Saturday, July 27, 2013

Touched by Fire

Touched by FireWatts, Irene N. Touched by Fire.
10 September 2013, Tundra
E ARC from

Miriam's first encounter with fire is when the Cossack's burn down her family's home in a pogrom in 1905. The family (which includes her grandparents, Bubbe and Zayde, mother, tailor father, and obstinate brother Yuri) moves to Kiev. Fearing that things are getting worse for Jews, the family relocates to Berlin and prepares to move to the US. Baby Devora soon joins them, and the father moves to the US, hoping to send for the rest of the family soon. When the tickets finally arrive, Devora is too sick to travel, and Yuri runs away in protest. When he doesn't answer the official's questions, he is deemed unfit to go, and the mother decides to stay behind and send Miriam on her own. She is scared, but meets an Italian girl named Rosie on the ship, and the two become good friends. Her father is disappointed that the rest of the family couldn't make it, but is doing very well in New York. Rosie helps Miriam get a job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, where Miriam encounters Malka, a long lost friend from her village. Eventually, Devora and the mother join the family, but Yuri and the grandparents decide to stay. Miriam and her friends are working when the fire breaks out in the factory, and some of her friends do not survive. An interesting postscript takes place at the eve of WWII with Yuri's young son.
Strengths: I am always intrigued by this historic event, and the lives of immigrants during this time period. One book I've owned for over 30 years is Meredith Tax's  1982 Rivington Street. Never been able to get rid of it. I really liked the span of the story, taking our characters from the pogroms in Russia to the eve of WWII. Nicely written, with good characters.
Weaknesses: There are several other good titles (Ashes of Roses, Threads and Flames) on this topic, and while I liked this one better than some, it didn't have anything terribly new and innovative. I will still probably buy it.


  1. Can you tell if this event is as interesting to your student readers as it is to adults?

  2. I have a few students who really like history, and they like the books. My daughter read several, and even did a research project on the event. The book Flesh and Blood So Cheap was so excellent that I hope I'll be able to get students to pair it with some of the fictional accounts for Common Core projects.