Letters from Rifka

by Karen Hesse

Book, 1992



Call number

J 770 HES



New York : H. Holt, c1992.


In letters to her cousin, a young Jewish girl chronicles her family's flight from Russia in 1919 and her own experiences when she must be left in Belgium for a while when the others emigrate to America.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Whisper1
Karen Hesse also wrote Out of the Dust, one of my favorite Newbery award winning books. Once again, I am in awe of Hesses' ability to portray a historical period with characters who take us on a journey through time wherein the emotions and the setting paint vivid images of overcoming difficult
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This book is well deserving of the many accolades it received, including some of the following:

Horn Book Outstanding Book of the Year
American Library Association Notable Book
National Jewish Book Award


Travel with a twelve-year old Jewish young woman Rifka as she and her family dangerously slip out of Russia to avoid persecution. Her prize possession is a book of poetry by the great Russian author Puskin. It is the love of poetry, of family and the kindness of strangers that sustains Rifka. Learn the courage and difficulty of the immigrant experience. Smile at the fortitude of this spunky character who faces extreme adversity.

As Rifka travels she writes to her cousin Tovah who remains in Russia. The book is a series of letters of Rifka's journey and her dramatic experiences as her family flees senseless hate and bigotry with the hope of a new life in America.

Taken from real life experience of the author's Aunt Lucy, this is a compelling story of despair balanced with hope, of loss and then gain, of tragedy and then light.

Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member smendel18
This was an unbelievably great book. It incorporates a lot of historical context to an extremely compelling story about a family leaving Russia to find freedom in America. This story is composed of letters from a young girl named Rifka, who is writing down her story to send to Tovah. This shows a
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lot of oppression and overcoming obstacles. Upper grades would definitely be able to read this story and have a great experience with it.
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LibraryThing member mks27
Karen Hesse uses the epistolary style to present the story of a Russian Jewish girl, and her family, escaping persecution with the hope of a new life in America. The story is based on the real life experience of the author’s Aunt Lucy. Rifka tells the story completely through letters to her
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cousin Tovah, which are written in the margins of her beloved book of poetry by Alexander Pushkin.

The author takes the reader through the immigrant experience in a way that connects with readers. The use of letters makes the novel extremely personal in nature and the reader strongly bonds to Rifka, who shares her experiences, fears, thoughts, hopes, and worries of the unknown.

The setting of the book is constantly changing in terms of location. However, the time period is clearly and effectively communicated through descriptions of clothing, modes of transportation, food (most memorable is the abundance of herring and onions). Hesse excels at illustrating the contrast between life, material items, food, and every day events in the family between Russia and Poland, compared to that of Western Europe and New York City, even on Ellis Island. Hesse successfully describes the various settings by sharing Rifka’s experiences through her senses, such as the smells on trains, and what she sees, the lovely markets and gardens of Antwerp, the crowds at Ellis Island.

Rifka herself experiences a great transformation through her own story. She is brave and courageous right from the beginning, but not independent and strong. She is living in fear. While on her journey, she experiences the kindness of others, even those who are not Jewish, and begins to trust. She develops confidence in herself and her abilities.

I highly recommend this book for children ages 9-12 and anyone interested in the immigrant experience, the experience of Russian Jews, and/or genealogy.
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LibraryThing member Sadie-rae_Kieran
An incredible book. The protagonist, Rifka, writes her story as a series of letters to her cousin Tovah in the book of poetry that Tovah had given her before Rifka's family was forced to flee Russia. Rifka and her family flee their village before her brothers can be captured and killed by the
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Russian army, but their escape is not easy. Russia was a cruel and unsafe place for its Jewish citizen who often weren't allowed to have decent jobs, keep their most prized posessions, or leave their small communities without written permission. Cruelty, fear, and illness make their travel slow and painful. Rifka experiences many things she never has before and writes about it all in these letters to Tovah, even knowing that she might not ever hear from her dear cousin-or any of her family- ever again.

I won't give away how Rifka's story ends, but will say that this is a beautiful and moving book. It's an award-winning book for children and young adults, but I think it could be a worthwhile read for any age. I started reading "Letters from Rifka" this morning and was finished by noon, so it's quite short, but it's also captiving and graceful in the way that it's told.
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LibraryThing member KatieD1
This is an easy, quick, historical fiction book that vividly illustrates what it was like to escape from the Germans when you were Jewish during the Halocaust. Rifka gets detained when she and her family try to get on a ship to go to America because she got a disease from a passenger on the train.
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She must use all of her courage to survive without her family in this strange place while she is treated. A inspiring read.
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LibraryThing member angieh1
I would have to agree with Katie on this one. Totally a great book. Can be a quick read or a book read inbetween long books being read. Rifka is traveling from Russia to America with her two older brothers and parents. They experience religious discrimination, exotic towns, new experiences,
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doctors, soldiers and even a deadly disease. In Belgium rifka is left to be cured of a disease. Great story but I would say could be more developed and detailed. The book is writen in the form of letters, from Rifka to her dear cousin back home, Tova. She never sends the letters to her friend, but writes in her diary as if she is speaking or writing to Tova.
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LibraryThing member junipertree
This is one of the best books that I've read regarding a Jewish family immigrating from Russia to the United States during WWII. I didn't know that immigrants could be kept from entering America at Ellis Island because of diseases or conditions. The book is written as letters from Rifka to her
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cousin describing the events they had to go through regarding guards and examinations along with the lonliness and despair she had to endure when she was left behind when her family went to America. I felt like I was almost in the story because it was so emotional.
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LibraryThing member hockey101
This book is so good because it has an adventure in history!!!!
LibraryThing member mlsullivan
I thought this was a very good book about the difficulties people faced when they came to America. It told how Rifka went through many struggles, but in the end got to see her family.
LibraryThing member SHeineke
Rifka writes letters to a beloved cousin left behind in Russia as she and her family escape from Russia and the oppression the Jewish people were enduring there in 1919. Journeying with her family, tragically, she catches ringworms while traveling across Europe and is not allowed to sail with her
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family to America. Instead, she must spend a year in Belgium receiving treatment for the ringworm. After a momentus journey across the ocean, she is detained on Ellis Island for months while officials decide if her baldness caused by the ringworm will keep her from joining her family in New York. On Ellis Island her compassion for others who are suffering and her gift for languages endears her to the medical staff and patients she befriends, especially, a seven year old boy who no one else understands. She is overjoyed when she is finally reunited with her family and allowed to proceed to America. A wonderful story of courage under hardship
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LibraryThing member jbbarclay
Rifka is a young girl on a journey from Russia to America during hard times as a Jewish girl. She has many bad experiences on her way and becomes sick with ringworm delaying her trip to America. Great Historical book based on a true story.
LibraryThing member srh013
Rifka, a jewish immigrant tells this story through a series of letters to her cousin Tovah. Rifka and her family flee Russia during World War 2 from the Russians. Rifka writes in the letters about all the things she goes through including getting separeated from her family, and illness. In the end
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Rifka finally gets reunited with her family.
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LibraryThing member vabrazzolotto
I love this book! it is about a young girl, Rifka, and her family who secretly travel from Russia to america. Rifka and her family overcome many obstacles on their way, but they finally make it.
LibraryThing member meallen1
The genre of this book is multi-cultural. It is informational because what happened in the book did happen to some people. There is no art in the book accept for the cover. The book is about a young girl and her family trying to escape Russia, beacuse the Russians are killing the Jews. The book is
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made of letters that Rifka wrote to her cousin while she was traveling to America. She went through really hard times but eventually made it to New York where she was able to meet up with her family again. The reading level is fourth or fifth grade. The curricular connection is history.
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LibraryThing member kefoley
This is a book about a courageous girl named Rifka. She sends letters to her friend all about her adventure and hardships on her way from making it to America from Russia. Her family wanted to leave because they were Jewish and being mistreated in Russia.
LibraryThing member STBA
In letters to her cousin, a young Jewish girl chronicles her family's flight from Russia in 1919 and her own experiences when she must be left in Belgium for a while when the others emigrate to America.
LibraryThing member aab018
This is about a Jewish Girl that is trying to excape torture to go live in america. This is set in the times of the Holecust. This is a good story to learn about history and learn about sacrifice.
LibraryThing member FriendsLibraryFL
In letters to her cousin back 'home' in Russia, 12-year-old Rifka tells of her journey to America in 1919, from the dangerous escape over the border through Europe and across the sea to the new country.--Booklist.
LibraryThing member meggyweg
Although this is a compelling and suspenseful story, the epistolary/diary format really doesn't work. It's very hard to get those to work right, and in this case it has the usual problem: the narrative is WAY too detailed to make a convincing letter.

There is also the problem of Rifka writing facts
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in her letters that the reader doesn't know, but which her cousin clearly would -- like, listing the names of her brothers, when in a real letter she would just say "My brothers," and also explaining about pogroms and the Russian government drafting Jewish boys as soldiers -- which her cousin, being a Russian Jew, would not need to be told. The author could have been more smooth in imparting necessary information, perhaps in a foreword.

Maybe most people aren't bothered by that sort of thing, but it bothers me. Hence, three and a half stars instead of four.
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LibraryThing member DaniBook
Rifka is a young Russian girl traveling with her family to America in search of a better life. She writes journal entries to her cousin to tell of her journey. Rifka and her family face many hardships in trying to get to America, with one being that Rifka suffers from a ring worm that makes her
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have to cut off her hair and not be allowed in the Polish country. In the end, Rifka defeats all odds, and is reunited with her family in the great country of America.
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LibraryThing member zhelg
Letters from Rifka is a kids novel that is a good read if you want to know more about life as a Jew in the past. Rifka is a girl whose family is trying to flee Russia's horrible treatment and go to America. Things just don't seem to work out for her and her family though and she ends up being left
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behind. As the title suggests, this book is written as a collection of letters to her cousin Tovah. This book has won the National Jewish Book Award by the JWB Jewish Book Council and it was rightfully earned. I recommend this story to those in grade 4 and up.
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LibraryThing member cbrwn92
Growing up, this was one of my favorite books. I received a copy from my sister, and I read it numerous times over the course of six or seven years. I remember being so fascinated by Rifka's story - I still think back to it today. Occasionally, when I grab a banana, I remember Rifka laughing about
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how people on the island used banana's to tell if someone was a new immigrant. I want to have a copy of this book to keep and read for years to come and then to pass on to newer readers.
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LibraryThing member mcorbink
Rifka endures many hardships as she and her family flee a Russia that is looking for Jews in order to persecute them. Excellent novel.
LibraryThing member benuathanasia
I read this in 6th grade. I'm more than willing to bet that a good deal of my enjoyment of this book was thanks to my teacher's phenomenal reading voice. Even still, the best reading voice can't save a bad book, so it had to be pretty decent. I really enjoyed what I remember of this book.
LibraryThing member engpunk77
The story is keeping my interest, however, I found it very difficult to get into. I think that it would take a lot of patience and help to get my students started, as the whole epistolary format doesn't really go with the style of narration very well (no one writes letters with full dialogue and
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with such detail--you forget they're letters and then when you're reminded that they are, the whole thing seems implausible-credibility suffers). That aside, the narrative is compelling.

On page 56...

Okay, I'm used to the style now. Rifka's character should inspire young readers: avid readers and writers to try to write their own poetry & prose; girls who don't think they can get by on looks alone to cherish their intelligence; any young adult to handle new and intimidating experiences with grace and courage. Rifka is definitely a real-life hero and she inspired me to be more selfless. I especially loved how Rifka never gave thought to the fact that all of her troubles were a result of one poor choice and she NEVER blamed the Polish peasant girl---I was constantly dwelling on that fact, but Rifka never did; a true testimony in favor of positive thinking in the face of adversity.

It took me longer than it should have to read it, however, which indicates to me that it didn't hold my interest as much as I'd have liked.
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Original publication date



0805019642 / 9780805019643
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