Feathers – Phil Cummings, Illustrated by Phil Lesnie

This beautifully illustrated children’s picture book sends a message of kindness and the security and safety of a home and the sense of place it brings. In the story the reader follows the flight of a sandpiper as it flies to its winter home.  Along its flight path it looses a feather that is picked up by a boy whose home has been destroyed in an earthquake, to a girl who is travelling to a safer place as a refugee and finally to a little girl in a safe, happy home in the bird’s wintering grounds.

When I read this to my  grade 1’s and 2’s they were silent at first and because I work in a very rural school where we have no refugees I began to explain very simply about how different people did not have safe homes but they did. Then we looked at the story again and they began to ask very thoughtful questions and think about how lucky they were to be able to go to a safe home on the bus. This is a wonderful, gentle book that packs a powerful message for children. I would definitely read it to older students as well and it is a great anchor book for SEL lessons as well as for an intermediate writing lesson.

Stars: 5+

The Dutch Wife – Ellen Keith

“Witness our judgement without judgement.”

Amsterdam 1943 – Marijke de Graaf and her husband have just been arrested by the Nazis for being part of the Dutch Resistance and thus begins a tale of horrifying choices for Marijke.  She is sent to a labour camp and then given the choice of staying in the camp and most likely dying there or of going to a different camp to work in a brothel as a prostitute to reward the camp’s workers for their efforts. She chooses the brothel as she thinks her husband is at that camp and she will be able to find him.

Karl Muller is the SS officer who comes to the camp to live up to his father’s expectations of him and his military career.  As Karl grapples with the horrors of the torture and punishment he is to oversee he discovers Marijke and changes her life.

Paralleling this is the story of Luciano. Luciano is arrested in 1977 in Argentina during the Argentinian Dirty War. He is imprisoned, tortured but still manages to find the courage to resist the oppressive regime in any small way he can.

Woven into this story are the lives of three people who are connected by choices and their consequences.

Marijke: to have to make the choice of being a prostitute, to have feelings for someone who epitomizes evil, and to pay a penance

Karl: To lose his moral centre, to hate yet not want to hate, to not stand up for what he believes in knowing what he’s done is wrong and to pay a huge penance

Luciano: the hero who wants his father’s acceptance, for his father to see his worth and courage and who pays for everyone’s sins

This is an incredibly well written story that follows you after you’ve finished like a stray cat asking, “Who are you to judge?” and “What would you do?”

Stars: 5+