The Book Thief
By Markus Zusak
The Book Thief is a beautiful but haunting story about a young girl living in Nazi Germany. I first read it several years ago and have re-read it several times, but it never fails to affect me and cause me to sit back and really think. It is one of the few stories that I can read again and again, as well as one that my entire family has read, and I really think that goes to credit the author, Markus Zusak, for creating such an engaging world and believable characters.
The novel, narrated by Death, tells the story of Liesel, a girl living with foster parents, as she discovers a love of books and words in the middle of World War II. Her foster father, Hans, bonded with her as he taught her to read, and as soon as she discovered her love for reading, she began stealing as many books as she could. She read them to herself, her neighbors during air raids, and the Jewish man her foster family hid in their basement. Throughout the many adventures and trials Liesel faced, books were always there for her.
What really struck me about the story is what a powerful effect books and words can have on someone—regardless of whether it’s a girl like me in the present day or a girl who lived 70 years ago in Germany. Books helped Liesel adjust to her new life, calmed her neighbors during the air raids, and helped her form bonds with new friends. I think that is one of the things the story of The Book Thief really highlights: the power that words can have, and how they are impossible to suppress.
The Book Thief is not only a remarkable and entertaining story, but a thought-provoking and educational account of how a normal girl might have lived during World War II. I’ll always admire Liesel and her foster family for bravely hiding a Jewish man and risking their lives to protect a friend. Liesel’s story is one I’ll never forget, as it is a beautiful and real tale about the power of books and the strength of friendship.
Mackenzie A. Simper
Age: 13, 8th grade
Salt Lake City, UT
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
By Judy Blume
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is an outstanding book about a girl with a very hard life. To start off, she just moved to a new town. Moving is challenging enough, but, in addition, her body is changing, and she has to choose a religion for herself.
It definitely is not easy to move. I know much about this because I, being a member of a military family, have moved several times to new duty stations across the United States. When Margaret moves, she feels very alone until she bonds with a group of friends. I, too, have made some amazing new friends without forgetting my old ones.
This book made me think about what it would be like if I had no religion and had to choose one. How do you choose a religion? Though Margaret says she has no religion, I think that she has a Jewish perspective on life.I see this because Margaret always seems to have a personal relationship with G-d. Whenever she needs help dealing with the everyday problems of a tween, she always turns to G-d. For example, when Margaret needs confidence about her body changing, she asks G-d for advice.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is a timeless classic. The questions about tween life are still the same. I know this is true because even my mother, who read this book about 40 years ago, still remembers turning to the book for questions about her body changing. I have her original copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, which I hope to pass down to my children when they are ready.
This book has made me think about friendship, religion and how tweens live. Everybody should read this book because it is amazingly great.
Age: 11, 5th grade
San Diego Jewish Academy, San Diego, CA
The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey
By Steve Sheinkin
The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey is an amazing book that I will always treasure; it is 121 pages of pure laughter. The three words on the back of the book (“wise, witty, hilarious”) definitely describe the book. I think it is one of the oldest books in my bookcase. I can sit reading it cover-to-cover in my bed for hours and hours. At that point, I just memorize the comics, but it is still funny.
The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey is about a rabbi named, you guessed it, Harvey, who lives in the Wild West in a town called Elk Spring. He’s kind of like the court for the town, but he’s also the rabbi.
My favorite story is “Rabbi Harvey, Bearded Chicken.” In this comic, Asher, a young 10-year-old, is convinced that he is a chicken. He sits under the table, makes “bocking” sounds, and eats only breadcrumbs and chicken feed. This is where Rabbi Harvey comes in, but he does the last thing anyone would expect him to do. He gets naked and pretends to be a chicken alongside Asher under the table. They get along well, and eventually Rabbi Harvey starts the process of convincing Asher not to be a chicken. First, Rabbi Harvey convinces Asher to put on his shirt, next his pants, and finally, Asher doesn’t want to be a chicken anymore.
The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey is suitable for all ages and all faiths, not just Judaism. I think The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. You should read it, too. I’m sure you’ll like it.
Age: 10, 5th grade
San Diego Jewish Academy, San Diego, CA
Number the Stars
By Lois Lowry
Imagine living in a small town called Copenhagen, Denmark, where people walk to the market, cafés and shops, and children walk to school. I can imagine that. Imagine you and your best friend living in the same apartment building. I can also imagine that. But, can you imagine seeing Nazi soldiers on every corner? Soldiers who could stop you at any second and ask you many questions? I can’t imagine that. Even worse, imagine being separated from your parents and not knowing when you will see them again. I could NEVER imagine that.
Number the Stars is about a 10-year-old Christian girl named Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen, a Jewish girl. The year is 1943, and the Jews are not safe in Denmark because the Nazi soldiers are capturing them and taking them to unknown places. Ellen’s parents go to a safer place, while Ellen moves in with the Johansens.
When it seems that Ellen is still not safe with the Johansens in Denmark, the Johansens plan a “vacation” to Annemarie’s Uncle Henrik’s house by the Baltic Sea. Ellen has to leave her Jewish star necklace behind. Uncle Henrik and other fisherman are helping the Jewish people escape to Sweden, where they can live freely.
Ellen finally meets her parents again, but before they can be free, Annemarie must get a special envelope to Uncle Henrik before it is too late. On the way, Annemarie gets stopped by soldiers, but luckily Mrs. Johansen hid the envelope in the bottom of a picnic basket. The soldiers dig through the basket looking for clues as to how people are escaping but do not find any. You will have to read the book to find out what happens to Ellen and her family.
The book is not only about friendship, but also about the courage it took to save people’s lives even though it meant risking your own. Annemarie’s bravery was inspiring to me. “I wonder if I will ever see Ellen again,” Annemarie said sadly. “You will, little one. You saved her life after all,” Uncle Henrik said.
I think Number the Stars will be inspiring to you, too!
Age: 9, 4th grade
Number The Stars
By Lois Lowry
If you want to understand about history and learn about what happened to small kids during the war, read Lois Lowry’s book, Number the Stars. The novel is about a heroic kid who helped save the lives of her Jewish friend and her friend’s family. You will learn a lot about history and heroism from reading this interesting story.
Number the Stars taught me about World War II and how it was for children to live during those times with soldiers all around them. I found out about the food shortages and fear among all people in 1943. I came to know about how badly the Jews were treated by the German soldiers for no fault of theirs. I got a glimpse into Danish history and into the great escape of the Danish Jews into Sweden. I not only learned about the Resistance, but also that the Resistance included little kids.
When I read the book, I felt the darkness of war and the light of heroism. I could hear the cannons booming in my head and feel the softness of the magic handkerchief that could save lives. I was proud to read about how a kid outsmarted the German soldiers. It was heart-warming to read about Annemarie’s braveness and her ability to act like “a silly empty-headed little girl” and trick the German soldiers. She is just a 10-year-old, but she completes her mother’s incomplete mission! She proves herself good enough to be numbered among the stars when she takes the handkerchief to her uncle so he can safely escort Ellen’s family and other Jews to another country.
All kids should read the novel because they could be inspired to do big things like Annemarie. All adults should read it, too. Not only will they learn about history, but they will understand that kids can match grownups when it comes to being strong and risking lives to save others. Once you begin reading the book, you will not be able to stop or put it down. It is a story you will never ever forget. It touched my soul, and I know it will touch yours, too.
Age: 9, 4th grade
South Plainfield, NJ