The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

Billy told me to read this book for 2 months.  He even implored me to read it when he knew I was going to NYC.  I kept telling him I would and yet every time I reached for this book, I just couldn’t quite do it.  Being Danish WWII is not just something that happened some place a long time ago, it happened to my country, to my grandparents and parents.  It happened to us and we are raised with a deep knowledge of it.  I went through my WWII phase when I was in high school where I read everything I could get my hands on from the uplifting to the horrible.  And then I stopped for a long time, the deep sadness of the whole time period and all of those people killed because of one man’s craziness just was too huge for my heart to bear.

Yet two days ago I finally cracked upon the pages of “The Berlin Boxing Club” and hesitantly started to read.  The story is set pre 1939 and follows Karl, a Jewish boy, as he gets the opportunity to train with the real life German boxing hero Max Schmeling.  While it took me a while to get through the book even for my reading pace, I wanted to know what Karl’s fate would be and I know understand why Billy kept telling me to read it.  This was the story of before all of the terribleness was truly unleashed told from the perspective of a boy living it.  It also sets the historical scene for the everyday Germans that also suffered under the changes.

Bottom line:  A well-written different perspective of the pre-WWII atrociousness of Germany.  For more mature readers but definitely can be read and understood by many 5th graders,

From Goodreads:
Fourteen-year-old Karl Stern has never thought of himself as a Jew. But to the bullies at his school in Naziera 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, champion boxer and German national hero, makes a deal with Karl’s father to give Karl boxing lessons, Karl sees it as the 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 his obligation to keep his family out of harm’s way?


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