By Deb Silverthorn
Local children’s author Nancy Churnin brings her two latest titles to the public, “Dear Mr. Dickens” and “A Queen to the’s Rescue: The Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah.” The prolific author Churnin will share both books at 2 p.m. on Oct. 2 at Interabang Books.
“I have, through writing many of my books, more deeply embraced my Jewish self and I’m proud to tell the stories of these great people,” said the author of now 10 books for young readers. “I hope I’m providing nourishment for children’s souls — a mirror for Jewish children of those who came before them and a window for non-Jews to see through what good Jews have brought into our world. For everyone, I hope to inspire what they can become and do in this life.”
“Dear Mr. Dickens,” illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe and based on a true story, introduces Eliza Davis, a young Jewish mother who wrote to Charles Dickens, disturbed by the prejudice against Jews in his work. Her notes about Fagin, a Jewish character in “Oliver Twist,” portrayed as ugly and selfish, affected the author and in “Our Mutual Friend,” he created the sympathetic Jewish character of Riah.
“In this contentious age, we must stand up to intolerance. Eliza did just that,” said Churnin. The book is being featured by the National Women’s History Museum, in Washington, D.C., and through London’s Charles Dickens Museum. “It’s the Jewish way to allow people to change, and that we accept teshuvah, repentance, as we will all soon ask for in the season of atonement. Dickens did so and he was changed,” she said.
“A Queen to the Rescue: The Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah,” with illustrations by Yevgenia Nayberg, was a must-write for Churnin, a Life Member of the organization along with her sister, Sharon Churnin Nash.
The book explains how Queen Esther, Hadassah in Hebrew, was Henrietta Szold’s role model and inspiration for the social justice organization she founded in 1912. Determined to offer emergency medical care to mothers and children in (then) Palestine, she’s also responsible for more than 11,000 Jewish children being saved during the Holocaust. Hadassah’s mission still includes education, youth development and women’s rights.
“We’re excited for the publication of Nancy’s’s book; the story of Hadassah’s founder [is] definitely something to share with pride,” said Elise Power, president of the Dallas Chapter of Hadassah. ““We’re thrilled to share the life and mission of Henrietta Szold to the next generations and hope it will inspire our children, and their children, to join us in supporting Hadassah Hospital in Israel.”
In April, Churnin was featured in an online presentation by Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, Northampton-Amherst Hadassah chapter, Congregation B’nai Israel and other local partners.
In person in 2020, and on Zoom last spring, Churnin visited with the students of Texas’ Venus Middle School, sharing “Martin and Anne” as part of the eighth graders’ study of the Holocaust.
“Nancy makes nonfiction read like a story and, even online, it was a wonderful experience,” said Venus ISD Librarian Kathryn Roberts. “The children enjoyed the very personal conversation and had their many questions answered.”
Churnin, a Bronx, New York, native, is married to Michael Granberry and mother of Ted, Sam, David and Josh. She is the daughter of Flora and the late Douglas Churnin and sister of Sharon, Jon and Marc. During a recent visit to her mother, a retired teacher, Churnin shared her latest works.
The elder Churnin recalled that whenever one of her children asked for a book, she said “yes,” and books were always part of their home.
“We always called it ‘the library’ and it was filled with the joy of reading. My husband built shelves from floor to ceiling because, without a library, how can you live?” said Flora Churnin, who, long before online searches, scoured bookstores and libraries for Louisa May Alcott books, her daughter’s favorites.
Decades ago, she recalled being concerned that her daughter was so focused on Dickens’ portrayal of Jews. But she still thought it important to read the unpleasant and the untrue to know what is going on in the world. Today, she’s proud of her daughter’s courage to handle situations with truth and honor, much like the heroine in “Dear Mr. Dickens.”
“I felt relieved that Eliza spoke up, that she couldn’t accept the untrue things Dickens said. She’s a hero. Dickens ultimately did better, and Eliza forgave him,” she said. “Teaching children to be human beings, to be kind to others, is the most worthwhile thing you can do.”
Flora Churnin’s spirit to teach children to do good rings loud through her daughter’s work. Churnin offers teacher workbooks for her titles, each with a call to action.
“William Hoy” readers have submitted over 1,000 letters to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, recommending Hoy to the Hall of Fame, and readers of “Martin & Anne,” are encouraged to participate in a project to help improve others’ lives.
Since 2016, Churnin has published “The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game,” “Manjhi Moves A Mountain,” “Charlie Takes His Shot: How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf,” “Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing,” “The Queen and the First Christmas Tree: Queen Charlotte’s Gift to England,” “Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Anne Frank,” “Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring” and “For Spacious Skies,” about Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote “America the Beautiful.”
“I hope to shine a light onto us all, to encourage my readers, and to teach,” said Churnin, “that even though people make mistakes, we can all become heroes and heroines.”
For more information, workbooks and book details, visit NancyChurnin.com.