Though Charlotte Salomon, a German-Jewish woman, did not survive the Holocaust, her distinctive art did. The 769 paintings that compose her autobiographical series titled Life? or Theater? reveal her tragic story. Susan Wider uses Salomon's art along with meticulous research to guide readers through the young painter's fateful life during World War II.
Charlotte acquired her love of art at a young age when her governess introduced her to painting. She was hooked immediately and extremely passionate about her art. Wider effectively relates Charlotte's intensity with anecdotes that describe events like hearing her stepmother sing in concert for the first time: "The glorious tone of Paula's voice soaring over the rich music from the orchestra sounded like colors.... She heard blues and reds and yellows showering over her." Wider also illuminates Charlotte's dogged determination to follow her dreams and say something to humanity. Charlotte fought to get into art school after failing the entrance exam, obsessively painted hidden away in a hotel room and left her extraordinary legacy with her doctor before being arrested and sent "with her unborn child... to the gas chamber on arrival at Auschwitz."
Accompanying Wider's narration are color photographs of selected paintings from Life? or Theater?, allowing the audience to fully appreciate the singularity of Salomon's work. This debut is an excellent introduction to an artist with whom young readers may not be well acquainted, and it's a haunting reminder of how much talent and beauty was lost in the Holocaust. --Jen Forbus, freelancer