Resistance! Part II: Learning from Our Moral Ancestors, Recommended for Teens and Tweens

February 4, 2017

no-eaxcusesJacques Lusserain, a blind teenage leader in the French Resistance, is a wonderful moral ancestor for us to choose as we commit ourselves to taking action for social justice. Take a look at this excerpt from the website Turn Your Excuses into Action:

In 1941, when he was just sixteen years old, Lusseyran created Volontaires de la Liberté — the Volunteers of Liberty — and recruited 600 of his peers into the French Resistance movement. With the Germans occupying the city of Paris where he lived, and censoring the news coming into France, he and his compatriots began publishing and distributing a bi-weekly underground news bulletin. The Volunteers of Liberty then joined with another, larger Resistance group, Défense de la France (Defense of France). Jacques served on the organization’s Executive Committee and editorial board, and used the little army of young men he had built up to distribute the DF’s own newspaper and grow its circulation to a quarter of a million.

Even when he was eventually arrested and held at the Buchenwald concentration camp, Lusseyran continued to resist the Germans and aid his fellow men — starting yet another covert news organization in order to build morale and encourage the hopes of his fellow prisoners.

Jacques Lusseyran perfectly embodied the maxim of Theodore Roosevelt to “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” At every turn, he could have made perfectly sensible excuses for sitting on his hands and doing nothing: “I’m blind! I’m only 16! I live in an occupied country!” Instead, he was always looking for some way to take action.

And here are a few more moral ancestors to inspire us to action–and hope. And for picture book recommendations, see Resistance Part I:  Learning From Our Moral Ancestors, Recommended Picture Books for Young Readers .

paulineCode Name Pauline:  Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Comioley and Kathryn J. Atwood

Part memoir, part interview, this primary source is perfect for teens interested in getting a first-hand look at the making of a resistance fighter.  Pearl worked as a courier in France for the Resistance under the code name “Pauline.”  Her story is simply but powerfully told, as she chronicles the steps that led her to her decision to risk everything to fight for justice. Her “intense anger” against the many injustices carried out by the Germans propelled her to act.  “Never lose hope, never give in,” is her fierce message to young readers. I’d start with this one! Grade 7 and older.


women-heroesWomen Heroes of World War II:  Twenty-six Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue by Kathryn J. Atwood

 Talk about inspiration!  Here is a stunning and moving collection of activists, to inspire today’s young adults (and all of us); many of these Resistance fighters were still in their teens.  It puts to rest the question, “Can one person make a difference?” while at the same time demonstrating the importance of working together in community.  These women come from all over the world, are sometimes famous (Josephine Baker, Marlene Dietrich), and often everyday working folks.  I appreciate the way Atwood puts each women’s contribution in context by describing the history and situation.  Very readable and engaging.  Suitable for grades 5 and older. 


Resistance! Part I: Learning from Our Moral Ancestors, Recommended Picture Books for Young Readers

January 28, 2017

resistanceIn 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. )

secret-sederThe 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.


lubaLuba:  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.


greatest-skatingThe 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-thingsTerrible 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.


Get Ready to Celebrate Chocolate Cake Day! January 27th

January 21, 2017

choc-cakeA show of hands:  Who loves chocolate cake?  In our family, all hands are raised!  That’s why the upcoming celebration is such a terrific one to fight the January doldrums.  Even if the weather keeps you stuck inside, you can enjoy a yummy snack with your cozy reading time. We have some suggestions to help you prepare for this holiday, including a few books and recipes.  Enjoy!

Nursery and pre-school:

bettyBetty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake by Michael Kaplan, illustrated by Stephanie Jorisch

Precocious pre-schooler Betty Bunny loves chocolate cake.  She even insists, “I am going to marry chocolate cake” and takes a piece to school with her in her pocket.  Her mom is a good motherly role model who cares about healthy eating and works to teach Betty some patience.  But this good moral is balanced by also celebrating the pleasures of being a chocolate cake lover.  The first of a series that focuses on Betty Bunny, a pretty realistic pre-schooler.


chocolate-feverChocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith

For all those of us who could (and sometimes do!) find ways to sneak chocolate into every meal of the day. . .Henry loves chocolate so much, he breaks out in the first case ever of chocolate fever.  There’s adventure, comedy, and of course, lots of focus on our favorite sugary treat.



honest-pretzelsHonest Pretzels, and 64 Other Amazing Recipes for Cooks Ages 8 and Up by Mollie Katzen

The whole cookbook is great, but I can especially vouch for the chocolate cake recipe–with no bowl to clean!  Yes, you make it right in the pan then put it in the oven to bake.  Delicious!  We opted for a raspberry sauce and whipped cream.  So rich there’s no need for frosting!


And for those who want a bit more sophisticated chocolate cake recipe:

The Best Chocolate Cake Recipes You’ll Ever Make

Perfect Book to Celebrate National Penguin Awareness Day (January 20th): PENGUIN PROBLEMS by Jory John, illustrated by Lane Smith

January 14, 2017

penguin-problemspenguinPenguin Problems by Jory John, illustrated by Lane Smith

Yes, National Penguin Awareness Day is coming up (January 20th) and what better way to celebrate than to understand what it’s like to be a penguin, straight from the penguin’s mouth?  To hear the penguin narrator tell it, it’s no picnic being a penguin.  First of all, imagine Antarctica–by the way it’s freezing cold!  Not to mention, filled with scary predators for little penguins.  And as readers can tell from the cover, penguins look pretty much alike–how hard do you think it is for mothers to find their own offspring in a big crowd?  Never thought about that, did you?  Well, this grumpy penguin narrator is here to tell it like it is to his human audience. The text is witty and fun:  “Oh, great. An orca. Oh, great. A leopard seal. Oh, great. A shark. What is it with this place?” moans our little friend. Like other books by both author and illustrator, this one is downright hilarious–and imparts some helpful knowledge that helps readers appreciate the life of a penguin. A cute and funny book that will delight young readers–and the adults who share it with them.

And for more book suggestions, check out our blog post from World Penguin Day.

COYOTE MOON by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

January 6, 2017

coyote-moonCoyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

This story of a mother coyote’s evening journey to hunt for prey to feed her family does just what a picture book should do:  uses words and illustrations together to convey mood, tell a story, and entice readers to empathize with the story from the coyote’s viewpoint.  The subtle changes in color show the progression of time from darkest night to early dawn, and the words help hint at slight noises and other senses the coyote uses to hunt her prey.  I love that it is actually a suburban landscape, as the coyote slinks through the neighborhood–including a golf course and a lakeside.  A telling reminder that wild animals have their dens even in spaces now occupied by humans.  More information about coyotes is included at the end of the book, detailing facts about habitat, diet, family bonding, and more.  A delicious non-fiction book to share with young–and not-so-young–audiences.

Celebrating the New Year with a Trio of Books for Young Readers

December 30, 2016

everywhereHappy New Year Everywhere! by Arlene Erlbach

Whether at home or school, books that celebrate ways of honoring holidays in different parts of the world are important additions to the bookshelf.  In this carefully researched book, readers are truly entertained as well as enlightened about different times of year that cultures and countries mark as the beginning of a new year.  The drawings are colorful and the maps place the countries in a world context.  It’s fun to learn about different traditional greetings (and be able to say them correctly thanks to a pronunciation key), as well as experiment with some of the crafts and recipes that go along with the holiday.  I really appreciate the extensive bibliography to help interested audiences learn more.


a-happyA Happy New Year’s Day by Roch Carrier, illustrated by Gilles Pelletier

Setting:  A Canadian village in the 1940’s, in a world in the midst of war.  The simple pleasures of warmth and family and community shine through this childhood memory of the author.  The tale is a simple yet timeless one, as the family prepares to gather together to celebrate the New Year.  Despite the themes, the story is not sentimental, but rather a story that resonates with anticipation, planning, and fun.  The illustrations are just right to engage multiple readings:  full page pictures in bright colors with lots of intricate details.


happy-new-yearHappy New Year by Emery Bernhard

A nice complement to Happy New Year Everywhere! with an emphasis this time on ancient and modern New Year’s customs as well as around the world.  Interesting (and new to me) information on why Time Square is a destination in America for New Year’s celebrators.  And what about the Wild West?  Or Ancient Rome?  How and why did their celebrations unfold?  And how did the different religions make an impact?  In Columbia the tradition is to put an egg in a glass of water and watching how it changes to predict what will happen in the coming new year.  Wouldn’t it be fun to try that one out in the classroom–or at home?


IMPYRIUM by Henry H. Neff: New Series Recommendation for Tweens and Teens

December 24, 2016

impyriumImpyrium by Henry H. Neff

Just out this fall, Impyrium ‘s first novel promises to be the beginning of a whole new world to delight tween, young adults, and older adults as well.  For those of us who have been lamenting the lack of fully realized fantasy worlds a la Harry Potter, this book is a dream come true, with the promise of at least two more books in the series.  In this magical world, the Faeregine dynasty has ruled Impyrium for over three thousand years. They have held onto their power through use of their magic to hold the empire together, but it appears to be fading. Many factions–competing “houses” and outright rebels–are counting on just that.

But as the tale unfolds, it isn’t so easy to decide who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.  Our intrepid–and fascinating–heroes are Hazel, youngest of the triplet princesses, and a powerful magician in her own right, and Hob, a brilliant commoner from an outlying province who cares deeply about saving the realm.  They must figure out who to trust to help them in their quest, and also forge an unlikely bond.  Magic and mystery abound, as well as an underlying theme of social activism.  Strong, interesting characters, lots of action and intrigue, court politics, scary myths…something for everyone. I am looking forward to the next installment–coming in 2017.