“Somewhere There Is Still a Sun” is Michael Gruenbaum’s story about his childhood in Prague and then, when the Nazis invaded, in the ghetto and then in Terezin, the concentration camp.
The readers learn about Gruenbaum’s life before they moved to the ghetto, then life in the ghetto, where his father died. He, his mother, and his sister got his father’s body back to bury before they were sent to the concentration camp.
The first person narrative is compelling and gripping. The reader feels as if her or she is living through the experiences with Gruenbaum. And middle grade readers will empathize with 10-year-old Gruenbaum’s (at the beginning of the memoir) love of soccer. Once in the concentration camp, Gruenbaum’s narration tells about living with 40 other boys and the young man, Franta, who takes them under his wing. His demand for high morals, even in the face of adversity, is inspiring.
The Gruenbaum family is eventually listed for transport to the “East,” which meant to Auschwitz, where everyone would be killed. His mother works out how to save her family, at least from this danger, but the narration of how she does it, and what happens to others, is chilling. They think they are safe, but then the Nazis need more for the transport. The fear of those waiting, worrying that even though they have documentation excusing them from the transport, they will be taken, is palpable.
Much of what makes the story one that children will read is that Todd Hasak-Lowy was the co-writer. He took Gruenbaum’s memories and made them into a book. Because no one remembers just what happened and what was said seventy years before, Hasak-Lowy researched the towns and the concentration camp. He used those descriptions in the story, imagined how Gruenbaum would feel about certain events, and even used his research to prod Gruenbaum into remembering details that he had forgotten. Through a painstaking process, including sending Gruenbaum drafts of the memoir, he mined more and more information to include.
Gruenbaum provided the story and the events, Hasak-Lowy brings them to life. It’s a wonderful choice for classrooms studying the Holocaust or discrimination or just for any middle grade reader interested in that time. Simon and Schuster recently signed a big contract with Rowohlt, the large German publisher, to translate the book and publish it in Germany by the spring of 2017.
“Somewhere There Is Still a Sun” is a National Jewish Book award finalist and won a Parents Choice Gold medal. It’s a perfect companion to many other books about the Holocaust including “Hana’s Suitcase,” (also about Terezin), “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” “Echo,” and “The War that Saved My Life.”
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the author for review purposes.