August 04, 2008

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books: FREEDOM

Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation had a blogathon for bloggers to post about freedoms. Themes ranged from the right to be anonymous online to the right to free speech and expression, right of fair use and a vibrant public domain, to read in private, free from government surveillance, and more. (A recap of the whole event will be posted on the EFF blog on August 9th.) I thought this event was a good kicking-off point for Colleen's special emphasis month on books in the political realm for children and young adults. And no, that doesn't just mean books on presidential candidates. (Hat tip to Big A, little a.)

I've never thought of myself as very political -- but what does the word mean, really? Relating to the public affairs or governing of a country, right? I've read a lot about that. And I think a lot about that. Like everyone else, I'm a person with opinions, a person of beliefs and convictions. Growing up, I got some of these things from my parents, as do most of, but I saw their fallibility early, so came to my own opinions sooner rather than later. Those opinions, and the books to which I was exposed, were my early beginnings of having any thoughts about politics.

I remember learning about the Nazis from seeing a dramatization of Corrie ten Boom's life story called The Hiding Place. My new best friend was from Holland, so this story had a special significance to me.

I was horrified that Jewish people were being targeted and made to live in ghettos -- which I thought was something like being made to live in the bad parts of Oakland. I knew Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were doing the right thing, when she and her family helped the Jews, but I was upset that they were caught and sent to a concentration camp. I didn't really "get" what that was, because the word "concentration" I thought meant to think really hard, but the things Corrie had to go through indelibly printed on my mind that Nazis were evil.

I was from that point on the lookout them. Unfortunately (and forgive me 'cause I've probably told this story before), the only German person who could be questioned about this was our next door neighbor, a girl with long red hair and a passion for her hippie boyfriend. When I asked her if she had been a Nazi... well, I was seven.

The neighbor explained that her grandparents (! way to grasp time, huh?) had fled from their homeland, and some had been interned and killed themselves. I was completely embarrassed, a sting which tripled when Petra told the story to my Mom. I was determined to find out more about the topic before I asked anymore potentially humiliating questions. Which book did I discover first? The library had Summer of My German Soldier.

I had to read the book in secret, because it was for way older kids, and my mother would have taken it. I think I was nine or ten when I decided I should have my very own illegal enemy combatant so I could hide and feed him, and kick my mean, sibling-favoring parents to the curb. (Looking back on this one is a tearjerker) The end of the novel broke my heart.

I was a little older when I realized it wasn't only Germans involved in WWII. While my classmates were making dioramas of the First Thanksgiving, I was sneaking my eldest sister's books from English class. I read Farewell to Manzanar... and had to read it again. And again. And then I picked up To Kill A Mockingbird... Eventually my sister caught me, and put an end to me snooping in her room for books, but the point is, these are my first awakenings of interest into the political world, the first books outside of my suburban scope which weren't church related missionary stories or something made up about Native people for the social studies book. These were a.) true, b.) read completely on my own, and c.) changed the way I thought.

No matter that I wouldn't necessarily call The Summer of My German Soldier "wicked cool" or suggest it for any kid looking for books about Nazis, Germans or WWII (not when we have Number the Stars or The Book Thief and many others not confused by so many other issues) this is where I started -- a troubling, controversial book which was banned. Farewell to Manzanar led me to other books on Japanese internment survivors and to a friendship with a woman who was born during her mother's internment, too.

What was the first book that you read which you can think might have been called "political" and gave you a deeper view of America? Was there you read as a young adult which helped you get a grasp on the way the world was run in other countries?

More Wicked Cool Overlooked Books are at Collen's place.

Twilight Insanity plus the SCBWI Conference has kept folks busy this weekend. Sara paints the town red and thinks deeply about all she's learned. Meanwhile, don't miss Miss Erin's hilarious report from the new moonlit, twilit, dawn breaking trenches, and Alkelda's ...retelling of the backstory on, er, Breaking Down, which to me is infinitely preferable to reading the actual novel.


Little Willow said...

Forgive me, because the subject line caused me to sing a George Michael song with the same time.

The EFF blogathon sounds interesting.

Though I've read or am familiar with many of the books you've cited here, the WWII homefront novel I've re-read the most is Number the Stars.

tanita✿davis said...

Aaargh! Thanks LW, that's an earwig I will have ALL DAY NOW!

I love Number the Stars. It will probably always be my all-time fave in this category. I still love knowing that Lois Lowry did the photography for her own cover - and I adore that girl and the necklace. How cool is that?

Sarah Stevenson said...

Yes, I really loved Number the Stars. I also remember my mom giving me a copy fairly early on of The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss.