Heavily illustrated with sober blue-and-white drawings by Caryl Strzelecki and translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson (whose work with Bibi Dumon Tak’s Soldier Bear won the 2012 Batchelder Award), Sax’s powerful novel dramatically captures the brutal reality of life in the Warsaw Ghetto and the failed Jewish uprising that took place there.
The book tells the story of a Jewish teen named Misha, whose family, like the rest of the Jews living in Warsaw during World War II, has been moved by the Nazis into a single crowded ghetto. Conditions are appalling: every day more people die from disease, starvation, and deportations. Misha does his best to help his family survive, even crawling through the sewers to smuggle food. When conditions worsen, Misha joins a handful of other Jews who decide to make a final, desperate stand against the Nazis.
This is the second year in a row that an EBYR title has been recognized by the Jewish Book Council, the nonprofit organization that administers the National Jewish Book Awards. The 2012 award for children’s and young adult literature went to Ulrich Hub’s Meet at the Ark at Eight, a humorous yet thought-provoking retelling of the Noah’s Ark story illustrated by Jörg Mühle.
Prior to winning this award, The War within These Walls received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews, and Caryl Strzelecki’s illustrations were honored by inclusion in the Society of Illustrators’ 2013 “The Original Art” exhibition.