YA – Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis

Gaddy, K.R. Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis. Dutton, 2020. 978-0-525-55541-4. 301 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

This engaging non-fiction title introduces readers to the Edelweiss Pirates, groups of nonconformist German youth. The Pirates rejected the demands of the Nazis to join Hitler Youth organizations. Instead, they held secret gatherings where they enjoyed activities such as camping, hiking, and singing. They also adopted a distinct style of dress that often included badges or buttons featuring an edelweiss flower motif. Gaddy incorporates many first hand accounts and experiences of Edelweiss Pirates within the text to help bring their stories to life for the reader. When war broke out, the teen members of the Pirates grew daring in their defiance of the Nazis. They painted anti-Nazi graffiti around their towns and distributed anti-Nazi flyers. Some members even carried out sabotage and planned attacks against the Nazis. These actions carried a high risk. Many Edelweiss Pirates found themselves arrested and beaten by the Gestapo, imprisoned, or worse. The text is supplemented by numerous photos and excerpts from official documents. An extensive bibliography is also included.

THOUGHTS: This fascinating exploration of these little known anti-Nazi resistance groups is sure to hold appeal for students. A worthwhile addition to secondary World War II collections, it could also be incorporated into discussions or displays about historical youth activism.

940.53 World War II            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – The Missing: The True Story of My Family in World War II

Rosen, Michael. The Missing: The True Story of My Family in World War II. Candlewick, 2020. 9781536212891. 128 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

The Missing tells one man’s quest to find more information on his family that has been spread across multiple countries and just as many assumptions on what happened to some of the family members after the war. The short chapter book is written in chronological order, and most chapters end with a poem or part of a poem written by the author. Although a lot of specific information regarding World War II, especially from an English perspective, will be novel to most readers, most of it is specific to the author and his family. The abridged poems fit nicely with the topic covered in the previous chapter and are moving. In fact, the poetry could probably stand along as a more moving piece of literature, instead of including the granular details of uncovering the history of the Rosen family. The language is simplistic and the content is covered in a way that is not traumatic for young readers. Most helpful is the list of further reading at the end of the book, as well as some photos, including some letters.

THOUGHTS: In an already rather overpopulated genre, this title is recommended strictly for upper elementary or middle school libraries who feel a need to expand on their World War II collection.

940 Holocaust          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA FIC – Before I Let Go; Rules of Rain; Moxie; The Librarian of Auschwitz

Nijkamp, Marieke. Before I Let Go. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018. 978-1-492-64228-2. 368 p. $17.15. Gr. 10 and up.

Returning to Lost Creek, Alaska, for her best friend’s funeral after moving away several months ago, Corey is devastated. She never found the words to tell Kyra that there was a great big world outside of Lost, and now she’ll never have the opportunity. Guilt-ridden over never responding to Kyra’s letters, Corey doesn’t know what to expect in Lost. Lost isn’t what she remembers, and neither are the people that live there. The town that she once loved and that loved her seems like it’s hiding something. Determined to uncover the truth about Kyra’s death, Corey sets out on her own. Desperate to find answers before her return to Winnipeg and terrified for her safety, Corey races against the clock before her flight departs. Told in present tense, letters sent and unsent, and flashback narratives written in play format, Corey’s and Kyra’s stories unfold as Lost fights to keep its secrets.  THOUGHTS: The remote Alaskan wilderness amps up the creepy factor in this mystery. Through the emphasis on Kyra’s storytelling, readers will be compelled to learn what actually happened to her, but they may not feel fully invested in the novel, as the characters lack depth. Though identity and mental health issues are addressed, they are not at the center of the story. Before I Let Go is a good read for mystery fans and those interested in exploring the ways mental illness affects one’s life and experiences.

Mystery; Realistic Fiction    Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Scheier, Leah. Rules of Rain. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 978-1-492-65426-1. 384 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up.

The connection between twins can be unique. Add into the mix one twin has autism, and the dynamics are even more complicated. Rain’s entire life has revolved around her brother and helping him navigate the world. She has been Ethan’s voice and rock for so long that she knows no different.  Now teenagers, Rain and Ethan are beginning to grow into themselves and somewhat apart from each other. She is interested in cooking and blogging about obscure recipes, while he is fascinated by the inner workings of the human body. Rain and Ethan experience many firsts and learn a lot about each other and themselves. While Ethan seems to be thriving in his independence, it is Rain who begins to unravel. THOUGHTS: This is more than a coming of age story, and there are a lot of issues involved. At the heart of the novel twins are learning as much from each other as the world around them. Their twin/sibling relationship, autism, family dynamics/relationships, parent/child roles, divorce, bullying, underage drinking, as well as teen relationships (friendship and romantic). While other issues are present, to say more would spoil the surprise. Teens with complicated home lives and/or challenging sibling dynamics will like this character-driven novel. Some mature content makes this book more suited for high school readers.  

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Mathieu, Jennifer.  Moxie.  Roaring Brook Press, 2017.  978-1-62672-635-2. 330 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Unlike her mother, who was a rebellious teenager, Vivian Carter has always kept to herself and followed the rules.  However, after witnessing incident after incident of sexism in her conservative Texas high school, none of which are corrected by the administration, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  Inspired by her mother’s Riot Grrrl zines of the nineties, Vivian creates and distributes an anonymous zine around her school, calling for all girls to take action in protest.  The movement gradually grows, with more and more girls participating in each new protest and some girls even taking their own actions to improve the misogynistic environment.  Inspiring and empowering, readers will keep turning pages in order to find out what the Moxie girls are going to do next–and whether or not they will be successful in changing their school’s culture. THOUGHTS: Because of its strong emphasis on feminism, I would recommend this book to teenage girls and/or those who enjoy reading fiction with strong female protagonists.  The novel would also be an excellent supplement for a social studies unit on women’s history, women’s rights, and/or social activism.  It would be sure to spark discussion and may even inspire students to conduct further research on the Riot Grrrl movement of the nineties.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Iturbe, Antonio. The Librarian of Auschwitz. Translated by Lilit Thwaites. Henry Holt and Company, 2017. 978-1627796187. 432 p. $19.99. Gr. 9-12.

Spanish author Antonia Iturbe tells a fictionalized story of the little-known “Librarian of Auschwitz,” a young girl whose task it was to protect the few books in the possession of Jews in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Dita Kraus arrives at Auschwitz after living in the Terezin Ghetto, and is “lucky” enough to be sent to the family camp instead of directly to the gas chambers. In this part of the camp, there is a school run by Freddy Hirsch, who sees in Dita a strong young woman willing to protect their beloved texts. The story moves back and forth between Dita’s life in the ghetto, the lives of other prisoners and Jews, and the backstory of the enigmatic Hirsch. The novel starts out slow and on occasion the language seems a bit stunted (which might be a result of reading it as a translation). However, the story and characters do shine through, and the reader becomes engrossed in this story of both the cultural and physical survival of a people. THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for high schools, especially to complement memoirs and other readings about the Holocaust.

Historical Fiction    Lindsey Myers, Shadyside Academy

YA NF – To Look a Nazi in the Eye

Kacer, Kathy, and Jordana Lebowitz. To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A Teen’s Account of a War Criminal Trial. Second Story Press, 2017. 978-1-772-60040-7. 256 p. $13.95. Gr. 9 and up.

“‘Everyone cries here. There is no shame in that. If you’re not moved by this experience, you won’t be influenced by it,’ the guide said….” (6). Being the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Jordana Lebowitz has been interested in history and her heritage for a long time. Her special connection to other survivors expands while on March of the Living, a high school trip with the Jewish Day School Jordana attended.  After the trip Jordana maintains contact with Hedy Bohm who survived Auschwitz but lost both of her parents there. Years after their initial meeting, Jordana learns Hedy is part of a group of Canadian survivors that are traveling to Germany to testify against Oskar Groening. Moved to be a witness of history and represent her generation, Jordana contacts Thomas Walther, the man responsible for organizing the survivors to attend the trial. With determination and persistence, Jordana is afforded the opportunity to attend Groening’s trial. This book is a compilation of Jordana’s experiences, photographs, trial testimonies, and blog entries.  THOUGHTS: Jordana’s determination to witness history is inspiring. With aging Holocaust survivors, To Look a Nazi in the Eye encourages teens to know history and make a difference in their worlds. Readers looking for a contemporary connection to the Holocaust will get one in this book. With varied sources, there is much room for discussion. Because of the nature of the trial, this book is most suited for high school students studying or interested in learning more about the Holocaust.  

345.43 Criminal Law, Holocaust      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

MS Nonfiction – Shark Week; Kindertransport; WWI Spies

Brockenbrough, Martha. Shark Week: Everything You Need to Know. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2016. 978-1-250-09777-4. $19.99. 149 pp. Gr. 5-8.

Shark Week is one of the Discovery Channel’s highest rated programs each year, so it only makes sense that they would want to draw in younger viewers.  Shark Week: Everything You Need to Know will not only draw out the shark lovers, but may also create shark enthusiasts.  With life-like color photographs, Shark Week aims to please the middle school (and older/younger) reader.  Sectioned into chapters about life, predatory nature, types of sharks, “Shark Fight[s]”, and survivor stories, each topic is further explored in detail through general overviews and bold sections (a great text for textual analysis and reading for information).  Some fun shark facts include the fact that sharks don’t chew; in clear water sharks can see further than their prey; great whites enjoy death metal, and sharks can’t move if flipped over.  THOUGHTS:  This is a perfect addition to middle school nonfiction collections.  The text is easy to read and includes amazing photography and images throughout.  The information is accessible and not overwhelming for readers and will definitely spark further investigation.  

597.3; Sharks     Erin Parkinson, Beaver Area MS-HS

 

Berne, Emma Carlson. Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2017. 978-1-5157-4545-7. $22.49. 112pp. Gr. 3-6.

The Kindertransport is perhaps the most famous children’s refugee program.  From December 1938 until May 1940, Jewish children were brought from Germany, German occupied countries, and the Netherlands to Great Britain to be cared for until the fall of Hitler when they could return home to their families.  With the onset of World War II in 1940, many of the children ended the war with no home or family to return to and limited memories of what had been.  This narrative nonfiction text intertwines the experiences of seven Kindertransport survivors with the history leading up to and during World War II.  Each chapter includes primary source text and images exploring both the individual refugee experience and the universal World War II experience.  This text ends with a timeline, glossary, information section, and bibliography for further exploration.  THOUGHTS:  Although recommended for grades 3-6, this text could easily extend into middle school, especially for reluctant or struggling readers.  The text is large with lots of white space on the page.  Any schools reading The Diary of Anne Frank or Boy in the Striped Pajamas or a similar World War II or Holocaust book would benefit from this purchase.  Even if World War II research is not completed, students would gain great knowledge just by flipping through this text.

940.53; World War II; Holocaust      Erin Parkinson, Beaver Area MS-HS

Lassieur, Allison. Courageous Spies and International Intrigue of World War I. North Mankato, MN: Compass Point Books, 2017. 978-0-7565-5499-6. $25.49. 64pp. Gr. 4-8.

Courageous Spies and International Intrigue of World War I is the first title in a new series from Compass Point Books that focuses on spies during war times.  This text begins with the story of the Black Hand, a Serbian national group solely focused on bringing Bosnia back to Serbia.  The Black Hand’s goal was to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which, as history shows, was successful and ignited World War I.  Since most Black Hand members were teenagers, they were arrested, served prison sentences, and were later released.  Only those twenty and over were sentenced to death for their conspiracy and assassination crimes. This is just the first chapter of Courageous Spies and International Intrigue of World War I.  Later chapters explore the code breakers of Room 40, London (who cracked the Zimmerman telegram, the greatest code at the time, and then went back to normal lives at the end of WWI, but returned to Room 40 with the start of World War II); female spy, British nurse Edith Cavell; “Ace of Spies” Sidney Reilly, a Russian trying to overthrow Vladimir Lenin (Reilly was Ian Fleming’s inspiration for James Bond); Mata Hari, a famous dancer who is believed to have been a German spy, double agent, both, or nothing at all, and La Dame Blanche, a network of Belgium spies working for the Allied forces.  In addition to the intriguing stories, primary sources are scattered throughout the text, with a timeline, glossary, resources, and bibliography at the end. Additional titles in this series include Fearless Spies and Daring Deeds of World War II; Deep-Cover Spies and Double-Crossers of the Cold War, and Cyber Spies and Secret Agents of Modern Times, all set to release later this year.  THOUGHTS:  This is an excellent purchase for middle schools.  The excitement of spies has great appeal, and why not include some of the most famous spies from history.  If nothing else, this is a fun, quick read, especially for reluctant readers and conspiracy theorists :-), and it’ll help with Jeopardy answers!

World War I; Spies      Erin Parkinson, Beaver Area MS-HS

 

The Prisoners of Breendonk – New Narrative NF for Teens

breendonk

Deem, James M. The Prisoners of Breendonk: Personal histories from a WWII concentration camp. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 978-0-544-09664-6. 340 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 & up.

Breendonk was never officially designated a concentration camp by the Nazis, but its status made it no less horrifying for its prisoners.  At first, Jews and non-Jews who had committed petty crimes were held in this Belgian prison, forced to perform mindless, backbreaking labor on starvation rations.  Later in the war, resistance members were brought here for brutal torture and executions.  Except for the testimony and writings of former prisoners, little was known about Breendonk until the author began researching its history.  Deen presents a thorough account of prison life and delves into the backgrounds of many of the prisoners.  Background information about the Belgian resistance movement gives context.  The book is interspersed with valuable primary sources, such as photos, letters and drawings.  An afterword tells readers what happened to many of the prisoners featured in the book.  THOUGHTS:  This would be a solid addition to any library with high interest in the Holocaust or where curriculums delve into this subject.  The sketches by an artist imprisoned at Breendonk are most fascinating; I’ve never seen any Holocaust resource with anything so unique.

Holocaust         Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School

Understanding the Holocaust…series NF from Reference Point Press

holocaust

Understanding the Holocaust (series). San Diego: Reference Point Press, 2016. 80p. $28.95 ea. Gr. 8-12.

Allen, John. Hitler’s Final Solution. 978-1-60152-840-7.

Allen, John. Holocaust Survivors. 978-1-60152-848-3.

Blohm, Craig E. Holocaust Camps and Killing Centers. 978-1-60152-842-1.

Blohm, Craig E. Holocaust Rescue and Liberation. 978-1-60152-844-5.

Blohm, Craig E. Holocaust Resistance. 978-1-60152-846-9.

MacKay, Jenny. Children of the Holocaust. 978-1-60152-838-4.

Nardo, Don. Nazi War Criminals. 978-1-60152-850-6.

Each title in Understanding the Holocaust, Reference Point Press’ new seven-book series for teen researchers, explores a different aspect of the Holocaust in depth. Children of the Holocaust by Jenny MacKay, for example, covers children in hiding, children in captivity, the killing of children, liberation, and growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust. Each book opens with a useful timeline of important dates in Holocaust history, which contextualizes the events described in the following chapters. These extremely well-written, well-organized books incorporate quotes from survivors and eyewitnesses, photographs, and sidebars on pertinent topics such as “Starvation’s Lifelong Victims.” The various authors cover these subjects in a manner that is both respectful of the Holocaust’s victims and appropriate to the intended audience. Nonetheless, some of the text and photographs are inevitably disturbing, particularly in Holocaust Camps and Killing Centers and Hitler’s Final Solution, and these particular volumes may not be the best options for introductory research on the topic. THOUGHTS: While countless resources on the Holocaust exist, because these are some of the most heavily used items in many high school libraries, there is always room on library shelves for a strong new series such as this one.

940.53; Holocaust            Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

 

New Historical Fiction for Middle Grades

paperhearts

Wiviott, Meg. Paper Hearts. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2015. 978-1-4814-3983-1. $17.99. 337p. Gr. 6-8.

First the Nazis mandated the yellow armbands, followed by enclosures, displaced persons, and unannounced seizures.  The shortages of food and medicine, jobs and money, devastated thousands upon thousands.  Ghettos replaced neighborhoods and multiple families crammed into single bedrooms, but that was tolerable compared to the transports.  So begins Fania and Zlatka’s story, told in alternating chapters and based on a true story, of persecution, loss, and camaraderie upon their arrival at Auschwitz.  When all hope seems lost, Zlatka contrives a plan.  Using Kanada, a black market of sorts, she and other girls barter and share bread rations to negotiate deals for the materials to make an origami birthday heart for Fania which the girls inscribe their intimate birthday wishes.  It is “. . . the story of a wondrous Heart made of paper but stronger than muscle forged in defiance in secret in friendship . . .”  that gave twenty young, courageous girls a reason to believe and keep living.

Written in poignant verse, Wiviott imparts an extraordinary story about survival, love, and friendship.  The paper heart is permanently displayed at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre.

Historical Fiction                        Christine Massey, JWP Middle School