Tag Archives: Holocaust

PPBF – Hand in Hand

When I first saw mention to today’s Perfect Picture Book and read a review at Picture Books Help Kids Soar, I knew I had to find, read and share it!

Title: Hand in Hand

Written By: Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum

Illustrated By: Maya Shleifer

Publisher/Date: Apples & Honey Press, an imprint of Behrman House/2019

Suitable for Ages: 7+

Themes/Topics: Holocaust; loss; separation; hope

Opening:

Mama had a smile sweeter than strawberries in summer. So did my little brother, Leib.

Brief Synopsis: When their mother goes missing during wartime, young Ruthi and her brother, Leib, are sent to an orphanage. When Leib is adopted, Ruthi shares a tattered photo and promises to always remember him.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Teacher’s Guide;
  • After the war, Ruthi finds solace by planting in the garden. Grow colorful flowers or favorite vegetables, or gift a plant you pot to a special friend or relative;
  • Check out other ideas at Picture Books Help Kids Soar .

Why I Like this Book:

In Hand in Hand, Rosenbaum introduces two very difficult subjects, the Holocaust and loss, in an empathetic way that, I believe, will enable caregivers to discuss these important subjects with young children. Hinting at some of the more difficult aspects of the Holocaust experience, Rosenbaum notes that Mama left and failed to return, but the reader does not learn her fate. Similarly, soldiers appeared and “hovered over our heads, like tidy rows of storm clouds – threatening to burst”, but there is no indication that the soldiers harmed Ruthi or her family. Most evocative of the Holocaust, Ruthi “walked through Nightmares, in a place where numbers replaced names.”

But, as Ruthi notes, “even in that colorless landscape”, there was hope. Other people took care of her until, finally, “one spring morning the black boots vanished.” Alone, Ruthi journeyed to a different land where, through the restorative powers of gardening, she was “brought back to life”.

The story could have ended at this hope-filled point, but it doesn’t. Instead, Rosenbaum follows Ruthi’s life to adulthood and old age when, readers learn, photo galleries of missing children helped reunite siblings, even after so many years. Experiencing these reunifications leaves readers feeling even more hopeful, and caused at least this reviewer to shed a few tears.

Shleifer’s bright, nature-filled illustrations accompanying happy times in Ruthi’s life and the dark, foreboding spreads when she is scared and alone help capture and further the emotions that Rosenbaum’s text evokes. I found the two-page spread of children at an orphanage standing against a light-colored background particularly haunting. Interestingly, too, the children in Hand in Hand are portrayed as animals, which will, I think, help children distance themselves from the more traumatic aspects of the story.

A Note about Craft:

Rosenbaum relates Ruthi’s story using first-person point-of-view. This enables readers to know from the first page that Ruthi will be there through the entire story, despite the perils she faces. From the start, Rosenbaum also focuses on a few kid-relatable features in the story – a photograph of Ruthi and her brother, including his “strawberry smile,” and holding hands. By honing in on these details, I think Rosenbaum makes it easier for children to relate to Ruthi’s experiences and empathize with her.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

 

PPBF – The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window

September is a month of beginnings, school and fall come to mind; endings, summer with its carefree, shoe-free, sunshiny days; and remembering, those who labor and those we’ve lost, either personally or in the unfathomable horror that is seared into our hearts and divides time into pre-9/11, post-9/11 worlds.  For today’s Perfect Picture Book, I’ve chosen a book that helps us remember another unfathomable horror and reminds us of the hope that can endure tragedy.

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Title: The Tree in the Window: Looking through Anne Frank’s Window

Written By: Jeff Gottesfeld

Illustrated By: Peter McCarty

Publisher/date: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: History, World War II, Anne Frank, Holocaust, chestnut tree, bearing witness

Opening: “The tree in the courtyard lived for 172 years. She was a horse chestnut. Her leaves were green stars; her flowers foaming cones of white and pink.”

Brief Synopsis: The Tree in the Window is the biography of a tree that grew in the courtyard outside the attic where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

As Anne Frank is the “Every Child” serving as a face and bringing a narrative to the horror of the Holocaust, the tree that endured outside her window serves as the “fly on the wall,” bearing witness to Anne’s life and ultimate demise. While Anne and her family were hiding in the attic, the tree also was a source of nature, beauty and comfort for Anne. Which raises an important question to discuss with young listeners: how can we both witness suffering and bring comfort to those who suffer?

This is a gentle introduction to the Holocaust, as gentle as anything can be, that ends with a note of hope: despite her death in 2010 at age 172, saplings from the tree live on around the world, notably at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, in New York City.

A Note about Craft:

On his website, Jeff Gottesfeld writes that he first learned about the tree in a New York Times article and was drawn to its “life-affirming story.” He admits, though, that he “wasn’t sure how to tell” that story. He started a few times, struggled for a few weeks, then set it aside for two years. He returned to the story in August 2012, submitted the manuscript to his agent in November 2012, and Knopf/Random House acquired it a few weeks after that. As he shows, sometimes story ideas need to sit, to jell, before we as writers are able to write them.

Both the text and Peter McCarty’s sepia-toned illustrations imbue the story with the gravitas it deserves. Interestingly, while Anne’s story is told in its entirety, neither the author nor illustrator name the place or time period, nor do they identify the country of origin of the soldiers.

Finally, as a writer who often tackles so-called “difficult subjects,” I think The Tree in the Courtyard serves as a valuable mentor text on point-of-view. By drawing the reader and listeners outside the attic, I believe it affords some distance from a horror that is incomprehensible. As we mark the 15th anniversary of 9/11, and as books about it for even young children are being written, I can’t help wondering what point-of-view will help tell that story while providing hope in the face of overwhelming tragedy.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!