That the story behind Judge’s picture book doesn’t outshine her text or illustrations is really saying something, because backstories don’t get much more moving than the one here. One Thousand Tracings is based on the childhood experiences of Judge’s mother, whose parents — Wisconsin ornithologists — led a post-WWII effort to help total strangers in Europe keep body and soul together as the continent rebuilt.
The story’s unforced drama unfolds in two-page chapters over a two-year period, from the return of the narrator’s soldier-father in 1946 to the return to normalcy on both sides of the Atlantic at the end of 1948. Judge’s demonstration of American kindness and humanity in post-war Europe is not a new theme in historical picture books — Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot and Boxes for Katje have covered similar ground — but she makes her mother’s story intensely personal through the art. The book’s title refers to the flood of paper tracings of shoeless feet received by the narrator’s family, and actual tracings received by Judge’s mother and grandparents are reproduced throughout, along with photos and letters sent across the ocean by those in need.
The author’s note is unusually satisfying, but the thoughtful and thorough web site Judge has put together for the book is really something else. Readers will come away with an even greater sense of what went into, in the words of the book’s subtitle, “Healing the Wounds of World War II.”