My Brother’s Secret

Smith, Dan. My Brother’s Secret. New York: Chicken House, 2015.

Set in 1941 Germany, this story depicts the changes that happen when twelve-year-old Karl realizes that life is not so simple. After his father is killed on the Eastern Front and his family goes to live with his grandparents, he starts to see life differently. Is Hitler really a hero? Are the Nazis noble soldiers? Is his older brother Stefan’s decision to join an underground movement courageous? Does he himself have the courage to stand up against everything he has been taught at school? This novel by an award-winning British writer is recommended for readers 12 years old and up.

P.S. Every novel published by Chicken House is worth checking out. Every story is well-written and memorable for its hope in the face of hardships. 

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Dark Hours

Pausewang, Gudrun. Dark Hours. Toronto: Annick Press, 2006.
Sixteen-year-old Gisel and her younger siblings flee Russian soldiers during a cold winter in World War 2. Trapped underground after an air raid, Gisel calls on all her courage and ingenuity to enable them to survive. Brilliantly written by an award-winning German author and translated by John Brownjohn, this young adult novel is highly recommended for competent readers 12 years old and up.

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Emil and Karl

Glatshteyn, Yankev. Emil and Karl. New Milford, Conn.: Roaring Brook Press, 2006.
Left alone after three men drag his mother away and threaten to return for him, nine-year old Karl runs to the home of his friend Emil. But he finds no safety. Emil’s mother is not well and is taken away, leaving both boys alone.  Aryan Karl and Jewish Emil struggle to survive in the dangerous world of Nazi-occupied Vienna, Austria. 
Many novels have been written about the Holocaust. But this one is unusual in that it was first published in 1940, before the United States even entered the war. Written in Yiddish and translated into English by Jeffrey Shandler, it is highly recommended for all readers 10 years old and up.

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Brave Like My Brother

Dear Reader,

How wonderful to see you looking for more serious novels. Short humorous stories are fine to read once in awhile, but you are now at an age – in grade six – where you are ready to consider more mature topics. You already know that life is not always fun. Not always easy. And you are ready to read stories that depict characters in circumstances that call for courage.

But I know that you cannot yet read quickly enough to enjoy a long book with small print. So what novels can you read that are more than simply entertainment? Here’s one just for you! 

Nobleman, Marc Tyler. Brave Like My Brother. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016.

Only 100 pages long, this story is printed in a large font with lots of space between the lines and large margins. And each chapter is only 4 pages long. Actually, each chapter is a letter. Yes, a letter. It is a series of letters. The first and the last one are from Charlie, writing to his older brother, Joe, a soldier sent to England during World War II. All the others in between are from Joe, writing to tell of his experiences during the days leading up to D-Day, the Allied invasion of France.  It will not take you long to read this novel of courage in the face of bullying and fear.

And when you are finished, think about these questions: What did you learn about history from reading this story? How is being a soldier different than you expected? How do Joe and Charlie and their parents and their grandmother all show courage during the war?

pleased that you are growing into a thoughtful reader,
Ms. R.

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Seeing goodness…

A multiple award-winner and New York Times bestseller!

Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. The War I Finally Won. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers 2017.
Do you need courage to have hope? Can you know something but not believe it? How do you learn to overcome fear? The story of Ada and Jamie, evacuated from London in The War That Saved My Life, continues in this 385-page novel recommended for readers 12 years old and up.
The story begins with surgery to repair Ada’s clubfoot. But surgery can’t repair the sense of rejection she still feels from years of abuse. And surgery can’t teach her how to trust anyone except herself. It is steadfast love from her new guardian and her own determination to learn that transforms Ada from a fearful 11-year-old to a confident 14-year-old ready to embrace the goodness of life.

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P.S. Part of the brilliance of this novel is its quiet complexity. While told from the limited point of view of Ada, the reader sees that we all have limited points of view. And sometimes our lack of knowledge limits our ability to see clearly. Lady Thorton is stand-offish due to limitations imposed by her childhood. People in the village mistrust Ruth – a Jewish refugee – due to ignorance of events in Germany. Susan assumes she will be rejected by a friend’s family, and Maggie thinks her mother doesn’t care about her. Over and over again, we see that life may have been terrible in the past but it can still be good in the future. And we are all lovable.

 

Surviving the winter…

Kerr, Philip. The Winter Horses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.
Kalinka, a Jewish orphan girl, hides from Nazi soldiers during the winter of 1941. On the wind-blown plains of the Ukraine, she meets an elderly man and two wild horses who help her flee from danger. This fascinating story of the rare Przewalski horses will intrigue readers who enjoy historical fiction. While the novel is somewhat awkwardly written – as if the author is explaining the story rather than letting it come to life – it nevertheless provides a unique perspective on World War 2 and so is recommended for readers 11 to 16 years of age.

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Who do you think you are?

Boyne, John. The Boy at the Top of the Mountain. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2015.
When Pierrot is four years old, his father – a German soldier in the Great War – disappears. When Pierrot is seven years old, his French mother dies in a Parisian hospital. He is sent to live with his Aunt Beatrix, a housekeeper for Adolf Hitler. It is 1935 and life is changing in Europe.
What happens when people flatter us and make us feel important? What happens when lies start to sound like truth? What happens when we realize we’ve betrayed the people who love us?
Spanning the course of World War II and its aftermath, this 215-page novel by a breathtakingly powerful writer is highly recommended for mature readers 11-years-old and up. [France; Germany; Historical fiction; Hitler, Adolf; Orphans; Self-awareness]  

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