This YA short story, inspired by the writer’s grandfather, portrays a boy’s struggle to find solace during the Holocaust.
Aharon, an Orthodox Jewish boy, lives in Munich, Germany, sometime after the Nazis have assumed power. Rock-throwing children and a Nazi guard set upon him and his brother, but another boy, Paul, temporarily hides them in his house, where he tends their wounds. Paul’s parents don’t like Jews, and when Aharon returns to thank his rescuer, Paul’s father orders him away. In the square, Aharon finds Paul giving away bread in the street, his goodness shining all the more in contrast with his father. Though Christian, Paul comes over for Passover, where he’s especially interested in the story of five rabbis standing up to the Romans. When Aharon next stops by Paul’s house, it’s been burned to the ground. The whole family was sent to Dachau because Paul helped him. A letter remains with Paul’s encouraging message: “The Yellow Star / Shines like a candle in the dark… / Don’t lose hope…because / you are the hope!” Next, Aharon and his family are sent to a camp, where his mother and father die. Aharon has Paul’s letter, however, which he reads to the other children, providing hope until their liberation. Later, Aharon reconciles with Paul’s father. Debut author Seth, a sixth-grade student, bases this story on his Orthodox Jewish grandfather, Paul Liebskind, though there are few points of similarity beyond unselfishness, as clarified in a short essay by illustrator Barran (The Survival of the Gingerbread Girl, 2015). Paul’s saintliness can make him seem more symbolic than real; for knowledgeable readers, he calls to mind other examples known from history, but as presented, his motives aren’t fully explored. Also, Paul and his family pay a high price for helping Aharon, which the book doesn’t consider. The central metaphor neatly turns the yellow star, a badge of shame, into a symbol of light and determination. The pencil-drawing illustrations are simple, fitting the child-narrator theme.
A message of hope that needs more emotional development within its characters.