The Sound of Freedom, the first book in Kathy Kacer's Heroes Quartet series, fictionalizes the story of the world-renowned Polish violinist Bronisław Huberman, who saved close to 1,000 Jews between 1933 and 1936 by forming the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, which became a haven and a means of escape for Jewish musicians. The story follows Anna Hirsch, a young Jewish girl living in Kraków, Poland, in 1936.
Life is becoming dangerous for Jews like Anna and her father, an acclaimed clarinetist. Anna begs her father to leave Kraków. But how can they escape? Their answer lies in Huberman, who is auditioning Jewish musicians for his new orchestra in Palestine. Exit visas are issued to those who are accepted into the orchestra, securing their survival and their freedom.
Kacer, winner of several Forest of Reading awards as well as a Jewish Book Award and a Sydney Taylor Book Award silver medal, has written more than 20 fiction and nonfiction books focused on stories about the Holocaust. Her first book, The Secret of Gabi's Dresser, was published in 1999 and is based on the story of Kacer's mother, who was a Holocaust survivor. (Kacer's father was a Holocaust survivor as well.)
When Annick Press cofounder Rick Wilks approached Kacer about writing a new series for children, she had never heard of Bronisław Huberman and his remarkable story. But that didn't stop the Toronto-based author.
"I was delighted to dive into Huberman's background and create this book around his life," Kacer says. "Fortunately, there is a lot that has been written about him, and I was able to uncover rich information about his background from websites, videos, and other sources."
But to make The Sound of Freedom appealing to children, she needed her story to revolve around a character to whom kids nine and older could relate. "Huberman was already an adult when he saved the Jewish musicians of Europe," Kacer says. "I needed to create a young girl who was the child of one of those who had been saved."
To bring Anna to life, Kacer relied on stories she had heard from Holocaust survivors such as her parents. "I grew up listening to my parents' stories of survival as well as the stories of other relatives and family friends," she says. "I think I always take bits and pieces of many of those stories when I am creating a fictional character for one of my books."
While writing The Sound of Freedom, Kacer worked hard to achieve the delicate balance necessary for portraying the Holocaust for children: a compelling narrative that would not frighten young readers. "Obviously, I don't want to traumatize my audience," Kacer says. "I want readers to be curious about this history, and passionate about it, and determined to read more. At the same time, I think it's fine for young people to be saddened by this history. I am continually balancing on that fine line between wanting kids to be moved but not terrified. I think, after all these years of writing, that I've just come to know how much to include and how to frame the story to achieve all of that."
The subject of Kacer's next book in the Heroes Quartet series will be the famous mime Marcel Marceau. He saved approximately 150 Jewish children in the South of France by smuggling them out of the country and into Switzerland. The book will be released in March 2019. The final two heroes of the series have yet to be determined, but according to Kacer, they will be women. "There are lots of stories out there," Kacer says, "and I'm eager to get to all of them."
The Sound of Freedom is a direct tie-in for educators conducting Holocaust study units and programs such as Remembrance Day and Holocaust Education Week (Nov. 2–9, Canada). Kacer is available for school visits, and educators can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.