February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

To the Rescue!: These incredible new tales can inspire your students to fight injustice

Michael Tunnell’s latest book did something amazing to my brain. Now I can’t hear the word “candy” without thinking of the word “hero.” This is a delectable combination that I’m certain my booktalk audiences make daily, but I’m also certain they haven’t heard the amazing story found in Tunnell’s Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Aircraft’s Chocolate Pilot (Charlesbridge, 2011).

In 1948, after World War II, Berlin, except for narrow air corridors, was cut off from the rest of the world. The population of the war-torn city had little food, clothing, or fuel. Then British and American pilots started flying in vital necessities. Tunnell tells us that pilot Gail Halvorsen spent a night in the city, noticing kids behind a fence watching the planes land. He offered sticks of Doublemint gum to two of the kids, who passed them around so their pals could get a whiff.

Raoul Wallenberg was horrified to learn how the Nazis were treating Jewish people. He determined to try to rescue as many as he possibly could.

Then Halvorsen got an idea. He asked the kids if they would agree to share candy and gum if he dropped more of it from his plane. But so many planes flew overhead, how would they know his plane? Halvorsen made a funny motion with his arms—he would wiggle the plane! That earned him the name Uncle Wiggly Wings. Soon people all over began sending candy-and-handkerchief parachutes to Halvorsen and other pilots to drop over Berlin. Tunnell records that when some shorter children were unable to grab the treats, Halvorsen got letters from them. My favorite was from a little boy named Peter who begged for a drop near his house, to no avail. Peter wrote: “You are a pilot? I gave you a map. How did you guys win the war?”

Lacking candy is one thing, but some kids are much worse off. UNICEF says 100 million children worldwide have never been to school. Without education or the ability to read and write, these kids face a grim future. Who can help? Susan Hughes’s Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools around the World (Owlkids, 2011) describes extraordinary schools designed by people who have made it their mission to rescue children.

How is school possible in Bangladesh, which is flooded much of the year? A brilliant architect came up with a plan: 90 boat schools that travel to the kids. The boats even have Internet access. In Dongzhong, China, students attend school in a cave. In Siberia, the nomadic Evenk people move their reindeer herds from camp to camp. They have a school that moves with them! Thailand too has portable schools that follow migrant families.

The young boy on the cover of Louise Borden’s His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg (Houghton, 2012) grew up to become one of history’s greatest rescuers. A Swedish diplomat, he was horrified to learn how the Nazis were treating Jewish people. On business trips to Budapest, he determined to try to rescue as many as he possibly could. Sweden was a neutral country, so Wallenberg set up Swedish houses in Budapest where Jews could stay and be safe. Nazis liked official documents, and that’s what they got. The staff in the Swedish embassy was overwhelmed making identity passes for so many people so quickly: Wallenberg devised family passes so that one pass could protect an entire family. The man worked frantically, tirelessly, and efficiently, and saved unbelievable numbers of lives. In January 1945, when the Russian army entered Budapest, they asked him to meet with a general 129 miles away. He and his driver left, and disappeared forever, almost certainly into the Soviet prison system. Wallenberg was a great hero and his disappearance remains a great mystery.

Children, surrounded by more powerful adults or troublesome bullies know instinctively that there are many ways to rescue others. Share these incredible new tales with fourth through eighth graders. Give them a strong taste for heroism. Then have some candy.

About Kathleen Baxter

Kathleen Baxter is the former head of children’s services at the Anoka County Library in suburban Minneapolis and a speaker at school and library conferences all over the USA. She never goes anywhere without a book.