Du Iz Tak? Carson Ellis; Candlewick Press, $16.99.
Author/illustrator Carson Ellis (creator of “Home” and collaborator with her husband, Colin Meloy, on the Wildwood series) offers a beguilingly strange picture book, written in an invented language, of two damselflies marveling at a tiny shoot on the forest floor. (“Du Iz Tak?” “Ma nazoot.”) As the plant grows taller, beetles arrive to confer: Can they build a tree fort? They can and do, a pirate flag atop a delicate marvel of multi-level constructions using tiny pebbles and planks. The drama continues to unfold amid the busy invisible world of the forest floor, a place concealing marvels (a caterpillar’s home in a log complete with furniture, a pair of spectacles, pictures on the wall) but one also of danger where predators lurk, where the natural cycle eventually always claims the most beautiful flower.
Ellis’ illustrations are a mystery and a marvel; in one, a ladder resting on the plant reaches into space toward the moon, as a grasshopper plays the fiddle. The scene is repeated later, against a waning moon, the plant wilting, the fort in ruins. Half the fun comes in deciphering the invented words. Ellis is a true original.
– Jean Westmoore
The Plot to Kill Hitler; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero by Patricia McCormick; HarperCollins, 192 pages, $18.99. Ages 8 and up.
Patricia McCormick, a two-time National Book Award finalist, tells the fascinating true story of the German pastor and theologian who was executed for his role in the plot to kill Hitler in this suspenseful, beautifully written and meticulously researched book. McCormick paints a vivid picture of “a big rambunctious family,” a happy household of eight children, in a home in Breslau, the family’s pet goat with free run of the house. Dietrich was the dreamer in a family of overachievers (his father was a psychiatrist, his oldest brother a genius at physics).
The death of his brother Walter in World War I was the driving force in Dietrich’s interest in theology and big questions about Christianity and the meaning of life. McCormick offers a clear explanation of Bonhoeffer’s theology and his belief that the church was not a building or a dead institution but a living force for good in the world, a belief that would later involve him – despite his pacifist beliefs – in the conspiracy to kill Hitler.
McCormick brilliantly combines the “big picture” historic and political backdrop with the anecdotal, as Bonhoeffer struggles in vain to convince his fellow Lutheran pastors of the threat posed by Adolf Hitler and then his role in establishing the breakaway Confessing Church. A particularly interesting chapter documents Bonhoeffer’s study at Union Theological Seminary in New York and his friendship with African-American classmate Frank Fisher, who took the young German to the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. (McCormick notes that Winston Churchill, alerted to the possibility of an effective plot against Hitler, dismissed Bonhoeffer with “I see no reason whatever to encourage this pestilent priest.”)
McCormick offers the page-turning suspense of a thriller, as the conspiracy unfolds, the conspirators arrested, imprisoned and executed as the war in Europe was in its final days. (For the sake of her young readers possibly, she omits the gruesome detail that Bonhoeffer was hanged with piano wire.)
– Jean Westmoore