Thursday, March 7, 2013

His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg

His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg:  Courage, Rescue, and Mystery During World War II by Louise Borden is written in free verse and contains many photographs which bring life to the text.  It begins with his birth in 1912 and continues until January 1945 when Wallenberg and his driver were arrested by the Soviets under orders of Stalin.  What happened and is related between 1912 and 1945 is a remarkable story.  In fact, it was so remarkable that the book was the 2013 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

Wallenberg, who went to college in the United States, spent his first few years after college traveling the world.  He was a citizen of the world and wanted to make an impact.  He became a diplomat in Hungary from Sweden in July 1944.  At that time, the Hungarian Jews remained in the country, suffering but not yet sent to the death camps.  That was about to change and Wallenberg needed a creative way to save Hungarian Jews.  He decided to make a fake passport called a Schutz-Pass.  This Swedish passport stated the holder was planning on traveling to Sweden and until then was under Swedish protection.  It was printed on an official template and the Nazi's recognized it.  Even after a  last-ditch effort by Hungarian Nazi 's to deport the Jews, many were saved because they had a slip of paper signed and delivered by Raoul Wallenberg.  For this he was declared a Righteous Among Nations.

Here is an interview with the author on Randomly Reading's blog.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Raoul Wallenberg: The Man Who Stopped Death

For students of Jewish or European history, it is a well known fact that the Hungarian Jews were the last to be sent through the Hitler killing machine that decimated the Jewish population of Europe. In 1944, late in the war that Hitler was slowly losing, Swedish Raoul Wallenberg, educated in America and a world traveler, found himself with the knowledge that the Jews in Budapest were being rounded up and sent to their deaths. He felt that he must try to save as many people as possible and began to do just that.

Using fake protective passports, Wallenberg saved between 30,000 and 100,000 Hungarian Jews. He set up safe houses and managed to move the hunted Jews to safety. In doing so, he put himself in danger. As the Soviets came closer and closer to the Hungarian capital, they became convinced that Wallenberg was a German spy. After the war, Wallenberg was captured by the Soviets and has not been seen since the end of the war.

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation is a non-profit site for public awareness and contains numerous educational materials for middle and high school students.

TITLE: Raoul Wallenberg: The Man Who Stopped Death
AUTHOR: Sharon Linnea
PAGES: 145
TYPE: non-fiction, Holocaust narrative
RECOMMEND: This book made me sad - although why it should have more than others, I don't know. I think it upset me because a man who saved the lives of others could not be saved.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Forging Freedom: A True Story of Heroism during the Holocaust

Author Hudson Talbot had been friends with Jaap Penraat for many years when he realized that Jaap had an amazing story that needed to be told. Talbot tells this story in Forging Freedom: A True Story of Heroism during the Holocaust. The book neatly combines narrative with illustrations which should make this very readable for middle grade readers.

Jaap Penraat begins in Amsterdam in the 1930s where he is friends with many Jewish people. One elderly Jewish man is a special friend to Penraat who always helps out with small tasks for his neighbor. As the Nazis move into the Netherlands, Penraat is worried about the safety of his Jewish friends and begins to create couterfiet papers for them. After being arrested for suspicion of aiding the Jews, Penraat realizes that he must help more people more quickly. He and a friend travel to Paris to obtain a new type of travel permit for a fake company ~ they will be moving men to build a wall around Europe. Of course, their real purpose is to move Jews to France where they can safely get to Spain and on to freedom. From 1942 to May 1944, Penraat and his friend saved 406 Jewish lives. Penraat was awarded the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations. His medal is engraved with this proverb:

He who saves a single human life saves the entire universe. (p.64)

I found it interesting that School Library Journal gave this book a fairly negative review on November 1, 2000.
  • The author's personal connection to and affection for Penraat is evident in the warmth of his descriptions. Unfortunately, much of the story is told through unattributed or fictionalized dialogue, and while the imagined conversations have the ring of truth, they are not supported by any documentation. Competent watercolors and pictures of forged documents lend some authenticity, but today's young readers have come to expect explicit sources for factual accounts. General statements and information presented only on the jacket are insufficient.-Kathleen Isaacs
I disagree with the reviewer and feel that this book can certainly serve as a beginning read for students who can then do their own research to add to the narrative of Talbot's informative and emotional account of his friend's wartime experiences. And while Books in Print did not indicate that the book has won any awards, Forging Freedom has been nominated for the three awards listed below.

The Holocaust Teacher Resource Center has an excellent lesson plan for this book designed for grades 5-8. Here is another lesson plan from Chapman University.

TITLE: Forging Freedom: A True Story of Heroism during the Holocaust
AUTHOR: Hudson Talbott
TYPE: non-fiction literature
RECOMMEND: This is a fascinating story about courage ~ how one man saved his fellow Dutchmen.
AWARDS: Maryland Children's Book Award (nominated 2004)
Virginia Reader's Choice Award (nominated 2003)
Young Hoosier Book Award (nominated 2005)

One Candle

One Candle by Eve Bunting is another successful Holocaust book for young children. The illustrations by K. Wendy Popp are stunning. They are in light brown tones with some color added for life in the present, with family sitting around the dinner table on the first night of Hanukkah. As grandmother remembers one Hanukkah when she and her sister Rose were prisoners in Buchenwald, the illustrations lose their color and are muted. But the story grandmother tells at the Hanukkah table is beautiful.

With the help of her sister, Rose, grandmother stole a potato and some butter from the kitchen in Buchenwald. This was very brave for a small twelve year old girl. This was not for them to eat, although they did eat the parts of the potatoe which were removed from the core to make room for the butter. With a string from a skirt, a wick was made and grandmother, Rose and six other Jewish women had one candle for Hanukkah.

Each year grandmother and Rose recreate this moment with thier family. Retelling this story gives then some peace and hope. When one of the children asks why the young women took the risk, grandmother says,

That Hanukkah candle lifted us. It lifted us to the stars. In our minds, sweetheart. In our hearts.

In the end, grandmother, Rose and all of their family toast L'chayim - To life! And each year, they are all lifted to the stars. It is the tradition of remembering triumph over evil that raises us up. And sharing these moments with family is at the heart of every celebration.

A wonderful lesson plan for using this book with 6th graders can be located here, a University of Michigan site and written by a student. If this link becomes broken, please let me know as I am saving a copy. Also, since the book centers on Hanukkah, I found the Teacher Guide to Hanukkah very informative with a number of lesson plans which could also be used with this book.

TITLE: One Candle
AUTHOR: Eve Bunting
TYPE: fiction
RECOMMEND: I love how the family honors a tradition to show courage and hope. The illustrations are also very nice.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Luba: The Angel of Bergen-Belsen

Luba Tryszynska was a prisoner herself in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. It was near the end of the war, but the conditions could not have been any worse. This was the camp where Anne Frank died shortly before the camp was liberated. Luba suspected that her own family, her husband and young son, were dead. In fact Luba wondered why she had been spared. The book, Luba: The Angel of Bergen-Belsen tells Luba's story and explains why she felt she was still alive in the midst of such misery.

Luba woke one night hearing a child crying. She thought she was dreaming because there had not been children in some time. But she listened and heard the cries again. In what seemed impossible, Luba found firty-four children hiding in the dark behind the barracks. Luba led the children back to her barracks and persuaded the women to hide these children, at the risk of their own deaths. Somehow, Luba was able to obtain enough food to feed the hungry children, even as others in the camp were starving. When the camp was liberated some months later, all but two of the children had survived.

Author Michelle McCann tells Luba's story beautifully and provides an epilogue following Luba close to her seventy-fifth birthday ~ when she met with many of the "Diamond children" as these children had been known. A map, photographs, and a list of additional resources are also included to assist older readers with more research or deeper understanding.

I did read a rather critical review of this book in which the author was criticized for trivializing the conditions of the camp, for having illustrations that did not truthfully reflect the reality of the situation for the children and other prisoners. While the author did seem to focus on the positive aspects of Luba's experience with the children, I thought that was purposeful and geared toward a younger audience. Upon careful scrutiny, the illustrations do include some prisoners who have the stark thinness associated with Holocaust victims and it is apparent that many of the adults are terrified. I think that perhaps the book can stand as it is for young readers, while a teacher or librarian can expound on what was the experience of many camp prisoners, and perhaps how many people did not survive. As I considered the review, I did a little research and was surprised to see the photograph of a Luba and some of the children near liberation ~ you can view it HERE.

Here is a book trailer created by a librarian to encourage students to read the book. I hope it, and my review, will encourage you to pick it up as well.

TITLE: Luba: The Angel of Bergen-Belsen
AUTHOR: Michelle McCann told by Luba Tryszynska-Frederick
TYPE: Holocaust narrative
RECOMMEND: This book shows courage in the face of almost certain failure and how love can save lives.
AWARDS: 2004 Jane Adams Award Honor Book

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

BBAW - Interview Swap

Today is the BIG DAY!! Interview - swaps! I am not sure what was harder the questions or the answers. This was the main reason I signed up for BBAW - I remember seeing these last year and thought how much fun! So without any further blathering from me, let's get started!



SHE IS SOPHISTICATED, SHE IS DORKY! Oh wait, I just gave it away! It is my privilege to introduce you to Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness!

1. To get started, tell us a little about yourself. What do you do when you are not reading and blogging?

I live in Madison, Wisconsin, and I just finished my master’s in journalism back in May. I started working at an engineering/manufacturing trade magazine right after that, so I’ve spent most of the summer getting used to work and trying to get outside to enjoy the weather!

When I’m not reading and blogging I like watching tv shows on Netflix (I’m watching Sports Night and Pushing Daisies right now), crocheting, and trying to learn to cook better. Last week I cooked an entire chicken, which I’d never done before.

2. You read such a wide range of books. What is your favorite genre?

Narrative nonfiction is probably my favorite genre. So, that means nonfiction books that use elements of storytelling -- plot, dialogue, characters, etc -- to tell a true story. I think they’re my favorite because I studied journalism and so I read them for the story and technique. It’s fun for me to see how other reporters work or collect information and stories.

3. Tell us about the best book you have read that was totally outside your normal choices.

That’s a tough one! I’ve read more YA because of book blogger recommendations - one I really liked was Looking for Alaska by John Green.

4. Do you have a favorite place to read?

I love reading outside on a blanket at the park, but I haven’t gotten to do that as much lately. My other favorite place to read is on my couch with a mug of tea – the couch is huge and comfortable with lots of pillows and blankets.

5. What three things do you love (reading doesn’t count, or blogging!)?

My family and friends, my cat Hannah, my teddy bear. That’s cheating a little bit, I think, but oh well :-)

6. What would the name of your autobiography be?

This is a hard one, since I always think of autobiography as something you write when you’ve lived a life and have some perspective on it. Since I’m on 24, I don’t know if I have any real perspective on myself. But if I were going to write something about myself, at this moment I’d probably call it something like Discombobulated: One Dork’s Attempt at Being a Real Grown Up.
7. Do you have a favorite bookstore?

I’m not sure if I have a favorite, but there are a few bookstores in Madison that I love - A Room of One’s Own Feminist Bookstore, Avol’s Books, and Paul’s Books are three that I try to go to pretty regularly.

8. Are you a cat person or a dog person – or maybe a neither person?

I’m definitely a cat person, although before I adopted a kitten earlier this year (Hannah), I might have said neither - my family never had pets when I was growing up. But ever since I got Hannah I’ve been this huge sappy dork whenever I see or read anything about animals. It’s a little ridiculous.

9. What book should I rush out to buy if I don’t already have it?

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, because it’s one of the most emotional and well-written narrative nonfiction books I can think of.

10. When people visit your blog, what do you hope they leave with?

I hope they get a sense of me and my personality and that the feel inspired to try a new nonfiction book (or really any book). I feel like there aren’t as many nonfiction reading book bloggers, so anytime I can make nonfiction seem fun or exciting or get someone to try it, I feel excited.

This has been such a wonderful experience for me. I am in awe of Kim - I mean she made the short list for the Best Nonfiction Book Blog! And like Kim, I almost prefer non-fiction, as you can see by my blog. Truth is almost always better than fiction. Kim is a wonderful young blogger and I hope you will rush over to her blog, Sophisticated Dorkiness where she has her interview of me and some fabulous reviews of great books.

Monday, September 13, 2010

People of the Holocaust

People of the Holocaust by Linda Schmittroth and Mary Kay Rosteck is a two volume reference set which is an excellent resource for young people interested in the Holocaust and the many different people who were involved. The two volumes are comprised of biographies of 60 women and men who participated in or were affected by the Holocaust.

Each individual main entry biography is written at the students' level and is often accompanied by interesting photographs or primary source documents. In addition, the editors have included short related mini-biographies which are cross-referenced within the main entries. Each biography contains a "Words to Know" and "Further Reading" section.

I found the main entry biographies interesting and engaging, and feel that the volumes would be extremely useful in terms of research for middle school students. The choices made by the editors were wide and included people on all sides of the Holocaust.

A review of the 2 volume set found in the Voice of Youth Advocates (December 1, 1998) highlights some of the problems, or errors, with the text:

The text states that 1938 was the year Hitler and the Nazis began "implementing anti-Jewish regulations in Germany." This ignores the boycott of Jewish businesses in 1933 and the Nuremberg race laws of 1935, as well as the beginning of property regulations in 1937. In a paragraph describing the forced emigration of Jews in Europe, the text states that "millions of Jews were left behind in Germany": Europe is meant here, not Germany. One bibliographic entry gives the wrong date, and there are a number of typos. The following two mistakes were the most worrisome: An entry about a victim at Auschwitz reads "During the camp's [Auschwitz-Birkenau] existence, between 1940 and 1945, an estimated 400,000 people were admitted to the camp, and approximately 261,000 died there." This is a gross underestimate?nother entry states that at least 1.3 million Jews were killed there. In a sidebar on the war in Hungary a statement declares that Raoul Wallenberg helped to save 4,500 Hungarian Jews?yet another entry on Wallenberg claims he "saved as many as 100,000 Jews."

The author also includes a glossary, bibliography, and index to assist the reader. This should be in the library in every middle school across America - even with a few errors!

TITLE: People of the Holocaust, Volumes 1 & 2
AUTHOR: Linda Schmittroth and Mary Kay Rosteck
PAGES: Volume 1 & 2 - 508
TYPE: non-fiction, reference
RECOMMEND: I think this is a very good reference source for middle grade students. The errors noted in one review can be addressed with students, but the biographical information and primary sources are worth the trouble.