This book is a biography of Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener, but from time to time, he seems like a supporting character.
In adapting Wiener’s memoir for adults for children, Ludwig seems to want to be absolutely certain that they know the history of the Holocaust. She spends several pages summarizing Hitler’s campaign against the Jews, which causes the thread of Wiener’s narration to become occasionally lost. At times, the book reads more like a textbook than the life story of a boy who survived the Holocaust. Even the most traumatic passages sound oddly detached: “Many good and decent people lost their lives to this hatred—including my own friends and family.” The last several pages of the book, however, are deeply moving. A factory worker—someone who hardly knows him—risks her life to give him a bread-and-cheese sandwich every day. Even the smallest details of the story are haunting. A sign in the factory reads, “Do not look at the prisoners. Do not talk to the prisoners....If you do, you will be DOOMED.” These details are what make the story work. The facial expressions in a few of Orback’s full-bleed, atmospherically lit oil paintings are almost painful to look at.
The story loses focus on occasion, but no one who reads it will forget the history. (vocabulary list, study guide) (Picture book/biography. 7-12)