Anna Bauman, 9 years old and Jewish, escapes certain death in Nazi-occupied Poland with the help of many who keep her hidden with a false Catholic identity.
When Mama tells Anna she must leave the Warsaw ghetto with a trusted guide and new name, Anna Karwolska, the girl is confused, frightened, and unsure she can keep her unfamiliar gentile life authentic. Taken to a Catholic orphanage, Anna begins to learn a new religious structure while she secretly remembers her Jewish background. After a year she is again uprooted and taken to a foster family that lovingly welcomes her as an orphan of the war. Basing her story on the admirable work of Irena Sendler, the Polish social worker who provided underground opportunities for 2,500 Jewish children, Cerrito effectively evokes the fears, struggles, and sheer terror these children faced through her protagonist’s first-person account, which allows readers into her private thoughts. Anna’s three years in hiding encompass much of what these saved children experienced, though many were not always treated with kindness. In a candid concluding portrayal of the psychological cruelty these children faced, Anna learns of her real family’s death when she is taken from her foster home to a Jewish agency. Though alive, she is emotionally lost, and readers are left to ponder what the future might hold for this brave girl.
Balancing honesty and age-appropriateness, Cerrito crafts an authentic, moving portrait. (Historical fiction. 9-12)