Lynn and Cindy: We’re always on the look-out for books about WWII. Our eighth graders read Anne Frank in their English classes, adding to their already considerable interest in the subject—and having enough books on a popular topic for more than 300 students year after year is a challenge. So we’re very happy to have four excellent, new WWII books to tell you about.
Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb by Neal Bascomb may be the most sophisticated of the three, easily appropriate for high-school readers (and also strong middle-school ones). The riveting, action-packed story follows brave, heroic Norwegian resistance fighters who underwent incredible hardship in order to stop the production of heavy water at Vemork, a hydroelectric plant built into a forbidding chasm. Heavy water was essential to produce the Atomic bomb, the Norwegian’s efforts to stop production desperately important—and never less than fascinating. This is an adaptation of Bascomb’s adult book, The Winter Fortress (2016).
In The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero, Patricia McCormick takes a most unusual approach to the tragic story of a brave conspiracy group that tried to kill Hitler by focusing on the group’s “moral center,” minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Born into a “rambunctious” and influential family, brilliant and deeply thoughtful, young Dietrich’s studies lead him to believe that the church should work actively to assist those who needed it and stand up for what’s right. This stance, along with his active resistance against Hitler, caused conflict with church officials while drawing him closer to the conspirators. We learn of Bonhoeffer’s philosophical journey, as well as the dangerous details of the conspirator’s efforts, including their enlistment of church and government officials to the anti-Hitler cause.
McCormick does an outstanding job of bringing this multilayered story to middle-school readers. Short chapters, chapter-based timelines, and inserts with historical background lend a hand without slowing the pace. There is much here to initiate discussion and make for an outstanding book club or reading circle selection.
In We Will Not Be Silent, Russell Freedman focuses on the White Rose student movement against Hitler, a group started and led by brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl, who were eventually captured and executed. Freedman’s slim book manages to expand on the Scholl’s heroic story most famously told in the Newbery Honor book Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.
Robert Scholl warned his children against the propaganda of Hitler, but Hans and Sophie became Hitler Youth anyway. It didn’t take too long for them to become disillusioned. As Freedman reports:
“When Sophie was warned not to read ‘degenerate’ Jewish books, which had been banned and burned, she stubbornly replied, ‘He who doesn’t know Heinrich Heine doesn’t know German literature.’ In fact, a century earlier, Heine had warned with tremendous foresight, ‘Where one burns books, one will, in the end, burn people.'”
The Scholl’s story is heroic, inspiring, and tragic, as well as incredibly readable and illustrated with excellent photographs.