New Holocaust Books for Teens and Tweens
New books about the Holocaust, both fiction and nonfiction as well as outstanding reprints on Holocaust themes, offer sensitive insights and unique perspectives into that dark era of Jewish history. Stories of courage and kindness provide young readers with role models whose idealism defied evil and affirmed human goodness.
Bjorn’s Gift by Sandy Brehl (Crispin Books, 272 pp. $14.95)
In this sequel to her earlier work, Odin’s Promise, Brehl continues the story of Mari, a Norwegian girl who endures the cruelty of Nazi occupation and the betrayal of classmates seduced by Nazi ideology. Mari courageously allies herself with her brother Bjorn’s resistance operations. The rescue of a Jewish family imbues Mari with the determination to fight the pro-Nazi Quisling regime until, she says, “Norway is finally ours again. The truth will be stronger than all the Nazi lies.” Brehl’s recounting of a little-known chapter of World War II history is both gripping and informative. Ages 8 to 12.
Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott (Margaret K. McElderry Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster, 352 pp. $17.99)
Meg Wiviott uses poetry in her fictional account of an actual paper heart crafted in Auschwitz by a young girl named Zlatka for her friend Fania. In alternating chapters of linear verses that both sing and throb, the two friends tell of the harsh cruelty of life in the concentration camp, of suffering too painful for “mere words” and friendships formed even as frail “Jewish girls wrestled with boulders.” Against all odds, fearfully but with courage and love, Zlatka crafted a heart-shaped birthday card, on which each girl in their barracks inscribed a message of hope. That paper heart is on display at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Center. Ages 12 and up.
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 240 pp. $17.99)
Mystery and miracles accompany 7-year-old Anna on her tumultuous odyssey to survival guided by “the swallow man.” This stirring tale combines whimsical fantasy with harsh reality as the small girl and her strange companion—who can summon a swallow at will—traverse Nazi-occupied Poland, evading bombs, escaping danger and extracting shreds of humanity from inhumane soldiers. Poetry informs the prose of this young author, whose vividly drawn characters move with odd grace through the mists of madness. Ages 12 and up.
Esfir Is Alive by Andrea Simon (Bedazzled Ink Publishing, 275 pp. $13.95)
Esfir Manevicke was 12 in 1944, when 50,000 Belarusian Jews were massacred. Miraculously, Esfir survived and found refuge in a convent, masquerading as a non-Jew. Andrea Simon fictionalizes the drama of her life, re-creating her early childhood in the vibrant Jewish community of Kobrin, her exciting experiences among her aunt’s young boarders in Brest, her introduction to the fierce Zionism of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and the joyous celebrations of Hanukkah and Pesach even in the face of covert and overt anti-Semitism. The graphic descriptions of Nazi cruelty and the shooting massacres of entire communities are deeply disturbing but alleviated by Esfir’s miraculous postwar reunion with her brother in the Land of Israel, where she can at last proclaim “Esfir Is Alive.” Ages 14 and up.
Gloria Goldreich’s latest novel is The Bridal Chair, on the life of Marc Chagall and his daughter, Ida.