by Mirjam Pressler

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While living in a home for emotionally disturbed girls in Germany just after World War II, twelve-year-old Halinka carefully hides her thoughts, feelings, and even her hopes.  See more details below


While living in a home for emotionally disturbed girls in Germany just after World War II, twelve-year-old Halinka carefully hides her thoughts, feelings, and even her hopes.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Joyce Sparrow
A fund drive to collect money for the Mothers' Convalescent League leads to temptation for twelve-year-old Halinka, who decides to keep some of the change she has collected from strangers. It is 1952 in Germany, and Halinka has been sent by court order to a home for troubled girls because her mother is too emotionally damaged to care for her. Halinka takes refuge from her communal existence by writing in her secret journal about the truisms that Aunt Lou passes on to make Halinka's life a bit easier. In the end, Halinka justifies her actions by asking "who needs honey when sugar is just as sweet?" Halinka hopes that one day Aunt Lou will become her legal guardian.

The novel details the in-fighting and loneliness at the home for troubled girls. Readers will agonize with Halinka when she proceeds to easily break but sloppily repair the seal on her collection box after she pockets a little of the change. Despite her petty thievery, Halinka still collects the most money in her age group and is awarded a day trip to a park and restaurant with a benefactor from the convalescent league. When confronted about the opened money box, Halinka lies and then uses the extra money to buy her friend a train ticket so she too can go on a weekend visit to Aunt Lou's home. Instead of remorse, Halinka believes that stealing has opened the door to good fortune for her. The focus of the novel is primarily on the moral theme and situational irony, with secondary emphasis on the setting. Halinka would be good required reading to follow up with classroom discussion.

VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Will appeal with pushing, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).

Children's Literature
Halinka is a German preteen living in a home for girls in the years following World War II. She has never known her father, and her mother lost custody on charges of child abuse. At the home, there are seven girls in each room. Halinka is not friends with anyone. She guards her privacy so fiercely that she sneaks into a storage closet at night to write in her notebook diary. When she receives a letter from her beloved Aunt Lou, she hides it in her blouse, refusing to read it until she is locked alone in the toilet. This engrossing character study brings the reader into the mind of a child who knows right from wrong but indulges in small lies and theft to balance a bleak existence. When the girls are offered a prize for collecting the most money for charity, Halinka takes on the challenge, starting a chain of events that introduces a new beauty into her life. Young adult readers will emotionally connect with this wounded soul as she slowly opens herself to others. Each chapter title provides a thoughtful aphorism that Halinka ponders, adding another opportunity for reader reflection. This translated work is altogether satisfying. 2000, Laurel-Leaf Books, $16.95 and $5.50. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Jackie Hechtkopf
World War II is over, but that doesn't mean life is good. Not for twelve-year-old Halinka, a Polish girl in a German home for neglected and abused girls. Halinka is understandably lonely, but with that tough diffidence affected by children in unhealthy situations. She is sure of how to survive: stay distant from everyone until her beloved Aunt Lou can rescue her (this will only be possible if and when Aunt Lou marries). She so fiercely guards her privacy that even her diary is in code. Halinka views her aunt's generous view of her mother's neglect ("She has a sick soul") as nonsense, yet regards her aunt with indulgent pity ("When I'm grown up I'm going to watch over Aunt Lou so that nobody hurts her"). But Aunt Lou doesn't marry, and Halinka does not keep her distance. Tentatively, realistically, Halinka grows close enough to another girl in the home—equally abused, fragile, but haunted rather than bitter—to call her a friend. As in real life, what Halinka thinks will make her happy doesn't transpire, and when her life improves in another way there is no great climax. The translation from the German is so perfectly smooth it is difficult to believe that Halinka was not written in English. The diary in code concept does not quite work, though. It's a nice touch—each chapter has a sentence meant to trigger her memory, and each is philosophy just sophisticated enough to be credible for the character. But if Halinka never, ever, opens up to anyone, not even her diary, just who is the first-person account related to? And how? That trivial criticism aside, Halinka is a character you want to root for in a convincing story. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior highschool students. 2000 (orig. 1998), Dell/Laurel-Leaf, 214p, 18cm, $5.50. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Frieda Toth; Children's Libn., Crandall P.L., Glen Falls, NY, September 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 5)
Kirkus Reviews
A book, a friend, and a piece of sculpture put small cracks in the shell that an abused Polish-German foster child has built around herself, but Pressler allows only very observant readers to glimpse the hurt that shell was built to contain.

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.19(w) x 6.87(h) x 0.65(d)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Mirjam Pressler won the German Youth Literature Prize in 1994 for the body of her work. A translator and biographer of Anne Frank, she lives in Germany and Israel.

Elizabeth D. Crawford's translations have won many prizes, including the 1998 Batchelder Award for The Robber and Me, by Josef Holub (Holt).

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