Rona Arato is an award-winning author of over 20 children’s book. Her book, The Last Train recounts her husband’s experiences during the Holocaust and the twist of fate that reunited him with his liberators. It won numerous awards including the Norma Fleck Award as the best Canadian children’s non-fiction book of 2014. Her latest book, The Ship to Nowhere, is about the Exodus 1947, the ship that helped launch the State of Israel, was designated as a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Children by the Association of Jewish Libraries.
Rona’s articles have appeared in Canada, the United States, and England. She has worked as a public relations consultant and conducted business-writing seminars, and taught creative writing for the Toronto Board of Education. From 1994-1998, she interviewed Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.
The Last Train: A Holocaust Story
The hardest decision to make, when introducing children to the history of the Holocaust, is when a child is old enough to understand the horrors that were perpetrated. Most young people become familiar with the events around age twelve through Anne Frank’s writings or Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars. Arato, in the fictionalized account of her husband’s life experience, has brought the actual experience of the concentration camp to a slightly younger audience. Arato’s husband, Paul, was rounded up from his Hungarian village in the days before D-Day, therefore his time in captivity was shorter than some prisoners. He was also part of a somewhat “privileged” group of prisoners who were designated by Adolf Eichmann to be held in case they were needed for a prisoner exchange. Despite these factors, Paul and his family were transported as slave labor to work on a farm and, ultimately, transferred to Bergen Belsen in the last days of the war. Paul’s treatment was inhumane but survivable. He was able to remain with his ailing mother and brother and even make contact with his uncle in another part of the camp. Arato touches on Paul’s encounters with stacks of dead prisoners and a child being shot to death for the “crime” of having a happy birthday. These horrors are touched on, but not lingered upon. The conclusion, in which a grown-up Paul meets his liberators and, after years of silence, tells his story is an emotionally moving conclusion. Honestly, this is the best true chapter book I have read on the Holocaust in quite some time. The fictionalization places enough distance between the young reader and the truth to make it palatable, yet the facts are undeniably present for discussion. With witnesses dying every day, every documentary such as this is critical. 2013, Owl Kids, Ages 10 up, $15.95. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross (Children’s Literature).
The Ship to Nowhere: On Board the Exodus
Rachel Landesman is eleven years old when she, her mother and sister are crammed on board the Exodus, a dilapidated vessel smuggling 4500 Jewish refugees risking their lives to reach Palestine, their biblical homeland. Despite all they had suffered during the Holocaust, Jewish refugees are still not wanted in many countries. Even a Canadian immigration officer famously said at the time “None is too many” when asked how many refugees Canada would take in. Nonetheless, Rachel and the other refugees refuse to give up hope when war ships surround them. Their fight, and the worldwide attention it brought, influenced the UN to vote for the creation of the state of Israel. Made famous by the Paul Newman film “Exodus”, this is the first book for young people about the ship that helped make history.
Sammy and the Headless Horseman
Thanks to his Aunt Pearl, eleven-year-old Sammy is stuck in the Catskill Mountains for the summer with his awful cousin Joshua. While he doesn’t relish the idea of getting to know his new stepmom, at least he’d have his gang to hang out with in New York if he got to stay there instead. But when Sammy realizes he was brought on to be hired help at the hotel, he makes the most of it and enjoys bunking with his teenage co-worker, Adam. Trouble seems to follow Sammy as he becomes entangled in a series of mysterious occurrences, including a terrifying headless horseman who seems to be haunting the reclusive “Hermit” at the top of the neighbouring hill. Sammy and his new friends form a team called “The Ichabods” to crack the mystery.
Rona’s presentations are geared to students in grades four to eight. She uses an interactive reading/discussion format to involve children and excite their curiosity. She links stories to current issues such as immigration and social responsibility. A theme that runs through much of her work is that one person can, and often does, make a significant difference. By involving the children in examining these issues, she helps them think about the way they interact with friends, family and the community at large.
The Last Train Presentation:
The Last Train: A Holocaust Story is the culmination of five years of research into one of the most heartening events of World War II. The book’s journey began with an email from Rona’s son, Daniel. The email said, “Mom, read this article and then show it to Dad.” The article was titled “A Train Near Magdeburg.” The instant she opened the link, she knew the article was about the death train from which her husband Paul, then a child, his brother Oscar, and their mother Lenke were liberated by the U.S. Ninth Army on April 13, 1945.
The Last Train is the true story of the Auslanders’ (Paul’s original surname) tremendous ordeal and the incredible coincidence that saved their lives. It is also the true story of Matt Rozell, a high-school teacher from upstate New York, who uncovered the story of the train and organized a symposium that brought Paul and other train survivors face-to-face with the soldiers who had liberated them 64 years earlier.
Her presentation includes a PowerPoint presentation of original photos taken at the moment of liberation. She will also share the details of the bizarre and little known “Jews on Ice” program, which kept 21,000 Hungarian Jews (including Paul’s family) out of Auschwitz, and put 6,500 of them on three death trains out of Bergen-Belsen. The presentation will include a reading from The Last Train including the speech that Paul gave at the symposium that brought 800 students to their feet.
This book is a crossover that is being read by adults and children. Her presentations are geared to the age group of the audience and are popular with children and adults.
- Presentations are 1 hour
- Average number of students per session: 75-80. Rona has presented to groups as small as 20 and as large as 150.
- Writing workshops available for grades 4 – 8 (flexible)
Fees: $300 for 1 presentation, $550 for 2 presentations, $850 for 3 presentations
To learn more about Rona Arato and her publications please visit www.ronaarato.com.