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Module 6 - Book Reviews

International Children's Literature

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Run, Boy, Run - Uri Olev
The Other Side of Truth - Beverly Naidoo
Samir and Yonatan - Daniella Carmi
Fly Little Bird - Tina Burke

Orlev, Uri.  2003.  RUN, BOY, RUN.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin Company.  ISBN:  0618164650.

     This Batchelder Award winner is the story of Srulik Frydman, an eight-year-old Jewish boy living in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.  One day his mother disappears and Srulik is all alone.  He escapes the ghetto to the countryside where he meets up with other boys like himself.  During the ensuing years of the war, Srulik survives by living in the forest, stealing, and by working for sympathetic farmers.  He is caught, beaten, loses his arm, escapes, and eventually works his way across Poland to meet up with Russian troops where he works as a translator.  After the war, he is eventually reunited with a sister who also managed to survive.

     I enjoyed reading this book so much that I read it in one sitting.  I just couldn't put it down.  I thought it was an accurate depiction of what it was like to be a young, Jewish boy on his own trying to survive the Holocaust.  The historical details were accurate without being "dumbed down" or "dressed up" in fancy writing.  "The story is totally engrossing as it vividly describes the hardships faced by so many youngsters during the war. Orlev has once again successfully used historical fiction to illustrate the Holocaust experience."  (School Library Journal,  Surlik often faced prejudice, violence, and danger as well as sympathy, kindness, and understanding.  I thought it was interesting that some of the German soldiers Surlik encountered were friendly and tried to help him as much as they could without getting themselves into trouble.  "The village near here is called Krumnow,"  The German said, parking in  the yard.  "I'm bringing you to a girlfriend of mine.  You'll work for her.  Behave yourself and everything will be all right.  And here's you knife back."  (Orlev 2003, p. 105).  Another interesting point was that the poor and those living in the country were more inclined to help Jewish refugees.  The most likely reason would be that German soldiers would be concentrated in the cities, so there would be fewer of them to monitor what was going on in the countryside.

     The cultural markers in this book include the names used.  Most of the names are Jewish, Polish, German, or Russian.  Examples would include the main character Srulik, who also uses the Polish name of Jurek.  Other Jewish names include the group of boys he lived with in the forest:  Shleymi, Yosele, and Avrum.  One of the German soldiers was named Werner and the Russian soldier was named Sasha.  Srulik also stayed with a Polish family named Kowalski.  Another cultural distinction is that instead of using the titles of Mr. and Mrs. as we do in the United States, Srulik uses the titles of Pan (for men) and Pani (for married women).  Another cultural marker mentioned was one of the coins used for currency was called a zloty.  From the way the term was used in the text, I would guess it would be the approximate equivalent to our pennies or other small change coins.  German money is also mentioned in the book.  "I paid 157 marks and 25 pfennig for him!" (Orlev 2003, p. 108).  One of the insults directed at Srulik was being called "a dirty Yid." (Orlev 2003, p. 79).  One of the Jewish customs mentioned in the story was Passover Seder, which Srulik barely remembers celebrating with his family before the war began.  Other cultural markers include specific mention of geographic places such as cities, villages, and rivers, for example:  Warsaw, Moscow, Blonie, and the Wisla River.   Surlik also mentions the Gestapo, Hitler, and Stalin. 

     This was a thoroughly engrossing account of one boy's survival during the Holocaust.  I think it is particularly interesting because it is based on a true story.  The author has included an Epilogue which tells what happened to Srulik after the war and how the author heard his story and was moved to tears.  "Orlev...devotes this memorable novel to the extraordinary true story of an orphaned Jewish boy's experiences in Poland during the war." (Publisher's Weekly,  This is a book that should be included in many middle school and high school libraries and would be an excellent book for young adults to read to become better acquainted with what a young Jewish boy experienced during World War II.  It will help bring the events to life.

     I could not get the full reviews to come up in the Books in Print database and so had to use the partial reviews available from



Naidoo, Beverly.  2000.  THE OTHER SIDE OF TRUTH.  New York:  Amistad.  ISBN:  0064410021.
     Sade and Femi must flee Nigeria in 1995 when the government soldiers kill their mother instead of their intended target of their father.  Their father, an outspoken journalist who often writes articles against the current government's corruption, decides to send his children to stay with his brother in London.  Sade's Uncle Tende arranges to smuggle the children out of Nigeria by having them pose as Mrs. Bankole's children.  When Sade and Femi arrive in London they discover that their Uncle Dele is missing and Mrs. Bankole deserts them.  The children are on their own in the middle of a strange city and country.  After a scary incident at a video store, Sade and Femi are taken by police and turned over to foster care.  Sade and Femi are enrolled in school where she must learn to deal with bullies.  After learning that her father made it to London, but was put in prison for not immediately asking for political asylum, Sade begins a campaign to free her father.  With the help of the news media, Sade gets her father's story told and eventually wins his freedom and gets the family reunited.
     I enjoyed reading this book.  It gives the reader an idea of what it might be like to live in a country that is run by a corrupt government.  It makes the reader appreciate the freedoms that are enjoyed in our own country.  One of the themes repeated throughout the book was the importance of the truth.  Her father's commitment to telling the truth about the atrocities carried out by the government illustrate this theme.  He paid a high price for truth:  his wife was shot to death, and he and his children had to flee the country because of his belief in telling the truth.  Sade also remembers various sayings that her mother always said that also demonstrate the importance of telling the truth.  "As soon as the lie was out of her mouth, she remembered Mama's Tell a lie, play with fire.  But don't complain of the smoke."  (Naidoo 2000, p. 127).  Another instance was when Sade gave an excuse to not stay after school and help the librarian.  "A lie has seven winding paths, the truth one straight road."  (Naidoo 2000, p. 148).  I thought the use of flashbacks recalling sayings her parents had always said helped add dimension to the story and characters.  I thought the incident with the bullies at Sade's school was a parallel situation to what her father had experienced with the government in Nigeria.  "Flashbacks, letters written between father and daughter, and Sade's constant memories of her mother's sayings, add texture." (Publisher's Weekly 2001).  I appreciated the fact that a glossary was included at the end of the book to define words from the Yoruba language that were used in the story.
     The story contained many cultural markers such as words from the Yoruba language, African names of the characters and the inclusion of real people, facts, and events from African countries.  Some of the African names used included Uncle Tunde, Uncle Dele, Folarin Solaja, Folasade (Sade for short), and Olufemi (Feme for short).  The book mentions the custom that children in Africa has in which children refer to an older woman as Auntie or Mama.  "I can tell something terrible happened - it's hard for you to speak about it - but it's very important - so we can help you...and call me Auntie or Mama, like children back there, at your home."  (Naidoo 2000, p.93).  The story includes the real events that happened to Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa.  He protested the actions of multinational oil companies and the military government and was hung with eight others in 1995.  Other cultural markers include words and phrases from the Yoruba language such as o ma se o which means what a pity and a gele which is a head scarf.  The story mentions various foods the children are used to eating such as peppersoup, pawpaws, plaintains, yams, and gari which is ground cassava, a root vegetable.  The story talks about an egungun which is a traditional Yoruba festival in which masked dancers and drummers call on spirits of their ancestors to return to earth and bless them.
     This is a great book for young adult readers to gain a better understanding of Nigerian culture.  It also gives an eye opening account of what it is like to live under a government that greatly curtails a person's individual freedoms.  In the United States, we do not have the fear that government soldiers may burst into our homes at any minute and take someone away to be questioned and they may never come back, or to have a loved one shot to death in front of their own home.  The story also gave an accurate portrayal of what it feels like to be the target of bullying at school.  Sade felt she had no one to turn to in the situation, but she did remember bits of advice her parents had given her and tried to live up to their expectations.  This message comes through to the reader without being preachy because the author described the events so well.  Naidoo's expert storytelling make the book and characters come alive, which is probably why it won the Carnegie Medal in Britain.
Carmi, Daiella.  2000.  SAMIR AND YONATAN.  New York:  Scholastic.  ISBN:  0439135230.

     This is the story of Samir, a young Palestinian boy from the Occupied Territory who finds himself in the Jewish Hospital waiting for a specialist from Chicago to come operate on his knee that he shattered in a bicycle accident.  As Samir lies in his bed waiting for his surgery, he thinks of his home and family.  His mother works two jobs and his older brother has gone to Kuwait to work in order to support the family.  Since the death of his brother, Samir's father refuses to speak and Samir misses the interaction with his father.  Through Samir’s reminiscing, the reader is introduced to the privation, devastation, and fear that exist in the occupied zone. While in the hospital, Samir stays in a room with four Israeli children and gets to know their hurts and conflicts as he learns to deal with his own.  His younger brother was killed by an Israeli soldier and Samir must learn to live with his feelings of guilt and anger.  One of the boys that he shares the room with is Tzahi who has an older brother in the Israeli army.  Samir has a difficult time making friends with Tzahi for this reason, but various events draw all the children closer together.  Samir becomes better friends with Yonatan when they share late night talks and Yonatan shares his imaginings of visiting Mars.   

     There are many cultural markers within this story that many who are not Muslim or Jewish may not be familiar with.  Some are words we may not be familiar with, names that show a difference in culture, and references to Allah.  Some of the different foods mentioned are kinnar which is a spice-flavored tea, labeneh is a yogurt cheese, schnitzel is a breaded chicken cutlet, and knafeh is a sweet pastry made of semolina.  The book describes customs in the Muslim religion such as the muezzin calling the faithful to daily prayers and Ramadan which is a Muslim religious custom that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic year in which they practice fasting daily between sunrise and sunset.  The book also describes some Jewish customs such as the wearing of a yarmulke, a skullcap worn by especially religious Jewish males and the phrase yiboneh bais hamikdosh bimheira beyomainu is said in the story which is a wish for the rebuilding of the Temple of Zion.  Samir constantly makes references to the story of Arabian Nights which is a classic story in the Arab and Muslim world.  Samir tells of Ludmilla putting on her slippers and compares them to something Princess Scheherazade would wear.  “She steps into her embroidered slippers.  You’d swear that only Princess Scheherazade or somebody like that could have such slippers – little white shoes embroidered with silver.  The Caliph of Baghdad would order such slippers to be made for his daughter.”  (Carmi 1994, p. 52).  Specific places are mentioned which make it clear to the reader that the story takes place in another country and culture.  Bethlehem, Gaza Strip, and Palestine are all talked about in the book and Samir mentions watching Jordan t.v.  Many of the names used in the story may not be familiar to young readers in the United States.  The title characters of Sami and Yonatan, as well as Samir’s brother, Fadi, his sister, Nawar, and his older brother, Bassam.  Other names would include those he shared a room with in the hospital:  Tazhi and Razia.  There are many more cultural markers contained within the book that make it interesting to learn about another’s customs and country and what it would be like to live in the occupied territory in Palestine.

     I found the story to be a little slow in the beginning because it took a few chapters to begin to understand that Samir is a young Muslim boy in Palestine and he is being treated in a Jewish hospital.  As Samir begins to relate memories from his past, the reader begins to understand how difficult his life has been in the occupied zone.  Life in the hospital is described as clearly as life in the Occupied Territories and readers will sympathize with Samir's fear and loneliness and welcome his new friendships.”  (School Library Journal, 2000).  I thought it was interesting that one of the things that Samir liked about the hospital was that he received a steady supply of food.  “I eat the chicken so fast I hardly taste it.  They forgot to salt it, but that doesn’t bother me.  The mashed the potatoes into a kind of baby porridge.  Maybe that’s why I finished them so quickly.  There’s also a red sauce that I don’t know what to do with, so I drink it straight from the bowl.  I’m so hungry, my ears are twitching.  I swallowed up everything, and now I wish they had added a pitta.  The fat nurse asks if I want seconds.  I don’t know what it means, but I say yes, and she brings me the same tray, only without the red sauce.”  (Carmi 1994, p. 12-13.)  I also enjoyed the developing friendship between Samir and Yonatan.  Yonatan, through his imaginings, manages to teach Samir that there is more to the world than the fighting between the Muslims and the Jews. “Ultimately, wardmate Yonatan, son of an astronomer, shows Samir ways of looking beyond the boundaries of his war-ravaged world, and Carmi lightens the general tone with a final scene in which Samir and Tzahi, a hyperactive tormentor, bury the hatchet.”  (Kirkus Reviews, 2000).  This was a good book and I thought the theme that friendship can develop between two people of different faiths was done well and not in a heavy handed way.




Kirkus Reviews.  2000.  Available from


School Library Journal.  2000.  Amazon.com

Burke, Tina.  2005.  FLY, LITTLE BIRD.  La Jolla, California:  Kane/Miller Book Publishers, Inc.  ISBN:  139781933605029.

     What a fun picture book for pre-schoolers and young elementary students.  The book only has three words:  Fly, little bird.  The rest of the story is told through the illustrations that are done by the author.  A little girl is in the garden with her puppy picking flowers when she hears birdsong and upon exploring discovers a baby parrot (I think).  She then tells the little bird that is perched on her finger to “Fly, little bird,” and the bird promptly falls down.  The little girl then takes the baby bird home where she feeds it, reads to it, prepares a place for it to sleep, and the bird is constantly with her through other activities.  They are all so excited when the little bird learns to fly, but then the little girl leaves her window open when she goes to bed one night and wakes up to find the little bird gone.  She goes outside with a net to find the bird, only to discover the bird has found others like him.  The little girl’s response is, “Fly, little bird.”

     I loved the illustrations found in this picture book.  The author and artist used bright colors of green, yellow, and red in the watercolors of the little bird.  Some of the illustrations are full paged and others have several smaller illustrations on the page to tell the story.  “Burke alternates between full-bleed, full-page illustrations with smaller snapshot-sized and framed pictures to form a series of vignettes revealing the blossoming friendship between child and bird.”  (Kirkus Review, 2006).  I liked the little vignettes of the activities the little girl, puppy, and bird were sharing.  My favorite showed the little girl singing in front of her bedroom dresser, using her hairbrush for a mike, with the bird and puppy chiming in.  The expressions on their faces are so fun to look at.  The little girl is having an absolute ball and the picture even shows the detail of having her reflection shown in the mirror.  She also paints a picture of the bird, which appears over her bed in the last illustration.  The illustrations do a fantastic job of telling the story through the facial expressions of the bird, puppy, and especially the little girl.  “Although Burke’s medium of expression is primarily through her illustrations, they are surprisingly spare in details.  Instead it’s the faces of her three characters that convey everything.”  (Kirkus Review, 2006).  It’s no wonder the illustrations are so appealing, especially for young children.  Burke worked for Walt Disney Animation for six years and the experience clearly shows.

     There are not many cultural markers in the book.  The parrot-like bird would have to be one since they do not naturally occur in the United States.  The vegetation in the outdoor illustrations is tropical looking because of the flowers and some of the leaves on some of the trees look like they are palm leaves.  The furniture, clothing, bedding, and curtains are all Western style, and the little girl in the story is white.  If I had to guess where I think the story takes place, I would guess the setting as being in Australia or New Zealand, or even Hawaii in the United States.

     I loved “reading” this book which is told through its illustrations.  This book would be great to use with pre-readers and have them “read” the story to the adult.  My four-year-old niece loved this book because she could “read” the story for herself.  This was important to this very independent youngster.  Her favorite illustrations showed the little bird bedded down in his box underneath the lamp on the little girl’s bedside table and the one where the little girl is reading a story to the little bird.  I would highly recommend this book for those with pre-school age children because my niece can hardly wait for me to be done with this book so she can keep it for herself. 




Kirkus Review.  15 February, 2006.  Available from

International Children's Literature
Sylvia M. Vardell, Ph. D. - Instructor
Renee Schneider - Student

This site was created as an assignment for a Texas Woman's University course.  The course is a graduate level course in Library Science LS 5903.24 Special Topics - International Children's Literature.