In troubling times, it’s important to hold on to our beliefs, support those who are vulnerable, and join with others to make a difference. I take heart in what my friends at Rethinking Schools call “choosing our moral ancestors” and learning from their example. I find myself turning to the Resistance in many European countries and the individuals and movements that gave so many hope in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Here are a few picture books worthy of sharing with our young friends and family for enlightenment and for inspiration. These books are appropriate for grade 2 and older. ( And for older readers, see Resistance!: Part II: Learning from Our Moral Ancestors, Recommended for Teens and Tweens. )
The Secret Seder by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
The Secret Seder is a thoughtful and historically accurate introduction to the need to hide Jewish families in Nazi-occupied France in World War II. Jacques and his parents pretend to be Catholic, but on the first night of Passover, they gather with other Jews in hiding to secretly celebrate the Seder. The author and illustrator researched Jews and Resistance fighters in France to craft this fine book that honors the brave men and women of the time. These everyday heroes can serve as moral ancestors to inspire today’s readers.
Luba: The Angel of Bergen-Belsen by Luba Tryszyn-Frederick, Ann Marshall, Michelle Roehm McCann
True stories of heroism and advocacy are crucial for children (and adults) to retain a sense of hope and courage. This brilliantly illustrated and well-written picture book addresses the strength of human character that can emerge during even the worst of times. The book tells the touching and inspiring story of Luba, an inmate at the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, who discovers 54 Dutch babies and children in a field, left to freeze to death. Determined to save them, she obtains food and clothing for them and, just as amazingly, persuades innumerable adults to keep their presence a secret. When the British liberated the camp, 52 of the children were still alive.
The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands by Louise Borden, illustrated by Niki Daley
In this historical fiction from the Netherlnds, readers see children in the role of hero as 10-year-old Piet, a strong skater, is enlisted to lead his two young neighbors from Holland to safety over the ice to relatives in Belgium after their father is arrested for sending messages to the allied forces. And it isn’t an uneventful trip; they have one long day to reach their destination, and along the way, must hide from as well as outwit German soldiers. Suspenseful and well-written, with incredible watercolors as illustrations.
Terrible Things: An Allegory for the Holocaust by Eve Bunting
This allegory can be used with younger children to teach about us all working together to protect everyone no matter what animal/shape/form. For upper elementary and middle school, it is a wonderful introduction to the Holocaust. The animals in this tale are living contentedly until the Terrible Things come and capture all the creatures with feathers. When one little rabbit speaks up to ask what’s so terrible about feathers, he is shushed, and told to mind his own business, since “we don’t want them mad at us.” A wonderful text to teach about racism and sexism as well. We recommend reading it aloud and thoughtful discussion.