In this picture story about the holocaust, which is based on a true story about Polacco’s great-aunt Marcelle, and Marcelle’s daughter Monique, young Monique wakes in the night one night to see a girl about her own age sitting at the end of the bed. When she says something, the girl flees, and Monique believes she has seen a ghost. In the morning her mother dismisses it as a dream, and Monique doesn’t think any more about it, until the girl reappears many nights later. Sevrine is a very real girl, a Jew, hiding, with her parents in Monique’s cellar. The girls secretly become friends, but one night they are seen by a neighbor, and Sevrine and her parents have to flee.
When Monique and her mother are returning from helping them escape, they get separated at a train station where the Nazi’s are searching people. Monique is swept up onto a train car and doesn’t know where she is going. Finally she recognizes the name of a station, and gets off, and walks home, having no idea where her mother is, paralleling the uncertainty about the safety of Sevrine and her parents.
Polacco manages to convey both the terror of life during the holocaust for Jews, and for ordinary citizens, as well as showing the courage of those who took risks to help, in a way that children can understand and identify with.