Sorale, rifling through her mother’s dresser drawer one day, discovers a tiny heart-shaped book. That leads to a sad recounting of the origins of the mysterious item. The ten-year-old girl’s mother, Fania, survived the unspeakable horrors of a forced labor camp in Auschwitz during World War II. The young women living and working with Fania made her the book, which contained pages of birthday wishes, to raise her spirits. Fania’s Heart tells the story of these women and their demeaning existence under the Nazis. The first-person narrative and dialogue between mother and daughter make the scary and awful subject matter more relatable, but no less horrible to read about. Sorale asks why her mother was in prison. The answer: “We were in Auschwitz just because we were Jewish.”
The somber-hued illustrations reinforce the serious subject matter. The end of the book includes an author’s note, photographs of the real Sorale and Fania, as well as the heart-shaped birthday card which is on display at the Montréal Holocaust Museum. Also included is a chronology of the book’s characters and the world events they experienced. The book’s content is quite mature for the elementary school set. Readers will require a good attention span to take in the dense type, which packs in events and emotions on every page. It is, therefore, appropriate for late elementary through early middle school-aged children. The inspiring story, which takes place in one of the most demeaning of settings, shows that even the powerless can provide hope and warmth to one other.
Recommended for ages 9 to 12.
Dina Weinstein is a Richmond, Virginia-based writer.