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The Tree in the Courtyard

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The Tree in the Courtyard

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The Tree in the Courtyard
Looking Through Anne Frank's Window
By Jeff Gottesfeld
Illustrated by Peter McCarty
Alfred A. Knopf, New York: 2016
ISBN: 978-0-385-75397-5

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - March 8, 2016

Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl who lived in Amsterdam at the start of World War II. When the Nazis started to round up Danish Jews, Anne, her older sister, and her parents went into hiding in the 'secret' annex of her father's factory. They lived there, along with four other people until they were betrayed and arrested by the Nazis. Anne died at the Bergen-Belsen Concentration camp two weeks before the camp was liberated. She was only fifteen years old. Of all the people who hid in the secret annex, only Anne's father survived the war. When he returned to Amsterdam he discovered that a family friend had found Anne's diary and kept it, hoping that one day she would return... It is from this diary that the world has come to know Anne Frank and her family. However, the diary is not suited for very young children. So how do you introduce very young readers to the Holocaust and the story of Anne Frank? Jeff Gottesfeld has found a unique way to open a dialog with young readers through his book, The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank's Window.

This haunting book tells the story of Anne Frank and her diary from the perspective of a horse chestnut tree that grew outside the building where the Frank family hid from the Nazis. In simple, elegant prose the tree witnesses the beginning of the war, and how it first caught sight of Anne and the other inhabitants of the secret annex. The tree gives a glimpse into Anne's life while she was in hiding, some of the events that transpired after her family was taken away, and how tree itself came to die - and how the legacy of the tree, and Anne's diary are united.

The narrative is enhanced by exquisite pen and ink drawings by Peter McCarty. These drawings both enliven and expand upon the text, and they serve to forge a tangible, visual connection between the reader and the people and events mentioned in the book. The combination of text and drawings make this a remarkably memorable and thought-provoking book. While this is a book that is geared toward new readers in the 5-8 age range, it is also a book that will resonate with older readers. It is a fantastic book with which to start a dialog about the holocaust with young readers, and to ease these readers into the horrors that they will learn about when they are old enough to study the holocaust in greater detail.

Personally, I think that this is a book that is best read as a family, or in a school setting, so that questions can be asked and answered in an age appropriate manner. The Tree in the Courtyard will make an excellent addition to any school or public library, and it will prove a valuable addition to any home library used by young readers.

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