Righteous Among the Nations: The Muslims of Paris

grand mosque paris

Over sixty years later, there is so little documentation. This important story needs to be told, especially in these days of European terrorism, Islamofascism, and Islamophobia.

“Jewish or Muslim,”–and so I’ve been told, also Christian–“the people of North Africa lived as neighbors and shared similar cultures. Through the centuries, they referred to each other as brothers.”

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During The Holocaust relates the little-known and barely-documented story of how Alegerian diplomat Si Kaddour Benghabrit and his Muslim colleagues sheltered numerous Jews from the Nazis in Vichy Paris. Authors Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix draw heavily on the work of Derri Berkani, an Algerian-French filmmaker whose parents participated in the Kabyle Berber Resistance in France. His film “Une Resistance Oubliee: La  Mosquee” and other articles contribute to this important piece of lost history.

“Once warned, the people in hiding rushed into the secluded women’s section of the prayer room, where even Nazis and Vichy police dared not enter. [Si Benghabrit] delayed the search by demanding that the soldiers and police remove their boots. . . Taking off heavy military boots took time, giving everyone the opportunity to get out of sight.”

This book is beautifully illustrated, but do not be deceived: it is no true picture book. The long blocks of text are too complex both in terms of reading level and subject matter for an elementary-school reader.  Even I, who should know better! was at a lost where to place it until I remembered and chided myself for initially thinking that illustrated books are [only] for young children. This would work best in a multi-disciplinary lesson plan, perhaps for middle school, or for home-schoolers; for a venue with a knowledgeable, compassionate adult close at hand.

Details and statistics of how many rescued are scarce. In one registry from the Grand Mosque, over 400 unexpected children are listed, presumably Jews given a Muslim identity.  Over 1700 extra ration stubs were identified, another indicator of the number of people sheltered.

Glossary and extensive Bibliography.

A book everyone should read in these scary, troubling times of unrest.

Ruelle, Karen Gray and Deborah Durland DeSaix. The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust. N.Y.: Holiday House, 2009.

ruelle girl

Additional Resources:

Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands. [book & DVD] from pbs.org

Among the Righteous on YouTube

The Righteous Among The Nations  — Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

Educators’ Guide from the Publisher


Band of Bear Brothers [Book Review]


             Soldier Bear is the story of the bear Voytek who became both mascot and comrade-in-arms to the men of the Second Polish Corps during World War II. Caught outside their homeland due to the war, 120 Poles joined up with the British and became part of the Allied invasion of Italy and the fight to liberate Europe from the Nazis. “Private” Voytek became a valued member of their company: in addition to improving morale, he once caught a spy in their camp and even helped carry artillery shells. For this latter action, he was immortalized forever as the emblem of the 2nd Polish Corps.

The badge of the 22nd Artillery Support Company of the 2nd Polish Corps from Wikimedia Commons

The badge of the 22nd Artillery Support Company of the 2nd Polish Corps; from Wikimedia Commons

The book begins strongly with an amusing anecdote, told from the bear’s point-of-view, about Voytek wandering into the women’s camp, terrifying the women and upsetting their laundry; then the narrative voice asserts itself: “The bear had at least ten pairs of undies on top of his head. One pair was hanging from his snout and he had a bra around his neck . . .” (9). Middle-Elementary readers will howl with laughter and be instantly hooked.

The company came to adopt a menagerie of animal companions including Dottie the dalmation and a mischievous monkey named Kaska who liked to ride on the back of another dog named Stalin. But Voytek’s adventures are the most interesting, and the other animals are minor characters who sometimes take up too much of the narrative—although juvenile readers, the intended audience, would likely enjoy it.

By Unknown - Imperial War Museum id: HU 16545, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25241510

Voytek meets a dog as a Polish soldier watches.       Photograph: By Unknown – Imperial War Museum id: HU 16545, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25241510


            Author Bibi Dumon Tak describes her writing style as “blend[ing] literary technique with fact to produce stories that are both compelling and accurate” — in other words, creative nonfiction. Then in the next sentence, she indicates that Soldier Bear is a novel. Cataloging-in-Publication calls it fiction, and juvenile fiction is where my local library has shelved it. We all would have done better to call it creative nonfiction, slap a nonfiction call number on it [940; World War, 1939-1945] and leave it there.

In structure, the book reads like a traditional biography—bearography—birth, or early life and adoption by the Polish Company; life, including the anecdotes mentioned above and others; and death, or at least farewell, as he goes on to live his post-war life in the Edinburgh Zoo. As fiction, quite frankly, it lacks dramatic tension and a strong plot arc. Its scenes are chronological; there is no big climax; and the post-war denouncement is elongated. Despite its title, this book perhaps works better as a war chronicle of the men in the Second Polish Corps.

One strength is the skill with which the author explained the war to children:

            ‘World War II started when the Germans and the Russians went into Poland, the Germans from the left and the Russians from the right. They stopped exactly in the middle, where they drew a line.

“This half is ours now,” the Germans said.

“And we’ll take the other half,” the Russians said.

Poor Poland! From that day on, the country as everyone knew it no longer existed…’

The author continues

             ‘…Then something unbelievable happened: an entire army of Germans invaded Russia.

“We thought you were our friends!” the Russians shouted at the Germans.

“Ha!” the Germans shouted back, “We’re only friends with ourselves!”…’

Similarly, grisly war details are handled with tact. The war violence gets no more explicit than one soldier reflecting how he almost got blown up, but was instead witness to a death. Spoiler alert: the death of the monkey Kaska and her baby monkey is a stand-in for the emotional toll of war. In all, the author handled the difficult aspects of war with skill and age-appropriateness.

However, American readers are likely to be taken aback by a few additional details in this telling. Note that it was originally published in the Netherlands (2008) where some of the questionable elements may be more acceptable. What is an American reader to make of a bear who prefers beer and cigarettes to honey? Fact is fact, but I expect that some parents might be uncomfortable, especially given its middle-elementary target audience. Then we have a few of the author’s descriptions sometimes veering into what we would call politically incorrect.  One of the characters disdains goodbyes filled with “sobbing away like a bunch of girls” (134) while another greets the death of Hitler with the religious expletive “Holy Mary, Mother of God” (130). To further problematize the text, I suspect this is the creative part of creative nonfiction, or invented dialogue.

I commend the publisher Eerdmans for taking on such a risky book. (In library school, we learned about an illustrated version of Little Red Riding Hood that had been challenged or banned because Red was bringing wine in her basket to Grandma.) Certainly the true story of the war bear Voytek deserves to be told. Reservations aside, this book could fit into an interdisciplinary unit on war or W.W.II . or as the perfect book for the budding history buff. As Americans, we so often view the War through an American or British lens. Soldier Bear is noteworthy because it is one of the few books about the war from the Polish Army’s perspective. In sum, it is an important book.

Middle Elementary/Grade 3 and up; 145 pages with illustrations and photos. Recommended with reservations for larger libraries or specialized readers, parents, and teachers.

Tak, Bibi Dumon, author, and Philip Hopman, illustrator. Soldier Bear. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books For Young Readers, 2011. Print.

By Pernambuko - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9177366

By Pernambuko – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9177366

Bonus Material

Actual video footage of Voytek (Wojtek) produced by British website The War Years.

2011 Documentary Film: Wojtek – The Bear That Went To War.

Article with Photos from Business Insider.

Another article from the BBC.

Daily Mail article.

Reading/Study Guide by the Publisher.


Judgment-Free Zone

I saw this sign when I was out running errands:

Judgment Free Zone


Judgment-Free Zone.

My heart got a little squishy. I have zero interest in joining a gym, but I reached out toward that advertisement with longing: I want to go to a judgment-free zone.

               It reminded me of that time when as a children’s librarian I was reading Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are to a preschool group. Usually I pre-read the books in advance, but this was a classic, and I figured I knew it well. I turned the page and got to the line, “And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.” And my heart scrunched and my eyes watered up in front of all those three and four year olds. Me too, I’d thought.


Despite my disinterest in joining a gym—[I’m overweight; I probably should, but that’s a topic for another day]—I give props to that advertisement campaign. Brilliant. Isn’t that what we all want? Acceptance. In particular, my own childhood was excessively strict and punitive. Nearly everything I did was wrong. To this day I have a hard time trusting—even my friends. I’ve been looking thirty years for a judgment-free zone.

It got me thinking about the places and spaces in my life.

I’m fortunate that my church is a judgment-free zone. It’s one of the few judgment-free zones in my life. That and my therapist’s office. Too many people find only judgment in church.

My relationships? Well, perhaps some of the perceived judgment is my own worries and not reality.

Still, that one gym advertisement prompted me to consider:


Am I making my home a judgment-free zone?

How do I make my workplace judgment-free?

As a supervisor, I need to require proper employee behavior, but do I encourage or discourage?


How would the world look if every place was a judgment free zone?

Join with me and commit to making your world a judgment-free zone today.


Grammar Note:

Despite the advertising poster, “judgment” in the preferred American spelling. Judgement (with an e) is sometimes considered acceptable in British English.



Hear ye, Hear ye: Now Presenting John D. Batten

John D. Batten, page 1 from Europa's Fairy Book

John D. Batten, page 1 from Europa’s Fairy Book (1916).

In honor of National Tell a Fairy Tale Day, I am sharing the work of one of my favorite fairy tale illustrators: John D. Batten.

               John Dickson Batten was an English illustrator and painter most known for collaborating with English fairy tale anthologist Joseph Jacobs. His illustrations populate Jacobs’ books: English Fairy Tales (1890), Celtic Fairy Tales (1892 anthology), More Celtic Fairy Tales (1894), More English Fairy Tales (1894), Indian Fairy Tales (1912), European Folk and Fairy Tales (also known as Europa’s Fairy Book). He also illustrated a version of Dante’s Inferno and wrote two books of poetry!

Here are some of my favorite John D. Batten illustrations:

John D. Batten, illustration of Tam Lin

John D. Batten, illustration of Tam Lin

John D. Batten, illustration of Mr. Fox from English Fairy Tales (1890)

John D. Batten, illustration of Mr. Fox from English Fairy Tales (1890)




Sur La Lune Fairy Tales

Gratitude is Healthy Every Day of the Year

Gratitude is good for your health.

Want proof?  Shawn Achor can give you some.  He is a researcher into the science of happiness. Yes, science; he calls it positive psychology. In one scientific study, participants who wrote about a positive experience three times a week not only were happier when re-tested three month later, but had fewer symptoms of illness. Another study found that people who wrote down three good things each day for one week found themselves happier at a one-month, three-month, and six-month follow-up assessment.


The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Read my full review in this month’s issue of Library Worklife.  Or better yet: read his book.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Review originally published in the November 2013 issue of Library Worklife: H.R. E-News For Today’s Leaders.

Available for purchase through Amazon.

Long, Cynthia. “The Happiness Advantage.”   Library Worklife: H.R. E-News For Today’s Leaders. Vol. 10 n. 2 (November 2013). Web.  http://ala-apa.org/newsletter/2013/11/11/the-happiness-advantage/

Winning Friends and Other Carnival Games

how to win friends     A recent edition of Dale Carnegie’s classic is emblazoned with a gold medallion on its cover which proclaims it ‘The Timeless Bestseller.” We all know we should read it, but how many of us actually have?

Some work challenges led me to this resource recently, which I reflect upon in a essay recently featured in Library Worklife.

Long, Cynthia.  “Winning Friends And Other Carnival Games.” Library Worklife: H.R. E-News For Today’s Leaders. ALA-APA, Vol. 10, n. 9 (September 2013). http://ala-apa.org/newsletter/2013/09/08/winning-friends-and-other-carnival-games/

Happy Birthday, Eric Carle

In honor of renowned children’s book author-illustrator Eric Carle, born June 25, 1929, I offer my homage to his classic “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”:

The Very Busy Manager

There was once a very busy children’s librarian. She sang songs and performed fingerplays. She visited schools, told stories and promoted Summer Reading. She did the hoky-poky and turned herself around and, when the opportunity arose, she spread her fairy wings and became a manager.

On Monday, the toilet overflowed. She called Facilities and left work at 5:05 p.m.

On Tuesday, she held a staff meeting. She got in early at 7:30 a.m. to prepare.

On Wednesday, The Friends of the Library book sale ran until 6 p.m. and made $251.25.

On Thursday, she attended the Library Board Meeting. The Board debated polices until 9 p.m. before deferring the vote for one month.

On Friday, the Union filed a Grievance. She brought the contract and files home with her and read in bed until midnight.

On Saturday, she had one lost preschooler, two staff absences, three roof leaks in the 300’s, four incidents of vandalism or theft, five teenagers arguing until the police were called and six broken machines: a clock with a run-down battery; an overheated electric pencil sharpener; downed telephones; glitchy circulation scanners; a photocopier paper jam; disrupted internet; and a crashed server. That night she had a glass of wine and went to bed early.

On Sunday, the Library was closed. (It was Summer.)

On Monday, the sun shone brightly. The computers and plumbing worked; a Board member brought flowers; a patron wrote a thank you note; she amicably shook hands with the Union representative over coffee; and a college student came back to show his A+ paper.

She realized she wasn’t a very busy children’s librarian anymore. She was a very busy manager! But as she sipped her coffee and reread the thank you note, she remembered the student’s A+ paper. She was a very proud Librarian.

carle caterpillar


Eric Carle biography.

The Official Eric Carle website with Very Hungry Caterpillar coloring page.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

A video interview with Eric Carle from Reading Rockets.

Too cute! The Very Hungry Caterpillar children’s birthday party planner from Pottery Barn Kids. Check out the lantern and recipes.


“The Very Busy Manager” was originally published in July 2010 in the Vol. 7, Number 7 issue of Library Worklife e-journal. Copyright by the author.

Image: Cover to Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Promotional usage constitutes Fair Use.