Author: Robert Sharenow
Publication Date: April, 2011
Genre/Format: Historical Fiction/Novel
GoodReads Summary: Fourteen-year-old Karl Stern has never thought of himself as a Jew. But to the bullies at his school in Nazi era Berlin, it doesn't matter that Karl has never set foot in a synagogue or that his family doesn't practice religion. Demoralized by relentless attacks on a heritage he doesn't accept as his own, Karl longs to prove his worth to everyone around him.
So when Max Schmeling, a champion boxer and German national hero, makes a deal with Karl's father to give Karl boxing lessons, Karl sees it as a perfect chance to reinvent himself. A skilled cartoonist, Karl has never had an interest in boxing, but as Max becomes the mentor Karl never had, Karl soon finds both his boxing skills and his art flourishing.
But when Nazi violence against Jews escalates, Karl must take on a new role: protector of his family. Karl longs to ask his new mentor for help, but with Max's fame growing, he is forced to associate with Hitler and other Nazi elites, leaving Karl to wonder where his hero's sympathies truly lie. Can Karl balance his dream of boxing greatness with is obligation to keep his family out of harm's way?
What I Think: This book reminds me a bit of Cleopatra's Moon- not because they have anything to do with each other, but because they both are pieces of historical fiction that so easily weave history and fiction making it hard to decipher what is real and what is their story.
The Berlin Boxing Club is about a fictional boy named Karl Stern who is in a very real world of pre-WWII Germany. The book takes place beginning in 1934 and takes us through Karl's experience as a young Jewish boy in Germany all the way until Kristallnacht in November, 1938. Karl's family was not religious and was only Jewish because of his ancestors yet as soon as Nazi power took hold, they were exposed as many families were in Germany. Karl, luckily, did not look Jewish so he evaded much of the harassment, but his father and sister were not as lucky. The story takes the reader through the story of Karl and his family as their world turns against them.
Along side this story of Karl's family's story of their fall from grace is Karl's story of boxing. Karl is lucky enough to be trained by Max Schmeling, the famous "Black Uhlan of the Rhine". Though Max is very much a real historical figure, his story with Karl is not. But it is through this story that we learn about Max Schmeling and his part in Germany history and his conflicted feelings about the Nazi party.
Finally, and what I found to be the most interesting part of the book, The Berlin Boxing Club is about art. Because of my father that I know about how many masterpieces were lost during WWII because of the Nazi regime and about the underground dealers that worked to get the forbidden art out of Germany, but this book puts me in the middle of it. Karl's father is an art dealer and art plays a very important role in the story. Also, because of Karl's love of comics and being an inspiring cartoonist himself, we learn about the history of comics and how they played a part in the propaganda during the war.
Read Together: Grades 7 to 12
Read Alone: Grades 8 to 12
Read With: Once by Morris Gleitzman, Terezin by Ruth Thomson, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, any WWII nonfiction book, A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis by Matt de la Pena, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Snatch of Text: "Hitler had come to power the previous year, and I knew that things were getting bad for Jews all across Germany. Yet because of my religious anonymity at school, Hitler and the Nazis ranked only fifth on the list of my biggest concerns in life:
1. Finding a way to gain weight
2. Getting rid of my acne
3. Getting inside Greta Hauser's pants and having her find her way into mine
4. Pap's financial situation
5. Hitler and the Nazis" (p. 21-22)
"I often practiced drawing by sitting in the basement of the gallery and copying works from my father's collection. All the expressionist artists had different styles, but they tended to use thick, harsh paint strokes or thin, jagged pen lines. There was nothing smooth or easy about any of their work or the worlds they depicted. I preferred their paintings and drawings of whores, exposing themselves to men on the street and in brothels.
But Dix, Grosz, and most of the other modern artists my father represented had fled Germany since the Nazis' rise to power. Hitler had deemed their art degenerate, and galleries were forbidden to show their work. Many artists were arrested for public indecency or on political charges." (p. 27)
Mentor Text for: Historical Fiction, Making Connections
Writing Prompts: Karl draws his sister cartoons of her favorite picture book whenever she is feeling down. Make a comic strip using the characters from your favorite picture book.; Research Max and this time in history- what did Robert Sharenow use from history and what did he add?
Topics Covered: World War II, Hitler, Religion, Boxing, Art History
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