Eva Wiseman's My Yellow Canary Star joins some of the outstanding Holocaust literature for young adults created by Canadians that includes books like Kathy Kacer's Clara's War and the chronicles of the Holocaust created by Carol Matas from Lisa to Daniel's War and beyond. What makes Wiseman's book so memorable is its subject matter. The focus of much Holocaust literature has been on Jews of Poland and of Germany. Kacer's Clara's War explored the fate of Czechoslovakia's Jews and here in this riveting fiction, Wiseman traces the fate of Hungary's Jewish population.
On March 19, 1944, Germans invaded Hungary and the lives of its Jews changed forever. Within weeks, the terrors which the Nazis brought to Jewish communities throughout Europe were now visited with a ferocious lightening speed on Hungarian Jews and this whirlwind pace of destruction, devastation and disintegration is beautifully chronicled by Eva through the eyes of teenager Marta Weisz. Within hours, her school has been closed down; within weeks, Hungarian Jews are forced to brand themselves with the yellow stars that render them easy targets for the rampant anti-Semitism that sweeps the country. And the yellow stars that Marta makes for her family from a piece of fine canary yellow silk are a stunning symbol of the fate that awaited nearly 700,000 Hungarian Jews.
Marta's comfortable family life in Budapest is siphoned off bit by bit. Her father, a doctor, disappears into the forced labor regiments transported to the east. With no income, her mother has to take a job for the very first time and the only one she can find is as a cleaning lady in a factory owned by one of her husband's patients. In an effort to help out, Marta accepts a position as a seamstress for a fashionable dressmaker. But each time that life seems to get itself back on an even keel something throws it off. Marta is tormented by a pair of vicious sisters at work who are willing to do anything to get her fired; when Madam fires them instead, they report her to the Arrow Cross, Hungary's homegrown fascists, who visit Madam and force her to fire Marta or face the consequences. The family tries desperately to hold onto the bits and pieces of normalcy but their hold grows ever more tentative. Jews are forced to leave their homes and move into a ghetto; Marta, her mother and grandmother and an aunt and two cousins crowd into a pair of rooms, trying to take comfort in the fact that at least they are together.
And Marta is trying to live her life as a teenager without the close network of school friends that she has always had, with a family torn apart by both the world war and the war on Jews. She tries to carry on a friendship with Peter, a friendship forbidden because she is Jewish and he isn't, but Peter insists on keeping the connection strong. He goes on to join the Hungarian resistance because he cannot stand by and watch his world destroyed by the Nazis and the Hungarian fascists. And the moments that they share are tender, even when tinged by fear of discovery. In fact, it is through Peter that Marta comes to meet one of the great heroes of World War II, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who issues them Schutz-Passes, Swedish Protective Passports, that time and again save their lives.
My Canary Yellow Star celebrates the thousands of lives saved by Wallenberg and the courage and everyday heroism of Jews and non-Jews who fought the Nazi terror. It is a story that is stunning in its recording of the fate of Hungary's Jews at the same time it is a poignantly moving portrait of one young woman's life; this book is not just a welcome addition to Holocaust fiction but an extraordinary novel in and of itself.
Historian Linda Granfield has a mission. She wants to make history accessible to young readers; in book after book she has taken innovative and exciting approaches to make history jump off the page. With books like In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae and High Flight: A Story of World War II, she's taken the most memorable pieces of verse of each period and examined the war through the life of its author and his personal involvement in these international conflicts. In Pier 21 and the just released 97 Orchard Street, New York, she's used contemporary and period photographs to explore the lives of new immigrants in Canada and the United States and to help these lost voices find a place in history. And nowhere does she show the range of her talents so well as in her new book, Where Poppies Grow.
Period postcards, photographs, maps, poems, illustrations from books, pamphlets, newspaper and magazine headlines, covers and ads and an array of personal letters make the First World War come alive in the pages of this companion volume to In Flanders Fields. Not only does Granfield focus on the big picture of the conflict, examining, for example, the new and devastating technology that was first used on the battlefields of France, but she takes us into the lives of the men and women who were involved both in the trenches and at home. It's her ability to weave into her text the personal story that makes this book stand outłthe stories of young men and women whose lives haven't been accorded their true place in history until now. Granfield also gives young readers the chance to see how the First World War was viewed at the time and perhaps the most moving photographs that she's included are those taken from the hands of dead or dying German soldiers, photos of young men and their families frozen in a moment that is lost except in these sepia-coloured images.
Granfield doesn't shy away from the horrors of the battlefield but she also wants to broaden the focus of her approach and has included, for example, comic postcards and cartoons that give us a sense of how people coped with the war. She has included miniature portraits of flying aces Billy Bishop and William Barker, the infamous Mata Hari and nurse Edith Cavell. She looks at the war from the perspective of the adults fighting in the conflict and from that of children whose parents were involved in the war effort. And that broad perspective also includes looking at how we have memorialised World War Iłin the monuments to the war, the lives of vets returning from the war or widows carrying on without the support of their husbands and in the symbol of the poppyłinspired by McCrae's poem and made an official memorial flower and symbol of what Granfield movingly calls "our remembrance of life, sacrifice and honor".
Not only does Granfield make the period come to life through her finely conceived and detailed factual history of the War to End All Wars but she's also used popular culture to help her tell her story. There could be no finer memorial to the men and women who fought on the battlefields of the First World War and in the air than this stunning tribute.