Perfect Picture Book Fridays are the creation of the lovely children’s book author Susanna Leonard Hill. Check in each week on Fridays for new book reviews. Susanna also has a complete list (alphabetically and by theme) of all the book reviews. It’s a wonderful resource if you’re looking for activities for a book, or books focused on a particular theme.
Author: Candace Fleming
Illustrator: Stacey Dressen-McQueen
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genre: Historical fiction picture book
Themes: Generosity; making a difference
Opening: After the war, there was little left in the tiny Dutch town of Olst. The townspeople lived on cabbages and seed potatoes. They patched and repatched their worn-thin clothing, and they went without soap or milk, sugar or new shoes.
One spring morning, when the tulips bloomed thick and bright, Postman Kleinhoonte pedaled his bicycle down the cobbled street.
“Oh ho!” he whooped. “I have a box for Katje—a box from America.”
Synopsis: (from publisher’s website) After World War II there is little left in Katje’s town of Olst in Holland. Her family, like most Dutch families, must patch their old worn clothing and go without everyday things like soap and milk. Then one spring morning when the tulips bloom “thick and bright,” Postman Kleinhoonte pedals his bicycle down Katje’s street to deliver a mysterious box – a box from America! Full of soap, socks, and chocolate, the box has been sent by Rosie, an American girl from Mayfield, Indiana. Her package is part of a goodwill effort to help the people of Europe. What’s inside so delights Katje that she sends off a letter of thanks – beginning an exchange that swells with so many surprises that the girls, as well as their townspeople, will never be the same.
This inspiring story, with strikingly original art, is based on the author’s mother’s childhood and will show young readers that they, too, can make a difference.
What makes it great: The incredibly touching storyline and the vivid descriptions of how little the people in Olst had, and how thankful they were for the gifts from America make me tear up every time I read this book. But what really brings on the waterworks is the ending. This is a wonderful book for helping children understand how simple things can sometimes make a huge difference in people’s lives, and that even kids can play a part in this.
What readers notice: Hopefully they don’t notice the tears streaming down my face while I read this! Both my 3-year-old and 7-year-old enjoy this story. My 3-year-old loves seeing all the surprises that come out of the boxes, and she likes the letters written back and forth between the Dutch girl, Katje, and her American friend, Rosie. For my son, this has been a good way to talk about war, and some of what happened during World War II, as well as the idea that some people live with very little and we can’t take all the things we have for granted.
What a writer notices: The structure of the story keeps readers turning the pages to find out what will be in Katje’s next box from America. She included details that would make the deprivation of the Dutch people seem compelling to children (no chocolate; no sugar; no socks; no coat).
If you’ve read any other books by Candace Fleming, you’ve seen that she knows her way around an ending, and this one is no different. It is so touching and unexpected and brings full circle the idea of what it means to give something – even when it seem you have nothing at all to give.
Activities/Links to Resources:
See some interior illusrations:
A lesson plan for starting a class “Make a Difference Day” inspired by the book:
Reading Rainbow “Boxes for Katje” episode teacher’s guide:
Teacher’s guide from the publisher’s website: