Hello, friends! Our book today is The Welcome Chair, written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, a moving story of the immigrant experience in the United States.
Partially based on Wells’s family history, the story begins with a young woodcarver from Bavaria leaving home to strike out on his own, traveling across the sea to the United States. He finds work as a bookkeeper and apprentice, creating a rocking chair with the word “Willkommen” (German for “Welcome”) carved into the backrest as a gift for his employers. As the chair is passed down through his family, then eventually on to other immigrant families, the Welcome Chair has a new word for “welcome” added to it: “Baruch Haba” in Hebrew, “Welcome” in English, “Fáilte” in Irish, and more. With each new culture that makes the chair a part of their home, they add to its beauty and legacy, until it becomes a gift to a newly arrived refugee family, a gesture of friendship and, of course, welcome.
Gorgeous. Wells takes a deeply personal story and expands upon it to highlight the fact that, to this day, the United States is a nation built on immigration and diversity. The welcome chair is both a unique and memorable artifact as well as a poignant symbol of how a diversity of cultures can add to the beauty of the whole, and its story is compelling to read. Pinkney’s realistic illustrations give a grounded view of the chair and its long life, giving the necessary gravity to the characters that surround it and their often-serious circumstances and experiences. These experiences (which include brief descriptions of deaths, war, and other weighty subjects), as well as the tone and length, make this a story best suited to older elementary to middle grade readers; JJ enjoyed the illustrations but struggled with the more advanced text and tone. Overall, however, this is a beautiful story about the immigrant experience, and it’s absolutely worth the read. Baby Bookworm approved!
(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)