Dear Mr. Dickens written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe, published by Albert Whitman & Company.
A Queen to the Rescue written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg, published by Creston Books.
Both of these titles introduce readers to two extraordinary women who spoke and acted against injustices and, consequently, made the world a better place for countless people over generations.
Nancy Churnin recounts in engaging prose a very relevant story in a time when "cancel culture" prevails. In Dear Mr. Dickens, Eliza Davis doesn't have the same platform as Mr. Dickens, but she has the same tools: paper, pen, and a message.
The narrative recognizes all the good Mr. Dickens did to influence better working conditions and more charity, but also clearly states how his words negatively affected the Jewish people. A fan of Mr. Dickens' work, Eliza is very disappointed upon reading Oliver Twist and encountering the unlikeable character of Fagin who is consistently referred to, not by his name, but as "the Jew." Understandably, given Mr. Dickens' influence, she feared that this negative character would further perpetuate the discrimination against Jews at a time when they were already forbidden to work at certain jobs, to vote, or to study, among other things.
Instead of telling everyone around her to stop reading Mr. Dickens' work or even throwing her own book down, Eliza wrote him a letter. Unfortunately, Mr. Dickens wasn't very receptive at first. I appreciate so much how this story illustrates to children, and adults, that more good will come when we give people a chance to learn and grow and become better humans than to simply "cancel" them.
I encourage readers to enter into the inspiring world of this picture book, enhanced by the artwork of Bethany Stancliffe, to experience the life, times, and dilemmas of the 19th century and how the same lessons learned from Mr. Dickens and Eliza Davis continue to be important in our current time.
Imagine that someone (it doesn't have to be a real person) at your school, at your place of worship, or in your community says or does something that makes life harder for someone else. Imagine what that could be... are the girls overlooked when picking teams at recess? Is someone teased for having faith in one thing and not in another? Is there a rule or a law that you find unjust?
Imagine writing a letter to the person whom you perceive to be acting unfairly. What would you say? Could you include a drawing of how life would be better for everyone if the unfairness stopped?
Imagine the positive difference you could make!
A Queen to the Rescue confirms how important stories are to children. Inspired by the story of Esther celebrated each Purim, Henrietta Szold strived to make a positive difference in the world. As a child, she wondered if she could possibly have enough courage to do what Esther did, save her people from Haman's wrath.
As the author describes Henrietta's life from childhood to adulthood, the reader experiences the historical events that influence Henrietta's life choices. From being a school teacher, to founding a night school, to saving thousands of children from Hitler, that period's Haman, readers will be enthralled by Henrietta's courage! Despite risking her own life, not unlike Esther, Henrietta will inspire children to look for the good they can do.
Churnin's talent as a writer is apparent in the way she delicately describes unsettling historical events in balance with her readers' ages. Yevgenia Nayberg's illustrations, which at times reminded me of Marc Chagall's artwork, are gentle but accurate for the events depicted without being shocking.
Henrietta Szold marveled at the story of Esther and her bravery. Have you ever heard the story of someone who was incredibly brave or did something so amazing that you felt like you wanted to do something as brave and extraordinary as they did?
Now, imagine you did!
Write a story or draw pictures to tell a story of something you could do to help make the world a better place for as many people (or animals, of course) as possible.