Plot Summary: This graphic novel tells the story if Simon Schwartz’s family as they immigrate from East Berlin to West Berlin. It shows readers why his parents decided to immigrate and how dangerous that decision was. His father was unable to work and both his parents were constantly harassed. When they were finally able to move only Simon was allowed to cross the boarder to visit his maternal grandparents and his parents were afraid he might not be allowed to return. His paternal grandparents criticized his parents for leaving and wouldn’t speak to them for years. While this graphic novel is short it creates a powerful image of what it was like for families like Simon’s during this time period.
Critical Evaluation: This book was translated from the original German by Laura Watkinson so all of the descriptions, speech and similar elements have been translated to English while writing that is part of the image is still in the original German. To help readers understand what is happening much of this is translated in end notes throughout the book. These end notes also define some terms that US readers may not be familiar with in the English text. While this is useful it does distract a bit from the narrative flow of the story. The story also alternates between different points in time which may confuse some reader as there are no stylistic elements to differentiate time changes and the whole story is told in the past tense. Readers must therefore recognize the difference from visual clues depicting Simon or his parents at a different age. While some of the narrative dose not flow particularly well the artwork does not suffer from this problem. There are clear differences in how the characters look during the different stages of their lives and generally a pretty clear distinction between East and West Berlin. Other than the cover art, the images in the book are in black and white which adds to the more serious and somber tone of the book.
Reader’s Annotation: This is the story of how Simon’s family risked their lives to move from East Berlin to West Berlin.
Author Information: Simon Schwartz is the author of two award winning graphic novels. He also teaches illustration at Hamburg University of Applied Sciences and has his artwork published regularly in several magazines.
Curriculum Ties: This could be used in studying the cold war and the division of Berlin.
Booktalk Ideas: 1) Which scene in the book do you think was the powerful example of how the Schwartz family was harassed?
2) What differences did you notice between the illustrations of East and West Berlin?
Reading Level & Interest Level: This book is listed as age 12-17 which seems reasonable to me. The book is short and the language is pretty simple so I can see why tween readers would be interested in it. However, I think teen readers will get more out of it and better understand the harassment the parents were facing and how dangerous life really was for them.
Challenge Issues: There is one image of the mother being groped by a government agent as part of the harassment against the family that some parents may object to. This is a powerful image of a factual event that shows readers how dangerous it was for people to try to move away. Further this book has won awards and provides information on an important period of history.
Why is it included?: I think this is a really great example of a book that is for both tween and teen reader but where teen readers are likely to get more out of the book. While some mature middle grade readers may get the full impact of the horror of the harassment the family faced most teens should understand how difficult the decision to immigrate was.