Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Night Crossing

I subbed again on Monday, in a fourth grade class for a language arts teacher. I took the opportunity to look over the books on the shelf and found The Night Crossing by Karen Ackerman, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles. On the back cover of this short (56 page) book, which is recommended for ages 7 to 9, are two endorsements:

This is an excellent fictional introduction to the Holocaust....Ackerman's writing is clear and direct.
~School Library Journal

and

Realistically child-centered.
~The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

It is a simple enough story. It is 1938. Clara is a little Jewish girl living in Innsbruck, Austria. The Nazis have taken control and things are getting bad: they must wear yellow stars on their clothes; they are forbidden "from celebrating the Sabbath or going to the synagogue"; some people have been dragged away, never to be heard from again.

Clara's father, Albert, tells his wife, Helen, they must leave while they still can. Clara and her older sister, Marta, help their father find things around their home that can be sold to get the money they will need to escape. They can only bring with them what they can carry.

The family will make a night crossing, just like Clara's grandmother did when she was a little girl, when the Jews in Russia were being persecuted. And, the dolls Grandma carried with her, Gittel and Lotte, will make another night crossing, this time with Clara.

The journey is a dangerous one. They must travel by night, by foot. They must hide during the day. They must avoid being seen by patrols of Nazi soldiers. They must pretend to be Swiss citizens who have just been visiting family in Austria.

For children unfamiliar with this period in history, this book, as the School Library Journal says, is a good introduction. It is a quick read and touches on the dangers Jews faces during the Holocaust. The epilogue isn't graphic about it, but does mention "horrors of the Nazi concentration camps" being reported in the papers, sometimes accompanied by pictures from English, American and Soviet photographers; also "Clara and Marta began to understand what had truly happened to the people like Mr. Duessel, the kosher baker who'd disappeared." They girls also come to understand their father made the right decision. They had family who chose to stay behind that were never seen again.

1 comment:

David said...

A somewhat similar book is "The Devil's Arithmetic," by Jane Yolen...it's about a present-day Jewish girl who somehow is magically transported back in time & space to Poland in 1940, and winds up in a concentration camp. It was turned into a made-for-tv movie (screenplay by the excellent blogger Robert Avrech) and is one of the few cases where the movie is as good as or better than the book.