________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 2 . . . . September 22, 2000

cover Jesse's Star.

Ellen Schwartz.
Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers, 2000.
108 pp., pbk., $6.50.
ISBN 1-55143-143-2.

Subject Headings:
Time travel-Juvenile fiction.
Jews-Juvenile fiction.
Russia-History-1801-1917-Juvenile fiction.
Immigrants-Canada-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3 - 5 / Ages 8 - 10.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

*** /4


"Yossi beckoned to his sister. Silently she followed him outside. In a low voice, he told her what the soldiers were planning to do.
    "Yossi!" she whispered in alarm. "We'll lose our food -- or our homes!"
    "No, Miriam," he said. "I have a plan." Miriam listened carefully. Then she shook her head.
    "Yossi, it's madness! What if it doesn't work? They'll kill you!"
    Yossi knew that was true. But what else could he do? What else could any of them do? It was worth a try. It was better than starving -- or being burned out.
    "It will work," he insisted. "Only help me get ready."
Jesse has little interest in a school assignment on family history. He procrastinates until his mom is too busy to help, and she refers Jesse to an old travelling case in the attic. The gold Star of David he finds there becomes a time-travel device, transporting him to 1890's Russia. In the person of his great-great-grandfather Yossi, he experiences the hardships suffered by the Jews at the hands of Russian soldiers. Seen by everyone as clumsy and irresponsible, Yossi redeems himself when he comes up with a bold trick to distract the soldiers and allow the villagers to flee - in his own family's case, to Canada. Through a first hand look at his past, Jesse discovers a sense of pride in his heritage.
    Jesse/Yossi is a lively character, as are all the relatives and friends he encounters. His knack for getting into trouble provides gentle humour, as his attempts at stilt-walking reveal: "... the other stilt landed in the other bucket. With a whoosh, the clean clothes splashed onto the dirt." But this is set against the serious backdrop of the tragic realities of the Jewish persecution, further explained in an historical note which follows the story. Yiddish terms for culturally significant traditions and objects are clearly explained throughout the book.
    Young readers will be readily drawn into the well-crafted plot and will be easily able to find a personal connection to Jesse and his present-day dilemma. The time travel technique works well here. The actual transformation suffers one awkward moment, though, when the author lapses into telling what is already being shown quite adequately: "Jesse knew he was turning into Yossi. He was becoming his great-great-grandfather."
    Cleverly woven into the plot is the popular folktale, Baba Yaga, which forms the dramatic climax as Yossi plays on the soldiers' superstitious fears. Full-page pencil sketches enhance some of the dramatic scenes.


A former teacher-librarian living in Sorrento, BC, Gillian Richardson is a published writer of children's fiction and nonfiction.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364