Posts Tagged 'WWII'

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

salt to the sea

Genre:  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  391

RAC:  Yes

In this companion to Between Shades of Gray, a group of individual refugees are trying to escape the final dangers of war as the Russians close in.  Joana, Emilia, Florian, and a few others end up coming together to try and escape the final horrors of this war.  They endure many difficulties on their journey (and they all have their secrets), but eventually make it to the ship called the Wilhelm Gustloff and are granted passage to freedom.  The ship is meant to carry 1500 passengers and instead thousands of women, children, and wounded soldiers fill every corridor of this luxury liner.  Unfortunately, tragedy and heartache are not behind them quite yet.

The characters in this book are all different and yet interesting in their own way.  They’re all escaping something and wish to forget their pasts yet for various reasons they cannot. The story of the Wilhelm Gustloff is in itself very interesting because it was a bigger tragedy than the Titanic, but yet very few people even know about it.  Sepetys always finds a way to tell the stories of those people and events that were not properly told in history books.  Students at my school have greatly enjoyed learning about Stalin’s regime in Between Shades of Gray and I think they will also enjoy this title and its unique perspective on this terrible war.

Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

secrets she kept

Genre:  Historical fiction

# of Pages:  405

RAC:  Yes

This title has been on my list to read for awhile and it was worth the wait.  Hannah and her mother have never been close, but when her mother dies of Cancer she finds herself lashing out at those around her as if she’s struggling more than she expected.  After going through her mother’s things she realizes that not only was her mother German, not Austrian like she’d always been told, but she still had a living grandfather in Germany.  She decides to go see him and try to learn why her mother was the way she was.  Meanwhile, the story keeps flashing back to Hannah’s mother, Lieselotte as a girl growing up with the ever growing Nazi presence.  Lieselotte’s father and brother become completely engaged in the Nazi party, but she finds herself horrified by the injustices she’s seeing around her.  She works with a family who was very kind to her mother as she lay dying of Cancer, to aid those being chased from their homes.  Hannah slowly uncovers what happened to her mother and why she never told her about her past or her grandfather.

This is a fresh take on WWII fiction in that it really depicts what it was like growing up in Germany during this time no matter where your loyalties laid.  At the same time it depicts the lingering affects of WWII and the Nazi mentality.  Since Hannah was born and raised in the U.S. she has a hard time understanding why there are still so many hard feelings until it is explained to her just how bad things got for Jews during this time.  The story unfolds nicely and it’s easy to see why Lieselotte ended up feeling bitter and betrayed.  Highly recommended.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

code-name-verity

Genre:  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  343

RAC:  Yes

Verity is a young female British spy who is captured in France while on a mission simply for looking the wrong way when crossing the street.  The first half of the novel is Verity’s written confession about her incarceration, interrogation, and even torture by the Gestapo for information on the British.  Some of the things she says seem tedious or unimportant, but in the second half you hear from her best friend, Maddie, who is a female pilot working for Britain.  She was the pilot who flew Verity in on her mission, but her plane was hit and Verity had been forced to jump out with a parachute leaving both of them unaware of the other’s fate.  Maddie ended up crashing, but then found herself stranded in a land where if she were caught she would definitely be put in jail as well.  As Maddie’s story is told some of the facts Verity mentioned suddenly make sense.  All of this leads up to the shocking ending when the reader learns what happens to these two dedicated friends.

This title has received amazing reviews and for good reason.  The story is captivating, intriguing, mysterious, and unique.  Verity and Maddie’s friendship ends up reflecting just how important these relationships were during wartime.  The very beginning starts a little slow as the setting it set, but eventually this leads up to an exciting premise as these two unique voices tell their tales of female involvement in WWII.  Highly recommended.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

miss peregrine

Genre:  Supernatural

# of Pages:  382

RAC:  Yes

As a child Jacob was always told fantastic stories about the orphanage his grandfather grew up in headed by Miss Peregrine.  He even had photos depicting the many hidden talents of the children who came to live there including levitation, invisibility, and incredible strength.  As Jacob grew up he began to doubt his grandfather’s stories, but   nevertheless he and his grandfather were very close until the day he received a frantic call from his grandfather claiming he needed to get into his gun safe.  Jacob went to see him thinking it was merely an episode of senility brought on by old age, but when he arrived he sees his grandfather has been murdered by a creature he has never see or heard of before. After, his parents send Jacob to a psychiatrist to help him through the trauma he has experienced and he ends up deciding to go visit the little island where his grandfather’s stories came from.  He hopes this trip will bring him closure, but what he sees when he gets to this place is most unexpected and Jacob finds himself pulled into the past on that fateful day when Miss Peregrine’s home had become yet another casualty of WWII.  Were his grandfather’s stories true?  How is Jacob connected to all of this?

This is truly a very unique story that blends the present and the past through actual photos recovered from past archives and attics.  The characters and the story pull the reader in simply because it is so different than a lot of fiction out there currently.  The underlying problems and motivations of the characters are very relatable to everyone, but yet they are manifested through very unusual circumstances.  Fans of mystery, historical fiction, and supernatural fiction will all enjoy this title.

The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

The-Berlin-Boxing-Club-by-Robert-Sharenow-198x300

Genre;  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  400

RAC:  Yes

Karl is living in Berlin in 1934 and although he does not look Jewish or practice any Jewish beliefs he has ancestors who were Jewish and because of this connection has started getting bullied by the Hitler Youth.  After one particularly bad beating he had to go serve at his father’s art gallery opening and he meets Max Schmeling, the famous German boxer.  Max offers Karl free boxing lessons in exchange for a painting and Karl takes this promise seriously.  He begins working out on his own while Max travels overseas and it’s almost a year before he actually joins the Berlin Boxing Club with Max as his coach.  He begins fighting in some junior competitions and slowly the men from the boxing club begin to support him.  Karl is always careful never to reveal details from his personal life, however.  At home, he has been expelled from his school and evicted from his house because of his heritage.  His parents fight all the time and do not know what to do.  Things finally come to a head on Kristallnacht and Karl knows they need to get out.  Is he strong enough to stand up and fight for his family?  Who can he rely on for help?

Fans of Between Shades of Gray, Night, and Sarah’s Key will enjoy this title.  It is very serious and realistic in how Karl and his entire life begin to unravel during WWII.  You also see many periphery characters and how they react to their own changing environments, some for the better and some for worse.  Karl is a very honest young man and often admits he wishes he wasn’t Jewish so that he wouldn’t have to worry about the abuse and prejudice.  He doesn’t hate his old friends for joining Hitler Youth because he is too jealous.  He has no connection to his Jewish faith which means he has no conviction to fight for it.  He does not handle every situation heroically, but he does respond the best way he knows how at the time.  The boxing aspect provides a unique spin on things because boxing was big during this time in Germany and although trained people could ensure a fair fight, the outside world is not so simple.  Highly recommended.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

Genre:  Historical Fiction

RAC:  Yes

This WWII story follows Sarah in 1942 and Julia in 2002.  Sarah’s family is rounded up by the French police and sent to a detention center, but her little brother refused to go and hid in a small closet in their room.  Sarah locked him in and kept the key promising to come back later in the day for him.  She did not think they would actually be detained since it was the French police and not the Germans rounding them up. When she realized she would not be going back to her home her and her father tried to leave to get her brother, but the police would not allow them out.  She held onto the key for weeks praying to find a way back to him.  In 2002 Julia is a reporter who is assigned an article on the roundup of Jewish families by French police.  She is shocked to find that many people living in Paris had no idea such a thing took place.  As she comes across Sarah’s story she becomes determined to find out what happened to the little girl.

This is a different angle on a topic that has been covered in numerous ways.  As the story moves between Sarah and Julia you cannot help but get immersed in finding out what happened to Sarah and her family.  Sarah’s journey is truly amazing and realistic as she is forced to face adult issues as a child.  The characters are written incredibly well in a complex, multi-faceted way.  Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reading about this era.

The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Genre:  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  174 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Iowa Teen Award 2010

This WWII story is based on true accounts of a boy named Helmuth who lived in Germany when Hitler took office and was forced to join the Hitler Youth.  As he got older he began listening to an illegal radio and was shocked to find out how much the German media was keeping from the people.  He decided to create some pamphlets informing citizens of the actual losses Germans were suffering in the war.  He was caught for his crimes and faced trial and a possible death sentence for what he had done.  Helmuth had to come to terms with the fact that he may die at a young age and wondered if he felt it was worth it for standing up for what he believed in.

This chilling story based on true facts moves quickly and provides a different view of WWII.  Bartoletti helps young readers to see what it was like to be a German during this time, how they were lied to, how afraid they were, and the kind of torture the Nazis were capable of doing even to their own citizens.  Fans of books from this era will enjoy this and want to know more about this person.  The only criticism would be that fans will want to know more about Helmuth than is provided in the story.

Kipling’s Choice by Geert Spillebeen

Genre:  Historical fiction

Age Level:  14 and up

# of Pages:  150

RAC:  Yes

Award Winner:  Iowa Teen Award 2009-2010

This fiction story is based on the true events of the famous Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling’s son, John.  Rudyard had always wanted to serve his country in the armed forces and was disqualified due to physical limitations.  From a young age, he groomed John to want to be a soldier as well, but John had weak eyes.  Rudyard used all of his influence to get John into the army as an officer, which John appreciated.  When John goes to his first battle, however, he realizes that it is a little different than he imagined and he wishes he could just go home and play the rich son again.

The format of the story is interesting because it flashes from John in his first battle back to all the memories of him growing up.  As a child John loved to play with the expensive toys his father gave him, but he often played recklessly and Rudyard encouraged it as typical boy behavior.  In the flashbacks it becomes apparent how important it was to Rudyard for his son to fight for his country like he couldn’t.  He fails to see the possible dangers and never truly believes anything could possibly happen to his son.  Although this story is very interesting, it will be difficult to get young adults to read it.  Many young adults do not like to read historical fiction type topics, but students who like reading about war will enjoy this title.

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman

Genre: Historical Fiction

Age Level: 15 and up

# of Pages: 180 p.

RAC Book: Yes

A dybbuk is a Jewish ghost or spirit. The story takes place shortly after WWII and follows an entertainer who travels around with a dummy and performs in different clubs. He is not terribly talented and many people complain about seeing his lips move. One night he returns home to find a ghost of a young boy in his closet. The boy claims to be a dybbuk who will not leave until he has finished what he came for. Despite the efforts of the man to ignore the dybbuk, he insists on inhabiting the body of the dummy which makes the entertainer’s show a great success. The man feels nervous, however, because he knows his success is directly linked to this dybbuk and he is worried that he will have to do things he does not want to do in order to please this spirit in the future.

Although the Holocaust is over in this story, the effects of it linger on in every character and location in the story. The dybbuk is a victim of the Holocaust and feels like he has some tasks to complete before he can relax in the afterlife. The book is not very long, but it is not for someone looking for a quick read because of the many serious issues that are discussed. Also, someone with a background of the Holocaust will get more out of it than someone who does not know much about this time period. This is a good story about Europe post WWII, which is a time most students probably have not read much about.

Tamar by Mal Peet

Genre: Historical Fiction

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 420 p.

RAC Book: Yes

Tamar is the spy name of a man who parachuted into occupied Holland during WWII for the Allies. He asks his son to name his daughter Tamar, but reveals very little about the time he spent as a spy. Years later his fifteen year old granddaughter, Tamar, finds a box full of information and clues left behind by her grandfather before he died. As she pieces together his mysterious past she is shocked to find out the truth about his actions during that difficult war time. She also begins to understand why her own father mysteriously left her when she was very young.

This Carnegie Medal winner uses different time periods to reveal this story. There are flashbacks to the war and what Tamar and his pal, Dart, are sent to do in Holland. It also shows Tamar’s granddaughter in present day trying to put the pieces together in order to discover who her grandfather truly was. The ending is a bit predictable, but interesting nonetheless. Students who like historical fiction may enjoy this, but it is a bit slow moving at times and takes longer than necessary to reach its conclusion.


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