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Review of Mapping the Bones

Mapping the Bones
by Jane Yolen
Middle School, High School    Philomel    417 pp.    g
3/18    978-0-399-25778-0    $17.99

Yolen (The Devil’s Arithmetic; Briar Rose) returns to the horrors of the Holocaust in this “Hansel and Gretel”–inspired story of cruelty, survival, and love. It begins in the Łodz ghetto, to which Jewish fourteen-year-old twins Chaim and Gittel Abromowitz have been forcibly relocated with their parents. Every knock on the door brings fear and uncertainty, and one day it means opening their tiny apartment to another family — Dr. and Mrs. Norenberg and their children, kindhearted Sophie and “bulldoggish” Bruno. Then Dr. Norenberg disappears, Mrs. Norenberg’s mental health deteriorates, and the Abromowitzes receive warning of their imminent “wedding invitation” (i.e., transport to a camp). The two families plan an escape, but the Abromowitz and Norenberg children become separated from their parents. The children find themselves first with a band of Partisans in the Łagiewniki Forest and then, to their horror, in the (fictional) Sobanek forced labor camp, where they are made to build munitions for the German and Polish armies and where the twins are subjected to gruesome medical experiments. Yolen’s prose is stark and accessible, with Chaim’s interspersed, lyrical poetry serving as a reminder that art can be a means of resistance and survival. The “Gittel Remembers” sections, narrated by the character as an adult, provide some relief in foreshadowing survival and hope for the twins’ eventual futures. An appended author’s note tells more about the real-life history and about Yolen’s research.

From the May/June 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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