Is It Night or Day?: A Novel of Immigration and Survival, 1938-1942 by Fern Schumer Chapman

As anti-Semitism and the Nazis overtake Germany, 12-year-old Edith is put on a boat by her parents and sent to the U.S.  She travels alone on a boat with many other children separated from their parents too.  She moves in with her uncle and aunt in a small apartment in Chicago.  There she works for them more as a servant than a niece.  Though her older sister is also in Chicago, they rarely see one another and her sister seems to have had an easier time adapting to her new life.  Edith must learn a new language, understand the many differences between the two cultures, navigate the new family she finds herself in, all by finding an inner strength to go on without her parents.  Inspired by the experiences of the author’s mother, this book offers a poignant and often painful look at loss and survival.

Chapman’s writing is beautiful.  It captures the feeling of loss, the desperation of loneliness, and the small moments that help one survive.   The author is so skilled that readers feel deep connection to Edith and her plight without ever feeling manipulated.  Instead the emotions depicted are so raw and real that they are impossible not to feel at a gut level.

Edith is a wonderfully human heroine, filled with both good and bad emotions.  She is at times naive and at others very wise.  She is a complete portrait of a young girl caught in a situation that she cannot fix, trapped in a time without answers.  An additional appeal of the book is this glimpse into a history that few know about in the United States, when children were rescued from Nazi Germany. 

A gut-wrenchingly personal view of historical events, readers will feel connected to Edith and her plight very deeply.  Appropriate for ages 9-12, this book would do well as a class read aloud for learning about World War II from a unique perspective.  Get this into the hands of children who enjoy historical fiction with a lot of truth woven in.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Check out the author’s website for more information on the true story that inspired this book.

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