Writers are Readers: “Nanka of Old Bohemia”

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

REVIEWER: Denise M. Baran-Unland

BOOK TITLE: “Nanka of Old Bohemia”

AUTHOR: Helene Pelzel

GENERAL SYNOPSIS: “The story of an immigrant child, which carries her back to the village from which she came, follows her adventures on the long journey to Bremen, and across the sea in a sailing vessel which took many, many weeks to reach the new country, and then tells of her experiences in becoming a little American. This type of story is needed - for it strikes an authentic note and pictures a passing phase of Americanization.” (Kirkus Reviews, Oct. 1, 1937)

GENERAL IMPRESSIONS: My parents brought this home for me from a library sale (Joliet Public Library) when I was 7, the same age as the protagonist. I had mild interest (my mother is 100% Bohemian and the younger sister was the same age as my sister). I read it because I had nothing else to do that day. I became enthralled with the story, as did my children after me. I read it many times, and I still have the book today.


Growing up asthmatic, reading was my primary activity. “Nanka of Old Bohemia,” like so many books I “discovered” growing up, told a layered story with multidimensional characters without resorting to cheap plot tricks or sensationalism to make me forget I was reading. Yet, it didn’t sugarcoat the truth, even though it was a children’s book, and it didn’t tell you want to think.

Instead, you saw the world through Nanka’s eyes and felt what she felt: the old glass blower’s resignation at his parting gift to her, her disgust at weeding and then her shame when her old grandmother took her place, the awkward sorrow of her childhood friend when she left her country, the “friend” on the ship that stole their food, the terror at water rationing when the ship got lost, the eagerness to fit in with her new friends and learn the new language, the poignant hope at the final walk with her father.

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