Tisha B’Av Books for Young Readers

By Judy Chernak

Tisha B’Av (the 9th of the Hebrew month Av), with its preceding Nine Days of restricting joyful activities, is a fitting time to consider more recent tragedies than the destruction of the ancient Temple and exile of the Jews from Israel. Although the Holocaust is a difficult topic, a number of books are available to help children and young adults come to terms with the dimensions and nature of the tragedy. Following are several new books for summer reading, especially during the remembrance period which falls this year July 30 through August 7.

Who Was the Woman Who Wore the Hat?
By Nancy Patz
48 pages. Penguin Putnam. $14.99.
7 and up.

Readers will be stopped short by this spare, slim volume by the author of such children’s favorites as Pumpernickel Tickle and Mean, Green Cheese and Gina Farina and the Prince of Mintz. But rather than a deliciously rhyming, rollicking story with laughs galore, we find a contemplative prose poem wondering about the life of the owner of the nondescript hat displayed in the Amsterdam Jewish Museum. “When did she buy it?…And where did she wear it?” Surely on the train “…the day she left home the last time / that cold, cruel day in Amsterdam / when the Jews were herded together / and arrested in the Square,” she muses. “It could have been my mother’s hat…my hat. Or yours.” With watercolor stained paper, crumpled to look old, Patz draws us into her illustrations, an intimate amalgam of sketches and photographs that tempt us to combine reality with supposing, to conjure up our own images of the woman, her life, her family. This is an extremely effective and stunning book—gentle for the very young, haunting for adults.

For those wanting factual matter, several excellent books are just out. Two volumes of Enslow’s “The Holocaust in History” series are carefully written by Linda Jacobs Altman for readers 10 to 14: The Jewish Victims of the Holocaust and The Forgotten Victims of the Holocaust. The first minces no words in detailing Hitler’s ruthless plan to exterminate “Jewish vermin” from as many lands as he could control; the second catalogs his campaign against Gypsies, homosexuals, mentally and physically disabled, and other so-called “sub-humans.” For slightly older readers 12 and up, Thompson/Gale’s "Heroes and Villains" series offers Adolf Hitler by Don Nardo and Oskar Schindler by John F. Wukovits. Both delve into the persuasive powers of that breed of human that can sway others, for good or evil, and change the world. All of these photo-jammed books read well enough for individuals searching for facts and also would be invaluable as classroom or library resources.

By Han Nolan
320 pages. Harcourt. $6.95.
12 and up.

In the fiction category, young adults will be intrigued by award-winning Han Nolan’s latest, If I Should Die Before I Wake. Hilary, an alienated, Jew-hating, Neo-Nazi teenager willingly sucked into a den of punks, lands comatose in a Jewish hospital following a motorcycle accident that occurred during the gang’s getaway from locking a Jewish boy into the school lockers before spring break. As she hovers between life and death, she’s whirled into awareness of another life, as a Polish Jewish girl in the Lodz ghetto and then Auschwitz-Birkenau camp during the Holocaust. She cycles repeatedly through time, alternately cursing at and wondering who is the old woman at her bedside, contrasting her current dysfunctional family life with the horrors of starvation and death in the past one. Can her horrendous experience of losing family, friends, everything—even giving up her last crust of food to another girl—shake her out of the self-destructive life she’s fashioned for herself in today's world? This is a powerful and touching story that successfully weaves the terrible drama of the Holocaust into the age-old belief in reincarnation and past lives. Originally published in 1994, it’s now in its second softcover edition and includes a “Chat Page” of questions to ponder as well as an interview with the author.

By Jackie French
128 pages. HarperCollins. $15.95.
Ages 8-12.

Suppose the infamous monster had a daughter, a “defective” one with a short leg and a huge strawberry birthmark splotched across her face—a child that should be sent off to be eliminated, or at least could never be allowed to be seen. Such is the story of Hitler’s Daughter, for which the author won Australia’s Book of the Year Award from the Children’s Book Council. Among a group of children who pass the time waiting for their school bus is Anna, the favorite storyteller, whose latest seems somehow more than just a made-up tale. Mark, a 10-year-old, senses a problem with Anna’s tale of a hidden child cared for by a governess in a palace with formal rooms for important meetings, her father’s rooms on another forbidden floor, and her own suite of rooms which he visited occasionally. This girl, Heidi, loved her father, whom she called Duffy, even though she saw him rarely and saw no one else except servants and guards. Even when she heard people say terrible things about him, she loved him: He was her father. Listening to this story, Mark wonders if a child is responsible to act if his parents are doing the wrong thing, a topic he begins to explore in his own family. This book is easy to read, and even though astute middle-graders may guess at the ending, it offers children a chance to ponder a difficult topic within a dramatic story.

We Made Israel Bloom
By Neil Waldman
30 pages. Boyds Mills Press. $16.95.
Ages 6-9.

Although it begins with a few pages set in the Vilna ghetto of World War II Lithuania, The Never-Ending Greenness continues with a boy’s journey by boat to Palestine and his subsequent yearning to plant trees on its barren slopes. His entire family was fortunate enough to escape and emigrate safely, but his father joined the army as the new country was attacked by Arab nations following its declaration of statehood. He and his mother learn to love their new land by wandering its hills and ancient sites, and one day he rescues a tiny stray seedling to plant and nurture at home. This fuels his dream to, as Papa says, “return these hills to the way they were thousands of years ago” before “rains washed away the topsoil” and turned the area “almost into a desert.” This is a hopeful and tender story with wonderful, light-filled, impressionistic style paintings (except for the flat gray ones of the ghetto) that Waldman says was inspired by his visit to reforested lands on a rocky hillside near Jerusalem. Read it for Tisha B’Av, then remember to pull out again for Tu BiSh’vat, the Jewish Arbor Day, next January.