In Poland in the 1940s, the lives of twins Chaim and Gittel feel like a fairy tale torn apart as they must rely on each other to endure life in a ghetto and the horrors of a concentration camp where they lose everything but each other.
Born and raised in New York City, Jane Yolen now lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts. She attended Smith College and received her master's degree in education from the University of Massachusetts. The distinguished author of more than 170 books, Jane Yolen is a person of many talents. When she is not writing, Yolen composes songs, is a professional storyteller on the stage, and is the busy wife of a university professor, the mother of three grown children, and a grandmother. All of Yolen's stories and poems are rooted in her sense of family and self. The Emperor and the Kite, which was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1983 for its intricate paper-cut illustrations by Ed Young, was based on Yolen's relationship with her late father, who was an international kite-flying champion. Owl Moon, winner of the 1988 Caldecott Medal for John Schoenherr's exquisite watercolors, was inspired by her husband's interest in birding.
*Starred Review* Nazi-occupied Lodz, Poland, 1942. Chaim and Gittel, 14-year-old Jewish twins, live with their parents in a small apartment in the ghetto. Life is made bearable for the taciturn Chaim by the poetry he writes (he seldom speaks because of a stutter). Things become grimmer when the twins' parents are forced to open their home to an unsympathetic family, which also has two children: Sophie and the disagreeable Bruno. When the twins' father learns his family is to be transported, he arranges for them to escape from Lodz along with Sophie and Bruno. The four children are put in the custody of a group of partisans who are to take them to safety. Alas, they are surprised by a company of Germans and killed, leaving only the children, who are taken to a forced labor camp (slave labor camp, Chaim wryly calls it). There they are put to work in a munitions factory until an insane German doctor, a protégé of the monstrous Dr. Mengele, arrives, intent on performing experiments on the twins. Using the framework of the Hansel and Gretel story, Yolen does a superb job of dramatizing the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust, bringing vivid fear and suspense to her captivating story. It makes for altogether memorable and essential reading. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.
A Holocaust tale with a thin "Hansel and Gretel" veneer from the author of The Devil's Arithmetic (1988).Chaim and Gittel, 14-year-old twins, live with their parents in the Lodz ghetto, forced from their comfortable country home by the Nazis. The siblings are close, sharing a sign-based twin language; Chaim stutters and communicates primarily with his sister. Though slowly starving, they make the best of things with their beloved parents, although it's more difficult once they must share their tiny flat with an unpleasant interfaith couple and their Mischling (half-Jewish) children. When the family hears of their impending "wedding invitation"—the ghetto idiom for a forthcoming order for transport—they plan a dangerous escape. Their journey is difficult, and one by one, the adults vanish. Ultimately the children end up in a fictional child labor camp, making ammunition for the German war effort. Their story effectively evokes the dehumanizing nature of unremitting silence. Nevertheless, the dense, distancing narrative (told in a third-person contemporaneous narration focused through Chaim with interspersed snippets from Gittel's several-decades-later perspective) has several consistency problems, mostly regarding the relative religiosity of this nominally secular family. One theme seems to be frustration with those who didn't fight back against overwhelming odds, which makes for a confusing judgment on the suffering child protagonists. Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-14) Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Photograph of a Dead Child on the Street
Such an ordinary sight, thirteen people walk by,
hardly giving her a glance
as if she were a rabbit dead in a field,
or an old dog who died by the fire.
Just another piece of drek on the cobbles
to be taken away by the garbage collector.
Three hundred calories a day, such rations
could not sustain a growing child,
so she stopped growing.
Her feet, her legs, her face stiff and cold
like pavement, and as gray.
This child who once danced
about in her mother’s kitchen,
a bit of afikomen in her hand,
the four questions so lately in her mouth.
Dance, little Hannahleh, Chaya, Gittel, Rachael.
Whatever your name was when you were alive,
dance on the streets of Heaven,
for you shall never dance here again.
Chaim was thinking too much about the words he would have to find to convince Motl, so he wasn’t paying careful enough attention to the man in front of him, a nondescript, hunched-over, dark-coated scarecrow. A man who turned to the right to avoid a pile of rags. Chaim only saw him at the last moment.
Cursing silently at his own carelessness, Chaim checked his forward movement and only barely avoided stepping on the pile. He was deathly afraid he might get tangled in the rags. There was a soldier standing on the corner who might have noticed him then.
With a gun.
For a moment, he thought, Rags can be useful. Mama could always sew Gittel a new skirt with those rags. Or Papa a warmer shirt, and maybe that would help with his cough. In the ghetto it had come to this—ragpicking.
However, he didn’t dare bend over or slow down, so he just made a quick hop-step to the right. But as he glanced at the bundle from the corner of his eye, he realized why the man had stepped around it rather than simply trod on it.
The thing wasn’t actually a bundle of rags, but a small girl, maybe five or six, in a washed-out blue head scarf, threadbare blue dress, and a scruffy coat with the requisite yellow star on the sleeve. She lay curled up on the ground, one scrawny hand held out as if begging, the other clutching a doll as ragged as she. But her mouth was open, her eyes wide, unblinking. There was a bullet hole in her forehead that looked like a third eye. A dark bruise on her upturned cheek.
Gittel had such a dress once, he thought. That blue.
Even as he walked on, his eyes filled with tears. A line of a poem sledgehammered into his startled mind. Dance on the streets of Heaven, for you shall never dance here again. It was so complete, he wondered if he’d read it somewhere. He often had such things in his head—words that sang but were never spoken aloud. Words that he wrote down in his journal. So he wouldn’t forget. Though he doubted he could forget this little girl, that line.
And then he shook himself. Thinking of poetry when she lay dead behind him was awful. Unforgivable. For a brief moment, he wondered if he was turning into a horrible person. Yet he walked on. He had to walk on.
He’d never actually seen someone dead before, though he’d overheard people in the apartment building talking about them. Most had been shot or beaten to death and left on the street like a piece of garbage. But this was only the third time in a year that he’d been out on the street alone. Papa and Mama had insisted, and he and Gittel obeyed, of course. Though they were allowed to walk up and down the stairs in the apartment, even run along the hallways for exercise.
But who would shoot a little girl? He bit his lip. Who would beat her? It made no sense, and suddenly—for the first time since they’d been moved into the ghetto—a real, deep-rooted fear invaded him. Maybe because he was alone on the street, even in the midst of a crowd. Maybe because the girl was so young. Maybe because she could be mistaken for rags. Trod upon, kicked to the gutter, because no one had claimed her. Maybe all of those things.
That could be Gittel, he thought. Or the new girl, Sophie. She didn’t seem so bad. He was no longer worried about himself. He kept walking.
He was already almost a block away from her now, moving as quickly as was possible in the ghetto, as if her death were a disease he might catch.
And then he dared a glance back, asking himself if he should just go back and pick her up and take her to the nearest house. Or nearest alley.
But which house? What alley? And how could he explain the dead girl to anyone? He could hardly explain anything to his own family.
The soldier on the corner was watching. Chaim could see that out of the corner of his eye, though he was careful not to swivel his head to look.
He stared grimly down at his feet, realizing that he knew neither the dead girl’s name nor where she lived. She could be Irena or Hannah, Chaya, Rachael. All he knew about the girl was her death. And her doll.