White Rose by Kip Wilson; Versify/Imprint Houghton, Mifflin Harcourt, 368 pages ($17.99) Ages 12 and up.
White Rose activist Sophie Scholl was only 21 years old when she was convicted of high treason in 1943 and executed by guillotine for passing out anti-war leaflets at the University of Munich. In the haunting, extraordinary novel, debut author Kip Wilson tells Scholl's story in free verse, bringing her voice to vivid life as she shifts back and forth in time, opening with Sophie and her brother, Hans, arriving handcuffed at Gestapo headquarters in 1943, then shifting to Sophie as a carefree teenager, on her 14th birthday sketching in the countryside. ("I might not be/the best-behaved/girl/I don't want to be/the prettiest/girl/but/I'm most decidedly/the smartest/girl.")
The book vividly evokes the innocence of Sophie's teenage years, her love of nature, her romance with a young German officer named Fritz who seems "entranced by strange, ridiculous me." These moments of happiness are overshadowed by ominous signs of things to come. There is Hitler's National Labor Service order requiring six months of service for young men, attacks on Jews, "thick hard dread spilling over the streets sharp as glass." Hans is arrested in a crackdown on young people for reading banned books and singing banned songs.
Sophie's gradual evolution into an activist is partly revealed through her poignant letters to Fritz, away at the front. Her voice echoes across the decades, in the quiet bravery of small, courageous acts (buying a suspiciously large number of stamps, obtaining a copying machine, mailing anti-war fliers). Occasionally we hear other voices: Gestapo Interrogator Robert Mohr; Roland Freisler, the judge who sentenced her and the others to death. ("I've had enough of this aggravating girl with her accusatory gaze, her superior tone, her righteous attitude.") Sandwiched between the tense courtroom scene and the emotional goodbye with her brother and parents at the prison is a dramatic scene change, back to 1934, of Hans and Sophie as adolescents admiring Hitler despite their father's warnings. She was a member of the League of German Girls. Hans had a sketch of Hitler hanging in his room.
This is a stirring, unforgettable account of quiet heroism: "On the plank, I count/each breath in my mind - eins, zwei, drei - until the last one floats/out of my lungs, dispersing/through the room, and I'm flying." (For those wishing to know more, Russell Freedman's 2016 book "We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler" includes historical photos and other archival material.)
Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord; Scholastic Press, 192 pages ($17.99) Ages 8 to 12.
A bunny rescued in rural Maine looms large in this poignant coming-of-age story of a 10-year-old girl navigating the tricky social world of school for the first time after years of being home-schooled.
The night before her first day of school, Emma accompanies her father, a game warden, on a call about a rabbit stuck in a picket fence. But the rabbit is not a wild rabbit; they end up bringing the bunny home and he quickly becomes Emma's companion and a welcome distraction in the face of her extreme anxiety about the first day of school.
Cynthia Lord, Newbery Honor author of "Rules," lives in Maine and she paints a vivid picture of "the sticks" near the Canadian border where Emma lives on a road called "Moose Alley," on a lake where she kayaks in summer and ice skates in winter. Lord offers a vivid contrast between Emma's home-school experience (science experiments in the bathroom or front porch "in case they exploded or leaked," reading on her bed or the couch, or even in the kayak) and the more rigid routines of school with the interminable school day and the challenge of interacting with other girls. Particularly realistic is Emma's excruciating first experience of lunch in the school cafeteria. Emma is eager to make friends at school but ends up paired for a school project with Jack, a special needs student who can't stay focused and often speaks out of turn. Will being true to herself mean having the courage to be comfortable with being different from her classmates, with being friends with someone a little different?
Lord, an animal lover who has fostered more than 25 rescue bunnies, includes chapter headings on rabbits' bonding behaviors in a way that beautifully mirrors Emma's quest to make friends.