Great reviews and awards obviously make all writers happy, but as far as I am concerned the most wonderful thing that can happen to a writer is for kids to be moved by what they wrote. Sophie Kambour of Medford Memorial Middle School in Medford, New Jersey, entered a national writing contest called Letters About Literature in response to my book, Beyond Courage. Students were directed to write to an author whose book truly affected their lives, ways of thinking, or ways of viewing the world. Sophie received 2nd place in the state out of 2,000 letters. Bravo Sophie, and thank you.
Medford Memorial Middle School
55 Mill Street
Medford, NJ 08055
Dear Mrs. Doreen Rappaport,
When I first glanced at your thick, gray book on the shelf of my teacher’s classroom library, I was immediately drawn to it. As I scanned the cover, my mind wandered to the other Holocaust books and their meanings hidden in the titles. What did Beyond Courage mean, and what was it about? Was this a book that described the terrible, harsh world during the Holocaust? Would good shine through the dark shadow the Nazis cast on Europe and the rest of the world? Would there be success in these collections of stories or miserable and utter failure in the rescue and escape plans? I needed to find out. As I plucked the book off the shelf, I had a feeling this book was right up my alley. My suspicions about how much I was going to like the book were confirmed as I dove into the stories. They showed me how much the little things count in life and that the world has good in it to stand up for what is right. When I realized those things, it led me to see that I, a run of the mill twelve-year-old girl, can change the world, one battle at a time. As you will come to realize, your book affected me immensely.
In the world occurring during the Holocaust, people in death camps, labor camps, and ghettos would do anything to live. This book showed me that the little things really could affect a person’s life. For example, people were stealing pieces of leather when working, removing nails that were on the floor of a railroad car, and risking their lives in the process. That was mind blowing, and I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that a tiny piece of metal could change the whole story, or just a strap of leather could prevent an escape. When I saw all of these things developing, I wondered, “Could this little detail affect everything?” People sacrificed their lives just to sneak a gun into a ghetto, for an attack plan that had a 75% chance of failing! That was so inspiring. It inspired me so much that I started doing little things to make others lives better. I say, “I love you!” to my mom before leaving for school, ask my brother how his day was, smile at people, regardless if I know them or not, in the school halls. As you can see, this book, made me realize that the littlest things do count because they can affect someone or something, forever.
Some people say that the world is harsh, cruel and unfair, and I agreed with them before I read this book. Now, however, I see that the world is full of people born to fight for what is right. Like Mordechai Anielewicz, who organized the uprising, was born to fight because he didn’t stop battling till the end. Also, like Marianne Cohn, who saved children’s lives, but had to give up her life in the process. I was moved to tears when I read that. People sacrificed their lives before, and people are doing that today, in the army, marines, navy, air force, and in so many more areas. To summarize, that is why I believe the world isn’t cruel and unfair anymore and why I know there are people who stand for what is right.
This book affected me in many other ways, but this was most important. It caused me to look in the mirror, to see who I am and the potential I have to change the world and the lives of others around me. This book is so motivating because it shows how selfless people are and made me say to myself, “You can change the world and be selfless, if you choose to act on it. So, how can we all help others?” I want to be like Motele, the little boy who decided to help the resistance, to get back at the Nazis for taking away his family and killing them. He sacrificed himself to create change and did an amazing thing. In addition, I realized I could make lives better one small action at a time. (Very small in comparison to Motele, who was my age when he did those things. He must have been brave.) I try to help others when possible now. For example, I donate old books to my past teachers because they taught me so much. Also, I donate clothes, just because it helps. I try to be less selfish, just as Motele was. I do what I can as a 12 year-old in the world today. I know I can’t be as extraordinary as Motele, but I try to the best of my ability. As you can see, this book helped me come to that realization that everyone can change the world, and inspired me greatly.
I discovered Beyond Courage is about the terrible Holocaust, but is also about so much more. It is about the small victories that seem like a blip when compared to others, in the bleak, desolate world. It is about the tiny sliver of moon left before new moon in the inky black night. It is about the minuscule bit of hope, like the bit of light on your bedroom floor at night. But that hope is still present. It is about a mantra, a cause to fight for. Thank you for helping me realize these things, Mrs. Doreen Rappaport. Thank you for showing me that the little things count, that there are people to stand for the good. But most importantly, thank you for showing Beyond Courage is what everyone needs to look at and read, and say when they are finished, “I can change the world, even in the slightest of ways, and it will still affect the world, and matter to everyone, but most importantly, matter to me.”
Celebrating kids, books, history, stories and more!
Kids Connect is about all the ways kids are inspired by the people and stories in my books to create amazing projects in their classrooms.
Kids Connect with CS21 in Brooklyn
I made my fourth visit in four years to CS21 in Brooklyn. What a great school and what hard working students. They studied my book, Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller.
We discussed writing biographies and they wrote first drafts and read them aloud. I made suggestions for revisions, so did some of their classmates.
They continued revising, working with other writers, and they have created a beautiful book, Remember the Time. Click here, and then go to the cover of Remember the Time and click there for a slide show of their work. You can do this, too!!!
Kids Connect with Guardino Elementary School
Debbie Dermady’s fifth grade class from Guardino Elementary School in Clayton, New York, sent me questions about Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller.
Q: Do you know sign language?
A: No, I don’t know sign language, but two of my grandchildren know it because their father knows it.
Q: Why do the covers of your book always have the person’s face/image on them?
A: My first picture book biography was on Martin Luther King, Jr. Bryan Collier did this absolutely gorgeous and unusually portrait of Dr. King smiling. We looked at it and realized we didn’t want the title and my name and Bryan’s over it. So the art director suggested putting that information on the back of the book. And when we did the next book on John Lennon, we did the same. We knew that Helen Keller’s face wouldn’t be that recognizable, so we did put in small print, the name of the book on the front, but so small, it doesn’t cover her portrait.
Q: Why is Helen Keller smelling a rose on the front cover?
A: Helen Keller used her sense of touch and small to help identify objects. Matt Tavares, the artist, found a photograph of her smelling a rose and thought it captured an important aspect of her learning.
Q: Where did you get the information about how Helen threw her fork on the floor?
A: Helen Keller wrote about this in one of her many autobiographical writings.
Q: Where did you get the quotes from Helen Keller? Was it from a journal she kept?
A: The quotes are from many different places . Some are from letters, some are from speeches, some are from her autobiographical writings.
Q: Do you know how to read or write Braille?
A: No, I don’t know how to read or write with Braille. But if you are interested in learning, you can go to the American Foundation for the Blind website and they have information
Q: Was it hard for Helen to go to college when she couldn’t see, hear or speak?
A: Wow, doesn’t that seem difficult, even almost impossible for Helen to negotiate all aspects of college. But remember she had Annie had her side. In those days there were not many books in Braille, which is why Annie Sullivan had to spell out the books and the lectures to Helen with manual hand language. Imagine Anne’s patience and commitment. And Helen had to have a great memory I think. When I read things, I take notes. And I go back to those notes. I can’t remember everything I read once.
Q: When did you decide to write about Helen Keller?
Helen Keller is an inspirational figure for everyone in the world. She reminds me that ANYTHING is possible if you do the hard work. So when I get discouraged, I talk to myself and say, “What are you discouraged about? You have it easy in your life. Think about Helen Keller and her courage and determination.”
Q: How do you decide what illustrations should be used for each picture?
A: I don’t decide. The artist makes sketches for each of the pages I have designated. The art director and the editor and myself make comments about his sketches. I focus on historical accuracy and emphasis. I do not tell the illustrator how to draw or what to draw. If I think his sketch doesn’t work, I do make comments why and the art director filters these comments back to the illustrator.
Q: What inspires you to write?
A: Finding people who did important things, who met challenges, who helped change the world, inspires me.
Q: What type of writing are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a book on the suffragists who fought to win the vote for all women.
We love reading non-fiction! Thank you for so many great books! And thank you for answering our questions Ms. Rappaport!
Kids Connect with Denton Avenue Elementary School
Denton Avenue Elementary School in New Hyde Park, New York did a great project on women’s history and gave it a smashing, title, “First Class Women.” Denton Avenue has first class kids.
Kids Connect with Empowering Words
I recently visited Krieger Schechter School in Baltimore, Maryland. Students in grades two through the fourth used what I call “empowering words” spoken by Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Helen Keller to create their own empowering thoughts.
Kids Connect with books at Tenacre Country Day School
Fifth and sixth graders from Tenacre School are already sophisticated book reviewers. Two 6th graders wrote this review of Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller:
“This book, written by Doreen Rappaport, is about the life of Helen Keller and how she overcame her disabilities. She was blind and deaf due to a fever she had when she was a baby, but she did not let this get in her way – – she became a public speaker. Helen had a teacher who was something of a miracle worker who introduced her to a life she could appreciate. We enjoyed this book because it was concise and straight to the point, and it was also written poetically. It had quotes from Helen and the people in her life, such as “That living word awakened my soul and gave it light, hope, joy, and set it free.” It is simple to read and children can understand it easily. Large and detailed illustrations capture attention as well. We recommend this book because it is informative, interesting, and inspiring.”
Two 5th graders wrote this review of Dirt On Their Skirts:
“A girl named Margaret is at a baseball game with her family. The book shows how Sophie Kurys won the world championship for her team. This book reminds us of the famous movie, A League of Their Own. We like this book because it shows how the baseball team won, but in a different view. It keeps on going back to Margaret and her family. It talkes about how they felt, and what their reactions were. We would recommend this book because it shows people that girls can do everything that boy can do.”
Kids Connect Lady Liberty and art!
At Westmere Elementary School in Guilderland, New York, students read Lady Liberty: A Biography. They talked about the meaning of this magnificent statue, and why they thought it was important. Then they created their own monuments to people and concepts they believed were important.
Kids Connect art, poetry and history.
BREAK OUT! Includes 23 poems and portraits.
Determination by Feliciti is #9
For more information on Behind The Book, please visit:
Kids Connect art, history and me.
The ceramic plate a student made to welcome me to North Carolina after the class read Eleanor, Quiet: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt is one of my favorite gifts!
Kids Connect history and movies!
Martin’s Big Words and Eleanor, Quiet No More.