In the second installment of September’s MTYT, Jean Schroeder and Holly Johnson discuss the second of four books that topped USBBY’s Outstanding International Books list. The common theme between these books is the need to escape. In Peter in Peril: Courage and Hope in WWII, the main character needs to escape persecution as a result of a world war. This story shows how young Peter is able to survive and stay hopeful against insurmountable odds.
Jean: My whole-body tenses when I read one of these terrifying stories especially when children are targets. “In Peril” is right. Peter and his family are pictured living through the ramifications of the Nazi controlled city of Budapest as they take steps to survive. Their family is a reflection of the city and the world at the time, first together, then torn apart with brief encounters and long separations – sometimes final separations. The use of a graphic novel presentations seems to me to also reflect that idea of separation and connection.
Holly: When I was reading this graphic novel, I was struck by the parallels between Peter’s story and stories about displaced people in both the European Holocaust and currently because of political leaders who are absolutely tyrannical and willing to kill their own people. I just don’t understand it even as I acknowledge the reality. I really liked this book because it showcased not only a true story, but the various ways this particular family was able to survive for six years while effected by Jewish discrimination and genocide. Through a somewhat gentle telling through the perspective of a young child, readers are struck by the absolute cruelty and yes, evil, that was allowed to persist during that time. What do you think about the use of a young child’s perspective to tell the story? I noticed that the committee who selected this book for inclusion on the 2018 OIB Honor List suggested a grade band of 3-5 for this book. I don’t attend much to grade bands, but I wonder how this book might work in schools. What do you think?
Jean: Yes, it is told from the perspective of a child, but I never thought of the story being softened by that perspective. I worked mostly with primary aged children and believe that whether or not one suggests this book or one of a similar nature depends on the context that has been created in the classroom. Children need some understanding to be in place before delving into the issues raised in this book. That this is a true story is important for younger children and I would not limit it on the older end of the grade band. It seems to me just as appropriate for high school. I am reminded of Louise Borden’s book, His name was Raoul Wallenberg (2012) in which she shares the life story of Sweden’s Raoul Wallenberg. He offered hope when there was little to Jews in Hungary during WWII. This book is also true and gives a broader view of what was happening in Hungary.
Holly: I agree that it can be used with most age groups, but I would probably have it as part of a text set for middle grades in studying the European Holocaust. I especially appreciate the end matter, which gives some great information about Peter and his family. That material really makes the story REAL for some readers, who might not completely understand that Peter was a real person. Terrible things happened under the Nazis, and I am somewhat glad they didn’t need to be detailed in this novel. Great book!
Title: Peter in Peril: Courage and Hope in WWII
Author: Helen Bates
Publisher: Otter-Barry Books
Date Published: March 17, 2017
This is the second installment of September’s issue of My Take/Your Take. You can find the first installment on our site. Check back next week to see what books we’ve selected and to follow the conversation!