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: folktales 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 searches 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 a 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]
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 Ms. Yingling Reads for The Button War:
The Button War: A Tale of the Great War by Avi
From Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Patryk lives in a small Polish town in 1914. The Russians have been in control for a number of years, but rumor has it that German soldiers are on their way. When a newfangled aeroplane blows up the school, everyone knows that war is on its way. Jurek, whose family is poor, becomes interested in buttons from soldiers’ coats after finding one in an abandoned castle in the woods. He makes up a contest, with a cane as the prize, and says that whoever has the most interesting buttons will be the king. Patryk’s friends, boys of the same age but sometimes different backgrounds, all go about getting buttons in a variety of dangerous ways. Some take the buttons off uniforms that a sister is laundering, others cut them off clothes that are hanging on the line. As the war closes in, buttons are even taken off of dead soldiers. There are seven boys at the beginning, but as both “wars” continue, some are killed in various altercations with the military, and it is even suspected that Jurek has killed one. Is he really unbalanced? Patryk’s family eventually decides they must leave, but Jurek and the button war stay with Patryk in disturbing ways.” [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
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 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.
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.