Rona Arato was born in New York and lived on a busy street in Brooklyn. One of her first memories was going downstairs to buy an ice cream cone at the candy store–maybe this is why her first picture book was called Ice Cream Town! When she was six years old her family moved to Los Angeles. There, her two favorite places were the local movie theater, where they went for the double matinee every Saturday, and the library. She decided that when she grew up, she would write children’s books.
She went to college to become an elementary school teacher. She spent a year in Israel and traveling around Europe. When she returned to Los Angeles, she met her husband Paul. They then had three children and made a move Toronto. When her children were growing up, Rona started to write professionally. She wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, press releases and advertising copy for companies and charities, she even wrote blurbs that you read on the sides of packages. Once Rona’s children were grown, she decided it was time to work on those kids’ books she’d always wanted to write!
Now, Rona is a published children’s author. She writes fiction and nonfiction. She especially loves historical fiction; she likes to do research and learn how kids lived in different times and places.
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).
Mrs. Kaputnik’s Pool Hall and Matzo Ball Emporium
Set at the time of Teddy Roosevelt, this saga of a Russian Jewish family who escapes Cossacks in a tiny village named Vrod to come to America is based on stories that the author has told her husband and children over the years. Fortunately, the children have a pet dragon, Snigger, who protects the Kapustins from the Cossacks’ blows, and from young bullies and gangster Nick the Stick in New York City. Hatched from a magic egg found in the woods near their home, Snigger grows bigger and bigger as he travels with mother and children to the Golden City. Amber amulets given by their now-vanished father protect the children too. Still, Mrs. Kaputnik (her name changed at Ellis Island), daughter Shoshi, and son Moshe must find their “imprisoned” patriarch, suffer robbery by relatives, and deal with a failing restaurant. A mysterious stranger, a circus owner, and a pirate all play crucial roles. Hard matzo balls are essential too. It is an entertaining tale for middle readers, who can learn much about the immigrant experience. Humor lightens the otherwise harsh realities of such a journey. A tongue-in-cheek subplot features the Brooklyn Slobbers and the New York Yoinkles. The villagers, as well as the East Side residents, come across as genuine. A glossary would be helpful because Yiddish words are included. Two cute dragon are featured on the cover and at the heads of chapters. 2010, Tundra Books, $9.95. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Carol Raker Collins, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).
On A Medieval Day
Illustrated by Peter Ferguson
Whether challenging a corrupt uncle to an archery contest or stowing away on a great Venetian galley, the tweens in On a Medieval Day are anything but ordinary twelve-year-olds. Each long to find his/her place in the world and demonstrate the plucky courage to face whatever challenges may come his/her way. Presented as a collection of story-journeys, On a Medieval Day follows a single day in the life of eight youngsters scattered throughout the world and through time. Readers get just a taste of life in ancient America, China, Baghdad, Finland, England, Japan, Timbuktu, Venice, and Toledo from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries. Hana struggles with how to maintain her fierce independence while accepting her arranged marriage; Jamal hopes to become a doctor if only he can recover from what seems to be the smallpox; Richard dreams of becoming a knight but fears he will be sent away from the castle. Brief historical notes follow each story, placing terms, events, and places in context. The breadth of this collection offers a fresh view of the medieval era, going beyond the knights and ladies we often associate with this part of history and delving into the advances made in trade, medicine, political empires, and learning all over the world. 2010, Maple Tree Press, $15.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Leah Hanson (Children’s Literature).
Rona’s readings and presentations are geared to students in grades 3 to 8 and to older ESL students. She also presents to adult groups. As a former teacher, she understands what teachers and school librarians want from an author’s visit. Rona uses an interactive reading/discussion approach 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, Rona helps them think about the way they interact with friends, family, and the community at large.
Her interactive presentations involve the students at all levels. She tells them about herself and how and why she writes and discusses the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction and research methods. Rona gives background on the book she is presenting abd talks about what motivated her to write it. She will read and then discuss the section she read.
Children often ask Rona the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction. She explores the writing process in each, emphasizing the need for good research and accuracy, whatever the genre. She discusses how she does her research and how she blends real and fictional events and characters in historical fiction.
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.
- Fees: $300 for 1 presentation, $550 for 2 presentations, $850 for 3 presentations
- 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)
To learn more about Rona Arato and her publications please visit www.ronaarato.com.