When I first read The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser by Kathy Kacer in 1999, I was a sixth-grade student, and I could not have imagined how this book would deeply impact the events of the rest of my life.
As a senior Elementary student participating in the Forest of Reading, I was given the opportunity to attend the Silver Birch Awards ceremony in downtown Toronto if I read all ten non-fiction and all ten fiction-nominated books. So, I did. I read twenty books. And I fell in love with The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser. The exact details get a little bit blurry here for me (I was only 11), but for some reason, my school had to cancel our trip downtown to the Forest of Reading awards—and I don’t think I am being too dramatic when I say, I was devastated.
My wonderfully creative teachers held our own awards ceremony in the school gym instead. Each student from Grade 6 was asked to audition to act out the part of a nominated author. You might be able to guess who I auditioned for…and to my great relief, I got the part. I was so excited! Practicing my speech over and over to my parents until it occurred to me that The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser might win (I had been campaigning for it, after all), and I was going to have to get up in front of the entire school and accept the Silver Birch Award on Kathy’s behalf.
The day finally came. A few hundred students from grades 4–6 sat in neat rows in the gym, facing the stage as the awards were announced. Just as I suspected, Kathy Kacer and The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser won the Silver Birch Award in 1999! Grade 6 me (who had dressed up for the occasion, wearing what I imagined an adult might wear to an award ceremony) found my way onto the stage and emphatically accepted the award as if I were Kathy herself—certainly, I wanted to be. I couldn’t tell you the details of my speech, but my parents remember it all. They attended the “awards show” and proudly watched me accept the award for my favourite book!
Fast forward almost 25 years, and I find myself working at Second Story Press, the very same publisher of The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser! And I am gleeful to be here. I love working in publishing, and I am honored to be working at a feminist press. I worked on the marketing for Kathy’s latest book, Hidden on the High Wire, and at her book launch, I got to tell her my goofy little story about how she influenced me to work in this industry and the impact she had on other kids like me.
I felt it important to tell my story of falling in love with The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, one of the first books in “A Holocaust Remembrance Book for Young Readers” on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I am not Jewish but reading The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser was perhaps my first introduction to understanding exactly what the Holocaust was. For Jewish and non-Jewish students alike, implementing Holocaust History into the Ontario (and hopefully Canada-wide) Grade 6 curriculum could not be more important. As we see instances of antisemitic hatred rearing its ugly head in our schools and amongst our youth, I hope that more kids can experience falling in love with a story like Gabi’s the way that I did, but beyond that, can begin to learn about hate so that they might combat it with love.