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Home / Bookbag: 3 new books for young readers that offer hope
Spring is always a bustling time, but this spring feels more busy, more bustling, more humming with various energies. We are slowly peeking out of our COVID shells. Palisades-Kepler State Park is now open so we can walk in the woods. And we are looking for signs of hope along with spring flowers.
What better place to look for justice and hope than in books? This month we have three books that offer various kinds of hope.
The first, “The All-Together Quilt” (Random House, 2020; $17.99) written and illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell tells the true story of the Norwalk Community Quilt Project.
“Jennifer and her friends meet on Fridays at the community center. They are making a quilt. Everyone works together.” Children and adults of all races and ages select fabrics, cut them into shapes, stitch them into squares, and stitch the squares together. Jennifer and Fran use light and dark triangles to make a square. Richard and Maurice use light and dark rectangles to make a square. Then we see a beautiful spread with eight different squares made by eight multigenerational pairs. Then there’s Naika. “Naika works on one blue square” — a peace sign. Naika is twelve years old, and her peace sign goes in the center of the quilt. The border of this quilt is a collage of handprints, stamped by each participant. When done, the quilt is hung in the Norwalk Library for all to see and enjoy.
This is a spare book, the uncomplicated story of a community sewing a quilt, but it is rewarding to readers who watch the quilt take shape. (The front end papers are the various fabrics used in the quilt. The back end papers feature a description of the fabrics and a photo of the actual quilt). This story reminds us of the joys of working together, the joys of sticking with a long process, and the good feeling of giving a gift to the community. And it makes me want to get out the sewing machine.
We go back in time for the other books on this month’s list. “Bear and Fred: A World War II Story” (Amazon Crossing, 2020; $17.99), written by Iris Argaman, illustrated by Avi Ofer, and translated from Hebrew by Annette Appel.
This tender book tells the true story of Fred, a Jewish child during World War II. It is narrated by Bear, Fred’s teddy bear. Fred and Bear started out in Delft, Holland. Bear tells us, “Fred loved me more than any other toy. He took me everywhere he went.” Then the family had to leave their home and go into hiding. At the last minute Fred tucks Bear into his knapsack. The family goes to Amsterdam and Fred is left with his grandfather while the rest of his family finds another place to hide. Soon, Grandfather has to sew yellow stars to their clothing. Fred’s Mama is worried that being identified as a Jew will endanger Fred and she takes him from Grandfather’s. Fred’s Mama knocks on the door of a stranger, makes up a story about a flooded house, an ill husband, and asks the housewife to keep Fred. She agrees. Fred stays inside, talks only to Bear. He whispers to Bear at night, “that the world was a scary place and that he was lucky to have me, because I was his best friend.”
After the war Fred and his family were reunited. Eventually they moved to America. When Fred was an adult, a woman from the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem called Fred and asked if he would loan Bear to the museum. “Fred held me in both of his hands and said, ’Bear, we’ve been together for as long as I can remember. You are my very best friend. You watched over me in hard times. Are you willing to go?’ I agreed.”
I love this story for so many reasons — the kindness of the unnamed woman who took Fred in, the power of a child to find love in a mended bear. There is so much more to this world than we realize.
And so much more than we remember. “Northbound A Train Ride out of Segregation” (Candlewick, 2020; $17.99), written by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein and illustrated by James. E. Ransome, takes us along with Michael as he and his Grandma go from Alabama to Ohio to visit cousins in the early 1960s. Michael tells us the conductor directs them to the “colored only” train car. Still, Michael is excited to be on this speeding train as it passes farms and town, zips through tunnels and over bridges. When his Grandma falls asleep he is eager to explore the train, but he can’t leave the “colored only” car.
As they pull out of the Atlanta train station the conductor takes down the “colored only” sign. Then a white boy comes into Michael’s car and introduces himself. “’I’m Bobby Ray,’ he said.” Bobby Ray asks Michael if he wants to explore, and Grandma says it’s OK. They find the dining car, the sleeping cars, and end up back in Bobby Ray’s car. They learn that they are the same age, live in the same town, and like playing with the same “green army men.” But they haven’t met because the elementary schools are segregated.
When they get to Tennessee the signs go back up again and Michael has to leave Bobby Ray’s car, but Bobby Ray gives his new friend a drawing — "white folk sitting next to black folk in the same train car.”
And this spring, we are all on the same train car, looking for hope, calling for change, walking the streets, reading the books that give us strength.
Jacqueline Briggs Martin of Mount Vernon writes books for children, including “Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Re-Mix” and “Creekfinding.”