Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Food For Body And Soul

During the winter months thoughts turn to the giving of gifts; a tradition observed in several celebrations throughout the world.  Freely given these presents bring happiness not only to the recipient but to the giver as well.  In fact, a kindness bestowed upon another any time of the year, especially when it's unexpected, brings joy to both parties.

If your day, week, month, year or even longer has been filled with darkness, the smallest light can trigger hope; even changing the way you view your situation or perceptions of others.  Gifts from the Enemy (White Cloud Press/The HumanKIND Project, June 17, 2014) written by Trudy Ludwig with illustrations by Craig Orback,

based on From a Name to a Number: A Holocaust Survivor's Autobiography by Alter Wiener,

allows readers to travel back in time to the country of Poland during the late 1930s into the mid-1940s.  For those under the rule of German leader Adolf Hitler, especially those on his hate list, these years were filled with constant fear.

There are those who say that what I've lived through never happened.  But I'm here to tell you that it did.  My name is Alter Wiener and I am an ordinary person with an extraordinary past.

Alter begins his story by listing modern conveniences of today and citing the lack of them during his childhood.  To be sure life was simpler but his home was brimming with love.  His family honored the traditions of their Jewish faith.  Two important memories are of his mother's baked challah, a braided bread, served at the beginning of Sabbath and of both his parent's charitable supplying of food to those in need.

This life he knew changed drastically on September 1, 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland trapping thousands of people in their own country.  The years he turned 13, 14 and 15 are forever marked with great personal loss of life and freedom.  Over months and years he was imprisoned and transported to and from a series of labor camps.  Most days he knew he was still alive from the pain in his stomach due to lack of food.

One of his assignments was working in a factory in Germany.  On the wall, posted for everyone to see, was a sign which read:

Do not look at the prisoners.
Do not talk to the prisoners.
Do not give anything to the prisoners.
If you do, you will be DOOMED.

Quite by surprise one day a woman caught his eye.  When she was sure he was looking, she silently pointed to a nearby box.  Beneath the box was a bread and cheese sandwich; a feast for a starving young man.

This gift was freely given at great risk to the giver.  This gift not only provided food for Alter Wiener's body but for his soul.  Alter Wiener worked in this factory for thirty days.  What do you think this woman did?  Why did she do this?  Did Alter Wiener ever find her after the war ended?  Human hearts are a puzzle.  Thankfully you never know when one will be called upon to act.

Using Alter Wiener's voice to tell this story makes it more relevant for the intended audience.  Choosing to include the basics of everyday life as well as significant familial activities, religious practices and giving food to those who have little, brings greater understanding to readers.  It creates a sharp contrast to the events which follow but also, in my way of thinking, makes the resulting goodness of the German woman even more powerful.  Trudy Ludwig wants us to know what was before, during and after the occupation.

Each of her sentences is designed to bring us into these life-changing moments of Alter Wiener's life.  Not only do we see them through his eyes but we are privy to his thoughts.  It's as if he is sitting across from us telling this story.

Rendered in oil paints Craig Orback introduces readers to Alter Wiener on the matching dust jacket and book case creating a new image of him holding the sandwich on the front and on the back a closer picture of him lying in bed wondering why the woman helped him.  Although the food did not glow, by adding the light readers are keenly aware of its implications to the boy.  The next illustration, in the interior, is of an elder Wiener holding a snapshot of him as a youth.  It, like many in this title, crosses the gutter spanning a page and half of another.  To the left of this visual is the verso.

When people are featured in his pictures Orback pays close attention to their facial expressions, using light and shadow to great effect.  His layout and perspective in any given scene draw our eyes to the main focus whether it's in the center of the image or off to the left or right.  A subdued darker color palette used throughout is indicative of the story but a glow is added when the narrative shifts.

One of my favorite illustrations is of Alter Wiener eating the newly discovered sandwich.  It looks as though he is sitting in a secluded bare room but light is shining in from a nearby window illuminating the lower portion of his face, his hands and upper body.  A hopeful smile adds a sparkle to his eyes.

Gifts from the Enemy written by Trudy Ludwig with illustrations by Craig Orback is an important book.  Authenticity in the words and pictures provides a rich experience for readers sure to generate questions, more research and countless discussions.  A one page afterword is provided by Alter Wiener.  It is followed by a brief explanation of the Holocaust and World War II, a vocabulary list, questions for discussion, and recommended activities.

To learn more about Trudy Ludwig, Craig Orback and this book, please follow the links embedded in their names to access their websites.

Please stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see what other titles bloggers have read for the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge this week.


  1. This looks incredible Margie. Thanks for such a detailed review.

    1. It is exactly the kind of book I think you would like to use in your classroom. And you are welcome. I love when the world works this way and we get to read the stories.