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20 Books About Poland For Kids

Alexandra of familymobileapps.com left me a comment that said, “I love your specific lists! :) So, I wonder if Poland themed books for kids is too big or too little a challange for you? :)

So I thought, “No problem. I’ll research.”

But what I found was a striking lack of diversity in Polish themed books for kids: folk tales and Holocaust and that’s about it! I think this is possibly worse than Japanese American books for kids which seem to singularly focus on WWII internment.

Can you please help me identify more books? As for my list, here are my folk tales and Holocaust books about Poland for kids.

 

10 Books About Poland for Children

10. Seedfolks by Paul Fleishman and illustrated by Judy Petersen is an exception. I just happened to be reading this after PickyKidPix recommended it and checked it out at the library. Set in inner-city Cleveland, a rough neighborhood is transformed after a little girl dares to clear a patch in a garbage strewn vacant lot to plant a handful of lima bean seeds. Her neighborhood had undergone waves of transformation as new immigrants settled in and then moved out if they could afford to. Once full of Polish immigrants, only a few Caucasians remained but this particular elderly Polish lady plays a pivotal role in getting the lot transformed. An oblique reference to Poland, to be sure, but I wish there were more books with Polish American characters.

9.  I’m counting one of my favorite picture book authors, Ezra Jack Keats, because of his Polish heritage and the fact that he had to hide it. Adding him to this list helps to even things out I’m hoping!

Keats, the son of Jewish Polish immigrants, was born in 1916 and brought up in Brooklyn, New York. He was originally named Jacob Ezra Jack Katz; there is speculation that when he legally changed his name to Ezra Jack Keats two years after World War II, it was as a result of the anti-Semitism at that time.

8. Polish Fairy Tales by A. J. Glinski

7. Polish Folktales and Folklore (World Folklore Series) by Michal Malinowski and Anne Pellowski

6. The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

The dramatic story of three Polish children during and just after World War II, whose parents are taken away by the Nazis and their house blown up. The children manage to escape over the rooftops and join the gangs of orphans living in the ruins of the bombed city, existing as best they can. The “silver sword” is only a paper knife, but it is the talisman that, after the Germans have been driven out of Warsaw, gives Ruth, Edek and Bronia the hope and courage to make an astonishing journey across Europe with their friend Jan until they reach a refugee camp where they are reunited with their parents.

5. Polish Fables by Ignacy Krasicki

 

4.The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

The book centers on Wanda Petronski, a poor and friendless Polish-American girl. Her teacher, outwardly kind, puts her in the worst seat in the classroom and she does not say anything when her schoolmates tease her. One day, after Wanda’s classmates laugh at her funny last name and the faded blue dress she wears to school every day, Wanda claims to own one hundred dresses, all lined up in her closet at her worn-down house.

This is one of my favorite chapter books and I had forgotten that Wanda was Polish until I ran searchs for Polish girls in children’s books. Her story exemplifies the racism that Poles faced in America, both adults and children. As the victim of girl bullying, Wanda’s father finally moves the family to a new city as direct result of her experience at school. Based on a real life experience, author Eleanor Estes was haunted by being a bullying bystander and wrote this book.

3. The Life Of St. Queen Jadwiga (1374-1399) by  Zycie Swietej Jadwigi Krolowej

In words and pictures this children’s coloring book tells the story of Queen St. Jadwiga through the highlights of her life.  Text in English and Polish.

2. Rodzina by Karen Cushman

Rodzina Clara Jadwiga Anastazya Brodski’s story begins in Chicago, in 1881, as she is about to board a railroad car on an orphan train, as they were known…In her prologue, Cushman describes visiting her great-grandmother’s grave and reading ”Rodzina Czerwinski” on the stone. Rodzina means ”family,” and this book, she says, is about the search for a family. She has created a delightful, thoroughly Polish, heroine. But the orphan train, the enormous other half of the story, is curiously incomplete. NY Times review. From Polish Art Center. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]

1. An Ellis Island Christmas by Maxinne Rhea Leighton

Papa has already left Poland, and Krysia longs to see him again. “First we must cross the ocean to get to Ellis Island in America,” says Mama. “That’s where Papa is waiting for us.” Saying goodbye to her home is hard, and the ocean voyage is long and stormy, but finally, on Christmas Eve, Krysia sees the Statue of Liberty! Dennis Nolan’s richly rendered illustrations powerfully evoke the uncertainty, wonder, and hope of this young immigrant’s experience. An Ellis Island Christmas is a holiday story to treasure, year after year. From Carol Hurst’s Blog. [picture book, ages 5-8]

 

Holocaust Chapter Books Set in Poland

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyso
Leon Leyson (born Leib Lezjon) was only ten years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and his family was forced to relocate to the Krakow ghetto. With incredible luck, perseverance, and grit, Leyson was able to survive the sadism of the Nazis, including that of the demonic Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow, the concentration camp outside Krakow. Ultimately, it was the generosity and cunning of one man, a man named Oskar Schindler, who saved Leon Leyson’s life, and the lives of his mother, his father, and two of his four siblings, by adding their names to his list of workers in his factory—a list that became world renowned: Schindler’s List. (August 27)

The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig
Because they are Jews, Esther and her family are considered enemies of the people and exiled to Siberia. The father is separated from them and sent to a slave labor camp. When they finally are allowed to return to Poland, they find that their extended family has been killed by the Nazis. From Carol Hurst’s Blog. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]

Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto by Susan Goldman Rubin, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth

The story of a Polish woman who helped over 400 Jewish children escape Nazi-occupied Warsaw is presented in a sophisticated, evocative, realistically illustrated picture book format. Source notes and additional resources conclude this riveting account. [picture book, ages 6-9]

After the War by Carol Matas
This novel follows a fifteen-year-old girl, Ruth, after the release from the concentration camps. When she attempts to return to her home in Poland, she is chased away by its present inhabitants. Joining the underground, she helps children with forged documents to enter Palestine. From Carol Hurst’s Blog. [chapter book, ages 12 and up]

The Island on Bird Street by Uri Orlev
Alex’s mother has disappeared. His father was taken away by the Nazis. Alex must survive on his own in the Warsaw ghetto. From Carol Hurst’s Blog. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]

Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps by Andrea Warren
Jack Mandelbaum had lived a comfortable life in Poland before the Holocaust began. After hiding for a while, his family was separated and Jack was sent to Blechhammer. This is his story of survival there. From Carol Hurst’s Blog. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]

The Harmonica by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Ron Mazellan
Given a harmonica from his coal-miner father in Poland, the child learns to play it before he is taken from his family and sent to the camps. There he is ordered by the commandant to play Schubert. Even the beautiful music cannot hide or change the cruelty. From Carol Hurst’s Blog. [picture book, ages 8 and up]

Someone Named Ava by Joan M. Wolf

In 1942, Milada is taken, along with other blond, blue-eyed children, to a school in Poland to be trained as proper Germans in order to be adopted by German families.   I liked how it showed another side of the Nazi horrors. Usually Holocaust books are about the concentration camps, but this one is different. Although it is less harsh than many other books on the Holocaust, it affected me most because I can almost understand her fear and confusion. This book is that emotional and effective, said Sudeshna (6th grade). from Avon Middle School High School Library

Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

This chapter book  is set in Berlin, 1942. When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance. But, Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than what meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences. [chapter book, ages 12 and up]

These were from The Best Children’s Books

The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse

Set in Poland during WWII, this is a little known true story of Jewish resistance, stray cats, and a little Jewish girl who outfoxed the Nazis to deliver food to starving residents in the Warsaw Ghetto. Perfectly paired with Watson’s “arresting images.” [picture book, ages 7-10]

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke

This inspiring memoir tells of the experiences of Irene Gutowna, a 17-year-old Polish nursing student who found every opportunity she could to help the Jews living in Nazi-occupied countries, first leaving food for those in the ghetto, then protecting and hiding Jews who worked with her. School Library Journal urges that regardless of whether you have read many holocaust memoirs, “this one is a must, for its impact is so powerful.” From School Library Journal. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy

Sylvia, the author’s aunt, was four years old when her family was sent to the Lodz ghetto in wartime Poland, and six years later she was one of only 12 children who survived it. The slightly fictionalized story is told in almost poetic prose, in vignettes that each recall a particular memory in Sylvia’s life. “A standout in the genre of Holocaust literature.” From School Library Journal. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]

 

Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier
Warsaw 1942 – Dad’s in prison. Mother’s about to be arrested. Edek, enraged, shoots one of the Nazi Storm Troopers. Now Edek and his two sisters must escape – and fast! Leaving their bombed house, they flee across rooftops, the Secret Police already on their trail. A harrowing story of three young fugitives and their Nazi pursuers . . . taken from true accounts. [Young Adult, ages 12 and up]

 

Polish Characters in Children’s Literature

Magneto in XMen

I think Magneto was born in Germany, and his family only fled to Poland after Kristallnacht. from ComicVine

 

Thank you to Erica of What Do We Do All Day for her great book suggestion! Yay! We got one more!!

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly, illustrated by Janina Domanska

This won the Newbery Award in 1928.

Centered around the historical fire that burned much of Kraków in 1462, The Trumpeter of Krakow tells the fictional story of a family of Joseph Charnetski, a Polish noble family from Kresy (modern day Ukraine), who fled to Kraków, Poland, in 1461 after their home is burned to the ground by the Cossack-Tartars of Bogdan Grozny, commonly known as “Peter of the Button Face” because of the button-shaped pockmark on his cheek. Wikipedia

Eric P. Kelly, a student of Slavic culture for most of his life, wrote The Trumpeter of Krakow while teaching and studying at the University of Krakow. During five years spent in Poland he traveled with an American relief unit among the Poles who were driven out of the Ukraine in 1920, directed a supply train at the time of the war with the Soviets, and studied and visited many places in the country he came to love so well. A newspaperman in his native Massachusetts in younger days, Mr. Kelly later wrote many magazine articles and several books for young people. He died in 1960.

Please click on image of book to view more closely at Amazon.

chapter books about poland for kids, picture books about poland for kids, kids books about poland, poland and books for kids

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A Holocaust Survivor’s Compassionate Message To Germans

 Emery Jacoby is a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor who recently participated in a question-and-answer session on Reddit. After receiving a huge and deeply supportive response from Germany’s youth, Jacoby made  this brilliant video for his young friends.

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom

39 Comments

  1. Wow! Thank you so much for this M, I really didn’t think you could find that many! :-)
    As we have talked before, it’s rather sad that the main topics include Holocaust and folk tales – I mean, yeah, sure, these are really important parts of Polish history/culture but not the only ones. My country is so much more than that (oh, I bet every country is more than that!). Unfortunately I am not really sure what to add to the list to make it another exception – I have the privilege of read everything in Polish though ;)
    I am curious about other comments – hope there still are some nice books just waiting to be found!
    Alexandra recently posted…Tech-Loving Moms: One Step Ahead – Guest PostMy Profile

    • Hi Alexandra,
      My hope is that Polish American children’s authors out there will start to include Polish characters in the books that they write. I hope readers will come up with a few more book suggestions too. It’s a little disheartening that there are such strong misconceptions of Poles (Polack jokes) that is contributed, in part, to the lack of books that portray them in a full way. The body of work shows Poles as victims of the Holocaust or of poverty. While this may be a part of the Polish history, it’s such a small part. I guess Poles must have assimilated pretty successfully after immigrating to America such that their identify in childen’s books is so narrow.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…20 Books About Poland For KidsMy Profile

  2. It’s pretty funny that you added the snowy day to a list of polish books
    Faigie recently posted…Want to be WOW’d ? Get a load of this ‘Speed Painter’ (video)My Profile

    • Hi Faigie,
      You can tell that I am reaching! I know, right? There are so few Polish American characters in children’s books. It’s as if the Poles want to disappear and assimilate into American culture much like Ezra Jack Keats felt he had to do in order to become successful.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…20 Books About Poland For KidsMy Profile

  3. How about a book about Polish scientist Marie Curie?
    maryanne recently posted…Internet Safety Tips for Parents to Keep Kids #CybersafeMy Profile

  4. Dee

    We’ve read “The Cats of Krasinksi Square” a few times. Dylan was much younger and I don’t think he fully understood it, but he kept getting it at the library.
    Dee recently posted…What aren’t we seeingMy Profile

  5. Wow! What a wonderful resource! I was born in Poland and would be very interested in reading these books. I am only familiar with one. Thank you! Or I should say- dziękuję!

  6. I think there might be some by Patricia Polacco, but of course nothing specific comes to mind. But what about the Trumpeter of Krakow?
    Erica recently posted…Mermaid Paper Dolls to Print and ColorMy Profile

    • Hi Erica,
      Some picture books by Patricia Polacco came up but it was really in reference to her use of “Babushka” in her picture books. But when I looked up “Babushka”, it was a Russian word so I left those books out. I’m not sure of Polacco’s heritage either. Do you happen to know if she’s Polish? Thanks for the Trumpeter of Krakow book recommendation. I hadn’t heard of that one!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…20 Books About Poland For KidsMy Profile

  7. This is a great list and I am glad the WWII books were only a part of the list and didn’t define it. Poland is so much more than that tragic part of their history.
    Alex Baugh recently posted…Ausländer by Paul DowswellMy Profile

    • Thanks so much Alex. I agree that WWII is only part of the Polish story but I feel like the Polish American story is not really told through children’s books. Plus, they seem to get a bad rap with all the Polish jokes. I hope that, because of the wonderful children’s book authors out there with a Polish ancentry, that this can change.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Red Envelope Crafts for 2nd Grade China UnitMy Profile

  8. Fantastic list – I have your Holocaust list, and this one is just full of great suggestions. The Endless Steppe was a well-worn book on my shelf, as a teen.

    Thanks for including the fairy tales – I teach a course on fairy tales/folklore, so this will be very helpful providing texts about Poland.
    Brittany recently posted…Of Mice and ReadersMy Profile

    • Hi Britanny,
      I loved The Endless Steppe too from my childhood. I wasn’t able to remember the title but I never forgot the story so when I googled a description of the plot, the book came right up. I love that we both read that book as kids and that it made a big impression. It’s a real statement too that this family actually got the best case scenario in Nazi occupied Poland, though her story is also full of hardship. Can you imagine when being sent to Siberia is a good thing?!

      Glad that the fairy tales and folklore is helpful for you. There were a few other books as well that were also available at Amazon or hopefully at the library that I did not include on that list.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Three “Banned” Books Your Children Must ReadMy Profile

  9. Yep, she was Polish, as well as Nicolas Copernicus! Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon had his moment with these two names. WordPress doesn’t let me put a link but try to put this to youtube: The Big Bang Theory – Leonard and Sheldon playing charades :)
    Alexandra recently posted…Good habits: reading timeMy Profile

  10. Fantastic List! I have been screaming from the rooftops about Hundred Dresses. Absolutely loved it. I cant wait to read other books from Estes. I see lots of great suggestions on the comments. Pinning this one!
    Thanks for sharing on Kid Lit Blog Hop!
    -Reshama
    http://www.stackingbooks.com
    Reshama recently posted…Kid Lit Blog Hop #17My Profile

    • Thanks so much Reshema,
      Totally agree with you about the worthiness of screaming from the rooftops about The Hundred Dresses. I remember reading it as a child and being so moved by it. Then, my oldest daughter’s teacher, when she was in third grade, recommended it as a book all 3rd grade girls should read because that is when girl bullying tends to begin.

      And I got that deja vu feeling when I read it. I had my daughter’s book club read it. And then, I read the book jacket bio thingy and learned that Eleanor Estes witnessed this exact incident as a child and she was the bystander who allowed it to happen. She was so ashamed of her behavior that she wrote this book, almost in penance. I love it when an author’s book means so much to her/him personally.

      Yes, let’s both shout it! Best book ever!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Three “Banned” Books Your Children Must ReadMy Profile

  11. Ann

    I think the overwhelming number of holocaust books just show how devastating to Poland it was. Many sound like stories of survival which is inspiring. I would like to check out the cat book and Yellow Star and I like folk tales!
    Hundred Dresses is a wonderful book.
    Maybe Alexandra will write about happy times in Poland!
    I like MaryAnne’s idea of including a Madame Curie biography!
    Ann recently posted…Summer ReadingMy Profile

    • Oh happy times…These days I am so busy I can’t even find my own happy time, let alone talking about my whole nation :) (btw, Poles are known for being the biggest grouches EVER – here I am as a perfect example!). But yeah, Ann, that’s a nice suggestion, maybe at least a couple of Americans who read my blog will have the chance to broaden their Polish horizons! :)
      Alexandra recently posted…Good habits: reading timeMy Profile

    • Hi Ann,
      It is great that together we can find all different views of Poland from a children’s literature perspective as well as identify other areas where the story isn’t being told. I hope that Alexandra will write a book that includes more about Polish culture or we get other Polish American authors to add characters in their books to give a fuller perspective.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Three “Banned” Books Your Children Must ReadMy Profile

  12. A great idea to foster cultural interests.

  13. Yay! This was like like all the major gift-giving holidays rolled into one! While I am not Polish, my best friend is of strong Polish descent, and I am always looking for unique and thoughtful gifts for his girls, both of whom are avid readers. This list was both informative and timely. Thanks so much for posting on the hop! I will be tuning in for future posts and culling through earlier ones for more great gems like these!
    Melinda Taliancich Falgoust recently posted…April Showers & May Flowers Bring Summer Reading into Full Bloom:My Profile

  14. Thanks so much for putting together this list Mia! What a great resource! I have a friend who was just describing how traumatized she was when she watched The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas on Netflix recently. She was sobbing describing it. Now I’m not so sure I want to read or watch it. :S Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop.
    Renee C. recently posted…Book Review: The Adventures of Onyx and The Guardians of the StraitsMy Profile

    • Hi Renee C,
      My daughter in 5th grade just watched that movie on NetFlix as well without checking with me. She said it was really good and then she had all these Holocaust related questions for me and I really find thinking about the Holocaust painful so I kept saying, “Yes, they killed all the Jews by forcing them into the burning ovens. Why? The Nazis were bad people.”

      I wonder if my daughter will read the book though. Her 5th grade class has tackled some tough issues this year with a unit on Slavery and more on Civil Rights. I suppose the Holocaust realities are just a short hop from that.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Small Business Website: Win One from Go Daddy!My Profile

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