History teaches us a lot, and students are taught how the past has changed the present in classes like American and European history. Students learn about different wars, different generals, and different campaigns. But what textbooks don’t teach are the great stories hidden between the lines of history. The next two books I’m reviewing are exactly that…amazing stories about heroes and survivors of World War I and II and the accomplishments and trials they went through.
The Grand Escape by Neal Bascomb. Arthur A Levine Books, 2018
World War I was fought so much differently from technology they had to the rules of war. The planes flown during WWI weren’t much more than a frame and canvas with an engine. But men, both young and old wanted to join to help fight for their cause, whichever part of the divide they supported. And when they were taken as prisoners of war, they faced the conditions in prison camps as found in other wars.
In 1899 and 1907, delegations across the globe came together to set out rules on the treatment of prisoners. These rules included that if an enemy surrendered his arms or couldn’t defend himself, he could not be killed or wounded. Anoterh rule were prisoners were to be treated as fairly as the government of that country as they would their own. But golden rules don’t last long in warfare.
Holzminden was one such prison camp. Located in Germany, the commandant was cruel and heartless. Those who were in this camp were considered “trouble makers” who tried time and again to escape their confines. Commandant Karl Neimeyer bragged that his camp could not be escaped. This became a challenge for the prisoners there, especially a specific group of prisoners from around the country. They learned how to hide their work and tunnel under the compound to escape. What was even more ingenious was how they were able to secure uniforms, create documents, and work together to ensure their secret was safe.
Bascomb has become one of the leading YA non-fiction authors for good reason. He uses his skills as a researcher and author to tell the soldiers’ narratives from the beginning of their ordeal until well after the war was over and the bond of brotherhood that was created during this time. Images, maps, artifacts and written letters are incorporated very nicely into this book to keep readers engaged and intrigued. Excellent all young adult readers, JH-HS.
Paired Fiction Novel:
The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History: the story of the Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel. 2019, Scholastic Focus.
Many atrocities against humanity occur during war, especially World War II. Hitler stood at the forefront of these atrocities that are remembered to this day. Stealing a person’s identity through torture was only one part of what Hitler did. He also made sure to steal their identity through theft of their cultural, religious, and national artifacts and monuments.
Because this war would be fought in countries that were hundreds of years in the making, the United States and England worked together to create a small team of men to help preserve as much as possible the heritage and culture of priceless works of art and architecture from the ravages of war and to find those the Nazis stole and bring them back.
War in Europe claimed many lives and damaged many cities and towns. The Monuments men, made of up museum curators, artists, sculptors and architects, were asked to come after the battle to see what treasures the Nazis pillaged and assess damages to famous and monumental buildings that had withstood the test of time.
The Nazis stole from museums such. as the Louvre, and from private collections, such as the Rothschild family collection. They stole priceless work from Rembrandt to Michelango; Da Vinci to Rembrandt and many many more. And each time theft occurred, the Monuments men could only hope they found the pieces safe. But not all they found came back in one piece and many are still missing today.
Edsel’s novel is narrative non-fiction in its truest sense. The reader follows different characters in the book on their journeys, whether it be in Italy or elsewhere. They get to see and experience everything the characters did, including landing on a beach during D-Day to walking the streets of Florence and seeing it ripped apart. What makes this book richer are the images of priceless treasure that was stolen, maps that showed where the Monuments men found them, and the letters they wrote home to their families. Excellent for young adult readers JH-HS.
Paired Fiction Novel: