Kata Steiner lives with her parents and older brother in Budapest following World War II. They have survived the Holocaust but now find themselves suffering under the grip of the Hungarian Workers Party. Kata's father has lost the factory that he built and is now a laborer there, and Kata's mother creates stuffed bears to sell on the black market. Kata tells her family's story in dual narratives, alternating between her contemporary story and flashbacks, indicated in italics, to the family's time spent in hiding from the Nazis. She faces hardship with a wavering combination of selfish disappointment and honorable strength, honestly reflecting her genuinely childlike struggle with her circumstances and with herself. Mining her own family's history, Cheng has crafted a cast of characters and palpable setting that are vivid and compelling, and she offers a glimpse into history that many children will find easy to relate to and powerfully affecting. — Thom Barthelmess
The Bear Makers
One family's story of survival in postwar Hungary, 1948. In Budapest after the war, when Kata’s family first returns from hiding, they are glad to be alive and hopeful that life will improve. But the secret police is questioning everyone about their loyalty to the Hungarian Workers Party, and conditions seem to be worsening. The eleven-year-old doesn’t understand why her brother Bela is acting so differently or why he hasn’t come home from his recent excursion. Her father used to own the factory, but now, as an employee, his wages continue to fall. She helps her mother sew the bears they will sell on the black market, but when Kata learns that Bela has escaped the country, she grows angry and sad. In time, she hopes that Bela will make it to America and will send for his family.