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Books in Brief: We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman; Dog Man by Dav Pilkey

CHILDREN’s NONFICTION

We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 112 pages, $17.99. Ages 10 to 12.

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Russell Freedman, who won the Newbery Medal for “Lincoln: A Photobiography,” tells the moving story of the brave young people of the White Rose student resistance movement in Germany who used mimeograph machines, postage stamps and leafleting to fight Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Freedman offers a brief but illuminating overview of the factors leading to Hitler’s rise to power but focuses at length on the personal story of the White Rose participants, specifically Hans and Sophie Scholl, who went against their father’s wishes to join the Hitler Youth Movement, drawn by the “feeling of belonging, the embracing sense of fellowship on hikes and camping trips.” The details of their involvement and the incidents that disillusioned them are fascinating. Hans at 17 became disenchanted after attending a massive Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg, telling his sister that during the entire weeklong event he did not hear a single “sensible conversation.” Hans and Sophie were students at Munich University when their circle of friends produced the first anti-Nazi leaflet in June 1942, and their work continued through their arrest on Feb. 18, 1943. Hans and Sophie were executed just days after their show trial; Munich’s University Square is named Geschwister-Scholl-Platz (Scholl Siblings Square) in their honor. The book includes many photos including, on the final page, a sunlit photo from the summer of 1938 of 17-year-old Sophie by a stream.

– Jean Westmoore

Graphic Novel

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey; Graphix/Scholastic, 240 pages, $9.99. Ages 7 and up. (Aug. 30 sale date)

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“Captain Underpants” creator Dav Pilkey is launching a new graphic novel series also based on a character he created in second grade and targeted to appeal to the same “reluctant reader” he was himself as a kid suffering from dyslexia. That means out-there humor, poop gags, playful skewering of stuffy authority figures and general mayhem and silliness. George and Harold, fourth-grade stars of the Captain Underpants books, are supposedly the authors of the Dog Man adventures. Dog Man is the hybrid sewn together when Greg the dog (who has the brains) and partner Officer Knight (who has the body) blow themselves up while trying to defuse a bomb. Among other hilarious touches: The villains come up with a giant vacuum cleaner, as the ultimate weapon, because everyone knows dogs are afraid of vacuum cleaners. Hidden amid the hilarity is an ode to reading. “Book ’em” involves the villains Petey the cat creating a “word-B-gone 2000” to zap the words from books and make everyone stupid. (Dog Man becomes so dumb “First he questioned a chair … Then he gave a lie detector test to some pee.”) This chapter comes complete with a subversive blast at education-think, in the form of a letter from first-grade teacher Ms. Construde to George’s parents. “I have told both boys on numerous occasions that the classroom is no place for creativity.” Petey gets his hand on Living Spray” and creates an army of hot dogs in “Weenie Wars: The Franks Awaken” Destined to be another surefire hit.

– Jean Westmoore

Fiction

A Friend of Mr. Lincoln by Stephen Harrigan; Alfred A. Knopf; 415 pages; $27.95.

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An estimated 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, including volumes on his sex life and a recent fanciful novel about him as a slayer of vampires.

This novel, deeply researched and elegantly written by distinguished Texas author Stephen Harrigan, who wrote a brilliant 2001 novel about the Alamo, is a worthy addition to the canon of Lincoln fiction.

“A Friend of Mr. Lincoln” fixes on the future president as a young climber on the Illinois prairie, at a time when he was trying to figure out who he was and what he was capable of doing.

The “friend” of the title is youthful poet Cage Weatherby, one of the few characters invented by Harrigan to serve as prism and sounding board for the young Lincoln. Weatherby, who himself aspires to greatness, watches with growing admiration, occasional disappointment and not a little envy as his ungainly friend rises from frontier soldier to cunning litigator and crafty legislator, a man for whom personal integrity is paramount – even perhaps to a fault.

We glimpse Lincoln the great man only briefly, in the book’s opening and at the very end. Instead, Harrigan’s Lincoln is the “Strange Friend and Friendly Stranger” of Carl Sandburg’s telling – painfully insecure yet growing in quiet confidence, bawdy yet surprisingly eloquent, lacking in social graces but clearly possessed of surpassing legal and political skills. Although this is a fictional Lincoln, Harrigan’s careful scholarship and graceful prose guarantee insights into the real man that few biographies can deliver.

– Kevin Duchschere, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Fiction

The Muse by Jessie Burton; Harper Collins; 352 pages; $27.99.

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“The Muse” asks a lot of its readers, in the best of ways. It asks us to pay close attention, given the unexpected paths that wander variously through time, race, global politics and art history. Odelle Bastien is a Caribbean immigrant in 1967 London, and a typist at an art gallery for the enigmatic Marjorie Quick, who insists on being called only Quick. Why? It’s one of many mysteries that deepen when “Rufina and the Lion,” perhaps a lost Spanish masterpiece, is brought to the gallery.

Then suddenly we’re cast back to 1936, where rumblings of war are sweeping Spain. Olive Schloss is vacationing with her wealthy art collector family in a poor village, where she befriends Teresa Robles and her brother, Isaac, an idealistic revolutionary and so-so painter.

Obviously, all of these characters eventually will intersect, and, frankly, the prospect strains credulity at first. But Burton keeps her threads in line, weaving in some unexpected colors just when you think you’ve figured it out. Oddly, the characters remain somewhat at arm’s length – perhaps because there’s not an ordinary one in the bunch. That we care about them is mostly due to wondering how they relate to one another. It’s the well-crafted tale that draws you in, and in the end, respects you as a reader.

– Kim Ode, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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