Sharon Cameron’s genius is clearly demonstrated by the careful and masterful text she has created in “The Light in Hidden Places.” This is a real story of heroism and courage brilliantly re-crafted into a novel that takes readers directly into the heart of the darkest days of WWII Poland.
Stefania Podgórska has grown up on a large farm with her parents and many siblings. When she turns 13, she wants to escape the farm, so she travels to the larger city of Przemyśl, where she finds work with the Daimants, a Jewish family that owns a grocery store. Continue reading
“This Light Between Us” by Andrew Fukuda manages to be many things: a fabulous historical fiction novel, a story of loyalty and love, and what would seem almost impossible to create authentically — a romance between two people who have never met.
Paris, ostensibly the most beautiful city in the world, has a checkered past. During the German occupation in WWII, many Parisians collaborated with the Nazis. “All the Flowers in Paris” by Sarah Jio is about a French family with Jewish ancestry that is “outed” by a neighbor, and about a woman in modern Paris who loses her memory and must find out who she is and why she was basically a recluse before the accident that caused her memory loss. What she finds hidden in her lovely apartment gives her a mystery to solve, and by solving that mystery, Caroline not only finds closure for the long-ago Parisian family, but also for herself.
“The Girl from Berlin” is another wonderful novel by Ronald H. Balson in which he continues with Catherine and Liam, his attorney/detective main character couple, who take cases in which the reader gets to travel back in time to see the background of those cases, as Catherine and Liam are learning about those events. The stories are especially riveting because of Balson’s ability to create the dual story, cutting off each story at a cliffhanger moment, making the reader continue reading to find out what happens next, until before the reader looks up, the day has gone by and the book is read.
“Someday We Will Fly” by Rachel DeWoskin is a fascinating account of Jewish refugees during WWII who escaped to Shanghai, one of the few places they could go without a visa. Not only is the setting unusual for a Holocaust story, main character Lillia and her family defy Jewish stereotypes — her parents are circus performers.
Alan Gratz’s middle grade books are always a great read, but with “Refugee,” he takes his writing to a new level. In this historical fiction novel, Gratz takes readers to three different periods in times — simultaneously — by telling three stories of young people, each of whom is a refugee.
In this touching Holocaust story, “What the Night Sings,” by Vesper Stamper, a young Holocaust survivor must reconcile her life after she is liberated from a concentration camp.
The reader meets Gerta at Bergen-Belsen just before the camp is liberated. Rivkah, an acquaintance of Gerta’s parents from their hometown of Köln, is dying in Gerta’s arms. Just as the liberation soldiers enter, Rivkah dies. Thus is the reader introduced to the fact of death and its importance in Gerta’s life.
It’s rare when a sequel is just as beautifully written and just as touching (maybe even more so) than the first book. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley accomplished this difficult feat with “The War I Finally Won,” the sequel to “The War that Saved My Life.”
Ada is the main character in both books, and it’s her story, that of a child who has endured unimaginable abuse and cruelty, who has struggled through life with a disability, yet who emerges strong and brave. That story has enthralled readers and made tens of thousands of them weep.
“Karolina’s Twins” by Ronald H. Balson is a beautifully told story about an older woman trying to fulfill a promise she made to her best friend during the years they were in a Nazi camp during World War II.
Lena is currently a well-to-do woman living in Chicago. She has, in her late eighties, decided that she needs to fulfill the promise she made to her friend Karolina to take care of Karolina’s twin babies. She asks husband-and-wife team Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart (investigator and attorney respectively) to help her find them. In order for the couple to investigate, she has to tell them her story, her history.
“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.
Rating: 5 stars
In “In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer” by Irene Gut Opdyke, readers will learn about the Holocaust from the eyes of a young Polish girl who at the age of 17 had to endure horrors most children only dream about in their worst nightmares.
Opdyke (her married name) tells of growing up in a close-knit Polish family proud of their Polish heritage and living in a house where kindness was encouraged. Hurt animals were brought home and healed, dogs were loved, and the sisters were close. When Irene was 17, she decided she wanted to keep helping people by becoming a nurse. It was while she was in school, far from her family, when World War II broke out.
The story relates the horror of how the Russian soldiers abused the women they found, including Irene. Irene got lucky when her German looks and her ability to speak German helped her get a position working for the Nazis in a hotel. The hotel backed up to the ghetto, and Irene saw firsthand the horrors of what was happening there. It was obvious that the Germans wanted to kill all the Jews. And the German officers talked freely in the restaurant about the goal of making the town free of all Jews. The man in charge of the kitchen was kind and looked the other way when Irene started helping the Jews.
First it was simply putting food in a metal box and shoving it into the ghetto through a hole she made under the fence. That escalated when she got Jews to help in the laundry room. She would pass on news she heard from the officers about deportations to her friends — because the Jews working in the laundry became friends. When she learned about the last final “action” to rid the town of all Jews, she knew she had to do more.
That’s when the book really becomes almost incredible — reading about the risks that Irene took on behalf of people she barely knew. She risked her life, she did whatever she had to to make sure that the Jews she saved remained safe. The book is written beautifully with the help of author Jennifer Armstrong, whose writing beautifully brings out the beauty of the human spirit and the cruelty of which humans are capable — all in the course of a few pages.
This nonfiction book should be included in any study of World War II from middle school through high school. While there is mention of rape, it is not graphic. It’s unusual in that most WWII memoirs are written from a Jewish perspective. This one is written from the perspective and voice of a Polish, Catholic girl.
Rating: 4 1/2 stars
In “Prisoner B-3087” Alan Gratz takes the true story of Jack Gruener and turns it into a fictional account that is a perfect way for middle grade readers to learn about the Holocaust while reading a book with action and suspense.
Yanek Gruener is only ten when the Nazis change his life forever. Gratz “hooks” the reader from the first sentence: “If I had known what the next six years of my life were going to be like, I would have eaten more.”
Gratz continues to write about Yanek’s life as his family first endures minor indignities and later fatal ones. When the Nazis arrive, the Polish boys decide that the Jews can’t play soccer with them. Poles and Germans won’t buy shoes from his father’s store. And soon, he is told that he can’t attend the public school. Next the synagogue is burned and the wall is built, forcing the Jews to be concentrated in a ghetto.
The story details the horrors of what happened to the Jews during World War II. Yanek ends up going to ten concentration camps. Gratz does not mince words as he describes the cruelties and the terror of those incarcerated behind barbed wire.
There are many who have written books for middle grade readers about the Holocaust. Some are classics like “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry and “The Diary of Anne Frank.” This book is one that should be read as a companion to those books because it tells the story of those inside the concentration camps.
Please note: This review is based on the final paperback book purchased by the reviewer from the publisher, Scholastic.