Jars of Hope by Jennifer Roy

How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children During the Holocaust

Capstone Young Readers, 2015.

When the Nazis took over the Warsaw Ghetto and packed more and more Jewish families inside the walls, it quickly became clear to Irena Sendler that something needed to be done to alleviate suffering and protect everyone she could. Sendler, a social worker, entered the Ghetto under the guise of giving vaccinations to the families there and began to implement a plan to save as many children as she could.

From toolboxes with secret compartments that could hide an infant to a well trained dog who could mask the sound of a crying child, Sendler and her associates used guile and nerves to get thousands of children out of the ghetto. Not satisfied with simply getting the children to safety, she carefully recorded information on each child’s original and new names, their parents’ names, and where each child was placed so that after the war there was a better chance that parents and children would be reunited. These pieces of paper were saved in jars, buried in secret, and finally dug up after the war’s end.

This amazing story will capture the imagination of students studying World War II and give them insights into both the horrific conditions in the Warsaw ghetto and the heroic efforts ordinary citizens made to save their fellow Polish citizens. The story and paintings in this book convey the darkness of the days, the fearful times, and the terribly high stakes without overwhelming readers with details of violence or suffering that students may not be ready for.

This is a good story about how ordinary people can use their skills and intelligence to fight for what it right. As the publisher claims, it is “a gentler introduction to the Holocaust.” The book contains a glossary, author’s note, and end notes.

I read Jars of Hope as an electronic ARC courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The Queen’s Shadow: A story about how animals see by Cybele Young

The Queen's Shadow Kids Can Press, 2015.

The queen has lost her shadow, and all the animals at the ball are suspect. How will their unique ways of seeing help Mantis Shrimp, the royal detective, solve the mystery of who stole the queen’s shadow?

Cybele Young’s detailed but whimsical illustrations and engaging story present the mystery as a way to explore how different creatures see. From a goat’s blind spot to the depth perception of a chameleon, the guests at the queen’s ball all have different ways of seeing the world. As each suspect is accused, we see through the illustrations how that suspect sees the room. Detailed sidebars explain how each animal’s eyesight works.

End matter provides even more science information. One endnote explains in detail how human vision works, another gives more information about the animals featured in the text. A glossary page gives detailed definitions of terms used in the text.

The Queen’s Shadow is a creative and engaging treatment of an interesting subject. This would be a wonderful book to introduce to students who are particularly interested in science or animals. It would also be great to use in coordination with the Next Generation Science Standards as there are specific standards related to eyes and vision. Though this is a picture book, it is geared toward older elementary and middle school readers.

I read this book as an electronic Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Kids Can Press and NetGalley.

The Way to School by Rosemary McCarney

The Way to School Second Story Press, 2015

What would you go through to get to school? As children in the United States and Canada prepare for a new school year with anticipation or trepidation, they’re likely to be focused on who their teacher will be, which friends will be in their class, or how much homework will be required this year. In many countries, however, simply getting to school requires a very real and physical commitment. They way may be long and treacherous; nevertheless, as is evidenced in The Way to School, children in many parts of the world work hard to simply get to school.

Though the text in this book is quite simple and meant for younger children, I think this book could have a place in a classroom for older students. I love the gorgeous photographs. There’s a wealth of information in every image that will intrigue older readers, too. I found myself pouring over the photographs and comparing them. Which groups had an adult accompanying them? Who wore uniforms to school? Which children had to bring necessities like water and furniture? Every photograph helps readers understand that required school attendance and a school bus to ride are indeed privileges.

Each photograph is identified by country, which provides a great jumping off point for further research on education in specific countries. There are also many points of comparison to research between the photographs. Which countries have mandated education? How many days a year do children go to school? What sort of geographical features limit some communities’ access to education?

Proceeds from the sale of this book go to Plan Canada, one of the largest international development agencies in the world.

I read The Way to School as an electronic ARC courtesy of Second Story Press and NetGalley.

Picture Books

Nonfiction Picture BooksIt’s been years since I’ve been in the classroom as a teacher, but when I read children’s and young adult books I still think about which students I’d recommend them to. I think about how they might be useful in teaching or introducing one subject or another. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think of books primarily as teaching tools, but I do think that a great book is a wonderful way to open readers up to new information, insights, and experiences.

For the last few years I’ve been wondering whether nonfiction picture books could be used in classrooms for middle school and high school students. Would they be a good way to introduce a new topic, or would the kids just shut down because it seemed babyish and they were embarrassed?

I have a fair number of friends who have become middle school and high school teachers, but none of them have tried using picture books with their classes. So the question has been simmering in the back of my mind until recently.

Pernille Ripp is a teacher from Wisconsin. I’ve been following her blog for about a year. She’s forthright and honest about the joys and struggles of teaching. She questions everything, and she’s not afraid to get student opinions to make sure that her teaching methods are working for them. I just love her sensibilities.

Last year Ms. Ripp moved from teaching elementary school to teaching seventh grade English. This summer she’s written a couple of great posts on using picture books in the classroom. Here is her excellent post on why picture books belong in every classroom. And here is a post on her current 10 favorite nonfiction picture books.

She’s convinced me that picture books can have an important place in a classroom of older kids. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I do occasionally review nonfiction picture books. Since Ms. Ripp has confirmed my belief, I’m going to add nonfiction picture book reviews as a regular feature on the blog. I’ll post them on Tuesdays, so watch this space!

Are you a teacher or librarian who uses picture books with kids in middle school or above? I’d love to know about your experiences!