Thursday 7 January 2016

Stefania’s dancing slippers by Jennifer Beck, illustrated by Lindy Fisher

Stefania’s dancing slippers by Jennifer Beck, illustrated by Lindy Fisher (Scholastic, 2007)

32 pages

Subjects: World War Two, Poland, Russia, Siberia, Persia, New Zealand, Pahiatua, refugees, picture book (Year 5-8)

This book won a silver medal for Best Picture Book of all Ages at the Moonbeams Children’s Book Awards in the United States.

Stefania is a young girl who loves to dress up and dance, but her life changes forever when war comes to Poland in December 1939 and her father leaves to join the army. When Stefania and her mother are ousted from their house by Russian soldiers, she slips into her pocket her most treasured possession: her dancing slippers.

Along with many other Polish families, they are put on a crowded train and taken to a camp in Siberia. Later they have a long, difficult journey south to Persia.  Finally, in 1944, Stefania – but not her mother – arrives by ship in Wellington, where, along with other children, she finds a new home in the Polish camp in Pahiatua.

The book includes a map of Stefania’s travels at the front, and a historical note at the back about the Polish children of Pahiatua.

This review calls it a “moving tender historical fiction” which has depth, feeling, sadness and joy. 

If you were given only 30 minutes to leave your house, like Stefania, what would be your most treasured possession that you would take with you?

About the author:
You can read an interview with Jennifer Beck on the Christchurch City Libraries website, and another one on the NZ Book Council site. 

About the illustrator
You can read about Lindy Fisher on the Storylines website, and also on the NZ Book Council site. She also has her own website (interesting fact: Lindy has had over 75 stamps published by New Zealand Post!)

Other books you might like:
Jennifer Beck is the author of the much-loved picture book The bantam and the soldier (illustrated by Robyn Belton). She and Lindy Fisher have worked together on other books, including A present from the past (about the Christmas boxes given to the soldiers by Princess Mary in World War One) and Remember that November (about Parihaka).

A Winter’s Day in 1939 (Scholastic, 2013) by Melinda Szymanik tells the story of 13-year-old Adam, who lives with his family on a small farm in rural Poland. In 1939, war breaks out and the Russians invade Poland and confiscate Adam’s family’s house and farm. They are sent to live with another family nearby, but are then moved on and put on a train for a Russian labour camp as refugees, prisoners of Russia. 

NZ connections:
The 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Polish children was marked by a reunion in Wellington in October-November 2014. The reunion's facebook page gives more information. 

NZ on screen also shows a 1966 documentary on The story of Seven Hundred Polish children.

You can find out more about the Polish children who came to Pahiatua on Te ara and also on the Polish Heritage Trust Museum website. 

Polish refugee children arriving at Pahiatua Railway Station
Polish refugee children arriving at Pahiatua Railway Station (Taken by John Pascoe)  Ref: 1/2-003646-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

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