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)