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

 

 

 

 

December 12 – National Ding-a-Ling Day

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About the Holiday

Since 1972, when Franky Hyle founded the Ding-a-Ling Club, people have celebrated Ding-a-Ling Day by calling up loved ones, friends, and others who they’ve lost touch with to say hi and catch up. These days sending an text or email may be more the thing, but there’s still nothing like hearing a familiar voice excited to reconnect. To celebrate today’s holiday, take a few minutes to call that person you think about sometimes and wonder….

The Lonely Phone Booth

Written by Peter Ackerman | Illustrated by Max Dalton

 

Once there was a corner phone booth in New York City that everyone used: “A businessman always running late for meetings…. A construction foreman who needed cement…. A zookeeper who lost his elephant…. A ballerina who wanted to know if she got the part in Swan Lake…. Even a secret agent who needed to change his disguise.” Sometimes a long line of people waiting to use the phone snaked down the sidewalk, and every week, the phone booth was visited by maintenance workers who kept it shiny clean. The phone booth was happy.

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Image copyright Max Dalton, 2010, courtesy of maxdalton.com.

But one day the phone booth noticed the business man walk right past it while talking on a small, shiny object. The same thing happened with others who always paid a visit to the phone booth. Finally, on Friday, the ballerina popped in, but she was only getting out of the rain while she talked on her small, shiny object. “The phone booth was flabbergasted.” When it found out that the shiny object was a cell phone, “the Phone Booth was devastated.” It worried that no one would need it anymore. And it was right.

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Image copyright Max Dalton, 2010, courtesy of maxdalton.com.

Soon, the maintenance workers stopped coming and the Phone Book began to look shabby, with a cracked window, peeling paint, and a dusty interior. “Even the secret agent changed his disguise in the run-down hotel next door.” The Phone Booth saw other phone booths being taken down and driven away from their posts, and it knew that its turn would come soon too.

Then one day a storm knocked out the power and no one’s cell phones worked. People had no way to let friends and family know they were okay. The construction foreman noticed the old phone booth and wondered if it still worked. A girl scout put in her coins and discovered that it did! A long line formed outside the phone booth as everyone waited to make their calls. “The ballerina called to see if she got the part in Swan Lake. She didn’t. But she did get a part in the Nutcracker.” And the zookeeper let the zoo know that he found the elephant and the West African Dik-Dik in a poker game in the city.

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Image copyright Max Dalton, 2010, courtesy of maxdalton.com.

When the electricity was restored, the Phone Booth was hailed as a hero. It was given a new window and cleaned inside and out. The mayor even put up a plaque. Just then, though, city workers came to take the Phone Booth to the dump. The Phone Booth was afraid. But “the people of the neighborhood spoke up.” They wanted the Phone Booth to stay. “‘What if there’s another storm?’ asked the ballerina. ‘It’s been here forever,’ said the girl scout. ‘It’s been here forever,’ said the construction foreman.”

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Image copyright Max Dalton, 2010, courtesy of maxdalton.com.

Just then the phone in the Phone Booth rang. It was the mayor’s grandmother. She told the mayor that the Phone Booth was a national treasure. The mayor told the city workers that the Phone Booth was staying right where it was. The people of the neighborhood cheered, hugged the Phone Booth, danced around it, and had a party.”

And even now, if you go to West End Avenue and 100th Street, you will find the Phone Booth. Step inside and make a call—”and neither you nor the Phone Booth will be lonely anymore.”

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Image copyright Max Dalton, 2010, courtesy of maxdalton.com.

Peter Ackerman’s humorous love letter to the phone booths—and one particular Phone Booth—that once dotted corners, lobbies, shopping areas, and transportation offices in every city may be a revelation to kids, but the personalities who use the phone are familiar and funny, making The Lonely Phone Booth a timeless story. With realistic dialogue and running jokes and appearances by the neighborhood characters, the story flows along like a good connection to its tender ending that gives a nostalgic nod to remembering and embracing history.

In his bright, retro illustrations, Max Dalton infuses the story with the sights, sounds, and flavor of New York. Squared-off four-door sedans, a square-jawed businessman, a rounded construction worker, a triangular clown, and a host of diverse neighborhood personalities harken back to a time when cellphone tech was new. Kids who have never seen a phone booth may well wonder if they’re missing out on a bit of old-fashioned fun.

Ages 4 – 7

David R. Godine, 2010 | ISBN 978-1567924145

To learn more about Max Dalton, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Ding-a-Ling Day Activity

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Telephone Tie-Up Puzzle

 

These kids want to use a telephone. Can you follow the tangled wires to find a phone for each child in this Telephone Tie-Up Puzzle?

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You can find The Lonely Phone Booth at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review