My Guardian Angel

Written by Sylvie Weil (trans. Gillian Rosner)
Review by Nancy Castaldo

A refreshing change from the many middle grade novels featuring Jewish protagonists set during World War II, My Guardian Angel offers readers a view into a world rarely portrayed at this reading level. Sylvie Weil has painted us a portrait of the year 1096 through the eyes of a spunky, twelve-year-old, Jewish girl named Elvina.

It is based on the story of Solomon ben Isaac and his granddaughter, Elvina, and takes place in the town of Troyes, France at the time of the Crusades. The pope, Urban II, has called on Christians in 1096 to march into the Holy Land and take the Christian Holy Places back from the Muslims. The Jewish community of Troyes is terrified of Peter the Hermit and his men, the Crusaders, who are moving through the town on their way to the Holy Land.

One afternoon, while Elvina is left alone, three Crusaders pound on her door. One, a young boy, not much older than Elvina, is wounded. Elvina must decide if she should she put her family and community at risk to help him. The decision she makes changes the course of her life and her community.

Weil weaves the historical details of Elvina’s life flawlessly through the text. We feel the parchment in her hands, her frustration over the cracked eggs in her bed, and the sweet taste of the honey cakes she carries with her to Gautheir. Somewhat haphazardly, though, the text alternates between Elvina’s first person communications with her guardian angel, Mazal, and chapters of third person narrative.

My Guardian Angel is the winner of the Prix Sorcieres, France’s most prestigious award for children’s literature.