I just read Yellow Star, by Jennifer Roy, and... wow.
I know you expect more from me, and well you should. I coined the category “Weird-Ass Picture Book.” I turned my hatred of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane into a new slang word (“I was enjoying the book, but then the author pulled a total Tulane on me”). Perhaps you have even enjoyed my occasional sharp turn of phrase (“without going all Little Drummer Boy...”). Now I read one of the most remarkable books ever written and I can sum it up only one way.
Let me take a step back and cover the basics. The book (for upper elementary school readers) is written in verse, qualifying it for inclusion in Poetry Friday. So there. It features the sepia-toned cover all the rage in children’s books these days. In this case, it’s actually appropriate for the time period and topic. It’s the story of a Jewish girl in Poland during the Holocaust. It’s at once both sad and inspirational.
It blew me away.
Here is the Prologue:
“In 1939, the Germans invaded the town of Lodz, Poland. They forced all of the Jewish people to live in a small part of the city called a ghetto. They built a barbed-wire fence around it and posted Nazi guards to keep everyone inside it. 270,000 people lived in the Lodz ghetto.Syvia, now called Sylvia, was four and a half years old when the war began and ten when it ended. Her true story remained untold until now, when her niece shared it with the world. The author, Jennifer Roy, decided to write in first person and to publish it as fiction so she could convey the feeling of the experience with dialogue and emotion. She has done an excellent job.
“In 1945, the war ended. The Germans surrendered, and the ghetto was liberated. Out of more than a quarter of a million people, only about 800 walked out of the ghetto. Of those who survived, only 12 were children.
“I was one of the twelve.”
Excerpt from interview with Sylvia Perlmutter, March 2003
Syvia survives the Nazis sweeping the ghetto to remove the children several times, saved by the dedication and ingenuity of her father. She learns to play quietly, even with dust balls, and to stay inside at all times. With a child’s eavesdropping ears, she hears rumors of the atrocities done to the Jews. But even the spreaders of the rumors cannot believe they could be true. It is a story of deprivation, hunger, and ultimate horror.
But it is also the story of hope, in that this child could be hidden and could survive. And knowing that we are reading a memoir, the reader is drawn in by the truth of it and comforted by the knowledge that our main character must survive.
I saw this book reviewed by Jen Robinson and Fuse#8, which reassured me that I was going to be reading something quite special. I wouldn’t have skipped by this book in any case, but I hope I can ensure that no one else misses it.