When We Were Shadows by Janet Wees

When We Were Shadows: A Holocaust Remembrance Book for Young Readers

Janet Wees, Author

Second Story Press, Biography, Apr. 18, 2018

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Pages: 157

Themes: Jewish children, Family relationships, Holocaust, Netherlands, Underground Resistance, Heroes

Synopsis:

It is 1937. Walter is five years old when his parents decide to flee their home in Germany and start a new life in the Netherlands. As Jews, they know they are not safe with the Nazi party in power. For nearly three years Walter and his family is relatively carefree. His father opens a small tea and coffee shop.  Walter and Hannah are able to attend school, learn Dutch, and play with other children.

When Germany invades the Netherlands in 1940, Walter’s world changes from safe and predictable to one full of uncertainty. He hears his parents talking in whispers.  He is too young to appreciate the danger he is in, and everything seems like a great adventure. He has to change his name. His family leaves their home and shop. But as the war progresses, his family is forced to move again and again, from city to countryside, to eventually, the Hidden Village deep in the Dutch woods.

Walter and his parents are separated from his seriously ill sister, who is hidden in a hospital, and his grandmother, who is hidden in other safe houses. He writes letters on napkins, scraps of paper, and book pages, describing his life, his fears, and his hopes. Walter’s eyes are opened to the threat that surrounds them every day and to the network of people who are risking their lives to help them stay hidden. This true story shines a light on a little-known part of WWII history and the heroes of the Dutch resistance—particularly those involved in the Hidden Village—without whose protection, Walter, his family, and hundreds of others would not have survived.

Why I like this book:

This is a moving and sensitive true story about the strength of the human spirit to survive. It is story about the power of a family determined to stay together. It is a story about the compassion and kindness of ordinary individuals who put their lives in danger because they know it is the right thing to do.

I like the format of Janet Wees book as it reads like a story. The author uses the letters Walter writes to his granddaughter, Jenny, as the background for the story. He waits until Jenny is old enough to share his entire story of fleeing Germany in 1937 as a young child and the fear and horror around him.  The rest of the story is told in the letters Walter writes to his oma (grandmother.)  After Oma’s death, Walter found the letters wrapped in a bundle in a trunk. They are in the voice of young Walter, who is able to sneak the letters to Oma through the Underground.

When We Were Shadows is a vivid and realistic story that will make readers remember so that this kind of atrocity doesn’t happen again. There are photographs throughout the book of Walter and Hannah, homes where they were hidden, dense forest camouflaged hide-outs and a rebuilt Hidden Village, that add undeniable authenticity to the story.

Resources: Make sure you read the Prologue, the Epilogue about the liberation and the Author’s Note at the beginning and end. This is another excellent book for middle grade teachers to add to their Holocaust collection.

Janet Wees has written since she was nine years old. A retired teacher, she spends her time creating children’s picture books, reading, walking, writing letters, cycling, volunteering and traveling. She lives in Calgary, Alberta.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

The publisher provided me with an advanced copy of the book.

Jars of Hope – Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2016

Multicultural Book MCBookDay-white-21-300x234January 27, 2016

Today I am a book reviewer for the Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCCBD). The official hashtag is #ReadYourWorld. It was founded “to spread the word, raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature and get more of multicultural books into classrooms and libraries.” Please click on the highlighted link above to see all of 200+ book reviews.

Jars of Hope 9781491460726Jars of Hope

Jennifer Roy, Author

Meg Owenson, Illustrator

Capstone Young Readers, Biography, Aug. 1, 2015

Pages: 32

Suitable for Grades: 3-5

Themes: Irena Sendler, Jewish Children in the Holocaust, Poland, Rescue, Unsung Heroes, WW II

Opening: “Otwock, Poland, 1917 Irena noticed things. She noticed that some people were treated differently than others. Sometimes Irena’s father took her with him on his doctor’s visits. The children in the neighborhood where he treated patients spoke Yiddish. They also went to the Jewish Temple. Irena heard the mean things that others said about the Jewish people. Irena often played with the Jewish children.”

Publisher’s Synopsis: Amid the horrors of World War II, Irena Sendler was an unlikely and unsung hero. While many people lived in fear of the Nazis, Irena defied them, even though it could have meant her life. She kept records of the children she helped smuggle away from the Nazis’ grasp, and when she feared her work might be discovered, she buried her lists in jars, hoping to someday recover them and reunite children with their parents.

What I like about Jars of Hope:

  • Jennifer Roy has written a powerful and inspiring picture book biography about a woman who saw how badly the Polish Jews were treated by the Nazis and decided to help save 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust. Roy shines a light on a very dark and sad period of history.
  • Roy uses dates and places to alert the reader to significant happenings and the growing tension that surrounds Irena’s work. The reader gains insight into the child, Irena, who is troubled that Jews are treated differently from the gentiles. This exposure has a profound effect on Irena and later shapes her response by 1940, when she sneaks food, supplies and vaccines to Polish Jews in the ghetto. In 1942, she smuggles infants out the ghetto and finds them new homes in convents and with families.
  • This is a challenging topic to discuss with children. Roy’s storytelling of Jar’s of Hope is sensitive and uplifting.  It introduces children to the caring people who risked their lives to help the Jews during the Holocaust. There is both good and evil in the world. Irena and her helpers represent the kindhearted and heroic people who take a stand against the evil and choose to make a difference. Her story is one of hope and compassion, and showcases the very best of humanity.
  • Meg Owenson’s illustrations are hauntingly beautiful in their dark muted tones. They are expressive and perfectly capture the author’s intent of showing the danger and remarkable acts of Irena Sendler’s heroism.

Resources: There is an Afterword, Author’s Note and Glossary included in the back matter. Jars of Hope is a good read-aloud and discussion book for classrooms. Children will want to know what happens to the children who are saved. Will they be reunited with their families. Irena meets some of the children years later. Check out The Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust, which is designed for elementary students.

The MCCBD team mission is to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.

Join the Twitter party (#ReadYourWorld) and book give-away on Wednesday night, January 27, from 9 p.m. – 10 p.m. EST. Multicultural, diverse and inclusive books will be given away every five minutes.

The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press.

MCCBD 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors include: Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press, StoryQuest Books, Lil Libros Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk, Candlewick Press Silver: Lee and Low Books, Chronicle Books, Capstone Young Readers Bronze: Pomelo Books, Author Jacqueline Woodson, Papa Lemon Books, Goosebottom Books, Author Gleeson RebelloShoutMousePressAuthor Mahvash Shahegh, China Institute.org.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Host and you can view them here.

*I received my copy of this book from the publisher Capstone Young Readers. This review reflects my own honest opinion about the book.

Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine

Hana's9780807531471_p0_v1_s260x420Hana’s Suitcase

Karen Levine, Author

Albert Whitman & Company, Biography, 2003

Suitable for Ages: 10-14 (Grade 5 and up)

Themes: Hana Brady, Jewish Children, Holocaust, Persecution, Czech Republic, Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center, Promoting Peace

Synopsis (Book Jacket)This is a true account of two brave children caught in the Holocaust and a young Japanese woman’s determination to tell their story. In March 2000, a suitcase arrived at a children’s Holocaust education center in Tokyo, Japan.  On the outside, in white paint were these words”  Hana Brady, May 16, 1931, and Waisenkind–the German word for orphan.  Children who saw the suitcase on display were full of questions.  Who was Hana Brady?  What happened to her?  They wanted Fumiko Ishioka, the center’s curator, to find the answers.  In a suspenseful journey, Fumiko searches for clues across Europe and North America.  The mystery of the suitcase takes her back through seventy years, to a young Hana and her family, whose happy life in a small Czech town was turned upside down by the invasion of the Nazis.

What I like this book:  Kudos to Karen Levine who performed the original Canadian radio broadcast about Hana, George and the children of Tokyo, which resulted in this book.  This was a tragic story about a Jewish girl killed in Auschwitz. It was also a heartwarming story about the determination of a woman, Fumiko Ishioka, the director of the Tokyo Holocaust Education Center, who wanted to teach the children of Japan about the Holocaust and the importance of building peace.  Since Japan was an ally of Nazi Germany during World War II, the children of Japan knew little about the atrocities that occurred.  Once the suitcase arrived with Hana Brady’s name and birth date, the children asked questions.  Fumiko embarked upon a journey that linked three continents together.  She found Hana’s brother in Canada and invited him to visit with the children of Tokyo, and see Hana’s long-lost suitcase.  He told the students about Hana and their life before the Holocaust and about life in prison camps .  Although difficult for George Brady, he discovered that in the end he was honoring Hana’s wish to become a teacher.  In her death, she was teaching millions of children worldwide about what happened to one-and-a-half million Jewish children.  The exhibit traveled all over Japan.

Resources:  This book is a great teaching tool for grades 5 to 8.  There is back matter in the book.  A 90-minute DVD about Hana’s Suitcase can be found in libraries.  It chronicles the events from Fumiko receiving the suitcase, her research, the Japanese children’s involvement, to George’s visit to Tokyo and his interaction with the students.  I highly recommend this book for classrooms and homeschoolers.  You may want to check out the Brady Family Website which if full of fascinating information and Karen Levine’s original radio interview.