“Many years ago,
in a faraway land called Holland,
in a city named Delft,
I was Fred’s teddy bear.
I never had a name. Fred never gave me one.
I lived in his bedroom with other toys.
I was a happy bear.
Little Fred loved me more than any other toy.
He took me everywhere he went.”
So begins (after a brief prologue) the true story of a young Jewish boy named Fred and his beloved, never-named bear. A picture story book for young middle grade readers ages 6-10, Bear and Fred: A World War II Story tells the moving history of the real-life Fred Lessing during the Holocaust. Without delving into any of the details that would be inappropriate for young readers, author Iris Argaman nonetheless sketches out Fred’s journey as he goes first to his grandfather’s and then to a stranger’s house, with only Bear as his constant companion.
Unlike many Holocaust stories, this one has a happy ending: Bear, Fred, and his parents all survive the war and are reunited in Holland before moving to the United States. After Fred grows up, Bear’s travels eventually resume when he continues—for the first time without Fred—to Yad Vashem, the World Remembrance Center in Israel. The story ends with a sweet letter from Bear to the children reading his story, along with his picture. This crucial image makes Bear tangible and helps readers understand that Bear is real and his story, indeed, true.
Books such as this are important, especially given that fewer than half of today’s American adults know that six million Jews died in the Holocaust,* nearly one quarter of millennials surveyed recently had not heard of the Holocaust,** and one in twenty British respondents do not believe that the Holocaust happened at all.*** Kudos to all involved for bringing Fred and Bear’s story to young readers around the world so that they may know the truth about the Holocaust—and that it did, in fact, take place.
Written by Iris Argaman
Illustrated by Avi Ofer
Translated from the Hebrew by Annette Appel
Awards: Yad Vashem Prize in Israel; Giovanni Arpino Prize for Childrens Literature
Read an interview with the author.
Award-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of over 50 books and graphic novels for children and adults from French, Italian, and German into English, including the well-known Geronimo Stilton Graphic Novels. Two of her latest translations, Luisa: Now and Then (Humanoids, 2018) and California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas (First Second, 2017) were chosen for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens; Luisa: Now and Then was also a 2019 Stonewall Honor Book. Her most recent translations are Little Josephine: Memory in Pieces, Super Sisters, Bibi & Miyu, and Undead Messiah #3