January 31 – Inspire Your Heart with Art Day

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About the Holiday

Celebrating art is always a great thing! Today we champion that feeling you get inside when you create or experience art—no matter what kind is your favorite. Paintings, books, music, sculpture, quilts, photography, and other arts show you a bit of the world in a new way—a way, perhaps, you’ve never thought of before. Art can inspire, gladden, sadden, anger, teach, and compel action. It can also provide joy and inspiration when you need it most—as you’ll see in today’s book. Celebrate today’s holiday by visiting a museum, bookstore, library, concert, or gallery.

The Hiding Game

Written by Gwen Strauss | Illustrated by Herb Leonhard

 

It was October of 1940, and after moving from place to place to stay “one step ahead of the German soldiers,” Aube and her family had found a home where they could “live together until it was their turn to flee to safety. The Villa Air-Bel was rented by Varian Fry—a magician—and his assistant Danny Bénédite and served as a place to hide those looking to escape the war-torn country. On Sundays, the house was full of “thinkers, artists and writers who had to hide from the German soldiers because of their ideas of freedom and liberty” like Aube’s parents.

On those days, everyone played games, danced and made collages. One of Aube’s favorite games was Cadavre Exquis, in which a piece of paper was folded and each participant drew a design on one fold. When the whole paper was unfolded, amazing, artistic pictures emerged. These games and entertainment, Aube’s father told her, were their ways of fighting against fear. Because of the danger, many things had to be hidden at the Villa, including the radio and the cow that provided milk. Many ingredients for cooking were scarce. But even then Aube’s father used art to lighten the mood, leaving a drawing of a roast beef in the pantry where a real roast should have been.

Because the authorities were reading Varian and Danny’s mail and were listening to their phone calls, they had devised a way of hiding messages in toothpaste tubes that escaped the guard’s searches. The messages went to other people helping along the escape route to tell them who to expect next. Everyone in the house also had to have a special hiding place in case the police came. Aube chose the an old cabinet in the kitchen.

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Image copyright Herb Leonhard, 2017, text copyright Gwen Strauss, 2017. Courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

Whenever a new group of people were scheduled to “make the dangerous journey to a new country, they held a Sunday party and art sale to raise money.” Canvases painted by famous artists were hung among the branches of a large tree on the Villa grounds. When winter came, the Villa was so cold everyone had to wear all of their clothes to stay warm. They kept their spirits warm, too, by singing their favorite songs.

During the winter Danny visited camps where people were being held under terrible conditions. “Aube understood now that the danger was that they would be sent to the camps,” where people were dying of starvation and disease. They had little clothes and no blankets even though it was snowing. The people, Danny said, were going to freeze. Aube thought of the game freeze tag and worried about all of those “people freezing, waiting for someone to set them free.”

One day in December, the police raided the Villa. They took away all the men, including Danny, Varian, and Aube’s papa. Aube cowered in the kitchen cabinet with their dog in fear. The next week, the men were released, but they knew that the police would be back. Danny and Varian began to plan their escape. Before they all left, Aube’s father devised one more game. Each artist would paint their own version of a playing card to create a collective work of art. “The cards would remind them that they had laughed together and stayed free in their hearts even during the darkest times.”

Aube’s family were placed on a ship sailing to South America, and on February 18, 1941 they left the Villa and Danny and Varian behind and made the one-month-long journey to freedom. Several months later, Varian was “forced to leave France and return to America.” Danny went underground and “helped another 300 people escape France.” In 1943, however, Danny was “arrested by the Nazis and sentenced to death.” Just as he was facing the firing squad, soldiers fighting the Nazis burst through the gates of the camp and freed him and the other inmates.

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Image copyright Herb Leonhard, 2017, courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

Gwen Strauss includes extensive backmatter on this true-life story about her great-uncle Danny Bénédite. A detailed account of the work by Varian Fry, Danny Bénédite, and the American Rescue Committee, complete with photographs, as well as short biographies of some of the artists who visited the Villa (and a compelling list of others) plus resources for further study round out this compelling book.

Clearly written and with details from a child’s point of view that will resonate with readers, The Hiding Game is an absorbing tribute not only to two men involved in the Nazi resistance movement but to the resilience that uplifts people during the darkest times. This fascinating true story also offers a glimpse into the important role that artists and writers play in shining a light on history, interpreting it, and fighting against forces that destroy. Rich with the atmosphere of intrigue, suspense, and simple pleasures enjoyed, Strauss’s dynamic storytelling will thrill children. The Hiding Game will prompt them to learn more about this time period and will inspire in them their own acts of heroism.

Herb Leonhard’s realistic drawings of the Villa Air-Bel, the families who stopped there on their way to freedom, the moments of joy that sustained them, and the secret measures necessary for people’s safety take readers into the heart of the story and allow them to witness the danger and the creativity that swirled side-by-side within the Villa and the people living there. Largely depicted in somber tones of gray and green, the pages brighten with glowing yellows during times of laughter, games, and creativity. An illustration of the mammoth tree hung with canvases by famous artists will impress children, and the final image will leave an indelible and thought-provoking impression on young readers and adults.

An excellent book for facilitating discussions about World War II and the Holocaust with children at home and in the classroom as well as offering opportunities for cross-curricular learning in history, art, reading, and more, The Hiding Game is a superb choice to add to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 7 – 12

Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 | ISBN 978-1455622658

Discover more about Gwen Strauss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Herb Leonhard, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Inspire Your Heart with Art Day Activity

I Love Art! Word Search Puzzle

 

Art has a language all its own! Have fun finding the twenty-five art-related words in this printable puzzle.

I Love Art! Word Search Puzzle and I Love Art! Word Search Solution

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You can find The Hiding Game at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

 

June 20 – World Refugee Day

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About the Holiday

On World Refugee Day, first celebrated in 2001, we commemorate the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees. The annual commemoration is marked by a variety of events in more than 100 countries, involving government officials, humanitarian aid workers, celebrities, civilians and the forcibly displaced themselves.

The Journey

By Francesca Sanna 

 

A child begins the story with a place—the family’s home in a city by the sea. The family used to visit the beach often, but not anymore, “because last year our lives changed forever,” the child reveals. “The war began,” the narrator says, turning their once-peaceful life into “chaos.” Not only was their city torn apart, the family was also, as “one day the war took [their] father.”

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Copyright Francesca Sanna, 2016. Courtesy of Flying Eye Books.

The child’s mother is afraid of the darkness that has descended on them. One of her friends told her that many people are leaving, escaping to another country with high mountains. The two children ask their mother where and what this place is. She answers that “‘it is a safe place’” an then shows them pictures that contain unfamiliar trees and animals. She sighs and tells her son and daughter, “‘We will go there and not be frightened anymore.’”

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Copyright Francesca Sanna, 2016. Courtesy of Flying Eye Books.

Even though the children don’t want to leave, they pack up all their belongings and say goodbye to their friends. They leave at night so they won’t be caught. They travel for many days, taking various modes of transportation. With each change the family must leave more and more of their things behind.

When they reach the border, they are met by an enormous wall that they must climb over. But before they can, a guard stops them and tells them they cannot cross, that they must go back. The family has nowhere else to go, however, and they are very tired. They find a spot in the woods to sleep, but the strange noises keep the children awake. Their mother tells them not to be afraid, and in her arms they finally fall asleep as she cries silent tears.

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Copyright Francesca Sanna, 2016. Courtesy of Flying Eye Books.

Suddenly, they hear shouting and see that the guards are looking for them. They run and run until they meet a man who takes them over the border. They come to the shores of a huge body of water that stretches far into the distance. The family must cross this water to be safe. They board a ferry loaded with other families and sail for days. On the way, they tell stories of the creatures who lurk in the waters below, “ready to gobble [them] up if the boat capsizes.” Other times they tell stories about magic fairies who live in the land they are going to—ones who have “magic spells to end the war.”

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Copyright Francesca Sanna, 2016. Courtesy of Flying Eye Books.

In the dawn light, the children and their mother finally see land. They are close to the place where they will be safe, the mother says, but it requires many more days of train travel across many more borders. On the journey the child watches birds migrating just as they are and hopes that one day, like the birds, they will find a new home where they “can be safe and begin our story again.”

Francesca Sanna’s moving compilation of true immigrant stories into a powerful narrative that speaks for so many provides a compelling and sensitive way to discuss the world’s refugee crisis with children. Sanna’s straightforward storytelling allows children to understand the cause and effect relationship of the war on those it displaces. Her focus on the length and difficulty of the family’s journey gives young children—for whom even short times and distances can seem long—a starting point for deeper comprehension. Sanna tempers frightening aspects of the story with her calm delivery and peppering of courage on the part of the mother and children along the way.

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Copyright Francesca Sanna, 2016. Courtesy of Flying Eye Books.

Sanna’s stunning and emotionally resonant artwork deftly presents the experiences of loss and love the story contains. Her use of the amorphous, seeping black images demonstrate the movement of the war and the ravages it imposes. Collage-like aspects to the illustrations gives readers much to talk about at varying age-appropriate levels. As the family’s journey begins, their suitcases and trunks filled with belongings are piled high, but as it continues, their luggage dwindles until only the most precious valuables remain—the two children and their mother. Sanna’s color pallet of oranges, reds, yellows, and greens are eye-catching and convey the urgency of the family’s plight. The final image of the mother, son, and daughter carried on the wind by a majestic bird offers the opportunity to talk about hope with young readers.

Ages 3 – 8

Flying Eye Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1909263994

Learn more about Francesca Sanna and her work on her website!

World Refugee Day Activity

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Learn to Say “Welcome” in Different Languages

 

With this printable Welcome sign, you can learn how to greet others in their native language!

Picture Book Review