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I love books, and thankfully my sons do as well, but I have always wanted to make sure they have plenty of variety in books. There are so many children's books that seem very much the same as the one before, so I really go out of my way to find reading material that is fun and exciting, and something a bit different than the rest of our collection. This is certainly a bit different from most books for the very young, but it is full of excitement and adventure, a couple of good old fashioned heroes, and it just so happens to be true as well. I do think this book is refreshingly different from most books for this age level, offering a real life adventure more consistent with books for much older children, in an easy to read format.
'Escape From Colditz' is a another book from Our Project X collection. This series was created especially to provide reading material that would interest boys. When my son was younger he really loved the fiction books in this series, but now prefers the non fiction titles, such as this one. This book documents real life attempts to escape Colditz, the most secure prison in Nazi Germany. Because this is non fiction, I'm afraid not all the stories will have happy endings, so parents should be aware there will be some mention of death, although thankfully there are no graphic descriptions. The fact that it is non - fiction of course makes this a bit worse. The child knows this really happened, but I don't think you can really print books on subjects such as war without any mention of mortality. My son is age 6, and was not upset by this book, but of course every child is different.
This book is book band 13, which corresponds to ORT reading levels 12-13. The recommended age level is 8 -9. I have heard this reading level referred to as "free reading" which basically means that for many schools, the child is off the reading scheme and has free choice of reading material. However, I do still feel the extended reading book bands are very helpful to help a child gradually reach complete fluency in reading. This book introduces some fairly complex words, such as "Lieutenant", "nauseating" and " determination". I would recommend this book only after a child is reading the more simple paperbacks such as Horrid Henry. Of course a parent can read this to a younger child, but I feel the subject matter would be best suited to children of at least 6, and unless they have a specific interest in the army and warfare, probably best left until 7 or 8. This book is printed primarily on white or off white, with black text in a clear font. There is no text printed over pictures or patterned backgrounds, so although the spacing is not ideal for dyslexia, I feel overall that this book would be acceptable.
The book begins with an overview of Colditz Castle. There are some lovely pictures and a map showing the plan of the castle. Features that contributed to this castle's reputation as escape proof are mentioned. I was terribly disappointed that no mention of when this castle was built, for whom, or what purpose is included, but Wikipedia thankfully provides more answers for the incurably curious. The prisoners daily routine is described and then we get to some of the most interesting escape attempts, as well as brief section on MI9 and all sorts of fun low tech gadgets. Some of the escape attempts mentioned include Lieutenant Boule' who attempted to escape dressed as a woman. The Germans photographed him in his dress, which my son found amusing. I was impressed by his expression in the photos - he appears undaunted. Other attempts like tunneling were very impressive, and equally unsuccessful. There is mention of a glider which was built by prisoners, but never tried as the prison was liberated before it was completed, and a test flight, 55 years later showing it could have worked. But there are a few truly happy ending as well Airy Neave and Pat Reid who successfully made their way to Switzerland.
My son enjoyed this book. For a child who loves James Bond and espionage, as well as having an interest in the army and airplanes, this book had plenty to keep his interest. He loved the idea of the glider, and was delighted to see a couple of James Bond style heroes outsmart their captors and escape. He loved all the parts about passing secret messages as well. He was not as happy to hear about someone shot in an escape attempt, but did accept this as a part of war.
This may be a child's book, but I have to admit I really enjoyed it as well. I found it very informative, and there are many things mentioned here I did not know. Naturally, I am also delighted with the fact that this helped my son on his way to proficient reading. I do like stories with good old fashioned British heroes as well. But I also like the fact that the book is not sensationalised, nor is there any attempt made to demonise the enemy. I would also point out that this book does not mention in any way the causes of WW2, or the Holocaust, which is just as well. I feel these are matters for other books and older children.
I am giving this book 5 stars and would fully recommend it to children who are studying WW2, or have a specific interest in this type of thing. It is not really the type of book that becomes a bedtime favourite, but it is a very entertaining and informative read. Still, I don't think this would appeal to all children, and of course the type of books you choose should be based on your own child's interest. I do feel this book, and the other non fiction titles in this range, would especially useful for remedial reading programmes though. I just can not see any of the older boys I know wanting to read a large percentage of the books available for children who are not fully competent readers yet, but the subject matter in this book would appeal even to adults I believe. So this offers a book that is easier to read than most non fiction, but still not too childish for even a teen age reader.
*** Note on spoilers. This review may appear to offer a few spoilers, but in fact, it does not. I will always be very clear in review that may spoil the story for anyone ( Because I absolutely hate it when someone ruins a story for me!"). Because each story is stamped at the beginning with "FAILED", "RECAPTURED", or "SUCCESFUL", it is quite obvious who gets away and who does not. I did not feel this detracted from the story though, this is just a very brief historical account.