Alte Zachen: Old Things – at a glance
The School Reading Lists’ five word review: witty, moving, illuminating extraordinary story.
Children’s book title: Alte Zachen: Old Things.
Children’s author: Ziggy Hanaor
Children’s illustrator: Benjamin Phillips.
Genre: Graphic novel.
Published by: Cicada Books.
Recommended for children aged: 9+
First published: Hardback April 2022.
This children’s book is ideal for: children aged 9+ in upper KS2 and KS3.
To see the latest price or order, click on the book cover image.
T S Eliot was one of millions all over the world who acknowledged Walter de la Mere as a more important and profound poet than perhaps the literary establishment were willing to allow. He wrote of his ‘deceptive cadences’ and ‘the delicate invisible web’ he wove.
I mention this because at the exact moment I opened this extraordinary graphic story, the voice of de la Mere himself emerged from the radio, reading, singing almost, The Song of the Shadows, which contains these lines:
Ghosts linger in the darkening air,
Hearken at the open door.
They sum up the atmosphere and emotions of every page of Alte Zachen.
Benji and his Bubbe (Grandma – Rosa, born in Berlin around 1925) are off on a shopping trip in their neighbourhood, Brooklyn, New York. She wears a heavy coat and a head-scarf. He is dressed for the East Coast summer. As they wander from store to store, looking for just the right bread, fruit and meat, they encounter characters from what, to Rosa, is the mystifying and irritating modern world: youngsters playing basketball, people crowding the pavements and the aisles in the supermarket, people vaping, people wearing tattoos.
Their trek through the streets is stressful and some of their encounters are fraught with tension, but there is an air of understanding towards the old, even when Rosa says to a young girl serving her in a shop: ‘You should buy some nice clothes. Your clothes are a disgrace.’ This is authentic; the very old are sometimes abrupt in their reactions, often after having survived a stroke.
As the strains of the day begin to tell, memories pop up like an unstoppable slide-show: the day the headmaster ordered Rosa and her friends out of the school back in Germany, the voyage to America, facing the unknown challenges of a new life, the missed opportunities to find happiness with another person.
Just after Rosa exchanges words with a tattoo artist there is a heart-stopping full-page frame showing scores of arms with numbers and the caption ‘TATTOOS! I know people with tattoos.’
They rest in the park. They meet a taxi-drier from Ghana and learn about the struggles of present-day migrants. They, and we, realise an important truth: the present moment only happens to be the one at the head of a very long queue of present moments, each one as real and potent as any of the others, past or future.
Ziggy Hanaor and Benjamin Phillips have produced a witty, moving and illuminating story which has much to say about the big events of the last hundred years, about how different generations can absorb lessons from each other’s viewpoints and about how life can still deliver a bloom, no matter how arid the soil in which it is planted may appear to be.
We highly recommend Alte Zachen: Old Things for upper KS2 and KS3 school libraries, classroom graphic novel collections, and for use in PSHE lessons when discussing how to relate empathetically to different generations, how to understand other people’s life experiences and how to consider different perspectives and points of view.
Many thanks to Cicada Books for the review copy.
If you like Alte Zachen: Old Things by Ziggy Hanaor you might also like: our reviews of The Truths We Hold – An American Journey by Kamala Harris, On the Move Poems About Migration by Michael Rosen, and Peter in Peril by Helen Bate.