This New Year’s I stayed up to 12:15 a.m. not because I wanted to say goodbye to 2020 and ring in 2021, but because I was reading The Librarian of Auschwitz and I wanted to finish it. I have had this book on my shelf for a while and decided to pick it up.

It was fantastic – not the story, it was horrific, maybe one of the most horrific I have read, but the book, all 560 pages of it.

Based on the true story of 14-year-old Dita, imprisoned at Auschwitz with her father and her mother, the book shares how Dita becomes the Librarian of Auschwitz, in charge of the eight books prisoners have managed to sneak past the Nazis.

“The Nazis banned books in the concentration camps, but the inmates there so valued books, reading, and the life of the mind that they went to extraordinary measures to preserve and protect their precious books. This story celebrates the triumph of stories and knowledge.”

Not only does Dita lend the books – and reads them herself – to the teachers of Block 31, where children are secretly learning to read and write, as well as learn history, geography and math, she also shares living books, where adults who know stories, tell them to the children who are trying to live in the most horrific of conditions.

Author Antonio Iturbe does an amazing job of showing the importance of books as knowledge and escapism.

Iturbe interviewed Dita, who now lives in Israel, and I can only suspect Dita was willing to share every detail of her life in the Terezin ghetto in Prague, Auschwitz and finally at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as it was the most detailed and disturbing account I have read so far.

Two books later, it’s still in my head. The only thing I can think of is it shows where hate can take us. For those heading down that path, they should read this book and stop and remember we are all the same: we may come from different places but, in the end, we are human and need to treat each other accordingly.

Iturbe also weaves other historical people into the story, changing how he writes based on the person he is writing about. We read about Josef Mengele and we see the death of Anne Frank and her sister Margot and we learn more about their story before continuing with Dita’s.

The Librarian of Auschwitz is from Henry Holt & Co and Raincoast Books.

Towers Falling

Towers Falling is another book that has been on my to-read shelf for a while and was written in time for the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Author Jewell Parker Rhodes was inspired by the question: “How do kids born after the attacks comprehend what happened? And, for these children, how do we differentiate between the historical past and events that still feel quite recent and raw to adults.”

In this book, Deja is starting a new school and she is asked to write an essay about home and community, except she doesn’t want to: over the summer her family was evicted from their home and she, her mom and dad, and brother and sisters are living in a one-room.

“When the teacher hints that these lessons will culminate with one big answer about the towers outside the classroom window – the towers that used to be there, that is – Deja feels even more behind and confused.”

Her classmates seem to know all about the towers, but she doesn’t and every time she brings it up, her Pop who is always sick with some mystery illness and can’t hold down a job, gets mad.

“She sets off on a journey of discovering, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side.”

The book, for kids eight to 12, is an interesting way to talk about the events of 9-11. I also liked the diversity within the story – we have a boy who isn’t afraid to be who he is, but who is also suffering the affects of 9-11: his dad is ex-military who went to Iraq to fight. I suspect he has post-traumatic stress disorder, but it isn’t said. Sabeen’s family is Muslim and we see 9-11 through her eyes as well. Her family doesn’t go out on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Finally, we see it through the eyes of Deja and her family, living with the effects of poverty caused directly by 9-11. My heart breaks for each of those children. The author did a great job of talking about 9-11, describing the horrors of it, but also healing from it.

Falling Towers is from and Raincoast Books.

Falling into Place

I finished the first day of 2021 what with Amy Zhang’s Falling into Place about Liz Emerson who doesn’t understand force, mass, gravity and cause and effect, other than to know she has caused a lot of people a great deal of pain, a path she can’t seem to get away from. She decides she will kill herself by running her car of the road in what will look like an accident on the anniversary of her dad’s death.

We start with the day Liz Emerson will die and then go back through her life in snapshots, other people’s memories, and various points in the leadup to her accident. We also learn about Liz through another voice, who we find out in the end.

It was an interesting way to write a book and while I don’t really like Liz or the choices she makes, you can’t completely dislike her as she, like her friends, have a pretty tough go of it: her father, whom she is very close, dies and her mother, who grew up in a suffocating household, goes the complete opposite way, completely closed off from her daughter and leaving her for long periods of time as she goes off on business trips. You can feel Liz’s loneliness and her fear of silence and understand the choices she makes. I liked how we get to know her through the secondary characters and get to know those same characters better as Liz fights for her life in hospital because she didn’t die on impact as she had hoped. I really liked Liam’s character, a boy who has liked Liz for years even though she treated him so terribly. Liam seems like a great character and I would like to see more of him.

Falling into Place is from