A fascinating subject sadly mishandled.


Mexican American 17-year-old Tomás is used to his father’s nightmares about World War II, but that doesn’t mean he understands them.

Papi rarely talks about it, and Tomás suspects the number tattooed on his arm is not just his “lucky number”—it’s just like those of concentration-camp survivors in the slides Mrs. Franklin shows at school. Tomás’ secret search for the truth takes him through his father’s war mementos, which leads him to a buried box in the family’s garden. Later, Tomás and his mother connive to mind-trick Papi into admitting that he was a POW in a Nazi concentration camp and agreeing to speak to Tomás’ class about his experiences. Still, it’s a long while before he reveals the real reason for the tattoo. Alvarado bases his story on the experiences of the first Mexican American to register as a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, but the text fails as a novel. Tomás’ voice sounds like a reflective adult’s rather than a teen’s; the plot is contrived; and the psychological trickery is unsettling to witness. California, the earliest adopter of Holocaust education and the setting of this novel, didn’t start putting it into schools until 20 years after the story takes place, and, troublingly, the tone taken by both teacher and narrator is removed, describing Jews and the Shoah as if they were subjects of a nature documentary. An afterword that separates fact from fiction reveals that significant liberties were taken. Baeza Ventura’s Spanish translation is bound back to back with the English text.

A fascinating subject sadly mishandled. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-55885-901-2

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Piñata Books/Arte Público

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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It’s great to see these kids “so enthusiastic about committing high treason.” (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)


From the Plot to Kill Hitler series , Vol. 1

Near the end of World War II, two kids join their parents in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler.

Max, 12, lives with his parents and his older sister in a Berlin that’s under constant air bombardment. During one such raid, a mortally wounded man stumbles into the white German family’s home and gasps out his last wish: “The Führer must die.” With this nighttime visitation, Max and Gerta discover their parents have been part of a resistance cell, and the siblings want in. They meet a colorful band of upper-class types who seem almost too whimsical to be serious. Despite her charming levity, Prussian aristocrat and cell leader Frau Becker is grimly aware of the stakes. She enlists Max and Gerta as couriers who sneak forged identification papers to Jews in hiding. Max and Gerta are merely (and realistically) cogs in the adults’ plans, but there’s plenty of room for their own heroism. They escape capture, rescue each other when they’re caught out during an air raid, and willingly put themselves repeatedly at risk to catch a spy. The fictional plotters—based on a mix of several real anti-Hitler resistance cells—are portrayed with a genuine humor, giving them the space to feel alive even in such a slim volume.

It’s great to see these kids “so enthusiastic about committing high treason.” (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-35902-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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The bird’s-eye view into this pivotal moment provides a powerful story, one that adults will applaud—but between the...


The ugly brutality of the Jim Crow South is recounted in dulcet, poetic tones, creating a harsh and fascinating blend.

Fact and fiction pair in the story of Rose Lee Carter, 13, as she copes with life in a racially divided world. It splits wide open when a 14-year-old boy from Chicago named Emmett Till goes missing. Jackson superbly blends the history into her narrative. The suffocating heat, oppression, and despair African-Americans experienced in 1955 Mississippi resonate. And the author effectively creates a protagonist with plenty of suffering all her own. Practically abandoned by her mother, Rose Lee is reviled in her own home for the darkness of her brown skin. The author ably captures the fear and dread of each day and excels when she shows the peril of blacks trying to assert their right to vote in the South, likely a foreign concept to today’s kids. Where the book fails, however, is in its overuse of descriptors and dialect and the near-sociopathic zeal of Rose Lee's grandmother Ma Pearl and her lighter-skinned cousin Queen. Ma Pearl is an emotionally remote tyrant who seems to derive glee from crushing Rose Lee's spirits. And Queen is so glib and self-centered she's almost a cartoon.

The bird’s-eye view into this pivotal moment provides a powerful story, one that adults will applaud—but between the avalanche of old-South homilies and Rose Lee’s relentlessly hopeless struggle, it may be a hard sell for younger readers. (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-78510-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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