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Monday, June 30, 2014

Excellent Graphic Novel about the Air War in World War Two

Vansant, Wayne (2013) Bombing Nazi Germany:  The Graphic History of the Allied Air Campaign that Defeated Hitler in World War Two.  Minneapolis:  Zenith

     "It was a strange war.  And a violent one.
     They fought as part of an awesome battle force 30 miles long and five miles above the surface of the earth.  Their machines were made of aluminum, plexiglass and steel.  They shivered  in their cockpits in subzero temperatures, fastened to life with only facemasks of oxygen.  They died in horrible ways.  In flashes of black smoke.  In explosions of ragged steel, or falling all the way down, screaming, to the hard earth.
     They fought each other and also killed thousands of innocent civilians.
     They were led by a small group of innovators and revolutionaries.  Radical, innovative men who conceived of winning the war in a way that hadn't been seen before.  Their theories and beliefs were played out in hundreds of violent, freezing encounters in the sky high above the ground. 
     These were the men who took part in World War Two's air war."
     This is how Bombing Nazi Germany begins, with these words in front of an image of German fighters attacking allied bombers, smoke from anti-aircraft flak, two bombers on fire and going down,  And that single page gives you some insight into the way this graphic novel works.  It is exciting, it is historically accurate, and it is balanced. 
     I remember that one of my best friend's little brother loved to read about World War Two.  He would devour everything he could get his hands on, whether it was his reading level or not.  Hew was willing to plow through some pretty dense historical tomes because of his interest in the war.  And there is a lot there to be interested in.  World War Two was a war of desperation,   And the acts of pilots, navigators, bombardiers and gunners become riveted when you realize the incredible odds they faced.  Bombers were unreliable, prone to fatal breakdowns in the air.  They often had to manage with little or no fighter escorts.  And the only reason most of the crewmen were willing to risk their lives was that the air war seemed to have a good chance at stopping Hitler.
    The images in this graphic novel will pull kids in.  The drama of individual stories will keep them interested.  But along the way, they will earn about allied and German strategies, about the ways in which the air war was effective and ways in which it was not, and they will learn that Germans were not the only one committing atrocities in the war.  The book does not pussyfoot around moments like the firebombing of Dresdin.
     I do not mean to suggest that this is a perfect historical study -- it doesn't do much with primary sources or corroborating sources or making historical arguments explicitly -- but if you want to get a kid excited about history -- real history-- this book would be an excellent start.
     I think it could grab the attention of kids as early as fourth grade, but middle school and high school readers would not think this book was beneath them.  It would, admittedly, probably be more enticing to boys than girls, but I think there is stuff for both here.  This book is well worth adding to your classroom library. 

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