July 20 – Celebrating Park and Recreation Month with Chana Stiefel

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Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 25 books for children, both fiction and nonfiction. Her most recent picture book is LET LIBERTY RISE (illustrated by Chuck Groenink, Scholastic, 2021), the true story of how children helped build the Statue of Liberty. Her next nonfiction picture book, THE TOWER OF LIFE, is the biography of Yaffa Eliach, a Jewish historian and survivor of the Holocaust who rebuilt her village in stories and photos to create the Tower of Faces in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC (illustrations by Susan Gal, Scholastic, 2022). Other picture books by Chana include MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH!, illustrated by Mary Sullivan (HMH, 2019) and DADDY DEPOT, illustrated by Andy Snair (Feiwel & Friends, 2017).

You can connect with Chana Stiefel on Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Welcome, Chana! I’m really glad to have you joining me for a one-question interview this summer! As the Statue of Liberty National Monument is part of the National Park System, Let Liberty Rise! is a perfect book for celebrating Park and Recreation month, which encourages people to get out and enjoy America’s beautiful national parks and all they have to offer. 

I know how much you love to connect with your readers. Can you talk about a poignant thing that happened during one of your visits this year?

My newest picture book Let Liberty Rise! How America’s Schoolchildren Helped Save the Statue of Liberty (illustrated by Chuck Groenink) launched from Scholastic on March 2nd. Soon afterward, I received a phone call from the youth director at a local synagogue asking if I’d be interested in doing an in-person reading to children on a Circle Line Cruise to the Statue of Liberty.

I nearly dropped the phone. 

“It will be socially distanced and everyone will be masked,” she said. “The event will be on Passover [the holiday of freedom]. Maybe you can talk to the kids about the meaning of liberty?”

“So let me get this straight,” I replied. “You’re asking if I would like to read my book about the history of the Statue of Liberty to children in front of the statue herself?” Having received my second vaccine, my answer was an emphatic, “YES! OMG, YES!” 

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On April 1st, anchors away! My family and I joined over 100 people on the Circle Line’s maiden cruise in the wake of the Coronavirus, including Jim Morgan, owner of the Curious Reader bookshop, who helped me with a book signing. For the first time since the pandemic began, I shared with children (real, live children!) the story of how, in 1885, school children contributed their hard-earned pennies to build the pedestal of America’s most beloved statue. 

And then, there we were! Floating on a boat at the base of the Statue of Liberty. It was magical.

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On our return to dock, I shared with the children the story of my late mother-in-law, Hannelore Guthof Stiefel, who escaped Nazi Germany as a young child. She arrived with her parents in New York City in 1941. One of our family’s most cherished possessions is a full page of the Journal American newspaper from October 24, 1943. It shows 11-year-old Hannelore in a red and white striped dress as a new immigrant standing with her classmates in front of the Statue of Liberty! Hannelore grew up and married my father-in-law Arnold Stiefel, also a German Jewish immigrant, who then returned to Germany as an American soldier. They moved to Bergenfield, NJ, where they became the 18th family to join Congregation Bnai Yeshurun (CBY)—the very same synagogue that invited me on the boat cruise. CBY, by the way, now has over 600 families! 

So there you have it: At the tail end of this terrible pandemic, a live reading to children at the base of the Statue of Liberty with my family’s immigration story.

Talk about liberty!

What a fabulous, unforgettable experience – for you and the kids! Thanks so much for sharing it and your wonderful pictures! 

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Let Liberty Rise! How America’s Schoolchildren Helped Save the Statue of Liberty

Written by Chana Stiefel | Illustrated by Chuck Groenink

 

When Lady Liberty arrived in New York after a long voyage from France, her unassembled parts sat in crates instead of standing tall over the harbor. Why? No one wanted to pay for the pedestal needed to give her a strong foundation. Upset about people’s disinterest, Joseph Pulitzer announced that he would publish the names of every person who donated to the cause – no matter how much or how little they gave. Children answered the call, and their pennies, nickels, and dimes rolled in, eventually adding up to the $100,000 needed to build the pedestal.

Now everyone could see America’s monument to “freedom and hope,” and the Statue of Liberty welcomed the immigrants who sailed to our shores in steamships from around the world. Today, Lady Liberty still stands “thanks to the contributions of people all across America — and children just like you.” 

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Image copyright Chuck Groenink, 2021, text copyright Chana Stiefel, 2021. Courtesy of Scholastic.

Chana Stiefel raises children’s empowerment, excitement, and pride in what they can achieve in her uplifting true story of how children were instrumental in building the foundation for the Statue of Liberty. Her straightforward, conversational storytelling shines and the inclusion of quotes from children’s letters at the time will impress and charm today’s kids. 

Chuck Groenink’s delightful mixed-media illustrations inform readers on every page about the time period surrounding, the personalities involved in, and the scale of the project to build the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. Images of kids donating their hard-earned change, knitting socks to sell, sacrificing candy and trips to the circus, and creating special clubs to raise money will remind today’s charitable readers that they are carrying on a proud tradition to make a difference to their community and their country. 

Ages 6 – 9

Scholastic Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1338225884

Discover more about Chana Steifel and her books on her website.

You can learn more about Chuck Groenink, his books, and his art on his website.

Check out these other picture books and middle grade books by Chana!

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You can find Let Liberty Rise! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 15 – It’s Geography Awareness Week

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was instituted in 1994 by National Geographic to get people excited about geography and its importance to education and everyday life. As defined by National Geographic, geography is “the study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.” This discipline includes how humans interact with the environment and the impact of location on people. These important questions affect a wide range of issues. More than 100,000 people across the country participate in Geography Awareness Week through special events, focused lessons and activities in classrooms, and attention by government and business policy-makers. To learn more about the week and discover resources for further education, visit the National Geographic website.

Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island

By Jennifer Thermes

 

Jennifer Thermes’ phenomenal work of history and geography begins on the front and back endpapers, where a detailed and tagged map of Manhattan, with its gridded streets and unique landmarks awaits investigation. But how did it become this bustling world leader? Thermes reveals that even from its formation millions of years ago as a sheltered bit of land, fed by both fresh and salt water, the island “bubbled with life.” Continuing on from this lyrical beginning, Thermes’ love for New York shines on every exquisite page.

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Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

Alternating between sweeping vistas of the island, immersive images of major events, and meticulous maps—complete with tiny homes and buildings, people at work and play, and hand-lettered street names—that show the growth of the city, Thermes presents a feast for the eyes. Her full-bleed, oversized illustrations, rendered in a gorgeous color palette, create in themselves a comprehensive overview of history seen through changing clothing, transportation, and home styles to name just a few telling elements. Studying the maps, a reader can’t be faulted for feeling as if they might come to life at any moment.

She introduces readers to the Lenape, who for thousands of years called the island home. They named it “Mannahatta, which means ‘island of many hills.’” As the seasons changed, the people moved from one part of the island to another, establishing villages “with names like Sapokanikan and Shroakapok and fishing, farming, and foraging for “what they needed and nothing more.”

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Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

Thermes then follows explorer Henry Hudson, whose reports back home about the island’s riches would change the island forever. She marks historical periods from 1625 to today with elegant banners that give the dates and changing names for this coveted landmass. Thermes’ storytelling eloquently reveals the complexity of the island’s development from canals dug and filled in, expansion of its width with landfill that included “rocks and earth, broken crockery, oyster shells, wood from old shipwrecks, rotting garbage, and even dead animals” to the adoption of the grid system.

The impact of slavery, the divides between rich and poor, the influence of business and industry, and the continual effects of modernization are woven throughout Thermes’ pages, sometimes coalescing as in the story of Collect Pond, once “the island’s best source of fresh water,” which became, in turn, the site of a cemetery for free Africans, polluted by “breweries, tanneries, and slaughterhouses,” a neighborhood for the wealthy, an area plagued by gangs and violence, and finally, in 2006, a national monument commemorating the old African Burial Ground. Each clearly articulated description gives readers a robust and eye-opening history of this city that is in many ways a microcosm of America.

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Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

With the Revolutionary War behind them and a new nation in front, people thronged to what was now New York, New York, U.S.A. With much rebuilding needed, “Shipbuilders, sailmakers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and all kinds of artisans crowded the city again…. The city on the island was branching out in all directions. It needed a plan.” The plan came in the form of a grid system. The execution of the plan saw the island’s hills leveled, new roads built and old roads straightened, houses in the way torn down, and people relocated. When the dust settled, “the city commissioners had thought it would take centuries to fill the grid with buildings. It only took sixty years.”

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Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

The Great Fire of 1835, the building of Central Park, the history of immigration, the gilded age of the late 1800s, and the Great Blizzard of 1888, which spurred the building of the subway, are a few more of the events readers will learn about. As an island, Manhattan’s story is also written its bridges, and everyone knows the names of the famous skyscrapers that make the city’s skyline unique. Stirring images of these landmarks are here too.

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Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

The city continues to be changed by environmental events, such as Hurricane Sandy of 2012, and buoyed by improvements like the cleaning of the Bronx River that has prompted beavers to return “for the first time in more than two hundred years.” As Thermes says in conclusion: “Reminders are everywhere that through centuries of constant change humans and nature will always exist together. And beneath the city’s concrete crust, the island endures.”

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Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

A stunning achievement, Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island is a must addition to home, school, and classroom collections. This is a book that readers will want to dip into again and again to discover all it has to offer. Opportunities for cross-curricular lessons abound from history to geography, language arts to math, art and architecture to environmental science, and beyond. Manhattan makes a wonderful gift for children and teachers and, of course, for any New York lover of any age.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Harry N. Abrams, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419736551

To learn more about Jennifer Thermes, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Geography Day Activity

CPB - Map Day II

Map Jigsaw Puzzle

 

Sometimes reading a map is like putting together a puzzle—so why not make a puzzle out of a map? It can be fun to use a map of your town or state or to use a map of a state or country you’d like to visit!

Supplies

  • Small to medium size map (maps are often offered free at tourist stops, town halls, or other tourist information offices or racks)
  • Poster board
  • Glue
  • Scissors

CPB - Map Day

Directions

  1. Use the entire map or cut a desired-sized section from a map
  2. Glue the map to the poster board, let dry
  3. Cut the map from the poster board
  4. Cut the map into puzzle sections, these can be straight-sided sections or ones with interconnecting parts.

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You can find Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review