“What the Night Sings” by Vesper Stamper— A Teen in the Holocaust

Stamper, Vesper. “What the Night Sings”, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2018.

A Teen in the Holocaust

Amos Lassen

When I was teaching seventh grade religious school at my temple in Arkansas, one of the units was “The Holocaust. I received a phone call from a member of the congregation, a woman I considered to be a friend and who was the mother of one of my students. She told me that she did not want her son to learn about the Holocaust because it was too upsetting for young minds. There was a problem in that her son had already spoken with me about how anxious he was to learn about it. Now I found myself in a delicate situation. I adhered to his mother’s wish by explaining to her son that he would be excused from class on those days but that he and I would meet privately and talk about the Holocaust and in that way I could not be accused of teaching him. Today that boy has his M.A. in Holocaust Studies. I agree that it is a difficult subject for youth and it is also an important subject that can always be delicately handled but we do have some great texts for young learners. (“The Book Thief” and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” are two). Now we have a new is a beautifully illustrated novel about a teen Holocaust survivor who “must come to terms with who she is and how to rebuild her life.”

After losing her family and everything she knew in the Nazi concentration camps, Gerta is finally liberated, but she is completely alone. She also has lost her identity and she knows that she must get past just surviving and begin living her life. She is temporarily living in a displaced persons camp where she meets Lev, another teen survivor and discovers t Jewish identity she never knew she had, and a return to the life of music she thought she lost forever. Now she must decide how to build a new future.

This is a situation that the youth of today are generally ignorant of. Sure, they look for identity but they usually have family to fall back upon. This is a story of love, loss, and survival that is powerful and beautifully written. Gerta is one of those literary characters that stays with the reader long after the book is closed. Hers is a story of life, hope and redemption that had me smiling and weeping on the same page. The visual images, all in warm brown tones, are striking. This is a book that you do not want to miss.

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