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.
We all know some young explorers; the ones who love adventure, the ones who watch Bear Grylls for the survival tips, the ones who pore over atlases and illustrated books of exotic places. These are the ones who will adore this new book from Katherine Rundell with its adventure, courage, resilience and spirit.
Four children are in a plane crash and find themselves stranded alone in the depths of the Amazon rainforest. Fred, Constantia along with brother and sister, Lila and Max are not the stuff of which the usual jungle survivors are made but as the plot moves along each has a different strength to bring to their joint survival. Of course being so young their chances would be slim no matter how great their competence were it not for the fact that they stumble upon evidence of another earlier person who had lived in the spot in which they find themselves.
Fred, who has always devoured the accounts of the great explorers, is wildly excited about the meagre finds which indicate an explorer has pass this way before and the children collectively are reassured when they find a map. So begins their adventure proper with the building of a raft, scrounging for food and water and setting off down the Amazon following the directions.
To their immense surprise they find themselves in a lost city of stone where indeed an old irascible explorer is in residence. His reluctance to accept them into his space or help them mellows over the ensuing days and eventually when things go terribly wrong he comes to their rescue with a self-sacrifice that is immeasurable.
All in all this was a thrilling adventure, well-paced and with echoes of earlier grand novels for children. Indeed, Rundell says she was inspired not just by her own trip to the Amazon but Eve Ibbotson’s hugely popular Journey to the River Sea.
This is a fabulous read for both boys and girls from around eight years upwards and for those who might be looking for a class read-aloud or group reading it would be an excellent choice indeed.
Highly recommended for your middle to upper primary readers.
Download a teacher pack here.