Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee

Passage to Freedom

Hiroki Sugihara, the son of a Japanese diplomat posted to Lithuania in 1940, tells how his father suddenly found himself confronted with a terrible dilemma.

Hundreds of Jewish refugees, driven out of Poland by the Nazis after they had invaded and then occupied that country, began to show up at the gates of the Sugihara home, which doubled as the Japanese embassy. The Sugihara’s, Hiroki, his younger brothers Chiaki and Haruki, his Auntie Setsuko, and his parents lived upstairs, and his father, Chiune Sugihara, worked downstairs.

Men, women and children, dressed in layers of clothing despite the July heat, were seeking visas that would enable them to travel through Russia to find asylum in Japan. Sugihara knew he had to do something, so he asked the crowd to choose five people to come inside and talk with him.

The next day, Sugihara cabled the Japanese government asking if he might be allowed to issue visas to the desperate refugees. His country refused his request, leaving Sugihara with a tough moral decision – turn away the people outside his gate and leave them to certain death at the hands of the Nazis or disobey his government.

Sugihara chose to issue visas to each and every person outside his gates, disregarding Japan’s order. Day after day, from early morning to late in the evening, Sugihara hand wrote about 300 visas per day. Even after the Nazis and Soviets began to close in on Lithuania, visas were written, right up until the family was ordered by Japan to leave when Sugihara was reassigned to Berlin.

In telling his father’s story, Hiroki writes in the Afterward that it is a story that he believes “will inspire [readers] to care for all people and to respect life. It is a story that proves that one person can make a difference.” His father remained a diplomat for many years after the war, eventually leaving the Foreign Service. In the 1960s, Chiune Sugihara began to hear from some of the people to whom he had given visas, and who referred to themselves a Sugihara survivors. He ultimately received the Righteous Among Nations award from Yad Vashem in Israel.

Dom Lee’s sepia-toned illustrations provide close detail and give a feeling of dimension and authenticity to the story being told, seemingly based on old photographs of the July 1940 events. They are done by an very unusual method. Lee applied encaustic beeswax to paper, scratched out the image he wanted and then added oil paint and colored pencil.

Passage to Freedom is indeed an inspiring story and one that should be shared with young readers. Sugihara was a real hero, a man who put human life above politics, even at a time when Japan was at war with China and relations were already contentious with Great Britain and the United States. One thing that did amaze me was that his government didn’t call him back to Japan to censure him.

An extensive PDF Classroom Guide for Passage to Freedom is available from the publisher, Lee & Low books.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL



At the start of World War I, a young lieutenant named Harry Colebourn, who also happened to be a veterinarian, is on his way with his regiment to a military training camp in Quebec, when he sees a baby bear on a station platform. He discovers that the baby bear is for sale, for only $20.00, and Harry decides he has to have it.

The little cub, whose mother had been inadvertently shot, is named after the regiment’s hometown of Winnipeg, but immediately shortened to Winnie. Winnie quickly becomes Harry’s constant companion and his company’s mascot. Walker depicts Harry and Winnie playing their own version of hide and seek, Winnie sleeping directly under Harry’s cot, and exchanging big bear hugs.

Winnie and Harry

Even when the war worsens and Harry’s regiment is sent overseas, Winnie goes, too. And proves to be a good sailor all the way across the ocean, while Harry lies in bed seasick. But when it is time to go to the battle front in France, Harry realizes he can’t bring Winnie along, after all, she could get seriously hurt on the battlefield. So Harry makes a tough decision – to place Winnie in the London Zoo for safekeeping. (Continue Reading)


Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black and White Jazz Band in History by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome

Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson


Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson traces the very different backgrounds of two very talented musicians who eventually met and formed the first interracial trio to play in public.

In the 1920s, Jazz was the music of the moment. Benny Goodman, the son of Jewish immigrants and living in Chicago, learned to play the clarinet when he and his brothers were signed up for free lessons at their synagogue and playing in its marching band, but he much preferred the exciting sounds of Jazz.

Teddy Wilson, the son of music educators living in Tuskegee, Alabama, learned to play the piano, the oboe, the violin and the piano as a child, dutifully practicing classical music, but he, too, preferred the cool Jazz sounds of Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Earl Hines.

As men, both continued to play in different venues around the country, earning the admiration and respect of their fellow Jazz musicians. But the stage was a segregated world, and it was only in jam sessions offstage that musicians from different races could play together. Then one day, in Forest Hills, Queens, NY, their two men met and it was kismet – two different men who thought the same way musically.

Along with Gene Krupa, the Benny Goodman Trio was formed and beautiful music was made. There was just one problem – Goodman was reluctant to play onstage with a black musician. But finally he said yes, and not just music, but history was made. And people loved their sound! Lionel Hampton later joined them and the trio became a quartet.

Can you tell I love this book? Well, I love music, especially Jazz and Swing. And the husband and wife duo of author Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrator James Ransome has done a suburb job of making the story of these two great musicians accessible to young readers. The snappy language used to tell the story along with illustrations in cool blues and hot yellows make reading Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson feel like you are listening to a good Jazz performance.

There is plenty of back matter giving more information on Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson, a Jazz timeline focused on these two men, and a who’s who in Jazz, including all the musicians mentioned in the book. This is such an excellent addition to the growing body of Picture Books for Older Readers that are ideal for introducing young readers to new people and events.

I’ve often wished that there were books like this around when my Kiddo was young. Every time I tried to introduce her to things like Jazz, Swing, Classical, even Classic Rock, I met resistance. But as she grew older, she began to embrace these different musical genres and significantly expanded her musical appreciation and seriously wanted to know why didn’t I ever tell her about this great music?

This book is for readers aged 7+
This book was purchased for my personal library

It’s Nonfiction Monday!