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Vicky Fang Interviews Elisa Boxer, Author of Hidden Hope

 

VICKY FANG INTERVIEWS ELISA BOXER,

AUTHOR OF

HIDDEN HOPE: 

How a Toy and a Hero
Saved Lives During the Holocaust

(Abrams BYR; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Hidden Hope cover girl with toy duck

 

Starred review – School Library Journal, Booklist

 

INTERVIEW:

Vicky Fang: Elisa, HIDDEN HOPE is such an inspiring book. I love that you’re able to share a story that is so historically rich in such a compelling way. How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Elisa Boxer: Vicky, thank you so much. Great to be here with you. The idea for this book began when I first saw this photo on Yad Vashem’s website:

 

Wooden Toy duck Credit Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection
Wooden Toy Duck Credit Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection

 

Yad Vashem is the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, and this hollowed-out wooden duck is part of the artifacts collection. When I learned that this duck was made with a secret compartment to hide documents from the Nazis during World War Two, and that the French Resistance worker who used it to smuggle those documents was a teenager, I knew this was a story I wanted to tell.


VF: It’s such a fascinating story! In addition to writing children’s books, you’re also a journalist. How does your background as a journalist affect your work as a children’s book author?

EB: I definitely combine the two on a daily basis. Whether it’s doing research, conducting interviews, writing a narrative, distilling complex issues down to manageable bits of information, or zeroing in on areas of emotional resonance with the audience, the processes with journalism and book writing are very similar. And the result, telling a (hopefully) compelling story with a strong emotional takeaway, is always my goal.

 

VF: I would say you’d definitely succeeded with HIDDEN HOPE. In the backmatter, you also talk about your personal connection to this topic … could you share a bit about that?

EB: My personal connection is two-fold: Both sides of my family are of Eastern European descent, and relatives on each side were killed during the Holocaust. As both a journalist and an author, I definitely feel compelled to help shine a light on these atrocities. But also, growing up, I often felt like I had to hide my Jewish voice because my childhood was filled with so many personal and hurtful incidents of Antisemitism. I wasn’t strong enough back then to stand up to hate; to expose injustice. So in a way, I suppose I’m making up for lost time. When I first saw that picture of the duck, it struck me that here is this artifact, in an international museum, on display for all to see. And yet it was never supposed to be there, according to Hitler’s plan. If anything, it was supposed to be in his intended “museum of an extinct race.” As were all Jewish artifacts and all Jewish signs of life. So on a personal level, as I mention in my Author’s Note, I want to help bring more and more stories like this out of the darkness and into the light.

 

VF: Could you talk about your experience in writing this book? Was it hard to spend so much time on such a difficult topic?

EB: It’s so interesting, this question has come up quite a bit. People ask whether it’s been hard to write about such a dark topic. And while there’s no question that this was an unimaginably devastating time in history, the whole point of the Holocaust was to create a master race and erase the Jewish people from the face of the earth. And yet so many of us are here writing about it. We’re bringing these stories to light. We’re the descendants that were never supposed to be here. And not only are we here, we’re raising our voices to tell the stories that the Nazis never wanted told. There is something incredibly uplifting and empowering about that. I never want to stop doing it.

 

Hidden Hope int1 interior objects
Interior art from Hidden Hope written by Elisa Boxer and illustrated by Amy June Bates, Abrams BYR ©2023.

 

VF: What a wonderful message, thank you. Amy June Bates’ illustrations also do such a good job of highlighting the mood and the action of HIDDEN HOPE and I love that there’s an Artist’s Note in the end from her. What did you think when you first saw her illustrations?

EB: Oh I love Amy’s Artist’s Note too! And exactly about highlighting the mood and the action. I have been researching the French Resistance for years, and have so many images in my mind. But Amy has an incredibly unique gift for creating old-world style art that takes you back and makes you feel like you’re right there, in the middle of it all, riding along with Judith and the duck on the streets of Paris. I was in awe of her work from the time I first saw her preliminary sketches. Her art is so authentic that it makes the whole book feel like an artifact in itself. One of the most powerful details to me is the contrast of vibrant, saturated color from Judith’s beret with the more muted, cloudy, shadowy watercolor illustrations that so perfectly capture the somber feel of what was happening. A recent Booklist review highlighted one of my favorite spreads: “One particularly haunting spread casts the reader’s gaze through a jagged, broken windowpane to bear witness to soldiers’ cruelties.” I mean, the art on every page is extraordinary, but that scene really stands out.

 

VF: What do you hope young readers take away from this story?

EB: Initially, I wanted to tell this story because it’s so full of hope and intrigue and I wanted young readers to find inspiration in this little-known hero who was filled with determination in such a dark time. And I wanted this book to take its place alongside others that are opening up wider conversations about Antisemitism. But as I began really feeling into the deeper layers, which for me comes during the writing process, I began to realize that this is, ultimately, a story about the importance of never having to hide the truth of who you are. Although certainly nothing can be directly compared to the horrors of the Holocaust, I do think many of us have aspects of ourselves that maybe we feel unsafe showing to the world. I actually found myself asking some uncomfortable questions, like: “Where and with whom do I feel like I have to hide the full truth of who I am?” These aren’t always conscious questions. But I do hope one of the takeaways for young readers (and older ones too) is deciding to show up in any given situation as the most authentic version of who they are. Not hiding. Bringing their fullest selves into the world.

 

Hidden Hope int2 girl on bike
Interior spread from Hidden Hope written by Elisa Boxer and illustrated by Amy June Bates, Abrams BYR ©2023.

 

VF: I think that’s such a wonderful aspect of your books. You tell such specific and inspiring stories, but the themes are so big and universal. You’ve written a wide range of wonderful nonfiction picture books, from COVERED IN COLOR: Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Fabrics of Freedom to SPLASH!: Ethelda Bleibtrey Makes Waves of Change. How do you find story ideas and decide which ones to pursue?

EB: With nonfiction picture books, I’m looking for that “YES!” in my gut that keeps drawing me back to the topic. I’m initially looking for inspirational people, places, or events that I find intriguing enough to spark my curiosity and make me want to dig deeper. And then there has to be something more. For example, with SPLASH! Ethelda Bleibtrey Makes Waves of Change, it was impressive that Ethelda was the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming. But when I learned that she used swimming to help heal from polio, and that she got arrested for standing up to sexist laws that said all women had to swim with socks, I knew this story had the potential to inspire young readers to break barriers in their own lives.

With COVERED IN COLOR: Christo & Jeanne-Claude’s Fabrics of Freedom, I knew that Christo and Jeanne-Claude were a dynamic duo who created massive displays of public art like wrapped buildings and islands. But when I researched more about Christo’s background, I learned he grew up under Nazi rule and then under Communism. This fascinated me, how someone whose childhood was filled with so much suppression could dream up and generate these wild, large-scale, outside-the-box creations. And so this became a story about courage, and pushing the limits of what appears to be possible, and creativity that refuses to be contained. So with each topic, in order to pursue it as a book, there has to be the potential for a strong inspirational theme and emotional takeaway.

 

VF: So what’s next for you?

EB: Right now I’m looking forward to this book launching into the world on March 14th! I’m so happy to have heard from teachers around the country who will be incorporating it into their Holocaust education curriculum, and am looking forward to virtual author visits to support that.

Next year, I have four more books on the way: DEAR YOUNGER ME: What 35 Trailblazing Women Wish They’d Known as Girls (Rowman & Littlefield), THE TREE OF LIFE: How a Holocaust Sapling Inspired the World (illustrated by Alianna Rozentsveig, published by Penguin/Rocky Pond Books), BEAM OF LIGHT: The Story of the First White House Menorah (illustrated by Sophia Moore, published by Penguin/Rocky Pond Books) and one that hasn’t been announced yet. 2024 is going to be a busy year! Meanwhile, I’m working on more picture books, as well as a middle-grade novel and a middle-grade collective biography that I’m really excited about.

EB: Thank you so much for this interview, Vicky. And to Ronna, for hosting us. And to everyone who supports our books!

VF: Thank you, Elisa, for sharing your personal story behind this beautiful book, HIDDEN HOPE: HOW A TOY AND A HERO SAVED LIVES DURING THE HOLOCAUST. It’s been an inspiring conversation!

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Local indie for signed copies (type in the comments how you’d like the book inscribed): https://www.printbookstore.com/book/9781419750007

 

Author Elisa Boxer photo credit Melissa Mullen
Author Elisa Boxer Photo Credit: Melissa Mullen

AUTHOR BIO:

Elisa Boxer is an Emmy and Murrow award-winning journalist whose work has been featured in publications including The New York Times and Fast Company. She has reported for newspapers, magazines and TV stations, and has a passion for telling stories about people finding the courage to create change. She is the author of several nonfiction picture books including The Voice That Won the Vote, A Seat at the Table, One Turtle’s Last Straw, SPLASH! (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection), Covered in Color (called “compelling from cover to cover” in a Kirkus starred review) and Hidden Hope (called “an important true account to add to all collections” in a School Library Journal starred review). Elisa lives in Maine, and has more children’s books on the way. Visit her at https://www.elisaboxer.com/

Links to social media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/eboxer

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Elisaboxer/

IG: https://www.instagram.com/boxerelisa/

Illustrator’s website: https://www.amyjbates.com/

 

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author, and sometimes illustrator, of nineteen new and upcoming books for kids, including the Layla and the Bots series, Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code board books, Friendbots series, and the forthcoming Ava Lin series, Best Buddies series, AlphaBot, and The Boo Crew Needs You! You can visit Vicky at vickyfang.com.

 

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Our Country’s Presidents – Best Books for Presidents’ Day

OUR COUNTRY’S PRESIDENTS (2020 Edition):

A Complete Encyclopedia of the U.S. Presidency

Written by Ann Bausum

(NatGeoKids; $24.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Our Countrys Presidents cover


PRESIDENTS’ DAY 2021

 

This excellent sixth edition of Ann Bausum’s comprehensive coverage of our nation’s presidents aptly titled Our Country’s Presidents makes this the go-to book for at home or in school. It also includes the 2020 election so readers will be up-to-date if using the book as reference material. While Joseph R. Biden was recently elected 46th President of the United States, this book spans all the way back to the nascent days of the U.S. presidency with fascinating facts, all meticulously researched and presented in 224 color pages.

 

Our Countrys Presidents 58-59
Interior spread from Our Country’s Presidents (2020 Edition): A Complete Encyclopedia of the U.S. Presidency written by Ann Bausum, NatGeoKids ©2021

 

Our Country’s Presidents can be read in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons and can be enjoyed by children as well as adults. I appreciate how at the start readers are provided with a full page describing how to use the book. This follows a Foreward by author and 60 Minutes correspondent John Dickerson and an Introduction. Then the book is broken down into six historical time periods from 1789 to the present making it easy to jump around depending on the era or president in question. There is an illustrated timeline at the start of each section to help frame all of the events that impacted the period, from “wars to inventions, explorations to protests.” 

 

Our Countrys Presidents 78-79
Interior spread from Our Country’s Presidents (2020 Edition): A Complete Encyclopedia of the U.S. Presidency written by Ann Bausum, NatGeoKids ©2021

 

Additionally, those keeping up with current events can learn about the electoral college, the role of the vice presidency, the two-party system, plus first ladies, the White House construction and things you didn’t even realize you wanted to know! ” I decided to look up different presidents I knew little about and found interesting facts: Did you know that Martin Van Buren, our country’s 8th president, was the first one to be born a U.S. citizen? Previous presidents had been born during colonial America making them British subjects at birth. Or that Andrew Johnson, our 17th president, went on to become a U.S. senator? He was the only one to do so after his presidency.

Key features include:
  • Information about the 2021 president-elect and the 2020 election results as of the publication date
  • A brand-new thematic spread on the impeachment process and its history
  • Revised terminology around the language of slavery and analysis of early presidents who benefitted from and relied on enslaved labor
  • Comprehensive profiles of all the former presidents along with timelines and descriptions of crucial events during their terms
  • Thematic spreads covering a variety of topics from the history of voting rights to how to write a letter to the president
  • Full-page portraits, famous quotes, and fascinating facts to help kids get to know each leader

 

Our Countrys Presidents 162-163
Interior spread from Our Country’s Presidents (2020 Edition): A Complete Encyclopedia of the U.S. Presidency written by Ann Bausum, NatGeoKids ©2021

 

I have always been a fan of National Geographic nonfiction books for kids and this one is no exception. You may have to wait your turn to read it because I bet your tween will be hooked. It’s entertaining, educational, timely and is packed with 400 illustrations, famous quotes, presidential portraits and nicknames and so much more. Our Country’s Presidents provides the chance to find out about a plethora of presidential “scandals and shining moments” you won’t soon forget.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
    e

Click here to read a review of another middle grade book for Presidents’ Day

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YA Book Review – The Blossom and the Firefly

THE BLOSSOM AND THE FIREFLY

Written by Sherri L. Smith

(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $17.99 HC,
available in Ebook, Audio, Ages 12+)

 

 

The Blossom and the Firefly cvr

 

Starred Reviews – Horn Book, School Library Journal

Sherri L. Smith’s YA book,The Blossom and the Firefly, depicts an interesting slice of Japanese World War II history. Hana, assigned fieldwork is, one day, buried alive during an air attack. After she is dug out, Hana feels a part of her died in that bombing. Adding to her despair, she is reassigned as a Nadeshiko Tai girl—a handmaiden to the dead—serving tokkō, the special attack pilots also known as kamikaze. When each group readies to leaves, she must smile and wave as they take their last flight hoping to honorably body-crash into enemy battleships.

I appreciate the unique story structure, based on the Eastern style of storytelling called kishōtenketsu. Instead of a plot with conflict, kishōtenketsu revolves around contrast or juxtaposition. In The Blossom and the Firefly, Hana’s first-person chapters are in the “now,” while Taro’s (her love interest) third-person chapters begin in 1928 during his childhood. About halfway in, the narratives synchronize. Utilizing these time lines, we are shown Taro’s backstory without relying on flashbacks.

The story questions whether it’s possible to live and love during wartime. Hana keeps coolly distant until stumbling upon a special connection with Taro. After the war ends, rebuilding entails mending emotionally and moving forward to embrace what’s left. Readers will feel what it was like to be a teen caught in a war-torn land, where it’s not whether you have lost a loved one, but, rather, how many. This young adult novel about a little known aspect of the war is both heartbreaking and uplifting.

• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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George Washington’s Secret Six (Young Readers Adaptation) by Brian Kilmeade & Don Yaeger

GEORGE WASHINGTON’S SECRET SIX
The Spies Who Saved America
Written by Brian Kilmeade & Don Yaeger
(Viking; $17.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

cover illustration from George Washington's Secret Six Young Readers Adaptation

 

 

George Washington’s Secret Six, a young readers adaptation of the New York Times bestseller about George Washington’s top-secret spy ring that helped defeat the British, is a must-read for history buffs and anyone who relishes a riveting spy story filled with fascinating facts and bravery by the boatload. I’m so glad this book was written so that I could brush up on my Revolutionary War details, many of which I have long forgotten (or never knew!).

The stakes were high for General George Washington in 1776. With the British occupation seemingly never-ending, Washington and the Continental Army needed to get a leg up on the Redcoats who had recently conquered New York City, forcing Washington and his army into a hasty retreat. The British had the clear advantage. They had the might of the Crown behind them and the money, meaning they had ships, weapons, food and an army ready to do all it took to defeat the fledgling nation.

Knowing he had few options, Washington chose a different approach, one that, though financially not expensive, could ultimately cost lives if discovered. The general had to tread carefully and trust was an essential component in his plan. He’d form a team of undercover operatives so he and his troops could gain the advantage over the British. Set against the backdrop of 18th century Manhattan, Long Island and Connecticut, the story of the Culper Spy Ring, which was active until very near the end of the war, is an amazing tale of heroism and stealth, creativity and cunning.

Told in four parts with forty brief but engaging chapters, Kilmeade and Yaeger recount this overlooked intelligence network that played a significant role in America’s success. The Culper Spy Ring was comprised of a reserved merchant, a tavern keeper, a brash young longshoreman, a curmudgeonly Long Island bachelor, a coffeehouse owner, and a mysterious woman, possibly a socialite, known as Agent 355. Together they employed tactics such as using code, invisible ink and even going to work for the Loyalists in order to gain insider knowledge of upcoming battle plans, troop movements and even their secret code.

Middle grade readers will learn about Nathan Hale’s brief attempt to spy and how his lack of fitting in called him out as an imposter. The British’s foiled efforts to disseminate counterfeit money to ruin the economy is also explained. They’ll read about the important role the French played as America’s ally. They’ll find out how hard it was to operate without being detected and the clever ways the spies sent crucial information via land and sea (okay, the Long Island Sound to be exact) under cover of darkness. The authors clearly convey all the risks involved in these missions which could easily culminate in hanging and that’s what will keep kids involved. I constantly found myself wondering if one of the spies was going to be caught. The danger involved was palpable with every page turn. One of the most interesting sections of the book dealt with Benedict Arnold. I knew his name was synonymous with traitor but I honestly never knew the degree to which he sold out the Americans. The devotion to the cause of freedom knew no boundaries for the top-secret spy ring as depicted in George Washington’s Secret Six (Young Readers Adaptation). Who knows how things would have turned out were it not for the six patriotic spies?

Over 25 pages of excellent back matter are included for those who crave more details. Here readers will find several pages devoted to the postwar lives of the Culper Ring, information about the use of invisible ink and alphabetical codes, a comprehensive timeline, sources and an index. Another aspect of the book I liked was how black and white engravings, paintings, illustrations and photos were incorporated to firmly ground readers in the colonial time period. This well-researched true story resonated with me since many of events took place close to where I grew up on Long Island. I’m now eager to visit many of the locales mentioned if they still exist. Kilmeade and Yaeger have written a terrific nonfiction book that provides an accessible way to get tweens and teens interested in our country’s history, if they’re not already. Perhaps it will even prompt further reading about this critical time in the formation of the United States.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Also recommended: Heroes of History Series – George Washington

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