What the Night Sings

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
What the Night Sings Book Poster Image
Powerful story of teen girl's life after the Holocaust.

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

Educational value

Most readers will never have studied or read about the displaced persons camps created after the concentration camps were liberated. They'll learn about daily life in the camps, how difficult it was to search for family members who might still be alive, and the often heartbreaking discovery by so many survivors that they had no home or no country to return to.

Positive messages

Even in the darkest and loneliest of times, there can be hope for the future.

Positive role models & representations

While Gerta, Lev, Michah, and Rosa will never forget the horrors they saw in the concentration camps, they are all able to summon the spirit and the courage to plan new lives for themselves.

Violence

The violence Gerta witnesses and writes about (even though not described in graphic detail) is often unimaginable. Women, children, and babies are shot and beaten to death. Bodies are stacked in carts and left on the street. People die packed into railroad cars. Families are separated and sent to die in the gas chambers.

Sex

A few kisses. A very brief (and not at all graphic) description of a couple on their wedding night.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

Several mentions that an adult character is drinking whiskey or smoking. 

 

 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that What the Night Sings is a novel told through the voice of Gerta Rausch, a teen Holocaust survivor who’s struggling to rebuild her life while living in a displaced persons camp in Germany. For Gerta, that struggle includes discovering her true identity. Her father had kept a secret from her: They were Jewish, which Gerta learned only after they were betrayed to the Nazis. The story moves from Gerta's childhood in Germany, through her years as a prisoner in three Nazi concentration camps, to the new life she forges for herself. This is a part of the Holocaust story rarely told: life after liberation for survivors who found themselves without a home or a country to which they could return. For readers who've studied the Holocaust, the violence (children being beaten and shot, people dying in packed railroad cars, the gas chambers) will be grimly familiar. For others, despite the matter-of-fact way it's recounted, the violence may be disturbing. Author Vesper Stamper is also the illustrator, and the book is filled with haunting sepia-toned images that add a powerful graphic novel quality to the story.

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What's the story?

WHAT THE NIGHT SINGS begins in 1945, as 16-year-old Gerta Rausch, a prisoner at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, is about to be liberated by British troops. The novel then flashes back to 1935 and her life in Germany with her widowed father. Both of them love music; her father plays the viola in an orchestra and Gerta is a talented singer. But there's a secret her father has been keeping from Gerta: They're Jewish and living with forged identity papers. Only after they're betrayed to the Nazis does Gerta learn the truth. After her liberation, Gerta is moved to a displaced persons camp, where she finds herself alone and struggling with an unanswered question. What would it mean to live her life not as a Gentile but as a Jew? At the camp, she's able to once again fill her life with music, and she meets two very different young men -- one religious and one a Zionist determined to live in Israel. As Gerta explores her newfound identity as a Jew, will she choose one of them to build a future with?

Is it any good?

Beginning where most Holocaust stories end, this unforgettable novel of loss and renewal unfolds through both words and bold, dramatic sepia-tone illustrations by author-illustrator Stamper. These illustrations add a graphic novel element to What the Night Sings that should attract readers unsure about tackling a big book on a tough subject.

The novel also offers parents and readers the opportunity for a broader discussion about the plight of refugees and displaced persons in today's world.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the secret that was kept in What the Night Sings. Do you think Gerta's father did right when he decided not to tell her the family was Jewish?

  • Can you think of parts of the world where people are too afraid to return to their own country? Are today's refugees different from the people who were in displaced persons camps after World War II?

  • Music helped Gerta survive the concentration camps and rebuild her life after liberation. Does music or something else help you through tough times?

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