Irena’s Children: Young Readers Edition
Tilar J Mazzeo
Translated by Mary Cronk Farrell
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Available September 27, 2016
During World War II, Irena Sendler worked with an underground network to rescue 2,500 Jewish children from Nazi occupied Poland. Her unwavering commitment to human rights began long before the war, and endured through her own incarceration and torture. She worked tirelessly to save as many as she could, and through it all insisted that she was not a hero. She’d only done what any ordinary human would do.
Though it’s nonfiction, I could not put this book down. I was so captured by the life of this incredible woman and the way her life affected so many people. I love that there’s a young reader’s edition of this story, especially because it was a group of students whose research drew community interest in Irena’s largely untold story.
This may be one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever read. I think what touched me most was the fact that throughout her life she insisted she wasn’t a hero. That anyone could do what she’d done. And I believe that is true. That we can each make an incredible difference in the world if it’s what we pursue.
I read her story and think about some of the things happening in our own country now. While I don’t want to draw a comparison between our nation and Nazi occupied Warsaw, there are injustices happening around us. I think about the courage with which Irena Sendler faced each day, and the resolve she must have felt as she set out to rescue each child. It didn’t begin with the Nazi occupation. She stood up against prejudice during her time in college, and it nearly cost her education. It would have been easy to sit down quietly and ignore what was happening around her. To just worry about herself and her own life. Instead she protested along with her Jewish peers.
It’s easy to look back at history and say we would have been among those who fiercely opposed Nazi ideas. How many of us really would have done it, though, at risk to our own lives and the lives of our families? This is the kind of story that really challenges you to think about those things. And they’re worthy things to think about. In the end, I want Irena to be right that she’s not a hero, that her faith in us, in humanity to stand up for one another, is well-placed. That truly, ordinary people reach out to help and protect others, no matter how different from us they may be.
Follows the story of Jewish and Polish historical figures.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Irena and her network save some children by having them baptized into the Christian faith. Some families and members of the Jewish community object to this practice and some refused to let their children participate
Disease and starvation plague the Jewish ghetto. The story talks briefly about the terrible cruelty of the Nazi soldiers toward the Jews, even toward babies. Few details are given, but it’s tragic and awful to think about it.
Irena visits a club in the wealthier side of the ghetto to hear a famous singer. Doctors perform operations with limited medical means. Irena smuggles vaccines into the ghetto.
Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.