The Lily Pond

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
The Lily Pond Book Poster Image
Emotional story of Jewish refugee children continues.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The Lily Pond is an age-appropriate book to introduce middle-grade students to the conditions faced by Austrian families during World War II. Before the novel begins, because of the deprivation and danger that Jews faced in Austria, Stephanie's parents have sent their children away from their home in Vienna to live with foster parents on a rugged island off the coast of Sweden. Letters from Stephie's parents inform her, and readers, of the deteriorating food supply and unjust restrictions on employment, transportation, and health care. However, as the news takes the form of a letter from a parent to a child, the author tempers everything for her young readers the way a parent would. Stephanie's interactions with acquaintances in Sweden also provide a window into different political opinions and attitudes of the time.

Positive Messages

Stephie and Nellie's parents put their children's safety and education above all things, and Stephanie is a hardworking student who understands the value of her opportunity to continue school. In addition, Stephie is faced with a few situations where she must weigh the pros and cons of telling the truth. Though she doesn't always make perfect choices, she is a realistic teenager with a strong moral compass.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Adults in The Lily Pond are not all warmhearted; some of Stephanie's teachers are unkind, and the couple she rents a room from in Goteborg make her feel second rate. However, one teacher, Hedvig Bjork, is very encouraging and takes Stephie's side when she is treated unfairly. Stephie's parents have also set an excellent example by doing the most loving thing they could do for their girls -- sending them to a safe haven with foster parents who treat Stephie like their own daughter.


For readers who have already learned anything about the Holocaust, the threat of violence looms for Stephie's parents back in Vienna, but the novel doesn't describe any violent acts. It is mentioned that countries are at war.


Teenagers kiss and talk about their feelings.


There's some talk about the quality of people's homes and their clothing, but material wealth definitely doesn't equal happiness in Stephie's world.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Wine is consumed at a dinner party in the home where Stephie rents a room.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Lily Pond continues the story of Stephie and Nellie, characters that author Annika Thor introduced in her novel A Faraway Island. To protect their daughters from the dangers and poor living conditions for Jews in Austria during World War II, the girls' parents have sent them to live in Sweden with foster parents. The book informs readers about the deteriorating situation in Austria through letters from Stephie's parents. In Sweden, Stephie also encounters adults who sympathize with the Nazis, and must navigate some challenging interactions with authority figures as a result. Parents may wish to explain some things about World War II and anti-Semitism. Also, the girls' foster parents are Pentecostal Christians, whose code of behavior is extremely strict: For example, they believe that attending concerts or seeing movies is sinful, and this might be confusing to readers unfamiliar with such beliefs. Stephie also develops a crush on a boy she's friends with, and believes she's in love, which could warrant some family discussion, as the novel is written at a fourth-grade reading level.

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What's the story?

Stephie and her sister Nellie's parents have sent their daughters away from their home in Nazi-occupied Vienna to live with foster parents on an island off the coast of Sweden. Stephie, who is 13, has just completed the equivalent of elementary school, and her foster parents have arranged for her to go to grammar school (high school) in Goteborg on the mainland, where she will rent a room from acquaintances. In Goteborg, Stephanie falls in love for the first time and she makes close friends, but she also struggles with anti-Semitism, peer pressure, and concern for her parents back home in Vienna.

Is it any good?

THE LILY POND is a very nice, age-appropriate book about World War II for middle graders. Because the hardships Stephie's parents endure in Vienna are related by her parents, they're tempered in just the way a parent would break news to a child. Stephie is an intelligent, sensitive character with a rich inner world, and any preteen who's felt like a fish out of water will relate to her feelings of insecurity and longing for her parents.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what Stephie's life is like away from her parents. Do you think her mom and dad did the right thing by sending Stephie and Nellie to Sweden?

  • What do you think about the way Sven's parents treat Stephie, and why do you think it makes her so angry?

  • Why does Stephie keep Alice's secrets? What would you do if you were in her situation?

Book details

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For kids who love history

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