Open Wide the World


Open Wide the World through Books: March 2018 edition

We're spending 2018 reading books that inspire us as a family to learn about the world. And we're following that inspiration wherever it leads: a nearby restaurant, a new language course... or a study of bananas?!

Read about the origin of this series here, or last month's book here, or jump right in with this month's "Open Wide the World through Books!"

In this series, we share family-friendly books on travels, cultures, anthropology, world history, and related. Come see what we're reading in February, and give us your suggestions, too!

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A Night Divided

Jennifer A. Nielsen, 2015

This book takes place in East Berlin in the early 1960s.

The publisher says:

With the rise of the Berlin Wall, twelve-year-old Gerta finds her family divided overnight. She, her mother, and her brother Fritz live on the eastern side, controlled by the Soviets. Her father and middle brother, who had gone west in search of work, cannot return home.

Gerta knows it is dangerous to watch the wall, to think forbidden thoughts of freedom, yet she can’t help herself. She sees the East German soldiers with their guns trained on their own citizens; she, her family, her neighbors and friends are prisoners in their own city.

... a stunning thriller about a girl who must escape to freedom after the Berlin Wall divides her family between east and west.

We say:

Julie: I remember during childhood catching occasional stories of someone who had escaped East Germany. Each time, I was intrigued by those small glimpses of life inside The Wall that the escapee would share. It was tragic but fascinating to read a more full account of the realities of life in East Berlin in A Night Divided.

Homer: I was impressed how A Night Divided made us feel like East Berlin was right outside our door. Before this, it was hard to imagine what life was like behind The Wall.

Mag (age 10): The author made me feel like I was in the story and lived in East Berlin. The people lived in harsh and scary conditions. It was very sad, but it was a really good book!


Our family's rating (on a scale of 1-10): 9

One of us gave this an 8, one a 9, and the other a 10.

We all appreciated the author's style and the degree to which she drew us into the story. And we all walked away feeling as if we had learned something. We would have loved a short epilogue to bring the story full circle, but highly recommend!


Extension activity: Understanding the allure of the banana

Bananas made a small, but important cameo in A Night Divided.

Their role in the story reminds us of two things: how interconnected most of the world is and how much we take freedom for granted.

To more fully appreciate what it might be like to live without that interconnectedness and freedom, we searched the web for more about bananas and East Germany. We found:

We will probably never look at a banana the same way again!

Has your family read any great cultural or historical books?

Give us your suggestions in the comments below!