More About the Big D Reads Companion Selections
Many of our activities and events for Big D Reads are about the companion books to The Diary of a Young Girl. Here is a brief description of each title.
Theodore Geisel was known for his criticism of Hitler and the Nazis, drawing political cartoons depicting the evil regime and the failure of the rest of the world to stop them. As Dr. Seuss, Geisel’s children’s stories nearly all have a moral in mind, such as the popular Sneetches story, where Sneetches with “stars upon thars” look down on and mistreat those without stars. After a swindler named Sylvester McMonkey McBean takes advantage of their prejudice to rake in all their money, they finally decide in the midst of all the confusion that having or not having stars is not important. For very young children, the Holocaust is too heavy a topic, but it is in the background of The Sneetches and imparts to young kids the important lesson of inclusion and acceptance over prejudice and hatred.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry was written for ages around 9 and up. The heroine of the story is Annemarie Johansen, a 10-year old girl who finds herself in a position to save her best friend, Ellen Rosen, and her parents when the Nazis begin to round up the Jews in Denmark. The book recounts, in fictional form, how the Danes quickly banded together to rescue nearly every Jewish person in the country with an ingenious scheme to smuggle them across the sea to Sweden in fishing boats. Annemarie does not completely understand the entire impact of the Nazi regime, but she knows about the persecution of the Jews and that her friend is in great danger. She goes along quietly observing the adults as they go about the rescues, understanding only a little and not sure she would be brave enough if she were an adult. When pressed into action she does her part bravely and learns that courage is not lack of fear, but doing what needs to be done in spite of the danger. Number the Stars introduces children to the subject of the Holocaust, while at the same time imparting timeless lessons about courage, tolerance, generosity, and the power of good over evil.
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson is a fascinating inside look at Berlin at the eve of the war from William E. Dodd, the somewhat reluctant American Ambassador to Germany. Dodd and his family lived on a street bordering the Tiergarten (literally “Garden of Beasts” in German, as it had once been a hunting preserve.) The Dodds were intimately acquainted with high ranking Nazis and other influential Germans. Dodd was very uncomfortable with Hitler and tried to warn Roosevelt and others about the Germans gearing for war. Dodd seemed to be good and decent person, but not an adept politician. He was seen as an outsider to what was called “The Pretty Good Club,” the wealthy aristocrats who usually populated the State Department and were mostly isolationists, preferring that the United States stay out of Europe’s troubles. Dodd was pushed around and ignored, prompting Larson to compare him to the Cassandra of mythology, doomed to be a prophet that no one believes. His prophesies proved true, but Dodd himself was left a disillusioned and somewhat broken man.
—Gayle Gordon, Dallas Public Library