Guest Post – Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix, talking about their recent book, The Grand Mosque of Paris

The Grand Mosque of Paris by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix (Holiday House, 2009)We are delighted to welcome Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix, joint authors and illustrators of The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust (Holiday House, 2009), talking about the background to the book – and posing some thought-provoking questions. And we offer our congratulations too: The Grand Mosque of Paris has been included on the recently announced ALA 2010 Notable Books for Children (Middle Reader) and the 2010 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children Recommended Books lists. I have read and re-read this wonderful book and cannot recommend it highly enough – and it is such a plus to have history presented in such a beautifully illustrated picture-book format. You can read more about Karen and Deborah’s work on their website, particularly about another of their co-authored books, Hidden on the Mountain: Stories of Children Sheltered from the Nazis in Le Chambon.

But enough from me – over to Karen and Deborah:

Wartime heroics in Paris. Persecuted Jews and prisoners-of-war fleeing the Nazis through the utterly dark, twisting tunnels of the labyrinth beneath the city and escaping hidden among giant wine casks on barges heading south. A clandestine Resistance group using a rare language — Kabyle — as code. Rescuers and the rescued slipping secretly in and out of one of the most beautiful buildings in Paris — the Grand Mosque — and finding refuge among its lush gardens and apartments, or even in the sanctuary. Who wouldn’t be seduced by a story like this one? But the one thing that drew us into this little-known piece of World War II history was the fact that Muslims were risking their own lives to save the lives of Jews.

“Save one life, and it is as if you’ve saved all of humanity.” It is striking and ironic that these words are found in each of these two religions that all too often seem to be bitterly divided. The current conflict between Muslims and Jews has been going on for so long, sometimes it feels as though it’s been that way forever.

But as we researched our book, The Grand Mosque of Paris: The Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust, we learned that North African Muslims and Jews had referred to each other as brothers for centuries and lived side by side in peace. One of our goals with this book was to remind people that Judaism and Islam were once in harmony. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could be that way again? Seems almost impossible to imagine, doesn’t it?

And if it’s hard for us, how difficult must it be for kids, who have only experienced the intense hostility trumpeted in the news every day? But we believe that children may be our best hope.

Martine Bernheim believes this, too. She is Vice-President at a French organization that works to eradicate racism and anti-semitism (LICRA). In schools all across Europe, she has shown Derri Berkani’s wonderful documentary film, Une Résistance Oubliée: La Mosquée, about the WWII rescue of Jews at the mosque. She is struck by the shift in attitude she sees in the kids who have seen this film: racist violence decreases tremendously, as compassion increases.

Wouldn’t it be great if our book had a similar effect?

6 Responses to “Guest Post – Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix, talking about their recent book, The Grand Mosque of Paris”

  1. Sally Says:

    Wow, what a great guest post! Thanks Karen and Deborah for your insightful words.

  2. Julie Says:

    Thanks for your guest post that so eloquently summarizes the book’s purpose. A children’s book so beautifully illustrated and simultaneously educational is a rare gem. I can as easily get lost in the luminous color, pattern, and intricate detail of the illustrations as in imagining what it might have been like to be in this place, at that time, in those circumstances. Our young people deserve to know the truth of our oneness. Thank you for your contribution in the form of this book.

  3. Stephanie Says:

    What a powerful post! This is an aspect of history I was not familiar with — it certainly wasn’t in the history books when I was in school. I definitely want to get this book for my family.

  4. Karen Says:

    Thanks for these wonderful comments! Deborah and I were intrigued when we discovered this story and astonished to find that such a powerful piece of history was so little-known. We knew as soon as we learned about it, that we wanted to make this story accessible to children. It was the same with our book HIDDEN ON THE MOUNTAIN, which has turned out to be equally compelling to adults as it is to the pre-teen/YA audience for which it was originally intended. Children–and adults–need to know about these true stories of hope and compassion.

  5. Sheila (Bookjourney) Says:

    Wow this sounds like an amazing read. Good review. I am making a note of this book for my library.

  6. Marjorie Says:

    Thank you, Karen, to you and Deborah for sharing your insight with us – I know your post has given people a lot to think about.

    Sally – you’re right!

    Julie – I agree with you about the artwork and I know from my boys’ reaction to the book that the illustrations drew them right in straight away.

    Stephanie – nor did I, and I am so glad that history is presented so differently now, compared with when I was at school!

    Sheila, you won’t regret it!