Clara's family is Jewish. Soon after the Nazis annex Austria in 1938, the persecution begins with midnight arrests, vandalism, and burglaries. Months earlier there had been laughter and jokes in Clara’s house. Now, nights are filled with fearful whispers. Then, Clara overhears her father saying, “We must leave Austria now, before it is too late.” Papa sells their belongings for cash to bribe the guards at the Swiss border. Mother will carry their one satchel. Anything the girls want to take must be worn or carried in their coats. Clara takes her grandmother’s dolls, Gittel and Lotte and volunteers to hide the family’s precious silver candlesticks in the dolls’ straw stuffing. The family cuts off their yellow stars and sets out under the cover of darkness. At the Swiss border, Clara must lie to protect herself and her family.
The book’s main purpose is to show the humiliation and fear suffered by Jewish families. This may be the reason that Ackerman chose to have her characters wear the yellow star even though it's use didn't start until 1939. Ackerman makes one small aspect of the Jewish experience during Hitler's regime accessible to younger children without making it too frightening. I've always like Ackerman's way of telling a story. It's too bad that she didn't write more juvenile fiction! Her other books The Leaves in October and The Broken Boy are out-of-print.