Wolf by Wolf
Written by Ryan Graudin
Her story begins on a train. The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, they host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The prize? An audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s ball in Tokyo.
Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele’s twin brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move.
But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and stay true to her mission.
Primary Source Pairing:
In this suspenseful and heart-racing alternative history novel, our main character Yael tells her story alternating between then and now. After escaping from an evil doctor using her for medical tests at a Nazi concentration camp, Yael has not only survived the testing but has been changed by them. She can change her skin to embody another human. This works to her advantage as she is recruited by the resistance and assigned a mission to kill the man that started the war in Germany.
In the Author’s Note, Ryan Graudin writes that creating alternative history requires “educated guesswork and speculation” (pg. 383). An author must know the history well enough to write it in an alternate light. Graudin writes of her historical research, period study, “what-if’s” and “would-be’s” conversations, and her decisions to include the fantastical element of skinshifting. The most valuable part of this entire text, I believe, is Ryan Graudin’s reasoning about Yael’s ability to change her appearance. Graudin writes, “Racism was inextricable from Hitler’s policies” (pg. 384). She continues by writing, “I gave Yael the ability to skinshift…to highlight the absurdity of racial superiority” (pg. 385). Let this powerful sentiment guide conversations among students about the text and connections to current affairs.
For this primary source pairing, invite students to study a photograph of a woman named Eva Furth, a concentration camp survivor, in a courtroom in 1963. Many photographs could be used to provide a visual scaffolding for readers who may not have a strong background knowledge of World War II in Nazi Germany. This one seemed especially powerful as we see the numbers on Eva’s arm and think to Yael’s struggle in the camp and living with the constant numerical reminder on her arm.
Questions for Discussion:
- Describe what you see.
- What do you notice first?
- What people and objects are shown?
- How are they arranged?
- What is the physical setting?
- Find something small but interesting.
- What do you notice that you didn’t expect?
- What do you notice that you can’t explain?
- While studying this image, make a connection to what you read in Wolf by Wolf.
Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Eva Furth photograph: German Federal Archives, Wikimedia Commons
Additional Primary Source Pairings:
The Boy on the Wooden Box, Written by Leon Leyson, With Marilyn J. Harran and Elisabeth B. Leyson
Leon Leyson (born Leib Lezjon) was only ten years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and his family was forced to relocate to the Krakow ghetto. With incredible luck, perseverance, and grit, Leyson was able to survive the sadism of the Nazis, including that of the demonic Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow, the concentration camp outside Krakow. Ultimately, it was the generosity and cunning of one man, a man named Oskar Schindler, who saved Leon Leyson’s life, and the lives of his mother, his father, and two of his four siblings, by adding their names to his list of workers in his factory-a list that became world renowned: Schindler’s List.
This, the only memoir published by a former Schindler’s List child, perfectly captures the innocence of a small boy who goes through the unthinkable. Most notable is the lack of rancor, the lack of venom, and the abundance of dignity in Mr. Leyson’s telling. The Boy on the Wooden Box is a legacy of hope, a memoir unlike anything you’ve ever read.
We Will Not Be Silent, Written by Russell Freedman
In his signature eloquent prose, backed up by thorough research, Russell Freedman tells the story of Austrian-born Hans Scholl and his sister Sophie. They belonged to Hitler Youth as young children, but began to doubt the Nazi regime. As older students, the Scholls and a few friends formed the White Rose, a campaign of active resistance to Hitler and the Nazis. Risking imprisonment or even execution, the White Rose members distributed leaflets urging Germans to defy the Nazi government. Their belief that freedom was worth dying for will inspire young readers to stand up for what they believe in.