Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: Yellow Star

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.
Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy (Marshall Cavendish; 2006; $11.32) is a book of free-verse poetry that tells the story of the author’s Jewish aunt in Poland in World War II when the Jews were forced into the Jewish Ghetto. Of the 270,000 people forced into the ghetto, only 800 survived until the end of the war and, of those, only 12 were children. Yellow Star is the story of one of those children.
I’ll admit; I dislike poetry. However, for me, this book is the exception. It reminds me of Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano’s poetry, which concentrates more on storytelling than imagery or diction or pentameter. The chronological poems tells protagonist Syvia’s story with clarity and brevity, which helps to maintain the childish perspective. At the beginning, Syvia is four-years-old. By the end, she is one day shy of her tenth birthday.

The book is truly an example of where less is more, where what is left unsaid is more powerful than what is said. The poems speak in vignettes, such as this one after six-year-old Syvia’s friend Hava disappears while out for a walk:
Itka comes over to my apartment,
but we don’t say much.
Our dolls do the talking for us.

Itka’s doll: Where is our friend today?
My doll: I don’t know.
Itka’s doll: Perhaps she had another engagement.
My doll: More important than our weekly tea? (Roy 39) 
Overall, Yellow Star is a gentle introduction to the Jewish Holocaust. While there is talk of hunger, starvation, beatings, “the trains,” and death, the adults in the story attempt to shield Syvia from the worst of the experience, which means the reader is spared much of the raw violence and anguish as well. At the beginning of each section, two pages from the narrator’s perspective describe the historical setting and the events surrounding this portion of the narrative.

I recommend this book for upper elementary, middle schoolers, and youthful high schoolers. It is a quick read—even at 230 pages, I read it in a few hours. I give it four stars (out of five) for its Hemingway-esque brevity; insightful, child perspective; and historical accuracy.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 12 and 15, with a Master of Art degree in American Literature and a keen interest in young adult fiction and nonfiction.

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