Dear NCTE teachers,
I am truly honored to write you and express how privileged I feel to share my mother’s life story with readers around the globe.
Her name was Lisa Jura and she was my best friend.
When I was a little girl, she taught me to play the piano. My lessons with her were magical because she told me the story of her life through the music and instruction.
She always said, “Mona, each piece of music tells a story.” I don’t think I knew the depth of meaning of that phrase until years later.
It was at that time I decided I wanted to write a book about my mother and share it with everyone. I knew in my heart that if I could get a book published, I could inspire young people to the powerful message of Lisa’s story: What do you hold on to in life when faced with enormous challenges?
I worked hard and never gave up. One day, The Children of Willesden Lane was published.
Now I am living my dream.
I travel around the world sharing my mother’s story and playing the music she loved. In return, young people tell me about the impact of the story on them. “We connect with Lisa and the challenges she faced,” a high school student from Chicago wrote.
During a school visit in California, a student told me, “I don’t know yet what I want to do with my life, but this book has helped me decide what kind of person I want to be.”
Lisa was a young refugee from Austria who left her home and her family on the Kindertransport just before World War II. She never forgot what her mother (my grandmother) told her on a cold December day in 1938 at the Vienna train station – “Lisa, hold on to your music, and I will be with you every step of the way through the music.”
She found a new home and new friends in a Jewish hostel on Willesden Lane in the northern part of London. As the war broke out, she fueled Britain’s war efforts with long hours at the sewing machine in the East End factories. When the Blitz rained down on London at night, she pounded out the chords of the Grieg piano concerto, determined to keep her promise to her mother and drown out the bombs. It was the music that gave her the strength to face hard times and an uncertain future just as it inspired all the other Jewish refugee children who lived in the hostel with her.
I think we can all agree that now, more than ever, we need stories that uplift our spirits and encourage us to embrace diversity. We need stories that unleash our courage and compel us to find our dreams. We need stories that inspire us to be the best we can be and help others. And we need to impart those stories at the earliest age possible – to enter the hearts and minds of young readers.
So, I am thrilled that Little/Brown has given me the opportunity to bring Lisa’s message to a whole new generation of younger readers through HOLD ON TO YOUR MUSIC and LISA of WILLESDEN LANE. I am overjoyed with the glorious illustrations that accompany the text and bring the story to life in such a beautiful and magical manner.
At my community WILLESDEN READS, students read Lisa’s story and participate in the educational programs designed by the world renowned USC Shoah Foundation. They watch the show online or live in their city. They visit our website to discover much more about Lisa: Holdontoyourmusic.org.
In closing, allow me to express my admiration for you, our educators.
You make a profound difference in your student’s lives and for the lives of all of us.
You are the heroes. The choices that you make and the literature that you share with young readers can alter the course of their lives.
My mother, Lisa, was a guiding force and strength in my life
It is my fervent hope that this story of a young girl who held on to her dream will enter your heart and that you will share it with your students. In so doing, I am certain that their imagination and hearts will embrace a wonderful message of hope ‘” if Lisa could do it, then I can.”
In pre-World War II Vienna, Lisa Jura was a musical prodigy who dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. But when enemy forces threatened the city—particularly the Jewish people that lived there—Lisa's parents were forced to make a difficult decision. They chose to send Lisa to London for safety through the Kindertransport—a rescue effort that relocated Jewish children. As Lisa yearned to be reunited with her family while living in a home for refugee children on Willesden Lane, her music became a beacon of hope for those around her.
A true story of courage, survival, and determination, this compelling tribute to a gifted young girl has already touched the lives of many around the world. Originally published in 2017 for older readers, The Children of Willesden Lane has sold hundreds of thousands of copies globally; now this picture book retelling will inspire a new generation.