Ire­na’s Chil­dren: A True Sto­ry of Courage

Tillar Mazzeo; adapt­ed by Mary Cronk Farrell
  • Review
By – December 16, 2016

Adapt­ed from the adult edi­tion, this ambi­tious young read­ers’ ver­sion of Irena’s Chil­dren adds depth and scope to the sto­ry of Ire­na Sendler, the Pol­ish social work­er who helped to save some 2,500 Jew­ish chil­dren escap­ing from the War­saw ghet­to and into safe­ty. Although named of the of Right­eous Among the Nations, Sendler’s sto­ry remained qui­et until the fall of the Iron Cur­tain and Sendler’s death in 2008.

New York Times best­selling author Tillar Mazzeo and Mary Cronk Far­rell place Sendler in the tense Pol­ish cap­i­tal as the Nazis occu­py the city, mas­ter­ful­ly con­vey­ing the dan­ger and risks Sendler and her friends face as they remain loy­al to their mis­sion while Jews are forced to live in the ghet­to, deport­ed east to the death camps, and exe­cut­ed, and even mem­bers Sendler’s net­work — includ­ing Sendler, her­self — under­go phys­i­cal and men­tal tor­ture to pro­tect and fur­ther their cause.

This adap­ta­tion for young read­ers has a fair num­ber of draw­backs. It los­es its focus on Ire­na occa­sion­al­ly, for exam­ple, and the repet­i­tive sub­head­ing with names of Irena’s friends con­fuse the read­er. The nar­ra­tive about the War­saw Upris­ing is unclear, and the text is unfor­tu­nate­ly uneven, mix­ing lyri­cal with hard-core fact. The cast of char­ac­ters includ­ed in the adult edi­tion is sad­ly miss­ing and much need­ed here: young read­ers may find it dif­fi­cult to keep up with all the Pol­ish names. A time­line of events would also have been help­ful, as well as some maps to illus­trate the events and details of Sendler’s oper­a­tions and the war as a whole.

Still, Irena’s Chil­dren paints a crit­i­cal pic­ture of wartime War­saw, the Nazi strate­gies to anni­hi­late its res­i­dents, and the peo­ple who risked their lives and fam­i­lies to save their neigh­bors. The book’s many pho­tos, placed in situ, add to the book’s con­tri­bu­tion to children’s Holo­caust lit­er­a­ture, and goes well beyond the pic­ture books and series titles pub­lished on this sub­ject so far. Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 10 and up.

Relat­ed Reads:

Bar­bara Kras­ner is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Holo­caust & Geno­cide Stud­ies at Gratz Col­lege and is Direc­tor, Holo­caust, Geno­cide & Human Rights Cen­ter at Mer­cer Coun­ty Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege. She holds an MFA in Writ­ing for Chil­dren & Young Adults from the Ver­mont Col­lege of Fine Arts.

Discussion Questions