When Jesse was about 8-years-old, listening to Joan and I reminiscing about watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on television, she lamented: “I wish I lived in interesting times". That wish has come true, hasn't it!
But, even with the seminal events that have happened since that conversation, the fall of The Wall in 1989 still shapes the way we think about history and our hopes for the future. Its stories are deep and complex, with political undertones that are as important as the grassroots swell of demand for liberty—and so worth celebrating.
The Berlin Wall is not exactly the stuff of picture book fantasy, but here are a couple that do a great job of exploring life behind it:
For the very young, here’s a book that speaks to the value of overcoming walls, real or metaphorical. The connection to the Berlin Wall will be obvious for older readers and, for little ones, it’s a charming story about mice who manage to go beyond their wall—a great foundation for later discussions about the actual wall:
For tweens and teens (and all of us who enjoy YA and juvenile fiction), here’s a fictional account of living behind the wall and being separated from family:
For adult readers, two non-fiction books that I loved. I’m a fan of Frederick Taylor (The Downfall of Money and Dresden are fascinating), but The Berlin Wall is my favourite of his books. I couldn’t put it down and immediately begged everyone around me to read it too. And Forty Autumns covers the lives of women on both sides of the wall, with heaps of photos—something I always appreciate in a memoir.
And finally, a movie: The Lives of Others. For me, this movie is on a very short list of films that left me gasping and changed. It lays bare the bleakness of life in Germany under the authority of the Stasi. It is hard going—strictly adults only—and, just so you know, there’s an intense and ugly sex scene that is short but quite graphic. (It’s important to showing the despair and isolation of the character and I think the film would be less without it, but still it’s worth noting.)
Happily, 9 November was declared World Freedom Day by President George W Bush in 2001, making it a great day to talk about freedom, hope, and courage. If you’re celebrating on that day or any day, Dreams of Freedom is a brilliant, encouraging and optimistic look at freedom in its many different forms.
9 November is a big day for history; here are a few other events that occurred on that day (with books you might like).
1620 – My ancestors and others aboard the Mayflower spotted land at Cape Cod for the first time. The Mayflower by Mark Greenwood
1921 – Albert Einstein received Nobel Prize for Physics. On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne
1938 – Kristallnacht. Benno and the Night of Broken Glass by Meg Wiviott and Josee Bisaillon
1953 – Cambodian independence from France. Half Spoon of Rice is about the effects of the Pol Pot regime which began 10 years later.
2016 – Donald Trump elected President of the USA.
Whew, that feels like a lot of books! Here they are again, side by side: