The Blackbird Girls
The Blackbird Girls

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Annotation: In this historical novel, three girls--Chernobyl survivors Valentina and Oksana in 1986, and Rifka in 1941 during World War--learn the power of friendship to overcome hatred and oppression.
Catalog Number: #255283
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright Date: 2021
Edition Date: 2021
Pages: 340 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 1-9848373-7-0 Perma-Bound: 0-7804-8930-6
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-1-9848373-7-0 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-8930-1
Dewey: Fic
Dimensions: 20 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
When Valentina awakes to a red sky marred by billowing blue smoke, she knows something has gone wrong in her home of Pripyat. Her worry only grows when her father doesn't return from his shift at the Chernobyl power station, the source of the otherworldly fire. But good Soviet citizens don't ask questions, her mother reminds her, a fact that goes double for children. Despite its best efforts, the government cannot conceal the magnitude of this disaster, and it begins evacuating Pripyat's residents. When the mother of Oksana classmate who bullies Valentina for being Jewish placed in quarantine, Valentina's mother sends both girls to Leningrad to stay with Valentina's estranged grandmother. Blankman gives her three female leads complex characters that are revealed by the shifting narration and their interactions with one another. Prejudice and abuse are combated by experience and love, which help all involved to grow. The book's dangerous atmosphere comes less from the nuclear disaster than it does from the oppressive and watchful government, adding yet another intriguing layer to this well-executed historical novel.
Publishers Weekly
In April 1986, in the village of Pripyat, Ukraine, two fifth-grade nemeses are thrown together following the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion, which kills both of their fathers, one immediately, one through radiation poisoning. During evacuation, Oksana, who has been taught that -all Jews are liars,- protests in alarm when Valentina-s mother assumes responsibility for her. Valentina, meanwhile, resents the unwelcome accompaniment of her school adversary. After traveling to Leningrad, they board with Valentina-s formerly estranged grandmother, who secretly practices Judaism. Alternating between each girl-s perspective, the narrative also includes occasional interludes about Rivka, a 12-year-old girl who flees Ukraine in 1941, running from the German army that has slaughtered her family. Gradually, Oksana and Valentina develop a bond that mirrors Rivka-s friendship with a Muslim girl who saved her life during WWII. Blankman (Traitor Angels) conveys Russia-s entrenched anti-Semitism, as well as the constant vigilance required of citizens living in a police state, through the children-s eyes, as they observe adults- fear of being overheard or spied on, and field constant reminders not to criticize authority. This engrossing work of historical fiction captures Chernobyl-s devastating impact on land and people while upholding the power of kindness to overcome prejudice and withstand oppression. Ages 9-12. (Mar.)
School Library Journal Starred Review
Gr 4-7 It is 1986 in Pripyat, Ukraine, and fifth grade classmates Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko are sworn enemies. At home, Oksana's father physically abuses her and rails against Jewish people, and at school Oksana bullies Valentina, who is Jewish. But when a reactor explodes at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant where both girls' fathers work, they find themselves thrown together in the tumultuous evacuation. With a dead father and a hospitalized mother, Oksana's only chance of safety is to accompany her classmate to Valentina's grandmother's home in distant Leningrad. The warmth and compassion of Valentina and her grandmother shock Oksana, who begins to realize that everything her father told her about Jews was wrongwhich means that maybe he was also wrong when he called Oksana weak and unlovable. In time, the two girls learn to trust each other with their respective secrets and develop a life-sustaining friendship. This story, told in Oksana's and Valentina's alternating perspectives, is interspersed with a third perspective from 1941, that of Rifka (a Jewish girl fleeing Kiev and the advancing German army on foot), who finds shelter and friendship in Uzbekistan. These tales ultimately intersect, presenting a deeply affecting testament to the power of unlikely friendship in the face of bias, tragedy, and distance. Each strand of the narrative is equally fast paced, gripping, and heartbreaking. Oksana experiences a nuanced evolution in her feelings toward her abusive father, from grief to anger to empowerment, while Valentina grapples with what Judaisma faith she knows almost nothing aboutmeans to her as she begins to practice in secret with her grandmother, and Rifka loses everything in the process of finding safety and a new family. A detailed author's note provides further historical background and a recommended reading list. VERDICT A stunning look at a historical event rarely written about for young people, elevated by strong pacing, emotional depth, and intense, moving friendships that readers will root for. A first purchase. Elizabeth Giles, Lubuto Library Partners, Zambia
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Starred Review ALA Booklist
School Library Journal Starred Review (3/1/20)
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Publishers Weekly
Bibliography Index/Note: Includes bibliographical references.
Word Count: 83,362
Reading Level: 4.8
Interest Level: 4-7
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 4.8 / points: 12.0 / quiz: 509231 / grade: Middle Grades
Lexile: 560L
Guided Reading Level: J

Like Ruta Sepetys for middle grade, Anne Blankman pens a poignant and timeless story of friendship that twines together moments in underexplored history.

On a spring morning, neighbors Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko wake up to an angry red sky. A reactor at the nuclear power plant where their fathers work--Chernobyl--has exploded. Before they know it, the two girls, who've always been enemies, find themselves on a train bound for Leningrad to stay with Valentina's estranged grandmother, Rita Grigorievna. In their new lives in Leningrad, they begin to learn what it means to trust another person. Oksana must face the lies her parents told her all her life. Valentina must keep her grandmother's secret, one that could put all their lives in danger. And both of them discover something they've wished for: a best friend. But how far would you go to save your best friend's life? Would you risk your own?

Told in alternating perspectives among three girls--Valentina and Oksana in 1986 and Rifka in 1941--this story shows that hatred, intolerance, and oppression are no match for the power of true friendship.

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