Wednesday, March 13, 2024

One of a Kind and Uprising

Michelson, Richard and Green, Sarah (illus.)
One of a Kind: The Life of Sydney Taylor
February 13, 2024 by Calkins Creek
Copy provided by the publisher

Sydney Taylor is, of course, a well-known name in children's literature circles, because of her classic All-of-a-Kind Family books as well as the literary award named after her. What might not be as well known is the fact that she was a dancer and social activist. Her stories were started as a way to tell her daughter about her past, as well as to give her characters that were Jewish rather than Christian. It wasn't until 1950 that her husband sent in a long-shelved manuscript to a contest, winning a $3,000 prize and giving the world the wonderful stories of Taylor's childhood, growing up in an immigrant neighborhood in New York. 

I loved that there were some quotations from Taylor's diaries, and that the author was inspired to write the book after winning the Sydney Taylor award twice and meeting the author's daughter. It was also good to see that he grew up in a similar neighborhood and wanted to capture that. This is a good overview of life in the early twentieth century; Taylor was born in 1897, just a few years after my grandmother! 

Green, who also illustrated Hannigan's Josephine And Her Dishwashing Machine  and Barton's Bernice Sandler and Title IX, does an excellent job of capturing the wide range of historical settings in Taylor's life, from the New York neighborhood with her sisters in their pinafores, to the 1920s college scene, as well as Taylor's later life. While I wouldn't have minded  a nod to the Helen John illustrations in the originals (as Zelinsky did a bit in Jenkins' 2018 picture book, All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah), Green's illustrations are colorful and engaging. 

What better way to direct children to women authors during March than to put up a display of picture book literary biographies? Include this title with Lucy Maud and the Cavendish Cat by Manuel and Wilson, The Story of Maya Angelou by Obeng, Go Forth and Tell: The Life of Augusta Baker, Librarian and Master Storyteller by McDaniel and Harrison, and Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird by Hegedus and McGuire.

Nielsen, Jennifer A. Uprising
March 5, 2024 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1939 Warsaw, Lidia Durr has to deal with the new reality that the German Nazis are in control of her country. Her father, a veteran of WWI, has gone off to fight, Leaving Lidia, her mother, and her older brother Ryszard behind in a damaged house. The three take in an old family friend, Doda, and her mother, even though the women are Jewish. Right behind their house is the area the Nazis have set aside for the Jewish Ghetto, and Lidia is able to see how bad things are. While Lidia at first thought that things would improve fairly quickly, it's clear that this is not going to happen. She does continue to take piano lessons for a while; she is a keen player, and the family moved to Warsaw so that she could study at the same university where Chopin studied. As the situation in Warsaw worsens, and Doda and her mother are taken away, Lidia takes an interest in being part of the Resistance. Along with a neighbor, Maryna, she starts to deliver packages of wheat to the Ghetto, but eventually becomes a messenger for the Resistance. Things become more and more grim, and the chances of survival seem so slim that Lidia just hopes that she can make the Nazis regret having taken over Poland. Once she has packed her mother off to Sweden, and her older brother is killed, little stops Lidia from doing whatever it takes to help the Poles fend off the Nazis. Many of her friends die, but a cease fire finally occurs in October of 1944. After all the years of surviving, Lidia makes her way to Sweden, and eventually manages to locate her mother in the US. End notes describe the lives of the real Lidia Durr and her family. 
Strengths: Like this author's Resistance and Rescue, this is a well researched look at a slightly different facet of WWII. There are lots of books from the point of view of Jewish citizens in Poland who ended up in the Ghetto, but certainly there were many people who had to survive while still living in Warsaw. Lidia is a strong character who rises to the occasion and is willing to help in any way she can. Nielsen always provides really good details about not only the military actions, but about the conditions of daily life. 
Weaknesses: This was not a great choice for a gray, rainy day, and it just made me wonder why there are still wars. Didn't WWII teach us that was is bad? This was heart breaking to read, which is, after all, the point. 
What I really think: This was an excellent look at World War II, but there are so many books about that conflict that I wish we would see more on different historical events, especially since WWII is no longer in the 8th grade curriculum. I understand why writing about WWII is so popular; it's easier to know who is "good" and who is "bad", and my students still read the books eagerly. Still, there's very little on the military conflict in Vietnam and Korean, and given the current problems in Gaza, it would be helpful for my students to know some of the history of those areas of the world. 
 Ms. Yingling

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