Adapted from the adult edition, this ambitious young readers’ version of Irena’s Children adds depth and scope to the story of Irena Sendler, the Polish social worker who helped to save some 2,500 Jewish children escaping from the Warsaw ghetto and into safety. Although named of the of Righteous Among the Nations, Sendler’s story remained quiet until the fall of the Iron Curtain and Sendler’s death in 2008.
New York Times bestselling author Tillar Mazzeo and Mary Cronk Farrell place Sendler in the tense Polish capital as the Nazis occupy the city, masterfully conveying the danger and risks Sendler and her friends face as they remain loyal to their mission while Jews are forced to live in the ghetto, deported east to the death camps, and executed, and even members Sendler’s network — including Sendler, herself — undergo physical and mental torture to protect and further their cause.
This adaptation for young readers has a fair number of drawbacks. It loses its focus on Irena occasionally, for example, and the repetitive subheading with names of Irena’s friends confuse the reader. The narrative about the Warsaw Uprising is unclear, and the text is unfortunately uneven, mixing lyrical with hard-core fact. The cast of characters included in the adult edition is sadly missing and much needed here: young readers may find it difficult to keep up with all the Polish names. A timeline of events would also have been helpful, as well as some maps to illustrate the events and details of Sendler’s operations and the war as a whole.
Still, Irena’s Children paints a critical picture of wartime Warsaw, the Nazi strategies to annihilate its residents, and the people who risked their lives and families to save their neighbors. The book’s many photos, placed in situ, add to the book’s contribution to children’s Holocaust literature, and goes well beyond the picture books and series titles published on this subject so far. Recommended for ages 10 and up.
Barbara Krasner is an award-winning poet and historian who focuses her writing on the Jewish experience in America and during the Holocaust. She teaches in the history department of The College of New Jersey and serves as Director, Mercer Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Education Center.