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A ‘Wishing Shelf’ Book Review  -  2017

I very much enjoyed this children’s novel by José Patterson. It ticks almost every box for a ‘good children’s book’: a strong hero, a thoroughly exciting adventure, a light, accessible writing style and even a strong moral to keep parents happy!

Let’s start with pacing, a very important aspect of any adventure book. Well, this has it; lots of it. There’s plenty happening and, most importantly, it is happening to plenty of interesting characters. This book should keep any 9 – 13 year old, boy or girl, thoroughly absorbed.

All in all, the writing style is perfect for a children’s adventure novel. It has plenty of speech, short paragraphs and short chapters. Best of all, it’s not full of adverbs – which can kill any story – and the author knows when to ‘get things moving’.

The author works particularly well with setting. She understands how important it is not to just simply describe the ‘historical’ setting but, rather, have the characters interact with it in a natural and unobtrusive way. Many authors who set a book in a different century seem determined to describe every silver spoon and every woollen tunic. Thankfully, this author has not fallen into that trap.

Often, when I discuss a children’s novel, I tend to forget the illustrations. I’m an English teacher so, to me, a good book is all about writing style, plot, characters and setting. But, with this novel, I can’t. They are stunning. There’s a picture at the beginning of every chapter, and, they are so good, I stopped to enjoy them before reading on.

But I have kept the best bit for last. And that’s the theme. The bond between the characters seems to be a very important aspect to this book. I loved the way the strangers Sarah meets, particularly when crossing the Atlantic, try to help her. And I also liked the way the strangers did not feel like strangers for long. The author is very talented at helping secondary characters jump of the page.

To sum up, this is a gripping story. There’s an adventure, yes, but it’s not full of war and blood. It’s a story where the author seems determined that the readers get to know the characters and want to be like them. And it’s a story that will help a child to understand what is was like to live and travel over a hundred years ago. And for me, being a parent, that results in a pretty big THUMBS-UP!’





This book was entered and was a BRONZE medal winner in The 2016 Wishing Shelf Book Awards. This is what our readers thought:

Title: My Aunt Manya
Author: José Patterson
Star Rating: 5 Stars
Number of 32 Readers:
Editing: 10/10
Writing Style: 9/10
Content: 10/10
Cover: 10/10
Of the 32 readers:
32 would read another book by this author.
31 thought the cover was good or excellent.
32 felt it was easy to follow.
32 would recommend this story to another reader to try.
20 felt the author’s strongest skill was ‘plotting a story’.
12 felt the author’ strongest skill was ‘developing the characters’.
28 felt the pacing was good or excellent.
32 thought the author understood the readership and what they wanted.



Review by Susie Dunston on 25 March 2017

This is a beautifully written and moving story of ten year-old Sarah who travels alone from Piliki in Russia to New York in 1891. Based on a true story, we follow Sarah as she leaves her homeland and everything she has known to go and live with an aunt she has never met. Her adventures, losses and new friendships are described in a realistic and credible way, although there are many unexpected twists and turns. Sarah is a courageous and sympathetic heroine and I would thoroughly recommend this book to readers of all ages.


Review in The School Librarian by Clare Morpurgo

Based on a true story, in this slim volume José Patterson brings to life all the sadness and difficulties confronted by the Jewish emigres when they were forced to leave Russia in the early 20th century, and helps to shed some light on the situation for refugees fleeing war and persecution today.


Sarah Nossovsky leaves her hated stepmother’s house to join her father in New York. Travelling by horse drawn wagon along rutted roads, hiding in the forests from murderous Cossacks she eventually arrives in Bremerhaven. Here she joins the thousands of people leaving Europe for a new life in America.


The strength of character needed by a little girl travelling alone from one side of the globe to the other is well described, as is the legendary kindness of strangers that the child meets along the way.


The terrible conditions experienced by refugees travelling steerage, in the bowels of the ship across the Atlantic, are perhaps not quite so horrific in comparison to the sea crossings being made today by countless migrants trying to reach safety from war-torn countries, but the descriptions make the reader think.


The book is greatly enriched by the introduction of some Jewish vocabulary. The story is enhanced by Patricia Drew’s beautiful illustrations. A map showing Sarah’s journey would have been a good addition.

Book Review by Drora Arussi for  the Jewish Book Council

My Aunt Manya review by Jenny Woolf age 13


My Aunt Manya is a gripping story about a ten year old girl called Sarah. Sarah lives in Piliki, in Russia with her difficult and obnoxious step-mother. Sarah's real mother died when she was young and her father is living in America, with Sarah's Aunt Manya, looking for a sustainable and well paid job. One day Sarah receives a life changing letter from her Aunt Manya saying that her father was killed in a road accident. However the letter also included the chance for Sarah to have new life as her Aunt Manya enclosed some money and a boat ticket to take Sarah to America. Sarah desperately needed to leave her home town due to the frightening threat of pogroms happening around her. So Sarah took on the dangerous journey from Russia to America encountering many challenges along the way including helping with the delivery of a baby whilst traveling on a boat across the ocean. However after her tiresome journey not everything turns out the way she had planned and the end brings with it new surprises.


I found the book moving, intense and captivating. The beautiful detail, language and description made the scenes easy to imagine. This book was written with passion and I would love to read more about Sarah's adventures. I would definitely recommend this book to anybody who is looking for a good read. Knowing that the events that took place in the book are based around a true story makes it feel even more interesting and touching. Sarah is a real heroine and so were all the people that helped her on her long journey.

Book Review by Tabitha Appel aged 11 yrs.


I really enjoyed My Aunt Manya, which is the second of José Patterson’s books that I’ve read. This book is about an 11-year old girl called Sarah who has to travel to America to join her Aunt Manya because her parents have died. It tells the story of a brave young girl and her adventures through a forest, across the Atlantic Ocean and much more. She travels on

her own, but meets lots of kind friends. We learn about how Sarah feels when she goes on the long, difficult journey and what it must have been like for the thousands of other people who made a similar journey.


Through the book, we also learn some Yiddish Words – one that’s particularly relevant to the books is ‘beshert’ meaning ‘destiny.’ One feature in the book that I especially liked is the imaginary letter to Aunt Manya at the end of each chapter

where Sarah opens up her feelings. The book is a gripping read – as soon as one adventure is over, another one starts. The whole book builds up to Sarah seeing Aunt Manya but there is a surprise at the end. I would recommend this book to any

8-12 year old child who loves a good story.


Book Review by Laurie R.


"My Aunt Manya" is an engaging tale of a very brave little girl who escapes the pogroms threatening her small town in Russia and makes it to New York to start her new life. Though it is written at a level perfect for the older elementary school aged child, it is also a wonderful story for readers of all ages! The story has strong characters, good people who help others. Sarah, the main character, is a positive, clever and kind girl, but shown also are her very real moments of sadness, frustration, and loneliness. "My Aunt Manya" is realistic yet optimistic. It's the kind of book you'll be happy to share with your kids and grandkids. Laurie R.


Review A on 14 Feb. 2016


This is a delightful story, beautifully written, conveying the hopes and fears of a young girl, Sarah, as she makes her way to the New World. The author has a real gift for story-telling. 'My Aunt Manya' is full of interest, poignancy and humour. The device of Sarah writing an imaginary letter to her Aunt Manya at the end of each chapter works very well, and the illustrations - by Patricia Drew - are charming.


Review B on 20 Feb. 2016


A little gem. A fragment of social history, ostensibly written for children but, set as it is some five generations ago, its poignancy reaches out to adult readers as well. Jose Patterson is a gifted and unpretentious story-teller. What greater praise?


Review by Angela Kiverstein “The Jewish Chronicle”


My Aunt Manya is the story of 10-year-old Sarah, sent unaccompanied to New York to escape the Russian pogroms. She endures stinking conditions in steerage, assists with the birth of a baby, learns English from a kind, fellow passenger and confronts a final challenge on Ellis Island before finding a new home. Sarah’s adventures are simply told, with authentic detail and nothing too scary for readers aged 9 to 12. There is real emotional depth to the account, with its affectionate recollections of tsimmes, kugel and faith in beshert. Patricia Drew’s line drawings are the perfect accompaniment.



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