Cover image for No pretty pictures : a child of war
No pretty pictures : a child of war
Lobel, Anita.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Greenwillow Books, [1998]

Physical Description:
xiii, 193 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
The author, known as an illustrator of children's books, describes her experiences as a Polish Jew during World War II and for years in Sweden afterwards.
Reading Level:
750 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.0 8.0 34774.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 4.8 10 Quiz: 18809 Guided reading level: Z.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DS135.P63 L63 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

On Order



The beloved Caldecott Honor artist recounts a tale of a vastly different kind--her own gripping memoir of childhood of imprisonment and uncommon bravery in Nazi-occupied Poland. Illustrated with 12 pages of archival photos.

Author Notes

Anita Lobel (née Kempler) was born on June 2, 1934. She is a Polish-American illustrator of children's books, including A New Coat for Anna, This Quiet Lady, Alison's Zinnia, and On Market Street, which won a Caldecott Honor for illustrations. One Lighthouse, One Moon, one of two books she created about her cat, Nini, is a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. Her childhood memoir, No Pretty Pictures, was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Lobel was born in Krakow, Poland. She was forced to hide in a convent during WWII, but was captured by the Nazis. She and her brother were forced to go into a concentration camp in Germany; they were rescued in 1945 by the Swedish Red Cross. They were lucky to be reunited with their parents in 1947. In 1952, her family moved to New York, and she then attended Pratt Institute for Art. Lobel graduated with a B. F. A. in Fine Arts. Lobel met her husband, Arnold, at Pratt while acting in a play.

Anita's major works include: Alison's Zinnias, Sven's Bridge, On Market Street, and One Lighthouse, One Moon. She has been nominated for numerous awards including selections for the Best Illustrated Book from New York Times Book Reviews (Sven's Bridge, On Market Street and One Lighthouse, One Moon). On Market Street also received a Caldecott Honor Book Award, a Boston Globe/Horn Book Award (illustration), and is an American Book Award finalist.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 6^-12. The truth of the child's viewpoint is the strength of this Holocaust survivor story, told with physical immediacy and no "pride of victimhood." Lobel's ebullient, gorgeously colored illustrated books--from the Caldecott Honor Book On Market Street (1982) to Toads and Diamonds (1996)--give no hint of her dark, terrifying childhood. Barely five years old when the Nazis came to her comfortable home in Poland, she spent the next five years in hiding and on the run; then she was captured and transported to concentration camps. Through the marches, hunger, mud, stench, and corpses, her younger brother was nearly always with her, disguised as a girl to hide his circumcision. Matter-of-factly, she tells how she protected him ("Once I found a raw potato in the mud. My brother and I took turns taking bites out of it"); in the Ravensbruck selections, she dragged him to the left, away from the chimneys. With the same quiet truth, she describes her childhood shame at being an "ugly, obvious Jew girl," a stigma she still felt in the two years she spent recovering from tuberculosis, nursed by kind caregivers in a Swedish sanatorium after the war. Looking back, she avoids sermonizing and analysis. There's a visceral physicalness to her memories of the terror ("the whispers of the trapped grown-ups sounded like the noise of insects rubbing their legs together") and in the elementals she celebrated when she was safe: the luxury of privacy, of hair, no lice, a flushing toilet, sheets white and clean, and the flat, slithering, sweet taste of butter. She always felt distant from her cold parents; it's the loss of Niania, the nanny who raised and sheltered her, that still breaks her heart. Older readers who remember her picture books will be stirred by her story of starting school at age 12 for the first time, the only dark kid with all the blonde Swedes, clumsy at gym and sports, an outsider, until she discovered she could draw. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Few admirers of Lobel's sunny picture book art (On Market Street) would guess at the terrors of Lobel's own childhood. Here, in beautifully measured prose, she offers a memoir that begins in 1939, when the author was five, as German soldiers march into her native Krakow; Lobel's adored father, the owner of a chocolate factory and a religious Jew, flees soon after, in the middle of the night ("He had kissed me in the night, and I did not know it"). Deportations begin, and before long the author and her younger brother (who is dressed as a girl) are sent to the country, in the care of their Niania (nanny). Thus the two children embark on years of flight, on a turbulent course involving assumed identities, blackmailers, a dangerous stay in the Krakow ghetto, concealment in a convent, capture and concentration camps. In 1945 the children are liberated, in Ravensbruck, and brought to Sweden to recuperate from what turns out to be tuberculosis, and they are eventually reunited with both parents. Lobel brings to these dramatic experiences an artist's sensibility for the telling detail, a seemingly unvarnished memory and heartstopping candor. Focused on survival, the child narrator does not pity herself or express her terror: she observes everyone keenly and cannily sizes them up. This piercing and graceful account is rewarding for readers of all ages. It may prove especially valuable for children who have graduated from Lobel's picture books and who may therefore feel they "know" her; this memoir would help such readers build a personal connection to WWII and its tragic lessons. A 12-page inset of family photos is included. Ages 10-up. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6 Up-Lobel has written a haunting, honest, and ultimately life-affirming account of her childhood years in Nazi-occupied Poland. Born in Krakow to an affluent Jewish family, she and her younger brother were cared for by their nanny ("Niania"), a devout Catholic. Lobel was five when the Nazis arrived in Poland and her father left in the middle of the night. As the situation worsened, Niania took the children into hiding in the countryside while their mother remained in the city with fake identification papers. As the war continued, the siblings were hidden in various places, relying mostly on Niania to care for them, at great risk to herself. When Lobel and her brother were captured, Niania arranged to have the children delivered into the care of relatives inside the concentration camp at Plaszów. At the end of the war, Lobel, then 11, and her brother were sent to Sweden as refugees, where she thrived at a convalescent home while recovering from tuberculosis and was reunited with her parents. She ends the story with her family's emigration to the United States. The author's words are simple and straightforward, even when she describes the horror of life in the camp or the fear and loneliness of being separated from her family and nanny. This is a worthy addition to memoirs of war such as Esther Hautzig's The Endless Steppe (Hall, 1968) and Yoko Kawashima Watkins's So Far from the Bamboo Grove (Lothrop, 1986).-Carol Fazioli, The Brearley School, New York City, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



No Pretty Pictures A Child of War Chapter One From our balcony on a September day a long time ago, I watched the Germans march into the city where we lived. They stepped in unison, in shiny boots, with sunlight glinting on helmets and bouncing off bayonets. They sang a marching song. I did not understand the words that echoed between the buildings. Pushing my head through the bars of our crowded balcony to see the soldiers better, I held on tightly to my niania's (nanny's) hand. "Niemcy, Niemcy" ("Germans, Germans"), she muttered and sighed. My mother and father were there, and many other people. "No! No! They are French!" I heard people say. "Surely they must be French." It was a warm, and beautiful day. There was music and promise in the air. The back of the large apartment building where we lived faced a square courtyard. Here balconies were long walkways that extended the whole length of the building. We sometimes saw our neighbor, a Hasid, in his long black coat and round saucerlike hat edged in fur, rushing by our back windows on his way to the elevator. He turned comers, his beard flying in the wind. "Jews!" I would hear Niania mutter. My father was the owner of a chocolate factory. He was not a Hasid. But every morning he wrapped his head in thin black leather straps that ended in a small square box that rested on his forehead. The ends of the straps were tied around his wrists. He put a white shawl with black stripes around his shoulders and faced a window that led to the back balcony.. He mumbled and rocked back and forth. Under the leather straps on his head he wore a tight hairnet clasped on the side with a buckle. After he finished his mumblings, he unwrapped the straps, kissed them, and wound them back into the box he had taken off his head. He went to another room and came out elegantly dressed in a fine gray suit with a white shirt, a tie, and a boutonniere in his lapel. His hair was beautifully slicked down. He wore shiny black shoes and often spats. He smelled nice when he kissed me good-bye. Then, one morning, he was gone and did not come back. He had kissed me in the night, and I did not know it. I looked for his shoes. I could not find his smell, and I cried. One afternoon that October I was standing by the window that looked out on the courtyard. Something happened. I don't know how it happened. I did not see the beginning of it. Niania cried: "Don't look! Don't look!" She tried to pull me away from the window. "Come away from there!" Six floors below an open window facing our part of the building, several people were surrounding something on the ground. I could see a dark liquid slowly appear on the cement courtyard. Without really knowing, I knew what all this was. Whenever I ran and fell, banging my head, a black smell curled around in my head. No, even before, before the pain really began. Before I had had time to burst into my childish wail, an oily pungency flushed the inside of my head and spread through my mouth and my nostrils. Once, before the German soldiers had even come, I had been walking with Niania in the middle of the city, near a place called the Rondel. Into this remaining part of a medieval tower surrounded by a waterless moat, two motorcyclists had crashed. The railing had been bent and broken in several places. I saw no bodies. But before Niania hurried me away, I had seen the dark, dark red pools of liquid in the moat. There had been the noise that sirens and policemen and droszki (horse-drawn carriages) and horses made. And in my head there had been the smell of it all. The shape on the ground of our courtyard had been covered. The edges of the blanket fanned out neatly. The puddle of blackish red liquid that slowly seeped out from under the blanketed mound was growing larger. A high-heeled shoe had fallen off one foot that could just barely be seen under the covering. And that smell was in my head again. A blue late-afternoon sky cradled the roofs of my Eastern European city when Niania closed the drapes. A little later I sneaked back to the window. It was dark now. I could no longer see a stain. There was no blanket on the ground. The shoe was gone. The courtyard was empty. There was nothing. No Pretty Pictures A Child of War . Copyright © by Anita Lobel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War by Anita Lobel All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.