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Yellow Star
by Jennifer Roy

Publishing Information: Marshall Cavendish: New York, 2006
ISBN: 076145277X / 0739349082 (Audio)
Pages
: 242 p.
Ages: 10 & Up

Summary:
Syvia was 4 years old when the Nazis forced Jews from her area of Poland into the Lodz Ghetto. Six years later, she was one of only 12 child survivors to be liberated from the ghetto.

Yellow Star is based on the true story of Jennifer Roy's aunt Syvia's childhood in the Lodz Ghetto. While a quarter of a million Jews entered the ghetto, only 800 were left alive when liberation came in 1945. 

Book Talk:
Years of hunger, of being cold, of being scared fade into the distance as Syvia copes with the newest indignity in her life, hiding in a hole in the cemetery. Her father is doing his best to keep her alive when so many other children of the Lodz ghetto are being moved. But moved to where, her father wonders, as he tries to keep his family together.

If she survives the day in the cemetery hole, what happens next? She has already given up so much of her childhood. Gone are the days of playing with friends, she has no toys, her last birthday was celebrated without even a piece of bread, and now, she is threatened with being separated from her family. Her family is ALL she has left in life - how can the soldiers be so cruel to the youngest members of the Lodz ghetto?

Will her father keep her safe today in the cemetery? And what about tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that? How can survival be this difficult when you are only 10 years old?
Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
Jews
Lodz Ghetto
Poland

Awards & Reviews:
ALA Notable Children's Book, 2007
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, 2006
Sydney Taylor Book Award Honor Book, 2007
National Jewish Book Awards Finalist, 2006
School Library Journal Best Book , 2006
The New York Public Library "100 Titles for Reading and Sharing", 2006

Yellow Star is the story of Jennifer Roy's aunt, Sylvia (Syvia) Perlmuuter Rozines, who was one of twelve children to survive the Lodz ghetto. The book is written using a free verse form, and recounts Ms. Rozines' memory from the time she was about five, in 1939, until the ghetto was liberated in 1945, when she is almost ten. An author's note at the end is actually an epilogue, and there is also a time line.
The free verse form works well, as it mimics Ms. Rozines' snippets of memory and her perspective as a frightened child in the ghetto. One can see the quiet heroism of her family and friends and sense the daily struggle to remain hopeful and productive. Although there is a plethora of Holocaust materials and personal accounts, I would recommend this book for Grade 5 and up, and for any library that collects Holocaust materials. It captures a child's perspective eloquently.
AJL Newsletter Children's Books Reviews, May/June 2006

Only 12 children survived the Lodz ghetto, and Roy's aunt Syvia was one of them. But for more than 50 years, Syvia kept her experience to herself: "It was something nobody talked about." Roy didn't know, and she admits that she didn't want to know. She always avoided Holocaust history. She was afraid of it; when she was growing up, there was no Holocaust curriculum, no discussion-just those images of atrocity, piles of bones, and skeletal survivors being liberated. Her father, too, was a survivor, but he seldom spoke of those years, and with his death, his story was lost. But a few years ago, Roy's aunt began to talk about Lodz, and based on taped phone interviews, Roy wrote her story, presenting it from the first-person viewpoint of a child, Syvia, in simple, urgent free verse in the present tense. Each section begins with a brief historical introduction, and there is a detailed time line at the end of the book.
Syvia is four years old in 1939, when the Germans invade Poland and start World War II. A few months later, her family is forced into the crowded Lodz ghetto, with more than a quarter of a million other Jews. At the end of the war, when Syvia is 10, only about 800 Jews remain-only 12 of them are children. Syvia remembers daily life: yellow stars, illness, starvation, freezing cold, and brutal abuse, with puddles of red blood everywhere, and the terrifying arbitrariness of events ("like the story of a boy / who went out for bread / and was shot by a guard / who didn't like the way the boy / looked at him"). When the soldiers first go from door to door, "ripping children from their parents' arms" and dragging them away, her father hides her in the cemetery. For years thereafter, she's not allowed to go outside. In 1944 the ghetto is emptied, except for a few Jews kept back to clean up, including Syvia's father, who keeps his family with him through courage, cunning, and luck. As the Nazis face defeat, Syvia discovers a few others hidden like her, "children of the cellar." When the Russians liberate the ghetto, she hears one soldier speak Yiddish, and the family hears of the genocide, the trains that went to death camps. At last they learn of the enormity of the tragedy: neighbors, friends, and cousins-all dead. There's much to think t and talk about as the words bring the history right into the present. --Hazel Rochman
Booklist, April 15, 2006, p61 (Starred Review)

The author's grandmother, Syvia Perlmutter, was one of only twelve Jewish children who survived the Lodz ghetto in Poland. This free-verse novel based on her memories is a moving, harrowing tale from the limited, often uncomprehending perspective of a child. First sent to Lodz with her family at the age of five, Syvia spends most of the next six years in hiding, as the Nazis systematically root out and take away as many children from their parents as they can. After digging a hole in a nearby cemetery, Syvia and her father hide inside it while the Nazis raid their neighborhood. Later, when the less able-bodied (including any remaining children) are sent away on trains to so-called work camps, Syvia and other children are sequestered in a cellar by their parents; they manage to survive in hiding until they are liberated by the Russians in 1945. While periodic lapses into a more adult sensibility sometimes disrupt the child's-eye view and reveal what is, in fact, a distance of many years from story's events, other moments - such as Syvia's wondering whether or not her doll is Jewish - are poignant in their naïveté. For the most part, the free-verse format suits the young narrator and subject matter well; the poems can either be read as snapshots of life in Lodz or as one continuous lyrical narrative that nevertheless clips along at a brisk pace. Readers searching for an accessible Holocaust novel will be absorbed by this haunting story based on true events. An introduction detailing the historical events and the author's relationship with her grandmother is included, and a timeline is appended.
The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books, May 2006

Kirkus Reviews Syvia, the author's aunt, is too young to know what's happening, but she and her family have been evicted from their home and, with the other neighborhood Jews, have been relocated to the Lodz ghetto at the start of WWII. This novel-in-verse tells how Syvia and her family struggled to survive the war and describes their lives in the ghetto, Syvia being one of only 12 children who walked out at the end of the war. Poetry blends fact and fiction in a powerful format that helps make this incomprehensible event in history comprehensible for children. The fictionalized story is given context by brief nonfiction chapter introductions and is personalized by vivid characters who speak to a young-adult audience. Young readers will find this gripping tale that reads like memoir textured with the sounds, smell and sights of children in captivity. By telling this story so credibly and convincingly through the eyes of a child, the terror of the experience is rendered fresh and palpable for even the most jaded child reader. Classroom teachers might want to partner this book with Jerry Spinelli's Milkweed (2003).
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2006

In February 1940, four-and-half-year-old Syvia (later Sylvia) Perlmutter, her mother, father and 12-year-old sister, Dora, were among the first of more than 250,000 Jews to be forced into Poland's Lodz Ghetto. When the Russians liberated the ghetto on January 19, 1945, the Perlmutters were among only 800 people left alive; Syvia, "one day shy of ten years old," was one of just 12 children to survive the ordeal. The novel is filled with searing incidents of cruelty and deprivation, love, luck and resilience. But what sets it apart is the lyricism of the narrative, and Syvia's credible childlike voice, maturing with each chapter, as she gains further understanding of the events around her. Roy, who is Syvia's niece, tells her aunt's story in first-person free verse. "February 1940" begins: "I am walking/ into the ghetto./ My sister holds my hand/ so that I don't/ get lost/ or trampled/ by the crowd of people/ wearing yellow stars,/ carrying possessions,/ moving into the ghetto." The rhythms, repetitions and the space around each verse enable readers to take in the experience of an ordinary child caught up in incomprehensible events: "I could be taken away/ on a train,/ .../ and delivered to Germans/ who say that nothing belongs to Jewish people any-/ more./ Not even their own children." Nearly every detail (a pear Syvia bravely plucks from a tree in the ghetto, a rag doll she makes when her family must sell her own beloved doll) underscores the wedded paradox of hope and fear, joy and pain. Ages 10-up.
Publishers Weekly, March 20, 2006, p56 (Starred Review)

Gr 5-9 In thoughtful, vividly descriptive, almost poetic prose, Roy retells the true story of her Aunt Syvia's experiences in the Lodz Ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland. The slightly fictionalized story, re-created from her aunt's taped narrative, is related by Syvia herself as a series of titled vignettes that cover the period from fall, 1939, when she is four years old, until January 1945 each one recounting a particular detail-filled memory in the child's life (a happy-colored yellow star sewn on her favorite orange coat; a hole in the cemetery where she hides overnight with her Papa). The book is divided into five chronological sections each with a short factual introduction to the period covered. An appended author's note tells what happened to Syvia's family after the war. A time line of World War II, beginning with the German invasion of Poland, is also included. This gripping and very readable narrative, filled with the astute observations of a young child, brings to life the Jewish ghetto experience in a unique and memorable way. This book is a standout in the genre of Holocaust literature. --Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH
School Library Journal, July 2006, p112 (Starred Review)

This wonderfully written first novel is based on the experiences of Syvia Perlmutter, one of only twelve children who survived the Lodz ghetto in Poland during World War II. Roy interviewed Perlmutter, who is actually her aunt, in 2003. Short "poems" and simple language appropriate for Syvia's age make the book a quick but poignant read. Syvia was four years old when her family reported to Lodz along with more than 270,000 others. In 1942, the Nazis began deporting children from Lodz to the Chelmno extermination camp. Parents were told that their children were being taken to safety, but Syvia's father suspected that the children would be killed and sought ways to hide her. The most inconspicuous hiding place was a graveyard where Syvia and her father lay in a shallow grave. When the final train departed Lodz headed for Auschwitz-Birkenau, only 1,200 Jews were left behind to clean the ghetto. Among them were twelve children whom they smuggled into a cellar. The survivors huddled together in 1945 while Russian soldiers bombed Lodz, but they were eventually liberated when the soldiers saw the reflection of their yellow stars of David. After five and a half years in the ghetto, Syvia spent her teen years in Paris and then later moved to Albany, New York. She now volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Social studies teachers and general readers will find the author's note, time line, and brief historical details prefacing each of the five parts of the book invaluable. This book is an essential purchase for school, public, and classroom libraries.
VOYA, June 2006

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Why is the book titled Yellow Star ? What does the yellow star symbolize?
  2. How does Syvia's imagination help her through the hard times?
  3. What is the meaning of the saying, "Live for today, for tomorrow we may fry in the pan!"? (page 38)
  4. Discuss the use of color throughout the book. Give specific examples.
  5. Which character is most like you? Why?

~ from "Yellow Star Guides for Teachers and Book groups" by Jennifer Roy .
See this web site for more discussion questions and curriculum ideas: www.jenniferroy.com/Guides.htm

Related Websites:
Jennifer Roy's Website - http://www.jenniferroy.com 

The Holocaust Chronicle, Publications International, Ltd, April 2000 at http://www.holocaustchronicle.org/

Holocaust Education Foundation at www.Holocaust-trc.org

The Lodz Ghetto, Jewish Virtual Library - http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/lodz.html

Museum of Tolerance - http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/site/pp.asp?c=gvKVLcMVIuG&b=358201

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum - http://www.ushmm.org/education/

A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust at http://fcit.coedu.usf.edu/holocaust/activity/activity.htm

Voice/Vision: Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive at http://holocaust.umd.umich.edu/

Voices of the Holocaust at http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/voices/holocaust.html

Yad Vashem: The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority - http://names.yadvashem.org

Spiritual, Educational, and physical resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto by Sol A. Factor - http://www.holocaust-trc.org/Warsawhs.pdf

Teaching the Holocaust: "Light from the Yellow Star" Leads the Way by Nancy Gorrell, English Journal, Vol. 86 No. 8, December 1997

Read-a-Likes:
Anna Is Still Here by Ida Vos, 1993
Anne Frank and Me by Cherie Bennett & Jeff Gottesfeld, 2001
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen, 1972
The Cage by Ruth Minsky Sender, 1986
To Life by Ruth Minsky Sender, 1988
Child of the Warsaw Ghetto by David Adler, 1995
Daniel's Story by Carol Matas, 1993
Dawn by Elie Wiesel, 1970
The Devil in Vienna by Doris Orgel, 1978
The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen, 1988
Escape to the Forest: Based on a True Story of the Holocaust by Ruth Y. Radin, 2000
Friedrich by Hans Peter Richter, 1970
Greater than Angel by Carol Matas, 1998
Hide and Seek by Ida Vos, 1991
I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust by Livia Bitton-Jackson, 1997
Jacob's Rescue: A Holocaust Story by Malkar Drucker, 1993
My Bridges of Hope: Searching for Life and Love After Auschwitz by Livia Bitton-Jackson, 1999
The Man in the Box by Thomas Moran, 1997
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli, 2003
Night by Elie Wiesel, 1960

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, 1989
The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss, 1972
The Journey Back by Johanna Reiss, 1976
Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary, 1939-1944 by Aranka Siegal, 1981
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by J. Kerr, 1971

Other Books by the Author:
This is Jennifer Roy's first novel.

About the Author:
Jennifer Roy has had over 30 books published for children and young adults. A former Gifted and Talented teacher and special education teacher, Roy holds a M.A. in Elementary Education and a B.S. in Psychology. She lives in Upstate New York with her husband (and sometime co-author) Gregory and their young son. 

"I love reading, drawing, playing piano, napping, talking way too much on the telephone, scrapbooking, and - most of all - being with my family." ~ Jennifer Roy

Find out more about Jennifer Roy at www.jenniferroy.com

Read an interview with Jennifer Roy at http://misserinmarie.blogspot.com/2007/02/interview-jennifer-roy.html

Meet Jennifer Roy's identical twin sister, Julia DeVillers (author of How My Private, Personal Journal Became a Bestseller) at http://www.girlwise.com
| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair