HIDDEN HOPES: A Holocaust Story of Resistance and Secrecy



By Elisa Boxer
Illustrator Amy June Bates

Picture Book, Nonfiction, 2023

Abrams Books for Young Readers

World War II, France, Resistance


That attractive teenage girl on the cover is clutching a wooden duck toy. Doesn’t that strike you as odd? It certainly seemed so to me, especially in times of the utmost suspicions and inspections: during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. But Jacqueline Gauthier’s story, her assumed name, and false professional identity made the toy duck more plausible.

In this lesser-known story of Holocaust resistance, the opening pages reveal the harsh truth of search, capture, and arrests of French Jews through compelling short lines and full-spread illustrations on shadow-toned matte pages. Both the text and scenes convey the threats,  emotions, and stress of living in those days. Readers are several pages inTo this well-anchored account, experiencing that time and space, before reading the words “toy duck” or resistance network. Or the name of this historic figure. In fact, that is not her real name.

She was, in fact, Judith Geller. Her false name, counterfeit paperwork,  and instance that she was a caring French citizen, not Jewish, allowed her to take a job as a “social worker”, of sorts, even though a teen. She was serving families with young children during a crushing poverty and restrictions. After the Germans invaded her homeland, the French government quickly dropped their defenses and cooperated with the Nazi demands, including turning over French citizens, men, women, and children who happened to be Jewish. This is despite France’s political history of being the first and longest-lasting country in Europe to guarantee everyone of every background equality, brotherhood, and freedom. That included Jews.

Jacqueline/Judith biked countless kilometers throughout  the streets and roadways within and around Paris, using the toy duck (and its’ secret compartment) to smuggle false papers to hidden Jewish people of many ages. She even led some groups across the mountains to the south of France for safety in Spain. Incidents describe how she was stopped and searched, but returned to more of her dangerous work. That included pasting VIVE LA FRANCE posters across Swastika signs throughout the city. She saved members of her own family,  total strangers, and her own life.

Jacqueline/Judith’s story is revealed in even greater detail in an author’s note and the illustrator’s note, and I devoured those details. Even so, the lyrical, breathtaking narrative and wrenching images told her story with even more power. That bike she rode, that mission she followed, those shoulders and head pushing ever forward revealed her race against death as she pedaled every single day,  with little or no sleep, and surrounded by constant risk of discovery.

That toy duck with the hidden hollow for life-saving documents is now displayed at the Holocaust (Shoah) museum in Israel, where Judith and her story are also honored. This outstanding nonfiction picture book profile will help readers of other generations vicariously experience the impact of one person’s courage and determination on lives and the generations that followed.

A quote by Judith Geller closes the artist’s note and poses a current challenge:

“Today you will certainly find it foolish to risk your life.

But at that time, everything, every little rebellion was important.”

THE LUCKY ONES: An Unforgettable Read




by Linda Williams Jackson

Candlewick, 9781536222555, 320pp.
Publication Date: April 19, 2022

Description from Indiebound.org:

“Award-winning author Linda Williams Jackson pulls from her own childhood in the Mississippi Delta to tell the story of Ellis Earl, who dreams of a real house, food enough for the whole family—and to be someone.”


This book has been on my radar for a while now, but I had not read it until last week. That’s a year out of my life that I will not get back to recommend it to kids and others.

Since the era portrayed is one I lived, I’m in denial about defining this as historical fiction, which it undoubtedly is. In fact, I recently noted an academic conversation about a book based in the 1990s which was also defined as historical fiction. I need to get over myself and identify that this book and the story it offers has standing (and deserves honor) among the other titles I’ve shared here.

Ellis Earl is an unforgettable character whose time and place in American history is rarely shared. Stories about the Civil Rights era and heroes tend to focus on historically familiar situations and folks, from Ruby Bridges to Rosa Parks to MLK, Jr. himself. Most that I’ve read, and I’ve read quite a few, focus on denials of school access, or interracial struggles and conflicts, or the politics of change. Or all of the above.

In this case, though, the story is one lesser know except to those who lived in such conditions, m especially in the deep South: isolation, destructive levels of poverty, overcrowding, all-Black schools with teachers who heroically pursued better lives for their students, and the ways in which laws were changed for the better but were actively denied within small towns and regions of the country that were common outside the spotlight. This was especially (and life-threateningly) true in the Mississippi Delta. Author Jackson drew on her own memories as well as her awareness that hers (and theirs) was hidden history to generate this remarkable and important novel.

Ellis Earl’s family members and their struggle to survive in the poverty areas of Mississippi after Civil Rights laws and anti-poverty programs were in place is unforgettable. It’s an indictment of willfully ignoring human rights as seen through the eyes and lives of Ellis Earl and his family and community. Locals applied changing laws and judicial orders and programs of support selectively, in racist ways that  will be eye-opening. The reality of systemic racism is demonstrated without finger-pointing or personifying individual “evil” groups or characters. Rather, the impact of social actions/inactions speak for themselves in their impact, connecting with readers who will care deeply for the lives revealed.

Despite the struggle and injustice of circumstances, though, the story itself glows with hope, optimism, and individual growth. The surprising and satisfying element, which feels entirely credible, is the way in which one teacher and one “kid” are able to move the dial on Ellis Earl’s own life and on the lives of his family. Make no mistake, though. Even characters with minor roles play significant parts in the unfolding of the story. Each is distinct and appears as an individual with wants and needs, hopes and dreams, and circumstances that could, SHOULD,  be improved.

Ellis Earl’s point of view reveals to readers from any background an opportunity to reflect on their own feelings about friends, family, self-image, and setting goals.

Starting today, and making up for lost time: highly recommend.

Author Interview: Anna Rose Johnson


By Anna Rose Johnson

MG/YA Historical Novel, 2022




Holiday House,

ISBN: 978-0-8234-5040-4  $17.99

July 12, 2022

Ages 8-12



I was delighted to hear that the author of THE STAR THAT ALWAYS STAYS, Anna Rose Johnson, was willing to reply to some interview questions. I reviewed it earlier in 2022, but it merits another round of praise for its compelling characters, distinctive setting and perspectives, and much-needed authentic voices from Indigenous history in this country. If you missed my review, you can learn more about my thoughts about the book HERE, and the thoughts of other reviewers HERE with a Kirkus review HERE.

Then check out Anna Rose’s replies to my questions below.

SB: Welcome, and thank you for spending some time with readers here, Anna Rose. And congratulations on your debut novel, especially one that is so close to your heart and reaches readers’ hearts so effectively.

SB: A main interest of mine in requesting this interview was to clarify how much of Norvia’s family’s stories were floating through your youth and earlier life. In other words, when you discovered those papers and details as an adult (described in back matter)  did they “click” with various things you had heard in bits of family lore, or was it nearly all new and stunning to you?

ARJ: I already knew quite a bit about Norvia when I began to write the first draft of the novel, but my further research deepened my knowledge of her family and details about her life. It was indeed quite stunning to dig deeper and come to know her better as a person while looking through her photo albums and finding newspaper articles about her.

SB: I can hardly imagine how excited you must have been at various points in this journey. It must have felt like “meeting” family members from your past!

Which brings me to my next question: The named children and family members are so vividly developed and each has individual appeal (and roles) throughout the story. How did you land on their distinct personalities? Were there hints among those discoveries? From personal experiences with siblings and parents that you wove into these new characters? Or?

ARJ: This book went through many drafts, so I came to know the characters better as I refined the story. Dicta evolved a great deal from the first draft to the book that readers can now hold in their hands, as did Vernon. Basically, I knew I needed to have an array of distinctive characters around Norvia, especially as a contrast to her shy, introverted self. I wanted her siblings to be a bit more talkative, if only to keep moving the story forward! I definitely found hints for their personalities while learning more about Norvia’s siblings. (Judging from Dicta’s high school yearbook, she was a very vivacious person!)

SB: Again, these insights and discoveries must have run the gamut of emotional reactions. I’ll admit that Dicta’s energy was very appealing and did work very effectively to keep the pace going throughout!  You’re siblings are often foils, but she rose to her own identity with much appeal.

I was so pleased to read about your Ojibwe heritage, and admire how it served as such a rich resource for writing this book, including Anishinaabemowin: Ojibwe Language. Have you heard from children and families who are gratified to find your book incorporates language and culture so rarely represented? (Those may be native heritage folk or not? I (as a non-Native)  am very happy to have this book to share with kids and family.)

ARJ: I’ve definitely heard from readers who were delighted to find this representation in the book—people are very interested in reading more stories with Native characters, and I’m happy to be able to deliver that.

SB: I so enjoyed reading about native families in (then) contemporary times, living in urban settings, immersed in the dominant culture (with all its challenges and prejudices) rather than in an isolated or stereotypical community.

Your admiration of and familiarity with classic novels and compelling young women characters who were coming of age is clear. I loved the literary references throughout your story and recognized that as an authentic form of “pop culture” of its time. Did you ever, in your real life, draw on those literary inspirations in dealing with your own actual adolescent challenges? Anything you would share?

Related… Are there characters in books with contemporary stories who inspire you, too?

ARJ: I deeply dislike change, and I recall a time when I was a teenager that I drew inspiration from What Katy Did at School in order to embrace a change in my life. Contemporary stories have definitely inspired my own writing, particularly the marvelous Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall.

SB: Yay, PENDERWICKS series! I was not familiar with WHAT KATY DID AT SCHOOL. (Both are actively linked in your response for readers to learn more). I plan to check out KATY!

Now that this story of your heart is an actual book, one that MANY young readers will find, thanks to being a Junior Literary Guild Selection (congratulations!) what are your deepest hopes for it?

ARJ: My hope is that young readers come away feeling joyful, regardless of what’s happening in their life at the moment!

SB: Thank you, Anna Rose, and my hope is that many readers will find it enjoy it, wanting to tell friends and encourage others to read it, too. It entertains, which is always the essential requirement, but it also engages the heart and informs the mind and our ssnse of commonly-assumed history.

Some Holiday Reading! From the Cutting Room Floor… Bjorn’s Gift Passage

Happy holidays to one and all.

Here’s an Icelandic tradition I heard about many years ago.

“Jolabokaflod is one of the most unique and charming Iceland Christmas traditions. The people of Iceland celebrate it on Christmas Eve. Jolabokaflod translates into “Christmas Book Flood.” The tradition is to give or receive new books on Christmas Eve. It’s not just about the giving though—it’s also about the reading!”  (from ARCTIC ADVENTURES website, HERE)

With Christmas Eve on hand, I was inspired to share a very short bit of reading fun for all of you. It’s been quite a while since I shared any “bonus” passages from “the cutting room floor” related to my Norway World War II resistance trilogy.  If you have a few spare minutes during these busy days you may enjoy reading  it. Here’s the first few lines of a chapter that was not revised but entirely eliminated from the final BJORN’S GIFT (Book 2 of the trilogy, the year of transition):

This is a chapter (related to several others) that never appeared in the final:

“By late summer Mari felt more confident treating simple injuries and illnesses. Most days she would get the laundry washed and hung outside, then hurry to the clinic in the doctor’s parlor. She checked and treated patients with simple complaints on her own, and made others comfortable until the doctor could see them.

One morning when things quieted down, she hurried home to fold laundry and start ironing. The soldiers hadn’t yet returned from their patrol and the sheets weren’t dry, so she went to the cellar to write to Bjorn. Her days were passing in a blur, but she’d sort out highlights to catch him up.

She opened the hidden door and pulled the string on the bulb.

A hand covered her mouth, and she felt her arm twist behind her back.

After a moment the grip on her wrist eased a bit, but she couldn’t wiggle free.

‘Don’t scream. I won’t hurt you.'”

If you find yourself intrigued, the full chapter can be downloaded Cutting Room Floor.BG.Cellar Secrets

I hope you’ll read on first as I  share thoughts about WHY and HOW this chapter (and the essential aspects of of the setting) never made it into the book.

Philip Martin was an incredibly talented, kind, and supportive editor, publisher, story coach, and friend. (Read more about him HERE). He shepherd me through the publication of my debut novel, ODIN’S PROMISE. I then worked with him to research, develop, and write the two books that became the sequel to a story that was never intended to be more than the original first year of Norway occupation. By the time he had read these lines above, I had drafted a full single sequel, after which I realized (without needing his help) that the idea of depicting four years of Mari’s growth and the changes in her life in a single volume made no sense. At that point I asked Phil’s advice about a potential two-book approach. Without any promise of publication, he listened through my rough ideas and urged me to write it/them. That’s when BJORN’S GIFT emerged.

This passage landing on “the cutting room floor” did not occur until the entire second book was written and refined, was under contract, and was nearing final stages. At that time one of Phil’s concerns related to his thorough analysis of some ways in which the approach was not working well. This is an example of a hair-pulling moment in a writer’s life. Our conversation involved me supporting WHY this was the way to go, and Phil raising questions and concerns about each element of my arguments. Note, he was not demanding a change, but rather exploring other ways to write the many aspects of this character, setting, and role in the story by considering  alternatives. Every thing he pointed out about the footprint of this and related scenes within the overall story made sense (dang it!). Our brainstorming and discussions led me to attempt a revision, which DID reach the published book.

This was only one (powerful) example of the many ways in which Phil provided the guidance and insights that grew me as a writer, storyteller, and analyst of my own writing. Let it be known that in several cases, such conversations and coaching did NOT lead to full revisions, but many others did. What I always felt from Phil was respect for my writing, for the integrity of the characters and story, and for potential readers. His guiding light was always focused on making the end results (my writing, the reading experience, and the book itself) their absolute best.

I have worked with other fine and inspiring editors, but Phil will set the high bar by which I say that.

I hope you’ll enjoy the not-used short segment of that “near-final” writing, and also find other reading that will fill your holidays. It is my wish for each of you that you remember and treasure those in your own lives who have supported and encouraged you, helping you become your best selves.

Readers and their feedback always do this for me, too, and I thank you all for that.

Happy holidays!


Packing for Hurricane Ian? Include Books.

Nothing about this short post is meant to make light of the very dangerous, potentially deadly impact of HURRICANE IAN heading toward Florida. Those likely to be most affected have prepared “go bags”, shutters, escape plans, etc. Take good care, everyone, to ready those essentials first. But if there are children within your planning circle, or if your plans include sheltering in a designated public space, consider tucking a picture book or two into your bag. If you don’t have these titles on hand, choose any favorite(s). The comforting experience of a caring voice sharing familiar words, images, and characters is beyond measure.

My own recent picture book, IS IT OVER? recognizes fear of storms as transcending age, gender, and addresses our inability to personally control outcomes. But it celebrates the power of story and imagination as paths to comfort and hope during the deepest of worries. And, of course, love and trust are reassuring ingredients.

From prior posts on my picture book blog, UNPACKING THE POWER OF PICTURE BOOKS, there are more suggestions for titles that allow young (and old) audiences to encounter threatening storms, and worse, vicariously, learning that humans and nature itself will survive extreme  weather. Click each title for a short review/summary and find a title-click book link to purchase.

By the way, libraries are priceless sources for countless more related books, both fiction and nonfiction, and are sometimes designated safe shelters during emergency conditions. What a grace to find yourself among such comfort when times are at their worst.

OVER IN THE WETLANDS by Caroline Starr Rose is set in bayou country during a hurricane and has the lilting language and sprawling scenes that will both inform and soothe. Re-readings will be welcome, too, as a bedtime story.

As I mentioned, books that provide a sense of HOPE throughout struggles will be especially welcome, and I suspect there will be many an eager adult ear turning toward those who read aloud to the young ones.

More examples  include TOGETHER WE GROW: Building a Peaceable Kingdom in which Nature’s threats form the common thread that pulls even instinctive enemies into common company and comfort. NOAH BUILDS AN ARK has a similar story trajectory while safely tucked into a familiar scene in a child’s yard.

And HERE’S a post that links/reviews several recent picture books involving storms.

My hopes for safety for all go with this post. For those not immediately affected by Hurricane Ian’s threats, sharing these books will lay a foundation of emotional security in children before circumstances might make them feel intensely vulnerable.

And aren’t we all, really, intensely vulnerable?