Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: CHANCE: ESCAPE FROM THE HOLOCAUST by Uri Shulevitz
Introduced by Heavy Medal Award Committee member Elizabeth Nelson
Beloved author and illustrator Uri Shulevitz presents another evocative, autobiographical portrait of his life. Detailing the eight-year journey of Shulevitz and his family from the terrors of Nazi Warsaw to starvation in Soviet Russia, freedom in Paris, and relocation in Israel, Shulevitz carefully brings the reader through this tragic period by showcasing the power of creativity in art and story.
A Holocaust memoir for this age group could be problematic. Much about that horrific time might frighten an 8 to 10-year-old. Shulevitz keeps the young reader keenly aware of the troubles that surround him and his family with sharp, clear prose while the illustrations provide just enough detail to illuminate the sadness and desperation of the time, his progression as a young artist, and some childhood pathos, humor and childhood truths at the front.
On September 1, 1939, Nazi planes burst into the Warsaw skies, some dropping incendiary bombs and spreading fires throughout the city, others dropping high-explosive bombs and turning buildings into dust.
Nature responded with heavy rains angrily pounding the pavement.
Terrified people ran in all directions.
Streets were ripped into deep canyons.
Faucets ran dry. Between bombings, people dragged heavy buckets of water from the Vistula River for drinking and cooking.
Smoke from the fires painted everything gray. Not far from our building, amid this grayness, were big mounds of brilliant pigments–reds, yellows, blues–in the courtyard of a paint factory in ruins.
I watched from our window in a daze. I didn’t fully realize what I was seeing, although it was all happening right in front of my eyes. It seemed unreal and distant.
Later that day, I sat on a table, and as Mother was putting a pair of new boots on my feet, she said, ‘We’ll need to walk a lot.’
I was four years old. [pp 2-5]
Shulevitz’s family story develops much as his illustrations do. Beginning with sticks in the mud, Uri drew on anything he could. At first, his drawings were stick figures facing forward. As the story progresses, Uri learns to draw faces in profile. Just as these stick figures begin to see other sides of the world, so does young Uri begin to see the complexities of his surroundings. As the story progresses we see him supported by his parents both emotionally and artistically, soothing the terror of his situation with stories and art supplies.
A spectacular introduction to memoir for the young reader, a detailed but not grizzly account of one family’s journey through hell and back, and an outstanding combination of story and illustration should bring many awards this season.
Heavy Medal Award Committee members and others are now invited to discuss this book further in the Comments section below. Please start with positive observations first; stick to positives until at least three comments have been posted or we reach 1:00 pm EST. Let the Mock Newbery discussion begin!:
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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