Based on the real Odette Meyers (nee Melspajz), this thoughtful, affecting piece makes an ideal Holocaust introduction for...

ODETTE'S SECRETS

Introspective and accessible, this fictionalized history of a Jewish child surviving the Nazi occupation of France uses an elegant simplicity of language.

Odette, quite young, lives comfortably in a Paris apartment “on a cobblestone square / with a splashing fountain.” Watching a newsreel, she sees “soldiers march, / their legs and arms straight as sticks. / A funny-looking man with a mustache / shouts a speech.” The next day, she sees a Jewish-owned store with smashed windows. Mama and Papa are secular, but “[w]e are Polish Jews because / Mama’s and Papa’s parents and grandparents / in faraway Poland / are all Jews.” Papa joins the French army and is taken prisoner; yellow stars are assigned; Mama sends Odette out of Paris. For 2 1/2 years, Odette practices Catholicism in one village and then another, growing attached to religious ritual and the countryside. Macdonald’s free verse uses unadorned images: a blanket from Odette’s devoted (Christian) godmother; schoolchildren pounding out “La Marseillaise” on desks with their fists to drown out rowdy German soldiers; those same children rolling Odette in a thorn bush when they suspect her secret. Odette’s first-person voice matures subtly as she grows in age and in comprehension of the war’s horrors.

Based on the real Odette Meyers (nee Melspajz), this thoughtful, affecting piece makes an ideal Holocaust introduction for readers unready for death-camp scenes. (timeline, historical photographs, author’s note) (Historical verse fiction. 9-15)

Pub Date: March 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59990-750-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

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Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

NEVER FALL DOWN

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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  • Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Winner

  • Newbery Honor Book

HEART OF A SAMURAI

BASED ON THE TRUE STORY OF NAKAHAMA MANJIRO

In 1841, 14-year-old Manjiro joined four others on an overnight fishing trip. Caught by a severe storm, their small rowboat was shipwrecked on a rocky island. Five months later, they were rescued by the crew of a whaling ship from New Bedford. Manjiro, renamed John Mung, was befriended by the captain and eventually lived in his home in New Bedford, rapidly absorbing Western culture. But the plight of his impoverished family in Japan was never far from Manjiro’s mind, although he knew that his country’s strict isolationist policy meant a death sentence if he returned. Illustrated with Manjiro’s own pencil drawings in addition to other archival material and original art from Tamaki, this is a captivating fictionalized (although notably faithful) retelling of the boy’s adventures. Capturing his wonder, remarkable willingness to learn, the prejudice he encountered and the way he eventually influenced officials in Japan to open the country, this highly entertaining page-turner is the perfect companion to Shipwrecked! The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy, by Rhoda Blumberg (2001). (historical note, extensive glossary, bibliography.) (Historical fiction. 9-13)

 

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8109-8981-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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