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It’s Her Story: Irena Sendler

Authored by Margaret Littman
Illustrated by Sara Luna
Published by Sunbird Books

A biography in a graphic novel format, It’s Her Story: Irena Sendler will captivate children’s hearts and minds. This is the story of a Polish social worker who managed to smuggle 2,500 Jewish children to safety during World War II.

Born a Catholic, Irena was working as a social worker as WWII broke out. Hitler created the Warsaw ghetto where Jewish families were forced to live under increasingly tight restrictions. Irena, allowed inside the ghetto for her work, began smuggling small amounts of food inside to combat inflated prices and subsequent malnutrition. However, as news broke out of Jewish people being transported to concentration camps, Irena knew she must do more.

Building trusted relationships with Catholic nuns who ran orphanages, Irena and her friends managed to smuggle thousands of babies and children out of the ghetto and to safety through the sewer system. Once inside the orphanages, the children were given new identities, new clothes and lessons to learn Catholic prayers. Irena risked everything to save these children – but so do many others too, as told in this story. Delivery drivers working with Irena taught dogs to bark over the sound of crying babies at checkpoints; others hid children inside sacks of potatoes or suitcases in order to move them across Warsaw.

In 1943, Irena’s work was discovered and she was arrested and imprisoned. However, her years of kindness was repaid and, with a little help, she was able to escape where she continued to smuggle children to safety until the end of the war. Throughout all of these years, Irena kept track of the children’s names should they ever be lucky enough to have the chance to reunite with their families.

In 1965, she was honoured for her work and again in 2007 when she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. I find it fascinating, having read her story twice through, that she is not a household name. The sheer number of children Irena managed to save from the terrible fate of the concentration camps is staggering. This graphic novel beautifully tells her brave and compassionate story and will enhance every school’s WWII reading list. As a Year 6 teacher, I shall be reading (and rereading!) this book with my class.