Book Review: The Dogs in the Wood by Monika Schroder

I’m excited to be attending and presenting at the Longwood University 2015 Summer Literacy Institute.  In preparation, I wanted to read at least one book written by each author who will be attending.

The Dog in the Wood is a middle-grade book about a ten-year-old named Fritz. He lives in eastern Germany in April 1945. His Grandpa is a Nazi sympathizer, but his mother and older sister just want to run their farm without being bothered by Nazis or Russians. As the novel begins, it is announced that Hitler is dead, and the Russian soldiers will soon be arriving and invading.

The author notes that the novel is fiction, but the background for the story is based on research and eye-witness accounts. Because this is a middle-grade book, the author admits that the way the soldiers acted was toned down a bit (though there are hints at darker things occurring). She also notes, “Although the Germans who were adults during the Third Reich can be blamed for supporting a racist, violent, insane regime that brought on a destructive war of epic proportions, children were pawn in the events. They had to learn to live on despite their loss, grief, and fear.”

And this is exactly what Fritz does. He lives through the farm being taken, his home being invaded, and even his mother and hired help being arrested for false crimes. He shows bravery and conflicting emotions that would be expected of a child living through this time—when all he really wants to do is garden in peace… and be a kid!

I enjoyed how the author wove in symbols and images to help show Fritz’s development as the story progresses. Although the topic is grim, it was an enjoyable read in that it really helped to illustrate the difficulties of civilians trying to live during such a time. The content is slightly disturbing for young readers, but it’s also an important part of history.

I look forward to reading Upon the Head of a Goat, which details the experiences of a Holocaust survivor during the 1940s. Neither book is exactly “pleasure reading,” but they are important slices of the universal human condition.