Tag Archives: history

The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler by James Cross Giblin

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The day after the election, I drove over to my local indie bookstore. I felt the need to support the bookstore today; books are always the first thing they come after as a means to suppress information, learning, and intellectualism. I wanted to find something that would help me understand the current situation. I believe it’s important to know history so that we might understand how things have gone wrong before and what we might do in the face of similar circumstances. But I didn’t want a book just for me. My students, middle school age and older, need a way of understanding and engaging too.

Just for its Source Notes and Bibliography section alone, where a reader gets a glimpse at the research involved in truly learning about a subject way beyond a wikipedia entry, James Cross Giblin’s book on Adolf Hitler, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, is a worthwhile read for teenagers and adults. The other 234 pages are not too shabby either.

On the second to last page, Giblin himself poses the question that every reader must thinking: “Could another Adolf Hitler rise to power and prominence from the neo-Nazi movement?” His answer, published in 2002, was jolting. “If a country experienced a sudden economic and spiritual collapse…then a call might go out for a savior–a leader who could restore the country’s pride and fiscal health and inspire new hope for the future in its despairing citizens.” This book can clearly help us to understand both the past and the present.

Personally, as someone who has read a lot about F.D.R. and Churchill, it was interesting to read about W.W. II more from the perspective of Adolf Hitler and the German people. We learn about Hitler’s strength as a speaker, war strategist, and unrelenting believer in the power of his own opinions. We also read of his many weaknesses and, just as importantly, those who just went along without thinking much about what else to do.

There is no doubt that this book would probably be a hard sell to a teenager to read on their own. Perhaps that is just as well, since this is clearly a book that need to be read slowly, perhaps chapter by chapter and discussed in an environment of people ready to suss through what it all means.

It’s an excellent chance for readers to be introduced to vocabulary and political ideas regarding democracy, dictatorship, and the like that are now in the media regularly but still remain largely unfamiliar to them. The concept of a demagogue can now be understood, as well as the idea of propaganda being a purposeful part of a system of government. This all ties into how we make clear and convincing arguments and, most of all, how we think about things and how, throughout history, have sometimes been easily and  dangerously convinced to let others do the thinking for us.

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Interesting Non Fiction for Kids Recommendation

Eleanor by Barbara Cooney

One of my favorite picture book biographies about one of my favorite people. Great introduction to Eleanor Roosevelt, specifically her childhood and growing into a confident, influential woman. This is a great mentor text for it’s fabulous opening paragraph and concise, powerful paragraphs. Such a better choice than the standard biography found more easily in the big stores.

Grades 3 and Up

Picture Book Biography

Used successfully with ESL adult learners, too.

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Interesting Non Fiction for Kids Recommendation

Mesmerized. How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled all of France by Mara Rockliff

Mara Rockliff has an easy, enjoyable reading style which manages to include a good dose of history. I particularly like how this picture book biography of Ben Franklin focuses on his use of the scientific method. The author does a great service here by explaining what this is and how Ben actually used it. The story itself is also weird and thus naturally appealing.

Grumpy gripe: I find the constant changes in font very annoying. Many kids can’t read script and struggle to read with confidence when the words aren’t printed clearly. Stick with a basic font; the writing is strong enough to keep the readers interested and the illustrations are also terrific.

Grade 3 and up

Picture book biography

Boy appeal

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Interesting Non Fiction for Kids Recommendation

The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown

Don Brown expands into the graphic novel form with great success. There is a plethora of historic and environmental information here. The drawings really add to the reader’s experience of what it was like to be in living with so much dirt and dust.

For a fiction pairing, the graphic novel The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan is part ghost story part historical fiction.

Grade 5 and Up

Used successfully with reluctant reader

Boy appeal

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The Price of Freedom. How One Town Stood Up to Slavery by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin

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Availability: Library

Kid Appeal: 4th grade and up

Always looking for a book that can appeal to a young reader, has a strong writing style, and actually teaches something. This book definitely qualifies.

How did I know about it? I’ve never heard of it before. But I’ve read other books by Dennis Fradin that I liked. I was browsing, saw his name, and pulled it off the shelf immediately.

As a mentor text: The beginning is a straightforward account of the evening the slaves left Kentucky for Ohio. No teaser, no setting the scene, just straight into it. It’s good for the student writer to see that simple can work, too. The ending is effective not so much because of the writing but because of the placement of a photograph of the actual men involved. The townspeople’s pledge is that much more powerful when we can read it and look at them at the same time.

As a teaching tool for discussion: It provides lots of talking points. The Fugitive Slave Act itself which doesn’t come up in most reads, seeing an issue from both sides, the role of community and the more philosophical consideration of “are all laws just?”

ReadabilityNarrative of a specific moment in history. Story and hourly timeline will keep readers interested. My guess is it will get a good rating even from most kid readers, even those who say they don’t like reading about history.

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