Archive | April 2024

The Wall Between Us by Dan Smith

History Comes Alive

The Wall Between Us by Dan Smith is a powerful historical children’s novel that totally gripped me. I just could not put it down and read it in just two sittings, pausing only to sleep.

The novel is about the erecting of the Berlin Wall in 1961. This literally divided families as the wall split Berlin in two. The Berlin Wall was actually 155Km long with just three checkpoints, the most famous being Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. West Germany was divided from Soviet controlled East Germany, which was a very different place to live.

All the action is seen through the eyes of two twelve year old cousins who lived either side of the street that the wall cut in two. They were like sisters and best friends, nothing had ever divided them before, they even shared Otto the cat.

The action is written in the form of letters, notes, diary entries and reports. History literally comes alive for the reader. We can ‘feel’ the fear and the disappointment. It is easy to empathise with both girls.

This was a time of mistrust, distrust and betrayal. Anyone could be an informant. It was best to trust no one and to keep one’s opinions private. It was also a time where bribery and coercion were used. A young girl’s openness and innocence is manipulated as she becomes a pawn in a dangerous game.

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My Friend Anne Frank by Hannah Pick-Goslar with Dina Kraft

In Memory Of The Six Million Innocents

My Friend Anne Frank by Hannah Pick-Goslar with Dina Kraft is a powerful and heartbreaking account of a time of great evil. The book is written by one of Anne Frank’s closest friends who also fled Germany for Amsterdam in order to be safe. Hannah Pick-Goslar lived in the same apartment block as Anne Frank and they were in the same class at school.

The author tells of life before the war and of life as it was gradually eroded for the Jewish people.

Even before captivity Hannah Pick-Goslar faced personal tragedy as she was forced to grow up and become mother to her two year old sister.

As the grip of the Nazis tightened on Jewish lives, the author, her sister, father and grandparents were all interred at Westerbork. The only thing that saved them from even harsher treatment was their passports for Israel. Many months later they would be transferred to Bergen Belsen which was hell on earth. We hear of the awful conditions which just got worse and worse. It is in Belsen that Hannah Pick-Goslar briefly met Anne Frank who was in even worse conditions with her sister Margo. The optimistic Anne was broken, without hope, believing all her family had perished. Had she known her father Otto was alive, she would have had hope.

Hannah Pick-Goslar and her sister were put on the ‘lost train’ which wandered for nearly two weeks before liberation by the Russians.

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The Stars Are Our Witness by Siobhan Curham

Of Magic & Miracles

The Stars Are Our Witness by Siobhan Curham is an inspiring, heartbreaking historical read that consumed me for a few hours.

The novel opens in Warsaw in 1940. It is an occupied city where the Nazis are gradually exterminating the Jewish population. Those who were previously counted as friends are shunning their Jewish neighbours – except for one brave sibling pairing. Kindred spirits cannot be torn apart.

We witness the bravery and daring of even the very young in the fight back against the Nazi occupation. As the grip tightens and the violence escalates, so does the bravery.

The fight back and the resistance looks very different for different characters. They all have very different skill sets – some are called to fight, some to smuggle, and yet some use their feminine wiles to extract information and weapons. Codes of morality blur in times of war.

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How To Fly With Broken Wings by Jane Elson

Spreading The Magic

How To Fly With Broken Wings by Jane Elson is a beautiful, contemporary children’s novel that is about friendship, remembrance and celebrating differences.

We meet twelve year old Willem who has autism. Jane Elson challenges us to realise that people with autism think differently and find navigating life hard. I worked as a Learning Support Assistant (LSA) in the local high school for many years. I worked with numerous pupils who had autism, and Jane Elson has perfectly captured Willem – his dislike of change and social situations, his need for a comfort object and his literal interpretations. Willem is also highly intelligent.

Willem has a desperate search for friends which means the bullies take advantage of him. He does, however, have a friend in Sasha who looks out for him and who understands Willem’s needs.

The book is written in the first person, alternating between the voices of Willem and Sasha. We become intimately acquainted with them both.

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