The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window

TheTreeintheCourtyard

Image Credit: Alfred A. Knopf (Penguin Random House), Jeff Gottesfeld/Peter McCarty

In her diary, Anne Frank tells us about a beautiful chestnut tree that grew outside of her window. This book imagines the events of Anne’s life through the tree’s lens and while doing so, we are reminded of the shock of loss and the horrors of war.

In The Tree in the Courtyard, a horse chestnut tree grows to love the young Anne Frank for her vivacious spirit. Jeff Gottesfeld gives us a very unique perspective of a very familiar and tragic moment in history. The story is very moving; when I walked away from this book, I couldn’t help but think two things 1) Anne Frank was a beautiful writer 2) What a great way to honor her spirit and help children learn not only about history but also about compassion and perspective.

The tree never fully understands exactly why war is happening but it feels and knows the effects of it (much like a child, perhaps). As it grows steadily, it connects to Anne and the occupants of the annex. It likes to watch Anne get lost in her writing and makes sure to blossom beautiful for her. But one day the occupants of the annex are suddenly taken away and only Anne’s father comes back, visibly changed. The tree is distraught. As years pass, other people occupy the annex but the tree finds irony in the fact that people put more love into its care than they did for Anne’s well-being. The symbolism of the chestnut’s saplings spreading around the world and living on, like Anne’s words, is powerful.

Peter McCarty’s illustrations fill the pages in a warm, beautiful brown. The shortened bodies with large heads and expressive faces, deep shadows and hatch marks are signature McCarty. I especially love how he illustrates Anne with her dark, soulful eyes and wispy hair and I love how he gives life to the tree; its limbs seem to stretch lovingly towards Anne and the annex. On the pages that depict soldiers and air raids, straight lines with white space are drawn harshly (like sharp blasts) while on other pages, the lines are softer and ultimately more comforting.

This picture book will surely encourage young readers to learn more about Anne. I hope teachers and parents will use this book to not only discuss Anne Frank, WWII and the Holocaust but to also teach the importance of compassion, love and hope.

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and Up
Great for: Reflection, Inspiration, Brilliance, Discussion, History, Family, Relationships, Hope, Love, Peace, Judaism, World War II, Nazi Occupied Netherlands, Holocaust, Tragedy, Resilience, Anne Frank, Perspective
Book Info: The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld/Illustrated by Peter McCarty, 2016 Alfred A. Knopf (Penguin Random House), ISBN: 9780385753975

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Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans

DrownedCity

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Don Brown


Drowned City
is a tough but very important read. The graphic novel element makes this story accessible to reluctant readers and Brown does a great job of recounting and documenting this part of history. It’s easy to pick up the book and learn the history, facts, heroism and the incompetency. The writing of Drowned City reads like an extended newspaper article; fact after fact with the addition of speech bubbles. The moments of dialogue help connect readers to the tragic events and the people who suffered through them.

As I read the book, I’d stare at the words and then the illustrations and I’d shake my head, memories of television news reports coming back to me. Brown’s illustrations are powerful. He uses a palette of of browns, blues, grays and purples to depict the stagnant water, stormy skies, and hopeless expressions of the people of New Orleans.

DrownedCity2

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Don Brown

One criticism I have of this book is that in the summary, Brown writes “The suffering hit the African American community hardest; a weather disaster became a race disaster” but he never addresses this in the book. Brown skin is visually noticeable in the illustrations but he doesn’t discuss the issue of race in the lack of response to the hurricane victims, or even acknowledge that most of the victims were African American. This is something I’d encourage parents and teachers to discuss.

Published in 2015, just in time for the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Drowned City is a worthy and moving read that will provoke much discussion in your home or classroom. This book can be even more powerful when used in conjunction with real life accounts and stories from the victims themselves. A while back I compiled a group of excellent books about Hurricane Katrina for a display at my bookstore. Check out my post here for those books and be sure to pick up a copy of this graphic novel.

 

Recommended for: Ages 12 and up
Great for: History, Modern History, Hope, Community, Determination, Discrimination, Discussion, Economic Inequality, Incompetency, Hurricane Katrina, Inner Strength, Lack of Leadership, Leadership, Social Issues, Struggle, We Need Diverse Books, Non-Fiction, African American
Book Info: Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown, 2015 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544157774

The Honest Truth

TheHonestTruth

Image Credit: Scholastic Press, Dan Gemeinhart

“Here’s what I don’t get: why anyone would try to stop me. All I wanted to do was die. That’s the truth.”

This is a tough book.

Mark, a twelve year old boy, takes his trusty dog Beau on the last adventure of his lifetime and on the way, discovers his inner strength. He’s been battling cancer for years and is emotionally and physically worn out. He finally decides that he’s had enough and runs away to climb Mt. Rainier to die.

The story is told from two perspectives; he tells his story in first person and then the story regularly switches to third person to tell the reader about the person who holds Mark’s biggest secret, his best friend Jess. The Honest Truth is as much about his journey as it is about her struggles, anguish and doubt. Ultimately though, we follow Mark’s emotions most closely, as we watch him switch between sadness, regret, determination, bitterness, love and relief.

This story is powerful; Gemeinhart really explores what it means to be human, to be alive, to look death in the eye and live fully. The relationship between Mark and Jess is amazing but the relationship between Mark and his dog Beau is also extremely remarkable; that little dog loves him to the end of the world! If you’re looking for a great read about the strength of the human spirit, try this one. You’ll be moved. That’s the honest truth.

P.S. Grab some tissues…ㅠ ㅠ

P.S.S. In celebration of a year since the release of his book, Dan Gemeinhart gave us Beau’s voice in a special “lost” chapter. Click here to enjoy! ❤

 

Recommended for: Ages 12 and up
Great for: Emotions, Inner Strength, Friendship, Determination, Growing Up, Cancer, Dogs, Love, Family, Power of Photography, Hope, Grab the Tissues
Book Info: The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart, 2015 Scholastic Press (Scholastic Inc.), ISBN: 9780545665735