Friday, July 23, 2021

Two Books Explore Life Under Hitler

Two books about life under Hitler came out earlier this year. At the time, I was busy reading escapist stories of adventure, fantasy, and science fiction – you know, typical pandemic fare. But this spring I dug through my book basket and plucked these two out to read. 

Ensnared in the Wolf's Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge 
by Ann Bausum
‎144 pages; ages 10-14
National Geographic Kids, 2021

Anne Frank wasn’t the only one writing in her diary in 1944. Sometime during the summer of that year, “a 12-year-old German girl named Christa von Hofacker picked up her pen and began to write in her own diary.” Like Anne Frank, Christa wrote to try to make sense of her world. Her father was entangled in an assassination attempt against Hitler, deemed a traitor, and vanished into the Nazi criminal court system. Days later Gestapo agents took away her mother and older brother and sister. And then it was Christa’s turn to be uprooted – sent on a three-day, 500-mile journey to a youth retreat center. Now it was a detention center for children of German men and women who were resisting Hitler’s regime. The overseers took away family photos and were given new names. They weren’t allowed to enroll in local schools, attend church, or visit the nearby community. Instead they were hidden and denied outside contact.

In this book, Ann Bausum explores Hitler’s rise to power, the German resistance attempts to limit that power, and his demise. During the first part of the book, she shows how easy it was for Hitler to control the message and reality of what people heard and saw. His regime was built on lies and fears. But a few brave people, some in his government, worked to overthrow him. When that attempt failed, Hitler not only went after members of the resistance, but also their families and children. 

A great mix of history, adventure, and insight into how a charismatic fascist leader can create a world of alternate facts. “…he connected with people on an emotional level that made it easy for them to dismiss logical counterarguments … his message was simple and it was compelling: You’ve been wronged, and I can make things right.” Serious, but essential reading for this time.

I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944 (graphic novel)
by Lauren Tarshis; illus. by Álvaro Sarraseca 
160 pages; ages 8-12
Graphix (Scholastic), 2021

It’s been two months since the Nazis have taken papa away, and now Max and his sister, Zena, are on their own. They live in a Jewish ghetto in Poland, and are hungry. When Max sneaks under the fence to gather berries, he’s spotted by a guard and marched back into camp. When his sister is threatened, Max makes a lunge, a gun goes off, and chaos ensues – but Max and Zena run for the forest. They meet Jewish resistance fighters who take them to a safe camp, but soon grenades are exploding, planes are flying overhead, and soldiers are marching through the woods.

The story is told through comic panels, with text and dialog. It gets information and emotion across with a minimum of words, leaving plenty of room for a reader to imagine.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copies provided by the publishers.


  1. I've read both but especially enjoyed Ensnared in the Wolf's Lair. The time period is getting increased coverage in the MG world and that's a good thing. Thanks for featuring these on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

  2. These are both excellent books for middle grade readers. I especially like the I Survived series and Ann Bausum is just a fabulous nonfiction writer. Thanks for sharing these.

  3. Wow—I'm impressed that you not only had a double review for MMGM, but then also had a third review on your other blog! These books look like a nice pairing, and the first one in particular intrigues me—like you say, it sounds like parts of it resonate with our current time. Thanks so much for the great reviews!

  4. Both of these sound like great books that I would enjoy. I hope I can get them at my library.

  5. These were both quite good, although I preferred the I Survived The Hindenberg book because it involved Nazi spies!

  6. Ensnared in the Wolf's Lair sounds like a really important book for kids to read in this day and age. And it sounds fascinating. I will be looking for it. Thanks for telling me about both of these.

  7. I agree that Wolf's Lair sounds fascinating. I will have to check this book out. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Greg first introduced me to this book, and I requested our library purchase it. Your review reminded me about the story. Excellent review. And it is a relevant read. Dr Jill Bolte Tyalor, a well-known neuroscientist, recently published a book and she talks about how our brains respond first to emotion before thought. Your comments made me think about her research.