Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy

childen in the Lodz ghetto (via)
Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy

Reviewed by Ingrid

Published: 2006

It's about: Written in simple free verse, this is the fictionalized, first person account of a young girl named Sylvia who survived WWII hidden in the Lodz ghetto.  The story is based on extensive interviews with the author's aunt Sylvia, one of only twelve children and 800 survivors to come out of the ghetto at the end of the war.

I thought: A wonderful woman named Shauna who works with my dad gave me this book. Shauna told me that her younger daughter loves this book and rereads it every year, and knowing that I also read a lot of holocaust books when I was younger, she thought I would enjoy it.

And I did! The author did a great job of presenting an unsettling, emotionally heavy story in a way that is accessible to young readers and doesn't whitewash. Because the narrator is only 4 1/2 when the story begins, the writing is very simple. While written in verse, the story is clearly meant to be read primarily, if not solely as a narrative. I wasn't sure what to make of this at first, but as I finished the book I realized the verse form was fitting and worked quite well - it simplified the text down to the basics without making it feel dumbed-down. It truly made the narrative feel as if it were told by a child. I loved how Jennifer Roy was willing to risk using free-verse in a rather unconventional way. It worked beautifully.

I would highly recommend this book as a good introduction to WWII for young readers. While it does have some violence, it isn't anything that older children couldn't handle. For example, Sylvia tells us that people are shot in the street, but she never witnesses it directly and so it isn't described in detail. This book is a good introduction to questions of morality as played out in the real world.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf.

Reading Recommendations: While anyone could enjoy this book, I especially would recommend it to elementary/middle school aged readers. (Ages 6-12)

Warnings: Some violence.

Favorite excerpts:

"Dora feels bad for me
having to stay inside all the time,
so she brings home funny stories and jokes
to cheer me up.
We sit together on her bed in the evening
and talk.
She tells me about the factory.
Now they are making munitions.
Bullets and weapons
for the Nazis to win the war.

The Nazis want to take over the world,
Dora believes.
They think that they are better than everyone else,
and they especially hate the Jews.

'Why do they hate us so much?' I want to know.
I have asked this before, but maybe
I'll understand better,
now that I'm older.
'They think we killed their God,' replies Dora.

This makes little sense to me,
because no on I know ever killed anyone.
Then I become worried.

'God is dead?' I say.

'Not our God, their God,' Dora says.
I'm still confused but I'm relieved.
God is still alive.

Then I have a new worry.
If God dies, who will run the world?
I hope it's not the Nazis.
I want to ask Dora about this,
but she has fallen asleep."