‘The Yellow Bird Sings’ Book Club Guide
“The girl is forbidden from making a sound, so the yellow bird sing. He sings whatever the girl composes in her head: high pitched trills of piccolo; low-throated growls of contrabassoon…. Music helps the flowers bloom.” –The Yellow Bird Sings
Inspired by the stories of hidden children during the Holocaust, The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner is our One Book, One Hadassah winter book club pick. The novel follows Róża and her daughter, Shira, a musical prodigy, who are on the run in Nazi-occupied Poland after their home was destroyed and most of their Jewish neighbors rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Join Hadassah Magazine Executive Editor Lisa Hostein on Wednesday, December 16 at 7 p.m. EST for a live online discussion with the author. Register here for the event.
Local book groups are a vital part of Hadassah for many members. If your chapter doesn’t already have a book group, now’s the time to start one! We encourage groups to have their own discussions about The Yellow Bird Sings either before or after the interview.
To facilitate those discussions, we are happy to present the following Discussion Guide. Please distribute it to your book groups.
Book Club Discussion Questions
- While hiding in the barn, Róża makes her young daughter, Shira, remain silent and still to keep them both safe from the Nazis. Discuss the importance of silence and sound, particularly music, throughout the book. How has the trauma of their time in the barn and the need to keep absolutely quiet affected both Shira and Róża?
- What is the significance of Shira’s bird? What is implied by the changes in its plumage? In what way does the bird’s evolution mirror Shira’s?
- The book is divided into three sections, each preceded by part of a story of a girl in a magical garden. Why do you think the author placed the story before each section? How does using a children’s story as an introduction to each section impact your reading of the horrific events described in the novel?
- Why do Krystyna and Henryk shelter Róża and Shira? Do you think those motivations change over time? Why does Krystyna arrange Shira’s transport to the convent? Do you think Krystyna knows of Henryk’s advances on Róża? How would you describe the relationship between Henryk and Róża? Do you think Róża has any agency in their interactions?
- Explore the role of food in the novel and how it is used to express both fears and hopes for freedom and safety. How does hunger, satiety and the hoarding of food play out?
- Although the nuns dye Shira’s hair and teach her Catholicism, she still feels like an outsider. Discuss the ways that the girls, nuns and Pan Skrzypczak treat her, and the forms of prejudice and kindness Shira encounters. Do you think they suspect that she is Jewish?
- Discuss the guilt and shame Róża and Shira experience because of their actions and choices. Do you think Róża makes the right decision in sending Shira to the convent? How does Shira express her guilt? Does their guilt resonate with real accounts of those who have survived the Holocaust?
- The importance of the mother-child bond runs throughout the novel. How is that bond apparent, even when Róża and Shira are apart? A number of strong female relationships and friendships are portrayed in the novel. Do they differ from or are they similar to the relationship between mother and daughter?
- Over the course of the novel, Shira becomes Zosia and then Tzofia. What does she lose or gain with each name change? Do the name changes help her acclimate to her new environments? Discuss names as identifiers of culture and heritage. How have names been used in Jewish history to both signify and hide Jewish identity?
- How has the trauma of her experiences during the Holocaust shaped Róża’s relationship with Aron? Why do you think Róża decides not to have more children once she moves to America? Was it fair to Aron to keep the decision from him?
- What did you think of the novel’s ending? Do you believe that Shira and Róża will have a future together? If they are together, do you think Róża should disclose to her daughter, or to future generations, what she went through to keep Shira safe and to find her?