Toby Belfer Learns About Heroes and Martyrs

Glo­ria Teles Pushk­er and Mel Tarman
  • Review
By – January 13, 2012
Doing some­thing because it is the right thing to do takes on new sig­nif­i­cance in this spir­it­ed, mov­ing col­lec­tion of thumb­nail biogra­phies of right­eous gen­tiles, which will keep read­ers turn­ing pages to the end. Toby Belfer, pep­py, pop­u­lar pic­ture book hero­ine, appears in this old­er read­ers’ chap­ter book, her bounce not weighed by the heav­i­ness of the Holo­caust, but drawn to the pos­i­tive sto­ries of the few who helped the Jews. All 26 peo­ple here are care­ful­ly cho­sen and inter­est­ing: many of their lives have been the top­ic of movies, plays and books. Some names are famil­iar, some are new­ly dis­cov­ered. The group­ing of these indi­vid­u­als is clever; cat­e­gories include Ger­mans Who Defied Orders” Roy­al and Brave Cler­gy” and Hero­ic Diplo­mats.” The book’s frame — a fifth grade school trip from Louisiana to Israel’s Yad Vashem Memo­r­i­al and Muse­um— is a reach (the cost, the grade). Not to wor­ry, once there, Toby’s ebul­lient spir­it chan­nels into ener­gy; she and her friend write down names and sto­ries to share back home. Their reports inspire a trip to the Six Mil­lion Paper Clip Muse­um in Ten­nessee, a tremen­dous, wor­thy project, although it can be debat­ed whether those who cre­at­ed it are bona fide Right­eous Gen­tiles, as the author states. How­ev­er, this does not detract from the 26 coura­geous peo­ple who share with the Jews the true des­ig­na­tion of heroes and mar­tyrs. The book is well writ­ten with clear expla­na­tions of new terms. The tense, dra­mat­ic indi­vid­ual adven­tures pit moral good­ness against the tragedy of the Holo­caust. An excel­lent, heal­ing book for chil­dren ages 9 to 12.

Ellen G. Cole, a retired librar­i­an of the Levine Library of Tem­ple Isa­iah in Los Ange­les, is a past judge of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards and a past chair­per­son of that com­mit­tee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excel­lence in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Ellen is the recip­i­ent of two major awards for con­tri­bu­tion to Juda­ic Librar­i­an­ship, the Fan­ny Gold­stein Mer­it Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroed­er Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She is on the board of AJLSC.

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