The year 1929 was when both my parents were born. It was also the year that gave the world two truly immortal human beings: the American civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and Anne Frank, whose autobiography is arguably the best-known book ever written about the Holocaust, while also being one of the best-selling, most widely read autobiographies in history. And now 90 years later, author Nancy Churnin and illustrator Yevgenia Nayberg have teamed up to tell the story of these two “kindred spirits” to a young audience living in a world that needs to hear its message of unity and compassion.
This gorgeously illustrated book alternates between the stories of Martin and Anne, starting with their births and early years. We learn about young Martin’s life being raised in the Jim Crow South and about how he was rejected by a White friend simply because of his race. At the same time, Anne must deal with the rise of Nazis in her native Germany and the systematic discrimination that follows her and her family to the Netherlands. Martin must deal with signs reading “Whites Only,” while Anne must wear the infamous yellow Star of David everywhere she goes. But while Martin gets a chance to attend school to become a skilled orator, Anne and her family must hide in a hidden annex, where she writes down her thoughts and feelings in her diary. And of course, both die much too young at the hands of hate.
Both of these people were raised in circumstances of despair, surrounded by prejudice and persecution. Both of them left the world with words and messages of love and hope. Though both of their stories are tragic, Churnin’s interweaving of their lives leaves us with a message of love and hope. But I was moved most by the illustrations. Nayberg’s work has appeared in art galleries, on album and book covers, in set and costume designs for theatrical productions, on posters, and in other books for children. The illustrations here are striking and evocative and led me to re-read the book several times just so I could experience them over and over. I look forward to seeing her other work.
The book includes a timeline and a short but useful bibliography. A free curriculum guide is available on the publisher’s website which could be used to facilitate classroom activities or an excellent First-day school lesson or two based on this beautiful, elegant, timely book.