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Orlev (The Island on Bird Street), an award-winning writer and Holocaust survivor who now lives in Israel, devotes this memorable novel to the extraordinary true story of an orphaned Jewish boy's experiences in Poland during the war. As in most such tales, eight-year-old Srulik's account combines encounters with the unfathomably cruel and the genuinely charitable. Readers who have some familiarity with Holocaust memoirs will not be surprised by stunning coincidences and improbable events; others may grasp that survival against nearly insuperable odds depended on not one but many unlikely twists of fate. For example, Srulik-who escapes from the Warsaw Ghetto toward the beginning of the novel, survives in the forest, works for farmers and learns to pass for Christian-is later turned in to the Nazis and runs away; when he finds work again, his new boss brings him to town to register him (for the benefit of increased rations) and unwittingly delivers Srulik back to the same Nazi officer who had interrogated him. But the officer, who knows Srulik is Jewish, doesn't arrest him; rather, he sends him to work for his girlfriend. Later, when Srulik's arm is mangled on the job, a Polish doctor refuses to operate because Srulik is a Jew, and Srulik's arm must eventually be amputated. Srulik's response typifies his reactions throughout: he doesn't have the luxury of assessing his losses, or mourning them, he simply figures out how to manage with what he has left. It is this perspective-authentic, childlike and wrenching-that will pierce the audience's heart. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal
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Gr 5-8-Based on true-life experiences, this survival story about a Jewish boy in Warsaw during World War II reverberates with courage and determination. It begins when Srulik is eight years old. As he emerges from a garbage can after foraging for scraps to eat, he discovers that his mother has disappeared. He is alone in a world filled with danger. He begins his struggle to survive without any bravura, just an unspoken decision that he will do whatever is necessary. This is his single-minded focus; he expends little energy bemoaning his fate. He acts on his father's advice not to let others know that he is Jewish as he is taken in by families, works on farms, hides out in the forest, and narrowly escapes discovery. Even after he is wounded and loses an arm, he perseveres and teaches himself to do things that normally require two arms. Though his character lacks emotional depth, the story is totally engrossing as it vividly describes the hardships faced by so many youngsters during the war. Orlev has once again successfully used historical fiction to illustrate the Holocaust experience.-Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Holocaust survivor stories for teens run the risk of being either too brutal or too sentimental. These two novels avoid sensationalizing the violence because, in each case, the protagonist is a child too young to understand what's going on, which distances the horror. In both books the child is saved, but there's no radiant uplift about rescuers. Yes, some heroes do hide the children and help them, but as John Auerbach shows in his adult autobiographical story collection, The Owl and Other Stories BKL S 15 03, which centers on escaping the Warsaw ghetto, luck and wild coincidence were a large part of what enabled a few to live. Part survival adventure, part Holocaust history, these novels tell their story through the eyes of a Polish orphan on the run from the Nazis. Orlev is a Holocaust survivor, and his award-winning novels about being a child in the Warsaw ghetto, including The Man from the Other Side (1991), are widely read. This new story is not based on his own experience, but it does come from real life--the experience of an illiterate ghetto survivor who escaped into the Polish countryside, stealing, foraging, begging, working. The boy is nurtured by some and hated by many. He hides his circumcision and invents a Catholic identity; he forgets his real name, his family, and the street where he lived. In one unforgettable incident, he loses his right arm because a Polish doctor refuses to operate on a Jew. He survives, immigrating to Israel, where Orlev hears him tell his story. The narrative is simple and spare, factual about everything from hunting with a slingshot to making a fire with a piece of glass, and it's always true to the viewpoint of a boy who thinks he is about nine. In contrast, Spinelli's narrative is manic, fast, and scattered, authentically capturing the perspective of a young child who doesn't know if he's a Jew or a Gypsy; he has never known family or community. He lives by stealing; his name may be Stopthief. Unlike Orlev's protagonist, this boy lives in the ghetto, where the daily atrocities he witnesses-- hanging bodies, massacres, shootings, roundups, transports--are the only reality he knows. His matter-of-fact account distances the brutality without sensationalizing or lessening the truth. He first finds shelter with a gang of street kids, where one fierce older boy protects him, invents an identity for him, and teaches him survival skills. Later he lives with a Jewish family. The history is true, so although Spinelli's narrator is young, the brutal realism in the story makes this a book for older children. Both novels end with what seems to be a contrived escape, though in Orlev's story, the ending is true. Add these stirring titles to the Holocaust curriculum; the youth of the protagonists allows them to ask questions and get answers that will help readers learn the history. --Hazel Rochman Copyright 2003 Booklist