Publisher’s description: Hidden away in their Secret Annex in Amsterdam during World War II, Anne Frank and her family could not breathe fresh air or see the blue sky for years. But through an attic window Anne could see the branches of a tall chestnut tree. This small glimpse of nature gave Anne hope and courage. It inspired her writing, which, in turn, inspired the whole world. Jane Kohuth explores Anne Frank’s strong belief in the healing power of nature in this Step 3 leveled reader biography for newly independent readers ages 5–8.
My thoughts: As soon as I read the e-galley (Thank you, Random House Children’s and Edelweiss!) of Anne Frank’s Chestnut Tree, I ordered a copy for our school library. Many of my students check out The Diary of Anne Frank but end up not finishing it because of the reading level or because they don’t quite understand it. This version is part of Random House’s Step Into Reading (Level 3) early chapter book program, and I was happy to see that the illustrations, text, and handling of the subject matter are indeed appropriate for grades 1 to 3.
Several lines from Anne’s diary are woven seamlessly into the text, lending an authenticity to the storyline. Here’s an excerpt from the second page-spread in the book:
“‘As long as this exists, this sunshine and this cloudless sky, and as long as I can enjoy it, how can I be sad?’ The girl’s name was Anne Frank. She had not been outside for 597 days.”
You’ve got Anne’s own words, her name, and then a hook that begs for the next page-turn.
Even the complicated and horrific motives behind the Second World War are delivered in a straightforward manner that’s easy to understand:
“The Nazis blamed the world’s problems on Jewish people, even though they were a small minority. Anne and her family were Jewish.”
As adults, it’s easy to forget that a child first reading about Anne Frank may not know how Anne’s story ends. The arrest of Anne and her family is told in two simple sentences:
“But on August 4, 1944, the police found the Secret Annex.The Nazis sent Anne’s family and two of their helpers to concentration camps.”
The only reference to a concentration camp is earlier on, when the Nazis wanted to send Anne’s sister away, prompting the family to go into hiding:
“Anne’s parents knew that when Jews were sent away, they were never heard from again.”
Even Anne’s sad ending does not include any detail that might be disturbing for a young child:
“Anne did not survive the war. But her diary did.”
The book doesn’t end here, though; it comes full circle with the same chestnut tree in the opening of the story–the one that Anne used to gaze at from the window of the attic in the Secret Annex. The people of Amsterdam kept the chestnut tree alive, even when it had a disease, until a storm brought it down in 2010. Even then, saplings from this tree were planted all over the city and the world, including the United States.
An author’s note and photograph of the building where Anne and her family hid will help children to understand that this is indeed a true story.
Hand this book to the kid who:
* has heard of Anne Frank but may not yet be ready to read her diary
* is interested in World War II
* enjoys biographies
* needs an example of strength and hope in hard times
Use this to teach:
* Biographies–Although this reads like fiction, it is 100% non-fiction–no invented dialogue in these pages.
*The themes of courage and overcoming adversity–The Holocaust is obviously not part of any primary grade curriculum, but this book could definitely be included in a study of books with themes of courage or overcoming adversity.
*The Holocaust–I know–I just said that young children don’t learn about the Holocaust in school, but some upper elementary children do, and middle school students definitely do. If you’ve got an older struggling reader or a students who is learning English, this title would work well for differentiating instruction. Or if you’re reading aloud a book like Lois Lowery’s Number the Stars and you create a display of other books about World War II, definitely include this one.
The Nitty Gritty~
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Number of Pages: 48
Interest Level: K-3