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Flight for Freedom: The Wetzel Family’s…

Flight for Freedom: The Wetzel Family’s Daring Escape from East Germany (edición 2020)

por Kristen Fulton, Torben Kuhlmann (Ilustrador)

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Título:Flight for Freedom: The Wetzel Family’s Daring Escape from East Germany
Autores:Kristen Fulton
Otros autores:Torben Kuhlmann (Ilustrador)
Info:San Francisco: Chronicle Books, (2020), Hardcover, 50 pages.
Colecciones:Read, Lo he leído pero no lo tengo, a-a-NYPL, a-a-WPL
Etiquetas:children's biography, children's history, children's non-fiction, picture-books

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Flight for Freedom: The Wetzel Family’s Daring Escape from East Germany por Kristen Fulton


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American author Kristen Fulton and German illustrator Torben Kuhlmann join forces in this immensely engaging and informative picture-book about the 1979 escape of the Wetzel and Strelzyk families from communist East Germany to democratic West Germany. Trapped behind the Berlin Wall - according to the afterword, the 1448-kilometer Inner German border wall separating East and West Germany was referred to this way, despite not being in Berlin - these two families longed for the freedom available in the West. After two failed attempts, they made the crossing in a homemade air balloon, on the night of September 16th, 1979, landing in Bavaria, some ten kilometers from the border...

I discovered the existence of Flight for Freedom: The Wetzel Family’s Daring Escape from East Germany because of my love for Torben Kuhlmann's own books, which feature the daring adventures of various mouse characters, and which have been translated into English. In searching for more of his work, I discovered this title, and am very happy to have done so. The story is inspiring, highlighting the bravery of the fleeing families, and the terror of that nighttime flight. The story is narrated by the elder Wetzel son, Peter, who was five years old at the time, and is simply told. More information is given in the detailed afterword, where the reader can learn that there were two failed attempts at creating a working air balloon, before the successful 1979 flight. Some of the more disturbing aspects of the story - the fact that some of the extended Strelzyk family were arrested and jailed back in East Germany after the escape, which was a common tactic of the Stasi, or secret police - are omitted, but one still gets a sense of the threats that surrounded these two families, and how very risky their actions were. Given what little I know of the informant culture of East Germany at the time, I am amazed that the Wetzels and Strelzyks succeeded in escaping! The emotional intensity of this story is greatly heightened by Kuhlmann's accomplished illustrations, which are lovely, and quite expressive, using color and light in gorgeous ways.

This is a book that I would highly recommend to all picture-book readers, not just because it tells an inspirational true story of people who longed for freedom, and who were willing to risk everything to find that freedom, but because I think we are currently suffering from some cultural amnesia here in the west, when it comes to the truly repressive nature of communism. I hear and read many reports these days, of progressive activists praising communism, or declaring themselves Marxists, and I worry for the future. While the atrocities of 20th-century fascism are rightly studied and remembered, I find that the equal if not greater atrocities of communism are often forgotten, except in the countries where they occurred. I have confidence that most American schoolchildren learn about Nazi concentration camps, but have they ever heard of the Soviet Union's gulags? Do they know about China's Cultural Revolution? I was fortunate enough to be raised by progressives who cared about freedom, and who decried the oppressive nature of both fascism and communism - Solzhenitsyn's many-volume The Gulag Archipelago sat on my father's shelves when I was a girl, and I read it as an adolescent - but I wonder about the younger generation, and what they are learning. While this is but one story, it could be used to open up conversations with children about the nature of totalitarian systems, including communism, and the immense human suffering that they cause. For my own part, I intend to track down the movies made from this story - the American The Night Crossing, and the German Ballon - as well as some of author Kristen Fulton's other books. Highly, highly recommended! ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Feb 23, 2021 |
Several years ago my family and I watched the movie Night Crossing by Disney, about two families, living in the 1970s, who escaped from Soviet West Germany in hot air balloon. I was looking around for any books about the escape and came across this account written for kids

Flight for Freedom by Kriston Fulton is written giving a child's perspective. Little 6 year old Peter Wetzel knows about the plan to try to escape East Germany in a hot air balloon. He understands the seriousness of the situation as he watches his parents and the other adults plan and orchestrate the escape.

It is written quite simply, conveying the story simply enough for children to follow along. "Each morning when Peter woke, he expected to find proof that his parents were building a balloon. But, the house was exactly as it had been the day before. Everything hidden. Everything quiet. Peter wondered if it had been only a dream. Would he ever escape East Germany? Have a sleepover? Not be afraid? He wanted to ask his mama and papa, but they had made him promise never to talk about the picture. Hard as it was, Peter kept his promise." The illustrations help carry the story along, and are very well done, interesting to look at.

I found the 'more information' parts at the back particularly intriguing (and they helped satisfy my craving for more grown-up information about the escape). There you find that the Wetzel and Strelzyk families made three hot-air balloons altogether, the first two didn't work, the third did. It also tells about some the experiments they did to get the hot air balloon to work, as apparently all they really had to go off of was a picture of a hot air balloon, they had to figure out how to build it and how it worked all on their own: "After testing the porosity of several fabrics using a vacuum cleaner hose, among other materials found at home, they settled on nylon - a sturdy, lightweight material that also has a high melting temperature. Because acquiring large quantities of nylon was both challenging and dangerous (as it could be seen as suspicious by East German authorities), they also used other fabrics such as bedsheets and shower lining." Also, if I remember correctly, the Disney movie makes it seem as though the Wetzel family pretty much gave up escaping altogether, but this book explains that they were concerned about the safety of the balloon and decided to find another way to escape, before eventually rejoining the Strelziks.

My little brother is reading through the book, he likes the pictures and asks questions (and makes comments) about what he reads. It's a very good teaching tool that can get conversations going with children about the different types of governmental systems and which one offers more freedom for individual people.

All in all, this is a nice teaching resource to have for kids.

Many thanks to the folks at Chronicle Books for sending me a free review copy of this book! My review did not have to be favorable. ( )
  SnickerdoodleSarah | Jan 12, 2021 |
Wonderful true story of two families who escaped from East Germany through great courage, bravery and ingenuity. Don't miss it!
  wunderlong88 | Apr 18, 2020 |
This is a well done telling of bravery and determination during a difficult point in German history, which is sure to leave an imprint with young readers.

The wall separated Germany into two very different states: one had freedom, the other stood under tyrannic control. A little boy on the eastern side discovers a picture under his parents' mattress of a hot air balloon. Possession of this picture means arrest. So, he keeps quite as his parents slowly gather materials and plan their escape over the wall and to the freedom of the other side of Germany beyond.

Having lived over twenty years in Germany and raising a family there, I was already well aware of this story, the circumstances and the history surrounding it. This book does a very good job at bringing life in East Germany across in a quick way young readers will understand and makes the stakes clear while staying in a child appropriate realm. The danger is clear as well as the daring of this family. The text is also age appropriate and brings across what this type of escape meant nicely.

The illustrations hold well to the German style and present it with a historical atmosphere, which still lures children in. The fearful moments are brought across very well as well as the surroundings, allowing the details and scenes to come across with fairly nice historical accuracy.

As to the book in total, I see this more appropriate for the upper end of the intended age group, and then, only interesting with surrounding context. The author does add several pages of more detailed information and background at the end, which is very interesting and fills in whatever holes might exist. However, this section is only for older readers and won't fit well with the younger age group in this style. This book works better when slid in with the theme of WWII and German segregation. I hate to admit it, but there are very few children of this age group who will know what WWII was about...let alone the Berlin Wall or divided Germany (here, in the United States, of course). So, when using this book, there will need to be discussions with the listeners beforehand and afterwards. Otherwise, they won't know the context. But taking this into consideration, this book definitely does a great job at it's theme...and I can only recommend it and am sure young listeners will be left with food for thought.

I received a complimentary copy and found this so wonderfully done that I'm leaving my honest thoughts. ( )
  tdrecker | Mar 13, 2020 |
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