Monday, December 30, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Anne Frank's Chestnut Tree by Jane Kohuth, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles

I'm generally skeptical about biographies for very young children - I don't think they have the context to really be interested in historical figures, which is why, in my opinion, picture book biographies really only work in schools, where teachers can introduce them in the context of classroom units. However, this easy reader biography of Anne Frank really, really works and I was surprised and pleased to see how good it was.

The story talks briefly about how Anne was an ordinary little girl, who liked to play with her friends, write, and collect pictures of movie stars. It explains the Nazi invasion in simple terms and shows their persecution of Jews without being too graphic or frightening. Most of the story focuses on Anne's life in hiding and how, despite the difficulty and sadness of her life, she still maintained hope, as symbolized by the chestnut tree. The story ends by explaining that although Anne did not survive the war, she lives on in her words and in the hope and kindness she believed in.

This is a level 3 Step Into Reading title, intended for 1st through 3rd grade. The language still has the brief, declarative sentences of an easy reader, but more complex vocabulary (collected, thoughts, opinions, memories, complained, etc.) is included as well as the more complex context of the story itself. The art is soft and pastel, conveying the fear and sadness of the story without making it nightmarish. The dark, earth-colored art doesn't do as well in the final illustrations, showing Anne's legacy and the hope she left behind though.

Verdict: I would definitely recommend this for a public library. It's a great introduction to Anne Frank for young children, as well as being a good story for them to read, even without complete context. Parents (and teachers) will want to be prepared to offer more explanations of the historical events, including Anne's death, since kids will probably be curious to find out more about her life.

ISBN: 9780449812556; Published 2013 by Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher; Added to the library

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