"The best Holocaust fiction includes those stories which make real for readers the inexplicable horrors of this darkest moment in human history. It brings those experiences to vivid life through characters and circumstances with which readers can empathize, and enables them to experience vicariously what it could be like to live in a world in which one's very existence is enough to warrant oppression, torture, and extermination. Canadian author Carol Matas has successfully brought these kinds of stories to life for young people several times over. I am struck by Matas' remarkable ability to craft compelling stories from real, but not very well-known events from the Holocaust, such as the struggle of homeless survivors to reach Palestine immediately following the war, or the dangerous attempt of an entire French Protestant village to save Jews from deportation. At the heart of these stories are adolescent protagonists who heroically confront their horrible circumstances with courage, dignity, and a fierce determination to survive.

Matas is an author I always recommend to teachers who are looking for alternatives to such standard Holocaust texts as Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl, Lois Lowry's Number the Stars , and Elie Wiesel's Night." Read the complete Virginia Tech article,"The Holocaust Fiction of Carol Matas," by Ed Sullivan."


A gripping story of survival and hope
Ruth survived the Holocaust and the long journey to Palestine. Now she finds herself once again in a war zone as Israel battles for its existence. Her brother is on the front lines. Ruth and her boyfriend are injured and cannot fight, so they care for children in a hospital. Ruth tells the children stories to distract them and help them make sense of their situation. As she recovers, she too must return to the fight.

A trauma forces her back to another time when she told stories: to her fellow prisoners in Auschwitz. We discover what Ruth went through in the camps, the horrors she saw, the friends she made and lost. Through it all Ruth comes to understand that she must find a new way to live, a way that does not give up on hope.

"The action keeps readers on the edge of their seats. A touch of romance softens some of the harsh realities the characters face. And the comfort, compassion and belonging to a communal family sustains their struggle for hope in the face of adversity."

Published by Scholastic Canada, 2021. 
Click below for Carol's reading from A Struggle for Hope.


Click below to listen to Carol discussing the story of A Struggle for Hope.

Click video below to see Carol Matas in conversation with Belle Jarniewski,
Executive Director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada.

 Watch Carol's interview on CTV.

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Highly Recommended by CM: Canadian Review of Materials. 

Click here for the full review from CM: Canadian Review of Materials.  



Pieces of the Past: The Holocaust Diary of Rose Rabinowitz
Scholastic Canada, February 2013

Click arrow to see Carol reading from Pieces of The Past

  • A 2104 Sydney Taylor Honor Book Selection for Older Readers
  • Winner of the 2014 Helen & Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award (in the Youth category)
  • Shortlisted for a 2104/15 Red Cedar Award, BC’s young readers’ choice award for students in grades 4 through 7
  • "Highly recommended, 4 out of 4 stars" by The Deakin Review of Children's Literature
  • Named one of "The Year's Best 2013" books for Grades 3-6 by Resource Links
  • "Highly recommended" by CM Magazine.
  • A "BEST BOOKS FOR KIDS AND TEENS" pick for the Canadian Children's Book Centre’s Fall 2013 edition of Best Books For Kids and Teens
A young Jewish girl recounts her experiences during a horrifying time in recent history. As Rose begins her diary, she is in her third home since coming to Winnipeg. Traumatized by her experiences in the Holocaust, she struggles to connect with others, and above all, to trust again. When her new guardian, Saul, tries to get Rose to deal with what happened to her during the war, she begins writing in her diary about how she survived the murder of the Jews in Poland by going into hiding.

Memories of herself and her mother being taken in by those willing to risk sheltering Jews, moving from place to place, being constantly on the run to escape capture, begin to flood her diary pages. Recalling those harrowing days, including when they stumbled on a resistance cell deep in the forest and lived underground in filthy conditions, begins to take its toll on Rose.

As she delves deeper into her past, she is haunted by the most terrifying memory of all. Will she find the courage to bear witness to her mother's ultimate sacrifice?

Praise for Pieces of the Past:
"Carol Matas...one of the most widely read purveyor of young adult literature...does not condescend to her audience. The prose is crisp and well constructed, the dialogue is authentic, and she demonstrates a willingness to delve into sometimes painful subjects, such as Rose’s witnessing death all about her. As much as so many Holocaust survivors have written their own memoirs in recent years – and Carol Matas pays tribute to the kinds of stories that inspired her to write this book – in the hands of a polished writer such as Matas, what might have descended into cliché instead results in a gripping and often hopeful read." — Bernie Bellan, The Jewish Post & News. Read the full review

"This work of historical fiction does a wonderful job of describing the experiences of a Jewish child in hiding during the Second World War. Rose’s account is moving, especially as she documents the deaths and disappearances of her family members...The language used and the writing style are very appropriate for the youth audience. While the realities of the Holocaust are not softened, Rose’s diary is not heavy-handed in its approach to the Holocaust. Rose’s reflections are both of the war and of everyday events such that younger readers will identify with Rose as a human being and learn about the tragedy of the Holocaust. Pieces of the Past: The Holocaust Diary of Rose Rabinowitz ...provides an accessible, yet mature, look at the life of a young Holocaust survivor and could aid students’ understanding of what it would be like to live through the events of the Holocaust". — CM Magazine, Volume XX Number 2, Sept. 13, 2013. Read the full review.

"The author does a nice job of conveying the horror of the war and the significant difficulties of beginning anew without glossing over the reality. The narrative is told simply and movingly, and the characters are believable and well-drawn. Appropriately for the young reading audience, in spite of the weighty subject matter, readers are left feeling hopeful for the resilient Rose." —Leslie A. Kimmelman, Jewish Book Council. Read the full review.

"In Pieces of the Past, her third book in the Dear Canada series, Matas deftly weaves the grim realities of the Holocaust with the hopes and dreams of a young girl rebuilding her life. Through Rose's eyes young readers are given a candid glimpse into the life inside the Warsaw Ghetto as well as hardships faced by an orphan displaced by war. Although the story is poignant and often heart-breaking, readers will be buoyed by Rose's strength and tenacity. Drawing on the story of a war orphan is a unique way to link the story of the Holocaust to Canada. A wonderful resource for students, the inclusion of documents, maps and photos is a powerful reminder of what happened and that Canada itself was culpable in closing its borders to so may Jewish refugees." — Canadian Children's Book News, fall 2013.



Over a million copies sold

“Matas, explicating an exhibit of photos and other materials at the new United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, creates a convincing composite youth and experience--fictional but carefully based on survivors' accounts.” – Kirkus Reviews
  • Finalist for the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature
  • Children's Book Centre, Our Choice
  • Silver Birch Award, Ontario Readers' Choice award
  • Finalist, Ruth Schwartz Award
  • Mr. Christie Honour Book
  • Manitoba Young Reader's Choice Award
  • New York Public Library, Book for the Teen Age
Daniel barely remembers leading a normal life before the Nazis came to power in 1933. He can still picture once being happy and safe, but memories of those days are fading as he and his family face the dangers threatening Jews in Hitler's Germany in the late 1930's. No longer able to practice their religion, vote, own property, or even work, Daniel's family is forced from their home in Frankfurt and sent on a long and dangerous journey, first to the Lodz ghetto in Poland, and then to Auschwitz – the Nazi death camp. Though many around him lose hope in the face of such terror, Daniel, supported by his courageous family, struggles for survival. He finds hope, life and even love in the midst of despair. 
First Published by Scholastic Inc. in conjunction with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Writing Daniel's Story
 It was March 1992 when my agent called.  The museum was due to open in the spring of 1993. They needed the book in three months and I had already committed to a long speaking tour in April. They flew me to Washington where I met those in charge. I assumed they would give me all kinds of material but in fact they simply told me this: We are having an exhibit called Daniel's Story. We want a book to complement the exhibit so children who have been through it can go to the bookstore and read about what it might have been like for a real boy. Our character is an everyboy. Yours must be an individual story. We want you to use the same name, Daniel; he must live in Germany, be sent to the Lodz Ghetto, Auschwitz, then Buchenwald. He must live. The rest is up to you. (Since the publication there is constant confusion about my book — is it based on the exhibit or is the exhibit based on my book? Americans almost universally assume the former, Canadians the latter. Neither is true. They are two completely separate entities, but complementary) I was then sent home.

Unlike my other historicals I had no time to organize interviews so I did all my research from books and videos. There is really an amazing amount of material on video — for instance there was film shot of the Lodz Ghetto so I was able to see exactly what it looked like then. I read history books and I also read as many memoirs and diaries as I could — many of which were found after the war, the writer not having survived. I cried every day.

Although I had written two books set in World War II, they were not Holocaust books in the strict sense. One was about the rescue of the Jews, the other about the resistance. I had never considered writing about the Holocaust — I'd felt it was a topic only to be tackled by those who had been through it. But when the museum asked I never considered saying no. It was a great responsibility, but I felt that with them behind me I could tackle it. I had no idea how it would change my life. More about that a little later.

I had to change my usual way of writing, which was to research first, spend time thinking, and then write. In this case I began to write as I was still researching — continuing to read at night while I wrote during the day. I felt that I was on the right track when one day I wrote a scene (the one where Daniel is close to death from typhus and his mother heals him in a dream) and that night after writing it I read almost the same story in a book called Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust.

Finally by the end of July I had written three drafts (as usual Perry Nodelman had read at least one draft and given me a critique, something he does before I ever send it off to the publisher) and sent it off.

And then out of the blue I received a twenty-page fax (in small type) from the museum's resident scholar, listing all the "mistakes" in the book. I was truly beside myself. Luckily my oldest dearest friend, Morri Mostow, was in town and she calmed me down so I was able to tackle this fax. The first thing I did was call the museum and go over every note explaining where I had gotten the material. It turned out that their scholar didn't like the historian I was using — Martin Gilbert — saying his was secondary source work while the museum worked strictly from primary sources. (Only years later was I told that many historians disagree with the museum's historian and prefer Gilbert).

Then there were specific disagreements. For instance the museum was uncomfortable with a scene I had written when Daniel's aunt is attacked for being a Jew on the streets of Frankfurt. This attack happened before Kristalnacht, which according to my research was accurate. However they wanted my readers to think of Kristalnacht (the night of the broken glass when the brown shirts attacked Jewish shops and broke their windows, burned, looted, and beat up Jews) as the beginning of the violence. I loved the scene and didn't want to lose it, and besides I knew that my research was correct. Perry came up with the compromise. He suggested making the scene a bad nightmare Daniel has before Kristalnacht actually happened. The museum was happy with that.

Another note here: because I was dealing with the museum, Scholastic, and Daniel Weiss, the packager who had put the deal together, they had decided I should only have one contact — my editor at Daniel Weiss, so I didn't have three different people telling me what to do. This was resolutely stuck to except for the one conversation about the fax. It was for the best, but sometimes it would have helped if I could have fought things out directly with the museum.

Another problem the museum had was the scene where Daniel dressed up in a Hitler Youth uniform. They felt it was immoral for a Jewish boy to do such a thing, but I had read about exactly this happening in one of the memoirs and I thought it worked. I wouldn't back down on that, but I did put in a scene where Daniel himself decides to put it away, not wanting to wear the uniform of such brutality, even if it meant less freedom for himself.

Another fight didn't end so happily. They insisted I take out all references to the Jewish Police in the ghetto. I felt they were being revisionist, not wanting me to discuss the fact that Jews worked with the Nazis either to gain privileges for themselves and their families, or because they felt they could enforce the rules in a more humane way than the Nazis. I rewrote those scenes over and over, but each time they came back with a "no", take it all out. On this they refused to budge. I did finally take out most of my references. It wasn't until the museum opened and I was able to speak to Susan Morgenstern at the museum directly (remember this had all gone through my editor) that she told me that the reason they didn't want the police included was not because they were trying to deny it happened but because they felt the Jewish Police were as bad as the Nazis — not something I could have dealt with in such a short book. I still disagree with that decision but it was the only thing (and we are talking about a few paragraphs) that I really never felt comfortable with.

Finally all the big and small changes were made and the book was done. Scholastic was so pleased they decided to do a limited run in hardcover. When the reviews came out, unfortunately, they reviewed the book as if it were no more than a novelization of the exhibit. Scholastic's publicity department was partly to blame because they basically said that was what the book was in all their press releases. It was only years later when I met the Scholastic publicity head in person that I was able to convince him of his mistake (I had tried, my agent had tried, but they just didn't seem to understand!) It didn't matter though. The book had been review proof. It is now on the curriculum of many school districts (including all of Illinois, I believe) and continues to sell strongly all over North America, far exceeding the small expectation of a book to be sold in the museum book store.

I mentioned earlier that this book changed my life. Let me go into that in more detail. When I was a child I learned about the Holocaust, became so distraught and upset at the cruelty, that it was probably the beginning of my loss of faith. After all, if there was a God, how could God permit such cruelty? From then on I basically tried to avoid the topic, doing no reading on it, avoiding anything about it because it was too upsetting. When asked if I would write this book I can't really say why I agreed so quickly — it never felt like a decision. I simply would never have said no to such an offer. But once into the material I had to confront all the cruelty I had been avoiding all my life. It was then that I became so depressed I decided that the world, the human race, didn't deserve to exist as we were capable of too much evil. But in the middle of this terrible depression I suddenly realized something else. Who was I to make such a judgment? Wasn't it similar to the judgment the Nazis had made about the Jews — the Jews didn't deserve to exist? I had to accept that the world is. And as is, it is populated with human beings, each one of whom is capable of good or evil. I would have to accept that.

The key scene of Daniel's Story is when Erika expresses this view to Daniel and Rosa. And then she tells them that they do have choices — the choice to choose love or hate. And I believe that to be true. No matter what, we can always choose — even during the Holocaust those whose free choice had been completely taken away, those who were brutally murdered, could chose whether to die in love or hate. And so many had love in their hearts (not for their enemies, that is not the Jewish way) but for their families. The Nazis could not destroy that.

I suppose that was the beginning of my return to some kind of faith and to a belief in God — not an old man looking down on us God, but God as Creator, as One. I now read a lot of Jewish Spirituality, Rabbi David Cooper, Lawrence Kushner, and in a slightly different vein, the Dali Lama! So strange that writing about the worst of human kind could return my faith. 

Behind Enemy Lines: World War II, Sam Frederiksen, Nazi-Occupied Europe, 1944

Scholastic Canada, February 2012

  • Chosen by The Canadian Children's Book Centre as one of their "Best Books" for 2012.
  • Nominated for the 2013 Ontario Library Association Golden Oak Award
  • Shortlisted for the 2014 Rocky Mountain Book Award (An Alberta Children's Choice Book Awards)
A young WWII gunner from the Prairies sees the horrors of war firsthand when he is captured by the Gestapo. Behind Enemy Lines is partially based on a true incident from WWII, in which 168 Allied airmen were captured and sent to Buchenwald. Twenty-six of these men were Canadian.

Praise for Behind Enemy Lines:
"The narrative voice is potent and realistic, and Carol Matas does a marvelous job capturing both the hope and courage in Sam’s personality as well as the terror he feels as he is transported around Nazi occupied territory against his will ... the truth of his situation is never overwrought with heavy-handed factuality or didacticism. Behind Enemy Lines is a fantastic account of one Canadian’s struggles through World War II in occupied France." — Bob Bittner, CM, Volume XVIII Number 23, Feb. 17, 2012. Read the full review.

"What starts as a rip-roaring adventure soon becomes a sobering account of strength in the face of adversity that encompasses the workings of the French Resistance and illuminates the Holocaust from a fresh angle ... the subject matter is difficult but ultimately uplifting." — Elaine Kalman Naves, The Gazette (Montreal), Feb. 17, 2012.

“…an amazing story… a historical adventure…As one event lead to the next I found myself hanging on to find out what will happen to this young yet very brave man next…I am excited to read more I Am Canada books soon and would definitely recommend this book to other history fans like me!” – Cam (grade five), SNAP Clarington.

“The action is relentless and the reader will be turning the pages feverishly to see what happens next… There is no telling here, only masterful revealing through fascinating characters and lively dialogue.” –Resource Links, April 2012.
  • Sydney Taylor Notable Book, for older readers, 2007.
  • Finalist, McNally Robinson Book For Young People, 2008.
  • Finalist, Stellar Award (B.C. Teen Reader's Choice Award), 2009

It is 1941. Fourteen-year-old Ben Friedman flees the horrors of Nazi Germany with his parents and his sister, leaving behind his grandparents, his friends, his home. In Seattle, Ben dares to hope that he will finally be safe. He finds a friend in John, a Japanese-American boy, but then comes the attack on Pearl Harbor and everything changes. Fear begins to grow in Ben, fear that it is all happening again. Where can he be safe? What should he do? 

He dreams of Canada, thinking it a haven, only to find that he has nowhere to turn, nowhere to run. Perhaps safety is not where or even what he thinks it is. Perhaps life is not what he imagined at all.

Published in 2007 by Orca Book Publishers.

Praise for The Whirlwind:
"Confronts a shameful part of World War II history—American's prejudice against German Jewish refugees. ...Effectively moves from fury and blame to understanding and love." — Booklist

"An excellent example of Holocaust literature for young adults...Whether read as an action/adventure novel or as a gateway to learning about a boy's first-hand experiences in World War II. Highly Recommended." — CM Magazine

"This unique and thought-provoking story shows what prejudice and indifference to suffering and wrongdoing can lead to." — School Library Journal

"Matas does a good job of compressing a complex story into not very many pages...Every library that caters to junior high readers show know about this book." — Resource Links

"An issues novel as well as an historical one and the issues aren't easy...A timely look at the treatment of foreign nationals...Aims to be easily accessible." — The Globe and Mail

"A poignant look at what it means to come of age in a world of uncertainty...An excellent choice for teachers...the kind of book adults and adolescents alike will be glad to have read." — KLIATT

"Another winner from the talented Matas." — Jewish Book World

"Teaches an underlying message of tolerance and acceptance through a friendship rare for its time...A well-written, easy read for any level." — Atlanta Jewish Times

"A quiet examination of one boy's struggle to understand the terrible circumstances that have fallen on his family." — Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Written in an engaging style...the novel introduces well-developed characters faced with compelling issues." — AJL Newsletter

"Part an adventure story, part a story of descent into obsession [it] is also very much a simplified but sophisticated debate on religion and ethics...The Whirlwind attempts a lot and accomplishes a lot." — Kid Lit

"This bold, painful book focuses on controversial issues and darker Pearl Harbor era facts and emphasizes complicated gray areas over simpler black/white scenarios, creating balance and insight for any level reader." — VOYA
Turned Away

  • Finalist, McNally Robinson Book for Young Readers Award
  • Margaret McWilliams Award, Manitoba Historical Society
  • Manitoba Young Readers Award, short list
  • Finalist, Geoffrey Bilson Award, 2006
  • Children's Book Centre Our Choice, starred for outstanding merit.
  • Resource links, best of the year, 2006
  • Frances and Samuel Stein Memorial Prize in Youth Literature, 2007
"January 9, 
A letter arrived from Sarah, again tucked in with mail from Uncle Nathaniel.
Chère Devorah,
Our worst fears came to pass. Three huge bangs on the door. Maman ran to my room and told me to keep the door closed and not to come out. Within minutes she came back and sat down on my bed weeping. "They've taken him," she said. "To Drancy. Arrested."
I can barely sleep anymore. I keep hearing that pounding on the door. Sometimes I feel the sound will explode in my brain. Chère Devorah, what is wrong with the world? I don't understand any of this. Do you?
Your loving cousin, Sarah

The letter from Uncle Nathaniel told of being arrested, but little else, except another question about how the visas are going. I could hear Mommy crying from her bedroom."
During the Second World War, many French Jewish families tried to send their children to safety in other countries including Canada. Tragically, the Canadian government didn't want them and a number of children who were "cleared" to leave never made it and were sent to concentration camps where they died. This is a story of one family's struggle.

Scholastic Canada, 2005.

"Matas is a brilliant writer of historical fiction and this book is a chilling and realistic account of the way some people survived the Second World War." "Remembrance Day Reading for All Ages," Fran Ashdown, North Shore News, Nov. 6, 2013.
  • Honour Book, Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People
  • CCBC Our Choice
  • Notable, Sydney Taylor Award, Books for Older Readers
  • Nominee, McNally Robinson Book of the Year for Young People Award
With the Nazis ready to herd the remaining Jews of her town into a ghetto, and with her family either scattered or dead, Marisa, a Polish Jew whose blonde hair and blue eyes make it easy for her to pass as a Christian, takes the papers of a Polish girl and in that disguise goes to Germany in a desperate attempt to survive as a Polish worker. After traveling to Weimar, Marisa finds work as a servant for the Reymanns, a wealthy farming family who treat her with dignity and respect. Their daughter Charlotte becomes fond of Marisa and wants to be her friend. Marisa's life with the Reymanns may seem safe, the Reymanns appear fair, but she can never forget that Herr Reymann is a high-ranking Nazi official and Charlotte attends the League of German Maidens.

Marisa is hiding in plain sight in her enemy's house. This novel presents an unflinching account of Marisa's dilemma as a Jew living a lie in order to survive and will give readers a new perspective on the nature of good and evil even as it touches their hearts.

First published in 1999 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and Scholastic Canada. Republished in 2013 by Scholastic Canada.

Praise for In My Enemy's House:
"This story holds you not only with the authentic account of the Jewish girl hiding in disguise right in the jaws of the enemy, but also with the intimate view of the Nazi home." — Booklist

"Gripping... although this is fiction, it has the immediacy and impact of a true story. Marisa's ordeal is compelling, moving - and deeply disturbing." — School Library Journal

"Chilling and compelling, this darkly existential novel travels down yet another path on the map of multi-faceted Holocaust literature, grappling with the paradox of separating individual from ideology." — VOYA

"Matas gives the reader enthralling action, and interesting relationships, while firmly touching on issues of moral behavior." — Children's Literature

"Matas’s strength has been her ability to balance her colossal subject matter with the equally powerful individual stories of her young heroes..." — Quill & Quire
Why I Wrote in My Enemy's House

While researching another book on the Holocaust, I came across stories of Jewish families who lived in Germany during the war and somehow managed to hide using false papers or moving from place to place. I immediately realized how amazing those stories were and wanted to write about that time and place. I especially wanted to write about what it was like to live in Nazi Germany. What did ordinary German people think, what did they believe? Did they agree with the Nazi ideas? And if they did, why did they?

When I began my research I advertised for people who had survived the war living in Germany, expecting German Jews to respond. A strange thing happened. Every single person who showed up to be interviewed was from Poland, and had ended up in Germany working as slave labor–disguised of course, as Polish Christians. Sometimes a writer has to give in when a story wants to be told so badly, so I changed my focus from German Jews to Polish Jews who traveled into Germany. All of the people I interviewed had had to hide their identities in order to survive. If discovered they certainly would have been murdered, and each of them told stories of others they knew who had trusted a German friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend with their secret and had been betrayed and handed over to the authorities. I was able through their stories to explore what was happening right in the heart of Nazi Germany. And to ask some very difficult questions about what we are capable of as human beings, for good and for evil.


Named one of "The Year's Best 2013" books for Grades 3-6 by Resource Links
"If you haven't read Greater Than Angels, it's time… a gripping, amazing read." – The Toronto Star

"Intelligently written and emotionally powerful." – Quill & Quire starred review
An unforgettable reminder of the resilience of human compassion, even in the face of the worst horrors of our history. 
"Everyone in this whole area is working to save us, even knowing what could happen to them if they are caught."
In the autumn of 1940, when Anna Hirsch, her friends, and her family are rounded up by Nazis and deported to Gurs, a refugee camp in the south of France, they see little hope on the horizon. Food is scarce, and the living conditions inhuman. Even worse is the ever-present fear that they will be relocated once again – this time to one of the death camps.

But when word comes that Anna and the other children at Gurs are to be moved, their destination is not Auschwitz or Buchenwald, but Le Chambon-sur-Lignon: a tiny village whose citizens have agreed to care for deported Jewish children. As the war rages on and the Germans gain more control in France, Jews – and those who shelter them – are sought with increased vigor, and when they are found, the punishment is severe. Yet even in the face of Nazi atrocities, and regardless of the risk to themselves, the good people of LeChambon continue to protect the refugees who seek cover in their homes.

In this story – based on actual occurrences during the German occupation of France – award-winning author Carol Matas unveils a contagious goodness that permeated one corner of a region otherwise enveloped in evil, and celebrates the courage that made these citizens "greater than angels."

Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and Scholastic Canada in 1998. Republished in 2013 by Scholastic Canada.
  • New York Public Library, 1997 Book for the Teen Age
  • Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies for 1997, by National Council for Social Studies and the Children's Book Council
  • ALA Quick Pick for Young Adults, 1996
  • ALA, Best Book of the Year for Young Adults, 1996
  • Finalist Best Book of the Year, McNally Robinson Book Award, 1996
  • Finalist Best Book of the Year for Children, McNally Robinson Book Award, 1996
  • Finalist Ruth Shwartz Award, 1996
  • Jewish Book Award, 1996
  • Mr. Christie Honour Book, 1996
  • Junior Library Guild pick, 1996
  • Booklist, Editor's Choice, 1996
  • Resource Links, The Best Of List, 1997
  • South Carolina Junior Book Award nominee, 1998-1999
  • O.L.A. Red Maple Readers Choice Award, 1998
  • Finalist Utah Young Adult Book Award, CLAU, 1998-1999
"Didn't the gas ovens finish you all off?" is the response that meets Ruth Mendenberg when she returns to her village in Poland after the liberation of Buchenwald at the end of World War II. Her entire family wiped out in the Holocaust, the fifteen-year-old girl has nowhere to go.

Members of the underground organization Brichah find her, and she joins them in their dangerous quest to smuggle illegal immigrants to Palestine. Ruth risks her life to help lead a group of children on a daring journey over half a continent and across the sea to Eretz Israel, using secret routes and forged documents – and sheer force of will.

This adventure will touch readers, who will marvel at the resources and inner strength of mere children, helping other children to find a place in the world in which they can belong.

Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and Scholastic Canada (1996).

Praise for After the War:
"As it is, After the War is a compelling and important story, fashioned from horror and redeemed by hope. Ruth Mendenberg’s journey will travel with thousands of young readers, and may very well pack up a trunk full of awards along the way." — Read the full review Quill & Quire

  • Junior Library Guild pick, 1997.
  • Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies for 1998, NCSS and Children's Book Council.
  • New York Public Library, Books for the Teen Age, 1998.
  • 1998 Rachel Bessin/Isaac Frischwasser Memorial Award for Y.A. Fiction (Jewish Book Award)

"I look at my garden and wonder if we will end up like that in the weeks and months to come – broken, crushed. After all, there are millions of Arabs and so few of us. If they decide to fight, how could we survive?"

Ruth Mendenberg, survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp, has helped a group of other young refugees flee Poland. They have been smuggled into Palestine and now live on a kibbutz, trying to forget, trying to forge a new life, longing for only one thing – peace. Ruth's solace comes from tending her garden, where she has found beauty and tranquility. But her respite does not last long.

The United Nations is preparing to vote on a plan that would partition Palestine into two separate lands, one for the Arabs and one for the Jews. The Arabs are ready to fight to prevent partition, and the British government does little to stop the escalating hostilities.

Ruth's brother, Simon, belongs to the Irgun, a terrorist group ready to bomb their enemies. Ruth herself has joined the Haganah, which believes in fighting only in self-defence. How far will they have to go before they find the peace and safety of a place they can finally call home?

Published by Scholastic Canada Ltd. and Simon & Schuster, 1997.


  • Mr. Christie Honour Book, 1989.
  • Manitoba Book of the Year Nominee, 1989.
  • Honour list, Canadian Materials, 1989.
  • Code Name Kris, Notable 1990 Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies.
  • Canadian Children's Book Centre "Our Choice", Memorable Books for Young People.
It is a time when nothing is safe, and no one can be trusted. There are German soldiers everywhere; worse yet, there are Danes who secretly spy on their neighbours in exchange for extra food or money. Despite the terrible danger, though, teenage Jesper risks everything to work for the resistance.

The Second World War is at its height. Like most of Europe, the small nation of Denmark has been overrun by Hitler's armies. Food and supplies are rationed, newspapers are censored, and Danes who resist are jailed, tortured, even shot. But Jesper and his friends in the resistance defy the Germans–and put their lives on the line–by publishing an underground newspaper to tell people what is really happening in the war, and carrying out desperate feats of military sabotage–with the Germans constantly at their heels.

Jesper is a thrilling novel of determination, courage, and love. It is also a tale of twisted loyalties, ruthlessness and betrayal, and the darker side of heroism.

Published in Canada as Jesper in 1989 by Lester & Orpen Dennys

Published in 1990 as Code Name Kris in the United States.
"An exciting tale of teenagers in the Danish resistance…full of suspense…Janet Lunn
  • The Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young Readers, 1988
  • New York Times Book Review, Notable Book, Dec 1989
  • Canadian Children's Book Centre "Our Choice", Memorable Books for Young People.
  • Young Adults' Choices for 1991, International Reading Association
  • Sydney Taylor Book Award, Notable 1989
The city is Copenhagen and the year is 1940. Lisa is 12 years old, a bright high-spirited girl looking forward to the fund and independence of being a teenager.

Then Lisa and her family are awakened early one morning by the roar of warplanes – Hitler is invading Denmark. The small country is overrun within the day, and the hardships and persecutions of enemy occupation begin.

When Lisa realizes that her older brother, Stefan, has joined the Danish resistance, she insists on helping too. She becomes a secret messenger with the thrilling, terrifying job of distributing leaflets under the very noses of the German soldiers.

But as the war goes on the German occupation becomes more violent, and word spreads of Hitler's vicious campaign against the Jews in neighbouring countries. For the Jews of Denmark–including Lisa, who is now fifteen–time is running out; and Lisa and her best friend, Suzanne, set aside their dreams of dating and romance to become full partners in the heart-stopping world of armed resistance.

Published as Lisa in Canada in 1987 by Lester & Orpen Dennys.

 Published as Lisa's War in the United States: New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989.

Praise for Lisa's War:
"...Lisa, who thinks she is too big and too clumsy, and disguises her admiring affection for her older brother Stefan in withering scorn, makes a totally convincing narrator. Majestically self-disparaging, she delights in the ironies and ambiguities of the world around her. In the three years the novel covers, between invasion and exodus, she grows from sardonic 12-year-old to courageous adolescent, joins the Copenhagen resistance, takes on dangerous missions and, though she is losing patience with her cousin Erik's refusal to confront danger or count himself as Jewish, still puzzles over questions about her own Jewish identity, and about the morality of killing people because they threaten to kill you.
Lisa's War poses such sophisticated concerns with an honorable simplicity rare even in adult fiction. And at the same time it builds a great deal of excitement, as the German menace spreads and intensifies, growing from a sinister fear to lethal reality. As it does, Lisa's involvement in the resistance also grows from a first, comically terrified attempt to leave contraband leaflets on the streetcar to a central role in guarding her fellow Jews as they wait to go to Sweden.

Many things are admirable in this story: its humor, its heroine's complex, feisty and irreverent intelligence, the realism of its characters as they are seen through her eyes. Carol Matas, a Canadian writer, makes real the pervasive atmosphere of fear and disruption. But she places these distortions of an extreme time in the context of normal human standards, so that Lisa can marvel at how necessary it has become for members of her family to lie to each other so as to spare each other." —  Read the whole review in the New York Times

Meeting with veterans of the Danish resistance—Lisa's War

I began to research Lisa and did most of the research for that book in Winnipeg. The first thing I did was go to the Danish Club with my husband for a war memorial.

Resistance fighters stood and one by one told their stories. It was a gold mine for an author. I introduced myself to many of them afterwards and made appointments for interviews. Many of the incidents in Lisa and Jesper are based on stories I was told in these interviews, including the last scene of Lisa.

I had so much material after a while that I simply couldn't write the book. I remember one day we were over at a good friend's apartment — Amatzia Huni, who was an Israeli living in Winnipeg with his wife, Etti. Amatzia had been a filmmaker in Israel. He suggested that I write from a first person perspective in order to narrow the material down — after all, that way I only had to include what my character experiences first hand.

I tried it and I wrote that book in three weeks. It simply poured out of me, often surprising me along the way. For instance I had not planned for Lisa to throw up on the German soldiers in the streetcar. But I had established that she had a "funny" stomach, so when put under stress, throwing up simply appeared. As in my previous books I didn't begin with an outline. Basically, I had a rough idea of how it would begin and how it would end. Then when I wrote the first draft I would create the rest. Lisa's theme, of course, was that one person could make a difference.

I ran into an interesting problem when I began to send the book out. It was taken almost immediately by one of the best publishers in Canada at that time, Lester and Orpen Dennys. Louise Dennys called me one day to say that one of the top writers in Canada had agreed to edit Lisa but only if I did a major rewrite. "No child will read a book like this," apparently was the writer's comment. What was wrong? Well, I had no texture in the book, no details of how things looked, or smelled, or tasted. Also, I didn't describe my character's thinking, I simply had dialogue and action to describe the character.

Looking back on it now I think that my early theatre training has had a huge influence on all of my writing. I write with what is known as "subtext" in the theatre. In other words, the character may say one thing but is thinking another. Unlike many authors, though, I do not describe the character's thoughts. The readers must deduce their thoughts by their words and by their actions. For instance when Lisa kills a German soldier she doesn't think about it — but she does throw up, showing how horrible the act of killing is for her. And she wouldn't have had time to think about the act — that wouldn't be realistic. (Some adult readers are upset by this, but children never are.)

So I had to decide — do I listen to one of the top writers in Canada and change my style? Perry urged me not to. He was convinced the book worked very well as is and he encouraged me to stick to my guns and not to allow it to be changed in any major way. I told Louise and she acquiesced. In fact it took three more editors before she could find someone who basically agreed to simply copy edit the manuscript and leave it mostly intact.

When it was published it came out to only fair reviews in Canada. And for all the reasons this editor had mentioned. However it was then bought my Macmillan in the United States and one day I was told that the New York Times would be running a review. When I read it I remember literally jumping up and down. I had never hoped to be reviewed by the Times — but to get a rave review! 


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