Book Review: The Librarian of Auschwitz

I received this ARC through a MacMillan/Shelf Awareness giveaway. The book is scheduled for an October 10th launch!


The Librarian of Auschwitz is marketed as a novel but it reads as creative nonfiction in the journalistic style of Susan Orlean. Author Antonio Iturbe’s interviews with the real Dita Kraus and information from the interviews with Rudolph Rosenberg make the novel more true than not. Anne Frank and her sister show up in the book as well. The narrative quality of the writing makes it a little difficult to ascertain what portions of the book are fictitious (but we can assume that specific conversations, some scenes, character actions and reactions have been embellished for the story). I would have liked an author’s note that makes clear to teen readers what is true and what is not.

The book was originally written in Spanish and is translated by Lilit Thwaites.

The specifics of the Holocaust are horrendously and horrifically true, yet teenager Dita’s amazing story as protectorate of books for the children of the “family camp” school was new to me. Her strength and the strength of those around her in the face of their inhumane treatment is inspiring and humbling. Dita, the other children, and their teachers find refuge in the stories and facts from the eight illicit books they have and hide. It is this refuge, that allows Dita to hold on to her own humanity and to stand up for others. The novel is truly an ode to the power of books. If you liked “The Book Thief,” “The Librarian of Auschwitz” will keep you up all night reading.

I read a lot of YA and children’s Holocaust literature in my late 20s but haven’t been able to stomach it until recently. Perhaps my renewed interest comes from our current xenophobic and racist policies, the rise of authoritarian governments, the lack of concern from our young people regarding “democratic legitimacy,” or the Syrian atrocities and others going on right under our noses that make the cry “Never Again” a fallacy. Nevertheless, I am interested now. Here are some excellent pairings to go with The Librarian of Auschwitz. (There are many, many more.)

From those who were there or had family members there:
Night, Elie Wiesel
The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
Maus,(1 & 2) Art Spiegelman
I never saw another butterfly, poetry from the children of Terezin edited by Hana Volavková

The Devil’s Arithmetic, Jane Yolen
Briar Rose, Jane Yolen
The Book Thief, Marcus Zuzak
Paper Hearts, Meg Wiviott
Milkweed, Jerry Spinelli

Younger children:
Number the Stars, Lois Lowry
Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, Meg Wiviott
The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark, Carmen Agra Deedy

Henry Holt/MacMillan has a  The Librarian of Auschwitz teacher’s guide.

Book Review Wednesday: Citizen Scientists

By Loree Griffin Burns
Henry Holt and Company, 80 pages
ISBN 9780805090628

Some books make me want to stand on a chair in the middle of my local independent book store and shout, “You have got to get your kid this book!” It is rare that a nonfiction book would ignite this kind of passion but CITIZEN SCIENTIST: BE A PART OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY FROM YOUR OWN BACKYARD is rare. Loree Griffin Burns manages to offer so much in a single volume that the book itself becomes a discovery.

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The first discovery comes in the form of citizen science projects. The book is a year-long journey of four such projects– one for each season. The book begins in the autumn with monarch butterfly tagging, moves into bird counting in the winter, frog counting in the spring, and ladybug counting in the summer.

Each section is further divided and starts with a 2nd person narrative nonfiction explanation of the project. The use of the 2nd person places the reader smack dab in the moment of discovery. Keep reading and find out more about the science behind the project. Meet the scientists who oversee the projects and get a sneak peak at their instruments and labs. Next, meet actual young citizen scientist who are making a difference in the study of the featured organisms. Burns includes a check list to help children prepare for their study of the natural world, a quiz to check reader knowledge, diagrams of each critter, maps, and fabulous photos with thoughtful captions. The back matter includes a glossary, an index, and a resource page of field guides, internet resources, and other citizen science projects. (Imagine me breathless on my chair. I am.)

Since all learning is connected, readers get a dose of geography (migration paths) and economics (families who are paid for finding monarch tags in the central Mexican mountains where they live) with their science. Like the best educators, Loree Griffin Burns’ unique voice is comforting and empowering. She inspires children and their families to “contribute to understanding and improving our world.” Civics too!

This is one of the most thoughtfully designed nonfiction books that I’ve seen. Each season/project is color coded. The designer uses halftones of that color as the background for the 2nd person narrative then continues the section with white background and a ribbon edge of a matching hue. A reader can easily turn to the season they want by looking at the edges of the closed book. The fonts are playful and unique and carefully chosen elements set off the page numbers.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the clear and well-composed photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz. The photos work so seemlessly with the text that there is a wonderful sense of balance between the writing, photos, and design.

With this book, Loree Griffin Burns relates the excitement and wonder of earnest observation of our natural world. She quotes Dr. Orley “Chip” Taylor who oversees the printing, distribution, and recovery of monarch butterfly tags, “If you are interested in conserving a particular organism you have to understand it. You have to understand every little aspect of its biology.” In CITIZEN SCIENTIST, Burns has managed to put together a well-researched and wonderfully written book that invites action on the part of all young citizen scientist.

Okay. I’m getting of the chair and putting it away.