Courage to Dream: Tales of Hope in the Holocaust | Review
Courage to Dream: Tales of Hope in the Holocaust
By Neal Shusterman. Art by Andrés Vera Martínez
Scholastic, October 2023.
Grades 7 and up
It’s been a surreal experience to watch the world turn against Israel and the Jewish people after the horrific October 7th terrorist attacks. With the rapid rise of anti-semitism, it feels imperative to show people What Hate Can Do (which incidentally is currently an exhibit at the Jewish Heritage Museum in NYC).
It’s fitting that acclaimed author Neal Shusterman has written a collection of short stories about the Holocaust that have a surreal twist. The stories are embedded with facts about Nazis, the concentration camps, and the people’s experiences, but he intertwines fantasy, myth, and lore into each story to achieve a hopeful twist.
In the first story, three sisters are hiding in an attic. They sometimes peek from the window and see Nazi youth or Nazi soldiers marching in the streets, although looking out the window is strictly forbidden. But sometimes the window changes and instead an alternate world can be seen. Can this be an escape from Nazi capture?
In the second story, Shusterman weaves in the myth of the Golem, a Jewish savior dating back to 16th-century Prague. When the Golem protects the Jews of Auschwitz he saves many—allowing them to escape the inescapable.
The third story, about the resistance, follows a brother and sister into the forest. Here Shusterman weaves the Fools of Chelm, Baba Yaga, and other Jewish folklore like the Nephilim in a grand story where all the mythical beings work together to save the Resistance fighters in the forest.
Moses’s staff that brought on the 10 plagues and saved the Jews from Egypt helps the Jews of Denmark escape to Sweden in the fourth tale, titled Exodus.
The final tale asks a big what if? What if 6 million hadn’t been wiped out in the Holocaust? What would the world be like with all of their descendants now here on Earth? Who would their families be? Would hate still make its way into our world?
The masterful artwork by Mr. Martinez is vivid in its detail. The violence of the Nazis is striking. The pain and suffering of the Jews is vivid. The coloring balances an antique motif while keeping things bright. Which aligns with the book’s subtitle of “Tales of Hope.”
Does surrealism make the stories more accessible to young readers? Does it minimize the horrors of the Holocaust? I can’t fully answer the first. I think the magical aspect will appeal to younger readers, but will they be familiar with the Golem? Fools of Chelm? (Baba Yaga seems more universal.) As for minimizing the horrors, I don’t believe this title does that. It is quite impactful. Each story ends with brief historical notes that are also illustrated and give real-life parallels or explanations of what really happened.
The last story truly hits home: Even though Hitler was not successful in fully annihilating the Jews, he certainly killed far more than just 6 million souls. He also killed their descendants. As for Shusterman’s question: Can it happen again? Watch the news and every reader might have insight.
While not the typical read for Holocaust titles, this certainly is a worthy addition to the growing repertoire of graphic novel titles that cover the Holocaust.
About Esther Keller
Esther Keller is the librarian at William E. Grady CTE HS in Brooklyn, NY. In addition, she curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ. In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics and worked in the same middle school library for 20 years.
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