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Today I’ve something completely different for you.
Given the age of my kids I tend to review picture books, chapter books and nonfiction aimed at the under 10 crowd. But over the summer I read a YA novel that took my breath away; and this is no trope, for I finished it gulping for air, both sobbing and full of not-exactly-joy but certainly a passion for life.
I simply couldn’t not share it with you. I want to share the very best of books with you, and this is one of those. Whilst I’m sure it will win awards, I’m even more confident that it will change the shape of your heart and what you see around you.
The book that will do this is Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein.
Starkly put, Rose Under Fire is about life in Ravensbrück concentration camp during the Second World War.
It’s about the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) of the British Royal Air Force and the women who played a part in it. It’s about the “Rabbits”, 86 women on whom brutal medical experiments were conducted without consent, whilst prisoners in Ravensbrück. Its about some of the themes and characters of an earlier (and also excellent, award winning) novel by Wein, Code Name Verity, exploring their lives later in the war. It’s a riveting, deeply moving book, and one of the questions it raises is about how to bear witness to the Holocaust.
I felt the best way I could do that right now, was to interview Wein.
Playing by the book: Rose Under Fire tells a (fictional) account of an American civilian’s experience of her time in Ravensbrück concentration camp towards the end of the Second World War. It is beautiful, sensitive, and brimming with passion, love, hope. It is also utterly harrowing to read. I don’t think I stopped sobbing for the last 100 pages. What on earth was it like to write? (In the afterword you share one instance where you did cry, but the experience of reading it is so emotionally draining – and in equal measure emotionally uplifting – that I can’t believe researching and writing it was any easier on the heart.)
Elizabeth Wein: While I was writing it I kept torturing myself with my inability to tell this story — not only because I can’t possibly experience what these people experienced, but also because of my cowardice in being unable to come close to it. Could I live on a couple of pieces of bread and a bowl of broth every day for a week? I could, but I didn’t. Could I stand outside without a coat in the freezing rain for an hour or two? I could, but I didn’t. I was scared to do it: scared of cold, scared of hunger. And it felt wrong to try, since whatever I did to try to get into their shoes, I wasn’t going to be in their shoes.
And then, there were things that I couldn’t bring myself to write. I baulked at describing how they used cadavers to make the roll calls come out right. For some reason this seemed like my limit — the boundary I couldn’t cross. And then I crossed it anyway because if I don’t tell it, who’s going to know?
Playing by the book: Did you have to lock yourself away? Did you lead parallel lives for the duration, whilst writing? Did you find yourself like Rose becoming immune on some level to the horror?
Elizabeth Wein: Often, I used gaps in Rose’s memory to account for details I didn’t want to have to describe. Rose describes herself as becoming immune to the horror, but it’s probably more accurate to say you get used to it. I’ve discovered that my “immunity” is very specifically related to Ravensbrück itself. I have a heightened familiarity with that particular camp, and I’m fortified against anything I find out that happened there. But when I hear about the atrocities that happened at other camps, places I’m less familiar with, a whole new level of horror hits me. It’s like the inmates of Ravensbrück struggling to understand the rumours coming out of Auschwitz — impossible to comprehend unless you’ve seen it for yourself.
I dreamed a lot about Ravensbrück while I was writing Rose Under Fire, and I never dream about my books. Never. Curiously, in most of my dreams I was visiting, either as an onlooker or at a memorial site in the present day. Sometimes I was being treated as a prisoner, but it was always a simulation—never the real thing.
Playing by the book: Given the emotional intensity of the book I wondered if you have been able to read it since it was published – to revisit it. In the novel, two prisoners from Ravensbruck explore so thoughtfully how difficult it is for them to revisit their experiences (in the context of considering being witnesses at war crime trials after the war is over) and I wondered if you had experienced something like it with your own bearing witness.
Elizabeth Wein: One of my fears is that I’m going to be asked to read Rose’s poems in public and that, like her, I’m not going to be able to do this.
There are some things I can’t talk about. But I can’t write about them either, so yes, I guess I am like my made-up characters in the limits to which I can bear witness. An example is mothers and children in the camps. I managed to write about the cadavers, but not about mothers protecting and losing their children. I know a lot of things I can’t talk about. I guess that’s what makes me feel instinctively that some prisoners might have trouble following through with the promise to “Tell the world.”
Playing by the book: My response to your book got me thinking about “ownership” of stories about the holocaust. Part of me felt guilt for enjoying so very much a book that was only possible because real people suffered, died in the most awful of circumstances. But then I felt that perhaps it is ok for me to feel so connected to Rose’s story because it is about humankind (and the worst of humanity) and we need such stories to feel vital and relevant to us in the hope that it prevents anything like it happening again (and to remind us of the goodness, kindness, beauty all around in everyday life). As the writer of the story how did you feel about ownership? And about the relationship between “truth” and imagined stories?
Elizabeth Wein: This is so true, and so hard, and I talked about it a little in my answer to your question about what it was like to write the book. I really did feel, a lot of the time, that this was not my story to tell. But if I don’t tell it, who is going to any more? The books by the few survivors who tell their own stories are dated and out of print—and not necessarily accessible even when it’s possible to get hold of them. Several of my main sources I had to read in French. So I am telling it as far as I am able. But I don’t own this story. It belongs to the real people who lived it. I am just passing it on — a similar role to Rose’s.
As far as truth is concerned, I tried very hard not to misrepresent anything or sensationalize anything that happened within the context of Ravensbrück. There may be errors, but most of the incidents I’ve described are based on survivor accounts. I guess the difficulty is that the reader doesn’t know how much to believe. I don’t know how to remedy that in fiction — I mean, after all, for all my good intentions, it is a work of fiction.
It never occurred to me to feel guilty about anyone “enjoying” the read, though! The whole time I was writing it I kept thinking, “WHO is going to want to read this? NOBODY is going to want to read this!”
It’s true. I’m rather astonished, and delighted, to find that people are connecting with it so deeply.
Playing by the book: Ownership in another sense intrigued me; you state in the acknowledgements that your editorial team was “much more actively involved” in the creation of Rose Under Fire. Can you share a little more about this, and about how this different sort of genesis for a story felt for you as a writer
Elizabeth Wein: Well, mainly this was because I was operating under a deadline. I’ve written work-for-hire novels before to a deadline, but never a full-length book of my own creation, and that meant that I delivered a manuscript which I considered less than perfect. As a result, I was given more editorial direction in polishing the rough draft than I’ve ever had before.
I’d say that the structure of the novel changed a little as a result, but not the fabric of it. We removed some extraneous scenes and characters. But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the work was that I had three editors working on this at the same time – Stella Paskins at Egmont in the UK, Catherine Onder at Disney Hyperion in the USA, and Janice Weaver at Doubleday in Canada— and they all had to be consulted and they all had to agree on any changes that I made.
It was actually Stella who came up with the title. All four of us, and my agent Ginger Clark as well, had been emailing back and forth for weeks trying out different combinations of stressful descriptive situations involving the name Rose! We all agreed, from the start, that Rose’s name should be part of the title. My working title was simply “Rose’s Book.”
I was reluctant to give up my control over the timing of the manuscript, but I really did need guidance on the revision, and was grateful for it.
Playing by the book: As part of the research for this novel you visited Ravensbruck. What it the place like today? What still exists? And what did it feel like to be there? Are any of the “Rabbits” (the name given to the women who were experimented on in Ravensbruck, and who play a major role in Rose Under Fire) still alive?
Elizabeth Wein: After the war Ravensbrück ended up deep inside East Germany, and for fifty years it was used as a Soviet Army base. So it had an active and complex history for a long time after it ceased to be a concentration camp. Under the Soviet administration a memorial site was dedicated there in 1959, so the buildings that were part of that project were preserved (essentially, the prison block). The SS barracks outside the camp walls were all used as Soviet officers’ quarters so they are all still standing and are in good shape. They are now part of the current museum and memorial site and also house a youth hostel.
A few of the factory buildings and the walls are still there, but none of the barracks remain standing. The main part of the camp has been cleared and the surface is spread with black cinders, to replicate the memorable ground cover at the time of the camp. Depressions in the ground mark where the barracks stood. Trees that were planted when the camp was first built have now matured, so the effect is that of an open plaza or park.
The administration building where new prisoners were processed no longer stands, but the red-tiled floor of the shower room has been preserved because the initial dehumanizing process of being made to strip, shower, then get your head shaved and be issued with prison clothes was a hugely traumatic experience for most prisoners and made a lasting impression on them. Even those who had been in prison for months before arriving at Ravensbrück found this process shocking.
For me, it was amazing to be at Ravensbrück. I had been so mentally invested in this place for so long (two years) before I finally got to see it. I think in some sense it must be a pale reflection of what a survivor would feel travelling back for a memorial ceremony—it obviously isn’t the place you knew, and yet you recognize it. I knew my way around. I actually ended up giving tours to some of the other people attending the summer school we were enrolled in, because most of them were there for the seminar and not because of the location, so I knew considerably more about the camp than my colleagues.
I wrote a couple of blog entries, including photographs, while I was there:
“Post from Ravensbrück”
“One More from Ravensbrück”
I believe a few of the “Rabbits” are still alive, but I’m not sure which ones. I’ve been constructed a sort of memorial page on my website, with photographs and links to their biographies. I’m about half way through and so far I haven’t been able to confirm those who are still living, but many of them did live long and productive lives after the end of the war.
I believe Wanda Połtawska, the author of And I Am Afraid of My Dreams, is still alive. The heroic Girl Scout Wacława Andrzejak may also still be living.
Playing by the book: And talking of research for your novel, you hold a pilot’s licence and clearly love flying – your knowledge and passion shine through in both Rose Under Fire and Code Name Verity. As someone who doesn’t fly can you describe what it is like to pilot a plane?
Elizabeth Wein: Hahahahaha! That’s not really a question I can answer in a paragraph or two!
I think that what you really take away after a couple of lessons is that it’s actually just a mechanical skill, like driving, which you have to practise and practise until a lot of it becomes automatic. Maybe some people find it intuitive, but not me. You’re not soaring free in the sky like a bird on the wing: you’re checking your oil pressure, making time and distance and wind speed calculations, making sure the engine and radio are set correctly, etc. etc. Learning to fly is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The initial payback is a sense of satisfaction in doing a difficult job well (hopefully), and only then can you look around you and enjoy the beauty of the open sky. I try hard to get this across to my readers, too — it’s something you have to work at and take very seriously, but it really does open up wonders to you.
Playing by the book: What sort of plane do you normally fly? Of the planes you haven’t flown, what sort of plane would you like to fly?
Elizabeth Wein: I did all my training in a Cessna 152, which is a pretty standard training aircraft. Lately I’ve started flying a Piper Warrior, also known as a PA-28, which is a little bigger than a 152 (it seats 4 instead of 2!) and has low wings rather than high wings. They’re both single-engine planes. I am pretty short and find the Warrior is more comfortable for me to see out of!
Of course I dream of some day being able to try my hand at flying a Spitfire. I think every pilot does. But on a more realistic level, I’d really like to learn to fly a floatplane. I did get one lesson in one once. I have this dream where I become an expert seaplane pilot and own a little plane of my own and fly it around Scotland landing on lochs and staying at remote Victorian hotels.
Playing by the book: I understand that you are now working on a book set in Ethiopia in the run up to World War 2. Can you share a few more details? And do you have any hopes or plans to return to Maddie or Rose or any other character from Code Name Verity or Rose Under Fire in the future?
Elizabeth Wein: The new book is set during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, but its focus is on the transplanted American family who finds themselves caught up in it. There are a brother and a sister who learn to fly. I don’t really want to say more because I’m still in the middle of writing it and things are bound to change!
I do have an idea for a book set in the “next generation” of the Code Name Verity world, taking place in the early 1970s, which might feature some characters from CNV or ROSE. I guess what I should emphasize is that in my head, their stories continue before and after the events that take place in the novels. Maddie, I feel, is still alive today. My daughter and a friend and I were discussing a scenario where an elderly Maddie and Jamie are flying to France in the present day, on a scheduled commercial flight, and make a stink in security. Maddie: “I remember flying to France with no lights and 500 pounds of plastic explosive in the back and nobody made me take my shoes off!” Jamie: “You dinnae want to see my feet. I lost my toes in the North Sea.”
Playing by the book: Ah Elizabeth, yes! And how lovely to end the interview with laughter. Thank you. Thank you for your books, for your bearing witness, and – through your writing – for making me feel like I can be a better person than I am.
Elizabeth Wein’s website: http://www.elizabethwein.com/
Elizabeth Wein’s blog: http://eegatland.livejournal.com/
Elizabeth Wein on Twitter: @EWein2412
Elizabeth Wein’s keynote speech at the Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ Conference 2013.
Thanks to Chalet Fan, whose review of Rose Under Fire made me drop everything and head straight to the bookshop.
When I first started this blog, I reviewed a book called The Cigarette Sellers of Three Crosses Square
by Joseph Ziemian. It was the first of many books about the Warsaw Ghetto that I have reviewed here and these stories about the brave individuals who were part of the resistance never has ceased to awe me.
So when I found The Cats of Krasinski
by Karen Hesse on the library shelf, I thought Wonderful! A nice picture book for older readers who may already have some familiarity with the Holocaust to introduce them to the Warsaw Ghetto and Jewish Resistance in WWII.
As we know, lots of Jewish children of all ages often escaped the Ghetto and lived openly right under the Gestapo's nose, passing for Aryan. Whenever they were able, they smuggled food and other necessities back to family and friends still behind the Ghetto wall.
In Hesse's story, two sisters have escaped the Ghetto and are living hand to mouth in Warsaw. The younger sister has befriended the cats that became homeless when their owners were rounded up to live in the Ghetto. Her older sister, Mira, is working with the resistance. They are expecting some food to arrive by train, carried by other resistance workers, to be stuffed into the holes in the Ghetto wall where it can be found by the Jews still living there.
But word comes that the Gestapo knows about the plan and will be waiting at the train station with trained dogs to arrest the resistance workers and confiscate the food. The young girl gets an idea to distract the Gestapo's dogs when the train arrives. And it works, thanks to the cat of Krasinski Square. The cats are gathered up and let loose just as the train arrives.
The Cats of Krasinksi Square
is an uplifting age appropriate story that has a lot to say to young readers not only about courage and taking risks, but that sometimes kids can come up with ideas that actually work. Told in sparse, lyrical free verse, the story is enhanced by the corresponding illustrations by Wendy Watson. Watson used washed out muted colors in pencil, ink and watercolor that certainly evoke the place and period in her beautifully rendered illustrations.
I thought that putting a merry-go-round in Krasinski Square at the the beginning and end of the book was an interesting touch. Carousels are such iconic symbols of happy children having fun, yet here it is juxtaposed with and accentuating the deplorable conditions that the Nazis forced upon the Jewish children. It makes a very telling comment.
This story is, as Hesse writes in her Author's Note, based on a real event involving cats outsmarting the Gestapo at the train station in Warsaw that caught her attention when she read about it. There is also a historical note about the Warsaw Ghetto and Jewish Resistance that anyone not very familiar with these might want to read.
This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL
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By: Trudy Zufelt,
In 1946, a young Holocaust survivor arrives to a New York yeshiva. The orphan, Daniel, is one of twenty boys from Poland who lost their parents in concentration camps. Daniel brings with him the only possession he owns, a small box he never lets out of his sight.
The narrator, a boy with a stuttering problem named Aaron, befriends Daniel. Together they face the taunts of the other schoolboys as they tease Aaron about his speech. At the same time, the other boys try to cajole Daniel into revealing what is inside his precious box.A haunting secret lies within the box. A secret left me shocked and horrified while at the same time leaving me in awe at the healing power of friendship and love. In a sea of Holocaust books, Greenhorn stands apart as a simple but powerful story of the horrors of inhumanity towards our fellow man. Olswanger's masterfully written short, illustrated middle grade novel lends itself to a more mature audience or a parent-child read aloud and is sure to spark a somber discussion. The fact that Greenhorn is based on a true story, deepens the powerful impact.
Highly Recommended (5 stars)
Publishing InformationPublisher: New South BooksAges: 8 and upPages: 48ISBN-13: 978-1-58838-235-1
Purchase from the following retailers:
There was just no way a chocoholic such a myself could pass on reading a book called My Chocolate Year.
And I am glad I did.
It is September 1945, the war is over and Dorrie Meyers is starting fifth grade. And the best part is that her best friend Sunny Shapiro is in her class and their teacher is the very popular Miss Fitzgerald. Popular because each year, Miss Fitzgerald has a Sweet Semester, in which each student thinks up a dessert to make, writes an essay about it and in January they all bring in their entries and a prize goes out to one winner dessert and one winning essay.
Dorrie loves chocolate passionately and is very excited about Sweet Semester, except for one problem - she has no idea how to make anything, let alone a prize winning dessert. And this year is a special Sweet Semester because not only will family members be invited, but the winners will also get their pictures in the Chicago Daily News
. In addition, since there are now so many orphans in Europe as a result of the war, the class will has a donation jar set up to collect money to send to a charity which cares for the orphans.
The subject of orphans soon hits home for Dorrie. Her grandparents had all migrated to America, but there were still relatives who had remained in Lithuania. No one knew what happened to them after war. Since they were Jewish the worst was feared and Dorrie's mother has been making inquires to find them. Then, one November morning, good news arrives. Victor Dubin, son of Dorrie's Aunt Mina and Uncle Joseph and grandson of Dorrie's Bubbie, was found living in a Displaced Persons camp. No sooner found, than arrangements begin to be made to bring Victor to America. Sadly, no other family members survived.
Victor, now an orphan, and orphan jar in school get Dorrie to thinking about the Margaret O'Brien and the movie Journey for Margaret
, about a young girl orphaned during the London Blitz. How, Dorrie wonders, did she play such a convincing orphan? So she writes a letter to the actress to ask.
Meanwhile, Dorrie and Sunny experiment with different possibilities for Sweet Semester. The first idea, Chocolate Covered Gum, dissolves into a chocolaty mess. Their chocolate covered nuts and raisins clusters taste delicious, but was that all chocolate in them? Oh, and when you add flour to brownies using the electric mixer, it is much easier if you turn the mixer off.
It is really beginning to look like Dorrie isn't going to win that Sweet Semester competition despite the fact that both her mother and Buddie are excellent bakers. She just doesn't seem to have a natural instinct for baking. She really needs a miracle...could that miracle come in the form of both real and movie orphans?
This is a lovely story about the strength and importance of family. It is told in Dorrie's voice and even though it is not written as a diary, it reads like on. The book follows the year though all the Jewish holidays, starting with Rosh Hashanah and Dorrie explains the story and Jewish customs for celebrating each holiday for the benefit of readers who may not be familiar with them. She also talks about the war and it's effect on her family, and when Victor comes, we hear his story in detail, but not so much detail that it would be too much for the targeted age of intended readers. This is a book, after all, that is written for kids who are beginning to learn about the Holocaust.
Now, the 12 recipes. Not all are real recipes, but some are and they are made from scratch. My 10 year old budding chef liked that idea, since she is a cooking purist. We actually make Dorrie's Sweet Semester entry, which was so good that when I went to take a picture, they were all gone. Lesson learned - don't leave good tasting stuff unattended with kids in the house and without telling them hands off.
This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library
Weekend Cooking is a weekly event hosted by Beth Fish Reads
Last week I applied to have my German citizenship restored. This is because I would be German if not for the Holocaust. That is, everyone in the generations before me on both my mother and father’s sides were German and Jewish. Some of them stayed and survived for various reasons (say because their ancestors had converted a few generations earlier and according to the various rules of the Nazis they were no longer Jewish), some (my grandfather for one) were killed, and some left in time for Brazil, Israel, England, and the United States.
So I’ve provided the necessary documentation and expect to get my German citizenship before long. Why? It may surprise some, but I feel very German. I was raised with German food, German activities, and so forth. My father was a specialist in German politics and I spent a lot of time in Germany (years, in fact) as a child. I speak German fluently. My family was assimilated and so I have German relatives who are Christian because their ancestors converted and in 2005 I met many of them for the first time when the University of Frankfurt celebrated my great-grandfather who was a famous brain specialist and started the Edinger Institut there. As for my mother’s family, they were from Berlin and managed to get out so late because of our cousin Lotte Passer who was already in London. Lotte died last month at the age of 99. You can see a moving interview with her here. I’ve always been fascinated that my parents were interned as enemy aliens on the Isle of Man because England was at war with German and they were, after all, German. Lotte died last month at the age of 99. You can see a moving interview with her here. Another cousin Werner Isler, came to the States. An avid music lover, he passed away last month as well; you can hear his lovely piano playing here.
Over the years I’ve done many posts related to the Holocaust. Here are a few of them:
Imagine surviving 1 ghetto, 10 concentration camps and 2 death marches. Well, here is the story of a boy who did just that.
At 10 years old, Yanek Gruener's life means friends, school and most importantly, being surrounded by loving relatives all living in the center of Krakow, Poland. But his relatives know that soon something is going to happen - after all, they are Jews in a Europe that Hitler wants to make "Jew free." Sure enough, only six days after the German invasion of Poland, Nazi soldiers march into Krakow, and not long after that, one after another rights, privileges, pleasures, food and freedom are denied its Jewish citizens, until, in 1942, when Yanek is 12, the Nazis begin building the wall that will become the Krakow Ghetto and Yanek soon finds himself living there along with thousands of other displaced Jews.
In the ghetto, Yanek and his father prove to be very resourceful in order to survive. When roundups start, to avoid be sent "to the east" and an unknown future, Yanek finds an abandoned pigeon coop on the roof of their building where the family takes up residence. To feed his family, Yanek's father manages to get bread under very dangerous circumstances. And, most telling of all, despite the danger after the Nazis forbide Jews to practice their religion, his father gets together a minyan
(a quorum of 10 bar mitvahed
men) late one night for Yanek's very unusual secret bar mitvah
The ghetto proves to be only the beginning of Yanek's journey through a system of concentration camps, where survival sometimes depends of cunning, sometimes on luck, always knowing that your life is in the hands of sadistic Nazis, some of whom like to kill Jews for sport.
By the time Yanek is sent from the ghetto to the first of ten concentration camps, he has lost his family in a roundup and deportation heading "east" but finds his Uncle Moshe at Plaszów Concentration Camp. You may remember Plaszów from Schindler's List,
the camp run by the very, very cruel SS Commander Amon Goeth. It is here that Yanek's Uncle Moshe teaches him survival skills that will serve him well at each camp he is sent to. As a result, Yanek's resolve to survive almost never falters, even when he comes very close to dying.
(B for Birkenau) is based on the life of the real Yanek/Jack Gruener. It is told in a simple, straightforward manner, narrated in the first person by the fictional Yanek, but the voice of the actual Gruener comes through clearly, giving it a sense of authenticity. Yanek never, no matter how badly he is treated, gives into feeling victimized, which is amazing, but may also account for his strong will to survive. Yanek's descriptions of certain things that he either witnesses or that were done to him are sometimes a bit hard to read, but never gratuitous and not including them would sanitize Nazi cruelty to every degree.
The narration skillfully balances these cruel, sadistic acts against the Jews with some real heartwarming moments, like the night of Yanek's secret bar mitvah
, a kindness Yanek was to repay in Birkenau two years later when he is the first to volunteer to be part of a minyan
for another 13 year old boy's forbidden bar mitvah
, even though getting caught would mean certain death.
After I read Prisoner B-3087,
I felt compelled to do two things. First, I had to make an outline of the places and events in Yanek Gruener's life as he was sent from camp to camp, sometimes in cattle cars, sometimes on foot in freezing weather. Second, I would have liked a map to get a real sense not just of where Yanek was at each part of his life under the Nazis, but also the distances he traveled. I think these would give a real appreciation of his survival. But since they didn't include map, and others might fell as I do, I found this one at the Jewish Virtual Library
and modified it a bit to reflect Yanek's experience:
|Click to enlarge|
is a book that really must be read to be fully appreciated. Yanek/Jack Gruener's story is incredible, haunting, compelling, heart wrenching, rewarding and not to be missed (and you will find out how Yanek became Jack).
This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was received as an E-ARC from Net Galley
That is quite a title, isn't it. I know I did a double take when I first saw it. So, what kind of a kid would say she hates the Holocaust? Meet Lauren Yanofsky. Lauren is entering her junior year of high school, has a big crush on Jesse, a boy she has known most of her life, and is finding her best friend drifting away.
Oh, yes, and Lauren has also decided not to be Jewish anymore. Lauren had always felt that her religion was full of persecution in the Bible and history. Then, three years ago, she found out that her grandmother had eleven relatives who all perished in the Holocaust. "Who needed all that misery? Why would anyone want to belong to a religion that was all about loss, grief, and persecution?" she asked herself. (pg13)
Lauren even managed to convince her parents, with the help of a hunger strike, to let her leave the Hebrew School she was attending in favor of public school. But try as she might, Lauren just can't get away from Judaism and the Holocaust. Her father is a Holocaust scholar at the University and he and her mother continually try to tempt Lauren back to her faith by joining a Jewish youth group, going a Taglit birth right trip to Israel and/or other religion-based activities. Lauren wants none of it, however.
As school begins, Lauren finds herself sitting beside her crush, Jesse, and her best friend, Brooke. Things go well and it looks like Jesse may be more attracted to Lauren that just as a friend, and it also seems that Brooke is really supportive of this. But Brooke has more than one surprise in store Lauren. where Jesse is concerned. As the days pass, and their other two friends Chloe and Em become involved with the school production of Grease
, and Brooke begins to drift off at lunchtime to hang outside with the Smokers, particularly with one named Chantel, Lauren finds herself alone in the lunchroom with her own thoughts.
One night, after getting together with Brooke, Chole and Em for pizza (just like the old days, Lauren thinks), they end the evening at the park, watching the boys from school, including Jesse, playing Nazi war games with water guns and paper armbands with Swastikas drawn on them. The worse part is that everyone seems to think this is OK, except for Lauren.
When Lauren finds a lost Nazi armband after the boys finish playing their Nazi war game again, she finds herself in a dilemma: she knows the game is a form of anti-Semitism and that's unacceptable. And she knows the right thing to do would be to turn them in at school, but Jesse is one of the players. Now, Lauren must confront herself, her beliefs and her own ideas about the Holocaust and Judaism, again.
Narrated in the first person by Lauren, Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust
is a realistic look at a teenager coming to grips with who she is as a person. It is a coming of age novel that catches Lauren right in the transitional moment of time when she must make the choice about which way her moral compass is going to go. And at the center of that choice is the Holocaust. Reporting the boys, including Jesse, would mean taking a big risk, possibly losing friends, embracing her religion and accepting responsibility for her actions. Not reporting them would make Lauren as guilty of anti-Semitism as her friends, of betraying her religion, its culture and most importantly, the 11 relatives and all the other people who perished in the Holocaust. Lauren has a true moral dilemma to grapple with, but does get some surprising help along the way.
Lieberman has peopled her novel with all kinds of realistic characters, just the kind you would find in any high school, like the Perfects and the Smokers. Lauren and her friends drink a little, curse a little, make out some and in general behave just like most teens do when adults are not around. Besides moral choices, Lauren also deals with ordinary things like taming her very frizzy hair each morning even though her straightener is usually defeated by the damp weather. She also has a younger brother Zach, who is studying to make his Bar Mitzvah
, but whose sensory integration issues are making that difficult for him. Without sinking into the stereotypical, the characters are all familiar to us but have their own individual quirks.
Though sometimes predictable, Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust
is also written with lots of humor, at times a bit on the snarky side, some sentiment, and teen drama. And if I say anymore about Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust
, I will have to include a spoiler warning. I would suggest reading it for yourself, after all Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust
will be available on April 1, 2013.
This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was sent to me by the publisher
BEYOND COURAGE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF JEWISH RESISTANCE DURING THE HOLOCAUST, by Doreen Rappaport
2012)(ages 12+). In this exceptional work, Doreen Rappaport weaves together accounts of Jewish resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe. Fascinating and horrifying, based on extensive research including personal interviews, each "untold story" is a triumph of the individual and the human spirit, to "not go gentle..."
Recommended for ages 12 through adult.
In a stunning work of nonfiction for young people, award-winning author Doreen Rappaport
has just published an ambitious new work profiling little-known true stories of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, a book that took her six years to research and write. Her extensive research for this project included interviews with some of the survivors whose stories are told in this volume.
This is a massive topic for a book for young people, but Rappaport manages to make it comprehensible by dividing her story into discrete sections and concentrating on a selection of individual stories. The first section, titled Realization, deals with the years up until the beginning of the war, when Hitler came to power. The second, Saving the Future, discusses brave Jews who smuggled Jewish children to safety in Holland, Belgium, France, and the forests of the Soviet Union. In part three, Rappaport examines resistance stories from the ghettos, not only the famed Warsaw ghetto uprising, in which a few thousand Jewish fighters held off the might of the Nazi army for nearly a month, but organized escapes from the Vilna ghetto and secret magazines penned by children in Theresienstadt. Other chapters discuss resistance in the concentration camps and partisan warfare conducted by Jewish resistance fighters against the Nazis.
As Rappaport notes in her introduction, few of these remarkable and heroic stories are known to the general public. Even in Jewish families, we generally learn that Jews went to the gas chambers like "lambs to the slaughter." In this volume, she takes pride in showing that stereotype is untrue, and that there were many Jews who defied and resisted the Nazis in a variety of ways.
These many amazing stories include that of 14-year old Idel, who escaped not once but twice from a labor camp in Belorussia, finally succeeding in tunneling out of the camp with the help of other inmates, after which he reaches the partisan Jewish group governed by the Bielskis, who were hiding out in the forest. Rappaport even includes an incredible story of a revolt of the Sonderkommandos, the Jewish prisoners who were forced to work in the gas chambers and the crematoriums. Although their elaborately planned revolt ultimately failed, they did succeed in blowing up one crematorium.
Handsomely designed and abundantly illustrated with dozens of archival photographs and maps, both from the war years and after, the book is supplemented with extra material on Rappaport's website, including conversations
between the author and some of the survivors she profiles and links to other resources for studying the Holocaust.
Extensive back matter includes: a pronunciation guide for the many foreign names and words in the text; a timeline of important dates from 1933 when Hitler takes power until the end of the war in 1945; source notes; a selected bibliography of books and websites, organized both as an overview and also chapter by chapter; photography and art credits; and an index. A study guide for Beyond Courage
will soon be available on Rappaport's website
This book is highly informative and readable for adults as well as students, and definitely belongs in all public and school libraries (at least high school and middle school). I will be incredibly surprised if we don't see this book--a model of outstanding nonfiction writing for young people--recognized during book award season.
Eve Bunting is a prolific and versatile writers with over 100 books to her credit. On this blog alone, I have written about two of her World War II works - Spying on Miss Müller
, a school story, and One Candle,
a Chanukah story. Among her considerable oeuvre
is a small but powerful allegory of the Holocaust and what happens when one turns a blind eye to the terrible things that are being done to others instead of standing up for what was right.
The trouble begins in a forest where everything is fine and all the animals get alone well, That is until the Terrible Things arrive, blocking out the sun and announcing that they have come for all the creatures who have feathers. Though all the feathered creatures try to fly away, the Terrible Things had brought big nets, capture them all and take them away. Seeing this, Little Rabbit doesn't understand what was wrong with having feathers, but Big Rabbit tells him not to say anything, and to mind his own business, so as not to anger the Terrible Things.
And so, it went from then on. The Terrible Things come day by day for the animals of the forest, type by type. And each time they come, the remaining animals look the other way and ignor the cries of the captured creatures. Pretty soon, the only animals left are the rabbits. But one day, the Terrible Things come for them, too...
Introducing the Holocaust to younger readers is never an easy task. On the one hand, you don't want to scare them so much they can't get beyond their own fear. On the other hand, as the Holocaust slips further and further into history, it may be difficult for kids to fully realize the importance of the lessons of tolerance we should have hopefully learned from it. The indirect way Bunting presents both of these concerns in Terrible Things
makes it a good book for readers to learn about the Holocaust and for helping kids to understand the consequences of behavior like that of the Rabbits, and for encouraging them to be brave enough to stand up for wrongs.
Bunting words are chilling and are expertly illustrated in the haunting pencil drawing by Stephen Gammell, which add so much to the ominous feeling in this story. He is spot on in the way he has captured the fear of the animals as the Terrible Things come for them, but in the sense of isolation each animal type feels as they try to flee:
|"But there was no one left to help"|
Years ago, I bought a postcard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC and have kept it all these years to remind me of the very thing that Even Bunting is writing about in Terrible Things
. Most people will probably recognize the words, since it is a well know quote, but I though I would include it anyway:
Unlike Pastor Niemöller's quote, I should say that Terrible Things
does end on a more hopeful note. Though it is basically a picture book, Terrible Things
can easily be used for elementary, middle school and even high school students. And there are any number of excellent lesson plans available for this book that has so much to offer in terms of teaching kids about courage, tolerance, diversity as well as the Holocaust. One example of an excellent lesson plan for older students can be found at the Mandel Project
This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was bought for my personal library
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, german science
, Gordon Fraser
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By Gordon Fraser
When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, neither the Atomic Bomb nor the Holocaust were on anybody’s agenda. Instead, the Nazi’s top aim was to rid German culture of perceived pollution. A priority was science, where paradoxically Germany already led the world. To safeguard this position, loud Nazi voices, such as Nobel laureate Philipp Lenard, complained about a ‘massive infiltration of the Jews into universities’.
The first enactments of a new regime are highly symbolic. The cynically-named Law for the Restoration of the Civil Service, published in April 1933, targeted those who had non-Aryan, ‘particularly Jewish’, parents or grandparents. Having a single Jewish grandparent was enough to lose one’s job. Thousands of Jewish university teachers, together with doctors, lawyers, and other professionals were sacked. Some found more modest jobs, some retired, some left the country. Germany was throwing away its hard-won scientific supremacy. When warned of this, Hitler retorted ‘If the dismissal of [Jews] means the end of German science, then we will do without science for a few years’.
Why did the Jewish people have such a significant influence on German science? They had a long tradition of religious study, but assimilated Jews had begun to look instead to a radiant new role-model. Albert Einstein was the most famous scientist the world had ever known. As well as an icon for ambitious young students, he was also a prominent political target. Aware of this, he left Germany for the USA in 1932, before the Nazis came to power.
How to win friends and influence nuclear people
The talented nuclear scientist Leo Szilard appeared to be able to foresee the future. He exploited this by carefully cultivating people with influence. In Berlin, he sought out Einstein.
Like Einstein, Szilard anticipated the Civil Service Law. He also saw the need for a scheme to assist the refugee German academics who did not. First in Vienna, then in London, he found influential people who could help.
Just as the Nazis moved into power, nuclear physics was revolutionized by the discovery of a new nuclear component, the neutron. One of the main centres of neutron research was Berlin, where scientists saw a mysterious effect when uranium was irradiated. They asked their former Jewish colleagues, now in exile, for an explanation.
The answer was ‘nuclear fission’. As the Jewish scientists who had fled Germany settled into new jobs, they realized how fission was the key to a new source of energy. It could also be a weapon of unimaginable power, the Atomic Bomb. It was not a great intellectual leap, so the exiled scientists were convinced that their former colleagues in Germany had come to the same conclusion. So, when war looked imminent, they wanted to get to the Atomic Bomb first. One wrote of ‘the fear of the Nazis beating us to it’.
Szilard, by now in the US, saw it was time to act again. He knew that President Roosevelt would not listen to him, but would listen to Einstein, and wrote to Roosevelt over Einstein’s signature.
When a delegation finally managed to see him on 11 October 1939, Roosevelt said “what you’re after is to see that the Nazis don’t blow us up”. But nobody knew exactly what to do. The letter had mentioned bombs ‘too heavy for transportation by air’. Such a vague threat did not appear urgent.
But in 1940, German Jewish exiles in Britain realized that if the small amount of the isotope 235 in natural uranium could be separated, it could produce an explosion equivalent to several thousand tons of dynamite. Only a few kilograms would be needed, and could be carried by air. The logistics of nuclear weapons suddenly changed. Via Einstein, Szilard wrote another Presidential letter. On 19 January 1942, Roosevelt ordered a rapid programme for the development of the Atomic Bomb, the ‘Manhattan Project’.
Across the Atlantic, the Germans indeed had seen the implications of nuclear fission. But its scientific message had been muffled. Key scientists had gone. Germany had no one left with the prescience of Szilard, nor the political clout of Einstein. The Nazis also had another priority. On 20 January, one day after Roosevelt had given the go-ahead for the Atomic Bomb, a top-level meeting in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee outlined a “final solution of the Jewish Problem”. Nazi Germany had its own crash programme.
US crash programme – on 16 July 1945, just over three years after the huge project had been launched, the Atomic Bomb was tested in the New Mexico desert.
Nazi crash programme – what came to be known as the Holocaust rapidly got under way. Here a doomed woman and her children arrive at the specially-built Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination centre.
As such, two huge projects, unknown to each other, emerged simultaneously on opposite sides of the Atlantic. The dreadful schemes forged ahead, and each in turn became reality. On two counts, what had been unimaginable no longer was.
Gordon Fraser was for many years the in-house editor at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva. His books on popular science and scientists include Cosmic Anger, a biography of Abdus Salam, the first Muslim Nobel scientist, Antimatter: The Ultimate Mirror, and The Quantum Exodus. He is also the editor of The New Physics for the 21st Century and The Particle Century.
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Image credits: Atomic Bomb tested in the New Mexico desert. Photograph courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory; Auschwitz-Birkenau, alte Frau und Kinder, Bundesarchiv Bild, Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons.
The post How Nazi Germany lost the nuclear plot appeared first on OUPblog.
Brothers Milek and Munio don't like to take the food and clothing their mother asks them to deliver to Anton, a poor man the village believes is a fool. He is, after all, a man who talks to animals and plants and who never eats meat. But one day, when a neighbor sees the boys delivering food to Anton, he warns him not to associate with them - they are Jews, after all, and Hitler's men will be coming to their small Polish village soon and taking care of all the Jews there...and their friends.
After the boys go home, Anton thinks a great deal about Hitler and his Nazi soldiers. And sure enough, that summer they do arrive with their guns and tanks, preceded by their planes and bombs.
And their arrival is eventually followed by rumors that the Nazis are going to round up Jewish families, and that they are separating out the boys and taking them away separately.
Anton, the village fool, also hears these rumors and thinks about Milek, Munio and their parents. One night, he comes over with a suggestion for hiding the family from the Nazis. And it was an outlandish proposal - so outlandish it could actually work.
And save them he does. He dresses the boys up as girls and when everyone's eyes are on the burring Synagogue they are forced to watch, Anton sneaks them away to his house, where he already has two neighbor girls waiting to go into hiding. Soon Anton and the boy's father are digging out the root cellar to make room for all six people to hide.
The six live in that root cellar for months and months, with a close call when Anton's neighbor suspects he is hiding Jews and calls the Nazis with their dogs. But again, the village fool manages to fool even the dogs who are trained to sniff out people.
But finally the village is liberated and everyone can come out of hiding.
So often, after reading a fictional account of surviving the Nazis in hiding, the story ends with liberation, but not this one, because the beauty of The Secret of the Village Fool
is that it is based on a real story. At the end, we find out exactly what happened to Milek, Munio, their parents, the two neighbor girls and, of course, Anton, who eventually had the distinct honor of being named as one of the Righteous among Nations by Yad Vashem.
This picture book is a good starting place for introducing children to the Holocaust. They will learn that Jewish people were hated by the Nazis, that people for forced out of their homes and send away, that children and parents were sometimes separated, and that neighbors either looked the other way or colluded with the Nazis.
But they will also see that not everyone agreed with what was happening, that there was a minority who didn't and some who even risked their lives to help. Everyone thought Anton a fool because he couldn't read or write, and talked to plants and animals, but in the end, it was he who fooled the well-trained Nazi soldiers and dogs and even a nosy neighbor.
The Secret of the Village Fool
was illustrated by Renné Benoit, using earth tones heightening the effect of the story and accenting the earthiness of Anton and with the idea of hiding in a root cellar.
This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was received from the publisher.
Blog: Kid Lit Reviews
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, Historical Fiction
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, Fumiko Ishioka
, George Brady
, Hana Brady
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, Karen Levine
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International Holocaust Remembrance Day Today, January 27, 2013 In honor of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, on January 27, 2013, the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, dedicated this year to remembering the children who perished at the hands of the Nazis. In that vein, today we have the most awarded book in Canada, Hana’s …
is a heart-warming story of two outsiders who become life-long friends. With lovely folk art type illustrations by Miriam Nerlove, the story is set in a Yeshiva, a boarding school in Brooklyn, NY in 1946 and narrated in the first person by Aaron, a student there and a boy who speaks with a stutter, to the annoyance/amusement of the other boys in the school.
One day, the Rabbi interrupts a class during their recess to announce that twenty boys from Poland, who, unlike their parents, survived the Holocaust, will soon be arriving at the school.
After the Polish boys arrive, one of them, Daniel, is assigned to Aaron's room, already crowded with three boys. The other boys don't really welcome their new roommate, and start going after him for being skinny and not speaking. They nickname him Greenhorn, but there is not affection in the name. Aaron realizes that Daniel doesn't speak English and asks if he understands Yiddish. At first, Daniel doesn't respond to any of the boys, except with fear when they bring up the Nazis.
Eventually, the Polish boys all start speaking English, except Daniel, who, it turns out, does know Yiddish and will only speak it. Yet, no matter what kind of friendly overtures are made to Daniel he never joins in. Nevertheless, Aaron keeps trying to be friends with Daniel. One day, while the boys are picking on him because of his stutter, Daniel comes to Aaron's defense - in English.
Things get better after that, but not much and the other boys begin to really focus on the little box Daniel carries around with him, even putting it under his pillow at night. One night Aaron notices that the box had fallen on the floor, opened and the content had fallen out. It looked like a rock to Aaron, but when he asked Daniel about it, he received no reply. "F-F-Friends don't keep secrets from each other." Aaron tells him. But Daniel was sleeping.
But what's in Daniel's box that he carried all the way from Poland and never let out of his sight? Was this the end of Aaron's attempts to be friends?
Most American children really didn't comprehend how conditions were in Europe for Jews during the war. Of course, by 1946 they had heard about what happened in concentration camps, but it was still hard for them to grasp the full measure of things. To her credit, Anna Olswanger has depicted this aspect of life even in a place like a Yeshiva. But I think she has done an outstanding job of depicting the kind of trauma kids who were caught of in the actual events and who lost parents, siblings and other relatives suffered from. It seems like it would be just unimaginable, but you do get the idea from this short but powerful story.
Healing is a long hard road, but this is a story of friendship and it is based on a true event. The boy Aaron grew up to be Rabbi Rafael Grossman. He lost touch with the real life "Daniel." But one day, while visiting Israel, he ran into him again, "Daniel" had become a pediatrician, working and living in Israel.
And yes, eventually Aaron/Rabbi Grossman did find out what was in Daniel's box and why it was so important.
This is just my feeling but, although this is a story written for readers around 9+ years old, I think it might be a good idea for them to read this little book with some supervision. Not that the events involved are described in graphic detail, but some of what the Nazis did to people is not always covered in books for kids. That being said, it would still highly recommend it.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher.
A discussion guide for teacher's can be found here
A discussion guide for parents can be found here
The author, Anna Olswanger, has written a very interesting guest post about Greenhorn
over at Cynsations
There is a Goodreads Greenhorn Givaway running until February 17 and you enter to win a copy here
In January, I was very pleased to learn that Louise Borden and her book His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg
had been named winner of the 2013 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers by the Association of Jewish Libraries
. The Sydney Taylor Book Awards are given annually to those outstanding works that authentically portray the Jewish experience.
Born into a relatively well-to-do family of bankers in Stockholm, Sweden in 1912, Raoul Wallenberg was always excited and curious about everything and his endeavors were encouraged and supported by his family. At age 11, he traveled alone from Sweden to Turkey on the Orient Express to visit his grandfather, Gustaf Wallenberg, Sweden's minister to Turkey. And at age 19, he left Sweden to attend college at the University of Michigan, majoring in Engineering. When he returned to Europe, Raoul spent time travelling and as he did, he began to hear stories from Jews who has escaped Hitler's Germany, stories about new laws, beatings and even murder inflicted on Jews by the Nazi government.
Raoul had taken a job and was an excellent salesman, helped by his ability to speak different languages. But pretty soon the world was at war. As he watched country after country fall to Nazi occupation, he worried about Sweden's neutrality. Denmark and Norway, close neighbor, had already fallen to the Nazis. When roundups and deportations were announced in Denmark in 1943, Sweden gave permission for Danish Jews to enter the country, saved by the many Danish fisherman willing to sail them there. Swedish freedom and neutrality remained intact.
Hungary was also a country with a large Jewish population, but it was not a neutral and in 1944, it, too, became a Nazi occupied country. Roundups and deportations of Hungarian Jews began and many went to the Swedish embassy seeking visas to Sweden. But the War Refugee Board in America wanted a neutral Swede to organize some relief for the Jews in Hungary. Raoul Wallenberg, with his many languages and skill as a salesman, was just the person they needed.
Wallenberg devised a legal looking Protection Pass or Schutzpass
that were like Swedish passports and protected the bearer from deportation. Wallenberg even created a single Schutzpass
that protected whole families. But the Schutzpass,
which probably saved around 20,000 people, was only one way Wallenberg worked to help Hungarian Jews.
Ironically, the man who worked tirelessly to save Jews, was picked up by the Soviet military in Hungary and on January 17, 1945, he was last seen being driven away in a Soviet car, and was never to be heard from again.
The details of Wallenberg's life and the work he did saving Jews in Hungary are all nicely detailed in-depth in Borden's free verse biography of this incredible man. His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg
is beautifully put together, divided into 15 sections, each one chronicling a period of Wallenberg's life with a wealth of supporting photographs and other documents that give a comprehensive picture of his life as he grows and changes and even goes beyond his disappearance up to the present. As you will discover when you read the Author's Note at the back, Borden had the privilege of working closely with his family over many years and so had much more personal insight into the real child and man that was Raoul Wallenberg than biographers are generally privy to. And that shows throughout the book.
But His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg
is more than just a biography, it is a shining example of one man who rose to the challenge at a very bleak time in history and who made a difference in the world, saving so many Hungarian Jews from certain death. Borden has written a book that is a fine addition to the whole body of Holocaust literature and anyone interested in the Jewish experience at that time.
Raoul Wallenberg was named Righteous Among The Nations by Yad Vashem in 1963 in Israel.
Come back tomorrow for an interview with Louise Borden.
This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was purchased for my personal library
You can find more information about Raoul Wallenberg at his alma mater
, the University of Michigan, here
You can find more on Raoul Wallenberg and the plight of Hungarian Jews at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum here
Be sure to visit Louise Borden's website here
This review also appears on my other blog Randomly Reading
Nonfiction Monday is hosted this week byAbby the Librarian
|Louise Borden author of His Name|
was Raoul Wallenberg
Today I am very pleased and honored to welcome Louise Borden to Randomly Reading and The Children's War. Louise and her book His Name was Raoul Wallenberg
have been named winner of the 2013 Sydney Taylor Book Award
for Older Readers by the Association of Jewish Libraries
. The Sydney Taylor Book Awards are given annually to those outstanding works that authentically portray the Jewish experience.
First, may I say congratulations on being given this award for writing such a fine biography of a real World War II hero.
Louise, can you tell us what being awarded the 2013 Sydney Taylor Book Award means to you?
It's quite an honor and was totally unexpected. But I'm thrilled to think that other felt that my research and writing about Raoul was worthy of this wonderful award. Awards are not my focus when I'm alone at my desk typing away but I think this one means that those on the committee believe in me and in the importance of Raoul Wallenberg's life story. It is quite affirming and something I will carry into the future on the touch days when I'm staring down at a blank page. Winning this award will not make writing easier but I'll think of my encouragers, and of Sydney Taylor, cheering me on.
First, may I say congratulations on being given this award for writing such a fine biography of a real World War II hero.
You have written on a variety of subjects, but you keep returning to stories about World War II in both fiction and non-fiction - The Little Ships, Across the Blue Pacific, The Greatest Skating Race, The Journey that Saved Curious George, and now His Name was Raoul Wallenberg. Can you tell us what inspired you to write about Raoul Wallenberg?
I'd never heard of Raoul Wallenberg even though I studied history in college. It wasn't until the 1980s that I read about him, and the mystery of his disappearance. I was drawn to his character, his moral compass, his Swedish background, and his American education in architecture. I'm not Jewish but I've read about the Holocaust and care deeply that we must always remember those who were lost and educate future generations. I didn't know much about the events in Hungary until I started on my long path of research. I hope that young readers will find Raoul Wallenberg's story and his actions (and those of other brave diplomats in Budapest) as compelling as I did. Raoul and his colleagues are my life heroes. What if they had stood by and done nothing during those dark days?
I know you have written books in free verse before, and it seems to be a form that is becoming more and more popular in both fiction and non-fiction. Yet, when I read Raoul Wallenberg's story I was amazed at how much information you were able to convey without resorting to prose. Can you tell us what prompted you to chose this form over prose?
All of my books are written in this style. Sea Clocks and The Journey that Saved Curious George were subjects that also involved gathering a lot of complicated information and then making events and places and people accessible to today's young readers. It took me two years to write the text about Raoul Wallenberg, shaping the structure and doing constant revision. I wanted the power of his story to shine through and not have my readers get lost in dense paragraphs of dry writing.
I know historical fiction and non-fiction require a lot of research. Could you tell us a little about the research process you used and any challenges you faced while writing His Name was Raoul Wallenberg?
His life is a complex story with an unknown ending, clouded by contradictions. First I had to immerse myself in reading deeply and widely, sifting through inaccuracies that have been stated in various books over the years. I tried to use primary sources whenever possible. Meeting with his family was very important, hearing their voices and recollections. I went to Stockholm three times and Budapest twice - on my own nickel and perseverance. That was a financial challenge! The Wallenberg story was my "beautiful obsession". You have to have a deep commitment to last through years of research. I had three editors...so the book's structure changed and evolved. I began these steps before Google was such a helpful presence to researchers. Attending a Raoul Wallenberg Symposium in Budapest was also very helpful. Andy Nagy helped me translate sections of some Hungarian books. Gathering the photos was a challenge. I think that this book contains more photos than any other book about Raoul Wallenberg. I wanted kids to know that the players in the story looked like, and what the places looked like. To them, World War II was lived in black and white...I want them to know that it was lived in color.
After reading His Name was Raoul Wallenberg, the thing that struck me the most was how you presented him as a real person and not just another distant historical figure. For example, I love that you included information about Raoul's childhood and teen years. The class picture you open with is priceless, as is the invitation to readers to also become a storyteller of his life. As storytellers, what do you hope your young readers will take away from this book?
When I saw the school photo (that had never before appeared in a book). I knew that it was the key to finding the right place to begin such a complicated story. Finding the right voice is always my quest. I hoped that this photo )and that signature) would bring kinds immediately into Raoul's life. I try to choose the most essential details - the ones that will connect with kids. I gathered these from interviews regarding his childhood and teen years. I'm 63 years old. Young readers have much longer lives ahead of them. I want them to be inspired by this man and by his character and actions. I want kids to know that they too can make a positive difference in the world. I want them to find their own heroes. And I want readers to remember Raoul Wallenberg and to carry his story into their own futures. We are all storytellers - kids will remember a great story and I hope they will tell others and use its power for good in their own lives.
Raoul Wallenberg's Class Picture @1921
One of the topics of WW2 that I have always hoped to see a kids book about are the Jewish Partisans, like the Bielski Partisans. That being said, what particular ideas set the writing process in motion for you? Do you have a current writing project and is there any future project of a historical nature that you would like to write about?
I've had about 26 books published. More are fiction than nonfiction. But in most I tend to focus on ordinary characters who do extraordinary things. Courage, friendship, helping others, heroes, changing the world in a wonderful way - you will find these in the pages of my books. I write about people who inspire me.
The Greatest Skating Race was entirely fictional but rooted in an authentic setting. I wanted to write about that part of the world in wartime. I wrote the fictional The Little Ships because I found the event of the Dunkirk rescue so dramatic. When a person or place or event calls to me in a deep way, that is when I embark on writing about it - either fictionally or via nonfiction. Along the way, I have met amazing people, and through my books I have made lifelong friends in other countries. I've just finished a fictional book set in Italy during WW2. And I went to France last September to see some places I've been researching for two years - another WW2 story. Both of these books are, again, about the courage of ordinary people. Long ago in college my senior research project focused on the European Response to Hitler/Resistance movements in WW2 in France, Holland, Denmark and Germany. I'm sure your interest in the Bielski Partisans is founded in part on their extraordinary courage. World War 2 affected millions upon millions. Each had their own individual story. Perhaps that is why you and I both find this tragic time so compelling.
When I finish my work-in-progress French story, I have yet another idea I am pursuing via research. I gather books, etc and they sit on the back of my writing stove. Then when I'm ready, I start a project. I intersperse my WW2 books with books for younger kids. Kindergarten Luck is such a book, that will be published by Chronicle. Baseball is...will be published by S&S next year.
Thank you so much, Louise, for taking the time to visit Randomly Reading and for all the insights you have given us into your writing process. I wish you all the best in the future.
This interview also appears on my other blog Randomly Reading
Please be sure to visit these other stops on the 2013 Sydney Taylor Book Award blog tour:
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2013
Ann Redisch Stampler, author of The Wooden Sword
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
Carol Liddiment, illustrator of The Wooden Sword
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Ann Koffsky’s Blog
Doreen Rappaport, author of Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Teen Readers Category
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2013
Linda Glaser, author of Hannah’s Way
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
At This Messy Life
Adam Gustavson, illustrator of Hannah’s Way
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger ReadersCategory
At Here in HP
Louise Borden, author of His Name was Raoul Wallenberg
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Randomly Reading
Deborah Heiligman, author of Intentions
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
At The Fourth Musketeer
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2013
Sheri Sinykin, author of Zayde Comes to Live
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Read, Write, Repeat
Kristina Swarner, illustrator of Zayde Comes to Live
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Reading and Writing
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2013
Linda Leopold Strauss, author of The Elijah Door
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Pen and Pros
Alexi Natchev, illustrator of The Elijah Door
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Madelyn Rosenberg’s Virtual Living Room
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2013
Blog Tour Wrap-Up at The Whole Megillah
Visit The Association of Jewish Libraries blog and the official Sydney Taylor site
Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Interview: Robin Friedman
Interview: Trina Robbins
The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour 2012
Recommended for ages 12 - adult.
There is no shortage of stories about the Holocaust for young people, whether fiction or nonfiction. Greenhorn
, by author and children's book editor Anna Oswanger
, strikes a different chord than most of these works by focusing on the aftermath of the war, through the story of one of its young survivors.
Although published as a free-standing book, Greenhorn
, at 43 pages, is really more of an illustrated short story. Set in an Orthodox yeshiva in Brooklyn in 1946, the story tells of the arrival at the yeshiva of twenty orphaned Polish boys, including young Daniel, who won't let go of a little tin box he carries with him everywhere. Daniel rarely speaks, but Aaron, whose father is a rabbi, considers him his friend. Aaron stutters and is made fun of by the other boys, and feels some connection with the nearly silent refugee when the yeshiva boys start teasing Daniel about his box that he carries with him and even sleeps with. What's in the box, everyone wonders? The horrifying reality of what Daniel is carrying around contrasts with the innocence of the children at the yeshiva, who are concerned with baseball, basketball, candy, and other normal kid pursuits. We learn that inside the box is a greasy piece of soap, made with fat from the bodies of Jewish prisoners. Daniel clutches to it believing it could contain a piece of his mother, of whom he has not even a photograph.
An afterword explains that this story is based on a real incident in the life of Rabbi Rafael Grossman. A glossary provides explanations of Yiddish names, words and phrases used in the text.
Although this looks by the cover, the slight size of the story, and the abundant illustrations like a book for young children, I would not recommend this book for children younger than twelve. Also, some background knowledge of the Holocaust is useful for understanding the implications of the story. The story would make a good addition to a unit on the Holocaust, and could easily be read aloud in a classroom or read by individual students and used for classroom or home discussion. The Holocaust is such a vast tragedy that sometimes it is difficult to imagine the scope; this small book brings one element of a survivor's story vividly to life for young people.
By: Keith Schoch
Blog: Teach with Picture Books
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So what's the difference between persuasive writing and argumentative writing? In persuasive writing, students passionately defend their point of view, relying upon opinion, personal experience, anecdotes, data, and examples. Argumentative writing, however, seeks to offer a more balanced approach, as it acknowledges points from the opposing view.This approach may sound counterproductive; after all, won't writers weaken their arguments by providing the reader with counterclaims? Surprisingly, no. By naming objections and then refuting them effectively, writers actually strengthen the position of their arguments. Persuasion, on the other hand, is weak by comparison: it ignores, in a cowardly way, any viewpoint that is contrary and threatening to its own. It's blatantly one-sided and subjective.
So where can our young readers witness the power of argumentative writing? In picture books, of course!In George Bellows: Painter with a Punch, author Robert Burleigh chronicles the career of a fascinating and prolific artist who is celebrated for his gruff and gritty observations of the vitality and vigor of early twentieth century New York City. Burleigh provides the reader with "just enough" details of Bellows the man to make him real and rounded, and "just enough" context of the art scene of the time to build color and context. The majority of the text rightfully focuses on the images (profusely provided in beautiful color) and on Bellows' artistic legacy. As a teacher of reading and writing, I am struck by Burleigh's use of argumentative text structures which can serve as wonderful exemplars for young writers. Consider this passage from early in the text:
One man - seated at ringside - observes the events somewhat differently. He watches closely both the fury of the fighters and the fans' reactions. But who wins the bout doesn't matter to him. He has his own goal: to wrestle a picture from the chaotic scene, to capture the wild energy of this moment!In that example, a series of questions defines the opposing viewpoint. We know that George will need a pretty darn good reason for choosing subjects so contrary to those of traditional artists!In another selection, the opposing argument is presented more traditionally as a juxtaposition of one perspective to another:
Is this strange? An artist here, in a smelly, grungy saloon?
Shouldn't an artist be searching for beautiful things to paint? Golden sunsets? Quiet, tree-lined rivers? Or perhaps a wealthy gentleman, or a celebrity dressed in her finest clothes? Many people would say just that.
But not George Bellows.
George's paintings gain attention. He is among a group of artists who focus on the less romantic parts of the city, like bars, train stations, movie theaters, and alleyways...Reviewers attack the group, calling them "apostles of ugliness" because they dare to paint the seamier side of life...But a few reviewers find complimentary things to say about George's art. They especially praise his ability to convey strong feelings in his work.
One critic, although won over by Bellow's radical approach, still qualifies his admiration for the artist in a compliment that acknowledges the two opposing viewpoints of the time:
"It's in bad taste," one says, "but it's life - and that is the main thing."As you can see, the examples of argumentation are there. They're subtly written, however, so as not to crowd out the narrative. That is exactly what makes them effective, and so worthy of our students' admiration and study and replication. In the excerpt below, note that the first two sentences juxtapose opposing viewpoints, with the word yet being the giveaway. The second pair of sentences follows the classic "some people say ______, but _______" format, with though serving in place of but:
"I don't know anything about boxing," he likes to say. Yet the paintings he makes based on these fights will become his best known works. Some critics note that the figures in the paintings are awkwardly drawn or that the ringside spectators have odd, caricatured faces. What concerns George most, though, is creating a "you-are-there" feeling.
Can students incorporate this same argumentative style into their writing? Absolutely. The key, in my opinion, is starting with some great exemplars. The next step is getting students to see that argumentative writing often relies upon a fairly standard set of sentence structures. This "sentence grammar" is more common in writing than you think!
Consider these templates:
- At first you might think _____, but _____.
- While it's true that _____, you need to remember that _____.
- It's possible that _______, but __________.
- Some people believe that _____; however, _____.
Here are those same templates, reworked with spelling words:
- At first you might think that vivacious children are wonderful, but after three hours you would find them to be very exhausting.
- While it's true that vitamins are part of a healthy diet, you need to remember that they can't take the place of nutritious foods.
- It's possible that coffee increases vitality, but it's still no substitute for a good night's rest.
- Some people believe that bees are attracted to sugar; however, bees are equally attracted to vivid colors.
Somewhat better than what students typically produce, right? But with the models, it's possible.
And again, those same templates as part of an expository paragraph about common misconceptions of the Holocaust, based upon a reading of An Introduction to the Holocaust for the Young Reader
At first you might think that World War II caused the Holocaust since the two events are mentioned together so often; after some study, however, you would find that persecution of Jews in Germany began six years earlier. And while it's true that six million Jews were exterminated by the Nazis, you need to remember five million others who were considered undesirable were killed as well. It's possible to believe now that people should have stepped in to save the Jews, but you'd be surprised how few countries seemed to care at the time. You might think the United States was the exception, that we cared enough to step in; however, of the thirty-two countries that attended the Evian Conference
, only one chose to accept Jewish refugees, and it wasn't the United States.
A perfect paragraph? No. But one that shows a balanced consideration of ideas; one that acknowledges common misconceptions, and then dispels them, one at a time.
- Share George Bellows: Painter with a Punch with students, reading through from beginning to end for the sheer enjoyment of the narrative and images. Show students additional Bellows' paintings in over-sized library books or online. I prefer using images online, as I can often resize them on-screen to match their approximate real-life sizes.
- Reread selections from the text in order to discuss the use of opposing viewpoints. Why does the author include them here? In what way is this text argumentative? How does mentioning the opposite viewpoint strengthen each point that author Robert Burleigh makes?
- Once students have discussed some text selections, work with them to identify the "skeleton" or "template" of each argumentative structure. Then, supply students with new content to be rephrased in argumentative format using the author's exemplars. One example from above reads, "Some critics note that the figures in the paintings are awkwardly drawn or that the ringside spectators have odd, caricatured faces. What concerns George most, though, is creating a "you-are-there" feeling." This excerpt relies upon the "Some people..." format, with the counter-punch statement using "though" to express opposition (however could have been used as effectively as though).
- Discuss the book's title with students. Some students will notice that the subtitle is alliterative, in that words share the same beginning sounds. If your students have recently read biographies, challenge them to write fictitious subtitles that rely upon either alliteration, rhyme, or word play. (Other students will notice that the top rope of the ring serves to underline the book's main title).
- Show students other nonfiction books which utilize a title and subtitle, and discuss this feature's purpose. Authors and editors may do write titles in this manner for many different reasons: to separate their book from others on the same topic, to add a creative twist while still keeping the main topic "out in front," or to provide prospective readers with the book's focus (for example, Abraham Lincoln: A Pioneer Boyhood is aimed at a different audience than Abraham Lincoln: Making of a President).
- Require that students use sentence stems (aka templates, models, patterns) such as those above to contrast simple ideas. Start with simple single sentences, move to paired sentences, and finally to paragraphs. My own students have used them for lesson summaries, spelling sentences, responses to current events, summary paragraphs (such as the Holocaust piece above), and comparison/contrast writings about character motives.
- Check out this fantastic break-down of argumentative writing from Smekens Education Solutions, Inc. In addition to some teaching tips, you'll find a ready-to-go activity that challenges students to identify what makes a revised piece of writing argumentative. They've also produced a clever student friendly/teacher friendly interpretation of the ELA Writing Standard (6.1) for Text Types and Purposes.
If you're looking for a single, go-to title for working with argumentative text models like those above, check out They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. This book explains in clear words, dozens of templates, and numerous real-world examples the powerful concepts which guide argumentative writing.
Here you'll find templates for openings, closings, discussion, disagreement, etc. You'll also have at your fingertips many professionally written articles, essays, and speeches which show these same templates at work (check out the explanation of argumentative writing in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail shown in the book preview on Amazon). This work, aimed at both instructors and high school- and college-aged students, is must reading.
Blog: Perpetually Adolescent
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Many of my generation (sadly not all) and those of the next, fortunately have not endured the atrocities of war like those seen during the Holocaust. That we are able to feel its impact, appreciate the drama and acknowledge its implications is the unique potency of a picture book. Margret Wild and Freya Blackwood exploit this power wondrously well.
The quiet unassuming cover of the Treasure Box magnetised me from the moment I was handed the book. The subdued colours, lone tree bereft of leaf and life, fragments of words adrift; all at conflict with the title, which promises something far brighter and more uplifting. I was a little unprepared for the subtle magnitude of the tale, again preoccupied by the end papers, comprising scraps of text which interestingly are taken from Sonya Hartnett’s and Morris Gleitzmann’s foreign editions of their own wartime tales of displacement and loss.
We join young Peter’s story after his home town is destroyed leaving the library in ruin. Books once housed there are transformed to nothing more substantial than bits of ash as ‘frail as butterflies.’ That is all but one; a book that by fortuitous happenstance had been taken home by Peter’s father before the bombing.
Peter’s father is intent on safe-guarding the book for the stories it contains; stories that tell the history of Peter’s people, of a past ‘rarer than rubies, more splendid than silver, greater than gold.’ The book is secured in an old iron box which forms part of the meagre possessions they flee with from their homeland.
Peter’s father does not survive the soul crushing exodus but instills in Peter tremendous tenacity and a promise to keep their ‘treasure safe’. Unable to continue with such a load but true to his word Peter buries the box under an ancient linden tree, to which he returns many years later. His single-handed courage and loyalty perpetuates the most valuable treasure of all – the gift of hope and love.
Margaret Wild’s eloquent sense of story and place transports the reader into the very heart and soul of Peter and his father. Her thoughtfully sparse narrative paradoxically permeates every inch of the page and ounce of our attention. Neither her words nor the illustrations compete for space in this book. They work in convincing unison, caressing the story along and guiding us skilfully through horrific, almost unimaginable situations like sleeping in ditches, and holding the hand of a dying father.
Freya Blackwood’s artwork is instantly recognisable, however is taken one step higher using collage and multi-layering to create a stunning subtle 3D effect. Characters literally appear to be trudging across the page, accompanied by the metaphoric charred fragments of the leaves of a million books. The story is further enriched with delicate contrasts and symbolism on each page, all in the haunting sepia coloured tones of despair and misery.
Only the intensity of the treasure box itself, shown in vibrant red throughout, never fades. By Peter’s maturity, colour and prosperity have returned to his hometown. Even the library radiates with a glorious, golden yellow – hope restored.
I happened upon this picture book late last year, in spite of its 2013 publication date. I thought it was a most serendipitous discovery, but did not fully appreciate its immense value until I uncovered its contents. Truly one to treasure.
Penguin / Viking January 2013
The Book of Life's Canadian correspondent, Anne Dublin, interviews author Kathy Kacer about the compilation of children's responses to the Holocaust entitled We Are Their Voice.AUDIO:
Click the play button to listen to the podcast now:
Or click MP3 File to open your computer's media player.CREDITS:
Produced by: Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel
Supported in part by: Association of Jewish Libraries
Theme music: The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band
Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473.
By: Keith Schoch
Blog: Teach with Picture Books
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After many requests, I've finished compiling an annotated list of Holocaust books. I resisted the urge to categorize them by grade level, as I feel they can be used effectively in both upper elementary and middle grades.
First, however, I wanted to make special mention of one of the newer Holocaust picture books available. Irena's Jars of Secrets by Marcia Vaughan, illustrated by Ron Mazellan, is a wonderful and important addition to the canon of children's literature on the Holocaust (see the full list below), and certainly one worth adding to your own library.
In Irena's Jars of Secrets, Irena Sendler learns compassion at an early age from her father, a Catholic physician who treated Jewish patients at a time when most Christian doctors would not.When her father contracts typhus treating these same patients, he tells Irena on his death bed to "help someone who is drowning, even if you cannot swim."
Irena takes this advice to heart, and begins administering to the Jews imprisoned within the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto by occupying Nazi forces. Beginning in 1940 and continuing for the next two years, Irena smuggles in food, clothing, and medicine. She realizes, however, that this isn't enough. As the Nazis begin transporting the Ghetto inhabitants to concentration camps, Irena joins a secret organization called Zegota, and makes plans to smuggle Jewish children to safety.
But what parent will give up their child? Only after Irena swears to provide new identities and preserve the real names of their children do the Jewish parents reluctantly release them to her. The book chronicles the close calls of the smuggling operation, as well as the capture and near execution of Irena.
After the war's end, Irena unearths her buried jars which contain the real identities of the children that were saved. Most of the children's parents have been killed in the camps, but the lists allow the Jewish National Committee to locate living relatives for many of the children. An afterword provides additional information about Irena Sendler, who never considered herself a hero. Instead, she said this in a letter to the Polish Senate in 2007:
Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this earth, and not a title to glory.
Rich, wonderful paintings by Ron Mazellan (who also illustrated the Holocaust title The Harmonica) help to capture both the tragic and triumphant moments of this book. His subjects and scenes are dramatically lit, and in his own words "moody and mysterious," putting the absolute perfect finishing touches on this title.
- Why are names so important? Ask students to interview their parents and find out how their names came to be.
- Pair Irena's Jars of Secrets with Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto. What information do both books share? What information is provided by one book but not the other? Why might we want to consult multiple sources when conducting research?
- Check out Discussing Historical Fiction and the Definition of Courage with Marcia Vaughan and Ron Mazellan at Lee and Low's website. Both creators discuss how this topic relates to their own experiences, and the processes they underwent to bring this story to life.
- At this same site you'll also find some wonderful discussion questions in Lee and Low's collection of Teacher's Guides.
- For this particular picture book, as well as any that mentions the Warsaw Ghetto, I'd recommend Children in the Ghetto, an interactive site which describes itself as
"...A website about children, written for children. It portrays life during the Holocaust from the viewpoint of children who lived in the ghetto, while attempting to make the complex experience of life in the ghetto as accessible as possible to today’s children.
Along with the description of the hardships of ghetto life, it also presents the courage, steadfastness and creativity involved in the children’s lives. One of the most important messages to be learned is that despite the hardships, there were those who struggled to maintain humanitarian and philanthropic values, care for one another, and continue a cultural and spiritual life."
By examining artifacts, writings, and first hand interviews, students gain an understanding of the "anything-to-survive" mentality which the ghetto created and demanded of its inhabitants. Students can either explore freely, taking advantage of the interactive elements, or additionally respond in writing using the printable handouts. I chose to download the handouts, available in Word format, and tweaked them according to my students' strengths and needs..
Once they've completed this exercise, students will have a mental bank of sites, sounds, stories, and symbols from which to draw upon, greatly increasing their understanding of this period in history.
Annotated List of Holocaust Picture Books
Embedded below you'll find an annotated list of Holocaust Picture Books.Using the provided controls, you can share, download, print, or enlarge this pdf. I hope you'll find this useful when searching out the best books for your own studies. Feel free to leave a comment to let me know which books I missed!
By: Becky Laney
Blog: Becky's Book Reviews
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The Lost Wife. Alyson Richman. 2011. Penguin. 352 pages.New York City2000He dressed deliberately for the occasion, his suit pressed and his shoes shined. While shaving, he turned each cheek carefully to the mirror to ensure he hadn't missed a single whisker.
The Lost Wife, at least at first glance, does not appear to be your traditional Holocaust novel. True, both hero and heroine are Jewish. True, over half of the novel is about what happened to them as a result of the Nazis invading their country and bringing the war all too close to home. But the way this story is told sets it a bit apart. For one, the framework of the story is NOT chronological. It begins and ends on the very same day, it begins with a reunion decades in the making. It begins with the grandfather of the groom meeting the grandmother of the bride and realizing their shared past. Their tragically-brief past.
Lenka, the heroine, perhaps has the greater task. Her narrative focuses on the past, for the most part. From her childhood to her teen years to her relationship with a young man, Josef. It covers the happy years, the anxious years, the joyful moments, the heartbreaking moments. Her time with Josef does seem brief--their marriage consisting of mere weeks when it was meant to last a lifetime. But war has a way of wrecking things.
Josef, the hero, balances out Lenka's story. His role in the novel is to relate to readers the post-war present. The focus is on his life in America. The war has cost him much, much, much more than just a wife. And so he does have to find a way to go on, and that includes marrying someone (another broken person forever changed and haunted by war, by what might have been, what should have been) and having a family. We catch glimpses of his home life through the decades. We see him as a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend. He has never forgotten Lenka. Never.
Though the novel does jump around in time, I didn't find it confusing. I cared about both stories, though, I perhaps cared about hers a bit more. Both Josef and Lenka endured losses--great losses--and both witnessed things that were traumatic, I think her story is more compelling because of the duration. We see Lenka in two concentration camps. And we endure with Lenka. Or at least that is how it felt to me.
The way this story is told does take a good bit of suspense out of it, but I didn't mind because to me it was all about the journey.
Read The Lost Wife
- If you want to read an amazing, heartbreaking-yet-hopeful love story
- If you are interested in reading about the Holocaust
- If you are interested in Terezin and Auschwitz
- If you want a little art appreciation; this one has a definite art theme to it.
- If you're looking for a compelling read that's almost impossible to put down
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
By: Alex Baugh,
The Other Half of Life
In 1939, 930 German Jews set sail across the Atlantic Ocean on the MS St. Louis in the hope of escaping Nazi persecution in Germany and of finding political asylum in Cuba. The trip was costly to begin with, and then Cuba demanded $500 additional dollars that the refugees couldn't afford to pay. The ship proceeded to the United States and Canada, but both countries refused to grant asylum to the Jewish refugees. The captain of the St. Louis had taken it upon himself the make sure the passengers were treated with dignity while crossing the Atlantic, and when they were refused admittance into these three countries, he again took on the responsibility of finding asylum for all his passengers, refusing to return to Germany until this was done.
is a fictionalized version of this event.
Thomas Werkmann, 15, is traveling alone on the MS St. Francis from Germany to Cuba because his Jewish father is in Dachau and his Christian mother could only afford to buy one tourist-class passage and landing permit. On his first day at sea, Thomas meets Professor Affeldt, his wife and two daughters Priska, 14, and Marieanne, 10. They are traveling first class and pass Thomas off as their cousin so that he can join them for meals. It doesn't take long for Thomas and Priska to become friends and to meet other kids their age on board ship.
Priska and Thomas couldn't be more different. Throughout the voyage, Thomas is skeptical about whether or not they will be admitted into Cuba, while Priska firmly believes that they are finally "saved" from Hitler's persecution of Jews. Yet despite her infectious optimism and faith, Thomas continues to say he will not believe they are "saved" until they are safely in Cuba, making him metaphorically a Doubting Thomas figure. And, of course, we know from reality that they never are allowed to enter Cuba, but that isn't the end of the story for Thomas. Whitney's takes us much further than the Cuban port in her version of the story.
I found this to be a fascinating fictionalized version of the real events in this coming of age novel. In the space of a two week voyage, Thomas learns much about people, life and himself, much of this occurring in his games of chess with various opponents. Chess is a game his father had taught him and Thomas was quite good at it. He even took a pawn from his father's chess set and carried it around in his pocket. Though I don't play chess, I could still follow the games progress and how each one contributed to Thomas's growth. Slowly, he learns that sometimes people are not who they appear to be, including himself and even Priska, with whom he falls in love with Priska.
The Other Side of Life
is an energetic novel, well-written with well-developed characters. At times I found myself annoyed with Thomas's negativity and with Priska's relentless positivity (is that even a word?) but I also liked the contrast. I also know I am a realist and in Thomas's situation, I would feel just like he does. Whiteny brings in all kinds of questions regarding identity. Thomas is a Mischling
but raised in a secular home. It is on the MS St. Francis, fleeing a country that sees him only as Jewish, that he begins to learn and appreciate more and more about Judaism, his father's religion, and coming to terms with the fact that it is
When Nazi Germany during World War II invaded Denmark. King Christian X defied the order to fly the Nazi flag. This was resistance against a frightening and powerful Germany. King Christian X was the rallying point for his country. He was a wise and brave king.
I'd never heard this story before. I'd heard little about the country of Denmark during World War II.
It made me wonder if more of the European nations had stood up to Hitler and Nazi Germany, what difference it could have made?
This is a book where more teaching would be needed to the child, explaining about World War II, Holocaust.
It is a large hardcover book.
Every page has watercolor drawings of Danish people on the street, business people, shop owners, children, and animals. There are also war images---this would definitely spark discussion.
At the end of the book is further explanation about Denmark and its stand they took for the Jew's.
Link @ publisher:http://peachtree-online.com/index.php/book/yellow-star.html
Published 2000 by Peachtree Publishers
For ages 8-12
Link for book at Amazon:http://www.amazon.com/The-Yellow-Star-Christian-Denmark/dp/1561452084/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343409256&sr=8-1&keywords=the+yellow+star+the+legend+of+king+christian+x+of+denmark
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Author: Cantor Leo Fettman
Publisher: Six Points Press
Genre: Jewish / Holocaust
In 1944, Cantor Leo Fettman and most of his family were forced from their home and sent to Auschwitz. Cantor Fettman was the only one who survived. In Shoah: Journey From the Ashes, he shares his story of torture and survival as a remembrance to all who perished.
Fettman explains that anti-Semetism in Europe was nothing new when Hitler came to power. Jews had faced centuries of persecution, and it was easy for Hitler to blame them as scapegoats for Germany’s problems. But it took more than one madman to exterminate 6 million Jews. European Christians willingly followed his orders and other nations stood by and watched. They were just as guilty. And there are those today who deny the Holocaust ever took place, claiming that the Jews made it all up.
Hearing about the horrors of the Holocaust is difficult for most people. In facing what humanity did during the time around World War II, we also have to face what we’re doing today. Many ethnic groups and others face discrimination and outright violence when people don’t understand them and determine they are the enemy. If we want to survive as a peaceful nation, everyone should read this book and learn these important lessons from the past.
Reviewer: Alice Berger