My older daughter’s class is working on realistic fiction at the moment. Her teacher is trying to get the students to look at moments in their lives and consider what kind of stories they think are missing from the published world. J being who she is first said that there weren’t enough stories about Jewish kids going through modern issues, like prepping for a Bat Mitzvah. Then she also said that there were not enough books about kids and theater. This reminded me about a book that I read last May and when I looked it up, I noticed that its book birthday was last week! It actually encompasses both Jewish issues and musical theater and was one that really stuck with me. I hope you will feel the same way.
The book is Broken Strings by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer. The official synopsis is as follows:
It’s 2002. In the aftermath of the twin towers — and the death of her beloved grandmother — Shirli Berman is intent on moving forward. The best singer in her junior high, she auditions for the lead role in Fiddler on the Roof, but is crushed to learn that she’s been given the part of the old Jewish mother in the musical rather than the coveted part of the sister. But there is an upside: her “husband” is none other than Ben Morgan, the cutest and most popular boy in the school.
Deciding to throw herself into the role, she rummages in her grandfather’s attic for some props. There, she discovers an old violin in the corner — strange, since her Zayde has never seemed to like music, never even going to any of her recitals. Showing it to her grandfather unleashes an anger in him she has never seen before, and while she is frightened of what it might mean, Shirli keeps trying to connect with her Zayde and discover the awful reason behind his anger. A long-kept family secret spills out, and Shirli learns the true power of music, both terrible and wonderful.
This book was really special. While much of the beginning of the story focuses on Shirli and her audition/casting process, as the story progresses it becomes her grandfather’s story. His story is that of escaping Nazi Germany. His story is also one that only comes out because of Shirli’s school’s staging of Fiddler on the Roof. Broken Strings is also a testament to the love between generations.
First of all, these characters resonated with me. I can imagine Shirli’s grandfather in my head, sitting in his chair in silence, hardened by what he experienced during the Holocaust. I can understand his unwillingness to tell his story because he doesn’t want to relive it. But that said, we need stories like this right now. The population that survived the Holocaust is dying out of old age, and without books like this, we are losing their stories. Though Zayde’s story was fiction, it was based on real events that happened. I don’t want to give anything away, so that’s all I will say on that part.
Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer wrote a really special story. I might be slightly biased being that we are a musical theatre family and that I called my grandmother Bubbie, but I think that this is the kind of story that will resonate with middle school kids about what happened in Europe. Zayde gives the story a face and personality and really brings it to life. I highly recommend this book.