BWW Reviews: GREENHORN By Anna Olswanger Is More Than A Holocaust Story
Greenhorn, Anna Olswanger, fiction, children's literature, Holocaust
GREENHORN by Anna Olswanger (NewSouth Books) covers one of the most sensitive areas of younger children's education - dealing with the Holocaust. But it's also about the meaning of friendship, and about the difficulties of being a "new kid" and fitting in, and it's based on a true story.
Unlike many books dealing with the subject, it's not set in Nazi Germany, in a concentration camp, or in any frightening place, but in the safe atmosphere of a yeshiva - a Jewish boys' school. Daniel, a Polish boy thought by most of the American students to speak only Yiddish, carries a small box with him everywhere, the way many children would carry a blanket or a stuffed animal. What could be in the box? The other boys are curious about that, as they are about his inability to speak English, or many of his other odd qualities.
The narrator, a rabbi's son and the one boy who befriends Daniel, has his own outsider issues - like Moses, he stutters, and because his father is a rabbi, he's suspected of thinking himself superior to the other boys. But he's really no different than Irving or Ruben or Bernie, nor is Daniel - their commonalities should bring them together, but their few differences make an almost insurmountable gulf at times, until the other boys are forced to understand Daniel's situation.
The watercolor illustrations by Miriam Nerlove are charming and evocative, and the text is suitable for middling, but not younger or youngest, readers - save this for eleven year olds. The story is roughly thirty pages long including full-page illustrations - no chapter book, but longer than the short beginning reader books, and with some definitely complicated words and ideas in it; treat it as a short story published as a standalone book. Between those and certain portions with somewhat sensitive subject matter - the contents of the box and the explanation of them - it's a book that should be read with a child, rather than left alone with them. Do review it before buying it, to evaluate your child's ability to process some of the information, if they're very pre-teen or immature.