Friday, August 9, 2013

Touched by Fire, by Irene N. Watts

Some people think of fires as beautifully mesmerizing - campfires, bonfires, fires roaring in the fireplace on cold days. But for Miriam's family in Touched by Fire, fire represents a lifetime of struggle and hardship.

Touched by FireMiriam's family is originally from Russia, but flees to Germany during the pogroms in the early 1900s. During this time, Jewish towns and communities are being torched and demolished. Since Miriam's family is Jewish, they know that they've got to get away before they're destroyed by fire or something even worse. However, when they arrive in Germany, they know that things are not perfect even there, so Miriam's father, Sam, secures passage to America - to New York.

Before long, he's able to send three more tickets to America: one for Miriam, her mother, and her brother Yuri - they'll leave her grandparents and little sister behind for a while. But, only Miriam winds up going. She quickly lands a job in the Triangle Shirt Waist Company. During her time there, one of the most famous fires of New York - the Triangle Fire - occurs, and she loses several friends to the flames.

Miriam's mother and sister finally make it to America, but her brother Yuri never does. In the epilogue, years later, Miriam's nephew (Yuri's son) is living with a Nazi step-father, watching SS officers and Hitler Youth burn books around him, saying they'll burn the Jews next. Can he be saved?

I really liked the way the fire was woven throughout the novel - I think it helped really connect things and tie the story together. I also liked that this novel was relatively short, because I think a lot of times, my students get bogged down with historical novels that are good, but too long.

Also Try: Is it Night or Day?, by Fern Schumer Chapman; Flesh and Blood So Cheap, by Al Marrin

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