Monday, November 22, 2010

The Boy Who Dared, Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Title:  The Boy Who Dared: A Novel Based on a True Story of the Hitler Youth
Author:  Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Publisher:  Scholastic
Pages:  174 plus about 10 pages of photos and a timeline
Genre:  literary non-fiction
Age Range:  6th Grade and Up

The year is 1933, and the world is in the grip of the Great Depression.  Germany is especially hard hit, after paying reparations to the rest of Europe after World War I.  Helmuth Hubener is a German schoolboy, playing with toy soldiers on the floor of his small Hamburg apartment, while outside brown shirted men in jackboots have parades in support of their new chancellor, Adolf Hitler.  At first Helmuth is taken in by the shiny uniforms and nationalist pride-until his Jeweish neighbors' shops are burned, and more and more freedoms are curtailed for everyone.  Forced to join the Hitler Youth, he grows more and more angry, until one fateful decision leads to his imprisonment and execution.

Even though this is billed as a novel, I am going to call it literary non-fiction.  It reads more like a biography than a novel, and while I'm sure some of the events are completely made-up, there is enough non-fiction here that I am not comfortable calling it fiction.

This book is sparsely written, at times almost too sparsely.  Yet Bartoletti does a good job of setting the mood of Germany during the 1930s and early 1940s.  Without going into too much technical detail, Bartoletti lays out some of the reasons that the Germans turned to Hitler in the first place.  She also shows how the media can be used to incite fear and manipulate people into doing things that go against their nature. The characters are portrayed thoughtfully, with care given not to stereotype.  When Helmuth rejects the Nazis at first, it is just as much because of his dislike of his stepfather as it is about being uncomfortable with the Nazi's restrictive laws.  So often in Holocaust literature the German people are shown to be either indifferent to or in favor of the racism and hatred spread by the Nazi's.  This book shows that some people did try to stand up, and that not every German was in love with Hitler.  Helmuth's character is influenced strongly by his brother Gerhard, who is a voice of reason during Helmuth's teenage years.  Gerhard, however, counsels following Hitler's laws in order to be a patriot (and good Mormon).  In the end Helmuth cannot.

This book would make a good companion book to Number the Stars by Lois Lowry or The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen.  While most Holocaust fiction focuses on the events around the Jewish internment in concentration camps (and rightly so), there is a place in young adult literature for stories of the ordinary Germans who tried to stand up to the Nazi's.  

Teacher Resources:

Scholastic Discussion Guide 

E-Notes Study Guide 

1 comment:

  1. I really liked this book. I haven't read Number the Stars or The Devil's Arithmetic, but thought this one did a good job of telling the tale from a relatable young point of view.