Thursday, October 8, 2015

Rose Under Fire, Elizabeth Wein

Title: Rose Under Fire
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Year: 2013
Pages: 368
Genre: Historical Fiction
Themes: World War II, the Holocaust, Survival
Age Range: 7th through 10th Grade

Rose Justice is a pilot and poet. She is responsible for flying planes from France to England as part of the British army during World War II. During one of her missions, she is captured by German soldiers and taken to Ravensbruck, the notorious women's concentration camp. While there, she must find a way to survive, relying on the kindness of her fellow prisoners. Can she find the strength to withstand the terrible, terrifying conditions in the camp with her humanity and love of beauty intact?

This book is written at a fairly low reading level for the subject matter, but it is definitely a book that is best used in a setting where the students have some level of maturity, and enough background knowledge of World War II and the Holocaust to give them the ability to understand the underlying themes of the book. That said, I loved this book! There have been many, many books written about the Holocaust, as there should be. It is such a defining period in the 20th century, and only by revisiting it can we hope to prevent it from happening again. Sadly, there have been too many examples of similar atrocities being perpetrated around the world (the Rwandan genocide; the killings in Darfur, Sudan; the Srebrenica massacre, etc...etc...), but Hitler's concentration camps seem to have made a special impression on the minds and souls of much of the world, especially in Europe and the United States. This book stands out for me for two reasons. One, it deals with a female pilot. I suspect that there are many young people who don't realize that women were involved in the war effort in that way, and any time we can lift up the contributions of women I am all for it. Second, it specifically focuses on a women's concentration camp, which is something else that I think if fairly unique in literature for children and youth about the Holocaust.

What Rose and her fellow prisoners endured in Ravensbruck can be hard to read. But it should be. I hope we as a society never get to a place where we can feel comfortable reading about the deprivation, terror, and torture that took place in the camps. But that discomfort can lead to some great discussions with students about the nature of evil, the strength of the human spirit, the meaning of perseverance, and the value of art in human society. I'd recommend this book for use in guided reading, literature circles, or book clubs for middle school or early high-school youth.

Teacher Resources: 
Disney Hyperion Study Guide
Review and Author Interview
Elizabeth Wein's Blog

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