Title: Sarah’s Key Author: Tatiana de Rosnay Publisher: New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2007 Genre: Adult fiction Audience Age: 16 and up Themes/Topics: Holocaust, France’s role in deportation of Jews during World War II, Vélodrome d’Hiver ...
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Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay — Book Recommendation

Title: Sarah’s Key

Author: Tatiana de Rosnay

Publisher: New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2007

Genre: Adult fiction

Audience Age: 16 and up

Themes/Topics: Holocaust, France’s role in deportation of Jews during World War II, Vélodrome d’Hiver roundup, truth, fear, justice

Opening Sentences: The girl was the first to hear the loud pounding on the door. Her room was closest to the entrance of the apartment. At first, dazed with sleep, she thought it was her father, coming up from his hiding place in the cellar. He’d forgotten his keys, and was impatient because nobody had heard his first, timid knock. But then came the voices, strong and brutal in the silence of the night. Nothing to do with her father. “Police! Open up! Now!”

Note: Despite the fact that one of the main characters is a girl who is ten at the beginning of the book, and despite the lovely cover illustration, do not be fooled into thinking this is a book for children. It most emphatically is not. It is a difficult, sobering, and ultimately moving book intended for adults. It is an important book for our time. Although this is fiction, the Vélodrome d’Hiver horror really occurred.

Synopsis: Ten-year-old Sarah and her parents are among the Jews rounded up in Paris on a terrifying night in July 1942. Sarah is sure there must be a mistake, and they will soon be home. She wants to keep her little brother safe, so she hides him in the cupboard and takes the key with her, promising she’ll be back for him soon.

They are taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver, a facility for bicycle races in better days, and crowded in with at least 11,000 others — Jewish families who have been seized for no other reason than their Jewishness. Day after day goes by, with little food or water, and Sarah begins to realize she will not be home soon. She clutches the key in her pocket, thinking of her brother huddled in the tiny cupboard with his teddy bear, his favorite book, and very little water.

From the Vélodrome, they are herded into cattlecars and transported to one camp, then another. Men are separated from the women and children, and eventually, the women and children are separated. Sarah, taking the only possible chance to get back to her little brother, escapes and starts to try to make her way back to Paris.

While Sarah’s story is unfolding, a parallel story is interspersed in the pages, telling of current-day Julia, an American journalist married to a Frenchman, living and working in Paris, researching the roundup, and renovating her mother-in-law’s apartment, which the reader recognizes as the apartment where Sarah and her family lived before their lives turned into a hell on earth.

The parallel stories progress to the heartrending conclusion we know must come, and yet to at least a partial redemption as Julia learns more about Sarah and about herself.

Until I read this book, all I knew of France during the Second World War was the Occupation and the Resistance. The fact of the Vél d’Hiv roundup shocked, horrified and saddened me, but it didn’t negate the heroic efforts of those who resisted the horrors around them. It underlined for me the importance of resisting injustice, racism, and hate wherever we find it. This is a key message for our time, and an important book to read.

We need to learn from reading books like this, and we need to move forward and work to ensure that “Never Again” is not simply an empty phrase, but is meant to the very fiber of our beings and of our society.

For Further Enrichment: There is a section of reading group questions, historical information, and suggestions for further reading in the Reading Group Gold edition of the book.

Learn more about the Vélodrome d’Hiver roundup here and here.

On July 16, 1995, then French President Jacques Chirac dedicated a memorial to the men, women and children who were arrested on the night of July 16, 1942.

S is for Sarah’s Key. It is for Shock, Suffering and Sorrow. It is also for taking a Stand, for being a Support, for Speaking out. It is for Spirit, Staying power, Steadfastness and Strength against the odds.


Rambling (the physical, not the verbal, variety)

Prairie Wild Rose

Come with me on a ramble —
See? The roses are out,
and here and there,
as yet unseen blooms
hide in the wind-tangled grass.

Come with me on a ramble —
hidden joys await us.

~ Photo by Raymond Stilborn, poem by Beth Stilborn


The first day of spring seems a good day to be talking about rambling. But we’re not rambling aimlessly today, not at all. We’re rambling with our senses alert, our eyes open, our ears attuned to whatever we might hear, our noses ready for the scents of spring, our fingertips eager to touch the kitten-soft sepals of a prairie anemone. (Although it will be a few weeks before the anemones peek out through the prairie grasses, and it will be longer than that before the wild roses are in bloom.)


Anemone patens — photograph by Raymond W. Stilborn


I’ve posted about taking “Look and Listen” walks before. A book I’ve just finished reading takes Look and Listen walks to the next level (or perhaps fifteen or so levels beyond that.)

It’s On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz. In the introductory chapter, she says

“To a surprising extent, time spent going to and fro—walking down the street, traveling to work, heading to the store or a child’s (or one’s own) school—is unremembered. It is forgotten not because nothing of interest happens. It is forgotten because we failed to pay attention to the journey to begin with. On the phone, worrying over dinner, listening to others or to the to-do list replaying in our own heads, we miss the world making itself available to be observed. And we miss the possibility of being surprised by what is hidden in plain sight right in front of us.”

Alexandra Horowitz set out to remedy that, by going on walks with eleven different “experts” — experts at different aspects of paying attention. She learned a great deal about herself, and about her surroundings, in the process.

She walked with her toddler — who drew her attention to Os: “on the circle-pocked grating of a window air-conditioner; in a round call button; in an egg-shaped sidewalk crack…” and to triangles: “He tiptoed along the low wall, hopped down, and clambered up the next. It was in this way that I learned of the triangles. As my son’s route intersected with the sidewalk, the two paths created a long, sharp triangle between them. It was a small step up, and a big step down. Were the triangles friendly? I asked. Yellow? ‘Green. Bubbly,’ he said, solemnly, as I looked at the very nonbubbly, nongreen triangles. I nodded.”

She walked with a geologist and discovered fossils in the limestone of certain New York buildings. She walked with a typographer, and all the variant (and sometimes dissonant) fonts in the lettering of the signs that crowd a New York block came into focus. She walked with a blind woman, and became attuned to listening for sound cues to help her navigate. She walked with her dog, and learned about the countless smells that our noses ignore on a daily basis.

She walked, and was awakened. She also dug more deeply and tried to analyze just how such extraordinary attention comes to be, and how the brain works to encompass so many different ways of being. She’s a cognitive scientist and professor of psychology, which certainly shows in the depth with which she ponders her subject.

She rambled, and was renewed.

I heartily recommend this book. On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz. Published by Scribner, New York, 2013. Here’s a review from USA Today, and the Kirkus review. The edition I read (from the library) was the large print edition (it just happened that way). I love the cover of that edition. It was fascinating to look closely and discover all that was hidden in plain sight.

Go for a ramble! Look! Listen! Reawaken! Be renewed!

If we try to look ahead
into the unknowableness of future,
the sands of time stretch in a vast desert of uncertainty.


But look! At our feet, tiny patches of green and blossom
dot the sands —
small wildflowers of joy for this one moment.

~ Photo and poem by Beth Stilborn

R is for Ramble, Reawaken, Renew, and Roses — lovely, lovely Roses. (In the concrete, I see a 5 and a whale and …  What do you see?)




Questions. Kids are good at them. Why? Why is the sky blue? Why do the leaves fall off the trees — don’t they like the tree anymore? What’s that? Where are we going? (And the dreaded Are we there yet?)

Writers need to be good at them, too. Why is a good question for writers to ask. What if can give birth to amazing flights of fancy, deep musings and great stories. And if we keep asking questions, we’ll find that we’re NEVER there yet.

Some questions are burnt into our collective consciousness. Where were you when questions are in that category.

Where were you when JFK was shot? I was not quite seven, and Canadian, so was unaware of that tragedy until later. However, I remember Dad coming in the door early one June, 1968, morning after driving to the train station to pick up my cousin, and telling us that Bobby Kennedy had been shot. That moment seared into my memory.

Where were you when you heard about the Challenger? I was standing at the door of the public library, waiting for a ride, and a stranger standing next to me told me. As soon as my ride showed up, I made him turn on the car radio. Devastating.

It’s important for us to continue to ask questions throughout our lives, in whatever situation (personal or societal) that we find ourselves. Why are things that way? How can we change that? Is this the best it can be? How does this impact others? How can I help? What can I do?

We can’t learn the answers, we can’t start to work toward things being better, until we ask the questions. Sometimes it’s not easy to ask questions. It can be scary to rock the boat. It can seem dangerous. But if one of us starts questioning something, that will give others courage to question it, too.

If we ask the questions in our writing, it may touch someone who will start raising the question in their own mind, in their family, in their circle of friends. One question can be the beginning of great things.

We need to continue asking questions as we get older, as well. When we stop asking questions about all that’s around us, we stagnate. We turn inward. Questions keep us curious. They keep us learning. This article from Next Avenue shows that lifelong learners age better, more joyfully, and stay more alert through the aging process.

My mother modeled that. My doctor (who was the rounds doctor at Mum’s nursing home) used to marvel at how much Mum read. She decided at age 88, in her small, shared, nursing home room, that she wanted to learn more about how the human body works. She asked her doctor to recommend books.

He searched his own bookshelves, and when he didn’t have anything on the right level for her abilities at that age, he told me what to look for. I bought two books for her, with pull-out photos and copious, easily-understood information, and she pored over those pages. She kept asking questions.

Asking questions contributes to quality of life, no matter what age we are.

The questions must be asked. If we don’t ask them, who will?

Q. Questions. Quality of life.

And seemingly unrelated, Quack. Don’t forget that Julie’s Greenroom (with the DUCK) makes its debut on Friday, March 17, asking the questions, “How can kids become excited about the arts?” “How can we make sure that ,with funding cuts everywhere, kids still have access to the arts?” “If not us, who?” Check out this fabulous article that appeared in the New York Times on the weekend.


Party Bears! (Of the Super Happy Persuasion) PLUS a mini-interview with author MARCIE COLLEEN!

It’s YAY o’clock, which means it’s time to join the Super Happy Party Bears in a party dance — “slide to the left, hop to the right…”

Marcie Colleen’s delightful debut chapter book series will make kids laugh and want to dance and celebrate along with the bears, and they’ll cheer them on through every slide and hop. The easily read text paired with the fun illustrations makes for delight on every page.

It isn’t just all fun and games, though. The well-named Grumpy Woods are filled with critters who AREN’T Super Happy, and, in fact, are super offended by all the joy, glee, and noise that emanates from the Party Patch. Each book contrasts the many grumpy critters (led by Mayor Quill, a porcupine who is prone to getting so upset that he has a quill explosion) and their gloomy outlook on everything with the Super Happy Party Bears who just want to spread joy (and doughnuts).

When new critters come to the woods, the first reaction of the grumpy critters (after they blame the bears for whatever is disrupting the way they like things) is to figure out how to get the newcomers OUT of the woods, and furthermore, to KEEP them out.

The bears, on the other paw, are always delighted when someone new comes to party with them (even if the newcomers don’t want to party) but have to use their imaginations to deal with the clashes between grumps and newbies.

If you haven’t already spent time in the Grumpy Woods at one of the Bears’ Super Parties, dance on over to a bookstore or library a.s.a.p.!

I’m SUPER Super Happy today, to feature a mini-interview with the author of these books, my friend Marcie Colleen. Thanks so much, Marcie! *insert happy dance here*

Beth: How did the Super Happy Party Bears dance into your mind?

Marcie: The Super Happy Party Bears were actually the brainchild of my editor, Erin Stein. She had come up with the concept and was looking for an author to write the series.

She shared with me the initial concept about relentlessly happy bears living in a place called the Grumpy Woods. I was also given early sketches of the characters and a few lines of synopsis for the first four books. From there I was free to create.

An early thought was to not give individual names to the bears but to have them operate as a saccharine-sweet Greek chorus, always speaking in unison. But once I saw sketches the bears screamed to be given their own personalities. It has been a joy to create these stories and I can’t thank Erin enough for gifting them to me.

Beth: I hunch that some people think of you as an “overnight success” — could you tell us about all the work that happened before the success part of it started happening?

Marcie: I had felt the pull to be a writer for decades, but never knew quite what I wanted to write. But I started pursuing writing for children in October 2010. Right away I joined SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), immersed myself in the community, and dedicated my focus to learning more about craft of writing for children.

Fast forward to 2013, with several completed and polished manuscripts I started my agent search and eventually signed with Susan Hawk. Susan is what is called an “editorial agent” and help me fine-tune much of my work.

Then in September of 2014 we sold my first book, a picture book called THE ADVENTURE OF THE PENGUINAUT, to Scholastic. Shortly afterward, in November of 2014, we sold my second picture book, LOVE, TRIANGLE in a five-house auction in a 2-book deal to Alessandra Balzer at Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins.

Then I started writing the Super Happy Party Bears chapter book series in October 2015 which is currently an 8-book deal. In the meantime, I have been writing lots more books and hope to have more exciting news soon.

Beth: Could you tell us some of the other “party hats” you’ve worn in what I know is a varied career (and some of the exciting things you do now in addition to your writing)?

Marcie: I have been a fulltime high school English and drama teacher, an actress, a Teaching Artist on Broadway, a Director of Education at several theatres, a nanny, and I even donned a Viking helmet for a season and flipped Danish-style burgers at an outdoor market in New York City.

Now, in addition to my writing, I create Teacher’s Guides for other authors who want a way to bring their books to existing school curricula.

Beth: What other books are coming from Marcie Colleen?

Marcie: I have two forthcoming picture books that I am quite excited about. LOVE, TRIANGLE (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins) illustrated by Bob Shea will launch on October 3, 2017. THE ADVENTURE OF THE PENGUINAUT (Scholastic), illustrated by Emma Yarlett, will launch in Fall 2018.

And there are more Super Happy Party Bears books, too. The second two in the series, STAYING A HIVE and GOING NUTS come out March 14, 2017. Then, in the Fall three more hit the shelves: BAT TO THE BONE, THE JITTERBUG, and TINY PRANCER. And perhaps most exciting is a Super Happy Party Bears box set with the first four books coming in September.

Beth: Tell us one fun fact about you.

Marcie: I didn’t remember that I wanted to be an author when I was a kid until I found a bunch of old stories I wrote in childhood. In the About the Author section at the end of one “book” I actually wrote about this dream.

And even more special is a note from one of my teachers in sixth grade.

Beth: Thanks so much, Marcie! I loved learning more about your writing in general and the bears in particular. I wish you all the best as you continue to dance your way through life! (Have you sent your sixth grade teacher a copy of the Super Happy Party Bears? Is that still possible?)

You can find Marcie at her website, www.thisismarciecolleen.com

and at her Twitter, @MarcieColleen1

This week, P is for Party Bears of the super happy persuasion, and Prancing around the room dancing the Happy Dance with Marcie! It’s also for being Prepared to Pick up on opportunities that come our way, as Marcie did when Erin introduced the concept of the Super Happy Party Bears; for Picture Books; and for Priceless friends. Thanks again, Marcie!


P.S. Marcie had no idea that the P I would use to illustrate this post would be Purple when she chose the color of her responses to my questions. Can P be for serendiPity?


On Stage, Everyone! On With the Show! — Julie’s Greenroom

The curtain is about to open on an exciting new offering from Julie Andrews, Emma Walton Hamilton, Lisa Henson and a whole host of others, including brand new Henson puppets! It’s a wonderful opportunity for kids (and not-kids) to learn stagecraft and to experience all that the arts has to offer in a person’s life.

Julie’s Greenroom is a new Netflix series (13-parts for this debut season) ostensibly for preschoolers, but I think all ages of kids — and even teens and adults — will enjoy, benefit from, and learn from the series and the many guest stars who will be teaching various elements of stagecraft.

The premise is that Miss Julie (the fictional character played by Julie Andrews) and her assistant Gus (played by Giullian Yao Gioiello) run a center for the performing arts. They interact with a group of kids (and a duck) collectively called Greenies (played by Henson puppets). In each episode there is a guest star who teaches some aspect of the craft, such as Alec Baldwin teaching about acting, Joshua Bell teaching about orchestras, and so on.

The kids (and the duck) are, as I mentioned, Henson puppets and were created specifically for this series. I have seen the puppets in clips on television spots that Ms. Andrews and Emma have done, and they are absolutely delightful. It is also delightful to see Ms. Andrews interact with the puppets as if they were really kids. (And I can hardly wait to see the duck in action!)

The series debuts on Netflix on Friday, March 17, and will be on Netflix International so those of us not in the United States don’t need to worry about being left out.

You can see the official trailer here.

Read an excellent article in the New Yorker based on an interview with Emma Walton Hamilton and Lisa Henson here.

See the press release from the Jim Henson Company here.

And here’s a review (why yes, I *did* choose it because it mentions the duck).

O this week stands for On stage, On with the show, Offering, Opportunity, and the Ovation I suspect viewers will want to give after they watch the Opening episode. Oh — it also stands for Ornithological wonders (that’s the only way I could think of to get O to stand for Duck. 😉 )


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