Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Irena's Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo - Book Review - Looking for the Helpers in Tragedy

As I began reading "Irena's Children", I instantly thought of the often referenced Fred Rodgers quote:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
"Irena's Children" is the story of a heroic helper, and many other helpers just like her, who rescued nearly 2,500 children from the ghetto of Warsaw. Tilar Mazzeo wrote a beautiful and engaging book that captures the tenacity and heroism not only Irena's story, but also her friend's and helpers, as well as the courageous stories of the many rescued children.

 What I Liked

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world." - See more at: http://www.fredrogers.org/parents/special-challenges/tragic-events.php#sthash.KbvNo6nk.dpufWhat I Liked
This books is intense- Holocaust plus dying/endangered children intense. But the story is told from the perspective of looking at all of the amazingly awesome, courageous, and selfless acts that Irena and her helper's did for the children in Poland. I was swept up by the books and found so many amazing stories within it. I was particularly taken by the story of Dr. Janusz Korczak who worked as a director of an orphanage in Warsaw. Although he could have easily saved himself, Dr. Korczak refused freedom and stayed with his orphans when they were forced onto a railcar to Treblinka, a concentration camp.

Irena Sendler's story is told honestly, which includes her bravery and also some of her questionable decision making/ moral judgements. This made the book a far more interesting read than it would have been without this information. Not only did I appreciate the honesty, it almost made think about the implications of her bravery. Irena was incredibly brave and sefless, but she also made choices for others that were in a grey area - and how does that affect how she is viewed for her decisions? For example, Irena's elderly mother was at risk throughout Irena's time saving children. Irena never asked her mother if it was okay that she was endangering her, however she also didn't want to let her know what was happening as that would put her mother at even greater risk.

What I Didn't Like

The author builds suspense in the book by making the reader wonder if Irena Sendler will be captured and killed for her acts against the Nazi party. However, the author speaks about the experiences of Irena as only a first hand account might be able to after the fact- she knows Irena's feelings and thoughts. I was not familiar with Irena's story before reading this book so I was genuinely confused and also put off by the mix of suspense but also obvious details that suggested she survived. At the end of the book the author included an explanation of her sources, why some conversations were in italics, etc. I really think that the reader would benefit greatly from this information at the beginning of the book.

Why You Should Read It 
Photograph of Irena Sendler from irenasendler.org

"Irena's Children" is hopeful and inspiring story, a suspenseful read, and an important book, too. If you are interested in World War II, the Holocaust, or stories such as Irena's and her helpers- you will love this book! I also think this book would be a great pick if you needed to read a non fiction book for school or a book about the Holocaust. It would also be a good pick for a book club to read together.

What are some of your favorite books about World War II or the Holocaust? Have you read "Irena's Children"? What do you think about the book? Thinking about reading this book? Click the link to left to find  copy at your local library or you can view the book on Amazon by clicking my affiliate link!

Many thanks to Gallery Books  for providing me an advanced copy of this book.

While the book was free, as a girl who is all about the library ( where books are always “free”) - know that all opinions are mine.


  1. I picked up a copy of this one at BEA this year and am anxious to read it. I'm glad it lived up to the buzz!


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