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Cover image for The devil's arithmetic
The devil's arithmetic
Puffin Modern Classics ed.
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Puffin Books, 2004.
Physical Description:
170 p. ; 18 cm.
Reading Level:
730 L Lexile
Hannah resents the traditions of her Jewish heritage until time travel places her in the middle of a small Jewish village in Nazi-occupied Poland.


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30th Anniversary edition with a new introduction from the author

Hannah is tired of holiday gatherings−all her family ever talks about is the past. In fact, it seems to her that's what they do every Jewish holiday. But this year's Passover Seder will be different−Hannah will be mysteriously transported into the past . . . and only she knows the unspeakable horrors that await.

Winner of the National Jewish Book Award

"A triumphantly moving book." -- Kirkus Reviews , starred review

Author Notes

Jane Yolen was born February 11, 1939 in New York City. She received a bachelor's degree from Smith College in 1960 and a master's degree in education from the University of Massachusetts in 1976. After college, she became an editor in New York City and wrote during her lunch break. She sold her first children's book, Pirates in Petticoats, at the age of 22. Since then, she has written over 300 books for children, young adults, and adults.

Her other works include the Emperor and the Kite, Owl Moon, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? and The Devil's Arithmetic. She has won numerous awards including the Kerlan Award, the Regina Medal, the Keene State Children's Literature Award, the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, the World Fantasy Association's Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

The Holocaust was so monstrous a crime that the mind resists belief and the story must be made new for each individual. Yolen's book is about remembering. During a Passover Seder, 12-year-old Hannah finds herself transported from America in 1988 to Poland in 1942, where she assumes the life of young Chaya. Within days the Nazis take Chaya and her neighbors off to a concentration camp, mere components in the death factory. As days pass, Hannah's own memory of her past, and the prisoners' future, fades until she is Chaya completely. Chaya/Hannah's final sacrifice, and the return of memory, is her victory over the horror. The book's simplicity is its strength; no comment is needed because the facts speak for themselves. This brave and powerful book has much it can teach a young audience. Ages 10-14. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Taking a risk, Yolen blends elements of fantasy and adventure with intense images of concentration camps, manipulating them into an unusual coming-of-age story. Bored by the lengthy Passover service and impatient, cranky, and slightly tipsy from her first taste of ceremonial wine, 12-year-old Hannah opens the door to the prophet Elijah as tradition dictates, expecting to see only an empty hall and the apartment across the way. Rather, she is swept into the past, back to 1942, where she becomes-- instead of selfish, petulant Hannah from modern day New York-- Chaya Abramowicz from Poland, soon to depart on a journey toward extermination. An interweaving of detail and recurring imagery mark Hannah's passage from the 1980s to a tiny Polish village, to a crowded boxcar, to an unnamed camp. The scenario is brutal. Its characters convincingly drawn to type: Gitl, fierce, wise, gentle, who laughs in the face of terror; Rivka, a tough survivor with an unshakable faith in God; and Hannah/Chaya, petulant child, denying her heritage, then sacrificing herself for another. Yolen's time-travel scheme is cleverly orchestrated; her plot fits together like a carefully cut puzzle. And while some teenagers will be more caught up by its tidy perfection than by the horror Yolen seeks to convey, they will still come away with a sense of tragic history that both disturbs and compels. An afterword gives further shape to both the history and Yolen's personal feelings. Gr. 8-12. SZ.

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-8 In this novel, Yolen attempts to answer those who question why the Holocaust should be remembered. Hannah, 12, is tired of remembering, and is embarrassed by her grandfather, who rants and raves at the mention of the Nazis. Her mother's explanations of how her grandparents and great-aunt lost all family and friends during that time have little effect. Then, during a Passover Seder, Hannah is chosen to open the door to welcome the prophet Elijah. As she does so, she is transported to a village in Poland in the 1940s, where everyone thinks that she is Chaya, who has just recovered from a serious illness. She is captured by the Nazis and taken to a death camp, where she is befriended by a young girl named Rivka, who teaches her how to fight the dehumanizing processes of the camp and hold onto her identity. When at last their luck runs out and Rivka is chosen, Hannah/Chaya, in an almost impulsive act of self-sacrifice, goes in her stead. As the door to the gas chamber closes behind her, she is returned to the door of her grandparents' apartment, waiting for Elijah. Through Hannah, with her memories of the present and the past, Yolen does a fine job of illustrating the importance of remembering. She adds much to children's understanding of the effects of the Holocaust, which will reverberate throughout history, today and tomorrow. Susan M. Harding, Mesquite Public Library, Tex. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Yolen is the author of a hundred books, many of which have been praised for their originality, humor, or poetic vision, but this thoughtful, compelling novel is unique among them. Hannah, 13, finds the annual Seder--which calls up her grandfather's memories of the death camp he and his sister Eva survived--tedious, the facts distant and unreal. Chosen to perform the ritual of opening the door to Elijah, she finds herself in rural Poland in 1942, as Chaya (life), the heroic girl whose Hebrew name she bears. There, she shares the experiences of villagers who are interrupted during a wedding, transported in a grueling four-day train journey, and delivered to a camp where the commandant routinely chooses victims for the gas chambers. At the camp another girl, the indomitable Rivka, teaches her how to survive, and she learns an unforgettable lesson: some must live, at whatever cost, to bear witness. When Rivka is ""chosen,"" Hannah goes to her death in her place--and awakes to find herself returned to the family Seder, recognizing Aunt Eva as the beloved friend she saved. In less skillful hands, such a story would risk being either didactic or irreverent, but Yolen has so completely integrated her deep concern with the structure and movingly poetic language of her story that the meaning shines clear. Symbolic details--such as the role memory plays in Hannah's response to her experiences--are meticulously worked out. A triumphantly moving book. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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