"People of the Books" Blog

Nonfiction Monday: The Champion of Children, by Tomek Bogacki

The Champion of Children: The Story of Janusz Korczak, by Tomek Bogacki. Published 2009 by FSG Kids' Books. Hardcover.

The Champion of Children: The Story of Janusz Korczak is alternately moving, sad and hopeful. Janusz Korczak, doctor, writer, activist and advocate for children, was born Henryk Goldzmit in 1878 in Poland. Although his own family was well-off, even as a child he felt a great deal of compassion and concern for those, especially children, without his comforts. He fantasized about sweeping in on a white horse to rescue poor children, and when he grew up he became a doctor and founded an orphanage for poor children where they would receive basic care. Importantly, they would also learn to take care of each other- and to care for each other. Over time he started another orphanage and even a newspaper run by the children.

When Polish Jews were forced into the Krochmalna Street ghetto, Korczak tried to maintain a sense of routine and safety for the children by organizing life the best he could and looking for anything and anyone to help them. Ultimately Korczak and his children perished in the Holocaust, but he left behind a legacy of hope and purpose in helping other and following one's dreams.

The book itself is beautifully illustrated and sweetly and simply told and shows how one person can make a difference in the lives of so many, simply by doing what is right. It's a wonderful book to share with children and adults.

Nonfiction Monday is a moving meme headquartered at Picture Book of the Day and hosted this week at Bookish Blather.

Big Link Roundup This Week!

Maybe it's the early summer air, or ALA on the horizon, but there's lots going on on the web in the way of Jewish books, libraries and the like this week.

ResourceShelf directs our attention to a New Report from ACRL: Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians and to a panel from Toronto about the future of publishing and ebooks.

The Yiddish Book Center published a book club guide for Friendly Fire: A Duet, by A.B. Yehoshua, translated by Stuart Schoffman.

Erika Dreifus's book blog My Machberet published a guest post by Barbara Krasner entitled Writing Jewish-themed Children's Books: A Conference Dispatch including a mention of AJL librarian Lisa Silverman.

OCLC announced Three Gateway milestone records entered in May, one by the Society for the Preservation of Hebrew Books.

Jewish Delis: The History of the Nosh comes to us from the Jewish Publication Society's blog.

The Jewish Quarterly announced the winner of the 2010 Wingate Prize, the so-called "Jewish Booker," to My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness, by Adina Hoffman.

The New Yorker did a Q&A with Nicole Krauss, author of The History of Love and more, in its 20 under 40 series.

Tablet published Reflections on a Book Paradise, about the sale of the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C., and why it's a Jewish story.

Interview with Carla Jablonski, author of Resistance: Book 1

Today I have the privilege of sharing an interview I recently conducted with author Carla Jablonski, who's written many books for teens and young adults. You can visit her website and find out more about her and her books at carlajablonski.com. Her first graphic novel, Resistance: Book 1, has recently been published by First Second. What follows is a conversation we had about this book, which focuses on the French resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II and in particular about the efforts of a French family to save French Jews.

The narrative, while fictional, is based in historical fact and makes reference to several historical events and circumstances. The Velodrome d'Hiver roundup, the use the Paris sewers as hiding places and the significant presence of French Jews in the Resistance are all alluded to, and although it's not named explicitly, Paul and Marie's efforts to help Henri recall the activities of the Oeuvre de secours aux enfants (Children's Relief Efforts or OSE). When you were researching all this for the book, did you learn anything that surprised you about the Resistance or about France during the war, or anything else?


So much! As an American, what I learned in school was primarily about the American entrance into the war, or very specifically about the Jewish experience. I really didn’t know all that much about what it must have been like for ordinary French people during the war, their daily life, their struggles, and -- especially -- the ways life, although altered, still went on. 

I admit I was shocked by the wide-spread and deep strain of anti-Semitism in France, resulting in an overwhelming amount of denunciations. I was also surprised by -- and then used as part of the story -- all of the conflicts within the Resistance itself.

The role of luck and coincidence in many of the successful -- or tragic -- events of the Resistance also was quite startling.

And of course, all the research got me asking the question: “What would I do if my country were occupied?”

What was it about the Resistance that intrigued you? Why is it an important subject to learn about in the context of Holocaust studies for children?

The passion and commitment of people who became part of the Resistance was very compelling to me. How people made choices, what they were willing to risk, and conversely, what lines they weren’t willing to cross were all elements I wanted to explore. Also, the struggle for victory against enormous odds while suffering terrible difficulties is both dramatic and inspiring. I also find the idea of secrets a very appealing subject for fiction-- keeping them, having them, and the danger of them -- particularly as an element in a book for early teens. 

For all those same reasons that I was drawn to the Resistance is why I think it’s an important subject for children to learn about. Children often feel helpless in the face of conflicts created by adults. These people took action -- in spite of so much being against them and the dire consequences of failure. Doing the right thing, even if that makes you the minority, is also an important lesson. Discovering that people can all want to do the right thing, yet not agree on how to go about it is also an important topic that can be discussed via the Resistance.

One thing I enjoyed about the book from a reader's perspective was the way you built the suspense slowly and tell the story unflinchingly, sparing neither the horror nor trauma of war. Was it challenging to present these things in a way that's appropriate for children? What audience did you envision as you were writing?

I’ve written a lot for kids and teens, so I actually didn’t find that difficult. I guess I’ve somehow internalized those limits and so the story unfolds in an age-appropriate way without my consciously having to police it!I think the ideal reader for this is probably about thirteen, though I hope it will appeal to those older (like Sylvie and Jacques) and to those who are younger, like Marie.

What themes or ideas were you trying to illustrate with the choices you made about how to tell the story?

I purposely chose to have three children at different ages so that I could explore the impact of the war at different levels of maturity. Because it’s a graphic novel, I decided to make Paul an artist to really exploit the visual medium. I came up with ideas for his drawings in his sketchbook to reveal what he’s feeling but wouldn’t feel comfortable expressing another way -- while also providing a believable skill that would make him valuable to the Resistance. It was also really important to me to not just be historically accurate (while also being entertaining) but to allow the kids to really be kids -- not little superheroes or overly noble. I worked hard on the dialogue so that it would have the feel of real conversation.

This book is titled Resistance Book 1, suggesting that there may be a Book 2 in the works. Is there? What's it going to be about?

Actually there are two more! It’s a trilogy, following Marie, Paul, and Sylvie through to the liberation of Paris. Each book is set one year apart, and as the kids get older and more deeply involved, the conflicts get more intense and the stakes get higher. Their roles in the Resistance change, they uncover more secrets about people they know, and their relationships change -- with friends, with other Resistance members, with Germans, and even with each other -- sometimes quite dramatically!

Carla, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to AJL and best of luck with the trilogy!

Convention Countdown, Week 7: Howard Droker

Howard Droker is a lawyer, a historian, an author, and a docent for the Washington State Jewish Historical Society. He will be leading a tour of Jewish Seattle for convention-goers on Wednesday, July 7.

Congregation Ohaveth Sholum

Howard, can you give us a little sneak peek into the kinds of things people will see on this tour?

Our tour's first stop will be in Pioneer Square, at the Gold Rush National Historic Park. We will briefly examine the role of Jewish merchants in outfitting the prospectors bound for Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. If participants are interested, we can take a 4 or 5-block walk to see the historic buildings that housed some of the Jewish merchants.

We'll then head east to Capitol Hill to visit Temple de Hirsch, the oldest Reform synagogue. The Schoenfeld Chapel houses some of the accoutrements of the 1907 building. And the Temple library is worth seeing. Then we'll drive around the neighborhood where the prosperous Central European founders and members of the Temple lived, south of Volunteer Park.

Driving south, we'll see how the other half lived, the Yesler/Cherry neighborhood where the Eastern Europeans and Sephardim mostly settled. We'll see several former synagogues and the Talmud Torah that have been converted to other uses.

Finally, we'll visit the Seward Park area where three Orthodox (two Sephardic, one Ashkenazic) synagogues relocated from the Central Area between 1954 and 1968. I hope to make arrangements to see the sanctuaries of two or three of the synagogues.

Please give us a brief overview of the history of Jews in the Pacific Northwest.

Being a historian, I can't give you a brief overview! But I'm attaching a pdf of a relatively brief article (about 3 pages) called A Sketch of Seattle's Jewish History.

What’s one Jewish thing about Seattle that most people would be surprised to learn?

I think the most surprising thing about Jewish Seattle is the prominence of the Sephardic community. Seattle has had historically, and continues to have, by far the largest percentage of Sephardim of any city in the country. As a result, Sephardic traditions and culture have survived to a surprising degree.

Can you tell us about any Jewish books set in Seattle, or books about Jews in the area? 

I co-authored Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State (University of Washington Press, 2004) with Molly Cone and Jacqueline Williams. The book draws on hundreds of newspaper accounts, articles, and oral histories to provide the first comprehensive account of Washington State's Jewish residents. You may recognize the name Molly Cone, as she is also a well-known and widely published author of books for Jewish children and teenagers.

What Seattle experience should visitors be sure not to miss?

Visitors should not miss the Pike Place Market on the western edge of downtown Seattle. Jews, especially the Sephardim, were prominent fish mongers and vegetable sellers in the market from almost the beginning in 1907. I think there is only one Jewish-owned business remaining, Pure Food Fish Market. The Market today is colorful and interesting, with farmers selling produce and flowers, craftsmen offering their wares, restaurants, and buskers. Plus the views of Elliott Bay from the Market are stunning.

Howard, thanks for the preview! We'll be seeing you on the tour!

MENTION CONVENTION

 

Enter the Mention Convention weekly drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card by linking back to this interview on your blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter (hashtag #AJL10) — just email [email protected] to tell us what you did!

Social Media Session at Convention

At the Seattle convention, on Monday July 5, Diane Romm and I will be presenting a session called AJL & Social Media. We’ll be addressing the finer points of AJL’s website, blog, podcast, etc., and also discussing other social media sites of Jewish literary interest.

If this is a topic that interests you, and you think you might attend our session, I’ve got a little preview for you. You may remember last convention’s social media session with podcaster Mark Blevis in 2009, which inspired me to expand upon the topic on my podcast, The Book of Life. I’d like to invite you to go back and listen to those episodes NOW, as they make great background material for what we’ll be discussing at our Seattle session!

Please visit The Book of Life and listen to the 4-part “Why Be Social?” series of episodes. You can find the audio for all four parts here: http://jewishbooks.blogspot.com/2009/08/why-be-social-whole-megillah.html. Or you can look at the four individual postings, which each include links to extra materials and sometimes bonus video as well. Listening to this short series will give you a good grounding in Jewish social media and why it’s important. It’s certainly not required for attending our session, but I think it would help you get more out of it.

Part 1: Why Be Social? Philosophy

Part 2: Why Be Social? Definitions

Part 3: Why Be Social? Suggestions

Part 4: Why Be Social? Create-Consume-Contribute

Looking forward to seeing you in Seattle!
Heidi Estrin