Friday, October 17, 2014

Vivid Technicolor Details Bring Understanding of Jewish Girl's Plight in Yolen's Holocaust Classic

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Hannah Stern isn't looking forward to another boring Passover Seder with her extended family.  The 12-year-old would prefer to skip it all—the lipstick-laced kisses from Aunt Eva; the senile ravings of her grandfather; the endless droning about Egypt and plagues and the children of Israel.  The traditions force them all to remember the past and Hannah is so tired of hearing about things that happened so long ago they hardly matter in the present.

Opening the door of one's home to symbolically let the prophet Elijah inside is a silly tradition only babies believe in.  When Hannah reluctantly receives the honor of performing the task, she certainly doesn't expect anything unusual to happen.  But it does.  As she steps through the door, her family's modern New York apartment disappears.  Hannah finds herself in a village she doesn't recognize with people she doesn't know.  Everyone calls her "Chaya" and acts like there's nothing strange about her being trapped in a Polish village in 1942.  They laugh when she speaks of magical doors, but Hannah doesn't find her predicament funny at all.  She's studied the Holocaust in school, she's heard her family's terrible concentration camp stories, she knows what's going to happen to the Polish Jews.      As Hannah experiences all the confusion, all the injustice, all the fear her ancestors felt during World War II, she begins to understand why her parents insist on remembering their heartbreaking plight.

Can Hannah use her knowledge from the future to save her ancestors from their devastating fate?  Can she stop the horrors of the Holocaust from happening at all, at least to the people whose blood she will someday share?  And, most importantly, can she find her way home to Hannah Stern's nice, safe life in present-day New York?  Or will she die as Chaya, another victim of senseless Nazi brutality?

I've heard parents say that The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen is too violent, too vivid, for young readers.  And, yet, it's one of the most compelling children's books I've read about the Holocaust.  Why?  Because it comes to such brilliant life with all its rich, Technicolor details.  As you read, it's impossible not to feel as if you're walking in Chaya's clunky black shoes.  Just as it did for Hannah, the modern world falls away, giving you a little bit of an understanding for what a young Polish Jew might have seen, heard and felt as her gentle world crumbled into a ghastly, irrevocable nightmare.  This small book may, at times, be difficult to digest, but, trust me, the understanding that comes from it is worth every hard swallow.  Everyone, children included, should read this touching classic.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books about the Holocaust/concentration camps written for children/teens, including The Diary of Anne FrankNumber the Stars by Lois Lowry and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs); violence; intense scenes; and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

3 comments:

  1. First read this book years ago. Still remember it well.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've been wanting to read this book for a long time but I think I'm going to have to move it to the top of the TBR list now.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I hadn't heard of this one. It looks good. I like stories like this that give you perspective on history.

    ReplyDelete

Comments make me feel special, so go crazy! Just keep it clean and civil. Feel free to speak your mind (I always do), but be aware that I will delete any offensive comments.

P.S.: Don't panic if your comment doesn't show up right away. I have to approve each one before it posts to prevent spam. It's annoying, but it works!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin