Saturday, August 6, 2016

Summer Reading 2016: Irena's Children (Young Readers Edition)

I mentioned earlier this summer that I seem to be reading a lot of World War II and Holocaust books lately. This one caught my attention because I had already reviewed Jars of Hope, a picture book account of Irena Sendler's efforts to save Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Irena's Children (Young Readers Edition) is a chapter book account of the widespread network Irena and her friends developed to smuggle children from the Ghetto and into safe locations. The book traces events in chronological order, and focuses on Irena, but also shares events that her friends within the network were involved in. 

As a social worker, Irena was able to come and go from the Ghetto and make contact with families there. Together with other brave people in Warsaw, she helped to smuggle hundreds of infants and children to safety with foster families, orphanages, and convents. Although she was caught and held for questioning for 3 months by the Gestapo, Irena never betrayed her friends or the locations of the children. Despite torture like broken bones and cigarette burns, Irena continued to claim she knew nothing about the smuggling and the Nazis never realized she was one of the most central figures in the relocation of all those children. I appreciate the way in which the author includes details about all the others who helped with this lifesaving mission, and that Irena always claimed she could not have done it without her friends and colleagues. 

Children sometimes think that heroes can only be male, or very physically strong, or good fighters. They don't understand that heroes come in all shapes and sizes and genders, or that violence isn't the only way to "fight" against evil. Stories of real-life heroes and heroines such as Irena Sendler need to be included in library collections and classroom lessons so that students can experience them and find inspiration. It is also important to share these stories because they were so nearly lost to us. After the war, the Soviet Union gained control of Poland and stories about anyone seen as a "freedom fighter" or whose deeds might inspire others to fight for an independent Poland were ruthlessly suppressed. It was not until the dissolution of the USSR that these stories could be told openly.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

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