The Devil's Arithmetic Essay - Critical Essays

Jane Yolen

Literary Criticism and Significance

Jane Yolen is an incredibly prolific, celebrated, and popular author for children and adults, and out of the over three hundred books she has written, The Devil’s Arithmetic is considered one of the most important.The novel won the Jewish Book Council Award, the Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Book Award, and the Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award and was also a finalist for the Nebula Award.Twenty years after its publication, The Devil’s Arithmetic was named the Children’s Literature Association’s 2008 Honor Book for the Phoenix Award as a novel that has stood the test of time.

Reviews of The Devil’s Arithmetic were generally positive, with critics finding the book particularly important as a tool for introducing Holocaust history to young readers. A Booklist review wrote that the novel’s sense of history is strong and compelling in spite of its horrors.In Fantasy & Science Fiction, novelist Orson Scott Card wrote that readers of the novel will never forget the events it describes, and just as importantly, they will understand why they must never forget. He added that he hoped “this generation of children will all read The Devil’s Arithmetic.” In a New York Times book review, Cynthia Samules agreed that The Devil’s Arithmetic is an effective way to introduce children to the Holocaust. She also praised the novel for concluding hopefully, ending “on a note of redemption and love.”

Many teachers have responded to The Devil’s Arithmetic as a way to teach young adults about the Holocaust, and the book is a staple on many school syllabi. In addition, the novel was made into a well-received film produced by Showtime TV channel. The movie won a Wilbur Award, given for outstanding communication of religious values in print and film.