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Gifts From the Enemy: Book review and win a copy of this very special book.

Gifts from the enemy

“There are those who say that what I’ve lived through never happened. But I’m here to tell you that it did.  My name is Alter Wiener and I am an ordinary person with an extraordinary past.”

So begins Trudy Ludwig’s remarkable picture book, Gifts from the Enemy, based on Alter Wiener’s true story.  That extraordinary past begins in happy times, a simple way of life among family and friends in the small town of Chrzanow, Poland.  Alter’s mother had a saying that revealed so much about what the family valued : “There are two ways to deal with the cold.  Put on a fur coat to be warm, or light a fire so that others can be warm, too.”  And this was how his family lived their lives in pre-war Poland.

But war arrives when the Nazis invade Poland on September 1, 1939, and suddenly Alter’s family, like other Jewish families, begins to experience the harsh realities of anti-Jewish propaganda.  Friends turn on them, freedom and rights are taken away, and soon the German soldiers come for them – first Papa is killed, then Alter’s brother is taken away…and one day it is Alter’s turn to be herded onto a cattle car for some unknown, but terrifying, destination.

Alter is moved from one brutal labor camp to the next, with starvation and fear his only constant companions.  But, at one of these camps, a German factory worker shows him something unexpected: kindness, in the form of daily gifts of food.  Why? What motivates anyone into kindness in circumstances like these?  Alter ponders over this puzzlement until he comes to a conclusion:

“That’s when I learned my most important lesson in life:  There are the kind and the cruel in every group of people.  How those you meet in life treat you is far more important than who they are.”

Alter never forgot this act of kindness, or this lesson.  And this is the story that Trudy Ludwig so beautifully brings to us in Gifts From the Enemy .  Craig Orback’s sublime artwork brings each scene to life: from the warmth of Alter’s family home, to the barren and desolate work camps.

Alter was the only one in his family to survive the war, but he has made it his life’s work to share the lesson he learned through his memoir,  and resources such as his  website .  Of this picture book, he writes:

“It is my hope that Gifts From the Enemy will help young readers to understand that both the wicked and the virtuous can be found in every group of people. Stereotyping or sweeping guilt by association is unfair and unjust…It is also my strong wish for today’s children to never give up hope in their efforts to make this world a better, more caring place for all.”

Gifts From the Enemy is a wise and important book to share with our students and our children.  It can serve as a platform for discussing so many important issues across many grade levels – these are conversations we must continue to have in order “to make this world a better, more caring place for all.”

gifts from the enemy photo

Trudy Ludwig, Alter Wiener, and Craig Orback

Trudy Ludwig is an award-winning author who specializes in writing children’s books that explore the colorful and sometimes confusing world of children’s social interactions. She has received rave reviews nationwide from educators, experts, organizations, and parents for her passion and compassion in addressing relational aggression – the use of relationships to manipulate and hurt others. Trudy wrote her first book, My Secret Bully, after her own daughter was bullied by some friends. Since then, she has become a sought-after speaker, presenting at schools and conferences around the country and educating students, parents, and teachers on the topic.

Her books have received the NAPPA Gold Medal Award, Mom’s Choice Gold Awards, the Moonbeam Children’s Books Gold Award, and are included in the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s “Best of the Year” Selection, the National Crime Prevention Council’s “Circle of Respect” Book Club Selection, the Junior Library Guild Selection, School Library Journal Best Picture Books Selection, Scholastic Instructor Recommended Back-to-School Picks; The Children’s Book Review Best Picture Books Selection; Kids’ Indie Next List Selection, and more. You can visit her website here.

Craig Orback is a freelance children’s book illustrator living in the Northwest and received his B.F.A. in illustration from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle in 1998. He has illustrated Nature’s Paintbox, The Can Man, Keeping The Promise: A Torah’s Journey, and other award-winning children’s books. He teaches children’s book illustration and oil painting at several local colleges. In his free time he enjoys painting landscapes and sharing his books with kids during school and library visits.  You can visit his website here.

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Gifts From the Enemy, autographed by the author.  Many thanks to White Cloud Press for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of please leave a comment about this post by Friday, July 11th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Tuesday, July 15th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.   (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field.)

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Tara Smith View All

I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

85 thoughts on “Gifts From the Enemy: Book review and win a copy of this very special book. Leave a comment

  1. I recently attended a conference where the mantra was “It’s all about the book”. This sounds like a perfect example of a book that can be used and enjoyed a multitude of ways. What a powerful story!

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  2. Lessons and the power of love and kindness. We all need powerful examples!
    Thanks for bringing this book to our attention!

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  3. An important message to share, especially these days. Given what students are hearing regarding national and international news, it’s important to remember the importance of acts of kindness, and the rejection of stereotypes

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  4. Thanks so much for the review. This sounds like a powerful book and a wonderful springboard into meaningful conversations with students. I will definitely add it to my “must buy” list!

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  5. Sounds like such an inspirational story and a great reminder about valuing people in our world. I would love to win this to give to my new graduate teacher daughter, she is so very interested in history.

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  6. Thank you for sharing this story with us. I am always looking for powerful picture books/stories that teach important life lessons. Beautiful!

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  7. This book sounds so intriguing! I can only imagine the impact it would have on 5th grade students. So many uses for this book! Whether I win a copy or not, this will definitely be an addition to my class library.

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  8. Our last read-aloud was The Boy On the Wooden Box. My fifth graders were shocked, moved, and indignant. This sounds like a book I need to read.

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  9. Our school has established a goal to focus on kindness. This book will be a great read aloud on that theme for my fifth graders. I love reading picture books with older kids. Thanks for this review.

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  10. I had the privilege of meeting Trudy Ludwig when she was in Racine. I have all her books. I can’t wait to get this one…because I am Polish…My maiden name is Marybeth Safransky…I think it is so important to promote kindness and forgiveness…and one of the co–founders of Peace Learning Circles, Inc we want to be a better world for our children and develop a compassionate community. Thank you for writing this book! Marybeth Safransky Zuhlke!

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  11. Sounds like a beautiful book for such a difficult story, So many lessons can be taught and learned from this. I look forward to sharing this book with my colleagues in the higher grades

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  12. I agree with another comment that this book’s theme of forgiveness is similiar to the book Unbroken. A powerful message for adults and children!

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  13. Funny this fits right into the topic of my Slice of Life and the discussion of bullies – We need to help students see the other side. We need to keep the Choose Kindness going. So nice to see a new book about this. Thanks for sharing.

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  14. Today so much of our world disconnects us from others humans. I think that showing our young students that being connected to each other physically and not just remotely will help rehumanize( my word!) us. It is through the example of other human experiences like those portrayed in Gifts from the Enemy that we can illustrate our connectedness. Thanks for the opportunity.

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  15. I can’t wait to read this book and include it in the many books I use when teaching our sixth grade genocide unit. Thank you for featuring this important book and its story!

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  16. Last October I read of Emanuele Castano’s and David Comer Kid’s research in which they found that reading literary fiction results in stronger empathy. I will certainly add this book to my literature to read with students.

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  17. A great companion book for Number the Stars-and a catalyst for deeper conversations about good vs. evil, overcoming the prevailing propaganda of our times, and how social justice can be a personal as well as a communal choice.

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  18. Just reading your review of the book had me in tears. What a great read to teach empathy to my students. I teach special needs students in grades 3-5 (ELA, math, & social studies) that would love these books. Even in the worst of situations, it is always possible to find something or someone good (the guard at the camp). Regardless of whether or not I win these books, they will become part of my classroom library. Thanks so much for making us aware of these wonderful books!

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  19. I feel connected to this post in two ways.
    My current PD read is Read Write Teach by Linda Rief. Her essential questions to frame the year speak of using real life and literature to examine the consequences of little of no choice in a person’s life. Gifts from the Enemy would be an excellent book to discuss the choices that real people and fictional characters make in difficult situations.
    My father was a POW during WWII. He often spoke of a guard who would bring them news of the American campaign, including the news of FDR’s death with the words, “Your big man died.”

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  20. Thank you for sharing this book! I’m always looking for new books to read aloud during our historical fiction unit and I love true stories! I’m looking forward to reading this inspirational story.

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  21. Can’t wait to read this one. It reminds me of the adult novel Unbroken. Kids need to hear more of this kind of story for sure.

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  22. What a amazing book to pair with my novel study of Number the Stars. Picture books like these are so important to make difficult true stories approachable to children.

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  23. Reading the book review I am hooked! I cannot wait to read this book and I know my students would be on the edge if their seats wanting to read this book!

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  24. This books sounds absolutely wonderful and one that my middle school students would love and could relate to. I am going to read with my class this year.

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  25. Wow! It is amazing to think that one guard used the horrible situation to be kind. We usually hear the opposite: how a normally nice person became a prison guard and terrorized others. This is an important book, and idea, to share.

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  26. Tara,
    Thanks for introducing me to this book. It is a story kids today need to hear and reflect on. It reminds me of The Harmonica, a book set also during WWII and in a concentration camp. I think a text comparison would work well between these two beautiful picture books. My fingers are crossed that I win this book but if not, I’ll be buying it!! Thanks again for letting me know about it.

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    • I visited Auschwitz in April and have been obsessed with reading and learning more. I am thrilled to learn of a new book to share with students! I love that this book shows kindness in the midst of such horrid experiences.

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  27. What an amazing story. I can see it providing fodder for thought with my 4th grade class. Will definitely have to get this one way or another!

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  28. I have been asked and thinking a lot about kindness lately. This book reiterates that kindness can exist in the most horrid of circumstances. Whatever our circumstances. I can’t wait to read this book!

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  29. I will definitely get this book, Tara, based on your review. We need more stories of kindness. This reminds me of a story one of my 8th graders told us several years ago when I sent kids home to collect a family story. The next day Alec told us his great-grandfather’s story. During WWII he was shot down in the Pacific. Somehow he managed to cling to the wing of his plane. He saw a plane coming toward him hoping it was the Americans, then realizing it was a Japanese plane. He thought it was the end. The plane came straight toward him, but instead of firing his guns and killing him as he easily could have done, the Japanese pilot flew very close to him, saluted, nodded, and flew off. He was rescued by fellow Americans but never forgot the kindness of that Japanese pilot.

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    • Stories like this one allow us to continue to believe that Alter Weiner’s faith in humanity is not misplaced, don’t they, Linda? We are bombarded with stories (and evidence, too!) about man’s general awfulness to man – and then we hear stories like Alec’s and Alter’s, which give us hope. We need hope.

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  30. Someone just forwarded me an article in the Chicago Tribune about the “Choose Kind” campaign that is spreading in many schools. This book would dovetail with this idea nicely.

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  31. As a Middle School teacher I’m always on the look out for picture books which support a deeper theme for my students (especially struggling readers who need this type of venue to support their reading). This book looks like it will be a perfect fit to not only support reading in the classroom but encourage Middle Schoolers to think of simple ways to show kindness to others. Thanks for the review.

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  32. Books are so powerful in sending a message. Kids read books in order to understand the world around them. Reading about social issues is a way to experience some of the emotions that those affected feel. A wonderful teaching tool. This would be a beautiful addition to my classroom library.

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  33. I’ve always liked Trudy Ludwig’s books as they have opened up great discussions in my classroom. I’m so pleased to learn about this new one and to see a picture of the author, subject and illustrator. Thanks for introducing me to this book!

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  34. Powerful story to help teach kindness even in danger. When reading the review I’m thinking ok what is in it for that guard. Eye opener even for an adult. Thank you!

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  35. Picture books are such a great way to start a conversation about important topics and what’s more important than kindness. What a great way to impact your classroom climate. I’m excited to read the book.

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  36. Our school cousnelor uses My Secret Bully in my 4th grade classroom. Because of Trudy Ludwig’s insights and story telling ability, my students are stimulated to reflect on and share about personal experiences they have had. SO valuable! I look forward to her next book!

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  37. Hey, I thought you all were on vacation for the month of July! But, I’m glad to read this post because this sounds like an amazing book, and I can’t wait to read it. Thanks for an excellent review, Tara!

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