Synopses & Reviews
This book tells the true story of what happened to a 12-year-old girl named Jutta (Debbie Levy's mother) in 1938. Actual entries in a posiealbum
(autograph book) serve as stepping stones in a crucial year in history, when people of Jewish ancestry in Germany and Austria were systematically stripped of their rights, subjected to violence, and arrested without cause. Jutta was one of the lucky ones who escaped to America before the rising tide of violence erupted into World War II and the tragedy of the Holocaust. Remembrances from Jutta's friends and relatives introduce chapters, written in verse form, that describe her experiences--many of them typical of any teenager anywhere--and report some of the history of the era. Debbie wrote these verses in consultation with her mother to reflect her voice, feelings, and thoughts as she was living through this memorable year. The book also includes excerpts from Jutta's diary. Together the poesie
writings, verses and diary entries reflect a year of change and chance, confusion and cruelty. Most of all, they describe a year of goodbyes.
Artfully weaving together her mother's poesiealbum (autograph/poetry album), diary, and her own verse, Levy crafts a poignant portrait of her Jewish mother's life in 1938 Nazi Germany that crackles with adolescent vitality. Chapters open with photo reproductions and translations of friends' comments from 12-year-old Jutta Salzburg's album. Mostly platitudes, they sharply contrast with Jutta's frank view of increasing anti-Semitism. "Always honor your elders," writes one friend, to which Levy (in Jutta's voice) writes, "Always, Cilly? Always?/ I should honor the Wahls,/ my parents' friends,/ even after Herr Wahl/ stopped playing cards with Father?/ .... Hitler is my elder." Levy creates a three-dimensional snapshot of this year of upheaval, from sweet family life to the sorrow of losing friends and the terror of seeing her father threaten to jump out of an official's window if his family doesn't obtain visas. They do and immigrate to the U.S., but many of Jutta's friends and family do not survive, as Levy's sober afterword relates. While abstaining from horrific details, this book clearly presents key historical events, and more importantly, their direct impact on a perceptive girl.--PW
In 1930s Germany, it was common for young girls to keep poesiealbums, or autograph books, in which friends could write poems, draw pictures, or offer wishes to the owner. Levy has based this novel in verse on the actual poesiealbum kept by her mother, Jutta Salzberg, when she was twelve years old. Each chapter includes a facsimile image of a page from the album in a small decorative vignette, a translation, and a poem, written by Levy, which offers a fictionalized reflection on the circumstances referenced in a given entry; some chapters also include entries from Jutta's diary. Covering the months from January to November 1938, the album details a time of "rapidly increasing danger for Jews in Germany," and Jutta's increasing awareness of the changes affecting the lives of her and her friends from the Jewish School for Girls in Hamburg; the final entry details the Salzberg family's departure from Europe on board a ship bound for America. The free-verse interpretations, presented in Jutta's voice, generally center on big themes referenced in friends' entries (e.g., religion, family, optimism). The unusual formatting of this slim novel makes it inviting and accessible to younger readers; the verse chapters are compact and literal, and the sentiments expressed within are both credibly adolescent and worldly. A lengthy afterword provides the continuation of Jutta's story as well as details about what happened to most of the friends who wrote in her book; their stories are a mixed bag of tragic and joyful, the most celebratory being the details of a reunion of seven of the girls held in the year 2000. This would work effectively as an introductory class readaloud to the era, and it would appeal to readers who like their friendship tales grounded in history and truth.--BCCB
Inspired by her mother's poesiealbum (poetry album), which survived her childhood retreat from Nazi Germany, Levy has created a verse novel slim in length but long on beauty, power, and anguish. Jutta Salzberg lived a normal, happy life until 1938. Although Hitler's reign is in its infancy, Jewish Germans already face severe restrictions in their lives; segregated schools, shops, and curfews are already the norm, with stories of the public humiliation of elderly Jews and concentration camps to follow. This book is comprised of actual entries in the poesiealbum penned by Jutta's friends, interspersed with verses in 12-year-old Jutta's voice that respond to and even challenge the sentiments conveyed within each poem. Although her entries get darker and more frightful during Germany's descent into madness, there is still some joy to be found in birthday presents, friendships, and gymnastics lessons. Jutta, based upon Levy's mother, is a character to whom many preadolescents and adolescents, on the brink of questioning spoon-fed platitudes, can relate. The foreword, explaining poesiealbums, and the afterword, detailing Jutta's post-immigration life, are essential reading. The author's extensive research, including tracking down the fate of the majority of Jutta's classmates, is detailed in an understated yet moving tone. A time line including pre- and post-World War II dates, as well as important dates within Jutta's life, is included, as are eight pages of family photos. An outstanding and emotionally taut read for children not quite ready for Jennifer Roy's Yellow Star (Marshall Cavendish, 2006) and other, more graphic depictions of the Holocaust.--SLJ
Holocaust titles appear every season, prompting some to overlook the genre, but the best always approach the topic from a fresh perspective, making them worthy purchases. Levy shares excerpts from her mother Jutta Salzberg's 1938 poetry album, in which friends and family express good wishes in poems and drawings. She includes reproductions of original pages, English translations, and free verse musings that reflect 11-year-old Jutta's voice and feelings as she watches Jewish friends disappear from Hamburg while her own family waits for U.S. visas. Levy also includes a few entries from Jutta's diary and oblaten (sticker) images from the original. Although entries are short, distinct characters and a strong sense of narrative emerge. Levy ends with the Salzbergs' November 1938 arrival in New York; an afterword provides family and Holocaust background and traces what happened to the people introduced. Similar in scope to Karen Ackerman's The Night Crossing (1994), this makes a good introduction to Holocaust literature, especially for those who aren't quite ready for scenes of death camps.--Booklist
"This would work effectively as an introductory class readaloud to the era, and it would appeal to readers who
like their friendship tales grounded in history and truth."--Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
* "Artfully weaving together her mother's poesiealbum (autograph/poetry album), diary, and her own verse, Levy crafts a poignant portrait of her Jewish mother's life in 1938 Nazi Germany that crackles with adolescent vitality."--Publishers Weekly, starred review
* "An outstanding and emotionally taut read for children...."--School Library Journal, starred review
* " poignant and chilling . . . [a]n immensely powerful experience ."--Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Like other girls, Jutta Salzberg enjoyed playing with friends, going to school, and visiting relatives. In Germany in 1938, these everyday activities were dangerous for Jews. Jutta and her family tried to lead normal lives, but soon they knew they had to escape-if they could before it was too late.
Throughout 1938, Jutta had her friends and relatives fill her poesiealbum-her autograph book-with inscriptions. Her daughter, Debbie Levy, used these entries as a springboard for telling the story of the Salzberg family's last year in Germany. It was a year of change and chance, confusion and cruelty. It was a year of goodbyes.
About the Author
Debbie Levy's (www.debbielevybooks.com) article for The Washington Post about her mother's escape from Nazi Germany led to a reunion between Jutta and former classmates from Hamburg. Debbie wrote The Year of Goodbyes in consultation with her mother to reflect Jutta's voice, feelings, and thoughts as a girl. Debbie lives in Maryland, and is the author of a number of other books for young readers, including We Shall Overcome, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.