Shanghai Shadows

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Debbie Levy
In August 1939, Ilse Shpann and her family, Jewish refugees from Nazi-ruled Austria, make landfall in Shanghai, China. In this unlikely place, they join thousands of Europeans who have fled the threat of the Nazi's spread into their homelands. Although occupied by Japan, Shanghai is one of the few places in the world where Jews can immigrate without a visa. Ruby has chosen a fascinating setting for a novel about World War II, and she unsparingly depicts the increasingly dire straits of the refugees. But this is not merely a historical catalog of wartime hardships; Ruby weaves multiple plot lines into her story to keep readers interested. Ilse and her brother Erich, both teenagers, get involved in a shadowy organization of resistance against the Japanese; the family must move to the Jewish ghetto; Ilse meets a love interest, a Polish refugee. And then there is the secret that Ilse's mother has been hiding for years, and that, when revealed, could shatter the family to pieces. Occasionally, dialogue seems unnatural (even accounting for the author's attempt to convey conversation among people who speak German, English, and Polish). And Ilse's daring as a novice spy may strike some readers as unrealistic. But overall, this is admirable historical fiction that gives readers a glimpse into a little known corner of a well-documented era.
VOYA - Florence H. Munat
In 1939, eleven-year-old Ilse Shpann, her parents, and her older brother Erich flee Nazi-occupied Austria. A cultured Jewish family, they hope to live in America, but they are not accepted by the U.S. government. Instead they are resettled in Shanghai, along with thousands of other European refugees. Her musician father performs a few violin concerts, but most of their money trickles in from her mother's work at a bakery and giving English lessons to refugees. Ilse and Erich attend school, and both join REACT, a top-secret resistance movement. But after Pearl Harbor, the Shpanns and thousands of others are herded into Hongkew, a one-square-mile ghetto where food and fuel shortages, overcrowding, bombings, and fear take a terrible physical and emotional toll. Erich lands in a rat-infested prison, is released after an official is bribed, and almost dies of "jail fever" or typhus. The revelation of a past secret results in Ilse's mother being sent to an internment camp for enemy nationals. Her yearlong separation almost breaks the family apart for good. This work of historical fiction offers a fascinating look at some little-known events of the war. The deprivation of refugees casts perspective on twenty-first century abundance. The book's narrative sometimes has an episodic, choppy feel. Certain scenes, especially those involving the resistance, are gripping, but that tension is not-or perhaps cannot be-sustained in a story spanning six years. The history and the descriptions-for example Shanghai's multicultural streets or the hardships endured by all nationalities-deserve a wide readership.
School Library Journal

Gr 6-8
Austrian Ilse Shpann spends her teen years with her family in Japanese-occupied Shanghai alongside numerous other refugees and stateless Jewish citizens. Fortunate to have escaped a Nazi concentration camp, Ilse; her older brother, Erich; and their parents experience a difficult and poverty-stricken five years. Forced to live in filthy, cramped tenementlike quarters, the Shpanns scrounge to find work and scrape together meager sums of money to keep themselves fed and sheltered. Rebellious Erich joins a resistance movement and works underground until he is caught, arrested, and nearly dies of typhus. Mother's hidden American connection/citizenship is uncovered, resulting in her detainment in a Japanese internment "civil assembly center." Ilse soon finds herself alone and, with a depressed and nonworking Father, in charge of maintaining normalcy if not basic survival needs for both. Through descriptive scenes, metaphorical language, and some risky, adventurous episodes, Ruby tells this Asian-oriented Holocaust story in Ilse's first-person voice that is at once sardonic, brave, determined, and hopeful. Minor, yet less-developed characters of a Chinese street urchin and a Japanese "King of the Jews" supervisor contribute to the atmosphere and provide some vivid interaction for Ilse in an Eastern world so vastly different from her own European existence. A lesser-known side of Holocaust history.
—Rita SoltanCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
When the Nazi's invade Austria in 1939, 12-year-old Ilse Shpann and her family flee to Japanese-occupied Shanghai with nothing more than her father's violin. Though living as stateless refugees, the news about the war in Europe reaches them, and Ilse's self-centered voice quickly gives way to a realization that people are willing to die for freedom. She joins the resistance movement and goes on several potentially dangerous escapades. Additional adventures include her friendship with street urchin and pickpocket Liu, her growing romance with Dovid, a Polish refugee, and her mother's revelation that she's never been legally married to Ilse's father, all adding to the uncertainty and confusion of her life. As she prepares for life in America after the war, Ilse knows she will look back on her days in Shanghai with a mixture of anger and fondness. Though the romantic ending is ultimately unsatisfying, Ilse's story offers another culture's perspective on the effects of war. (Fiction. 12-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780823419609
  • Publisher: Holiday House, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/1/2006
  • Pages: 256
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Lexile: 830L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Lois Ruby
Lois Ruby is a versatile and accomplished novelist who has written books for middle-graders and young adults. Among the many awards she has won are: ALA Best Book for Young Adults and New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age for Arriving at a Place You’ve Never Left (1977); ALA Best Book for Young Adults, New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age for Miriam’s Well (1994); Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies and the IRA Young Adult Choice selection for Steal Away Home (1995). A former young adult librarian, Ms.
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