This is My Song, by Richard Yaxley

When and where is the correct beginning for this retelling? Already I wonder. there are many choices:
I was born in 1929 in the Bavarian town of Bamberg –
Once upon a time there was an Old Man who owned a music shop –
What makes an artist become a tyrant and murderer –
none of these. We must begin with my father.

The son of a Jewish academic who has always loved Germany, Rafael Ullmann’s childhood is confrtable until Hitler’s restrictions start to take effect. When he and his family are sent to a concentration camp, life becomes little more than a battle for survival. As a musician, the boy has something to offer the Germans, though the price is high.

In remote Canada in the 1970s, Annie Ullmann grows up as a sheltered only child. Her parents don’t talk of their past, and Annie never asks, content with her quiet life, until a friendship with a hawk makes her wonder if there is a life further afield.

In contemporary Australia, Joe Hawker doesn’t know what he wants to do with his future. he has a talent for music, but no real passion, until he discovers a song written by his grandfather.

This is My Song is a multi-generational story of the impact of the most terrible war-time events, and of the importance of music as a form of solace and connection. The story of Rafael is particularly heart-wrenching, and the motif of music and song as a connection across the three generations is powerful.

A moving, important story.

This is My Song , by Richard Yaxley
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 781760276140

Within These Walls, by Robyn Bavati

There had been cellars like this in the ghetto; almost all the buildings in Warsaw had them. I’d hidden in them often – to avoid the roundups and escape deportation – but never for days on end, and never alone.
I didn’t know how long I’d have to stay there. Or how long I could survive on a daily potato and a little water.

Miri’s life in Warsaw is simple but happy. She has loving family, and loves family holidays, and evenings when her father comes home from work and they are all together. But when the Germans invade Poland and reach Warsaw, life changes. First there are rules: Jews cannot be educated, Jews must not work, and, finally, all Jews must move to the ghetto.Life in the ghetto is a struggle, and, one by one, Miri sees her family either disappear or die. Finally, alone, she has a chance to survive when she is smuggled out of the ghetto.

Based on true events, Within These Walls is a wrenching story of survival amidst the horrors of the Holocaust. Miri is eight years old at the start of the book and has a child-like view of the world, which changes as she ages and in line with the terrible things she experiences. The use of such a first person narrator makes the story very real. Miri’s character is, in part, based on the specific experiences of one child, and all events are based on things which really happened.

Part of the My Holcaust Story series, Within These Walls makes this disturbing part of history accessible to children.

Within These Walls , by Robyn Bavati
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781760152857

The Toy Maker, by Liam Pieper

‘Let me tell you a story about my grandfather…My grandfather came to this country with nothing, but now, because of his hard work and sacrifice, I have everything. Grandpa was proud of his work, of every little toy that he made. That’s why he was so successful. There’s nothing more important than hard work and sacrifice…’

Adam Kulakov loves his life. He has plenty of money, thanks to inheriting his grandfather’s toy company, a beautiful wife and a son he adores. He has no shortage of mistresses, either. No matter that some of his ideas don’t turn out so well, or that he has trouble finding good staff who will stick around. His grandfather, Arkady, is also happy. After escaping Auschwitz at the end of World War Two, he was able to build a new, successful life for himself in Australia. Now he is retired, but Adam’s wife, Tess, on whom more and more responsibility for running the company falls, includes him in decision making. They have a close relationship.

But when Adam makes one mistake too many, the future of the toy company and of his marriage becomes increasingly rocky. And for Arkady, the horrors of the past are coming back to haunt him, too.

The Toymaker combines twin narratives of 1944 Poland and contemporary Australia so that the reader not only sees Arkady’s story unfold alongside the modern narrative, but also becomes aware of the contracts and similarities between the experiences and personalities of grandfather and grandson. It is a story of privilege, corruption and survival which is both absorbing and uncomfortable.

Compelling reading.

The Toymaker, by Liam Pieper
Penguin Books, 2016
ISBN 9780670079384

My Holocaust Story: Hanna, by Goldie Alexander

Hanna (My Holocaust Story)Only this afternoon Papa had warned us of the German threat to Poland. Now the Luftwaffe’s bombs had succeeded in convincing us that everything was about to change.

Hanna and her family have a happy life in Warsaw – until the Nazis invade, and the family must run and hide. Their crime? Being Jewish. Suddenly they have nothing, and every day becomes a fight for survival. First in hiding in the loft of a farmhouse, and later in the ghetto, Hanna must use all her skill to keep herself alive.

Hanna is a moving fictional account of one girl’s Holocaust story. Hanna is, at the start of the story, a fairly normal child: she has friends, is close to her family, and worries about things like missing out on gymnastics training. But as the Nazi occupation forces her family into a radically different life, she grows and discovers new talents and new strength.

Hanna shares a terrible chapter in history with a young audience who may not be familiar with it, in a form which makes it accessible and movingly real.

My Holocaust Story: Hanna, by Goldie Alexander
Scholastic, 2015
ISBN 9781743629673

Available from good bookstores or online.