Talking with middle grade children about the atrocities of Hitler’s World War II can be tough. The desire to be honest about history and yet not cause sleepless nights for sensitive young kids is a fine line to walk.
In Odette’s Secrets, author Maryann MacDonald introduces readers to the fears and worries that plague Jews in Paris as Hitler’s regime takes power. The simplicity with which the story is told and the naiveté of the young narrator make this story a great starting place for kids just learning about this dark time period.
Based on the life Odette Meyers, a Jew who survived the Holocaust by hiding in plain site as a Christian, it’s a story told in gentle free verse. But it’s not just a story about the Holocaust. It’s the story of a young girl trying to make sense of a world in which she’s expected to be good and yet encouraged to lie about herself. To understand a world in which people unexpectedly disappear. To figure out why she’d even want to be a Jew when she’s much safer as a Christian.
“Hiding” in the French countryside, Odette lives a fairly normal life despite the war at the fringes. She has friends, she has a cat, and she eats much better than she did in war-rationed Paris. But Odette worries. Her father has been captured and other family members have disappeared. Her mother is not very good at Christian prayer. Nazi soldiers appear in the village. Despite her concerns, Odette survives to return to Paris only to find things are not as she left them.
Black and white photographs of Odette and other characters accompany the story, making her story much more tangible.
The publisher provided a review copy of this book.