A great read for parents of older Eastern European
adoptees and their children
by Nancy Dynes
[Editor's note: The following review originally appeared on the PEP e-mail list for parents of children adopted from Eastern Europe. Nancy graciously agreed to allow it to be reprinted here.]
As I am faced with my children's moaning about facing yet another "year without Harry," I have been taking the opportunity to reintroduce classics and books that don't have to contain wizards and magic to be wonderful. Not that I don't love Harry, but with five children you can imagine I have about memorized all four books by now.
A couple of weeks ago I was browsing in Amazon's children's book section and chanced upon a title that caught my eye. The book is called Halinka. It is written by Mirijam Pressler, a prestigious author of children's books in Germany. This book has been translated and released in the States and is recommended for children 9-12.
Upon receiving the book, I decided to read part of it myself first. I started reading and couldn't put it down. It is the story of a 12-year-old Polish girl who was placed in an orphanage around her school-age years after suffering abuse and neglect at the hands of her alcoholic mother. It is set in the years following WWII, but even though it is a different time period, it could easily be the story of any of our children.
While reading this book, I felt like I was living in the children's home with Halinka myself. She talks about her day to day life and her feelings and confusion about all that has happened to her, describing everything so vividly. You can almost feel the beginnings of attachment disorder as she describes her discomfort at being touched by people, and how she doesn't need anyone, but would rather be by herself. If she is hurt she won't cry because it is a sign of weakness. If she is scolded she sits rigidly and stares away from the person speaking to her.
The way she talks about food you can understand why so many of our children were obsessed with it when they first arrived home. It even made me crave bananas.
By age 12, she has been transferred to what our children would refer to as an internat. She has developed survival skills and "doesn't see what is so wrong about stealing." You get to know the other girls in her group, and it is interesting to see the differences in how they cope with their situation. Halinka is teased because she is of Gypsy descent; another girl is targeted because her mother is in prison. There is a definite sense that the biggest and strongest girls have the most power.
Halinka eventually allows herself to develop a friendship with one girl, and the end of the story hints that she may be beginning to trust her caregiver, who is overall a kind woman.
It is truly a very moving story and just as appealing to adults as to children. A word of caution though, you may want to read this aloud with your children unless they are quite mature. Halinka describes how a bigger girl comes to her bed at night to be caressed/hugged and her anger when this girl leaves her for another. You may want to edit that part out unless you want to explore that situation further with your child. She also uses some profanity, just as many of our children did in the orphanage, so you may want to edit that too. I wouldn't let a 9- to 12-year-old read this on their own even though that is the target age group.
I do feel it would be a wonderful book for parents and children to read together. This is a wonderful change of pace if you are growing weary of Harry, Artemis, and Hobbits.
[Nancy Dynes is mom to five ages 9-18 who will still be first in line when Harry Potter #5 is released.]
Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Dynes