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Children's Fiction Holocaust

A Boy Is Not a Bird

by (author) Edeet Ravel

Groundwood Books Ltd
Initial publish date
Sep 2019
Holocaust, Europe
Recommended Age
9 to 12
Recommended Grade
4 to 6
Recommended Reading age
9 to 12
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2019
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2019
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2021
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


A young boy named Natt finds his world overturned when his family is uprooted and exiled to Siberia during the occupation of the Soviet Ukraine by Nazi Germany.

In 1941, life in Natt’s small town of Zastavna is comfortable and familiar, even if the grownups are acting strange, and his parents treat him like a baby. Natt knows there’s a war on, of course, but he’s glad their family didn’t emigrate to Canada when they had a chance. His mother didn’t want to leave their home, and neither did he. He especially wouldn’t want to leave his best friend, Max. Max is the ideas guy, and he hears what’s going on in the world from his older sisters. Together the boys are two brave musketeers.

Then one day Natt goes home and finds his family huddled around the radio. The Russians are taking over. The churches and synagogues will close, Hebrew school will be held in secret, and there are tanks and soldiers in the street. But it’s exciting, too. Natt wants to become a Young Pioneer, to show outstanding revolutionary spirit and make their new leader, Comrade Stalin, proud.

But life under the Russians is hard. The soldiers are poor. They eat up all the food and they even take over Natt’s house. Then Natt’s father is arrested, and even Natt is detained and questioned. He feels like a nomad, sleeping at other people’s houses while his mother works to free his father. As the adults try to protect him from the reality of their situation, and local authorities begin to round up deportees bound for Siberia, Natt is filled with a sense of guilt and grief.

Why wasn’t he brave enough to look up at the prison window when his mother took him to see his father for what might be the last time? Or can just getting through war be a heroic act in itself?

Key Text Features
historical note
author’s note

Correlates to the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts:

Describe how a particular story's or drama's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

About the author

Edeet was born on a kibbutz and lived in Israel until the age of seven. She has a PhD in Jewish studies from McGill and graduate degrees in literature and creative writing. She has taught at McGill, Concordia and John Abbott College. In addition to her award-winning novels for adults, Edeet has written Held, a YA thriller that was nominated for the CLA Young Adult Book of the Year, the Saskatchewan Willow Award, the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association Top Forty and the Arthur Ellis Best Juvenile Crime Award. Her YA novel The Saver has been adapted for film by Wiebke von Carolsfeld; the film has garnered prizes around the globe. Edeet lives in Guelph, Ontario, and gets her best ideas at the Y swimming pool. Her name is pronounced ee-DEET.

Edeet Ravel's profile page


  • Short-listed, Silver Birch Fiction Award
  • Winner, Canadian Jewish Literary Awards
  • Short-listed, Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literary
  • Commended, CBC Books Best Canadian YA and Middle-Grade Books
  • Nominated, Red Cedar Children’s Book Award
  • Commended, Sydney Taylor Book Award

Excerpt: A Boy Is Not a Bird (by (author) Edeet Ravel)

“When countries are fighting,” my mother says, “there can be a lot of confusion. You can’t predict from one day to the next what will happen. Imagine a flock of birds sitting together quietly on a haystack, enjoying the fine weather. A dog runs up to them and begins to bark, and with a big squawk and a tangle of wings they all disperse, up, up in the sky, in different directions. The war is the barking dog. But the birds will eventually come together again, and everything will resume as before.”

My father nods. “Yes, exactly. And war is when you get a chance to be a hero. Because every day that you get through it, you’ve done something heroic.”

Editorial Reviews

A powerful reminder of the effect of war on children.

CM Review of Materials

Basing her story on the experience of a beloved teacher, Ravel has Natt tell his own story in an ingenuous present tense that never loses its youthful quality even as it gains wisdom. . . . An accessible gateway to mid-20th-century Eastern European history.

Kirkus Reviews

[An] excep­tion­al nov­el … [A] com­pelling sto­ry which choos­es dif­fi­cult and ambigu­ous truths over com­fort­ing simplification.

Jewish Book Council

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