“The Christmas Visitor” by Anneliese Lussert

2511129-_uy431_ss431_Title: The Christmas Visitor

Author: Anneliese Lussert

Illustrator: Loek Koopmans

Summary: When a man dressed in rags shows up at Simon’s door, Simon looks down on him and turns him away.  His ailing wife, Sarah, takes pity on the man and offers him what little she haa in hopes it would be of comfort to him.  In return, the strange visitor performs a miracle that heals Sarah.  Astounded, Simon realizes he might have missed out on something bigger and more important than himself.  Despite his discomfort, he follows the stranger on a journey and finds a treasure that transforms him forever.

Discussion Questions:2dfe5aeb4edc75940eab249e9abcd49c

  • Who is the visitor that shows up at Simon’s door?  Why does Simon turn him away?
  • Whose footprints/voice is Simon following?  Why does Simon decide to follow?
  • What does Simon have to give up in order to help the people he meets on his journey?  Do you think it is difficult for him to help others?
  • How does Simon’s character change from the beginning to the end of the story?  What lessons does he learn on his journey?
  • What connections can you draw in this story about you and and your relationship with Jesus/God?
  • Have you ever felt God calling you to do something or help someone?  Is it always easy to hear God and what he wants you to do?
  • Discuss a time when you heard God calling on you to do something or help.  How did you know God was talking to you?  Did the task require you to sacrifice something?  Did you follow his voice/footsteps and obey, even though it might’ve been difficult to do or required some sacrifices on your part?
  • What are some examples of sacrifices you might have to give in order to help others as God asks?  Why do you think God makes it hard sometimes for you to help others or do his will?
  • If doing God’s will is sometimes difficult, why do you think we should still do it?  What are some benefits of following God’s will, helping others, etc?

Hush: Eishes Chayil (aka Judy Brown)

Hush

Author: Eishes Chayil (also known as Judy Brown)

Publisher: New York : Walker

Publication Year: 2010

Brief Summary: Haunted by memories of her childhood friend’s rape and suicide, Gittel begins to question the close-knit religious community she has grown up in and overcomes her own guilt and fears by finally breaking her silence.  Based on true events and Brown’s own experience of growing up in the Chassidic sect.

Awards, Honors and Prizes:

Personal Comments:  The beginning chapters — filled with Yiddish vocabulary and detailed explanation of the religion and its history — might be hard for some readers to get through.  Those who persevere are rewarded with a powerful and well-written story about child abuse, religious fanaticism, fear and intolerance, friendship, and human courage.  Parents with young children might find this book especially difficult to read — Brown does not soften the harsh realities brought on by sexual molestation, the suffering and shame of victims, the frustrations, the desperation, helplessness, and anger they feel, etc.  Readers are forced to examine ourselves — because at the end of the day, this is not just a story about one specific community or religion, but one that can be told about any community we might find ourselves in and about any issue that we might be denial about, be it sexual abuse, eating disorders, bullying, etc.  Are we doing enough to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves?  Are we willing to shine a light on darkness even if it means going out of our comfort zone or going against what our family or friends expect of us?  Are we going to choose silence or follow blindly out of fear, or stand up and advocate for others with “valor”?  (Eishes Chayil means woman of valor.)

Near the end of the book, Gittel has just started her fight against the religious leaders of her community (as well as her family) in an effort to bring awareness to the problem of sexual abuse.  Her sister calls to scream at her.  How dare she speak against the rabbis?  How dare she speak about something that happened ten years ago and people have forgotten about?  How dare she put her family to shame and destroy all of their reputations by breaking her silence?  The sister forbids Gittel to go near her children with “that garbage mouth of [hers]”.  There are many great lines and passages in Hush (including Gittel’s letter to Devory that she sends in to the community paper); this was the one that opened the floodgate of tears.  After Gittel’s sister slams the phone down, Gittel begins to weep.  Yankel, her newlywed husband — whom she’d only met for 20 minutes before becoming engaged to him, at the age of 18, whom grew up in the same community where no one questions the rabbis or the religious teachings — comforts Gittel by saying this:

You are the Eishes Chayil…  You are the real one.  You are the only one protecting the children, and that is what a real mother does.

Audience: Due to the disturbing/graphic nature of this book, I would recommend this book to mature readers high school and older.  High school English classes might consider doing this as a class read-aloud or book project.

Helpful Links:

  • Eishes Chayil’s Huffington Post article on Orthodox Jewish child abuse
  • Author’s note about the writing of Hush (the same that was included at the end of the book)
  • Article from the Jewish Week about sexual abuse in the Orthodox community
  • Review in Jewish Action (Magazine of the Orthodox Union)
  • Hush pathfinder, developed by Sarah Hannah Gomez at Simmons College

Other notes:

  • The only thing I didn’t particularly like about Hush is the appearance of Devory’s “ghost” as she haunts Gittel and finally implores her into revealing the truth.  This is probably because I have just recently read Wintergirls by Lori Halse Anderson, a book also featuring two best friends separated by death and ghostly visits.  I feel Brown could have easily relayed the idea of Gittel’s guilt and anguish without these almost cliched hauntings.

Excerpts from Professional Reviews…

The story and the writing bring light to the nuances of the issues with insight and sensitivity. The development of the main character, the sense of place of the Chassidic community, and the ending, which brings closure without being unrealistically happy or trite, are all handled well. While intrinsically Jewish, this book could just have easily been written about another insular group or the Catholic priest scandal. Hush is highly recommended for mature teen readers. (Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter)

Family and social life within today’s Chassidic community are portrayed with affection for the warmth and the enduring values but with a clear eye for the vulnerability of the young and the hurt. When Gittel finally does try to tell her friend’s story, she comes up against the powerful men of the community. It is fitting that it is through the written word that both Gittel and the author are able to speak for the Devorys of the world. (School Library Journal)

Gripping, fascinating and poignant, the book is bravely written. …An extremely well-crafted story that keeps you turning pages. (Teenreads.com)

It is not always a pleasant or easy read, but it is a powerful, gripping young adult novel that demonstrates that sexual abuse can happen anywhere, even in an insular, devoutly religious community. (Children’s Literature)

For the reader who is willing to stick with this complex novel, it will strike a deep emotional chord. (VOYA)

Accessed at: Personal Library

Creation: Gerald McDermott

Creation

Author/Illustrator: Gerald McDermott
Publisher: Dutton Children’s Books
Publication Year: 2003
Brief Summary: The Creation story from God’s point of view.
Awards, Honors and Prizes:

Ideas for using this book in classroom or library and/or brief notes on curriculum connections/content learning standards/Common Core, etc.:

  • Though this book is beautiful, it might create some controversy…
  • Discuss pourquoi stories…would you consider this a pourquoi story (how the world is formed)?  Read along with other creation stories and compare/contrast how the different versions explain the creation.

Special features included (if applicable) — index; timeline; author’s notes; further reading; etc.  

Accessed at: Capilano Library