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Day 140 – Boxes for Katje

We have been fortunate this year to have come across all kinds of outstanding read-aloud books; I have to keep a tab open on my browser for thesaurus.com just to keep track of all the different ways to say “wonderful”! Today’s book, Candace Fleming’s “Boxes for Katje,” is no exception. Based on real-life events in the life of Ms. Fleming’s mother, “Boxes for Katje” is an uplifting tale of generosity – of strangers working together and reaching across an ocean to share some of their own good fortune with those in need.katje

After World War II, the country of Holland, like much of continental Europe, was devastated. What might otherwise have been considered basic necessities (soap, socks, clothing without holes) became extremely rare. Imagine the excitement in the Dutch town of Olst when Postman Kleinhoonte pedals up one morning with a package for little Katje Van Stegeran. In the box are woolen socks, a cake of soap, a chocolate bar (!), and a letter from an American girl in Indiana, named Rosie. Katje writes back to Rosie thanking her for the socks and the soap, but most of all for the chocolate: “Sugar is not found in Holland these days, so anything sweet is precious,” she writes. Several weeks later, a new box arrives from America – full of sugar! “No sugar? Yikes!” says the enclosed note from Rosie. The two girls continue their correspondence, and as Rosie learns more about the needs of Katje’s neighbors and friends she rallies her entire town to send increasingly large care packages of meat, powdered milk, socks, shoes, scarves and winter coats. After weathering a particularly cold winter with the help of their new winter clothes, the people of Olst – led by Katje – prepare a special care package for their American friends: a box full of Dutch tulip bulbs.

This sweet and inspiring story about basic human kindness was a delight to read together. I was particularly moved by the unbridled joy with which the people of Olst reacted to their gifts from America. The colorful and exuberant illustrations by Stacey Dressen-McQueen, which cover every page of the book, do a wonderful job of conveying that sense of joy and excitement. I recommend taking a minute as well to read the author’s note – “A True Story About Boxes” – at the end of the book for some of the real-life background for the story. We were fortunate enough to hear Ms. Fleming discuss this tale on an online author event at Read Aloud Revival. I thought it was especially neat to hear her discuss how this book was intended as a “thank you” to her mother for sharing all of her stories…and the pressure that Ms. Fleming put on herself to tell this story in a way that would do her mother justice. Well – it seems to us like she succeeded; this one is a treasure.