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
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.