Ire­na’s Jars of Secrets

Mar­cia Vaugh­an; Ron Mazel­lan, illus.
  • Review
By – November 20, 2012
In this book we fol­low the hero­ic deeds of Ire­na Sendler, a Pol­ish Catholic social work­er who helped save the lives of near­ly twen­ty-five hun­dred Jew­ish chil­dren dur­ing World War II. Ire­na was brought up by a kind and gen­tle father, who stressed the impor­tance of reach­ing out to any­one in need. As he lay dying, he told his daugh­ter that if she saw some­one drown­ing, she should jump in and try to save that per­son, even if she could not swim. Ire­na wit­nessed the unjust per­se­cu­tion of the Jews in the War­saw area and felt that these unfor­tu­nate peo­ple were inno­cent pawns who were drown­ing. She resolved to do what she could to help. In 1942, Ire­na joined Zego­ta, an under­ground net­work that worked to help find places of safe­ty for the chil­dren in the ghet­to. She smug­gled babies under the floor­boards of ambu­lances, car­ried small chil­dren in bas­kets, box­es and chests, and helped old­er chil­dren escape through the sew­er sys­tem. Hop­ing to reunite the chil­dren with their par­ents after the war, she kept dili­gent records of their false names and true iden­ti­ties and hid them in jars that were buried in a friend’s gar­den. Betrayed and tak­en as a pris­on­er, Sendler was severe­ly tor­tured by the Gestapo but, as she await­ed exe­cu­tion, a care­ful­ly craft­ed decep­tion by the Zego­ta gave her an oppor­tu­ni­ty to escape. She con­tin­ued to car­ry out her res­cue work until the end of World War II. Told in brief, stark lan­guage with dark, somber oil paint­ings illus­trat­ing the text, this mem­o­rable prose was award­ed a 2012 Syd­ney Tay­lor hon­or award. Addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion in an after­word includ­ing pho­tographs of Ire­na, a glos­sary and a com­pre­hen­sive list of books and web sites for fur­ther read­ing com­bine to make this an excel­lent resource guide. Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 10 – 18.
Debra Gold has been a children’s librar­i­an for over 20 years in the Cuya­hoga Coun­ty Pub­lic Library Sys­tem. An active mem­ber of the ALA, she has served on many com­mit­tees includ­ing the Calde­cott, New­bery and Batchelder committees.

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