Black Radish­es

  • Review
By – October 10, 2011
A map at the begin­ning of a his­tor­i­cal fic­tion book promis­es an adven­ture, and this sto­ry will not dis­ap­point chil­dren look­ing for a safe entry into the sub­ject of the Holo­caust. Writ­ten for a younger audi­ence than the usu­al YA lit­er­a­ture on this top­ic, the hor­rors of the Nazi occu­pa­tion of France are touched upon through the eyes of 10-yearold Gus­tave, a Jew­ish boy flee­ing the encroach­ing Ger­mans with his fam­i­ly. The first chap­ter finds the fam­i­ly in Paris, and, by fol­low­ing the pro­vid­ed map along with the sto­ry­line, the read­er learns about such things as how France was split and occu­pied in 1940, and where it was pos­si­ble for a Jew­ish fam­i­ly to hide from the Nazis while wait­ing for visas to Amer­i­ca. Gustave’s sto­ry is inspired by author Meyer’s father’s expe­ri­ences of this time, and the research she did is very thor­ough — from the descrip­tions of the Menier Choco­late Fac­to­ry on the demar­ca­tion line, to the way a child may have rid­den a bicy­cle to help fer­ry mes­sages for the Resis­tance. The fam­i­ly is lik­able and Gus­tave is appro­pri­ate­ly child­like with­out being too inno­cent. The first-time author error of over expla­na­tion of detail can be over­looked because the plot moves quick­ly and the dan­ger builds as the Nazis come to con­trol even the part of France where it had been con­sid­ered safe for the fam­i­ly. When Gus­tave learns that Ger­man sol­diers love to eat black radish­es, he comes up with a clever scheme to use them as a dis­trac­tion when help­ing his father to smug­gle Jew­ish rel­a­tives across the line. Chil­dren will enjoy this well told sto­ry about the day-to-day strug­gles of a French fam­i­ly and not even real­ize how much they are learn­ing about geog­ra­phy and his­to­ry at the same time. Grades 4 – 6.
Lisa Sil­ver­man is direc­tor of Sinai Tem­ple’s Blu­men­thal Library in Los Ange­les and a for­mer day school librar­i­an. She is the for­mer chil­dren’s book review edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World.

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