Set in Warsaw, Poland, during World War II, The Island on Bird Street is thematically a coming-of-age story as a young boy matures under barbaric conditions. When his father is taken away by German soldiers, Alex must survive on his own. The love of his father, who promises to return, gives him the will to survive. The novel describes hope, bravery, and courage against a backdrop of hate and violence. Readers will strongly empathize with Alex as he stares wistfully at life beyond the ghetto walls and reaches out to others for love and companionship. The novel is a personal odyssey through a childhood disrupted by the savagery of war as good battles evil in a world gone mad.
The action-filled plot unfolds in chronological order. One young boy must evade the combined forces of the German soldiers and those Poles who support the extermination of the Jews. At the same time, he is battling nature for survival. From the moment that he escapes the German soldiers until his climactic reunion with his father, Alex survives one crisis after another. The young reader is constantly bombarded with strong emotions and compelling action. Even older readers will enjoy the fast-paced action and adventure.
Young people will identify with the hero of the novel, eleven-year-old Alex. Although he is a Polish Jew, he is a universal character. He laughs and cries; he loves and hates. Isolated from others, he fills his time reading and playing with his pet. The reader...
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For Uri Orlev, survivor of the Belsen-Bergen death camp, the Holocaust was his childhood. Through his writings for young people, he re-creates the past as a warning to future generations. The Island on Bird Street is an excellent addition to Holocaust literature for young people. When originally published in Israel, the novel received the 1981 Mordechai Bernstein Award, the highest award for children’s literature given by the University of Haifa. It was also cited as a 1982 International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Honor List Book for Israel. The novel has been widely used in the Holocaust curricula in middle and secondary schools.
Another work written by Orlev and translated by Hillel Halkin is Lydia, Queen of Palestine (1995), a novel based on the life of the Israeli poet Arianna Haran. Ten-year-old Lydia describes her childhood misadventures, her distress over her parents’ divorce during World War II, and her life after the war in Palestine. In Orlev’s The Lady with the Hat (1995), seventeen-year-old Yulek, the only member of his immediate family to survive the German concentration camps, joins a group of Jews going to live on a kibbutz in Israel; unbeknownst to Yulek, his aunt living in London is looking for him. In The Man from the Other Side (1991), fourteen-year-old Mark Marek and his grandparents, who live on the outskirts of the Warsaw Ghetto in World War II, shelter a Jewish man just before the Jewish uprising.