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The Blackbird Girls
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The Blackbird Girls
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NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD WINNERA SYDNEY TAYLOR MIDDLE GRADE HONOR BOOK Like Ruta Sepetys for middle grade, Anne Blankman pens a poignant and timeless story of friendship that twines together...
NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD WINNERA SYDNEY TAYLOR MIDDLE GRADE HONOR BOOK Like Ruta Sepetys for middle grade, Anne Blankman pens a poignant and timeless story of friendship that twines together...
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  • NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD WINNER
    A SYDNEY TAYLOR MIDDLE GRADE HONOR BOOK
     
    Like Ruta Sepetys for middle grade, Anne Blankman pens a poignant and timeless story of friendship that twines together moments in underexplored history.

    On a spring morning, neighbors Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko wake up to an angry red sky. A reactor at the nuclear power plant where their fathers work—Chernobyl—has exploded. Before they know it, the two girls, who've always been enemies, find themselves on a train bound for Leningrad to stay with Valentina's estranged grandmother, Rita Grigorievna. In their new lives in Leningrad, they begin to learn what it means to trust another person. Oksana must face the lies her parents told her all her life. Valentina must keep her grandmother's secret, one that could put all their lives in danger. And both of them discover something they've wished for: a best friend. But how far would you go to save your best friend's life? Would you risk your own?
    Told in alternating perspectives among three girls—Valentina and Oksana in 1986 and Rifka in 1941—this story shows that hatred, intolerance, and oppression are no match for the power of true friendship.
 

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  • Kirkus

    December 15, 2019
    The citizens of the town of Pripyat, Ukraine, have always been assured that "an accident at a nuclear power station was a statistical impossibility." So when the morning of April 26, 1986, dawns red, with "unearthly blue" smoke billowing into the air, life proceeds as normal. Fifth grade classmates and rivals Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko, however, are worried. Their fathers, night-shift plant workers at the Chernobyl power station, have not yet come home. Soon word gets out that reactor No. 4 has exploded, killing several workers and sending the rest en masse to the hospital, poisoned by the very air they breathe. Forced together by the sudden evacuation, the girls must overcome both their hatred of each other and the grief heaped upon them by the accident as they forge a new life in Leningrad with Valentina's estranged grandmother, who harbors a dangerous secret. Blankman spins a stunningly complex tale out of simple words. By focusing her account on only the two young girls, Blankman situates the seemingly distant horror of the disaster in a firmly human context. Extensive research on historical events, names, cityscapes, and living situations enriches the story, which alternates perspective among Valentina, Oksana, and Rifka, Valentina's grandmother. Rifka's chapters take place during World War II, which initially deflects focus from the story somewhat, but they quickly find their place as the story's heart as they introduce the blackbird, a symbol of eternal friendship. Ukrainian characters are assumed white; Valentina's family is Jewish. Out of the nuclear fallout springs a moving tale of love and loss. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 13, 2020
    In April 1986, in the village of Pripyat, Ukraine, two fifth-grade nemeses are thrown together following the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion, which kills both of their fathers, one immediately, one through radiation poisoning. During evacuation, Oksana, who has been taught that “all Jews are liars,” protests in alarm when Valentina’s mother assumes responsibility for her. Valentina, meanwhile, resents the unwelcome accompaniment of her school adversary. After traveling to Leningrad, they board with Valentina’s formerly estranged grandmother, who secretly practices Judaism. Alternating between each girl’s perspective, the narrative also includes occasional interludes about Rivka, a 12-year-old girl who flees Ukraine in 1941, running from the German army that has slaughtered her family. Gradually, Oksana and Valentina develop a bond that mirrors Rivka’s friendship with a Muslim girl who saved her life during WWII. Blankman (Traitor Angels) conveys Russia’s entrenched anti-Semitism, as well as the constant vigilance required of citizens living in a police state, through the children’s eyes, as they observe adults’ fear of being overheard or spied on, and field constant reminders not to criticize authority. This engrossing work of historical fiction captures Chernobyl’s devastating impact on land and people while upholding the power of kindness to overcome prejudice and withstand oppression. Ages 9–12.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from March 1, 2020

    Gr 4-7-It is 1986 in Pripyat, Ukraine, and fifth grade classmates Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko are sworn enemies. At home, Oksana's father physically abuses her and rails against Jewish people, and at school Oksana bullies Valentina, who is Jewish. But when a reactor explodes at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant where both girls' fathers work, they find themselves thrown together in the tumultuous evacuation. With a dead father and a hospitalized mother, Oksana's only chance of safety is to accompany her classmate to Valentina's grandmother's home in distant Leningrad. The warmth and compassion of Valentina and her grandmother shock Oksana, who begins to realize that everything her father told her about Jews was wrong-which means that maybe he was also wrong when he called Oksana weak and unlovable. In time, the two girls learn to trust each other with their respective secrets and develop a life-sustaining friendship. This story, told in Oksana's and Valentina's alternating perspectives, is interspersed with a third perspective from 1941, that of Rifka (a Jewish girl fleeing Kiev and the advancing German army on foot), who finds shelter and friendship in Uzbekistan. These tales ultimately intersect, presenting a deeply affecting testament to the power of unlikely friendship in the face of bias, tragedy, and distance. Each strand of the narrative is equally fast paced, gripping, and heartbreaking. Oksana experiences a nuanced evolution in her feelings toward her abusive father, from grief to anger to empowerment, while Valentina grapples with what Judaism-a faith she knows almost nothing about-means to her as she begins to practice in secret with her grandmother, and Rifka loses everything in the process of finding safety and a new family. A detailed author's note provides further historical background and a recommended reading list. VERDICT A stunning look at a historical event rarely written about for young people, elevated by strong pacing, emotional depth, and intense, moving friendships that readers will root for. A first purchase.-Elizabeth Giles, Lubuto Library Partners, Zambia

    Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    February 15, 2020
    Grades 4-7 When Valentina awakes to a red sky marred by billowing blue smoke, she knows something has gone wrong in her home of Pripyat. Her worry only grows when her father doesn't return from his shift at the Chernobyl power station, the source of the otherworldly fire. But good Soviet citizens don't ask questions, her mother reminds her, a fact that goes double for children. Despite its best efforts, the government cannot conceal the magnitude of this disaster, and it begins evacuating Pripyat's residents. When the mother of Oksana?a classmate who bullies Valentina for being Jewish?is placed in quarantine, Valentina's mother sends both girls to Leningrad to stay with Valentina's estranged grandmother. Blankman gives her three female leads complex characters that are revealed by the shifting narration and their interactions with one another. Prejudice and abuse are combated by experience and love, which help all involved to grow. The book's dangerous atmosphere comes less from the nuclear disaster than it does from the oppressive and watchful government, adding yet another intriguing layer to this well-executed historical novel.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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