Book Review| The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

Book Review

The Zookeeper’s Wife

by Diane Ackerman










The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman  is a high interest nonfiction account of the German invasion of Warsaw told from the perspective of Antonina Zabinski and her husband, Dr. Jan Zabinski. Diane Ackerman skillfully weaves together historical events of both horror and beauty.

The Zabinski’s, Active in the Polish underground, used the zoo as an unusual hiding place while attempting to carry on with the care of the animals, operating of the facilities as usual, and raising their children. Tales of the animals and the day to day operation of the zoo during this occupation break up the recounting of the people and their struggle to survive. Ackerman depicts the life and people of the Warsaw ghetto, giving us a glimpse into the terrible history.

A vast number of people passed through the zoo, and this book is brimming with anecdotes, bringing to life the characters. The narrative is full of interesting details on how people avoided detection and the extraordinary lengths and methods taken.

Ackerman delves into the history of the German mindset and recounted some of the experiments carried out by the Nazis. This retelling of history is not as graphic as others I have read, but the ideology exposed chills the soul.

The ZooKeeper’s Wife is a story of compassion and daring, and a story of real lives saved and lost. I would classify this as a necessary history, an exposition of humanity both good and evil. Well worth the read.

I listened to the audiobook on CDs. The book seemed to have a slow start, but the narrative garnered more of my interest as I listened.

Highly recommended.

Winner of the 2008 Orion Award

Lit Lover’s Reading Guide for The Zookeeper’s Wife

Author Website

Visit The National WWII Museum online here to listen to more first hand accounts of WWII.

Book Review| Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

8664353Book Review of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

What is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption about?

Unbroken: A World War II Story is Louis Zamperini’s story, written by Laura Hillenbrand. Most of the narrative takes place during WWII, complemented by the story of Louis’ somewhat troubled youth and subsequent athletic accomplishments as an Olympic runner and completed by finding peace in 1949 after hearing Billy Graham share the gospel message.

Reactions and Thoughts

If you only read one book this year, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand may be one to consider. I am not a huge war story fan, but this tale was so incredible and the book well written that I was highly engaged the entire time. It is entertaining and inspirational, while at the same time providing a look back to history through a first hand account.

There were some places in the latter portion of the book when I had to put it aside.  It was too disturbing, but for the most part the story was detailed enough to keep me turning pages without being overwhelming. It brought the experiences of our service men to life and sparked an interest that had me researching for more of the history. It made me question how man can participate in acts such as those described in Unbroken.

This example of the tenacious quality of the human spirit amazed me. The redemption of Louis Zamperini was moving. Even after overcoming impossible circumstances, he found there was still a need for God’s grace. Following Louis to the point where he was able to forgive those who committed such crimes against him was inspiring. He found a completed freedom in his submission to God, enabling Louis to experience a healed soul.

I was totally engrossed in this story. I would recommend this book for anyone, but would preview before handing to my teen. There is another version directed toward YA I have yet to read, but plan to.

Remembering the Unbroken Spirit of Louis Zamperini

Issues of Concern

War, torture, death, deprivation, alcoholism, PTSD, abuse, domestic violence, Louie’s behavioral struggles in his youth

Study Guides and Reading Guides for Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Reading Guide from the Author’s Website

Reading and Discussion Guide From Lit Lovers

For Parents and Educators Using the Young Adult Adaptation of Unbroken

Quotes from Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand





“When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him.”

“Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty.”

“His conviction that everything happened for a reason, and would come to good, gave him a laughing equanimity even in hard times.”

“The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them, believing that their release from pain will come only when they make their tormentors suffer.”

“Louie dug out the Bible that had been issued to him by the air corps and mailed home to his mother when he was believed dead. He walked to Barnsdall Park, where he and Cynthia had gone in better days, and where Cynthia had gone, alone, when he’d been on his benders. He found a spot under a tree, sat down, and began reading. Resting in the shade and the stillness, Louie felt profound peace. When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that the Bird had striven to make of him. In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation. Softly, he wept.”

“Without dignity, identity is erased. In its absence, men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors.”

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Book Review|The Boys Who Challenged Hitler


German forces occupied Denmark in 1940 with no government opposition due to lack of military force. A patriotic group of school boys, mostly 9th graders, decided to take things into their own hands. The Boys Who Challenged Hitler is their story, compiled from personal interviews and correspondence.

It took some time for the resistance in Denmark to become organized. In the meantime, the RAF Club and later The Church Hill Club, as the boys called themselves, took matters into their own hands. Recounting numerous acts of sabotage and resistance taken to undermine the Germans, Knud Peterson tells of the club’s function and operation. These activities against the Gestapo became widely known and helped inspire other Danes to join together to resist the Nazis.

The narration of events was absorbing. The risks and actions that the boys undertook demonstrate that even small subversion can make a large impact. These young men did what they felt they needed to do for their country.

I stumbled across this book on a list of recommended reading for young people but it is suitable for adult readers as well. This is a look at the sacrifice of these young men who lived through harsh times and risked their freedom to fight against the Nazi regime.

For those interested in WWII history, this book would be a great addition to any library of World War II accounts. There are extensive resources compiled in the back of this book. This high interest text could be used as part of a study of World War II.

There are many mature themes throughout the book. War, injury, acts of sabotage, illegal acts, imprisonment, deprivation, deception

Recommended for older children and adults.

Teacher’s Guide on the Author’s Website for The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

Author Interview The Boys Who Challenged Hitler | An Interview With Phillip Hoose School Library Journal

Knud Peterson passed away shortly after working with author Phillip Hoose on this manuscript. First hand accounts of history are very important. If you are interested in preserving history, The National World War II Museum in New Orleans has a website of interest, with guidelines for the oral history project here.


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Book Review |The Lost German Slave Girl by John Bailey

Book Review

The Lost German Slave Girl: The Extraordinary True Story of Sally Miller and Her Fight for Freedom in Old New Orleans

by John Bailey










In 1843, on a New Orleans Street, Madam Carl sees a woman that she is positive she recognizes from her past. The woman, held as a slave of a carabet owner, is believed by Mme Carl to be a long-lost German immigrant who disappeared as a small child some twenty five years earlier. The Lost German Slave Girl examines the case of Sally Miller, also known as Salome Mueller, and her bid for freedom and recognition as a German immigrant illegally held captive.

The case follows many twists and turns to keep us guessing right up until the end of the book. Bailey has pieced together a history from thorough examination of legal documents and other sources. This is not a dry history textbook recitation. A rich description of 1840 New Orleans and the people keeps the reader’s attention as the story unfolds. The author has created an engaging read drawing on documents and records. He fills in the gaps with conversations and story but at the same time strives to remain as accurate as possible.

This book is extremely readable and informative. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the time. If you enjoy a true courtroom drama or mystery you may like this book.


Subject Matter

Slavery, mentions of death of a parents, sickness, drowning,difficult voyage resulting in starvation and death, child abuse, abuse

Author John Bailey’s Website

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