CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 20 . . . . May 30, 2008
Award-winning author Kathy Kacer has carefully crafted this novel, writing two parallel stories set 65 years a part, stories that are equally engaging. While you are keen to read about Laura, you sigh with regret at the temporary interruption of Sara's story. We meet Laura, a 12-year-old Jewish girl as she is preparing for her Bat Mitzvah while also trying to make time for her friends, Adam and Nix, and keep up with her school work. She has been attending classes with Rabbi Gardiner twice a week for the last year and feels quite prepared to read from the Torah. All she needs is a new dress, and she will be ready for her Bat Mitzvah party. Therefore, she is distressed and unhappy with the Rabbi when, with just three weeks left before this big day, he suggests she may be interested in more work - another project. He suggests that Laura should participate in a twinning project where she would research and learn about a young girl who had lived and probably perished during the Holocaust. These children would never have had the opportunity to celebrate their own Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and Laura is now expected to learn about a young girl and somehow include her story in her own Bat Mitzvah celebration. The Rabbi gives her the name and address of an old woman, a Mrs. Mandelcorn, who lends Laura a journal written by Sara Gittler during her imprisonment in the Warsaw Ghetto from 1941-1943. As Laura starts to read Sara's journal, she is drawn to her and soon forgets her annoyance of being required to "dredge up stuff from the past," instead of focusing on her future goals.
Sara's journal is so well-written that you forget it is historical fiction as you read. Kacer has effectively contrasted the lives of two Jewish girls, Sara in the Warsaw Ghetto and Laura in present day Montreal. Laura is soon ignoring a ringing phone and the "pings" of email messages in order to keep reading Sara's journal. She is jolted into the present when a Jewish cemetery near her school is vandalized, and she suspects one of her friends is somehow involved.
While Sara and her family are fictional, the Jewish Resistance Fighters, Dr. Korczak, and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising are true historical characters and incidents. The "Author's Note" provides important historical details and explains what is fiction and what is historically accurate. Also included are brief biographies of seven of the Jewish Resistance leaders. The pages of Sara's journal are written on a grey background, and Kacer has strategically positioned pictures of children and adults experiencing similar events to create a powerful story of remembrance. Pictures are obtained from Holocaust Memorial Museums.
Two recent real-life twinning stories are described at the end of the novel, along with an acknowledgment section that also states what Kacer used as her primary source of historical information. This is followed by a list of suggested resources, websites, and books for further reading. Whether you read this novel for your own personal enjoyment or use it as a supplementary resource when teaching grade 6 social studies, this book is well worth reading.
Betty Klassen teaches in the Faculty of Education in the Middle Years Program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.