Matthew Cordell’s notable picture book, Wolf in the Snow, balances a chilly winter landscape with warm sentiments of kindness. A young girl in a red triangular-shaped parka loses her way home from school when snows obliterates the path. At the same time, the severe weather separates a wolf cub from its pack. The two youngsters find one another and the girl’s thoughtfulness sets the story’s tone.
The only words in this book are plaintive sounds: whines, barks, howls, exhausted huffing. Children not yet literate can easily follow the images. Be sure to view the pictures before the title page which convey important information about the girl, her parents, and their dog. These also start us with the idea that, though the girl becomes lost, she is not alone—help will come, though not necessarily in the manner expected.
Blowing snow illustrations are bookended by ones of cozy comfort, communicating a safe opening and conclusion. Icy storm and natural colors contrast sharply with the bright jackets worn by adults and children. Wolves are depicted with distinction.
Animal lovers will appreciate the resounding connection between humans and creatures. Wolf in the Snow reminds us that helping one another is an idea without boundaries.
THE PEDDLER’S BED Written by Lauri Fortino Illustrated by Bong Redila (Ripple Grove Press; $16.99, Ages 6-9)
Lauri Fortino’s debut picture book, The Peddler’s Bed, is a feel good story that reads like a folktale, and simply begs to be shared with the entire family. Illustrator Bong Redila’s artwork, mixing ink with watercolor, complements Fortino’s engaging text and brings a magical and colorful quality to the book as seen in the images included in this post.
The Peddler’s Bed is about a hard working old man who is greeted by a traveling peddler. Upon his cart is a fine bed, “crafted … from the hardy oak trees that grow on the other side of the hills …” Tending his garden, the little man looks up and then, showing common courtesy, gives the salesman his undivided attention. When the peddler promises then demonstrates how this wondrous bed doesn’t squeak, my guard went up, convinced the peddler was laying on a hard sell with the end goal of taking advantage of the polite, maybe naive little man. I just had to read on to find out what Fortino was planning.
Clearly impressing the old man, the traveling salesman offers the bed “at a very fair price,” only the little man hasn’t a penny to spare. When the peddler proposes to give the man the bed provided he “can think of a way to make my oak bed squeak by sunset,” he’s assured the comfy bed will be his, and cannot refuse the challenge.
Hopeful of the prospect of winning such a fine bed, the little man shares the shade of his porch then prepares dinner for the salesman as the two enjoy each other’s company. Fortino’s peppered the story with lots of teasing, red-herring squeaks everywhere inside and outside the old man’s tiny house, everywhere except the bed.
Realizing he’s lost the bet, the man accepts the peddler’s invitation to try out the bed anyway and proceeds to fall into a deep, squeak-filled (snoring) sleep. The final gesture by the departing peddler, one of kindness and generosity after noting the little man’s grace and hospitality despite his hand-to-mouth existence, is one that will reward readers in the best possible way. The Peddler’s Bed is a charming story of humanity and brings a renewed faith in the random kindness of strangers found in the most unexpected places in the most delightful ways.
Happy Valentine’s Day!! We all know that love comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s the love of a child, a parent, a sibling or a spouse. There’s also the love of a pet, and the love of a best friend. Then of course there’s the love of one’s country or birthplace, and a love of Mother Nature’s gifts on Earth. There’s even the love of a film, a TV show or a book, although I’ve never sent a Valentine’s Day card to a book. In this Valentine’s Day Books Roundup we’re celebrating the myriad things we love and the ways we express our love on Valentine’s Day and every day.
I LOVE YOU ALREADY! Written by Jory Jon and illustrated by Benji Davies (Harper; $17.99, Ages 4-8) Sure to be a hit with youngsters, this follow up to Goodnight Already! has everything you’d want in a good read aloud or bedtime story. There’s a duck and his next door neighbor, a bear. There’s humor and great artwork. But best of all, there’s an undeniably adorable premise – duck won’t let Bear have a day of rest because he just does not feel confident he is loved, or even liked by Bear. Duck, in true duck form, insists that two go out together. “You don’t look busy! Besides, we’re going for a walk, friend. No arguments., Chop-chop!” Hard as he tries, Duck eventually learns that he doesn’t really have to do much because by the end of this entertaining tale, it’s obvious that Duck is loved very much by Bear. I got such a kick out of these two totally opposite characters who share the bond of friendship in such a special way.
LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING Written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5) Fans of Emma Chichester Clark and dog lovers everywhere will not be disappointed with her latest picture book, Love is My Favorite Thing, based on her own dog and celebrating “unconditional love.” We’re treated to plucky Plum’s (aka Plummie) point of view right from the get go and what we learn endears her to us instantly. Brimming with genuine affection, Plummie professes love for everyone and everything, from the sun to sticks, from little Sam and Gracie, the next door neighbors’ kids to owners Emma and Rupert. Very British sounding names, right, but that just adds to the charm. In fact, when we first moved to London, my daughter had a classmate whose parents called her Plummie and she wasn’t even a pooch!!
Here’s my favorite sentence: “I love it when Emma says, ‘Good girl, Plummie!’ when I do a poo, as if it’s so, so clever.” The repetition of Plum saying “LOVE is my favorite thing” is really one of the clever thing going on in this story. As are Chichester Clark’s illustrations which give readers a real sense of what Plum’s all about. Even if she sometimes gets up to no good, her intentions are never bad. That is until she ran off with a child’s bag that had an ice cream cone dropped in it. Then Plummie just could not resist. Poor Plummie! Would her owners still love her after her big mistake? Plum ponders this question that children also often wonder, “Does being naughty make people stop loving you?” And the answer is a resounding no, they absolutely still love you as long as you’ve taken some time to think about what you’ve done. That’s why, Plum reminds us, and I am certain, too, that “LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING!”
WORM LOVES WORM Written by J.J. Austrian Illustrated by Mike Curato (Balzer & Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8) Here’s a super new story that turns the idea of what invertebrate marriage is right on its head, if worms had heads! And so begins this gender bending tale of two worms who want to tie the knot, only their friends expect them to go the traditional route. With same-sex marriage now the law of the land, it’s an ideal time to gently and thoughtfully introduce this subject and Worm Loves Worm does it beautifully with humor and tenderness.
When the pair of worms express their love for each other, the next step feels right. “Let’s be married,” says Worm to Worm. With Cricket performing the ceremony, Beetle on hand to be best beetle and the Bees eager to be the bride’s bees, the worms wonder, “Now can we be married?” Of course the answer isn’t so simple as they’re told they need to have rings, ( despite having NO fingers), a band and all the other accoutrements of a wedding. When ultimately asked who is the bride and who is the groom, the worms explain that they are both, clearly a break from the norm in the eyes of the worms’ friends. “Wait,” says Cricket. “That isn’t how it’s been done.” The reply is powerful and appropriate. “Then we’ll just change how it’s done,” says Worm because, in the end, what does tradition have to do with it? It’s love that matters.
CHICK ‘N’ PUG: THE LOVE PUG Written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler (Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages 0-5) Chick ‘n’ Pug are certain to garner new fans from this latest installment, the fourth in Sattler’s popular series. BFFs Chick ‘n’ Pug are introduced to Daisy who falls hard and fast for Pug and attempts to win his love. The catch is Pug would prefer to continue napping. Much like in the friendship of Duck and Bear, Chick’s the energetic one, eager to help show Daisy that her wooing of his pal is worthwhile. Daisy tries and tries to use her feminine wiles to get Pug’s attention by hinting how she adores flowers, can’t find her favorite bow or is being chased by a bully. It’s not until a bee, first observed when Daisy wished for flowers, begins buzzing around sleepy Pug that the pooch is stirred annoyingly awake. Daisy and Chick get into the act as the three ward off the intolerable insect. Soon, it’s not just Chick ‘n’ Pug who are exhausted and in need of nap. Love can sure tire you out in the best possible way.
“Oskar’s mother and father believed in the power of blessings. So did Oskar …” and so begins this poignant picture book with four square sepia toned panels showing the Hanukkah Menorah being lit. Yet with the turn of a page, and the colors going black, the family huddling in fear, synagogues are burnt, the storefront windows of Jewish businesses are broken and life as Oskar and his family knew it was forever changed. Oskar and the Eight Blessings focuses on Oskar as a refugee, only the year is 1938 not 2015. He’s come to America, sent by his fearful parents, immediately following Night of the Broken Glass (Kristallnacht), when it became clear that all Jewish people in Nazi Germany were in grave danger. Landing in New York City, with only the name and photo of his Aunt Esther, Oskar must navigate the cold, big city by himself and make his way 100 blocks up Broadway from the pier in Lower Manhattan.
Not only is Oskar and the Eight Blessings a unique and engaging Hanukkah book, so is the way this book is presented. Unlike typical picture books with a title page followed by the story, this tale unfolds with the awful events precipitating Oskar’s departure, and the title page then becomes part of a two-page spread featuring the city’s dramatic skyline as Oskar’s ship pulls into port. It’s not just the seventh night of Hanukkah as Oskar heads uptown, “it was also Christmas Eve.” The first blessing Oskar receives is from a woman feeding pigeons. Sensing his hunger, she offers Oskar a small loaf of bread. This sustenance helps him carry on so that he can reach Aunt Esther before sundown when the Hanukkah candles would be lit. Along Oskar’s journey, he encounters New Yorkers and others (Eleanor Roosevelt) who bestow upon Oskar another six random acts of kindness that tie into that time period and more importantly, that feed his soul and keep him going until he’s walked all the way to Aunt Esther’s, the eighth blessing.
Back matter includes an informative Author’s Note, a glossary, as well as a map showing Oskar’s stops on his long day’s trek. I’m so glad I can share this uplifting Hanukkah story filled with evocative scenes and moving text, and use it as a jumping off point to reflect with my family on our blessings this holiday season.
Beloved storyteller and Nobel Prize winner, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s tale of The Parakeet Named Dreidelis brought to life by debut picture book illustrator, Suzanne Raphael Berkson. In its latest iteration, The Parakeet Named Dreidel, perhaps the best known from Singer’s Hanukkah collection of stories from The Power of Light, with page after page of joyful watercolor illustrations, seems ideal for a new generation of readers.
This heartwarming tale of lost and found and love never fails to bring a smile to my face. In this picture book, the narrator Singer is recounting a tale from ten years earlier when he was looking out the frost covered window with his son, David. It was the eighth day of Hanukkah and the Menorah burned brightly on their windowsill. During a game of dreidel, David discovered a parakeet on the ledge outside the window “perhaps attracted by the light.” This casually recollected tale, though actually carefully constructed to keep us turning the pages, takes us through that eventful evening after Singer and son David encouraged the parakeet to come inside from the cold. This yellow-green bird appeared trained and could even play dreidel by pushing the wooden top with its beak, so surely someone had lost and must be missing it. Because of its game playing skills, David named the parakeet Dreidel, but set out with his dad the next day to find its owner. The most revealing trait of Dreidel’s was his ability to speak Yiddish! On occasion, the family heard the parakeet say, “Zeldele, geh schlofen” (Zeldele, go to sleep). Yet despite his uniqueness, the parakeet went unclaimed.
Nine years went by and we see, through Raphael Berkson’s playful art, that Dreidel has grown to be a member of the Singer family, often sitting alongside the author as he typed. By this point, David has become a college student and, as fate would have it, attended a party where, while telling the story of Dreidel, he happened to meet the actual Zelda of whom Dreidel had long ago spoken. She was Zeldele, the original owner. The two college students soon became a couple, Zelda was reunited with her long lost pet, and Dreidel was credited with bringing the pair together. My favorite illustration is the Chagall-like one included here that depicts the loving young couple as jubilant new parents floating amongst all the significant items in their relationship. This book brought home the serendipity of life and the love a pet can bring into a family’s home. Raphael Berkson has selected a wonderful story to show off her talent and make me look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.
We’re delighted to share the following enlightening guest post by author Jodi Mays.
How do you teach a feeling or emotion? For some parents this is as difficult as asking what a color smells like, and yet kids today are bombarded with messages and imagery that does just that. From television, to magazines and social media, kids are picking up these impressions from an early age. So, how do you make sure the right messages are getting through to them? This was a question that plagued me when my son was young. How do I teach my son about emotions and self-esteem?
It was easy for me to say, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Or to remind him to be aware of others feelings but, as most parents may agree, it is not always what you say that imparts the best lessons. As a family, we have always been drawn to reading; turning to books to pass the time and getting lost in worlds both big and small. Reading became a way for us to tackle many of these tough ideas, which led to some incredible conversations about everything from self-esteem to compassion and kindness; conversations that may have been too difficult to broach on their own, without the help of books. It was these conversations that led me to write my first children’s book with the hope that I could pass along some of the same valuable lessons of self-worth and acceptance. After all, building a strong foundation of confidence and self-esteem is important for everyone and the basis that I hope will carry my child confidently into the future.
It is with this in mind that I want to share some of my favorite books on acceptance and self-esteem.
The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss: You can’t really go wrong with this classic book. In The Sneetches, Dr Seuss weaves a story that teaches self-worth and acceptance, which is extremely fun to read. The Sneetches are born either with or without a star on their tummies, which leads an unscrupulous monkey to take advantage of their differences. In time the Sneetches learn to accept and embrace each other’s differences.
Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy: In this book Lucy is the subject of ridicule for her favorite food, spaghetti in a hot dog bun. Lucy stands by her choice even when others are mean and mock her for being one-of-a-kind. When these same friends need help, Lucy has the courage to make the right choice. This story is truly empowering for any child who has ever felt different from the crowd.
For School Agers
Have You Filled A Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud: This book contains beautiful illustrations that pair easily with simple prose to help younger children learn how to be “bucket fillers.” It teaches children to show their appreciation with simple acts of kindness and love, which will not only boost the self-worth of those who get their buckets filled but also those who do the filling as well. It reminds children that a little kindness and acceptance can make the world a better place.
Unstoppable Me; 10 Ways to Soar Through Life by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer: This book builds on Dr. Dyer’s first book, Incredible You, and the ideas of “no limit thinking.” Kids are encouraged to embrace what makes them unique instead of simply trying to fit in. It embraces all of the wonderful quirks and qualities that every child is born with and teaches them to use these special traits to navigate stressful situations and enjoy life’s wonderful moments.
Freckle Juice by Judy Blume: No one defined a generation of young readers, struggling to navigate through life’s challenges better than Judy Blume. In her book Freckle Juice, she weaves the story of a young boy who simply wants to look different than he does. As young people sometimes do, he trusts the wrong person to help “fix” his problem with her secret recipe for freckles. This book is a classic for anyone who ever felt like they were missing a key feature to make them perfect.
Tween You and Me by Deb Dunham: Switching gears, Tween You and Me is a non-fiction book for tweens and parents living with tweens. It is a thoughtful and practical guide to navigating changing bodies, relationships and feelings in a way that encourages both self-expression and responsibility as well as lessons in respect for the young reader. Growing up is hard enough. Nurturing healthy self-esteem only adds to the challenge. Tween You and Me acts as a road map for the journey ahead.
For Young Adults:
The Creative Journal For Teens, Making Friends With Yourself by Lucia Capacchione: A combination of journal and how-to, this book offers teens a safe way to work through some of the complex challenges they face in everyday life. Written by a registered art therapist, this book can help teens to clarify their goals while strengthening their self-confidence by giving them a safe place to write down their feelings in a somewhat structured environment. For any teen that has difficulty expressing their emotions, this book can be a valuable tool.
The Skin I’m In by Sharon G Flake: This book is geared toward more mature, young adult readers and touches on race and class as well as self-esteem. It follows a young girl, Maleeka Madison, as she and her mother struggle with the death of her father. In her attempts to become more popular she finds herself the target of bullies. Throughout the story Maleeka has an internal battle to discover who she really is and who her real friends are. The Skin I’m In weaves a story about self-confidence, friendship and the consequences of trying too hard to fit in.
– By Jodi Mays
Jodi Mays is a free-lance writer. She divides her bi-coastal living between Malibu, CA and Longboat Key, FL. She moved with her family to Innsbruck, Austria with 5 English-German dictionaries and 15 duffle bags at a young age and still resides there at times throughout the year. She has one son with whom she traveled the world while he competed in International Junior Tennis Tournaments. She uses her colorful adventures as a modern-day gypsy as inspiration for her writing. THE DAY WE RODE THE RAINBOW is the first book of an interactive and fun series called ‘The Book Series with a Purpose.’ She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
First published in Germany as Herr Glück & Frau Unglück, Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm shows us how kindness, unstoppable and contagious in its nature, can soften even the hardest of hearts.
As his name suggests, Mr. Happy is happy. All the time. Morning to night time. Rain or shine. His belongings, too, have an air of cheerfulness and comfort to them. On the day he moves to his new home, Mr. Happy brings with him a big cushy chair, lots of books, a teapot, friendly pets, plants, and a ladder we come to find out he uses to climb up to light the moon’s lantern. As we read the stickers on his luggage of the countries he has visited, we know Mr. Happy has spread his cheerfulness to all corners of the earth.
Moving next to neighbor Miss Grimm, however, proves to be a challenge and a nuisance-that is, for Miss Grimm. From her “bleak little” unit #13 home to her drab clothing and suspicious disposition, Miss Grimm seems to take morbid curiosity in Mr. Happy’s everyday tasks. Mr. Happy plants flowers and trees. He “greet[s] the rain when it rain[s], the snow when it snow[s], and the wind when it bl[ows].” The more annoyed Miss Grimm is with her neighbor, the more lush Mr. Happy’s garden grows and the more friendly her and Mr. Happy’s pets become with each other. Like children innocent of adult prejudices, the animals take an immediate liking to each other, thus beginning the slow transformation of Miss Grimm’s home.
It first starts with the small plant on Miss Grimm’s windowsill, lifeless at first, but after Mr. Happy arrives it springs to life almost overnight. Soon enough, too, the neighbors’ roofs share a wire. Strasser’s mixed media, monoprint, crayons, and digital collage produce an Alice in Wonderland effect for Mr. Happy’s side of the spread, while, on Miss Grimm’s side, sudden bursts of color and texture highlight her gradual change. Readers will enjoy flipping the pages back and forth to mark how and when these changes take place.
Despite her every effort to remain her mean old self, even slamming the door in Mr. Happy’s face, Miss Grimm is not the same person. Like the way the wind carries Mr. Happy’s seeds or the way his garden thrives, love grows simply because it’s there–simply because it has its own set of rules that change us to become a better version of ourselves.
Janine “is one of a kind” and this delightful picture book full of expressive dialogue and artwork, about a special little girl, portrays her uniqueness thoughtfully and unabashedly. I’m so glad this book’s been written because, while there are a spate of books that deal with kids who feel different, Cocca-Leffler knows first hand about children with disabilities and their differences. Janine. is actually based on her experiences raising her special needs daughter, the titular Janine. While Janine certainly marches to the beat of her own drummer, and adults reading the story might find her quirkiness quite charming, one particular classmate in the book certainly does not. That lack of empathy, along with Janine’s authenticity, is the basis for this tale.
Here’s just a snippet from the book’s very brief description of Janine, because for the most part, Cocca-Leffler lets Janine’s words move the story forward and that works so well.
She reads the dictionary when others are playing and listens when no one thinks she is.
That’s how Janine overhears that a private party is being planned by this self-proclaimed “cool kid” and she’s not on the list of guests.
“Janine. You are STRANGE! You have to CHANGE!”
Kids with NLD (nonverbal learning disorder/disability), Asperger’s or high functioning Autism, often may be hyper verbal with amazing memories as Janine is depicted, but can often be lacking in social skills. This can make it difficult fitting in with their typically developing peers. Plus, kids can be cruel and insensitive at this age, like the bully who tells Janine she’s not invited to her party. NOTE: I love the illustration that immediately follows the bully’s nasty pronouncement above. One classmate in a red baseball cap who seems to like Janine, tosses his invitation after witnessing the bully’s hurtful behavior.
Ever resourceful, Janine decides to throw her own party …
“and EVERYONE is invited!”
And guess, what? Everyone except the bully wants to go! With a happy ending like that, it’s easy to see why this book about kindness, and inclusion should be in every classroom and school library. It’s important to note, however, that not all real life situations have such positive outcomes; all the more reason why making available picture books about children with disabilities should be the goal of every school district and school librarian. The sooner we start the conversation about the importance of diversity, whether it’s race, gender or differing abilities, the sooner that bullies will wield less power in the classroom and on the playground and a more tolerant, accepting generation will emerge.
Be sure to read the jacket flap of this book to learn more about Cocca-Leffler’s inspiration for the story and Janine’s commitment to being a “role model to children and adults, encouraging them to focus on abilities, not disabilities.”
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Visit www.JaninesParty.com, created by Cocca-Leffler and Janine as a resource for parents, teachers and students.
We’ve joined up with this clever Book Love Blog Hop after being tagged by reviewer and blogger, Cathy Ballou Mealey. The goal is to spread some book love which we’re doing for an imaginative picture book from this past September ’14 called Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds(Flying Eye Books, $19.95, Ages 3-7) by Jim Stoten. The Blog Hop is part of Carrie Finison’s innovative Book Love Blog Hop, and we’re sure you’ll agree that it’s an absolutely brilliant concept!
The idea is to help promote children’s books worthy of positive social media attention. But with so many picture books competing for coverage, it’s difficult for every book to get their 15 minutes (or longer) of fame. As bloggers, we can help get the word out about terrific kidlit titles that may have been overlooked, and play our part in sharing some overdue shout outs.
Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds, a seek-and-find counting book from 1-10, kept me throughly entertained as I dove in to search the first wildly colorful two-page spread. I was on the lookout for 1 kite that had snapped its string. While trying to locate the kite, I noticed so many other marvelous and zany things the author/illustrator included in a park scene: trees resembling paper airplanes and another sporting sunglasses and a hat, an enormous purple dog, an over-sized snail, some ducks on bikes and even an enormous shoe. Kids’ll have a blast pointing out the various items they notice as Mr. Tweed helps an unhappy little crocodile retrieve his lost kite.
“It felt good to help people,” Mr. Tweed thought to himself, as he left the park.
Next up Mr. Tweed volunteers to find Tibbles and Timkins, 2 adorable kittens belonging to Mrs. Fluffycuddle, that are hiding in a cottage garden. For Americans, the depiction of English scenery is a great introduction to another country although, apart from the double decker buses and no punctuation after Mr. or Mrs., it might be hard to realize the illustrator and book are from the U.K.
Kids and parents alike will have to use keen observation skills to spot the missing mice in the third spread which is a library packed with shelves and shelves of books. My favorite illustrations were of the pool, the market and the river, but I think youngsters will also enjoy the woods, the bustling street scene, the fair, and the big surprise waiting at the end.
Mr. Tweed’s kind gestures do not go unrewarded! Best of all, parents and kids will also be rewarded by the fun that is certain to be found exploring every inch of every single page in this cheerful, quirky counting picture book with its eye-popping artwork and its positive message. Try a little kindness and see how contagious it can be!
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
BOOK LOVE Blog Hop Instructions
1. Pick some books you love (any genre) that you think deserve more attention than they are getting.
2. Post reviews for the books you chose on Amazon/social media. The reviews can be brief – even a short review on Amazon helps. Posting on Goodreads or Shelfari is great, too, or Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. The more places you can publicly proclaim your love, the better!
3. If you want, you can also post the reviews on your own blog, or link your blog back to your reviews on social media.
4. Feel free to display the BOOK LOVE badge designed by Dana Carey on your blog – and if you want, link it back to this post so your visitors know what it’s all about.
5. Tag some friends to do the same! Tag friends through their blogs, or on Facebook.
That’s it! If you don’t want to wait to be tagged, you can jump right in and start reviewing and tagging yourself.
Trudy Ludwig recounts the true story of Holocaust survivor, Alter Wiener, using his voice as narrator. Though in picture book format, this introduction to the Holocaust and its inhumanity, is geared to middle grade students. An absolutely powerful tale, Gifts from the Enemy introduces Wiener like this:
“My name is Alter Wiener and I am an ordinary person with an extraordinary past.”
From that very first page, I found myself immediately drawn into the story. Written chronologically, and focusing first on Wiener’s childhood, the book describes his home town, Chrzanów, Poland. His family lived a good, but simple life and his home was “full of books, food, laughter, and love.” Orback’s muted colored artwork conveys the quaintness of this prewar city where most families owned no car and walked most everywhere.
The book depicts the Wiener’s religious beliefs subtly. By the third spread where the family is all together, we feel the warmth and welcoming nature of the household where Wiener’s Papa would usually invite “a poor student or homeless person to share the Sabbath dinner with us.”
Soon the mood and book’s colors change as Hilter’s German Nazi soldiers invade Poland on September 1, 1939. Tragically, Wiener’s world will never be the same again. Harsh restrictions are placed on Jewish people, but many families do not have the financial resources or connections to flee. The Nazis prove to be hate mongers. First they kill Wiener’s Papa when he was just 13. When he was 14 they took his brother away and when he was 15 it was his turn to be carted off. “I and many others were herded like cattle onto trains headed to destinations far, far way from kindness, compassion, respect and dignity.”
How Wiener endured the cruel hardships he encountered daily at prison labor camps is a miracle in itself, but the other miracle is that, out of all the hatred and suffering, an act of kindness materialized. A German factory worker, under risk of death, began leaving the starving young man a bread and cheese sandwich. She did this by hiding the sandwich and directing his attention to where she’d put it. This went on for 30 days, undetected! And rather than continue feeling hopeless, he now had hope. The generosity and kindness of a stranger gave Wiener the will to survive and reinforced his early belief that for every cruel person there is a good person, too. There are strong, courageous individuals everywhere, in war and in peace, and though this woman on the outside was the enemy, inside she was his salvation.
This poignantly told, remarkable story of one man’s journey to freedom is one we need to be reminded of again and again. In Wiener’s Afterword he explains how he gives presentations to countless groups, schools and organizations in order to “prevent another genocide from happening again.” Back matter also contains information about the Holocaust, some Vocabulary as well as Discussion Questions for families and schools in addition to Recommended Activities for Young Readers. Please add this to your must-read list and buy an extra copy for your child’s school so they, too, can benefit from the positive message that Gifts from the Enemy shares.