Review: Irena’s Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Irena's Children by Tilar J. MazzeoIrena’s Children: Young Readers Edition
Tilar J Mazzeo
Translated by Mary Cronk Farrell
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Available September 27, 2016

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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.

find-amazonRecommended Reading Age: 12 up.

Cultural Elements
Follows the story of Jewish and Polish historical figures.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content

Spiritual 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

Violent Content
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.

Drug Content
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.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

6 Responses to Review: Irena’s Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo

  1. Talia Lazar says:

    I have watched the documentary on her several times and I am amazed at how she risked her life and the lives of her family and the people she worked with. It is amazing how much courage and dedication she had, saving Jewish children from death and the worst circumstances. She showed the children so much love and the children she saved, she saved many more generations. As a granddaughter of a holocaust survivor, I am forever grateful for the work and danger and the she and the others she worked with put at risk. I am exited to read her book!!!

    • Thanks, Talia. Oh, wow. I didn’t realize there was a documentary! I definitely have to check that out. I’m so glad you mentioned it. I’m so grateful to her and all those like her, too. Her humility especially struck me. Let me know how you enjoy the book!

  2. Great review! I read the adult version of the book and really enjoyed it as well. She and her helpers were incredibly brave people who truly deserve any recognition they receive. Hopefully more people learn about their brave stories from this book. It is so neat to see that there is a young readers edition of this book!

    • Thanks, Katie! I have been thinking about getting a copy of the adult version for myself. I agree– I’m so glad to hear these kinds of stories about real people. 🙂

  3. Colleen says:

    I am going to look for this book! Makes me think of the movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. One of my all-time favorites. Different circumstances and location, but I love a hero!