The Boy Who Dared: A Novel Based on the True Story of a Hitler Youth

The Boy Who Daredby Susan Campbell Bartoletti

We meet young Helmuth on October 27, 1942 on his 264th day in a Nazi prison.  It’s a Tuesday and the executioner works on Tuesday.  Will this be Helmuth’s Tuesday?

What has Helmuth done to land himself here, waiting in the cold, dank cell for death.  Helmuth thinks back to how he got here, back to Germany right after World War I, back to when Hitler was first voted into power with words of hope and wealth and security for the German people, back to the times when he began to question the words fed to him in school, at home, in the news, back to the point when he made his life-threatening decision.  Helmuth is the boy who dared to question and dared to do something to try to right what he felt was so wrong.

Reaction: This is a powerful book and what makes it so powerful is the reality behind the story, the shocking and thoroughly researched history, and the author’s wonderful ability to weave this story.  I really felt Bartoletti’s attachment to the story and I learned so much from this book.  My limited history classes in no way truly prepared me for what Germany was like during the 1930s and 40s.  I loved the author’s note, where she explained what happened to many of the characters, talked about her interviews with people she characterized in her book, and shared photos of the real Helmuth, his family, his friends, and the room where he was murdered.  I am very interested in reading Bartoletti’s nonfiction book Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hilter’s Shadow, the work that first introduced her to Helmuth’s story.  This is a definite go ahead for my booktalks.  I am really excited to share this one with the students.

The Boy Who Dared is nominated for a Cybils.  I have been avoiding reviewing Cybils books until after the finalists have been announced but I just had to talk about how great this book is at depicting the German side of WWII.

The Dragonfly Pool

Dragonfly Poolby Eva Ibbotson

Tally’s family decides it is best to send her away from London to the safe haven of the countryside as war becomes a more imminent threat.  Tally doesn’t want to go to boarding school, but she is a very like-able, very agreeable child who only wishes for the happiness of others, so she complies.  What Tally finds at Delderton is more than she could have ever imagined–a free-thinking, free-spirited place where she can imagine being and doing anything she wants.

While at Delderton, Tally sees a news reel about the small country of Bergania and how the country’s king has been steadfast in his refusal to surrender to Hitler and the Nazis.  Tally feels a connection to the image of the strong but tired King of Bergania.  When word comes to Delderton that Bergania wishes to host an international folk dancing festival, Tally jumps at the chance to travel to Bergania despite the fact that she and her friends know nothing of dancing.  Putting together a makeshift dance with makeshift costumes and makeshift music, Tally and her fellow Deldertonians make their way to Bergania.

In Bergania, Tally becomes friends with the unhappy Prince Karil.  Karil wishes only to be able to spend some time with his father, to be able to make his own choices, and to have true friends.  When Tally offers a friendship that has nothing to do with his status, Karil is thrilled, but his happiness is short-lived as tragedy strikes Bergania.  Tally and the other Deldertonians must help save Karil from the fate the Nazi’s have in store for him as well as the fate his own family has planned for him.

Reaction: For pretty much no reason at all, I wasn’t thrilled.  It just didn’t strike me.  The story was solid and enjoyable.  Ibbotson is certainly a talented writer.  Most of the characters were very interesting, especially the teachers.  I really like the interspersed illustrations drawn by Kevin Henkes.  But, Tally was too perfect, parts of the story were too predictable and bit too hokey for me, and I thought it moved a bit slowly and was a tad long.  I am in the minority though, so possibly you shouldn’t listen to my opinion.  Read the Amazon reviews (all 5 star reviews) and Stacy’s over at Welcome to my Tweendom.

Also, I’m probably not going to use this for my booktalks.  Not because of my review but because, while it takes place during the war, it is much more about people and relationships than the war. Don’t get me wrong, the reader is aware that the war is approaching and happening, depending on how far along in the book you are, and it is very important to the story but it’s most important effect was to an imaginary country.  But, I’m torn because I liked the description of the warning balloons and the Nazi villains and how people were called up in the draft and other subtle but important things involving life during WWII.  I’ll see what I think closer to the date, I suppose.

WWII for 6th Graders

As I have mentioned in a couple of recent posts, I am giving booktalks in January to 6th graders on World War II in Europe.  I have lists of books used in the past by my predecessors and I am planning on including many of them, but I am interested in some different titles to shake things up a bit.  Also, I am horrible, absolutely horrible with knowing reading levels and appropriateness for ages/grades.  I consider this one of my biggest failings as a librarian.  I really wish they had offered some sort of development course in library school that would have addressed this.  Anyway, the point is I could use any help anyone has to offer.  I am going to list the ones I am currently looking into using.  Weigh in on them — yay or nay on whether I should use them.  Any good ones I’m missing — specifically non-fiction titles, that’s my current weak point.  Anything else you may find important.  Help me narrow my list down to a manageable amount of reading and booktalk writing for the next month.

Here are the titles I’m looking at so far (I’m certainly not going to use them all, only probably 8 or so):

  • The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson (almost finished reading this one)
  • Marika by Andrea Cheng (local author)
  • Throw your feet over your shoulders : beyond the Kindertransport by Frieda Stolzberg Korobkin
  • Hana’s Suitcase: a True Story by Karen Levine
  • On Rough Seas by Nancy Hull (new but horrible cover — has anyone else seen this one?)
  • Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
  • Someone Named Eva by Joan Wolf
  • In defiance of Hitler : the secret mission of Varian Fry by Carla Killough McClafferty
  • Hitler Youth : growing up in Hitler’s shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger
  • Lost in America by Marilyn Sachs (probably too American focused for this project…not sure)
  • Elephant Run by Roland Smith (Burma, not Europe, and may too old?)
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
  • Emil and Karl by Jacob Glatstein (way American/Englishized version of the author’s name)
  • The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo
  • Yellow Star by Jennifer Rozines Roy

Wow, that’s a lot more than I realize.  Thank you in advance for any help you may give!

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamasby John Boyne

Nine-year-old Bruno must leave his comfortable home in Berlin that has five floor and a banister for sliding down and his three best friends for life and his grandparents to live in a desolate countryside where there are no children to play with.  He must do this because his father has a very important job.  Bruno can see many children, and adults for that matter, out his window but they all live on the other side of the fence.  Bruno thinks there must be another town beyond that fence but doesn’t understand why they are there and he is here and they can’t mingle.  One day when exploring, because Bruno wants to be an explorer when he grows up, he meets Shmuel, a boy with his exact same birthday who lives behind the fence.  Bruno wonders why Shmuel is so skinny and has grey skin and is always hungry and scared and sad and why Shmuel and the others behind the fence all wear pajamas.  What is the secret behind the people who live behind the fence and Bruno’s father’s important job?

Reaction: I really liked the concept and I even liked the author’s writing style but I found the book flawed.  First, the biggest problem was Bruno’s totally naivete.  He’s nine and probably ten by the end of the book.  In reality, he would have understood much more about what was going on.  In the book, Bruno knew nothing and understood nothing which seems entirely impossible considering his father was supposedly running Auschwitz.  He didn’t understand what Jews were and why they were different; he didn’t know the difference between the star sash and the swastika sash but thought he would rather wear the star; he didn’t even know he had moved from Germany to Poland.  Sheesh.  In the end, Bruno’s total lack of understanding for what was going on around him somehow made the story less emotional for me.  My other pet-peeve was with some of the language used.  For example, Bruno and his sister called their new home Out With — play on words with Auschwitz.  BUT Bruno speaks German and “out with” in German is not Auschwitz or even close to it.  Bugged the crap out of me.  There were other similar incidents where a play on words didn’t quite add up.  I pretty much agree with everything Ralph Blumenau said in his review on Amazon.  I may still use it in my booktalks because I did really enjoy Boyne’s writing.  For example, “out of bounds at all times and no exceptions” being used every time his father’s office was mentioned and the subtleties of what was happening with the other characters in the background — did I imagine that Bruno’s mother had an affair with Lt. Kotler?

What’s next: A movie!  And it looks more fleshed out and million times sadder than the book.  Here’s the trailer: