Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hitler's Daughter by Jackie French

"I just wanted to know..." began Mark slowly.  "I mean it's silly but I was thinking.  Do kids have to be like their parents?"

Mr. McDonald frowned.  "I'm not sure I get your meaning," he said.

"Well, say someone's father did something really Hitler or Pol Pot," he added hurriedly.  "Would their kids be evil too?"  (from Hitler's Daughter, page 61)

In Hitler's Daughter by Jackie French, four friends in present day Australia spend their long wait at the bus stop each day telling stories.  Most of the stories are about fairies and that sort of thing, but one day, Anna decides to tell a more serious story -- a story about a young girl named Heidi whose father happens to be Adolf Hitler.  If in real life Hitler had a child, you wouldn't expect her to be like Heidi; while he's trying to breed a "perfect" race, his daughter is born with a large red birthmark on her face and a limp because one leg is shorter than the other.  Heidi wants to live a normal life and be allowed to play with other children and spend time with her father, but Duffi (her nickname for her father, Hitler) is never around and Heidi is concealed from the world like she doesn't exist.

Because the people tasked with caring for Heidi are scared to say too much in her presence for fear their comments will get back to her father, she doesn't hear about the goings on in the outside world.  When she hears someone talk about the Jews and asks who they are, all she is told is that the Jews are different from them.  When she hears about a family being arrested for hiding Jews and learns something bad could happen to them, Heidi does what she can with her limited knowledge and limited access to the outside world -- she clears out a barn and slowly takes food from the pantry to store in the space where she plans to shelter Jews if they ever come to her for help.  However, with a child-like innocence, she doesn't think about whether her father is doing something wrong; she continues to seek attention and love from the only parent she knows -- just like a child whose father isn't one of the biggest mass murderers in history.

Hitler's Daughter is seen from the point of view of Mark, a 10-year-old boy who is greatly affected by Anna's story.  He can't stop asking questions about Hitler and the Jews, whether children have to grow up to be like their parents, whether you can love someone guilty of such crimes, and how does one know that the things they believe are right truly are.  And these are the same questions I posed to The Girl as we read this book together.  These are hard questions, and the adults in Mark's life have a hard time answering them.  But what bothered me about the book was that Mark's parents weren't comfortable with his questions or were too busy and shrugged him off.  Personally, I'd be glad to know that my child is truly thinking about the world around her, and even if I didn't have any concrete answers, we could discuss what we believe to be the right path.

The story is filled with action, especially when Heidi is taken to Hitler's Berlin bunker at a time when the city is being bombed non-stop.  The Girl was so engrossed in the story, she gripped my arms at the tense parts and insisted that I keep reading.  Hitler's Daughter is suitable for grades 4-6, but even adults will learn something from this story.

The Girl and I read Hitler's Daughter for the WWII reading challenge at War Through the Generations.

Disclosure:  The Girl took Hitler's Daughter out of her school library.


Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

What an interesting review. I never heard of this book before but I sure am interested in it now!

Happy New Year! :)

Shweta said...

Wonderful review. I think kids should be encouraged to talk and question about these topics.
Looks to be a very interesting book. I am adding to my wishlist,

Serena said...

This sounds like a unique story and it is sad that the parental characters were not more hands-on with Mark's inquiries. Thanks for sharing this.

No interview with The Girl this time?

bermudaonion said...

I love that The Girl gripped your arm, yet didn't want you to stop. That's a sure sign of a good book.

Toni said...

So it is an arm gripper! That seals the deal. I didn't know of it. I love the conversation that this book can ignite. Great review.

Staci said...

This book is very popular at my middle you've made me want to read it!!

DCMetroreader said...

I'm very impressed at the quality of children's literature.

wisteria said...

I'll have to read this one so that I can add this one to my purchases for the media center this year. Sounds like a good read for my students. Thanks!

Anna said...

~Sheila: Happy new year to you! I came across the title when compiling the WWII reading list for the challenge, but I hadn't planned on reading it until my daughter brought it home from school.

~Shweta: Thanks! I like that my daughter enjoys a mix of the purely fun books (i.e. Captain Underpants) and more serious, make-you-think books like this one. I hope you get a chance to read it.

~Serena: No, The Girl sadly was not interested in expressing her thoughts. Just one of those moods, I guess. At least she wanted to read it with me. :)

~bermudaonion: It sure is. I'm glad it grabbed her attention and she was able to learn from it.

~Toni: Thanks! It definitely is a good book for parents to share with their children.

~Staci: I hope you get a chance to read it. It's popular at The Girl's school, too. She had to wait a bit to get a copy, she told me.

~DCMetroreader: Me, too!

~Wisteria: Hope you find it a worthwhile read!