Chance: Escape from the Holocaust

chance by uri shulevitz

From a beloved voice in children’s literature comes this landmark memoir of hope amid harrowing times and an engaging and unusual Holocaust story.

With backlist sales of over 2.3 million copies, Uri Shulevitz, one of FSG BYR’s most acclaimed picture-book creators, details the eight-year odyssey of how he and his Jewish family escaped the terrors of the Nazis by fleeing Warsaw for the Soviet Union in Chance.

It was during those years, with threats at every turn, that the young Uri experienced his awakening as an artist, an experience that played a key role during this difficult time. By turns dreamlike and nightmarish, this heavily illustrated account of determination, courage, family loyalty, and the luck of coincidence is a true publishing event.---from the publisher

336 pages                                      978-0374313715                              Ages 9-14

Keywords:  memoir, Holocaust, hope, Nazis, artist, determination, courage, family, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old, 14 year old, biography

************** “Now we see everything that’s going wrong

With the world and those who lead it

We just feel like we don’t have the means

To rise above and beat it

So we keep waiting

Waiting on the world to change”

-- John Mayer (2006)

“On September 1, 1939, Nazi planes burst into the Warsaw skies, some dropping incendiary bombs and spreading fires throughout the city, others dropping high-explosive bombs and turning buildings into dust.

Nature responded with heavy rains angrily pounding the pavement.

Terrified people ran in all directions.

Streets were ripped into deep canyons.

Faucets ran dry. Between bombings, people dragged heavy buckets of water from the Vistula River for drinking and cooking.

Smoke from the fires painted everything gray. Not far from our building, amid this grayness, were big mounds of brilliant pigments--reds, yellows, blues--in the courtyard of a paint factory in ruins.

I watched from our window in a daze. I didn’t fully realize what I was seeing, although it was all happening right in front of my eyes. It seemed unreal and distant.

Later that day, I sat on a table, and as Mother was putting a pair of new boots on my feet, she said, ‘We’ll need to walk a lot.’

I was four years old.”

In my youth, I was never particularly excited about learning the details of battles in various wars in which the US has been involved. But I was mesmerized by my eighth grade American history teacher, who had lived through World War II. She shared with us, at length, what life was like for U.S. civilians during wartime. Of course, despite the shortages, rationing coupons, and other sacrifices, civilians in the U.S. had it a million times easier than those on the Continent, where most of the war was fought.

CHANCE: ESCAPE FROM THE HOLOCAUST is a stunning illustrated memoir that follows Uri Shulevitz’s perilous existence on the Continent as a Jewish child during World War II and the Holocaust. And, yes, young Uri Shulevitz did end up walking many miles in those new boots. They were in pieces by the time he was done with them.

During the early years of the war, Uri and his parents survived repeated and close encounters with those who would harm them, while all but starving to death. They escaped from Warsaw, Poland to Soviet-occupied Białystok, to a small settlement on the northern edge of the continent, to Turkestan, in the southeastern part of the Soviet Union. Somehow, the family remained alive and intact. Eventually, Uri’s father caught a few breaks and they were able to settle in for a while. Then, with the death of Hitler and the end of the war on the Continent, Uri and his parents made their way 3,000 miles back to Poland. Once again, Lady Luck played a major role in their survival.

None of this was easy for Uri and his parents, but they made it. Barely. As we know, eleven million men, women, and children died in the Holocaust, including six million Jews. That included most of Uri’s Jewish relatives and neighbors.

Seriously, don’t try to read this book when you’re hungry. For years, the family’s daily life revolved around finding a safe place to catch a little shut-eye and obtaining something-- anything--to eat. In his spare time, young Uri occupied himself with his imagination and his growing abilities as an artist.

Uri’s parents were artistic, and they encouraged Uri’s talents from his earliest days. We see his passion for art grow from drawing with sticks in mud, and coloring with leaves and flower petals, to the days when his father was occasionally able to barter something for art supplies.

Tales that Schulevitz has told in a pair of previously-published picture book stories are retold here, gaining much greater context. This includes the wonderful story of the map which his father once brought home instead of food, which is recounted in the beautiful 2009 Caldecott Honor book, HOW I LEARNED GEOGRAPHY.

Nearly half the pages in CHANCE: ESCAPE FROM THE HOLOCAUST feature black and white illustrations of varying size. Between the many illustrations and the large font size, this is a relatively quick 330-page read that a confident and curious eight-year-old reader might devour.

Because the story is told from the young child’s vantage point, young readers do not need a prior understanding of World War II or the Holocaust. CHANCE: ESCAPE FROM THE HOLOCAUST will serve as a stellar introduction to those times and events. I can imagine the experience of reading this book serving fifth or eighth graders belatedly, helping them to connect the dots when they formally study WWII, the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism.

Beginning in the late Sixties with ONE MONDAY MORNING and RAIN RAIN RIVERS, Uri Shulevitz has enchanted generations of young readers with his timeless stories and stunning artwork. CHANCE: ESCAPE FROM THE HOLOCAUST is a can’t-put-it-down masterpiece that offers young readers a unique look at the childhood of this award-winning children’s book creator.

Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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