Tag: wwii (page 1 of 1)

The Faithful Spy

My seventh grade teacher collected ugly ties. On the first day of class—my very first day of junior high—he thumped a stubborn projector hard on one side. The light switched on, but the glass across the top spider-webbed with fissures.

“Well,” he said. “The library’s not going to be happy with me.

That was the year I learned about the Holocaust. We probably read books about it; I’m sure we held discussions or listened to lectures, or something. But what I remember most—what I remember vividly to this day—was watching the film Escape From Sobibor. That was my introduction to the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the murder of babies, those images of discarded, emaciated bodies.

The Faithful Spy, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

Was I ready for it? No. Emphatically not. But as upsetting as that movie was, I can appreciate now what my teacher was doing. He knew, I think, that we didn’t need to hear about it—we needed to see it. We needed to move the Holocaust away from the white board and into our imaginations, horrifying as that process was.

John Hendrix’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes a similar leap from the theoretical to the visual. In The Faithful Spy, he doesn’t simply tell us about Bonhoeffer but, through his striking illustrations and hand-lettered text, he shows us Bonhoeffer’s life during the rise of the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer is a complex figure—a Christian who risked his life for others, but who also worked as a spy for a German resistance group and was eventually martyred for his role in a plot to kill Hitler.

The Faithful Spy, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

But The Faithful Spy also tells the story of the German Resistance. In his introduction, Hendrix writes:

“Desperate for leadership, the German people were led like rats to the edge of the cliff by a diabolical Pied Piper. But not all fell for the seduction. Dietrich was but one man among many hundreds of patriotic Germans (including prominent preachers, military generals, and politicians) who saw the Nazis for what they truly were and fought back. They fought with words at first, but eventually they fought with actions.”

The Faithful Spy, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

Through the story of Bonhoeffer, Hendrix introduces us to a greater story of the faithful Germans who recognized the dangers of “the Nazi war machine” and, in far too many cases, gave their lives to fight it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is perhaps the best-known of them all, but I appreciated Hendrix’s reminder that Bonhoeffer was part of a network, part of a full-fledged resistance.

Though far less disturbing than Escape From Sobibor, John Hendrix’s The Faithful Spy uses words and images to move a story of the war from the whiteboard to the imagination. Through Hendrix’s art and storytelling, Bonhoeffer’s story takes on an unforgettable dimension, and we see him not as a black-and-white photograph surrounded by text, but as a living man with doubts and fears and faith in a God who slays giants.


Does John Hendrix’s name sound familiar? It should! He also wrote and illustrated one of my all-time favorite picture books, Miracle Man, as well as many other excellent books.


The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler
John Hendrix (2018)

Twenty & Ten

It makes sense that I would be an unofficial librarian at my daughter’s school. I grew up among books, you know—the business of words has always appealed to me. I put my enthusiasm for books on a slow simmer for a time as I pursued other things, but now, between my roles as a blogger, copy editor and librarian, it’s back at a roaring boil: I think in paragraphs—in complete, crafted sentences—and hear my life and the things I look at narrated back to me in what I wish was a lilting British accent like Jim Dale’s but is, in fact, my own voice. But, oh well. We were talking about me being a librarian.

The good news (but isn’t it all good news?) is that I have a book budget and a license to hunt out quality books for our growing Classical school. I now haunt bookstores and thrift shops with a new purpose and vigor, and our house looks as though books have multiplied all over it—the tops of the shelves and the floor in front of them are filled with stacks of books, organized by their relationship to the library catalog.

I am tasked with pre-reading a lot of donated chapter books, which is, as you can imagine, no hardship, except that some of them are pretty lame, and so I don’t finish those. But the good ones are really good, and I never would have found out about them otherwise.

Twenty and Ten | Little Book, Big Story

Twenty and Ten came to me in just such a box of books. It was skinny, with awkward cover art, something with a foreshortened Nazi and some kids sort of floating in the grass behind him in what looked like a puddle but was, it turns out, meant to be a cave. But the warped perspective is pardonable, for the book within the cover is graceful and concise. The author is an experienced storyteller—a verbal storyteller, that is—so the story rolls along in a conversational tone that makes you feel like you are sitting down to tea with the narrator, twenty or fifty years after the events of the story occurred.

What the book is about is twenty French schoolchildren who were evacuated to the countryside during World War II, and the ten Jewish children hidden in their midst. The story ends happily and on a note of hope, but it is suspenseful and the stakes are high. This is a book for children, but it’s about WWII, and children were called upon to make some terrible decisions in WWII; because of that, I’d only recommend this book to older children—and to you, of course. It’s so slender, you’d finish it in an afternoon.

Twenty and Ten | Little Book, Big Story

Twenty and Ten
Claire Huchet Bishop (1978)