The story behind the story. At this year’s ALAN workshop (you should go!!! free books!!!! lots of authors!!!!!!) I heard Ryan Graudin, author of Wolf By Wolf, talk about her research of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Oh, you know, this guy who was part of a larger group planning to publicize Hitler’s misdeeds to the broader world and to kill him.
Ryan’s book is all about an underground resistance that planned to kill Hitler. Her book is fantasy.
The Plot to Kill Hitler, Patricia McCormick’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is as real as it gets.
Whom this book is for. Readers who have a basic, elementary school-level understanding of Hitler and concentration camps know enough to follow this story from beginning to end: McCormick takes care of readers from there.
The topic is heavy, but the short chapters and brisk pacing make this 150-page piece perfect for middle and high school readers as well as mature elementary school readers. If your school already does a holocaust unit, this book will provide a new point of view.
More sophisticated readers will make connections between Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King and can debate the relative merits of a pure nonviolent approach to more direct and retributive forms of protest. One of the most fascinating parts of this book for me was seeing how Bonhoeffer, a deeply religious emotional young man, transformed from a social justice scholar and Gandhi acolyte to a subversive and aggressive warrior.
How to booktalk it. Not too much preamble. Just read the 2-page prologue out loud to the class, where Bonhoeffer knows he is about to be captured by Nazis and races to hide his incriminating papers in a ceiling panel and leaves a deliberately fake diary to throw the Nazis off his path.
You should also know… I struggle to match quality middle grades nonfiction with readers. Some of the most fantastic middle grades nonfiction titles require a lot of patience and background knowledge. Some are so laden down with information that there isn’t enough of a story to keep readers going. Other terrific nonfiction titles are awkwardly sized and aren’t easy to carry down the hallway. This book avoids all of those possible pitfalls.
Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York. Despite her observations that nonfiction books tend to be harder to carry around than fiction books, she has seen students lug around the 10-pound “Hamilton” book — you know, the one with all the pictures of the original cast. Since you were asking, she won lottery tickets to see “Hamilton” during its first week on Broadway. Really. Twitter handle: @HMX_MSE