Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Plot to Kill Hitler, by Patrica McCormick

plot-to-kill-hitlerDietrich Bonhoeffer was an unlikely assassin. This educated, well-to-do young pastor was everything genteel and intellectual until the rise of Adolph Hitler and the takeover of the German church drove him to join a group of conspirators who were actively plotting Hitler’s death until the Nazis captured them just before the end of World War II.

Patricia McCormick has taken on some difficult topics in the past, including self-harm in Cut and human trafficking in Sold. Here, she takes the very complex life of a German theologian and somehow makes it understandable for young readers. She includes two of the turning points in Bonhoeffer’s life: when he travels to Rome and realizes that Christianity is for all nations, not just Germany, and when he goes to the United States, visits an African-American church, and comes to understand that faith in Christ is not just memorizing theology, but involves the whole individual, including the emotions. McCormick conveys Bonhoeffer’s beliefs and motivations in a way that is accessible to young people, while remaining profound and authentic. She shows how the course of events around us can change our personal lives, and how one, single life can change the course of history.

Teenagers today are growing up in an increasingly polarized and secularized world. They are being forced to adhere to a narrow set of beliefs in the name of tolerance, and they will never escape these strident voices if they receive their cues from social media. Rather, let them read books with great heroes and heroines, so that they will grow strong in character and free in thought. Until they are old enough to read Eric Metaxas’ masterful biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Patricia McCormick provides a compelling story of a young man who is a great role model for all of us.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, which is now available to the public. Opinions expressed are solely my own, and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Booked, by Kwame Alexander

bookedKwame Alexander won the Newbery Medal in 2015 for his earlier novel, The Crossover, about twin boys who love basketball. His new novel in verse, Booked, is about twelve-year-old Nick, who is crazy about soccer. Nick’s parents both love him, but they’re not sure that they still love each other, and his mom is away a lot with her work. His dad, a linguistics professor, is passionate about Nick’s education, and is forcing him to read the entire dictionary! Besides wrestling with his parents’ expectations, Nick is struggling with bullying at school. His best moments come when he is on the soccer field, winning games and practicing the moves that he hopes will impress April, who seems quite willing to be impressed.

Alexander has accomplished seemingly impossible feats in these two novels. First of all, he has written realistic novels that boys actually enjoy! So many books for boys at this middle-school level are fantasies, since the most avid readers at this age devour enormous sci-fi fantasies one after the other. This is just a small minority of kids, though, who are doing most of the reading, so enticing reluctant readers with the realistic stories that they prefer shows that Mr. Alexander knows kids and wants to give them stories that resonate in their lives. Secondly, the fact that these stories are written in verse is stunning. Imagine reluctant readers loving poetry for fun! The free verse sets the pace for the meaning, with long lines for emotional passages and short, zippy lines that fly down the page for soccer scenes and breezy reading. The chapters often read like rap songs, bopping along to a beat.

Kwame Alexander hug

BEA 2016. I swear that I don’t give Kwame great reviews just because we are such good buds.

Finally, though, Alexander joins a small group of new authors speaking in a voice that has long been missing from African-American children’s writers: the average, middle-class, twenty-first century kid. So many African-American children’s books are depressingly didactic. It’s not that they’re not high quality; some great works of literature reside on these shelves. However, most books written for or about African-American children take place during the time of slavery, the Civil War, or the Civil Rights era. Contemporary stories often deal with troubled inner cities, drug addiction, or gangs. All of these topics are important and need to be remembered or addressed, but we all need a broader view of this community, and especially of young, black men. If those of us who are not African-American only hear of them as “troubled youth,” we will continue to view them suspiciously as “Other.” And in the meantime, what the twelve-year-old African-American boy down the street is really worrying about is whether he’ll pass Friday’s math test or whether his parents will get a divorce. Just the usual stuff of life: school, sports, girls, parents. Just like everybody else. Because, really, isn’t that enough for a kid to handle?

It’s this deep understanding of kids’ lives, what worries them and what thrills them, that makes Kwame Alexander’s novels appeal to all kinds of kids everywhere. And if they come away with a fascination for poetry, even better!

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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