We are excited to join Kidlit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year. From July-August, our reading theme is about “Scarred Souls and Bloodstained Memories: Tales of War & Poetry, Refuge & Peace.” These three picturebooks feature children in hiding during the time of the Holocaust in France.
Written by: Loïc Dauvillier Illustrated by: Marc Lizano Color by: Greg Salsedo Translated by: Alexis Siegel
Published by: First Second, 2014
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
It is very late in the evening and Grandmother Dounia is unable to sleep. Her young granddaughter chanced upon her going through old photographs, as the little pumpkin was on her way back to bed. In an effort to provide comfort to her grandmother who is obviously very sad, the little girl asked her to share her nightmares so that she would feel better.
Before she knew it, Dounia Cohen, began telling her story when she was still a very young child, not unlike her granddaughter, living in France with her Jewish family.
She spoke about the yellow star that they had to wear to mark them as Jews. Her father told her that there are people who suggested that they become a family of sheriffs, thus, they should have the yellow star sewn on their clothing.
While Dounia did not particularly mind wearing the Sheriff’s Star, she began noticing that her classmates, even her bestfriend, and her teachers started treating her differently. And she is flummoxed by this change in behaviour that seems totally uncalled for and could be quite cruel on occasion. Then one evening, there was a loud knock at the door. This was the first time that she was ‘hidden’ when her parents tucked her inside a suitcase. She followed instructions closely, making sure that she holds her breath and that she does not make any sound.
Not too long after that, well-meaning neighbors found her and gave her refuge. Whether or not Dounia finds her parents in the end, I shall leave for you to discover. What I found to be particularly striking in this graphic novel is the tender exchange of stories between grandmother and grandchild that ultimately provided some semblance of healing to Dounia who has not spoken about this part of her life, not even to her own son. It is also a good and not-too-overwhelming overview of the Holocaust experience to younger children who may be more appreciative of the comic-book format. There is a one-paged Afterword that provides details about this particular period in France as well as a short description of Dounia Cohen and the children who were in hiding during this time. I also liked the fact that there are some pages that are nearly wordless, as can be seen below, allowing the reader to deduce what is happening in the story through accessible images:
I learned about this graphic novel from fellow Monday reading and Nonfiction Wednesday enthusiasts who shared how well-crafted this story is – and with good reason. It also highlights for me how powerful the kindness of friends and neighbors are, in times of danger and difficulties. It reminds me to have faith in people’s compassion and goodness.
Written and Illustrated by: Isaac Millman
Published by: Frances Foster Books: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
The setting of this story is also in France during World War II. Isaac Sztrymfman, like so many Jewish children, was a hidden child. Isaac’s story is told in a variety of formats, with text written in Isaac’s voice, gorgeous full-spread illustrations with a scrapbook feel to it, and old photographs. Unlike the usual picturebook, this one is text-heavy, with certain sections of the story divided into what can be deemed as mini-chapters of sorts. See below for a sample of Isaac’s beautiful artwork:
His story begins with what life was like before the war and how their entire lives changed when Germany invaded France. Isaac also wrote about a prison camp called Pithiviers where his father was imprisoned, how he and his mother were eventually rounded up in a camp, and how his mother was able to effectively smuggle him out of the concentration camp with the help of a prison guard and hospital nurses. He was kept in hiding in the hospital for quite a long period of time.
When Isaac’s guardian eventually brought him to the name listed down by his mother to take care of him, he was refused entry by the said ‘friend,’ with the claim that she will be unable to take care of him. Isaac was left crying on the doorstep of his abandoned home, with absolutely no one to look after him, until a total stranger, a woman named Hena chanced upon him in the gutter, and provided him refuge.
Isaac’s journey led him to various people who have both been kind and cruel to him. This is a striking recollection of what must have been the most difficult time in Isaac’s life – but one that he is able to transform into this beautifully-illustrated piece of work that speaks of his resilience and his tenacity and will to survive.
When I heard of the graphic novel, Hidden as featured above, I immediately remembered this picturebook that I bought during the Library Warehouse Sale several years back. I know that when the time comes for me to read it, it will call out to me from my bookshelves and so it did. I do hope that it also finds its way to you, dear friends.
The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews during the Holocaust
Written by: Karen Gray Ruelle Illustrated by: Deborah Durland DeSaix
Published by: Holiday House, 2009
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
I was browsing through the library shelves when I chanced upon this book that I have not heard of before. The setting is in the 1940s, when the German army invaded Paris. The book showed how France was divided into the Southern Part controlled by the Vichy Police, and the Northern Zone that was Nazi occupied.
In 1942, the Nazis set up death camps, and began the mass murder of Europe’s Jews. The Vichy government rounded up Jews of all ages and sent them to the death camps. In France 11,402 Jewish children, toddlers, and even tiny babies were deported to death camps. Only about three hundred of them survived the war.
As staggering and horrifying the numbers are, these are not new things to most readers. What was mind-blowing for me was the little-known fact that there were Jewish kids who were able to find refuge in The Grand Mosque of Paris whose rector at the time was Si Kaddour Benghabrit, an Algerian-born diplomat, who is described to be the most powerful Muslim in France. Despite the peril that might befall them in helping the Jews, it didn’t stop the rector, the imam, the custodian and the rest of the people who worked at the Mosque from helping a great deal of North African Jewish children and passing them off as Muslims.
In the Afterword, which is quite detailed, the authors noted the amount of research they had to do as they were creating this picturebook:
This is a little-known story that is shrouded in mystery. Writing about clandestine events that took place at a time of turmoil involving people who had an oral rather than a written tradition, and with many of the participants having now passed away, presents many difficulties. There is very little written about the brave acts of the Muslims of Paris during World War II, and almost nothing in the official archives. Because these activities were clandestine, they would not have been documented by the authorities anyway – unless they had failed. However, there are some stories that have been preserved, and we’ve tracked down as many of them as we could.
While text-heavy, this is a beautiful picturebook that demonstrates the inherent goodness among human beings who are able to see past cultural, religious, societal differences. It is a book that celebrates kindness, moral courage, and shared humanity providing light, comfort, and salvation. For teachers who wish to make use of this book in the classroom, here is a downloadable PDF link created by cmes.arizona.edu that includes suggested activities and lesson plans that can be used with students.
Reading Challenge Update: 200, 201, 202 (25)