By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
BETTENDORF — What started out as the telling of the stories of three Holocaust survivors, each named Esther, has blossomed into a series of 91 books about survivors, witnesses and people who helped save Jewish families.
The books are written and illustrated by youths, and designed by college students. Deb Bowen of Aledo, Ill., said she started the Holocaust series in 2003 to tell the stories of Quad-Citians Esther Avruch, Esther Katz and Esther Schiff. “Without them, there wouldn’t be a book series inspiring young readers and young authors.”
After publication of the first three stories, Bowen learned about other survivors and related stories. The series, A Book by Me, was born. Inspiration for the newest book, “Broadway Ben,” came when she attended a conference in Los Angeles and was able to speak to Curt Loewenstein (“Broadway Ben”) prior to his talk. He had served in the Resistance and as an interpreter during the Holocaust.
Bowen shared with him some of the previous A Book by Me stories and he told her not to leave until he was able to talk with her after his presentation.“Curt wanted to tell his story. He had no kids.”
Following her discussions with Curt, she set about finding a youth to interview him and to write his story. Bowen also needed an illustrator. “It’s imperative that young people interview these subjects while we still can. The window of opportunity is closing quickly,” she said.
Her niece, Ava Goodson of East Moline, Ill., said she was ready for this challenge to write about Broadway Ben. But Bowen wasn’t sure whether the 10-year-old girl would have enough understanding of the project. So they met with Allan Ross, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities. He felt that Ava understood the concept well enough to do the story.
Bowen and Ava flew to California for the interview. Bowen provided Ava with some information from her personal interview with Curt to formulate questions for the book. Upon their return, time was of the essence. Curt was not doing well health-wise and Bowen wanted to get the book published before his birthday, Nov. 17, 2016. She needed to find an illustrator and fast.
She turned to her good friend, Maxine Russman, a member of the Holocaust Education Committee of the Quad Cities. Russman knew that her 10-year-old granddaughter Katy Babcock, a member of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf, could do the job.
Together, grandmother and granddaughter took the script written by Ava and Bowen and came up with ideas for the front cover and 10 additional illustrations. They searched online for references to buildings and clothing of Poland during the Holocaust.
Katy sketched designs in pencil. Then she and Russman reviewed the sketches, made changes and came up with new ideas. Then final drawings with color were done. Katy had just five days to do the illustrations.
The book’s cover includes a mix of symbols related to Judaism and filmmaking. Curt, who was Jewish, went by the name of Ben Joosten during World War II. He served in the Resistance and as an interpreter. He made his way to the United States and had a career on Broadway and in the film industry. Curt saw the first draft and illustrations of “his book” last fall. He died in May of this year.
Katy said she wishes she could have met Curt. She said she would have told him that he was brave and a hero to a lot of people.
About book project
A Book by Me is a literacy project for youth which includes interviewing a subject in order to write and illustrate a 10-page children’s book about an individual’s life. The project is designed for students 18 and younger and integrates skills such as interviewing, researching, writing, editing and illustrating. Never Forget Publishing, Inc. publishes the book with photographs, a two-page biography and matching curriculum.
A Book by Me classroom special is available for schools. This package includes 20 books for $250, which includes shipping. Because of several grants, many schools in the Quad-City area have been able to receive a package of books for free. Schools interested in learning more about the classroom special can contact Jeanie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many of the books are available for purchase individually on Amazon.com.
For more information on A Book by Me, visit www.abookbyme.com.