Middle or High School Historical Fiction Pick: Shadow on the Mountain

ShadowOnTheMtPreus, Margi. Shadow on the Mountain. New York: Amulet Books, 2012. Print.

Plot:  This fast-paced work of historical fiction is based on the true story of a 14 year old boy who joins the underground Resistance movement in German-occupied Norway. Compelled at first by the sheer adventure of it, Espen takes on increasingly dangerous tasks that eventually force him to choose between his moral convictions and his friends and family. Set in a small town in Norway- a neutral country with a predominantly blond and blue-eyed populace- the story helps illustrate the key policies and tactics of the Nazis from an unusual vantage point.

Topics: World War II (1939-1945); Holocaust; Underground Movements; Spies; Norway – History.

Awards: Bank Street College Best Books of the Year; Notable Books for a Global Society; Judy Lopez Memorial Honor Book; VOYA Top Shelf for Middle Grade Readers; Jeannette Fair Memorial Book Award; Kirkus Best

Review: The pull of adventure and suspense, vivid descriptions, and the familiar social context of school friends will help young readers keep moving through the otherwise remote and unfamiliar territory that is WWII. There is some violence, but none of it explicit. Substantial back matter includes archival materials and bibliography as well as a pronunciation guide, code-breaking activity, and instructions for making invisible ink. This is an engaging book for a wide range of ages.

Quantitative Reading Level: Lexile: 730L, ATOS Book Level: 5.0, Flesh-Kincaid Reading Level: 4.5, AR Interest Level: Middle Grade; AR Reading Level: 7

Qualitative Reading Analysis: This book scores a medium for text complexity. At nearly 300 pages, reluctant readers may balk at the heft, but will soon be drawn into the action-filled adventure. Readers need not be familiar with the specific geography and politics of WWII to follow the story and be entertained. They will likely come away with an appreciation of the main themes- oppression, espionage, moral conviction, and human dignity. Teacher-led analysis will help unpack these themes and connect them to the causes and consequences of WWII, and to see how the author uses characters with conflicting motivations to develop these themes.  1940’s Nazi-occupied Norway is not a typical setting for YA novels and the language used to set the scene, including terms such as “hair pomade”, “sneakers”, and “swell”, as well as references to Norse mythology, may slow readers down.

Content/Subject Area & Standards: History-Social Science, 10.8. Students analyze the causes and consequences of World War II-  #5: Analyze the Nazi policy of pursuing racial purity; and #6: human costs of the war.

Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text.

Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.

Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.

Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new.

Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

Curriculum Suggestions: This title would work well as supporting text for a 10th grade WWII unit, particularly for reluctant and struggling readers who will read for the adventure and wind up learning a lot about WWII in the process. It would also be a compelling selection for 7th-9th grade independent or literature-circle reading, regardless of background knowledge.

Consider having students create their own timeline of events using HSTRY.COM, a free tool for making multimedia timelines. See product review here.

Links to Supporting Content:

Book Trailer

The National WWII Museum (website)  Topical overviews and summaries, primary source galleries, statistics and more- aimed at students. Also includes programs and resources for teachers.

Daring to Resist: Three Women Face the Holocaust- A Teacher’s Guide to the Film.  The purpose of this study guide is to help students think about the nature of resistance, which is the theme of Daring to Resist. How do the experiences of young Barbara, Faye and Shula relate to issues in the students’ own lives? The guide encourages students to explore ways that young people can make a difference in their personal lives and in their communities.

Find Out More: The Norway Campaign in World War Two (website)  Written from the British perspective, this is an accounting of the consequences of the failed takeover of Norway.

Norway: War Resistance Peace (webiste)   A source of Norwegian Resistance history in the form of interviews, archival documents, a timeline and more.

Ration Cards (1 min. video). Ration cards are part of the Shadow on the Mountain story; this brief video discusses the use of ration cards (in the U.S.) during WWII.

Loose Lips Sink Ships (archival document)  Millions volunteered or were drafted for military duty during World War II. The majority of these citizen-soldiers had no idea how to conduct themselves to prevent inadvertent disclosure of important information to the enemy. To remedy this, the government established rules of conduct. The following is excerpted from a document given to each soldier as he entered the battle area.

World War II, A War for Resources-Crash Course World History (video, 11 min.)  Join host John Green to learn about World War II and some of the causes behind the war. In many ways, WWII and the expansionist aggression of both Germany and Japan were about resources, especially food.

Tags: Book Review, Historical Fiction, INFO237, MS-History-SocSci, WWII


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