Sabina: In the Eye of the Storm
Author: Bella Kuligowska Zucker
About the Book: In September 1939, Bella was a carefree teenager living in Serock, Poland when the German army struck. She was rounded up with her friends and family and sent to a series of grim Jewish ghettos. As loved ones were separated and lost through the war years, Bella survived by changing her identity. After stealing the birth certificate of a Catholic girl five years her senior, she became Sabina Mazurek. Then she went into the eye of the storm, Germany, where she believed she might be safest. Sabina is her story.
About the Author:Bella Kuligowska was born in Serock, Poland in 1925. Her family included her parents and five brothers; everyone worked in her parents’ bicycle business. After the war, she tried to find her missing family members. She discovered she was the lone survivor.
Bella met her husband Herman Zucker in Poland after the war. They emigrated to the US in 1951 with their oldest daughter and settled in Chicago, Illinois. Bella spent many years perfecting her English and writing skills to record this memoir. Bella passed away in 2007.
In 1940, Poland was becoming increasingly dangerous for Jews. In Serock, Bella’s hometown, the Jews had been forcefully moved to a ghetto, where they lived with scant resources in crowded conditions. Bella’s parents wanted to protect their family, as their future became more uncertain every day, and arranged for Bella to escape.
One afternoon that spring, my father came home with a stranger. My mother was sewing a shirt for papa by hand, and I was knitting a sweater from the material left over from the unraveled flour bags. Since curfew was coming, Abraham, Joseph, and Wygdor were all in the room too.
“Mr. Wisniewski, this is my daughter, Bella.” My father spoke these words in Polish. Mr. Wisniewski nodded and looked me up and down like a customer about to make an expensive purchase.
“Bella, say something to Mr. Wisniewski,” my father urged.
I was still unsure of what was happening, but I did my father’s bidding. “Hello, Mr. Wisniewski,” I said uncomfortably, getting up from my seat on the cold hearth of the fireplace. “How do you do?”
The man turned to my papa. “Fine. The girl looks ok, and she speaks Polish well.”
“Papa?” I whispered, almost ready to cry. “What is going on?”
My father explained that Mr. Wisniewski was a forester who lived not far from the ghetto and also owned a farm. With his help, I could escape by going to work for him. Mr. Wisniewski had come to check that I looked Polish enough and that I did not have a strong Yiddish accent.
“Mr. Wisniewski will have documents made for you,” my father said. “He believes you can pass as a Christian on the other side. You must try to live as they do. Be a good girl. Don’t be scared, darling.”
I shook with a mix of anticipation and fear. I could not imagine shedding my identity like this, becoming a Christian, practically overnight. How could anyone do that?
Then I thought of someone who had done such a transformation – Lonka, the rabbi’s daughter from Serock, who had eloped with her Christian boyfriend on the eve of Yom Kippur. What a calamity it had been! The rabbi’s only child. She’d converted to Christianity and ran off on the holiest night of the year, Kol Nidrei.
Suddenly, her story was inspiration.
“I will do it,” I said. And I thought of a new name for myself. I would add a simple “Isa” to the start of my first name to make it sounds more Polish: Isabella Kuligowska. That’s who I would become while with the forester. But I promised myself and my family that I would never forget who I really was.
Excerpted from SABINA: IN THE EYE OF THE STORM Copyright © 2018 by Bella Kuligowska Zucker. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
**Thank you Saichek Publicity for providing the excerpt and copies for review!!**
Honey: The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln
Author: Shari Swanson
Illustrator: Chuck Groenink
Published January 14th, 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books
Summary: Based on a little-known tale from Abraham Lincoln’s childhood, this charming picture book written by debut author Shari Swanson and illustrated by acclaimed artist Chuck Groenink tells a classic story of a boy, his dog, and a daring rescue.
Deeply researched and charmingly told, this is the true story of one extra-special childhood rescue—a dog named Honey.
Long before Abraham Lincoln led the nation or signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he was just a barefoot kid running around Knob Creek, Kentucky, setting animals free from traps and snatching frogs out of the jaws of snakes.
One day, young Abe found a stray dog with a broken leg and named him Honey. He had no idea that the scruffy pup would find his way into Abe’s heart, become his best friend, and—one fateful day—save his life.
About the Author: Shari Swanson is a debut author who has been a middle school language arts teacher as well as an appellate lawyer. She received her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she wrote her thesis on musicality in picture books. She lives in Southern California with her husband and their dog, Honey. To learn more, and to download a free curriculum guide and activity kit, visit her website: shariswanson.com.
Facebook: Shari Swanson, Author
Author Q&A: Thank you to Shari for answering some questions for us and you!
Q: Why did you specifically choose this moment in Abe’s life to focus on? What did you hope to add to the Abe Lincoln narrative?
A: This story captivates me for several reasons. First, I love that we see Abe as a child—prone to distraction, earnest and loving, and with a deep compassion for animals. I feel it adds depth to our understanding of him as a man and makes him relatable to current children who might share these characteristics. Second, that Abe might not have grown up to be a man and our president without Honey gives me shivers. I believe Honey is an American hero, and that Abe’s kindness to Honey came back to bless him later. Kindness is something that causes ripples to go out and touch others in ways we usually never see. Finally, this is one of very few stories that features Lincoln’s mother, Nancy. Very little is written about his Kentucky years with Nancy, and she died shortly after the Lincolns moved to Indiana. That mother-son bond was important to him and is precious. I hope that this story fleshes out the narrative of Lincoln by showing his compassion from an early age as well as how his behavior was rooted in kindness. I also feel this story helps us appreciate the fragility of life and how interconnected everything is.
Q: What type of research did you do to prepare?
A: I’ve been twice to Kentucky to walk where Lincoln walked and explore the hills and hollows where he grew up. I’ve descended into several of the known caverns there to picture how he might have felt when he got stuck. I’ve been to all of the Lincoln museums and national sites in Kentucky to soak it in and ask lots of questions. I’ve read every book I could find on Lincoln’s Kentucky years, including chapters in larger biographies, pored over primary sources, like interviews, auction receipts, and land sale documents. For the timeline, I dove deep into every resource I could find, skimming for references to Lincoln with animals, loving that his affection for animals stayed with him all the way until the end. It makes me cry to think of his dog Fido and his horse, Old Bob, at his funeral. The picture of Old Bob, riderless, in the funeral procession, is powerful. Most all of this didn’t make it into the book, but I love research, and, as a former appellate lawyer, I’m a stickler for detail.
Q: Tell us your journey of your debut picture book.
A: My journey on this book began years ago when I was teaching middle school. We were reading an excerpt from Russell Freedman’s book on Lincoln and a sentence about Abe’s childhood caught my attention. I wanted to know more about his best friend then and their adventures. I threw myself into research, discovered Austin Gollaher, Abe’s best friend, and had my local library send for a copy of his narratives. Back then, the book was dusty and old in a college archive room. Now it is available online. I had the deep pleasure of telling Russell about my hopes to write a picture book about Lincoln’s childhood, and he encouraged me. When I was getting my MFA, I learned how to take the massive amount of information I had and draw out just a thread for a picture book narrative. HONEY is the culmination of those efforts.
Q: Lastly, what do you hope is the readers big take away from Honey?
A: I hope children and adults fall in love with Honey and his boy. I hope readers feel the story is both grounded in its time and timeless.
**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for the copy for review and giveaway & to Shari Swanson for her participation!**
Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers
Author: Laura Renauld
Illustrator: Brigette Barrager
Published January 14th, 2020 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Summary: An inspiring picture book biography about the inimitable Fred Rogers, beloved creator and star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Fred Rogers was a quiet boy with big feelings. Sometimes, he felt scared or lonely; at other times, he was playful and joyous. But when Fred’s feelings felt too big, his Grandfather McFeely knew exactly what to say to make him feel better: I like you just the way you are.
Fred grew up and created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the television program that would go on to warm the hearts and homes of millions of Americans. But one day, the government threatened to cut funding for public television, including Fred’s show. So, Fred stepped off the set and into a hearing on Capitol Hill to make his feelings known.
In a portrait full of warmth and feeling, Laura Renauld and award-winning illustrator Brigette Barrager tell the story of Mister Rogers: a quiet, compassionate hero whose essential message—that it is okay to have and to express feelings—still resonates today.
Praise: “Renauld’s lively, approachable text welcomes young readers in the same way that Rogers welcomed his young viewers into his living-room set . . . Bright, well-researched, and welcome.” –Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW
Review: Fred Rogers just stands for everything that is good in the world. Just look at these banners made by the publisher with quotes from him/the book:
They just fill me with so much joy, and they bring back all of the feelings I had when watching Mister Rogers. And those feelings are exactly what you will get while reading this book. The narrative biography accompanied by the bright text just bring Mister Roger’s story to life. In an interview with Fuse 8, the author said “I had to walk the line between it being recognizable for [adults who are familiar with Mr. Rogers] and easily understandable for [children who were born after the show stopped airing who have no idea who the man in the cardigan is].” I think this is exactly what she did because in addition to my nostalgia, it is a book that Trent has wanted to read multiple times.
Additionally, because of this book, I decided to introduce Trent to Mister Rogers. He knows Daniel Tiger, the cartoon spin-off, so I explained that Mister Rogers was where Daniel Tiger came from. So, I turned on one of my favorite episodes (making crayons!), and Trent was immediately sucked in. He said that he liked that Mister Rogers taught him things and talked nicely to him. YES!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In the same Fuse 8 interview I mentioned above, I loved what the author shared when asked “How do you envision the book being used?,” and I think it is a perfect jumping off point for teachers: “Whether Fred’s Big Feelings is a child’s first encounter with Mister Rogers’ affirming messages, a teacher’s springboard into a discussion about expressing emotions, or a librarian’s selection for a display of American biographies….” Yes to all of these! It is a great picture book biography example and definitely hits on social emotional skills! Also, if you truly want to dive into the book, there are many places that would allow for inquiry projects to learn more about: history of children’s tv, puppeteering, Koko, Yo Yo Ma, Ying Li, Wynton Marsalis, public television, etc. Oh, and you can always watch an episode of the show!
- What about Mr. Rogers makes him appealing to the audience?
- How did Mr. Rogers act towards children that was viewed as a bit different?
- Why do you think Mr. Rogers was so popular?
- Why is it important to talk about feelings?
- How did Mr. Rogers change the future of PBS?
- How was Mr. Rogers’s show different that what was available to kids?
- How do the illustrations add to the mood of the text?
Read This If You Love: Mr. Rogers!
**Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for a copy of the book!**
Bob Ross and Peapod the Squirrel
Author: Robb Pearlman
Illustrator: Bob Ross with Jason Kayser
Published October 8th, 2019 by Running Press Kids
Summary: Bob Ross paints a stunning home for his squirrel friend, Peapod, in this delightful nod to a painter icon.
This is the sweet story of a painter (Bob Ross) who helps his squirrel friend, Peapod, find the perfect home to live in. Bob paints an actual Ross painting, “Meadow Lake,” in this charming tale about helping friends and embracing the serenity of life. Bob, along with Peapod, go through the various steps and processes to painting, including praising those “happy little accidents” that happen along the way.
About the Creators: Robb Pearlman is the author of many books, including Groundhog’s Day Off, Raggedy Ann and Andy: Leaf Dance, and Passover is Here! Today, his favorite color is blue, but it may be purple tomorrow! He grew up in New York City and now lives in a white and green house in New Jersey with his husband and Oscar, the butterscotch-colored best puppy in the world.
Bob Ross — artist, painting instructor, and television personality — has for decades charmed and inspired the world with his matchless look, signature style, and words of wisdom and encouragement.
Review: This picture book definitely captures the whimsy and gentleness of Bob Ross. Anyone who has ever watched his show knows that Bob just loves creating things and making something beautiful. He always continues even through (happy little) mistakes and other obstacles, and his work is always something that takes the viewers’ breath away. I think it was very smart of the publishers to use an actual Bob Ross painting in the text because it is like the cherry on top. That, with the addition of his fun pet Peapod, really brings Bob’s personality to the book.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This text would be a wonderful book to use to compare a written work with a televised work. Students could look at what ways the book captures Bob Ross’s personality, style, speech, etc.
Additionally, the book ends with instructions on paint and supplies for readers to recreate the painting made in the book.
- What Bob Ross phrases did the author include?
- How did the inclusion of Peapod change what the story would have been without him?
- What type of person do you think Bob Ross is based on how he instructs?
- What do you think Bob Ross would tell you about accidents or mistakes?
- How did Bob Ross create the image with only white, brown, green, blue, yellow, and crimson?
- What words would you use to describe Peapod’s personality? Bob Ross’s?
But don’t worry–Bob Ross always embraces happy little accidents! And it turns out beautifully:
Read This If You Love: Bob Ross, Art, The Masterpiece by Jay Miletsky, Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter, Paint Me a Picture by Emily Bannister
**Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy for review**
Monument Maker: Daniel Chester French and the Lincoln Memorial
Author: Linda Booth Sweeney
Illustrator: Shawn Fields
Published September 3rd, 2019 by Tilbury House Publishers
Summary: This is the story of how a farmboy became America’s foremost sculptor. After failing at academics, Dan was working the family farm when he idly carved a turnip into a frog and discovered what he was meant to do. Sweeney’s swift prose and Fields’s evocative illustrations capture the single-minded determination with which Dan taught himself to sculpt and launched his career with the famous Minuteman Statue in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts.
This is also the story of the Lincoln Memorial, French’s culminating masterpiece. Thanks to this lovingly created tribute to the towering leader of Dan’s youth, Abraham Lincoln lives on as the man of marble, his craggy face and careworn gaze reminding millions of seekers what America can be. Dan’s statue is no lifeless figure, but a powerful, vital touchstone of a nation’s ideals. Now Dan French has his tribute too, in this exquisite biography that brings history to life for young readers.
“The environment that nurtured Daniel Chester French is given loving treatment by Sweeney and Fields. . . As Sweeney traces French’s way in the world, French goes on to create numerous statues of Civil War heroes, including the epic sculpture of Abraham Lincoln enshrined in his memorial. A timeline and author’s note fill in various gaps in the text, and Fields’ drawings are both powerful and graceful, just as French would have wanted, depicting a largely white cast but including some figures of color, including one of the two modern children who observe the story. . . Both bracing and winning, a fine tribute to the sculptor and his world. (Picture book biography. 8-12) ” – Kirkus Reviews
*Junior Library Guild Gold Standard
Note from the Creators:
When Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865, fifteen-year-old Dan French had no way to know that one day his tribute to the great president would transform a Washington, DC marsh into a national gathering place. He only knew that he liked making things with his hands.
As a boy, Dan plowed the straightest lines on his family’s farm, but as a teen, he failed (quite spectacularly) out of MIT. And yet, almost 50 years after Lincoln’s assassination, Daniel Chester French drew on his memories of Lincoln and his artistic talent to create a lovingly sculpted touchstone for a nation’s ideals, reminding millions of seekers what America strives for and still can be.
This is the story of how one young boy became very, very good at what he loves, and for that talent to inspire people across a country and around the world.
We hope this book both delights and unites!
About the Author: Linda Booth Sweeney is an accomplished writer and an educator specializing in the exploration of living systems. www.lindaboothsweeney.com
About the Illustrator: Shawn Fields studied art at the School of Visual Arts, the Arts Student’s League, and the New York Academy of Art. His work has been exhibited at ArtBasel Miami, Forbes Gallery NYC, Arcadia NYC, and is collected worldwide.
Review: If you have ever been to the Lincoln Memorial, you know that a very talented artist sculpted the statue you find within. Monument Maker tells us how a young farm boy takes something he is good at and makes it not only his job but his passion. And I think that is what I loved the most–it showed that there is so much more to life than what others want you to be good at and what society expects you to do well at. We all have talents and passions, look at what Daniel Chester French did with his!
Sweeney and Fields did a fantastic job telling his story while also tying in the theme mentioned above, celebrating history, and setting goals for the future. Overall, a truly deep and well done middle grade picture book!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: With ties to art and history as well as social-emotional learning, Monument Maker can find its home in may different classrooms.
- What did Dan’s family do to help support him in his endeavors?
- What are the different steps in creating a large monument like the Lincoln Memorial?
- How did Daniel Chester French become one of the best in his field?
- What is something you love that you want to do when you grow up? How can you become an expert?
- Why was it important for Daniel to learn how to draw even though he wanted to be a sculptor?
- What does Daniel Chester French failing out of some classes yet becoming a master sculpture tell you?
- How does the author tie together Lincoln, French’s sculpture, other history, and the future?
“History shapes our lives. And what we do with our lives can shape history. That’s how it was with Daniel Chester French.”
“Soon afterward, Dan’s father returned from Boston carrying a cardboard box. In it was ten pounds of cold, wet clay for a family sculpting night.
One by one the family gave up, but not Dan. He kept at it until the shape of a dog’s head appeared in his hands. From then on, Dan worked on the farm during the day and sculpted birds and animals at night.”
Read This If You Love: Art, Abraham Lincoln, Architecture, Sculpture
Don’t miss out on other nonfiction picture books! Check out Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge:
Educators’ Guide for Prairie Boy: Frank Lloyd Wright Turns the Heartland Into a Home by Barb Rosenstock
Prairie Boy: Frank Lloyd Wright Turns the Heartland Into a Home
Author: Barb Rosenstock
Illustrator: Christopher Silas Neal
Published: September 10th, 2019 by Calkins Creek
Summary: The early life and creative genius of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, as a maker of American buildings—highlighting his passion, imagination and […]
Prairie Boy: Frank Lloyd Wright Turns the Heartland Into a Home
Author: Barb Rosenstock
Illustrator: Christopher Silas Neal
Published: September 10th, 2019 by Calkins Creek
Summary: The early life and creative genius of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, as a maker of American buildings—highlighting his passion, imagination and creativity.
Frank Lloyd Wright loved the Wisconsin prairie where he was born, with its wide-open sky and waves of tall grass. As his family moved across the United States, young Frank found his own home in shapes: rectangles, triangles, half-moons, and circles. So, Frank pursued a career in architecture. Unlike everyone else, he didn’t think the Victorian homes fit the beauty of the land. Using his love of shapes, Frank redesigned the American home inside and out, developing a unique architecture, the Prairie House.
Author Barb Rosenstock and artist Christopher Silas Neal explore the early life and creative genius of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, highlighting his passion, imagination, and ingenuity.
Backmatter includes historical photos, author’s note, quotations, sources, source notes, architectural plans and a photo gallery of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings across America.
About the Creators:
Author Barb Rosenstock is the author of many picture book biographies, including Otis and Will Discover the Deep, Secret Kingdom, Dorothea’s Eyes, Ben Franklin’s Big Splash, and The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero. Her picture book about Kandinsky, The Noisy Paint Box, won the 2015 Caldecott Medal.
Illustrator Christopher Silas Neal is the author and illustrator of multiple picture books, including I Won’t Eat That and Everyone. He is also the illustrator of Kate Messner’s Over and Under the Pond, Over and Under the Snow, and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions:
Please view and enjoy the teachers’ and discussion guide I created for Prairie Boy:
You can also access the teaching guide here.
You can learn more about the book on Barb Rosenstock’s Prairie Boy page.
Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary (Growing to Greatness)
Author: Vicki Conrad
Illustrator: David Hohn
Published August 13th, 2019
Summary: Just Like Beverly follows the life of beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary from her early years in Oregon to her career as a successful writer who wrote stories, including the wildly popular Ramona and Henry Huggins series, for kids just like her.
As a young girl, Beverly Cleary struggled to learn to read and found most children’s books dull and uninteresting. She often wondered if there were any books about kids just like her. With hard work, and the encouragement of her parents and a special teacher, she learned to read and at a young age discovered she had a knack for writing.
Beverly Cleary’s story comes to life in this narrative nonfiction picture book as she grows to follow her dreams of writing the books she longed for as a child, becoming an award-winning writer and one of the most famous children’s authors of all time.
Beautiful illustrations capture Cleary’s sense of humor, struggles, and triumphs, and are filled with Easter eggs throughout for fans to discover.
“Hohn captures her lively spirit through illustrations, reminiscent of those by Alan Tiegreen for Cleary’s own books, that will keep young readers entertained. A loving and informative tribute worthy of celebrating Cleary’s 103rd year of life.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred
“Conrad writes with clarity and features significant details that bring Cleary’s experiences and personality to life for kids today. Hohn makes good use of color, light, and pattern in his imaginative illustrations, which interpret the text sensitively. The artwork looks fresh and appealing while suggesting the period, the emotional resonance, and the upbeat spirit of Cleary’s books.”–Booklist, starred
“A celebration of Cleary, literacy, and the pursuit of ambitious dreams, this charming picture book will enhance any biography collection.”–School Library Journal
“Debut author Conrad’s storytelling is straightforward, ably conveying—in tandem with Hohn’s homespun, vintage-style illustrations—the various eras of Cleary’s life and her passion for writing and for nurturing readers.”–Publishers Weekly
About the Author: VICKI CONRAD is a teacher with a passion for literacy development and inspiring students to love reading just as much as she did as a child. Growing up, she was always found with a book in her hand, and she has stayed that way ever since. When she is not writing or teaching, she is traveling the world, growing a garden, or searching for stories. She has called Seattle her home for many years. She doesn’t mind the rain, as long as she has coffee, friends, and good books for company. Just Like Beverly is her first book.
About the Illustrator: DAVID HOHN is an illustrator based in Portland, Oregon. His days are spent in the studio imagining what it would be like to be someone else, doing something else–and then he paints it.
Review: It was so wonderful reading about Beverly Cleary’s childhood! It truly showed how supportive teachers and parents plus some access to books truly can result in brilliance! It just took some guidance, praise, and confidence to make her bloom as a writer.
From a parent and teacher point of view, I loved that Beverly saw a issue in the children lit world and used a talent to work to try to solve that issue–what a great role model!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are three ways I picture this book being an asset in the classroom.
First, it is a wonderful addition to any picture book biography text set/mentor text set.
Second, it is a beautiful book to read aloud! And truly would lead to wonderful discussions.
Third, I could see it being used in conjunction with Cleary’s novels. How does her childhood story connect to the novels that she wrote?
- When looking for stories about kids like you and your friends, what type of characters are you looking for?
- [Writing prompt] Write a fictionalized story that you can relate to.
- What character traits did Beverly have to be as successful a writer as she was?
- What does Beverly’s pride in winning a contest that she was the only entry say about you?
- What do you believe is the author’s purpose for writing this title?
- How does Beverly’s story fit the theme of “Growing to Greatness”?
- How is children literature different now than it was during Beverly’s childhood?
Read This If You Love: Beverly Cleary!; Picture book biographies about writers such as Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet; A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert; A River of Words by Jennifer Bryant; Papa is a Poet by Natalie S. Bober
Don’t miss out on other nonfiction picture books! Check out Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge:
Recently Popular Posts
- This is my Anti-Lexile, Anti-Reading Level Post.
- Top Books for Struggling/Reluctant Middle School Readers
- Novels with Science Content
- Harlem: A Poem by Walter Dean Myers
- Top Ten Tuesday: Our Favorite Pairings of YA Books…
- The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
- The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb
- Journey by Aaron Becker
- What Do You Do with a Problem? by Kobi Yamada
- Review and Teaching Guide!: El Deafo by Cece Bell
Subscribe to Our Posts