No matter how you look at it you are going to need tissues for this one.  This is a moving tender historical fiction you will remember long after you have finished reading.

Stefania’s dancing slippers

Author:  Jennifer Beck

Illustrator:  Lindy Fisher

Publisher:  Scholastic in November 2007

Age:  6 years and up

Theme:  Cultural, Courage, Separation, confinement, war

Opening Line:  Stefania loved to dance.  When she was five years old her parents gave her a special gift – a pair of dancing slippers.  Stefania’s father had shaped the soles from the softest deerskin, and her mother had embroidered the uppers with brightly coloured thread and shiny beads.  “For Christmas, I’ll make you a dancing costume,” her mother promised.

Synopsis:  Five  year old Stefania never got to have her dancing costume. War came to Poland and her father went away to fight and Stefania and her mother were moved into a work camp in Russia where they endured hardships and worked during the war. Eventually allowed to move south they were separated and Stefania found herself shipped to New Zealand.  Years later she hears news of her father.

Here is the explanatory note from the author and illustrator that appears at the end of the book:

The Polish Children of Pahiatua

On 1 November 1944, over 700 Polish refugee children and their caregivers were welcomed to New Zealand. These were the survivors of an epic wartime journey that had begun years before, on the far side of the world.

Unlike most of the children who greeted them, they had known deportation, loss, starvation and homelessness. They carried a few possessions in a bundle under their arms. Any personal links with their past were treasured.

Over sixty years later, when we read and listened to the stories of some of these people, we were moved by the hardship they had endured, and the ways in which they had found the strength to survive. We marvelled at the faith, beauty and hope that sustain humanity in difficult times. As a result, we wanted to share their story so that it could be understood by children today.

Although set against the background of war, this is a story of courage, love, and the strength of family ties. These themes are extended in the concepts and details of the paintings. 

Stefania is a fictional character who represents some of those children who brought the face of war to New Zealand that day. Her dancing slippers are a fragile symbol of positive qualities which endure despite the harshness of war.  “Choose one thing that’s most precious to you. That’s all we can take.”

And on the Back of the Book:

Stefania’s choice helps bring her comfort through years of hardship, separation, and a journey of thousands of miles.  Set against a background of war, this is a story of courage and love, brought to life by award-winning team, Jennifer Beck and lindy Fisher.

Why I like this story:  Because it moves me, has depth and feeling, although there is a sadness there is also joy. This kind of story one cannot put down until finished.

As a member of an Austrian cultural dance group I have heard a few stories of the Austrians who came out to New Zealand and have joined the Polish and other cultural groups performing in festivals held over the years here in New Zealand  and appreciate what some and their families must have gone through to be where they are today.  It is books like these that will help the children of today and tomorrow understand.  A window into life as it was.

Resources/links and findings:  This link  gives information on the award winning author and her other books….   http://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/writers/beckjennifer.html                                                    The Polish Museum in Auckland New Zealand displays some of the pictures from the book……   http://www.eventfinder.co.nz/2012/lindy-fisher-stefanias-dancing-slippers/auckland/howick                                                                                                                  Here is a beautiful traditional polish dance video…   http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=BXYKkb-SynM   and a world fact book search for kids and teachers…  http://kids.yahoo.com/reference/world-factbook/country/pl–Poland

For more books with resources please visit the lovely author Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and find the tab for  Perfect Picture Books.    Her blog is full of resources links and activities associated with the books reviewed by many authors.

About Diane Tulloch

Known also as the Patientdreamer I am a writer who loves to dream, and is passionate about writing stories for the young so that they may join me in the wonders of adventure in countries and cultures afar, and in special moments to remember.
This entry was posted in Folklore / multicultural, Picture book, Picture Book Review and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to “PERFECT PICTURE BOOK” – Friday

  1. While the story sounds like a tough one, the cover is gorgeous and your review makes me want to learn more. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to connect with family during this period. This crossed my mind yesterday as journalists complained about losing Skype contacts in Syria. How wars and communication have changed through the decades. Thanks for adding this book. I hope my library has a copy.

    • thankyou Stacy, I didn’t want to give away to much of what happens at the end but there is both joy and saddness. I was surprised to see that it did cover a lot of what Stefania faced during her difficult years before coming to NZ. I think you will enjoy this story.

  2. Catherine Johnson says:

    A good lesson in appreciation, sounds very sad.

    • Yes Catherine it is. I think children of today know little of what it was like before and need to know material things aren’t everything. It can be gone in an instant, even families, so yes appreciating what we have, is very important…. there is joy in this story to, it is full of hope!

  3. This sounds like a book that would be great for older readers, and I’m always glad to get those for the list. I love picture books for the 7 and up range – they are so valuable and important. This books seems as though it would be a good story for teaching perspective and empathy as well as courage and family ties. Thanks so much for sharing. (And I think I’ve got the link up for you. I’ll go back and check.)

    • Thankyou, Yay the link is up, thanks Susanna (I think I must sound like a broken record over on your blog).
      This book touched me deeply, I happened upon it in the library as I was walking past, but it has so much in it to teach the young today. I liked the words you chose and Catherines one is also good…. appreciation.

  4. This book sounds like a teaching book for a lot of reasons. It definitely teaches to appreciate more and that is a great thing. Sadness but also joy. I like that. Glad you added it to the list. 🙂

    • I am glad you liked my choice Robyn. I wanted to share it immediately as it touched me. Some very good learnings to be had in there, for sure. So many levels. Thankyou for your lovely comment.

  5. Cathy Ballou Mealey says:

    Your review definitely hooked me! I’m ordering it from the library and will get my tissues raedy. Thanks for sharing.

    • Oh yes you will need the tissues, if you are anything like me! Glad you got hooked. I didn’t want to give anything away….. enjoy! (I have a spare box of tissues if you run out)

  6. I had just been wondering about picture books about the war, and how many exist, and at what age one can start talking and reading about such things with kids. This sounds like a very powerful story, Diane, and I love the symbolism of the slippers.

    • mmm….. James Rumford immediately comes to mind Joanna, of his works in picture books during war time. Not sure how many exist, but I think they would probably be around the 6yr and upward age group I would think…. depends on the the topic it is centered on to. Glad this is of interest to you and yes I loved what the slippers symbolised. Thankyou Joanna.

  7. Wow, what a powerful story of resilience and courage of young children. I am so glad you chose to share this book. Definitely want to look it up. It really spoke to me!

    • Thankyou Patricia, so glad this choice spoke to you. It is indeed a strong topic and one all children at some time should read about. It helps them appreciate what they have and how things can be so different. Its of joy, and hope also. You will love it as much as I did, I am sure, Pat.

  8. Laura Renauld says:

    What a difficult topic written with such history and hope. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thankyou Laura, it is an amazing topic and Jennifer Beck has done a wonderful job along with Lindy Fisher the illustrator. There is a lot of depth with in the story, it is very real, that is what is so magnatising. I hope you get a chance to read it. Your very welcome.

  9. What a fascinating story. I had no idea Polish families were shipped to New Zealand. I love how books open doors to worlds we never knew existed.

    • I knew that many Europeans did come to New Zealand to get away during world war II. the english sent their children, the austrians and swiss- families, and polish- both families and many children on their own. I think a lot of people were told that they just disappeared, for fear of finding out where they went, but in fact they were sent here. I knew the Austrians built barracks for the American soldiers who came here, and then they decided to stay and marry kiwi girls. I have a couple of friends who did just that…lol. It’s amazing how these books let us look into a window of these places. I love it to. Thankyou Kirsten for your comments.

  10. Julie says:

    I agree with Susanna’s comment. It’s nice to find books for older children, and this is one I would love to share with my 9 year-old daughter.

  11. Thankyou Julie, so glad you liked this one. I think your daughter will really appreciate this story and will no doubt involve discussion between you. After reading this book and now your comment I am also thinking this might actually bring the topic of penfriends to light. What a nice way to for the young to get to know others from around the world. Now there’s an idea!

  12. Darlene says:

    This is one I would love to read. It sounds wonderful. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
    I awarded you the Sunshine Award on my blog http://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/you-are-my-sunshine/ Have a happy sunshiney weekend!

  13. Amy Dixon says:

    Wow, this story sounds amazing. I too am always looking for stories that appeal to my older kids, and I think this one fits the bill. Thanks!

  14. Heather says:

    Wow. This sounds like a very powerful book. Thank you for adding it to the list.

  15. This seems like a good book to teach this topic. I’ll check it out. My Mom said that some of her relatives were in Polish Concentration Camps and were allowed to come to America when the war was over. It’s cool that New Zealand has a Polish community!

    • Its so interesting to learn about those times, it helps us appreciate what we have. It is widely known that many went to America, but there were many people thought had disappeared, when in fact they came to New Zealand. Yes we have many different cultural communities here, and I am glad you liked this choice Erik.

  16. T.F.Walsh says:

    I love stories that have such a profound impact on me after reading them… they’re the books that keep me thinking long after I’ve put the book down, and they stay with me a long time.

    • Thankyou Tania I’m glad you like this post and you would love this book. I couldn’t put it down, even though it was a picture book.
      Thanks for your comment, do pop back again soon.

  17. Loni Edwards says:

    This sounds like a great book for opening discussions on that part of world history. It shows that the book touched you deeply. I hope I can find it at our library. If not, I will request it.

    • Glad you liked my choice Loni and I hope you find it in your library. Yes it is a very moving story, and will bring a lot of discussion among the older age group of children.

  18. I also did not know that many war-time refugees went to New Zealand. 🙂
    What a wonderful choice for PPBF, Diane! Your review makes me want to get a copy and read it…and keep it to read to my grandchildren…it’s so important to help children gain an understanding of the world (war included) and how faith, hope and love can keep a person going, even in the most difficult of situations.

    • You said it … in a nut shell Vivian! Wonderfully put. Thankyou for your kind comments. I think you and your grandchildren will love discovering and understanding that time and era! Thankyou so much for coming here and commenting.

  19. This sounds very moving. Thanks for the excellent review.

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