Friday, December 5, 2014

Liesl's Ocean Rescue: Review and Guest Post

The most compelling stories are often based on true stories.  Liesl's Ocean Rescue is a book for children that's based on a true story, written by Barbara Krasner, and illustrated by Avi Katz.  Published in 2014, this picture book tells the story of 10-year-old Liesl Joseph and her family, through expressive prose and charming drawings that complement each other well.

In the book, Liesl's father, Josef Joseph, a lawyer, is arrested in his own home in Rheydt, Germany by Nazi soldiers, and Jewish homes and businesses all over Germany are attacked and destroyed during Kristallnacht, "Night of the Broken Glass".  In order to survive, the Joseph family, and many other Jews, decide to leave Germany.  In May of 1939, along with nearly 1,000 others, they board the MS St. Louis, a luxury ocean liner which was bound for Havana, and then America.

The MS St. Louis, from Wikipedia

The story is from Liesl's perspective, although it's told in the third person, and we see life through the eyes of the young protagonist.  Liesl adores her father.  She has faith that Father will make everything all right, even when she learns they have to leave Germany "forever", on the MS St. Louis.

Liesl enjoys being on the MS St. Louis.  She has more freedom on the ship than she had in Germany.  She can walk around freely, watch movies, and enjoy a variety of foods (in Germany, she only ate rationed bread and eggs).  She makes friends, plays checkers, bangs the gong to communicate with people on the ship, and helps in other ways, too.

The fun of being on the ship lasts for two weeks.  When they reach the harbor in Havana, the passengers are not allowed into Cuba.  They're ordered to go back to Germany, but they refuse because they know they'll be taken to the concentration camps and killed.  Father has been put in charge, and he sends out cablegrams for help.  Eventually, after some more time at sea, they receive good news from the head of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's Paris office, Mr. Morris Troper.  The passengers will be allowed to go to Belgium, Holland, France, and England.  When Liesl meets Mr. Troper on the ship, on her birthday, she has a thank you speech prepared.

Liesl's Ocean Rescue is a good way to introduce elementary school children to this dark part of our history which includes the story of the MS St. Louis and the Holocaust.  The gray and white drawings inside of the book contribute to the underlying tone of the story, which is somber.  Thankfully, the book features some joyful moments.  At the beginning of the book (November 1938), Father's birthday is mentioned, and at the end of the book (June 1939), it's Liesl's eleventh birthday.  Children will enjoy the mentions of the birthdays.  Throughout the pages, they will imagine what it must have been like for Liesl.  The story ends on an optimistic note which is a relief, given the difficult subject matter of the book.

As an adult, I found Liesl's story poignant.  Lovely details in the story made me smile, despite the seriousness of this story.  I was very pleased to read the author's notes at the end of the book and learn that Liesl and her family made it safely to America in 1940, and settled in Philadelphia, PA.  Liesl Joseph Loeb became a graphic designer and artist, and died in August of 2013.

Author Barbara Krasner has written an exclusive guest post for us, which follows this review.


Something Surprising About Me: A Guest Post by Barbara Krasner

About twenty-five years ago, when my son was born, I was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, landing me in the hospital for more than two weeks.  It was a defining moment for me, as I began to realize my life’s priorities needed to change.  I ultimately became less enamored with my corporate life and wanted to connect to something higher and make more of an impact on the world.

I decided I wanted to leave a legacy to my son and once out of the hospital, I put plans in place to write for children and to research my family’s history.  The skills I learned as a genealogist help me as a historian and as a writer.

Barbara and her son

For example, one of the first steps one takes in researching the family tree is to speak with the eldest members of the family, collecting names, places, and dates, as well as family traditions and stories.  I didn’t know at the time that this would provide me with the foundation to become an oral historian.  I learned how to become a detective, how to put my B.A. in German and Russian to use in reading vital records from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and from Poland/Russia, and how to deal with conflicting information from multiple sources.

I had grown up with the story of the MS St. Louis, the ship the United States turned away, the ship with nearly 1,000 German-Jewish refugees seeking safety from the Nazis in 1939.  With the help of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. I located several survivors who had been children on board.  Using the oral history techniques I’d learned as a genealogist (and as a corporate market researcher), I collected testimonies about experiences on the St. Louis.  These, combined with material culled from the Holocaust Museum and from the archives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in New York City, became the foundation for telling Liesl’s story aboard the St. Louis in Liesl’s Ocean Rescue.

I teach creative writing at William Paterson University, where I am also pursuing a master’s in public history, that is, making history accessible to the masses.  That is what I do as a writer.  But now I have even more opportunity to serve as an oral historian.  Currently, I’m helping the National Park Service collect oral histories of Paterson, New Jersey and I’ve collected several for my hometown of Kearny, New Jersey.

Being a genealogist and oral historian, I believe, brings a set of skills to writing and to writing for children that is unique.  It’s important to realize your strengths and to make them even stronger.  I hope that I continue to build on these skills for future books for kids and for adults.

Barbara, thank you for this interesting guest post!  Your work is purposeful and wonderful.  I think listening, intently, to the stories of others is incredibly important for writers, especially writers of history or historical fiction.


Many thanks to Laura from iRead Book Tours for sending me an advanced readers copy of this book. For more reviews, giveaways, and other features, please stop by iRead's book blog tour for Liesl's Ocean Rescue.  Because this is a children's book, I've added a link to this review to Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama.

Thanks for reading!  Your comments are welcomed.


  1. I enjoyed novels based on true stories as well. This book's getting some great buzz.

  2. Wonderful review Suko. I also enjoyed your guest post. I enjoyed this book and found it to be a fascinating story.

  3. I love true stories and this sounds like a very good one. Loved the review and the guest post!

  4. Though an extremely serious topic, this sounds like a great book for children.

    In fact it sounds like something that I would like to read.

  5. Thank you for sharing this interesting story rooted in the history of antisemitism.

  6. I'm glad to see you liked this book, too. I agree that it's a good way to introduce young readers to the Holocaust.

  7. Exactly my kind of read, many thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

    I can remember working as a teaching assistant we had complaints about the children reading Anne Frank's Diary. A book, along with books of this kind, I think should be compulsory reading.

  8. I'm so relieved they made it safely to America! It's good to know there are stories with happy endings.

  9. That was a difficult time for so many at that time in history. Have you ever visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.? I visited it once maybe 15 years ago, but it was way to depressing for me. I had my Granddaughter lead me to the lobby and waited for the rest of the family until they finished the tour. It was an eye-opener for sure, very sad time in history.

  10. Hello! Thank you so much for leaving a comment. I'm a new follower of your blog. I noticed we have Blogger friends as well as similar reading style. I'm happy to meet you!

  11. This is a fascinating story - I need to find this book for myself!


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