I BOOK ORDERING
is a born speaker. She loves visiting schools and talking to kids,
bringing history to life for them in ways rarely seen today.
and brought up in Holland, Johanna taught elementary school for
several years before coming to the United States
live. It was here that she wrote her first autobiographical book
for children, The Upstairs Room, which was a 1973 Newbery
Honor Book, an American Library Association Notable Children's
Book, a Jane Addams Peace Association Honor Book, a New York Times
Outstanding Book of the Year, and a School Library Journal Best
Book. It also won the Jewish
Book Council Juvenile Book Award and the Buxtehuder Bulle, a prestigious
German children's book award. The Upstairs Room is about
the author's own experiences during World War II, when she and
her sister, Sini, were forced to hide in a cold, drab room of
a Gentile family's farmhouse in order to avoid being captured
by the Nazis, who were, in fact, often just a few feet away from
them. This period in her life is the subject of many of her talks
when she visits schools.
Reiss writes that soon after she had finished The Upstairs
"there was still something I wanted to say, something that was
as meaningful to me as the story I had told in the first book,
the story of a war. `The fighting has stopped. Peace treaty signed,'
newspapers announce at the conclusion of every war. From a political
point of view, the war is over, but in another sense it has not
really ended. People are fragile. They are strong, too, but wars
leave emotional scars that take a long time to heal, generations
perhaps. I know this to be true of myself, and of others. And
out of those feelings came The Journey Back, a story
of the aftermath of the Second World War."
2006, The Upstairs Room celebrated 35 years in print.
In 2009, her new book, A Hidden Life, written for adults
was published and became a New York Times Editors' Choice
on 3/1/09. Related to The Upstairs Room, it is nevertheless
an entirely different kind of story. A description can be found
under her list of books.
Mrs. Reiss lives in New York City within subway distance from
her daughters and her grandchildren. She dedicates a good deal
of time to going around the country, talking to students about
her experiences and the very personal way that history touches
the lives of everyday people.
the many positive responses we've heard about Mrs. Reiss's presentations,
this one from Mary Ellen Speciale of the Lincoln Middle School
in Dunellen, New Jersey is the most touching:
was my last day of school. No more final papers to correct,
grades to calculate, or signing out procedures. So, I can sit
back and email you to let you know how Johanna's appearance
went at my school. It went marvelously well! Johanna is
amazing! Her energy was so surprising to us. As Johanna and I
walked back from the auditorium after her presentation, some of
the students who walked with us told me that they had to run down
the hall in order to walk beside her. I felt the same way.
was tremendously exciting for all of us to actually hear
Johanna speak and see the slides of the Oosterveld family.
When Opoe came on the screen, there was one big *Opoe* from the
students who quickly identified the elderly woman sitting in the
chair. I kept hearing the word *awesome* from the students when
they commented on Johanna's visit. The parents' reaction was one
of great appreciation. Some quickly emailed me to let me know
how much their children loved hearing the author. They were
reacting to the very positive feedback that their children had
given them. One parent of an eighth grader told me that her
son never liked to read, but after having met Johanna Reiss, he
couldn't stop talking about her or her book. The mother was
thrilled that her son actually had a conversation about a book that
he was excited about.
was so inspirational to the students! They felt they had actually
met a Holocaust survivor and not only a Holocaust survivor but
an author who had written about it.
lunch, Johanna sat at a table of about 6 students. Two other teachers
and I sat at another table, but Johanna chose to sit with
the students, which made our luncheon very special. She talked
with the kids and asked them about their plans for the summer.
At the end, when she was saying good-bye, she hugged each of them. These
kids will never forget that. I once heard the president of
our New Jersey Teachers' Association say, *One hundred years from
now it won't matter what type of house you lived in or what kind
of car you drove. What will matter is that you made a difference
in the life of a child.* Johanna Reiss made that difference
in the lives of many children on June 8th. They will never
forget her. Neither will I.