When the World Was Ours

Aladdin. May 2021. 352p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534499652.
Gr 4-7–Inspired by her family’s history, Kessler tells a story of the Holocaust from the point of view of three children: Elsa, Leo, and Max, best friends who live in Vienna. The story opens in 1936 when the children are nine, and as they age, their thoughts and actions develop in sophistication. At the start of Hitler’s rise to power, Max’s father forbids him to play with his only two friends because they are Jewish. The lives of all three are torn apart when Elsa’s family moves to Czechoslovakia seeking a safe haven, Leo’s father is imprisoned and his family tries to get out of Austria to a safer country, and Max’s father, an SS officer, moves his family to Munich while he works at Dachau. Kessler does not try to paint a pretty picture when Elsa ends up at a death camp and Max becomes a zealous member of the Hitler youth; the once-friends have become teens caught in a situation where suffering and humiliation are daily occurrences. This is a well-researched story that portrays life as it was during the horrors of World War II in Europe.
VERDICT A must-have addition to any middle school collection that could easily become a classic like Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars.

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