Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Island on Bird Street

Holocaust Lit for kids is a strange genre. Writing about one of the worst events in human history for children takes incredible skill. The Island on Bird Street is a great example of the genre. It is strangely optimistic and hopeful, although perhaps it is because the Holocaust is not so central to the events of the book as say The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas.

The Island on Bird Street is the story of 11 year old Alex who lives with his father in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. His mother has disappeared recently, she never came back after going to visit friends. Alex's father is still working in a rope factory, and Alex must hide as most of the children have already been sent away. There are rumours that Jewish people are being systematically killed in camps.

Alex must hide while his father is at work with only his pet mouse Snow and some books to keep him company.

I don't know how I would have gotten through whole days without him, from early morning until dark, alone by myself in our ceiling hideout or down in the bunker. How long could I just sit there and read?

The boredom must have been incredible, along with the fear.  And then one day Alex's father is taken away too. Alex manages to evade capture and begins to live by himself, hiding in the most extraordinary places. His story is incredible. I know that I couldn't have survived there, and would have been long carted off by the Germans. His resilience and resourcefulness is extraordinary.

I felt as though I were living on a desert island. Instead of an ocean all around me there were people and buildings, but though they seemed close, they were really a world away. 

And yet Alex reminds us that we should be grateful for what we have, and that there are always those worse off than ourselves.

Sometimes I didn't feel like reading or playing with Snow or even looking at the Polish side of the wall. All of a sudden I'd start thinking about father and mother. I never cried, but I'd lie in the larder thinking about all the terrible things that could happen, and about how lucky the Polish kids were for having homes and being able to play where they wanted. Except that then I'd remember the other children who had been in the factory with me and realise that I had no right to complain. Not as long as I was here, waiting for my father. 

No right to complain! I really liked The Island on Bird Street. It was much more optimistic than I thought possible. It is a reminder to those of us living really very comfortable suburban lives just what people can endure and survive.

People should help each other to live. 

A potent reminder in our time of mass migration of refugees.

Uri Orlev is said to be the most widely known Israeli author of children's books. He has written over 30 books for children, and widely translated into many languages. He received the very prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1996. Alex's experiences in the book are based on those of Uri Orlev who hid in the Warsaw Ghetto himself before being captured by the Nazis and sent to Bergen-Belsen. His survival alone is an amazing story in itself.


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