Books for Early Readers and Preteens
Here Is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 48 pp. $18.95) by Lesléa Newman, with illustrations by Susan Gal, is an engaging and poetic odyssey through the Jewish year. Beautifully illustrated, it includes craft ideas, recipes and simple but cogent explanations of holidays and customs. Special kudos for the edible sukka and the edible Torah—both involving the universally popular pretzel rod. Ages 4-7.
When Elsa is 6 years old her grandmother Dounia tells her what happened to her when she was a 6-year-old Jewish girl living in Paris in 1940, in Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loïc Dauvillier (illustrated by Marc Lizano and colored by Greg Salsedo; First Second, 76 pp. $16.99). She was forced to wear a yellow star, isolated by her schoolmates and separated from her parents, who were interned in the dread camp at Drancy. Dounia was rescued and hidden by kindly and courageous gentile neighbors. The beautiful and heartbreaking tale is recounted in this graphic novel. The childlike drawings of faces feature touching expressions, images that show large heads and black dots for eyes.
The wondrously simple text will engage the minds and hearts of readers of all ages. This book is a must for every library. Ages 6-10.
Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, rabbi-author of The Barefoot Book of Jewish Tales (Barefoot Books, 80 pp. $19.99), a beautifully designed book illustrated by Amanda Hall, writes of the power of the stories “told from one generation to the next.” This precious literary heritage includes the classic tale of the Baal Shem Tov and his secret fire; the mysterious appearances of the prophet Elijah; Natan “who prayed the alphabet”; and Eliana, whose delicious halla caused “the angels to look down from heaven and smile.” There is no absence of royalty as clever Rachel becomes a queen, and a king and princess marvel to see a rose blossom in a flawed diamond. A CD with actor Debra Messing’s narration is a delightful bonus. Ages 7 and up.
Benny Goodman, the son of immigrant parents, played the clarinet in his synagogue’s marching band. Teddy Wilson, the son of Tuskegee Institute academics, played piano, “tickling the keys” and coaxing out “real live jazz.” The title of Lesa Cline-Ransome’s book, illustrated by James E. Ransome, describes what happened when the two met in New York: Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage As the First Black-and-white Jazz Band in History (Holiday House, 32 pp. $16.95). Theirs was a partnership that blasted through racial boundaries and launched a new era in American music. The Ransomes bring their inspiring story to life. Ages 8 and up.
J.L. Witterick’s My Mother’s Secret: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story (Putnam Adult, 208 pp. $19.95) shows how righteous gentiles Franciszka and Helena risk their lives hiding 15 Polish Jews in their tiny wooden house. Their story is revealed in first-person accounts by Helena; Bronek and Milkolaj, two young Jews; and a German deserter, who is also a fugitive from the Nazi occupiers. United by their shared courage and compassion, their stories, laced as they are with tragedy, confirm that even in the darkest of times the light of goodness flickers bravely. Ages 8 and up.
Trudy Ludwig’s Gifts from the Enemy (White Cloud Press, 32 pp. $16.95), illustrated by Craig Orback, is the true story of Alter Wiener, an elderly survivor. Wiener recalls working as a prisoner in a German factory and the German worker who risked her own life to offer him precious sandwiches, saving him from starvation. Ludwig augments the story with topics for discussion that include asking young readers to consider how their own acts of kindness might impact the lives of others. Ages 8-12.
Shanghai Escape (Second Story Press, 240 pp. $14.95) is Kathy Kacer’s story of 7-year-old Lily Toufor and her parents, who must flee Vienna on the eve of Kristallnacht and sail to Shanghai, one of the few cities to offer refuge to Jews during World War II. The exotic metropolis, its streets crowded with rickshaws and a boardwalk encircling the river, fascinates Lily, but that fascination is tinged with danger. The Japanese occupying army is pressured by its German ally to isolate all Jews in the ghetto of Hongkew, and Lily and her family experience the privations of war, scarcity of food, poor sanitation and disease. Still, Lily rejoices at being able to attend the Shanghai Jewish Youth Association School where she studies and forms friendships with other Jewish children. Kacer writes of a Jewish community determined to retain its identity and survive in the face of adversity. Young readers will share Lily’s happiness as she celebrates Passover in the Ohel Moshe Synagogue and her joy when the war ends and her family leaves Shanghai for Toronto, “their tough and long struggle finally over.” Ages 9-13.
Werner Berlinger was one of 1,400 Jewish children who traveled alone to the United States, escaping near-certain death in Nazi-occupied Europe. In Forced Journey: The Saga of Werner Berlinger (Far and Away) by Rosemary Zibart (Artemesia Publishing, 188 pp. hardcover $24.98, paperback $12.95), 12-year-old Werner writes to his father and sister Bettina in Germany about his new life, describing kindly wheelchair-bound cousin Esther, new friends, the difficulties he encounters in school and his excursions beyond the Lower East Side. The letters remain unanswered, but Werner avoided the fate of a million and a half Jewish children who, like his beloved sister, were not fortunate enough to undertake a “forced journey.” Ages 10-14.
Eleven-year-old Celeste Marconi’s grandmother, her beloved abuela, escaped the Holocaust on a ship called Hope, which carried her to a new life in the beautiful Chilean city of Valparaiso. Now Celeste’s life on Butterfly Hill in that same city is threatened by a dictatorship all too reminiscent of Nazism. Books are being burned, soldiers are marching through the streets and people are disappearing into nefarious camps. In I Lived on Butterfly Hill (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 464 pp. hardcover $16.99, paperback $7.99) by Marjorie Agosin, illustrated by Lee White and translated by E.M. O’Connor, when Celeste’s physician parents are forced into hiding, Celeste, like her grandmother before her, must flee her native land for the safety of her aunt’s home in Maine.
Agosin, a gifted poet, captures both Celeste’s fears and her courage as she adjusts to her new life and forms new friendships. In the end, the dictator is overthrown, Celeste returns home and, after a dramatic search, is reunited with her parents—though the happy ending is tinged with sadness. Ages 10-14.
In the Garden of the Caliph by Hazel Krantz (Trafford Publishing, 124 pp. $18.30) is set in Cordoba, Spain, in 1050, that Golden Age when Jews and Muslims lived together in peace and friendship. Lucia Ibn Mendes, daughter of a learned rabbi, and Raya Ibn Abu, whose father is a distinguished Muslim, share the dream of seeing the mysterious ruins of the garden of the Caliph. Their yearning becomes a reality and together they wander through the wondrous landscape of a sadly destroyed paradise. Krantz has populated her well-researched and beautifully written novel with historic personages, including the great traveler Benjamin of Tudela, the poet Solomon Ibn Gabirol, the scholar Shmuel HaNagid and the legendary El Cid. Rife with adventure and suspense, the lovely story also has a romantic dimension, essential ingredients for an absorbing read. Age 12 and up.
Neil Bascomb’s compelling narrative throbs with suspense and is crammed with valuable information. The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 242 pp. $16.99) is the exciting true story of the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann 16 years after the war ended. It re-creates the daring Israeli operation that took place in Buenos Aires. Bascomb affirms that the Eichmann story “was almost more important in the field of education than in that of justice.” But justice rather than vengeance is the book’s message. Ages 12 and up.
Devorah, a bright and beautiful Hasidic girl, meets Jaxon, an equally bright and attractive West Indian youth, when they are stranded in an elevator during an outage caused by a hurricane. Their connection is tender and magnetic, their meetings clandestine. In Like No Other (Razorbill/Penguin Young Readers Group, 347 pp. $17.99), Una LaMarche portrays their separate communities with depth and understanding. She captures the ambience and strictures of a loving but rigid Lubavitch family and she understands the hopes of Jaxon’s nurturing parents. The satisfying but not entirely happy ending endows Devorah to “still be part of [her] community but able to observe it from the outside, too,” and affords Jaxon the recognition that he wants “…to spend the rest of [his] life helping people to find their way.” Ages 12 and up.
A map of the Netherlands introduces heart-stopping stories in Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 True Stories of Survival (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 214 pp. $16.99) by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis; translated by Laura Watkinson. Each account of Anne Frank’s contemporaries, who were also driven into hiding, is dramatic and suspenseful. Rita Doyen, for example, spent the war masquerading as the child of a gentile family, reluctantly joining her parents after liberation. Despite a false identity, Bloeme Emden was finally captured and sent to Westerbork where she encountered former schoolmates Anne and Margot Frank, her fate more fortunate than theirs. These are truly profiles in courage. Ages 12 and up.
Joseph Joffo’s memoir A Bag of Marbles: The Graphic Novel (Lerner/Graphic Universe, 128 pp. paperback $9.95) was adapted by Kris as a graphic work for children. Illustrated in watercolor and ink by Vincent Bailly and translated by Edward Gauvin, this often disturbing story follows the adventurous escape managed by two Jewish brothers from Nazi-occupied Paris. Ages 12-18.
Shelly Sanders has written the final volume of her ambitious Rachel trilogy, Rachel’s Hope (Second Story Press/Orca Books, 319 pp. $12.95), which has followed Rachel from her girlhood in Kishinev and the tragic experience of a horrendous pogrom, her dramatic escape with her family to Shanghai and as she begins a new life in America. Rachel has survived poverty, danger and hunger and the deaths of both her parents. Sustained by her loving sister and brother-in-law, she has reached San Francisco. Tenacious in her dream of becoming a writer, she attends night school after grueling days of menial labor as a domestic, all the while caring for her family and maintaining her desperate correspondence with Sergei, her gentile friend left behind in Russia. Her small triumphs are betrayed by the San Francisco earthquake, in which all her hard-earned possessions are lost.
But she perseveres and is rewarded. Rachel becomes a published journalist, is admitted to university and meets Alexander, who loves and understands her. She recognizes that “The past needs to be folded away…there is no room for past regret, only for today’s hope.”
Sanders’s historical note is a welcome addendum to this fine and absorbing trilogy. Ages 13-18.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the struggle for civil rights in Mississippi, which saw volunteers from across the United States travel to Mississippi to register black voters and establish Freedom Schools. Three of those idealistic volunteers, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, Jewish youths from New York, and their friend James Chaney, all of them members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, were brutally murdered in Neshoba County, notorious Ku Klux Klan territory. Their bodies were tossed into an unfinished dam. Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin (Holiday House, 128 pp. $18.95; ages 10 and up) and The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell (Scholastic, 256 pp. $18.99; ages 14 and up) are two well-researched books with period photographs and facsimiles of documents. Both will give young adults new insights into the struggle for justice and will add heft to the diverse new literature available to them.