Review: Louder Than Words

Louder Than Words by Kathy Kacer

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Judith S. Greenblatt

Every morning in this difficult time, I wake up and count my so numerous blessings. How my troubles pale when compared to the lives of Eldina Sternik and her family, as told by Kathy Kacer. With only the vocabulary available to her as the author of a book designed for Middle Schoolers, she has retold the remarkable story of how the three Sternik children were saved by Nina Pukas. It is set in Proskurov, a small town in the Ukraine, beginning in 1941. A world comes to life for us. As the terror mounts, public places are closed to Jews, jobs lost, and the Sterik’s house is burned down, either by Nazi’s or hoodlums inspired by Nazis. Finally, Mrs. Sternik is arrested by the Nazis. Through it all, at great danger to herself, Nina protects the children as her own as she guides them through the rest of the war. As twelve year old Dina tells us the story, we feel the increased tension and terror, as well as Dina's growing strength and Nina's determination to do everything in her power to keep the family safe. Other characters, good, evil, and in between, come to life. We see how some are overcome by fear or hate, while others follow a moral compass that is stronger than their fear. With strong characters, a clear picture of the world they live in, and a theme that connects the past and the present, this is a book that will keep readers glued to the page as they learn.

Louder Than Words has strong literary merit. It has positive and authentic Jewish content. Accurate description of practices, such as keeping kosher, is joined with strong moral values in the characters, especially Dina, as taught by her parents, and Nina. The book is appropriate for the intended grade level in style, vocabulary, and format. An illustration appears at the beginning of each chapter, perfectly bringing together three objects that represent important parts of the story. The book is generally solidly rooted in authentic and accurate detail. The time line, however, has been altered. The author explains that “for the dramatic purpose of this story, and to show how the lives of the Ukrainian Jews were affected by the Nazi occupation I have altered the timeline of events so that the restrictive laws came into effect first, leading up to the invasion.” While I agree that the story is dramatic, this reviewer finds this alteration disturbing. If this is different, what else is different? In fact there are other differences between the book and the brief biography of Pukas on the Yad Vashem website. For instance, the baby was not Mrs. Sternik’s, but Nina’s. However, this is not a biography, but a novel. Where the line should be drawn is, I believe, an open question.

Are you interested in reviewing books for The Sydney Taylor Shmooze? Click here!

Reviewer Judith S. Greenblatt says: I hold a Master of Library Service from Rutgers-The State University, and a Master of Arts in Jewish Studies from Hebrew College, Newton, Ma. I started my career as a Judaic Librarian as Librarian at the Michael Lichtenstein Memorial Library, Temple B'nai Israel, Toledo, Ohio. Subsequently I was Librarian at Temple Sinai, Cranston, RI, Congregation Mishkan Tefila, Brookline, Ma, and finished as Director of Library Services at the Bureau of Jewish Education of Rhode Island. I have been a member of the Association of Jewish Libraries since 1977, served on and chaired Weine Cataloging Revision Committee, and served as Vice President and President of the School, Synagogue and Center Division of AJL. Publications include: 1985-86 Book lists; for young children, for 3rd to 6th graders, for young adults. Annotated. Women's League for Conservative Judaism, 1986. 100 Plus Books For The Children's Library: A Basic Collection. Revised in cooperation with the Publications Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries. Association of Jewish Libraries, 1989. Weine Classification Scheme for Judaica Libraries. Revised by Judith S. Greenblatt, Chairman. 8th edition. Association of Jewish Libraries, Synagogue, School and Center Division, 1994.