Penguin Random House
Some triumphant recounts of survival against all odds have come out of the horror of the Holocaust. I am always humbled in admiration for those who endured such deprivation, suffering, cruelty and pain with courage and dignity and who rose from the basest of treatment to resume living – raising families, contributing to communities, sharing their accounts, ensuring those lost are not forgotten.
To be a single mother at any time is not easy. To be so and a Polish Jew at the outbreak of World War II must have been terrifying. For Sasha and his mother Larissa the war which creeps up almost imperceptibly is, as it was for so many other Polish Jews, a litany of abuse, hate, starvation and constant fear. Fortunately, these two by divine fate and a few truly good people, both Jew and Gentile, somehow managed to keep one step ahead of the feared aktion raids by Nazis and discovery of their hiding places and identity.
Their most singular salvation however was Larissa’s inspired decision to trade her most valuable piece of jewelry for Arayan papers for a mother and daughter – whereupon her son Sasha became Sala, a teenage girl. Hidden in plain sight thus, Sasha spent three years and half of his teenage years impersonating a girl (obviously because of the Nazis’ practice of telling boys to take down their trousers checking for circumcision).
When the war ends this indomitable mother and son are able to relocate to spend some time in safety and adjusting to a new normality in some of the many European displaced person camps. Finally Sasha is able to resume his own teenage masculine self and joyously meets his future wife Mila and her family in the camp. Both families immigrate to Australia where Sasha’s adult daughter now writes non-fiction including this account of her grandmother and father based on Larissa’s own hand-written memoirs.
Truly compelling reading with an intensity that will capture readers both male and female, this memoir also includes photographs.
This is a not-to-be-missed book and definitely an addition to your upper primary and secondary shelves.
Publisher:Allen & Unwin
Imprint:A & U Children
Pub Date:September 2015
Many of you will resource units of work/inquiry examining the lives of inspirational people through biographies and memoirs. This book and the previous memoir are perfect, timely and contemporary for readers from Middle Primary upwards.
This second instalment in Kazerooni’s powerful history continues from his international bestseller On Two Feet and Wings. The first volume retells then nine year old Abbas’ amazing escape from war-torn Tehran during the Iraq-Iran conflict. This second continues the story of a character determined to survive and succeed.
Now a refugee in England, the cousin who is supposed to be caring for Abbas as his sponsor and guardian dumps him in a boarding school where the boy thrives, makes friends, impresses staff with his character but grieves for his absent family. The feckless and cruel cousin Mehdi has one saving grace. His girlfriend has compassionate and kind parents who take Abbas into their home and offer much love and comfort. That is, until Mehdi decides he is tired of waiting for money from Abbas’ parents to pay school fees and puts the young boy to work illegally in each and every school holiday under the threat of deportation.
After some time this awful situation gets worse when after several traumatic life changes, Mehdi abandons Abbas to homelessness at age 13. His triumph at winning a scholarship to a prestigious school is marred by his daily struggle to simply survive with little food or personal comforts such as clean clothes, warmth and shelter. With family and friends unaware of Abbas’ situation he is forced to improvise his own life as he becomes all the more determined to attain his education.
This is a gripping read (one sitting for me) made all the more poignant because Abbas’ amazing character shines through despite all his dreadful situations. At no time is there a total collapse into self-pity, instead even in his darkest hours and immense despair Abbas finds inner strength and resilience somehow.
When Mehdi goes one step too far and threatens to kill Abbas, thinking the boy has ‘snitched’ on him and his nefarious activities, Abbas is finally rescued from his nightmare.
Tracing the extraordinary and at times harrowing journey undertaken by the young Abbas makes the reader reflect on the many things we often take for granted here in Australia.
I cannot recommend this highly enough – please take some time to find out more about this exceptional man who is now a successful writer, actor and producer living in California. I was fortunate enough to hear an interview with him on Radio National a couple of years ago and hope to secure a blog Q&A with him if possible.
Many of you will have read articles particularly fairly recently about the real life bear who inspired A. A. Milne’s classic stories about Winnie-the-Pooh. A recently published picture book sparked some of these.
I was so delighted to pick up the DVD of the movie ‘A Bear Named Winnie’ at the local Km*** last Friday for the princely sum of $4.
There is so much to like about this lovely film – with character roles played by Stephen Fry, David Suchet and Michael Fassbender – which tells the story of how a young Canadian, Lt Harry Colebourn, of the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, rescues a black bear cub. The endearing animal immediately bonds with him and despite the sometimes chaos that can be caused by such a creature in an army camp, manages to smuggle Winnie (Winnipeg) to England when he is mobilized to the front.
This is a World War 1 story with a real difference enabling viewers to glimpse the work of the veterinary corps, our Canadian compadres and the amazing friendship between human and animal.
Harry realises he cannot take Winnie to the front in France so she is placed in the London Zoo for the duration of the war under the care of a very crusty (but actually marshmallow) head keeper played by Stephen Fry.
When Harry returns from active service traumatised and withdrawn it is Winnie who rescues him in turn. After his recovery he has every intention of taking Winnie back to Canada but when he realises just how loved she is by children and adults alike who visit the zoo, he leaves her in their care where she lived happily until 1934.
In 1926 when A. A. Milne and his small son visited the zoo and became entranced by Winnie’s charm and her gentle playful nature was afterwards immortalised for endless generations of readers.
With a rating of PG this would be a worthy addition to your literary (and historical) film collection – get to that store now!
Publication date: 11 Aug 2015
Page count: 160
Imprint: Hachette Australia
It has taken me a while to get to review this Younger Readers’ version of Robert Hoge’s successful memoir. My Year 8 students have been working on an English task which was to research and write a feature article about an inspirational hero and one of my young ladies had chosen Robert because she had started reading his memoir. I had just received this review copy so handed it to her in case she might find it helpful as well. Not only does the book come with her recommendation, she was so delighted that Robert responded to her email to him and she has been able to ask him questions directly. What a generous human! Thank you Robert – you provided this wonderful young girl with an amazing learning experience!
Today I spent a very pleasant hour or so reading this funny and moving, honest and courageous recollection of growing up as the ‘ugly’ kid
Robert’s story is by now pretty well known to many adults who have either learned about his life via the book or the media but this new edition will bring his inspirational story to a whole new readership.
When Robert was born with severe physical problems including a large facial tumour, his family’s life changed in many respects but not in the most important aspect. They were still a loving, supportive unit who when faced with a challenge rose to it with an admirable and enviable ease.
But let’s not make light of this. This is an incredible story – of not only a wonderful human being but an exceptional family.
Do yourself a favour and read it. Better still put this on your shelves! The Younger Reader version is eminently suitable for readers of around 10 and up.
Check out Robert’s website here and teaching notes here