Books for Chil­dren of the World: The Sto­ry of Jel­la Lepman

Sydelle Pearl, Dan­lyn Iantorno, illus.
  • Review
By – March 2, 2012
Jel­la Lep­man, a Jew­ish woman, escaped from Ger­many to Eng­land dur­ing WWII. When the war end­ed, the Amer­i­can Army asked her to return to Ger­many to help deter­mine what kind of aid would be most help­ful to the chil­dren. Of course, Jel­la noticed many needs, includ­ing hous­ing, cloth­ing, and food; she also saw the children’s yearn­ing for books, and she deter­mined to find a way to fill that need. She sent let­ters to pub­lish­ers in 20 coun­tries, ask­ing for dona­tions, and was thrilled when books start­ed to arrive. She also trans­lat­ed Fer­di­nand the Bull,” a sto­ry about a bull who loved flow­ers and hat­ed to fight, into Ger­man, and arranged for inex­pen­sive copies to be print­ed, so the chil­dren could have their own books to keep. In 1949, she found­ed the Inter­na­tion­al Youth Library in Munich. Author Sydelle Pearl presents a biog­ra­phy of a remark­able woman whose name most Amer­i­cans prob­a­bly don’t know. Lepman’s deter­mi­na­tion to bring books to chil­dren should ensure that she is beloved by librar­i­ans and book lovers all over. Lepman’s Jew­ish iden­ti­ty is men­tioned only once, in the con­text of her flight from Ger­many, and is nei­ther men­tioned again, nor seems to inform her quest to bring books to chil­dren. Despite the illus­trat­ed for­mat, this sto­ry is more like­ly to appeal to old­er chil­dren, who will more read­i­ly under­stand the dif­fi­cul­ties and strug­gles of the pro­tag­o­nist. Dan­lyn Iantorno’s illus­tra­tions hint at the trou­bles in Nazi-con­trolled Ger­many, as well as the trou­bles in Ger­many after the war. The faces, how­ev­er, all seem to share the same expres­sion. Nonethe­less, this biog­ra­phy will intro­duce a remark­able woman to all who read it. Ages 8 – 11.
Mar­ci Lavine Bloch earned her MLS from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land, a BA from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia and an MA in Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture from Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty. She has worked in syn­a­gogue and day school libraries and is cur­rent­ly fin­ish­ing her term on the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Award Committee.

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