Francesco Tirelli loved to eat gelato from his uncle’s cart. So when he moves from Italy to Hungary, Francesco decides to open his own ice cream store. There young Peter learns to love ice cream as much as Francesco did. But when the war comes and Francesco closes his shop for the winter, he uses the shop for a special purpose―to hide his Jewish friends and neighbors from danger. This heroic tale is based on true events.
Born in Israel in 1976, mother of six, Tamar Meir holds degrees in Talmud and Jewish philosophy, and a PhD in literature from Bar-Ilan University. She currently serves as head of the Literature Department at the Givat Washington College of Education and teaches Aggadah at Efrata College and at Bar-Ilan University. Meir is also member and head of various Ministry of Education committees responsible for the literature curricula at schools and kindergartens.
In addition to her academic and literary work, Meir is a social activist, empowering women in the religious community. Tamar established and heads the “Kulana” women’s Beit Midrash, and is a member of the Board of Rabbis of Beit Hillel, an Orthodox rabbinical organization that also includes women in its ranks.
Francesco Tirelli’s Ice Cream Store, Meir’s first children’s book, was awarded the Yad Vashem Prize (2017) and the Devorah Omer Prize for Children’s Literature (2017).
A gelato shop in Hungary becomes a hideout for Jews during World War II.
Francesco, a young Italian boy, falls in love with ice cream in every flavor. When he moves to Hungary, to the city of Budapest, there is none to be found as tasty as what he loved as a child, so he opens Francesco’s Gelato. No Hungarian culinary specialties are on this menu. One day he encounters a young boy named Peter who shares his passion. After some years pass, the German war against Jews comes to Hungary, and Peter and his family are in danger. Francesco, who has closed his shop, now uses it to hide them and some other Jews. And in the midst of the darkness, Peter finds a special way to celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of lights. The author’s note informs readers that, years later, Peter (known as Yitzchak in Israel) petitioned Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, to honor Francesco as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. It is Peter’s daughter-in-law who has written this simple but moving tale of quiet heroism. The delicately rendered illustrations vary from the sunny vistas of Italy to the darkness of the hideout. Faces are expressive, and the scene with hidden families around the hanukkiah (originally molds for chocolate) is especially moving.
An accessible and memorable account for young readers of one man’s humanity during the Holocaust.”
―Kirkus Reviews ― Journal
“Very few people have heard of Francesco Tirelli, one of the multitude of unsung heroes and heroines of World War II. Nor have they heard about how this Italian gelato aficionado emigrated to Hungary, opened a successful ice cream parlor in the middle of Budapest, and, years later, quietly saved many of his Jewish friends and neighbors. But if author Tamar Meir has her way, Tirelli’s obscurity will become a thing of the past. A touching nonfiction picture story book for middle grade readers ages 7-12, this moving tale shows how one person’s courage can make all the difference in the world. Much in keeping with Francesco’s quiet heroism, Meir’s tale of delicious desserts across cultures and intergenerational friendship―along with Yael Albert’s gentle color illustrations―merely hints at the horrors behind the history, without glossing over events. As the story goes, during the last winter of the war, when the Jews of Budapest were in great peril and the demand for ice cream low, Francesco Tirelli hid local Jewish residents in his shop―including his young friend and ice cream lover, Peter―thus saving their lives. Embedded in the book as an extra layer is a Hanukkah story, but frankly, that’s icing on this book’s ice cream cake. Francesco Tirelli’s Ice Cream Shop closes with a brief but welcome epilogue about World War II and the Holocaust. There we discover that the author is the daughter-in-law of Peter, the young ice cream lover that Francesco Tirelli saved all those many years ago.
― Nanette McGuiness, Global ITL ― Website
“In the winter of 1944, Francesco Tirelli (a real person) helps Jews find hiding places from the Nazis, many of them in the back room of his closed-for-the-season Budapest gelateria. While in hiding, teenaged Peter―identified in an epilogue as the author’s father-in-law―creates a menorah using a chocolate mold and cooking oil. The illustrations’ initial rosy tones give way to shadowy blues, which allow the menorah’s light to stand out. The gentle, smoothly translated text doesn’t spell out many details of the Holocaust, but should work well as a discussion starter. A hopeful tale of kindness, resourcefulness, and comfort in Hanukkah traditions.”
―The Horn Book Magazine ― Journal
“An ice cream shop becomes a WWII safe haven in this family story turned picture book. In Italy, Francesco Tirelli (Meir’s father-in-law) stops at his uncle’s ice cream cart every day, even when his mother tells him ‘Enough!’ And he remains devoted to gelateria, eventually opening a successful ice cream shop in Budapest, where he meets a Jewish boy named Peter who shares his affection for the treat. After Nazi forces invade Hungary, Tirelli offers his seasonally closed store as a hiding place for Peter’s family and others, who gather together in the back room, light Hanukkah candles, and pray for the war’s end. Though the picture book format seems young for readers within the intended age range, Albert’s mood-shifting illustrations and the moving anecdote offer an accessible take on a terrible chapter of history.”
–Publishers Weekly ― Journal
“Italian-born Francesco Tirelli loves the ice cream Uncle Carlo sells from his pushcart. After moving to Budapest, Francesco opens his own shop and befriends Peter, a young Jewish boy. When life becomes difficult for Jews during WWII, Francesco secretly offers his shuttered-for-winter ice cream shop as a hiding place for Peter and his family. The daughter-in-law of the real-life Peter, Meir offers a succinct account (smoothly translated from the Hebrew) of Tirelli’s efforts, which led to his 2008 recognition as Righteous Among the Nations (non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust). Befitting a picture book that will attract mostly younger readers, Meir is vague about the specifics that Peter and others endured, emphasizing instead the makeshift Hanukkah the group fashioned from an empty
candy mold. Albert’s upbeat illustrations feature mostly cheery blues and reds; the spreads depicting hiding are dark but not alarming. Only the subtle placement of empty shoes serves to remind of those who perished. A gentle, yet heroic addition to Holocaust literature.”
― Kay Weisman, Booklist ― Journal
“The cover art on Francesco Tirelli’s Ice Cream Shop features a smiling boy walking with a grandfatherly man, each enjoying a multi-scoop cone of brightly colored gelato. The reader, anticipating a tale of intergenerational friendship and delicious food, will not be disappointed but will also be surprised. This new translation of an Israeli picture book moves from Italy to Budapest, from a young boy with dreams of opening an ice cream shop to a successful business owner who risks his life by sheltering persecuted Jews. Brightly colored pictures with subtle details alluding to historical events and deeply thoughtful text elevate this story to a modern classic of Holocaust literature for children.
The story begins with Francesco’s childhood. A sense of foreshadowing accompanies a picture of him playing with toy soldiers, military planes, and a small wheeled cart labeled “gelati.” When he moves to Budapest and confronts skepticism about his plans to open a shop, he persists in his belief that pastry-loving Hungarians can be convinced to buy ice cream. The setting is singular as Albert depicts a truly Middle European café, with pipe-smoking men and fur-coated women enjoying delicacies such as, “Zserbó cake” and “stuffed Gombóc.” Throughout the book, simple explanations alternate with specific allusions to time and place, immersing the reader in a distant and foreign setting.
A young Jewish boy, Peter, becomes a regular patron of Francesco’s store, but even before Nazis occupy the city, the pictures have alerted young readers to frightening changes. Not everyone in Budapest is as friendly and unprejudiced as the ice cream store owner. A two-page spread shows Francesco serving a smiling crowd of customers, while the swastika and stylized Aryan face on a poster in the corner point towards tragedy. Jews with downturned faces and glaring yellow stars affixed to their coats walk through the snow against a backdrop of tanks and soldiers. Meir’s words realistically express Peter’s fears: ‘But Peter’s family was very afraid. They were Jewish, and they were no longer wanted in Hungary…Who would help them?’ Peter, his mother, and his father embrace in a kitchen with a Hanukkah menorah set unobtrusively next to a pitcher and scale; suitcases and a hastily overturned chair signify the chaos to come. Albert switches her color palette, using black and blue backgrounds and figures to highlight the changed circumstances of the characters.
A Hanukkah celebration becomes part of Francesco’s courageous decision to help his Jewish friends. Peter is an active participant in rescuing the winter holiday of rededication, even as he is hiding in a place where ‘there are small bottles with tantalizing aromas, but there is no hanukkiah.’ The striking image of hidden Jews reclaiming their observance is poignant. The book’s concluding pictures of an adult Peter with his grandchildren in Israel, along with neatly placed mementos of his past, are both haunting and celebratory.
Francesco Tirelli’s Ice Cream Shop is highly recommended for children but will also be appreciated by adults because of its exceptional artwork and intelligent text. A brief ‘Epilogue’ fills in facts and informs readers of Francesco Tirelli’s recognition by Yad Vashem.”
–Jewish Book Council ― Website
“Ice cream connects generations and cultures in this nostalgic story of harboring Jewish people during the Holocaust. Francesco Tirelli loved visiting his uncle’s ice cream shop in Italy so much that when he grew up and moved to Budapest, he opened his own gelato shop. Though critics claimed he would never be able to sell ice cream like his uncle, Tirelli established a thriving business in the center of town, where all enjoyed his frozen treats. During World War II, he turned his shop into a shelter to hide his Jewish neighbors. The business became a safe place where the Jewish residents of Budapest could remain out of sight and even celebrate their traditions, including Hanukkah. After the war was over, one of the small children hidden in the shop, Peter Mayer, grew up to open an ice cream shop in Israel. In the epilogue, it’s revealed that the author is the daughter-in-law of Mayer. VERDICT With lighthearted illustrations and a hopeful story, this picture book translated from Hebrew offers an additional perspective on the events of World War II and the Holocaust.”
―School Library Journal