Review by New York Times Review
DURING WORLD WAR II the crucibles of the Holocaust and the atom bombs refined certain souls. Two new nonfiction books for middle-grade readers present two such people: a man devoted to God who planned murder in order to save others, and a girl who, seeing that her family was destroyed, grew into a woman who spoke out for peace. Despite its catchy title, "The Plot to Kill Hitler," by Patricia McCormick, a two-time National Book Award finalist, is not only about the attempts on Hitler's life. Rather, it's a fascinating biography of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who not only plotted to kill Hitler but risked his life speaking out for Jews until he was hanged in the Flossenbürg concentration camp. The sixth child of a prominent Berlin psychiatrist and a college-educated mother, Bonhoeffer was a quiet, musical boy whose choice to become a minister seemed at odds with his mostly non-churchgoing upbringing. He became known for his brilliant theology. Arguing that the community of the church could transcend all boundaries, even religious ones, he became a relentless critic of Hitler. While most of the German clergy swore allegiance to Hitler and preached "Mein Kampf" instead of the Bible, Bonhoeffer joined a group of resisters. When his brother-in-law began to compile evidence of Nazi atrocities, particularly against Jews, Bonhoeffer smuggled the information out of Germany, pleading with the Allies for help. When they wouldn't, Bonhoeffer, his family and their friends decided to kill Hitler themselves. Three assassination plots failed. Bonhoeffer and several family members and co-conspirators were killed by Nazis, but Bonhoeffer's words survived to inspire Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu and others still today. It's deep stuff for children, but McCormick, who has already tackled child prostitution ("Sold") and genocide ("Never Fall Down"), makes it work. She gracefully elucidates the major influences on Bonhoeffer's life, stressing his moral dilemmas and his decision to "speak out for those who cannot speak." Caren Stelson's "Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story" presents with equal clarity the devastation of the atomic bombing on one small girl. Six-year-old Sachiko was playing outside with friends half a mile from the hypocenter when the bomb fell on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. Her four friends died instantly, but all of Sachiko's family except her 2-year-old brother survived the initial explosion. Within days one brother died of radiation sickness and another from infection. Sachiko, her sister Misa, her mother and her father all suffered terribly from radiation sickness; Misa died of leukemia without ever being strong enough to attend school. Despite their shattered lives, extreme poverty and desolation, Sachiko's father spoke to her of peace: "Hate only produces hate." He taught her about Mohandas K. Gandhi and about Helen Keller, who visited Nagasaki in 1948, As hibakusha, or "explosion-affected people," Sachiko and her parents remained in the mushroom cloud's shadow: Her father died of liver cancer, and Sachiko herself overcame thyroid cancer but had to work hard to regain the ability to speak. She worked as an accountant and studied the words of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. As the 50th anniversary of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki approached, Sachiko found she had something to say. For the next 20 years she traveled in North America and Japan, spreading a message of peace. Caren Stelson met Sachiko Yasui in Minneapolis in 2005 and made five trips to Japan to interview her. While the book contains historical notes, informational sidebars, photographs and maps, most of the narrative is Sachiko's account, magnetic and chilling in its simplicity. Stelson lets Sachiko become the hero of her own story; her quiet survival is an inspiring trajectory of redemption. Like McCormick, Stelson has created a book that is both personal and universal, both thoroughly researched and real. KIMBERLY BRUBAKER BRADLEY'S most recent book, "The War That Saved My Life," won a Newbery Honor in 2016.
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [November 13, 2016]
Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* German theologians are atypical in biographies for youth, but nothing about Dietrich Bonhoeffer was typical. McCormick, author of powerhouses like Sold (2006) and Never Fall Down (2012), takes on the plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler by sidestepping biographers' usual favorite the dashing, eye-patched Claus von Stauffenberg to focus on the quiet, scholarly Bonhoeffer, who, by his early twenties, was already a star in religious philosophy circles. His staunch belief that one should heil God, not a government, sat uneasily with the ascendant Nazi Party. Intense periods of reflection, including two trips to America, resulted in Bonhoeffer's landmark publication of The Cost of Discipleship, which guided readers to take actions based on their beliefs. Hitler, he said, had thrown all ethical concepts into confusion. Translation: his murder was necessary, and Bonhoeffer would act as a double-agent spy to help it happen and die in the effort. McCormick resists numerous lures to amp up the action, opting instead for a concise, levelheaded approach, with the text divided into short chapters and ingeniously interspersed with mini-time lines to maintain historical context without ever leaving Bonhoeffer's side. Sidebars and photos are standard-issue, but that takes nothing away from the tragic, inspirational, and quite unusual tale of a man who was the moral center of a resistance movement that, though it failed, continues to live on in international memory. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Few nonfiction authors are cannier at choosing subjects than two-time National Book Award winner McCormick. Expect great reviews and high interest.--Kraus, Daniel Copyright 2016 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
In short, chronological chapters, two-time National Book Award-finalist McCormick (Never Fall Down) recounts the life of theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his efforts to alert the world to the horrors of Hitler's Germany, and his conversion from pacifism to would-be assassin in a failed effort to overthrow the dictator. In this carefully researched work, McCormick synthesizes complex realities, documenting the gradual capitulation of the German church to Hitler's vision of the "Reichskirche," in which the swastika replaced the cross; the resistance of the Pastors' Emergency League; and the apathy of European ministers, who refused to "take a stand against Hitler." Chapters open by drawing readers into Bonhoeffer's personal story ("The doorbell rang, and the parlor maid at the Bonhoeffer home hurried to answer it") and close with hooks indicating his larger historical role ("The young pastor had become a double agent"). Photographs and inset sidebars provide supplementary historical information. Without oversimplifying, McCormick offers a lucid history of the rise of Nazi Germany and a dramatic account of one man's resistance to evil. Ages 8-up. Agent: Heather Schroder, Compass Talent. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review
Gr 5 Up-McCormick provides a very readable account of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's life, from his wealthy childhood in Berlin to his death at the hands of the Nazis in 1945. Readers learn of Bonhoeffer's family, childhood, talent as a piano prodigy, and eventual calling to become a minister. He traveled to Spain, the United States, and England as he tried to reconcile his deep faith with the growing Nazi threat at home. Ultimately, though he had pacifist views, Bonhoeffer joined the German effort to assassinate Hitler. Despite the title, McCormick omits many details in the conspiracy. The focus is primarily on Bonhoeffer and his personal struggles. However, this account of his life is interesting and enlightening. Michael J. Martin's Champion of Freedom: Dietrich Bonhoeffer is more comprehensive, but McCormick's is a more compelling read. VERDICT An appealing narrative suited for students interested in history but not quite ready for heavy analysis.-Margaret Nunes, Gwinnett County Public Library, GA © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Horn Book Review
On April 15, 1943, the Gestapo arrived at Dietrich Bonhoeffers house in Berlin to arrest him for his role in attempting to assassinate Adolf Hitler. His guilt is never in doubt; instead, the book explores the question of what led this Lutheran minister, this pacifist and devout man of the cloth, to plan to kill another human. McCormick briefly covers Dietrichs privileged childhood, a childhood marred only by the death of his older brother in WWI. She traces his spiritual and religious calling, his deep beliefs, his ministries to the poor, and his scholarly theological contributions. Concurrently, and chillingly, McCormick catalogs Hitlers steady rise to power: his election to chancellor of Germany, his suspension of the constitution, and his escalating persecution of Jews, including mass deportations and the Final Solution. Readers see that Bonhoeffer wanted to use the moral authority of the church to fight Hitler but could not gather support from the religious community; in a deliberate move, he decided that, like Martin Luther before him, he would sin and sin boldly, working against Hitler and using his church ministries to conceal his actions. Questions of moral authority drive Bonhoeffers story, and his execution for the failed attempts at Hitlers life just a few weeks before Germany surrendered raises the provocative question for readers: was it worth it? Archival photographs supplement the text, which is appended with a timeline, source notes, a bibliography, and an index. betty carter (c) Copyright 2016. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.