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.