Review: The Circlemaker

The Circlemaker

by Maxine Rose Schur, cover art by Polina Solomodenko

Lawley Publishing, 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Jacqueline Jules

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Mendel loves to wake up early and meet his best friend Zalman at the riverbank. They play with toy boats until they must run to arrive at school on time. He is a happy boy in spite of the poverty imposed by antisemitic restrictions in Ukraine in 1852 and a bully named Dovid who calls him K’vatsh, the Yiddish word for coward. Everything changes when the Czar’s soldiers come to his village to kidnap boys for the military. To avoid twenty-five years of conscription, Mendel cuts his earlocks and flees his village with only a vague plan to reach his Aunt Bella in America. His journey through Ukraine to reach the Hungarian border is a fast-paced adventure. Mendel doesn’t know who to trust and one hurdle follows another. When he finds smugglers, he learns that his nemesis, also on the run from the Czar’s soldiers, is being helped by the same brave people. Mendel has no choice but to travel with Dovid. In a riveting scene, the boys fight and Dovid falls into a ravine. Hearing gunshots, Mendel leaves his enemy for dead, reasoning “were I to have fallen in, he would surely have gone on.” But when he makes it to the Hungarian border, he knows that he can’t live with this decision.

Each chapter of The Circlemaker ends on a suspenseful note, sure to make readers turn the page. This historical novel, originally published by Penguin in 1994, was reprinted by Lawley Publishing with a new cover image by Polina Solomodenko. While the story is propelled by the antisemitic cruelty of the Czarist regime, the action-packed narrative will attract readers of all faiths. Mendel’s choices are grounded in Jewish tradition and even tramping through the woods he chants the morning prayers silently in his head. This reprint provides young readers with a story well worth reading again in 2023.

Editor's Note: As a reprint without revision, this title is not eligible for a Sydney Taylor Book Award (real or mock). However, since it was reviewed before we realized it was a reprint, we provide the review as a courtesy to readers.

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Reviewer Jacqueline Jules is the author of fifty books for young readers including The Porridge-Pot Goblin, The Hardest Word, Picnic at Camp Shalom, Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva, Light the Menorah: A Hanukkah Handbook, and Never Say a Mean Word Again. Her middle grade verse novel, My Name is Hamburger, was a PJ Our Way selection. She lives on Long Island and enjoys talking long walks along the water. Visit her online