriting for Solly and Bernie’s letters and enhanced by Michael Foreman’s pencil and watercolour illustrations. Foreman’s illustrations only use the colours grey and red, the occasional bursts of red building towards the poppies which Bernie sees at Monte Cassino. (As well as linking to the book’s focus on remembrance, this colouring will also poignantly remind many adult readers of the girl in the red coat in Schindler’s List.)

This would be a great book for parents or teachers to share and read with children aged seven upwards, while older primary children would enjoy reading this independently. It could also form the basis of an excellent history project as there are so many topics that children could explore further. Rosen’s use of his family history might also prompt some children to research their own.