It is hard for children to comprehend the notion of slavery as it once was in this country. However, slavery, and the horrors that went along with it, is something that we need to retell so that it never happens again. It is also an important part in understanding how divided this country has always been in terms of race. When looking for books on strong female figures in our history, I came across two really wonderful books about Harriet Tubman that not only tell her story, but tell the story of slavery for future generations to understand.
In An Apple for Harriet Tubman, author Glenette Tilley Turner does a marvelous job telling the story of young Harriet Tubman and how she became a conductor for the Underground Railroad. Through beautiful illustrations by Susan Keeter and words that are meant for a child to understand Tuner tells the story of what it was like to be a slave, to endlessly work but never taste the fruits of your labor, to constantly fear being whipped, to fear that you will be sold and separated from those you love. These are things that children can understand and relate to.
Harriet Tubman had promised herself that one day she would be free. Through the kindness of strangers along the Underground Railroad, she finally got a taste of freedom. But rather than stay safely in the North, she risked her life repeatedly to save others. Additionally Harriet Tubman loved apples, but as a slave was never able to eat them. In her freedom, she planted apple trees and every fall she invited the town around her to pick their fill. Those apples “were a symbol of freedom for everyone to share.”
Through lyrical text and conversations with God, this book shows Harriet Tubman as a Moses figure for slaves. She leaves her family behind to avoid being sold and to finally gain her freedom. All she takes with her is her faith in God. She is guided North and into the helpful hands of workers on the Underground Railroad. She is led to church where she finds that it is a stopping place for the Underground Railroad and where she learns how to be a conductor herself.
This version is more complex for a young child to understand, but is still a beautiful way to look at such a remarkable woman. Older children can also get a wealth of information from a very well written and researched author’s note.
I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. My goal is to post a nonfiction picture book, or at least nonfiction, every Wednesday. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.
The Jewish people have a long history of being spread all over the world. Many forget, however, that for many years there was a large contingent of Jews living in Ethiopia. They lived in isolation, not realizing that there were other Jews in the world and often oppressed by their Ethiopian “hosts.”
In Yosef’s Dream, (Sept 1st by Apples and Honey Press) by Sylvia Rouss with assistance from Ambassador Asher Naim, the stories of “Operation Solomon” and the biblical tale of Joseph and his dreams are combined to remind us all in the power of believing.
Those with hope in God will renew their strength,
they will soar aloft as with eagle’s wings (Isaiah 40:31)
This story starts in Israel, but quickly cuts back to Yosef’s memories of his time in Ethiopia. He loved his homeland with it’s “tall mountains, flowing rivers and wide plains,” but even though his people had lived their for thousands of years, they were “still seen as strangers, for we were Jewish…and different.”
Yosef goes through his morning and readers can get a sense of what his daily life is like in Ethiopia. His sister bakes injera bread (so delicious if you’ve never tried it!) and also weaves the baskets and makes the pottery that their family sells at the market. They rely on the land for farming and water and Yosef carries food to his father and brother working in the fields.
One day, Yosef accidentally falls into a deep hole and cannot climb out. In a folkloric turn, Gazelle comes to him in a dream, encourages him to hold onto her horns, be pulled out, and travel to see far-off places. Hyena interrupts and says that together they will “hide in the shadows and feed off of the scrapes of others.” Suddenly, a giant Eagle sweeps in and tells Yosef to pull himself out. “You can do it if you try. Catch hold of my wings and we will fly to your new home far, far away.” Suddenly, his brother has found him, but Yosef still manages to climb out of the hole himself.
Yosef runs to school where he had been told a special visitor would be coming that day. It is Ambassador Asher Naim from Israel. He has come to over them all a home, to a return to the Promised Land. An older boy says that legends tell them one day they will return to Israel on the wings of eagles and Yosef says, “Just like my dream!” This time everyone listens to him and they are reminded of Joseph, the young Hebrew boy who saw the future in his dreams.
There are fears that the Ethiopian government will never let them go. Yosef’s family also fears their ability to go as his mother is very pregnant. But over the next weeks, the villagers prepare for the big trip in hopes that it will happen soon. When the word comes that Ethiopia will allow them to leave, it is much like Pharoah allowing the Jews to leave Egypt, “it must be TODAY!”
Thirteen years later, the family is in Israel celebrating his younger brother Jacob’s Bar Mitzvah. Jacob mentions Yosef’s dream in his speech – “Yosef’s dream was about making a choice. If we had gone with Gazelle, my family could have traveled to other countries, never settling anywhere. Had we stayed with Hyena, we would still be living as outcasts in Ethiopia. But we chose to fly with Eagle, and after nearly 3000 years of exile we have returned to Israel, our true home.”
I found this book incredibly powerful. There are very few stories that talk about Ethiopian Jews who lived in the diaspora. We don’t think about them as much as a part of the larger Jewish history or general world history. So while this book isn’t technically a non-fiction picture book, I believe that it has an important place in the classroom and home to tell a story that needs to be told. The story is told in an incredibly accessible way and Tamar Blumenfeld’s illustrations hold the whole thing together.
The Jews in Ethiopia were often oppressed by their Ethiopian hosts, called “falashas,” which means strangers, and were blamed for droughts, famines, and illness. Operation Solomon. The Author’s Note at the end tells about the work that Ambassador Naim did in 1991 to fly nearly 14,000 Jews out of Ethiopia and to Israel within a 36 hour period. During the fights, seven children were born, just like Yosef’s brother Jacob.
So, as I mentioned, while not technically a non-fiction title, I am including it in the link-up of non-fiction picture books hosted each week by Kid Lit Frenzy. Check out the other books reviewed by the marvelous book blogging community!
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher while at a conference, but all opinions are completely my own. The book will be released September 1st by Apples and Honey Press.
I have a deep and abiding respect for Patricia Polacco. Her books are outstandingly good and never fail to amaze me with their depth. Her stories are aimed at a slightly older audience as they tend to cover serious subjects and are wordy for picture books, but they provide wonderful learning lessons for children in the form of a story.
The most recent Patricia Polacco book that I picked up is “Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair.” This book is a ringing endorsement for reading and a warning about allowing televisions to take over the world. This book was written in 1996 and could easily be updated to be about over-use of the internet, but the whole feel is exactly the same.
How much TV is too much TV? Welcome to Triple Creek, where the townspeople watch TV day and night. They watch it when they’re eating, working, playing, and sleeping. They even use TVs to teach the kids at school. Sounds pretty horrible, and yet, sounds like the direction we have been heading with computers instead of televisions. Everyone in Triple Creek loves television. Everyone, that is, except for Eli’s Aunt Chip, who doesn’t even own one.
Everyone sees Aunt Chip as the eccentric old lady who refuses to leave her house. Apparently, well over 50 years earlier she took to her bed and vowed never to get out of it again. She constantly railed that “there will be consequences.” What consequences? Well, it turns out that Aunt Chip took to her bed when a television tower was built in the town and when they closed down the library. Since then, the people of Triple Creek have lost the knowledge of how to read and instead spend all day staring at their television screens.
Eli loves his crazy Aunt just the same, and visits her almost every day. He is amazed when she tells him stories and wonders where they all come from. “Some come out of thin air. Some come out of my dreams. Some come right out of books!” Eli can’t understand how she gets a story out of a book because the town now only uses books as building materials. When Aunt Chip realizes that no one knows how to read anymore, she decides that enough is enough and gets out of bed. She is shocked when she wanders around town and finds that there are no children playing in the streets…they are all inside about to watch a TV show.The town is depressing and Aunt Chip has had enough. She shows Eli a book and teaches him to read. His knowledge starts to amaze his friends at school and he teaches them to read (along with Aunt Chip’s help). The kids start borrowing books from all over town, taking them from wherever they can find them. One day Eli pulls out a copy of Moby Dick from a large pile and accidentally opens up a floodgate of water which topples the television tower. As it starts to rain books, the town is finally given a sign about the importance of books and reading and the consequences of an addiction to television.
Understand, folks still had their TV’s, all right, but they were wise about what they watched and for how long. They had so much else to do!
Polacco, in her amazing way, urges parents and children alike to open their eyes to how bad an addiction to technology can be. She also shines a light on how spectacular the world of reading can be and how it can take you places and change the world around you. A ringing endorsement if I’ve ever seen one. To reading!
My third grader came home yesterday talking about a book that her teacher was reading aloud to the class – Molly’s Pilgrim. Since Thanksgiving is two days away, it is good to be taking a look at different perspective when it comes to this holiday. I’m thrilled that her teacher shared this book with their class, especially with all that is currently going on in the world in terms of refugees.
Molly’s Pilgrim is about a young girl in the early 1900s whose family moved to America from Russia due to religious persecution. After a brief time living in New York City, her family moved to Winter Hill, MA where she finds herself sticking out as the lone Jew in her third grade class. Because she looks different and talks with an accent, she is often the subject of ridicule from her classmates.
As November rolls around, her class begins to read about Thanksgiving. Molly has never heard of the holiday, which of course prompts her classmates to laugh at her foreign ways. The subject came up, however, because her teacher is having them read the story of Thanksgiving, so Molly slowly begins to understand what Thanksgiving is all about.
Rather than focusing on the traditional pumpkins, turkeys and fall symbols often associated with Thanksgiving, her teacher gives the students an assignment to make Pilgrims and Indians for a class display. When Molly gets home and tries to explain the project to her mother, she has to find a way to explain Pilgrims to her as well, since Molly’s mother’s English is quite minimal.
“Pilgrims came to this country from the other side,” I said.
“Like us,” Mama said.
That was true. “They came for religious freedom,” I added. “They came so they could worship God as they pleased.”
Mama’s eyes lit up. She seemed to understand.
The reason that Mama could understand is that the early Pilgrims were just like Molly’s family – they had come to America to escape religious persecution. Mama makes a clothespin doll for Molly, but rather than looking like a traditional Pilgrim, Molly’s doll looks like someone of Russian or Polish descent. When Molly goes to class, this prompts taunts and jeers from her classmates, but Molly explained why her mother did it that way and her teacher agrees that the doll is a Pilgrim, just a modern one.
Molly’s teacher proceeds to explain to the class that the initial Thanksgiving feast was actually based on the Jewish holiday Sukkot that the Pilgrims had read about in the Bible.
Molly’s teacher thinks that her doll is wonderful and displays it on her desk to remind everyone that “Pilgrims are still coming to America.”
I managed to read a copy of this today and thought is was fabulous. I’m always impressed to find bits of Jewish history find their way into the classroom, especially since my daughter is the token Jew in her class (although there are 3 Jewish third graders at her school). It is also incredibly timely given the Syrian refugee issue going on right now across the world. In today’s day and age, the fact that there continues to be religious persecution requiring people to flee their homeland is heart-wrenching.
While the book comments about how the Thanksgiving feast was modeled on Sukkot, we were just discussing in Hebrew school this past weekend about the similarities between Thanksgiving and Passover. This year for Thanksgiving, my family will be following a Thanksgiving seder which will include telling the story of the Pilgrims and why they came to America. I love the idea of making this holiday a bit more meaningful and a reminder of all that we have to be thankful for.
As I mentioned before, we are going through a period of loving to read about the Titanic. I am more than happy to search the library and bookstores for good books on the subject.
Discovering all of the information about the Titanic has really got J thinking. She is deeply saddened by the loss of life. She doesn’t understand how the Captain could make such bad decisions. In her words, “if you were sailing in the North Atlantic, would you put the ship on high speed?” She thinks that no ships should be allowed to sail in the North Atlantic during iceberg season. It really has been great for her to tackle a non-fiction subject like this, so I thought that I would share some of the fiction and non-fiction books that we have managed to find recently.
Based on the true story of a music box owned by Edith Rosenbaum, A Pig on the Titanic is a beautiful picture book that helps bring the story of the titanic to life. Miss Edith takes Maxixe the music box pig with her all over the majestic ship, or at least the 1st class parts. Then tragedy strikes as they hit the iceberg. You can see the ear in the passengers eyes as families get separated and people flee the ship. The music from the pig helps entertain boys and girls in the lifeboat until at last a rescue ship comes for them. It doesn’t touch on a lot of the harder to comprehend aspects of that horrible day, but it is a picture book aimed at a younger audience, so the tone is spot on. A great starting point.
Moving away from the picture book story format, we found the great book All Stations! Distress! This is a non-fiction long format picture book by Illustrator Don Brown. It almost reads like a chapter book, but Brown has made the information very accessible for kids in the younger elementary grades. A wonderful addition to a collection and very informative.
Taking another step towards serious non-fiction, On Board the Titanic takes readers through the experience on the Titanic in narrative form through the eyes of two survivors. It is filled with illustrations and paintings from the actual ship. The illustrations of how the iceberg hit and how the compartments failed are especially useful to comprehending what happened.
Of course Mary Pope Osborn produced a wonderful fact tracker to go along with the Magic Tree House book Tonight on the Titanic. J hasn’t been excited by Magic Tree House in a long time, but she still knows that their fact trackers are impeccably written and fun to read. This book aims to answer many of the questions that children would have about the Titanic that get brought up in the fictionalized account. How many people were aboard the Titanic? Why weren’t there enough lifeboats for all the passengers? How did this “unsinkable” ship sink? Even if you are not reading the companion books that the fact trackers go along with, these are definitely worth checking out.
We happened to find the book Can You Survive the Titanic?: An Interactive Survival Adventure at the library and it quickly became one of J’s favorites. This is a “you choose” book which is like a choose your own adventure in a factual situation. It pairs fact based information with create story paths. Your choice in this book is to either follow a surgeon’s assistant, a governess to a first class family, or a 12 year old boy. Everyone starts out at the same point with excellent information to set the scene. The choices that you are asked to make are choices real people probably had to make as well and could mean the difference between life and death. For example, men that chose one side of the ship versus the other had different chances of survival based on the ship steward on either side and how strict they were about only allowing women and children on or allowing men to also flee the ship. It was a great way to really make you understand what happened on board the ship.
The “I survived” series takes the most terrifying events in recent history and brings them to life in fictionalized stories. I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 was the first in this series and from J’s response, I have a feeling we will be reading many more of these in the future. This creates the story of a 10 year old boy and his little sister sailing on the Titanic. By utilizing historical fiction the author manages to make history more accessible to kids who prefer “stories” to “facts.”
However you do it, getting kids excited about non-fiction subjects is a wonderful thing that opens up a new world of possibilities and thought. Now we have to find another subject to add to our list!
From time to time I read a book and just say “wow” when I am done. When my four year old requested that I read Mrs Katz & Tush for bedtime one night, I really wasn’t sure that she would enjoy it. The story is pretty long and Ms. Polacco tends to write about some deep topics. I’m sure that she didn’t get the full meaning of the story, but she did enjoy it and I hope that we read it together more.
Mrs. Katz and Tush really tells the story of Mrs. Katz and Larnel. Mrs. Katz is a recent widow who lives on her own. Larnel lives in her building and his mom stops by her apartment on a regular basis to check in on her. One day she cries about being alone for the holidays. The next day, Larnel returns on his own and brings her a kitten that had been born in the basement of the building. She agrees to take care of the cat, but only if Larnel comes to help her with it.
As expected, Mrs. Katz warms up to the cat, who she names Tush because it is missing a tail. Larnel and Mrs. Katz also forma bond as he visits her every day after school. Mrs. Katz tells her story of coming to America from Poland. She also tells him of their vacation in the Catskills – “a borscht resort, you know, a place for Jews to stay.”
What starts then is a deepening of the story to focus on how the history of the Jews isn’t so different from African Americans. Larnel is surprised by Mrs. Katz telling him that Jews couldn’t stay anywhere they wanted, but he tells her that his grandmother told him of places that she couldn’t stay either. Mrs. Katz explains to Larnel that “your people and mine are alike, you know. Trouble, we’ve seen. Happiness, too. Great strength we’ve had. You and I are alike, so much alike!”
Their friendship continues to grow in beautiful ways. They dance to Polish music. Larnel learns the Jewish tradition of placing a stone on a headstone. He learns the laws of kosher and eats a lot of kugel. As Passover approaches, Mrs. Katz recalls all of her times with family and is sad that she will be alone. Larnel asks to have Passover dinner with her and she teaches him the holiday traditions.
Like your people, my people were slaves too. They lived in a country where they didn’t want to be. They wanted freedom so much that they prayed to God to help them. So he sent an angel – an angel that brought death and sadness to the houses of our captors. But the angel did not visit our houses.
So, Larnel, we have a big feast to celebrate, but we also remember those who had to suffer so we could be free.
Mrs. Katz and Larnel become each other’s family. When she dies, he says Kaddish for her and leaves a stone on her headstone which reads “Mrs. Katz, our bubbe…such a person.” (Bubbe is Yiddish for grandma).
As a Jew, this story touched me as a beautiful way to share our traditions and to show that we all have common experiences. We have been oppressed as have many other cultures. It is our collective strength that has brought us to where we are today. People of different backgrounds might think that they are so very different, but at the heart of it, the differences often slip away.
This story is even more profound in light of all that is currently happening in France and even with the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. We are not so very different. Thank you Ms. Polacco.
I realized the other day that I have really been focusing on picture books and not giving any updates on the chapter books that J is reading. Granted, a big part of this is because she is so obsessed with Harry Potter that she reads them over and over and over again leaving little room for anything else. However, there are other books being read.
We have been big fans of Ron Roy for quite some time. At the moment, the Capital Mysteries series is our night time reading. They are a fun way to introduce some landmarks in Washington, DC while enjoying the sleuthing abilities of KC Corcoran and her friend Marshall Li. KC wants to be a journalist when she grows up. She likes to pay attention to small details and trusts her gut. The two get close to the president after saving him from scientists trying to push their own political agenda and by book 4 the president is marrying KC’s mother. The plots are completely implausible, but they are fun for young readers. The following is from Ron Roy’s website:
They live near the White House, and are friends with the President of The United States. As you read the books in CAPITAL MYSTERIES, you will get to “visit” the White House, the Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial, and many other wonderful sites. You will learn about some of the earlier presidents and have fun helping K.C. and Marshall catch the bad guys! There is even a map to help you find your way from the White House to the building where K.C. and Marshall live.
We first discovered Ron Roy when J started reading the A-Z Mysteries series. This is probably his most beloved series which is intended for ages 6-10. The series follows three friends who happen to repeatedly be called upon to solve a mystery. What is great about them is that, aside from showing the friendship of these three kids, they introduce deductive reasoning in a fun way.
This series features three smart kids who solve crimes and mysteries. They live in a small town in Connecticut, called Green Lawn.The kids are Dink Duncan, Josh Pinto, and Ruth Rose Hathaway. They are third graders and live near each other. They have hobbies and pets and parents, but what they love most is a good mystery. Most kids tell me they enjoy reading the 26 books in alphabetical order. But you can skip around without missing anything. Have fun getting to know these three sly sleuths!
Sticking with the characters from A-Z, Roy created Super Editions which take the children out of their normal locations and are about 50 pages longer then the standard A-Z series. We read Detective Camp a long time ago and J just read The Castle Crime over spring break. This book was given to her because it combined her joy of these mysteries with her love of anything London (thank you Harry Potter).
The final series that Roy has written is intended for the younger reader – Calendar Mysteries. These books follow the younger siblings and cousins of Dink, Josh and Ruth Rose (the three friends from A-Z Mysteries). Ron Roy’s website says that these were written especially for first and second graders, but since J has never read on her level, I peg these more as generally for 5-8 year olds.
If you are looking for a series that is fun and steps into the world of mysteries, check out any of the Ron Roy books. They are intelligently written and engaging for the growing mind.
We stopped off at the library today before the roads got their first snow of the year. You must understand, we live in North Carolina and school was cancelled today when they thought that snow would be hitting us around noon or 1pm and they wouldn’t be able to get the high schoolers home in time. The snow didn’t actually get here until 6pm. Anyway, I digress. While combing the bookshelves, I happened upon a “new” book that looked interesting. J actually decided that I could read her three picture books at bedtime tonight and selected Just in Time, Abraham Lincoln as one of them. I was so impressed with the book that I needed to write about it right away.
Michael and Derek are off on vacation with their Grandmother. They get on the train and she tells them “No electronics on this trip – no music, no texting, no tweeting, no e-mailing.” The boys don’t know what to do, but they have no choice but to go along with it. The next morning, they get off the train at Harpers Ferry and meet Mr. Portufoy, a “true expert” on the Civil War. “The boys looked at each other, bored,” but their adventure is just about to begin. Mr. Portufoy takes them into his museum and the boys are bored until they see the weapons. Michael explaims that “It must have been cool to fight in that war!” Mr. Portufoy asks if they would like to play a real game, better than a video game. The boys agree and soon find themselves in 1862 right after the battle of Antietam.
As Goodreads says: “Patricia Polacco’s time-travel premise is fascinating – who knew that history museums could literally be doorways into the past? She makes history exciting for young readers, drawing them into a pivotal part of our nation’s development.”
While this book had some weak moments – the older brother knew random bits of Civil War history yet was only interested in the weapons in Mr. Portufoy’s collection, being allowed to try on “authentic” civil war uniforms, getting into a lengthy conversation with Lincoln and telling him a little about the future including that a black man will become president – overall I thought it was a great read. My daughter has never been very interested in Civil War history and I felt that this book made it a bit more real than other books. The full page spreads of the death and destruction that war brings were especially powerful.War is hard for children to comprehend. These kids thought that the weapons were “cool” and fighting must have been fun. With all of the games and movies that treat violence with such nonchalance, it is especially important for them to understand that war is not something that any government should go into lightly. While Patricia Polacco definitely took liberties, having Lincoln muse about whether the death of so many young men was worth it makes a strong statement. Lincoln of course wants to know that it is worth the price – “that slavery will be abolished and the Union restored.”
J and I enjoyed reading this book tonight and I would highly recommend it for kids 1st grade and up.