Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Night Journey

Author:  Kathryn Lasky
Drawings by: Trina Schart Hyman
National Jewish Book Award

The Night Journey had some language that made some my children gasp (the "d" word), but other than that, I can see this being a way of easing older elementary students into an understanding of the tragedies of WWII.  The story is told from the point-of-view of a little girl, thirteen years old, talking about the past with her great grandmother.  Everyone in the family tries to keep the great grandmother happy by not bringing up memories of the past, but that is what she wants to share with her granddaughter, Rache.    

Rache's interest in her history is piqued when she discovers that her great great great grandmother and grandfather had been murdered for being Jews.  Great Grandma Sashie travels back in time with Rache through her memories of the time when Sashie and her family had to escape from Russia.   Rache would visit her great grandmother in the middle of the night to hear the stories.  "It was 2:30 in the morning and Rache had not even needed the alarm to wake her for this short hike toward the long journey through time, through Nana Shasie's time, to the world that might not be strictly their preserve much longer."

Several times on their night journey, Sashe and her family were almost captured.  The family worked together and managed to escape to the safety of family outside of Russia.  In the meantime, we learn some Russian history and the importance of sharing your family's story.

I mostly enjoyed the figurative language and the symbolism in the book that helped me visualize Nana Sashie's experiences and the sights of her home in Russia.  The samovar was described throughout the book as a "sentry in the darkness" while stucco houses in Russia had "thatched roofs like stocking caps pulled down over their brow."  The samovar on the cover of the book has a reflection of a family, but when I look closely I realize that the reflection of the family in the samovar is not the reflection of the family in the home.  The samovar was a symbol of the past and depicts Sashe's family as they escape from Russia.

I enjoyed this book because of the history and the family.  I really enjoy learning about my own family's history and always take the chance to speak to my older relatives of their past when I can.  I think that this book can be enjoyed by mature fourth and fifth graders and it might even inspire them to learn more about history or their own families.