A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Extra is based on a little-known aspect of World War II, when Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler's favorite filmmaker, decided to make a movie, funded by the Third Reich, based on a Spanish folk tale. Due to the war, she didn't have access to Spain or Spanish actors, so she used Gypsy (Roma and Sinti) prisoners as extras. She also used a Gypsy girl as a stunt double in specific horseback riding sequences. That young girl was the inspiration for 15-year-old Lilo (a Sinti), the protagonist of The Extra. Riefenstahl was as cruel as she was beautiful, and there are many examples of her cruelty in the novel. The roundup of the Gypsies and their imprisonment is vividly described.
What's the story?
Fifteen-year-old Lilo's life is shattered when her family and all the Gypsies in Vienna, Austria, are rounded up by the Nazis and sent to an internment camp. There she meets a new friend, Django, and both are selected to be extras in a film directed by Leni Rienenstahl, Hitler's favorite filmmaker. Although they're surrounded by glamour, the Gypsies are closely guarded, locked in a barn when not on the set, and poorly fed. The director is as vindictive, egocentric, and cruel as she is physically beautiful. When Lilo asks the whereabouts of a girl who's disappeared, Lilo is instantly in danger herself. She escapes, and for a while she's safe with a puppet troupe. But then her identity is discovered and, once again, she's arrested. Only her daring and bravery and doing the unthinkable can save her.
Is it any good?
THE EXTRA is a powerful novel in which both suspense and stakes are high. Little is known about the persecution of the European Roma and Sinti people during the war years. Lasky's research makes the harsh story compelling, and she's created two believable and engaging young people as well as as a convincing adversary, the diabolical director upon whom their lives depend.
The descriptions of the filming are rich in detail: "There was not just one counterfeit village but entire cities and mountain ranges that had been created, facades designed and built by the scenery department. Bring up the wind! Bring up the sun! Bring up New York! Paris! Bring up anything, Lilo thought, except the real world."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about World War II and the different groups of people Hitler sent to concentration camps. What books have you read or films have you seen about the Holocaust?
How has the media portrayed the life and culture of Gypsies? Have they been fairly portrayed or stereotyped?
Have you ever performed in a home video or a school play? What did you like about the experience? Was it hard work or fun or both? Do you think you'd enjoy being a film extra?
- Author: Kathryn Lasky
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Arts and dance, Friendship, Great boy role models, Great girl role models, History, Misfits and underdogs, Puppets
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Candlewick Press
- Publication date: October 8, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
- Number of pages: 320
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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