I had never heard of the Polish woman Irena Sendler until I learned about the non-fiction adult book “Irena’s Children.” I was amazed at how little she is known and talked about since she helped save 2,500 Jewish children during World War II by smuggling them out of a Jewish ghetto in Poland. I read the book and was very moved as I learned about her actions as well as those of the people she worked with. I was happy to discover that her story had been told through children’s books as well. Now people at every age level can read about this influential woman by reading one of the books below!
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Irena’s Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Widow Clicquot comes an extraordinary and gripping account of Irena Sendler—the “female Oskar Schindler”—who took staggering risks to save 2,500 children from death and deportation in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.
In 1942, one young social worker, Irena Sendler, was granted access to the Warsaw ghetto as a public health specialist. While she was there, she began to understand the fate that awaited the Jewish families who were unable to leave. Soon she reached out to the trapped families, going from door to door and asking them to trust her with their young children. Driven to extreme measures and with the help of a network of local tradesmen, ghetto residents, and her star-crossed lover in the Jewish resistance, Irena ultimately smuggled thousands of children past the Nazis. She made dangerous trips through the city’s sewers, hid children in coffins, snuck them under overcoats at checkpoints, and slipped them through secret passages in abandoned buildings.
But Irena did something even more astonishing at immense personal risk: she kept a secret list buried in bottles under an old apple tree in a friend’s back garden. On it were the names and true identities of these Jewish children, recorded so their families could find them after the war. She could not know that more than ninety percent of their families would perish.
I listened to this book through the audiobook version and I went through it really fast! I checked the physical book out from the library as well so I could see the pictures and read the authors note. It was a high interest story and well written (definitely not a dry non-fiction!) It reminded me of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand in the way it was well-researched, but flowed like a novel. And also in the way it talked about some really difficult occurrences but did not overly dwell on the gore and horror.
I found Irena Sendler’s story fascinating. Working along with several other people she saved thousands of lives by doing things she considered to be just what needed to be done and things that anyone else would do as well.
I felt so many emotions while listening to this story– from disbelief at how people treated their fellow humans, to awe at her bravery, to pain for the families who were separated, to joy for the successes and sadness at the people who were lost, to despair at the awful decisions people involved had to make– and so much more!
I appreciated how the book didn’t try to put her on a pedestal as a perfect hero and how it talked about her flaws and weaknesses. There is a great quote at the beginning of the book that talks about how pretending she was perfect is actually a disservice to her.
This is probably going to be a book that my book club discusses this fall and I think it is a great choice, because there is a lot to discuss in it including several moral dilemmas I’m itching to talk about.
It was really neat to learn that Irena had interactions with the zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski who smuggled Jews into empty cages. Their story is told in The Zookeeper’s Wife book and movie which I haven’t read/seen, but I recognized their names and situation.
Irena’s Children: Young Readers Edition adapted by Mary Cronk Farrell
From New York Times bestselling author Tilar Mazzeo comes the extraordinary and long forgotten story of Irena Sendler—the “female Oskar Schindler”—who took staggering risks to save 2,500 children from death and deportation in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II—now adapted for a younger audience.
Irena Sendler was a young Polish woman living in Warsaw during World War II with an incredible story of survival and selflessness. And she’s been long forgotten by history.
This young readers edition of Irena’s Children tells Irena’s unbelievable story set during one of the worst times in modern history. With guts of steel and unfaltering bravery, Irena smuggled thousands of children out of the walled Jewish ghetto in toolboxes and coffins, snuck them under overcoats at checkpoints, and slipped them through the dank sewers and into secret passages that led to abandoned buildings, where she convinced her friends and underground resistance network to hide them.
In this heroic tale of survival and resilience in the face of impossible odds, Tilar Mazzeo and adapter Mary Cronk Farrell share the true story of this bold and brave woman, overlooked by history, who risked her life to save innocent children from the horrors of the Holocaust.
I only flipped through this book, since I had already read the originally version, but it appeared to be a good adaption that was suited for a younger age. Here is the publisher’s information on the reading level of the book:
Age Range: 10 and up
Lexile Measure: 1000
Jars of Hope by Jennifer Roy
Amid the horrors of World War II, Irena Sendler was an unlikely and unsung hero. While many people lived in fear of the Nazis, Irena defied them, even though it could have meant her life. She kept records of the children she helped smuggle away from the Nazis’ grasp, and when she feared her work might be discovered, she buried her lists in jars, hoping to someday recover them and reunite children with their parents. This gripping true story of a woman who took it upon herself to help save 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust is not only inspirational; it’s unforgettable.
I was so happy to learn that there was a nonfiction picture book written so younger readers can learn this important story. The story is a great example to children of how you can refuse to stand by and watch as terrible things happen. You can decide to help others and make a difference and be the change you want to see in the world. What a powerful and important message it is for children to be shown that they can choose kindness, selflessness, and bravery and literally change the world. The text is a little longer and more advanced so it is probably best for about 5 or 6 years old and above.