Category Archives: war

Anne Frank’s Chestnut Tree by Jane Kohuth, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles

51a+Y+gSxDL._SY346_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.

Highly recommended.

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

ISBN-10: 0449812553

ISBN-13: 978-0449812556

Number of Pages: 48

Interest Level: K-3

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Thanks to Anatastia Suen for creating Non-Fiction Mondays, and to Sally's Bookshelf for hosting today!

Thanks to Anatastia Suen for creating Non-Fiction Mondays, and to Stacking Books for hosting today! Click here for more Non-Fiction recommendations…


Drita, My Homegirl by Jenny Lombard

Summary (from the author’s website:

Drita and her family come to New York as refugees from war-torn Kosovo. Even though she barely speaks English, Drita can’t wait to start school and make a new best friend. But her new classmates don’t make it easy, teasing her about virtually everything. The worst is Maxie, a tough African-American girl whose sassy attitude hides a painful secret.

When Maxie takes things too far, their teacher assigns Maxie a paper on Drita and her journey to America from Kosovo. Suddenly, Maxie realizes she and Drita have more in common than she thought. And when Drita’s mother gets sick, there’s only one person who can help—Drita’s new homegirl.

A sensitively written story of two worlds coming together, Drita, My Homegirl touchingly explores the effects of war on a family and how friendship sometimes appears in the unlikeliest places.

Click here for  reviews.

Hand this book to the kid:

* With a divorced or widowed parent

* With a newly-minted or soon-to-be stepparent

* Who has a loved one suffering from depression

* Who is going through culture shock

* Is learning English for the first time

* Who has immigrated to the U.S. and into your heart

Use this to teach:

* Dual Point of View–The narration alternates between fourth graders Drita, a recently-arrived Muslim refugee from Kosovo, and Maxie, a popular and precocious African-American girl dealing with the death of her mother and her  father’s new girlfriend. Both voices are distinct and equally empathetic in their own unique ways.

* Immigration--This book would add contemporary relevancy to any unit on immigration, past or present.

*Friendship–For any school counselors out there who run friendship groups, and/or work at schools with high immigrant populations or high student mobility rates

Curriculum Guide here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: G.P. Putman’s Sons (Penguin)

Publication Date: 2006

ISBN: 0399243801

Number of Pages: 176

Reading Level: 3.9

Interest Level: Middle Grade (ages 8 and up)

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Click here for summary and reviews.

Hand this book to the kid:

* Who loves to draw

* Has moved/is moving to a new school

* Is dealing/has dealt with a tough home life (abusive caretakers and poverty)

* Has a relative or family friend who is a war veteran

* Who needs a little hope

Use this to teach:

* Voice–The narrator, 14-year-old Doug Swieteck (a minor character in Schmidt’s Newbery Honor book The Wednesday Wars), talks directly to the reader at times, inviting us into his tough world laced with hope.

* Types of Conflict--This story has it all–character vs. character (Doug against his father and brother), nature (inadequately-dressed Doug schlepping through snow to deliver groceries), society (poverty, Doug’s older brother stationed in Vietnam)  and self (Doug’s older brother finding the courage to reenter society as a disabled war veteran).

Curriculum Guide here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Clarion

Publication Date: 2011

ISBN: 9780547152608

Number of Pages: 368

Reading Level: 4.9

Interest Level: Middle Grade (ages 10-14)