Gripped by the depiction of a child’s understanding of fear and hardship at the opening of the book, I knew Patricia Polacco’s The Blessing Cup had a powerful message to tell. I read this story of hope and generosity for the first time last week, and I hope to read it again and again as I share it with students independently or in the classroom.
Polacco has written over 50 children’s books; The Keeping Quilt being one of the first published in 1988, and The Blessing Cup, published in 2013, being one of the most recent. Despite the time gap, both books share an almost identical illustration style and similar themes of family bonds and immigration at the turn of the 20th century. Polacco’s combination of rich themes, exquisite story telling, and beautiful pencil and acetone marker illustrations work together to create a masterpiece. Polacco has a background in Fine Art and did not start writing children’s books until age 41. As she writes on her website, Polacco’s ability to enthrall readers with her stories comes from being “raised on hearing stories” instead of “seeing them” on television. She comes from a family of great storytellers and becomes quite enchanting when telling them herself.
In her story, The Blessing Cup, Polacco takes us on the journey of her great-grandmother, Anna, who was a little girl growing up near Tver, Russia. The czar’s soldiers would prowl around outside of Anna’s family’s small shtetl, and only when it was safe would the family come out into the kitchen and listen to Momma tell of how Aunt Rebecca sent a magical china tea set that brought blessings to their home. In a note inside the tea set, Aunt Rebecca wrote of how anyone who drinks from the tea set will never know a day of hunger, will always live a life full of flavor, will know love and joy, and will never be poor! Even when Anna and her family are uprooted from their home and must travel in the cold with little food and often no place to stay, Anna remembers what her father and mother have told her about God’s blessings resting upon them. Anna’s mother whispers, “We shall always know love, and as long as we are together we shall never be poor.”
While conveying the importance of family and community, Polacco does not shy away from portraying the gravity of hardships and difficulty. As Papa becomes so sick that he cannot take another step and collapses on the outskirts of another new town, the reader feels the weights upon this dear refugee family.
You might be wondering where the powerful message of hope and generosity comes into play. How does this china tea set continue to bring blessing? Polacco does indeed resolve the story, even bringing it to her own story of present day. And she does so in an almost miraculous way.
Dive into her miracle, her family, and her culture. Polacco does not disappoint.