Monday, July 27, 2015

MMGM- My Brother's Secret

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.


Smith, Dan. My Brother's Secret
July 28th 2015 by Chicken House (first published May 1st 2014)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Karl Friedman is active in the Deutsches Jungvolk, reveling in winning badges and in participating in the paramilitary exercises. When another boy's father is killed, and the other boys give him a hard time for crying rather than being proud that his father died for Hitler, Karl does feel bad for him, but still defends the Jungvolk to his older brother, Stefan. Stefan is a troublemaker-- he quit school so he wouldn't have to join the Hitler Youth, and seems to be hanging around with a group that will get him in trouble. When Karl's father is killed, his mother collapses, but his Oma and Opa swoop in, taking the family to their small town to live. They don't want Karl to leave the yard even though he yearns to go back to school and group activities; Karl suspects his grandparents, like his brother, don't support Hitler. He defies them, taking his bike out into town, and manages to get into an accident-- hitting the local Gestapo commander Wolff's car. Since Karl is still in his uniform, complete with his medal, Wolff doesn't arrest him, but he keeps his eye on Karl. Karl meets Lisa, the girl next door, and she is not overly fond of the Nazis as well, since they took her father away when he opined that all fighting was wrong. Karl begins to suspect that Stefan is involved in a resistance group, and he is proven right. Unfortunately, when Wolff comes to investigate suspicious activity involving delivering propagandistic flyers, he finds one in Karl's room, even though Wolff really wants to arrest Stefan. The depth of the town's involvement with various the Edelweiss groups becomes clear as Karl and Lisa investigate and try to find a way to free Stefan. Will their investigation free Stefan, or imperil the rest of their families?

This book had a lot of interesting information on a facet of World War II that is not covered very often-- the Hitler Youth. Seeing the movement through Karl's eyes is enlightening. If a similar movement were started at a middle school today, most of the well behaved, obedient children would join, especially if everything in the news was telling them that it was what they were supposed to do. Watching Karl's opinions change is also fascinating, since early teens often struggle with this very dilemma-- what is the difference between what I am supposed to do and what is right. The fact that Stefan, who is actually more morally correct, is seen as the "wild" brother gives Karl more reason to stick to the Nazi ideals. When his grandparents challenge the Nazis, and he is grieving for his father (of whose death he should be "proud"), Karl finally starts to realize that Hitler's policies and actions are not what he has been led to believe.

While the philosophical changes were interesting to me, I know that middle school readers want things to HAPPEN, and they do. There are chase scenes aplenty, as well as the resistance putting sugar in gas tanks, spray painting walls, and generally bedeviling the Nazis. While most readers interested in WWII demand tales of the battle field, there is enough action in this book to keep them satisfied.

Karl is a fascinating character, but I loved the supporting characters as well. Wolff is slimy but aftershave-scented, and has no sympathetic qualities at all. Stefan is very quiet, but manages to express his beliefs to his brother without tearing Karl's down. The mother was a bit annoying-- during WWII, I imagine that people were much stronger when faced with death, so her retreat from the world, and her sons, is not as believable. The grandparents typify the sort of Germans whom I believe comprised the vast majority of the population; concerned citizens who didn't agree with Hitler, so walked a fine line between disobedience and survival. Lisa is a great foil for Karl, since she is a bit braver and more daring than he tends to be.

Readers who enjoyed Bartoletti Campbell's The Boy Who Dared or want something similar to Hoose's (nonfiction) The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club will find that My Brother's Secret delivers: it will enthrall them with action and adventure but make them think about what side of the fight they would have been on had they been teens in Hitler's Germany.


  1. I could see this being made into a movie. It sounds like it has very endearing characters and deals with this time in history in an interesting way. I like the cover, too. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention.

  2. Thanks for the thorough review. It sounds like excellent historical fiction.

  3. This sounds like a wonderful book - a slice of history we don't often see written about.

  4. Sounds interesting. That was one of the hardest parts of Echo for me ... I just hadn't read much about the Hitler Youth. Really not much beyond Sound of Music! Most books didn't take that point of view. Anyway, I know this is not for elem. but I'm curious for myself. ;)

  5. I really appreciate your review of this book. I agree -- the Hitler Youth element is not often given as much attention as the plight of the Jewish children. That was one of the things that I took from The Book Thief-- the way that children did as they were told-- because of the propaganda, or the influence of teachers and other adults, or because of fear of the repercussions! Something important for kids (and adults) to know. What is the youngest age you would recommend this book to? Thanks!

  6. I really enjoyed The Boy Who Dared, so I will have to look this one up. Thank you!

    Happy reading this week! :)

  7. Anonymous11:37 PM EDT

    At first, I thought this was a book we read last year for CYBILS. I already forgot what that book was called. I was talking to a customer today about book pairings (beyond age groups) and I highly recommend you read All the Light We Cannot See for the Hitler Youth angle.

  8. I've enjoyed several books about the Hitler Youth (those that you mentioned, actually), so I am looking forward to the release of this book. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Virginia- I would say that 5th graders who have some background information on WWII would be okay with this.

  10. This sounds very interesting - like you said, it's a point of view we don't hear a lot about.