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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that John Hendrix's graphic novel The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler tells the gripping true story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran theologian who, after much soul searching, became part of a plot to assassinate Hitler -- a plot that would prove unsuccessful and cost Bonhoeffer his life. In addition to being a compelling biography of an exceptional man of great moral integrity, it's an excellent primer on Hitler's rise to power, the causes of World War II, Hitler's military strategy during the war, the Holocaust, and the German resistance. The facts and issues are clearly laid out and imaginatively illustrated, making it a terrific asset for anyone studying World War II. It also deals with Bonhoeffer's personal struggle with his Christian faith, from the time he's a kid pondering the meaning of life and the nature of God (as many kids will) to when he's an adult wrestling with what it means to put your faith into action and questions regarding your duty to God vs. country. Violence includes battle scenes of World War I and II, bombings, mention of the deaths of Jews in concentrations camps and that the Nazis killed Russian prisoners of war or starved them to death. A German officer facing a Nazi firing squad is pictured, and Hitler is depicted as a wolf devouring soldiers in his mouth. Hendrix cleverly represents the "good guys" (Bonhoeffer, the plotters, ordinary Germans) and their scenes in a bold turquoise and the "bad guys" (Hitler and the Nazis) in blood red, which helps readers track the various developments in this complex history.
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What's the story?
THE FAITHFUL SPY: DIETRICH BONHOEFFER AND THE PLOT TO KILL HITLER lays out the story of a German Lutheran boy who from a young age was drawn to questions about the nature of God and the meaning of life, and who grew up to believe in putting your faith into action. This graphic novel tracks his personal and professional journey from divinity student to theologian and pastor to a member of a resistance group to spy for an underground group seeking to murder Hitler. The book lays out Hitler's rise after Germany's humiliation after losing World War I and charts his military strategy, persecution, and attempted extermination of the Jewish people in Germany and other European countries; Bonhoeffer's participation in the plot to assassinate Hitler; two failed attempts to assassinate him with planted bombs; and Bonhoeffer's arrest, stay in prison, and ultimate execution for his role in the plot.
Is it any good?
This captivating graphic novel is as suspenseful as a thriller, with complex political events and spiritual ideas imaginatively illustrated and clearly explained in kid-friendly language. For example, here's how the author explains Hitler's takeover of Austria: "In March 1938, he annexes Austria with nothing more than blustery speeches and the tactics of a schoolyard bully. The Austrian government was so terrified of war with a lunatic they gladly gave Hitler their lunch money." The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler is a great book for anyone interested in -- or studying -- World War II. And kids and teens can relate to the deep questions Bonhoeffer struggles with: Does God hear me when I pray? Are believers called to action? Do people of faith have a responsibility to stand up against evil and fight injustice?
Author-illustrator John Hendrix does an incredible job of making history exciting, maintaining the story's momentum, and balancing military, political, family, and romantic action with thought-provoking ideas about God and faith. Particularly clever are the times his illustrations veer into the metaphorical, such as picturing Hitler as a snarling wolf (his preferred nickname was the Wolf), soldiers as rats, or Bonhoeffer as a zookeeper when the text describes his doubts about his theological pursuits: "Dietrich felt like he studied God as if he were an animal in a zoo, making careful observations and measurements but always at a safe and comfortable distance." Hendrix calls our hero by his first name, which helps make him relatable as an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary circumstances. And Hendrix quotes from Bonhoeffer's own writing, as well, marking those citations with an asterisk to make clear they are Bonhoeffer's exact words. Also helpful is his use of different colors for the "good guys" (Bonhoeffer, the plotters, ordinary Germans) in a bold turquoise and the "bad guys" (Hitler and the Nazis) in blood red, which helps readers track developments and issues in the story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the moral dilemma of joining an assassination plot in The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler. Could you justify murdering one evil man to save millions of people? Is there ever a good war?
Even though Bonhoeffer is a pastor and a theologian (someone who studies the nature of God and religious belief), he still has moments of doubt and is even angry at God sometimes. Have you ever felt that way? How did you get through it?
How did Bonhoeffer's experience of having an African American friend and experiencing racism against blacks firsthand in the United States affect his response to Hitler's persecution of the Jewish people in Germany and other parts of Europe? How did it make him feel about churches where pastors justified racism, segregation, and the persecution of Jews?
- Author: John Hendrix
- Illustrator: John Hendrix
- Genre: History
- Topics: Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Book type: Non-Fiction
- Publisher: Amulet Books
- Publication date: August 5, 2018
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Number of pages: 176
- Available on: Paperback, Hardback, Kindle
- Award: ALA Best and Notable Books
- Last updated: January 28, 2019
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For kids who love historical graphic novels and World War II stories
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