Monday, June 30, 2014

The Secret Seder

The Secret Seder, by Doreen Rappaport, is a touching book based on real stories of events which we know happened during the Holocaust.  While this exact story did not happen, it allows children to think about what their religion means to them as they read about what it is like to have to hide your religion and customs from everyone.  In the story, a young boy and his father along with the rest of the family, pretend to be Catholic to hide from Hitler during the war years. The young boy and his father climb high into the mountains where they join other Jews in hiding to celebrate the Seder. The young boy has studied the Four Questions, and recites them when it is time.  But the older men ask new questions comparing their situation to the slaves who fled from Pharaoh. They finally finish the ceremony and hope they will celebrate the next Seder in Jerusalem.

The descriptive narrative provides an adequate picture of the foods which are eaten each Seder and there is a glossary that explains the meal in further detail.  A very simple lesson plan that looks at the Seder can be found here!  

TITLE:  The Secret Seder
AUTHOR:  Doreen Rappaport
TYPE: fiction, Holocaust narrative
RECOMMEND:  This book would be especially good for students familiar with the Jewish Seder, but certainly could be read by children in grades 2-4.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank, by Yona Zeldis McDonough and illustrated by Malcah Zeldis, is an introduction to the much beloved Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. This simple text is meant for younger children, and can be used to start the conversation.

The book has a timeline and an author's note to put the story in perspective.  Without a specific lesson plan, at the younger grades, this book serves as an introduction to the Hololcaust.  In the higher grades, it may serve to pique the child's interest in reading the diary.

TITLE:  Anne Frank
AUTHOR:  Yona Zeldis McDonough and illustrated by Malcah Zeldis
TYPE: non-fiction, Holocaust narrative

RECOMMEND:  This book is perfect to introduce young readers to the Holocaust.

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