Behind the book:
I WILL COME BACK TO YOU is based on a story I heard many times when I was growing up. My mother kept a small silver donkey with two miniature baskets on a special shelf in our living room. She sometimes took it down and let me hold it. Then she would tell me about the time she and my brothers were separated during World War II. I never tired of this story. When I began the first draft of I WILL COME BACK FOR YOU I decided to use a charm bracelet as a narrative device which meant I had to change my eldest brother into a girl. I got the idea of using the bracelet from another childhood memory – sitting on my aunt’s lap and playing with the charms on her bracelet as she told me why she had collected each one. Other than these two “artistic liberties” the story is completely true.
In the 1980s, my mother and brother, Roberto, returned to the mountains where they had been in hiding during the war and actually found the farm family that had protected them!
Russo bases this book on her own family history. Her writing is direct but always reassuring, and her naïf gauche illustrations, rendered in saturated autumnal tones, feel very close to the actual family photographs that serve as the book's endpapers. Ingenuity and compassion are recurring themes in this eloquent portrayal of a family's struggle for freedom.
Publishers Weekly *starred review
“The bright, clear, gouache illustrations on watercolor paper stay true to the child’s viewpoint—confused and sad about the separation and secrets, until there is a joyful reunion with Mama. The children never saw Papa again, though, and a closing page without pictures, just text against a black background, has a powerful effect. A fine addition to the Holocaust curriculum.”
“…readers will find themselves engrossed after a few pages. Russo has an ear for the vivid and child-friendly detail—the disgusting concoction Mamma drinks in order to make her too ill for the Nazi transport; the baskets filled with piglets the children hide in to join her in the mountains. Saturated gouache paintings in the warm colors of a northern Italian village depict both the happiness of family togetherness and the tension and fear of wartime. Photos of the real Mamma (Russo’s mother) and other members of her family adorn the endpapers, bringing the story even closer to child audiences.”
The Horn Book