Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Reading on a Theme: World War II's Displaced Children

Welcome to the first day of World War II Week.


The number of displaced people during the World War II Era is estimated at 60 million. This collection of middle-grade novels tell the tale of the war's millions of displaced children.

An English Evacuee:
Ada's mother won't let her leave their London flat because she's ashamed of her daughter's twisted foot. When the war starts, Ada and her brother Jamie sneak out and joins the London evacuees. The War That Saved My Life felt so familiar to me in the best of ways. As a child, I read many books about displaced children who developed trusting relationships with a caring adult. I absolutely loved Susan Smith (the caring adult), and I thought that Kimberly Brubaker Bradley made her very lifelike. Ada is a tough little girl, but I was equally pleased to see the real effects of the trauma that she had suffered. The war itself is nicely woven into the story. The Dunkirk episode, especially, was a big turning point for our characters.

A German Orphan:
Since its publication in 2006 The Book Thief has become a classic. It's the story of Liesel Meminger, an orphan taken in by family living near Munich. The book reads like a collection of interweaving stories about Liesel's life during the war years. Narrated by Death himself, a sarcastic but somehow sympathetic character who is awfully busy during the war years, Markus Zusak's book will break your heart. Full of endearing characters, The Book Thief is about Liesel's relationships with the other inhabitants of Molching. Her relationships with Hans and Rosa Herbermann, her foster parents, Max, the Jew in the basement, and her best friend, Rudy, are especially heart-wrenching. 

A Modern Jew:
Hannah is not excited to attend the annual Passover Seder. It's the same every year, and she has a hard time understanding why they celebrate Passover. This year, however, takes an interesting turn when Hannah is transported in time to a World War II concentration camp. Jane Yolen creates a real and personal view into life in a Nazi concentration camp. This historical fiction novel uses an invented camp and characters, but it is powerful. It allows children to witness and empathize with those who lived and died in the camps. I used The Devil's Arithmetic when I taught sixth grade and it really allowed my students to step into the shoes of the people who lived before.

A German Czech:
Milada is eleven years old when she is taken from her home in Czechoslovakia and placed in a center to become a "proper German." Her blond hair and blue eyes make her a great choice for this program. She is adopted by a German family and has to work hard to hold onto herself and her heritage. Someone Named Eva tells a story from World War II that I was unfamiliar with: how children were taken from their homes and families to promote Hitler's Aryen race. Joan M. Wolf really captured the emotions and struggles the children in this situation would experience. A great read for young readers; it will give them much to think about while connecting them to the past.

A Hidden Jew:
First published in 1989, Number the Stars was one of my childhood favorites. I listened to the audio version again in graduate school on a road trip with my grandmother. I enjoyed sharing a favorite with her, and I love how books can bring to mind two types of memories--the reading variety and the time-of-life variety. Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen are ten years old and best friends. In Nazi-occupied Copenhagen, life grows increasingly difficult due to food shortages and fear. When the Nazis begin "relocating" Copenhagen's Jews, Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one part of their family.  Lois Lowry's novel is one of bravery, friendship, and resistance.

The War That Saved My Life, The Book Thief, and Number the Stars reviewed by JoLee.
The Devil's Arithmetic and Someone Named Eva reviewed by Paige. 

Come back tomorrow to view our collection of nonfiction World War II books for young readers.

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