Friday, December 6, 2019

Teachers and Librarians! Your Students Can Help Choose Two Prestigious Children's Book Awards

Teachers and Librarians!
Make Selection of Two Bank Street Children's Book Awards Part of Your Elementary Curriculum

Want your students to practice their reasoning, persuasive speaking, and sharpen their visual skills while participating in  selection of Bank Street’s Center for Children’s Literature’s annual best picture and best science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) books?

First and Second Grade classes may participate 
in the selection of the Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature (Irma Black Award). The award goes to an outstanding picture book for young children – a book in which text and illustrations are inseparable, each enhancing and enlarging on the other to produce a singular whole. The Irma Black Award is unusual in that children are the final judges of the winning book.

Register here.

Learn more here about last year's award and the award curriculum.  Note we will send the 2020 voting link to new registrants in early spring. 

Third and Fourth Grade classes are invited to jury the Cook Prize.  The Cook Prize honors the best STEM book of the year published for children eight to ten. It is the only national children’s choice award honoring a STEM title.

Register here.

Learn more about last year's award and the award curriculum.  The 2020 voting link will be sent to registrants in  early spring. 

Please share this information with your fellow educators and librarians.  Everyone is invited to participate.

Monday, December 2, 2019

A Scarf for Keiko by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard

A Scarf for Keiko by Ann Malaspina,
illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard
Kar-Ben Publishing, 2019, 32 pages

Ever since President Roosevelt had declared war on Japan on December 7, 1941, the kids in Sam's class have stopped talking to the Japanese American kids at school. Now, Sam's whole class are learning to knit so they can make scarves and socks for the soldiers who are fighting in the war, including Sam's older brother.

But Sam hates knitting and he isn't very good at it, unlike Keiko Saito, whom he's know for years and who sits next to him in school and is a great knitter. But whenever she offers to help him, he refuses. In fact, Sam now refuses to have anything to do with Keiko, even after witnessing her being harassed by a teenager as she rode her bike home from school.

But when Sam's mom sends him to the flower shop for some flowers for Shabbat, he sees that Mr. Saito's grocery has been vandalized and Go Back to Japan is written on the closed flower shop. During the Shabbat meal, Sam's dad tells him and him mom that President Roosevelt has decided going to send people of Japanese ancestry away, fearing they might be spies for Japan.

On Monday, Keiko isn't in school, but Sam sees her after school, knitting in front of her house. At home, Sam's mom tells him the Saito have to pack and leave soon, taking only what they can carry and she has volunteered to care for Mrs. Saito's lovely tea set. On the morning after the Saitos have left, Sam finds Keiko's bike in front of his house with a note for him to use it while she's away and a pair of hand knit socks for his brother Mike.

Thinking that Keiko will be cold where she is in the desert, Sam is determined to learn how to knit something to send her: a lovely red scarf to keep her warm.

A Scarf for Keiko is a great story about tolerance and how easy it is to be swayed by friends into turning on good neighbors and friends because they are being portrayed as being un-American simply for being who they are. It also shows how conflicted Sam is about no longer being friends with Keiko, whose family has been such good neighbors with his family, and the way his brother Mike helped Keiko fix her bike, and then not speaking up when he sees injustice all around him. He conflict is increased when his mother reminds the family that her sisters in Poland are in danger because they are Jewish and that Mike is in danger as a soldier.

The simple illustrations add much to the story and are done in a muted palette of blues, browns, greys, and touches of red that give a retro feeling. Faces are a bit exaggerated so that they reflect the wide spectrum of character's emotions - fear, conflict, worry, sadness, hate, kindness, even happiness.

A Scarf for Keiko is a great picture book for older readers who may be old enough to have witnessed acts of intolerance in today's world and are also conflicted about what is happening.   

Back matter includes an Author's Note that explains why and how people of Japanese ancestry, including Japanese Americans like Keiko and her family, were put in internment camps by President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066. I need to mention that there is a typo here, stating the date of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as December 6, 1941, when in reality it was December 7, 1941. Other than that typo, this is an excellent book to share with young readers.

Teachers and students can find a useful downloadable Activity Guide for this book HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

It Rained Warm Bread: Moishe Moskowitz's Story of Hope, story by Gloria Moskowitz Sweet, poems by Hope Anita Smith, illustrated by Lea Lyon

**Contains Spoilers**
This fictionalize free verse biography chronicles the life of Moishe Moskowitz's life just before and then during the Holocaust. In 1936, Moishe, his mother, father, older brother Saul, and younger sister Bella live in Kielce, Poland. Their home life is warm, loving and religious, though there is some they watch the Nazi threat grow stronger and come closer. On the street, Moishe often has to be on the lookout for Polish boys who "want to pound me like schnitzel" simply because he is Jewish. Moishe's mother often encourages his father to leave for America where they have relatives, and save enough money to send for the family. However, his father keeps refusing to leave, finally agreeing only to discover the opportunity has passed.

Moise is 13-years-old when Nazi Germany invades Poland, and the lives of the Jewish families living there are forever changed. At first, the Moskowitz's hide out in the barn of a Christian friend, but when nothing happens, they decide to return home, only to be rounded up in 1941 to temporarily live in the Kielce ghetto. Somehow, Mosihe's father escapes and joins the resistance. From there, in August 1942, the ghetto is liquidated and Moise's mother and sister are pulled away from the family - never to be seen again.

Moishe and Saul are moved from one concentration camp to another. When his brother comes up with an escape plan, only Moishe survives and, now alone, is sent to Auschwitz, to do hard labor. By 1945, when it is clear the Nazis are losing the war and the Allies are closing in, Moishe finds himself on several death marches. During the first march, he pretends to fall down and manages to convince the guards that he is actually dead. When an unkind farmer finds him, Moishe is put into another group of Jewish prisoners, where he is put into a cattle car. It is here that he finally finds the hope he needs to carry him through, when a group of Czechoslovakian women defy the Nazi guards and toss warm, freshly baked bread into the cars for the people in the cattle cars.

Taken off the train, Moishe begins his second death march, trying the same tactic he used before of falling down as though dead. Left behind, he hides in a haystack. It's here an American soldier who speaks Yiddish finds Moishe.

Yes, Moishe survives the Holocaust and eventually makes his way to Los Angeles, California where he marries and raises a family.  And like most Holocaust survivors, he was reluctant to talk about his experiences under the Nazis. But finally he did, and now his daughter Gloria as shared his stories to poet Hope Anita Smith and together they wrote Moishe's story.

It Rained Warm Bread is told in the first person through a number of short spare, sometimes understated, poems, and divided into seven chapters, each focusing on specific events and time in Moishe's life, Smith has created a record that is as heartbreaking as it is hopeful. Interestingly, the Nazis are metaphorically referred to as predatory wolves throughout, and never really portrayed as human.

The text and the small watercolor wash spot illustrations are all done in shades of brown, and add much to this testimony of a man who bore witness to what was done to Europe's Jews during Hitler's reign.

It Rained Warm Bread is not the book to read if you are looking for a factual account of what happened to Moishe and his family. If that's what you want, or if, after reading Moishe's story you want to find out more, you can find an account of Kielce and the Kielce Ghetto HERE

Instead, be sure to read the Author's Note by Moishe's daughter Gloria for more information about this courageous man who lost everything but found the hope he needed to carry him through those dark days.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Thursday, November 14, 2019

White Bird, a Wonder Story written and illustrated by R.J. Palacio, inked by Kevin Czap

**May Contain Spoilers**

If you have already read R.J. Palacio's book Wonder, than you might remember 10-year-old Julian, the boy who bullied Auggie and made his life so difficult. Well, every bully has a reason for being like that and so R.J. wrote The Julian Chapter to help readers understand him. And if you've also read The Julian Chapter, you may remember his GrandmĂ©re telling him about her experience in WWII, hiding from the Nazis. Well, now White Bird, done in graphic format, expands that story and you won't want to miss it.

Given a school assignment to interview someone he knows for his humanities class, Julian, in a video chat with his Grandmére in France, asks if she would tell him again about the boy named Julien who saved her life during the Nazi occupation of France. As Grandmére begins her story, the novel flashback to that time. Living in Paris with her mother, a math teacher, and father, a renowned surgeon, Sara Blum is a happy, friendly Jewish girl, not very good a math, but very artistic. In school, Sara has been sitting next to a boy named Julien for years, but has never spoken to him. Julien had been stricken with polio and now walks with crutches. Nicknamed Tourteau because of crab-like gait, he is the subject of some pretty cruel treatment, especially by the school bully and Nazi sympathizer, Vincent.

After France falls to the Nazis in 1940, little by little life becomes difficult for French Jews, but Sara and her family live in the free zone (Vichy France - no explanation about this in the text) and they believe they are relatively safe. That is, until the winter 1943, when the Nazis begin roundups. As the Jewish children in Sara's school are rounded up one day and taken away by the Nazis, Sara is able to escape and hide in the unused bell tower. Which is where Julien finds her before the Nazis do (but how did he know she was there?) and sneaks her out through the city sewers, taking her to his family's barn, where she can hide in the hayloft.

Sara remains hiding in the hayloft until the end of the war with the help of Julien and his parents, hiding from nosy neighbors who are believed to support the Nazis, and knowing she will probably never see her parents again.

White Bird is Palacio's debut graphic novel and the graphic format worked for me because I know kids like them and there's a good chance they will read this book. I also like a well-done comic. It doesn't bother me that the panels aren't perfectly lined up and I prefer the inking to be done is soft colors rather that bold garish colors for this targeted age group.  The novel is divided into three parts that take place when Sara is in hiding and after the war, plus a prologue and epilogue in the present day, and each is introduced with a relevant quote by people like George Santayana, Anne Frank, and Muriel Rukeyser. 

So, while I do feel that White Bird is a very worthwhile book when I first read it, a second reading revealed some flaws. As with her other Wonder books, the real agenda of White Bird is to extend the message of kindness, as Julien's mother tells Sara: "In these dark times, it's those small acts of kindness that keep us alive, after all. They remind us of our humanity." But, with this message in mind, it must be very difficult to find a balance of what to reveal and what to not include when writing a Holocaust story. My feeling about White Bird is that it a book full of good intentions, a book about resistance and courage, that carries an important message for today's world, given the rise of nationalism, but doesn't quite find this delicate balance.
This makes it a somewhat flawed novel. Sara lived in a barn's hayloft and yet no Nazis ever demanded to search it, as they did in reality, looking for hidden Jews. And one only gets a hint at the horror of the Holocaust, as when the Nazis discover what happened to the other Jewish school children and kill the marquisard who was trying to save them (what's a marquisard?) Yes, this is dealt with in the back matter, but how many 10-year-olds look at back matter? What drove me really crazy is the Sara was such a passive character. She did nothing to help herself, Julien's family, or the resistance. Maybe I've read too many books where the Jewish protagonist acts that I've come to expect that kind of resistance action. Sara should have been more of a heroic character, but her passivity precludes her from that.

In the end, though, I would highly recommend this book for middle grade readers. What saves it for me is connecting the events of WWII and the Holocaust to the present day policies towards refugees, as Santayana reminds us: those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Back matter does include an Afterword by Ruth Franklin, an Author's Note, a Glossary, a Suggested Reading List, and Organizations and Resources for further research, and a Bibliography.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL