Until the Robin Walks on Snow:
10th Anniversary Edition (2022)
Praise on Book Cover
This is the heartwarming tale of a family’s struggle to help its extremely premature baby survive at a time when most tiny babies were lost. The author describes in accurate detail the sacrifices made by the mother, the midwife, and the family of the newborn in a small New England town in 1922.
You won’t be able to put it down!
Michael F. Morosky, M.D.
Bernice Rocque’s novella, Until the Robin Walks on Snow gives a human face to the immigrant experience. With a solid foundation of research about the era, this fictional account based on her family’s history offers a portrait of family and community in southeastern Connecticut during the early twentieth century. It is a story shared by the many who came to America for a better life.
Bruce M. Stave (1937-2017)
(Late) Professor of History Emeritus – University of Connecticut and
Co-author, From the Old Country, An Oral History of European Migration to America
Featured Reviews (Excerpts)
Struggling to Save What is Precious
Until the Robin Walks on Snow
(Tenth Anniversary Edition)
In today’s throwaway world, where so much life is horrifically discarded, it is so refreshing to review a book that not only cherishes God’s greatest gift but celebrates those who struggle valiantly through the most severe adversity to protect a life seemingly already lost.
The novella reviewed herein,“Until the Robin Walks on Snow,” is a ten-year anniversary edition, with the original year of publication being 2012, and this revised edition released in 2022. But what is interesting is that the story takes place exactly 100 years earlier. For in 1922, a recently emigrated Polish-Lithuanian family in Norwich, Connecticut had a child born unto them that weighed only one-and-a-half pounds. This was a documented fact of the author’s family history. The story of the heroics taken by the family, and especially its midwife family friend, are largely the creation of the very talented author, Bernice L. Rocque. Writing this type of fictionalized memoir can be very challenging indeed. The author must collect as many facts as possible, then weave a story true to those, but at the same time create characters and dialogue that are equally true to the storyline, yet still interesting to the reader.
Rocque has adeptly negotiated the hazards into which so many fictionalized memoirists often become entrapped. First, let’s explore the feeling of the setting of the book. As one of her many blurbs from the past decade’s reviewers points out, this novella has the feel of the “Little House on the Prairie” stories. The immigrant family has just moved into what can easily be described as a ramshackle farm outside Norwich. It is in autumn when the child is born, and the story opens with the concerned midwife and exhausted mother discussing all that must be done to keep alive the boy who is nothing more than a grayish slab of flesh. Even though the first infant life saved by an incubator was in 1888, they were still not commonplace in 1922…
But what happens over the next six months is skillfully developed by the author. The characters come fully into view, not only the midwife and the mother, but also her husband, her father living with them and the two other young children who call the two men Tata and Dziadzia respectively. Rocque not only details the travails of the family, but also along the way, the joys for which they are so tremendously thankful. Gifts from friends, letters from the home country, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve Wigilia gatherings, and finally preparations for Holy Easter. All as the battle to save the infant intensifies, if only to prove wrong the doctor who so coldly says the child is the smallest he’s ever seen, “dead or alive.”
I wholeheartedly recommend this refreshing novel that celebrates life—not only that of the struggling infant, but also of the Polish-Lithuanian family endeavoring to establish itself in America. It is a quick and easy read, but not one that will be quickly or easily forgotten.
David Trawinski for Polish American Journal (PAJ), July/August 2023
The excerpts below from readers’ reviews of Until the Robin Walks on Snow: 10th Anniversary Edition (2022) appear in full on Amazon and/or Goodreads. They are organized from newest to oldest, and in some cases long paragraphs have been divided for easier reading here.
The touching story of a Polish-Lithuanian family, immigrant farmers, expresses the importance of family love and unity when times get tough. The novella fictionalizes the author’s own ancestors’ trials when, in the brutal winter of 1922 in a Connecticut farmhouse, a tiny premature baby is born, weighing only one and a half pounds.
The mother, who would ordinarily be doing chores, cooking, cleaning, and performing many farm tasks, is forced to rely completely on the other members of her family, as …the only way the baby will survive is for her to hold him close to her warm body day and night. Everybody pitches in…The midwife too, does a huge amount of work to keep the household running.
…in this special 10th Anniversary Edition, we learn the sort of generous and brave person [the newborn] grew up to be. Bernice Rocque is fascinated with her family’s history and has done a huge amount of research about her ancestors, much of which she now shares with the reader in an extended afterword. Also, several photos in this edition bring… home the reality of these loving people.
I’d recommend this book not only to adults who have similar family histories they’ve explored, but also to young readers who wish to learn about life during that time period in Connecticut.
Reading Until the Robin Walks on Snow takes the reader into a world very much like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. This remarkable story of saving a 1.5-pound premature child born to Polish and Lithuanian immigrants shows the remarkable creativity and determination of the mother, midwife, and family in a time where no neonatal care existed.
After I finished reading the birth story, I wanted to know more… WHAT HAPPENED to “Baby Antoni” and his family in later years? In this 10th anniversary edition Rocque shares that information with readers. Living almost a century, the author’s uncle (“Baby Antoni”) believed his life must have had a purpose. As he neared the end of his life, the purpose became clear to him—and to us, after we read the author’s Afterword.
Not only are the birth story and its Afterward compelling, Bernice Rocque uses a very unique storytelling style that could be helpful to anyone wanting to tell their family’s story. The birth story is written as a novella, based on relatives’ memories and also their dialects. Then, she anchors the story in time and place with abundant historical material. The Afterword and Author’s Notes (by chapter) provide an additional layer of historical insight… we learn why the author’s uncle may have gently nudged his niece into telling the amazing story of his birth.
This book finds a valued place on anyone’s bookshelf. It is a wonderful story, suitable for adults and children. It radiates love. It shows history. It inspires.
Bernice Rocque has done a fantastic job with this 10th Anniversary Edition of Until the Robin Walks on Snow. I loved the way the author told the story about her Uncle Tony’s birth as a very premature baby within the pages of the first edition, and she retold that beautiful story of heartwarming love, sacrifice, heartbreak, joy, and so much more in this 10th Anniversary Edition.
In preparation for writing the book she used her family history researcher skills to help her uncle find out things before he passed away that he had no knowledge of before. She has written a wonderful section on him and others in the book: his mother Marianna, father Andrzej, grandfather Nikodimas, brother Michal, sister Nellie, midwife Helena.
I love the photos as well as the sketches…The added family information in the Afterword section… held a special fascination for me, another family researcher and genealogist. As grandfather Nikodimas foretold, maybe Antoni would save one of the family someday… He seemed to have purpose, a strong will, work ethic and determination… given to him by his Eastern European ancestors and passed down through the generations.
This is a great book. I can’t say enough about it here.
Highly recommend, especially [if] one [is] interested in what it was possibly like for their ancestors experiences in this country and how it may have affected the family upbringing. This edition is a wonderful update to the original edition. Just a pleasant read.
A decade ago, Bernice L. Rocque…utilized [historical fiction] to relate a story about her own family’s endurance through an emotionally arduous time. I ordered a copy of Until the Robin Walks on Snow and was rewarded with a memorable narrative. In 1922, Rocque’s uncle came into the world through a home birth at only 1.5 pounds. Even in today’s high-tech hospitals this extreme prematurity is very precarious. Imagine it occurring in Connecticut right before Christmas in a home with the barest necessities like a wood stove for heating and cooking. Hypothermia was a leading cause for newborn death. We readers joined the family in the kitchen, as the dedicated mother and midwife grappled with the challenge.
Now I just read this newly written 10th Anniversary Edition, which includes a few more story details. Apparently, I was only one of numerous readers who [had] wanted to know what happened to the baby and his family after the novella ended.
In the new Afterword and expanded Author’s Notes, Rocque responds to readers’ questions and also reveals insights about how she and her uncle share certain survival traits. Like many Eastern European immigrants at the time, her family had the fortitude and resilience to meet difficult challenges. This strength became part of her upbringing and DNA, to likewise handle adversity.
This book offers the well received novella along with these extra insights into the family’s past and the author’s present life. A very thought-provoking read!
Re-reading this inspiring account of such a very little baby surviving in the bosom of his immigrant family led me to a new appreciation and respect for the immigrant experience. This is a family story but also America’s story.
The author brings the reader into the home with poignant details of customs and culture:
caring for such a vulnerable baby, working the farm, celebrating Christmas, all are well described. The author’s afterword gives a deeper understanding of the times and updates the family today.
Robin is a book to share in classrooms and at home. Stories such as this one prompt memories and bring us closer to family and community.