Mapping the Bones

Jane Yolen

“To die was easy. To live was easy. Papa said to us ‘We have chosen the more difficult path, that of life. Now we must walk it.’ We walked. He didn’t say it would be easy or smooth. He didn’t say we had to like the walk. But he tried in every way to smooth the path where we stepped.” 

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I love Jane Yolen’s writing, Mapping the Bones was no exception. I enjoyed reading this book, so much so I finished it in a day. Anyone who likes historical fiction or holocaust fiction will enjoy this story. Be warned, this tale will pull at your heartstrings and remind you of the power of family.

Chaim, his twin sister Gittel, and their family are forced out of their home and into a Jewish ghetto. More and more people are moving into the ghetto, but there is no room. Bruno and Sophie are siblings whose family moves in with the Twins. Food and space are scarce and so is their patients. The families do not jive.
The twin’s father gets the news they are on the list. People on this list are called and shipped away on a train to what we can only assume is a concentration camp. With the help of community members, they form a plan to escape into the woods. It becomes clear their parents will do whatever it takes to ensure the children’s safety. The children chase safety but end up in a labor camp where they were tested mentally and physically.

Throughout the novel, you read snippets of Chaim’s poetry and reflections from Gittel. Both are excellent additions to the story. I enjoyed the poetry more than Gittel’s short pieces.

Overall, I loved Mapping the Bones. BUT as far as it being a Hansel and Grettle retelling, I am not sold. There was a fairy tale feel, but I didn’t pick up on clear hint to the Hansel and Grettle tale. The ending echoes the fairy tale, but even then I think it is a stretch. There are notes in the back of the book where Yolen describes her take on the retelling. I briefly skimmed over it, I know how awful of me. If it wasn’t obvious as I was reading that the story was a retelling… then it wasn’t one. Honestly, I wasn’t interested enough to read everything in the back of the book. I loved the story retelling or not. 

If you enjoy reading historical fiction, you should check this read out. If you are reading Mapping the Bones because it is a spin on Hansel and Grettle, look elsewhere.

Have you read Mapping the Bones? Do you have plans to read it?

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the cover before I returned it to the library. The image above is from


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