Irene’s Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo is the story of a young social worker named Irena Sendler decided to do her part to help Warsaw’s Jews. She worked with the Polish Underground to smuggle over 2,000 children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and into safety. During this time, Irena was arrested by the Gestapo and brutally tortured. Through it all, she never betrayed her fellow Polish Underground members or her rescued children.
Tilan Mazzeo tells this remarkable story in her book Irena’s Children, adapted for young readers by Mary Conk Farrell. I was familar with Farrell from her young adult book Pure Grit: How WWII Nurses in the Pacific survived Combat and Prison Camps. This was a difficult book for me to read because of the horror’s these women endured. However, Farrell did an excellent job relating their story and keeping the content accessible to her intended audience. Irena’s Children was not an easy read; Holocaust books never are. I think the choice of Farrell to adapt it was a great idea.
At times, the writing seemed a bit awkward or even repetitive. I think this was simply the result of adapting a book written for adults into a book that children will read. As a librarian, I would have some trouble gauging the book’s intended age group. There was some pretty tough vocabulary in the book, and the subject is a difficult one. At the same time, the tone of the writing seemed geared towards a younger reader instead of a young adult reader. This puts the book in danger of being too difficult for middle grade readers, but not able to hold the interest of young adult readers. However, I think any reader who is interested in the subject matter would stick with this book to the end.
The story of Irena Sendler is a remarkable one, and an important one. Irena’s Children makes this story accessible to younger readers. This is a story that needs to be told and Mazzeo and Farrell have done just that. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoyed Philip M. Hoose’s book The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club, as both focus on a young person sacrificing personal safety to do the right thing, even when those around them are doing otherwise.
I received this book from Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing and Margaret K. McElderry Books via NetGalley for an honest review.