Flight for Freedom: The Wetzel Family's Daring Escape from East Germany
Most elementary school students know about immigration. News to them may be that Germany was once split by a wall and that the people who lived in East Germany weren't allowed to leave. Kristen Fulton, whose specialty is adapting amazing true stories for the picture-book format (Long May She Wave: The True Story of Caroline Pickersgill and Her Star-Spangled Creation), uses Flight for Freedom: The Wetzel Family's Daring Escape from East Germany to explain to young readers why people might risk everything for a chance at a better life.
"In the days when Germany was divided by a wall, life was very different," Fulton begins. For East Germans, the lights went out every night at nine ("It was the law") and kids couldn't watch cartoons--"Children watched the news." (Fulton saves talk of the politics behind the wall for her book's back matter.) Six-year-old Peter Wetzel knows that his parents are hatching an escape plan: he finds an illegal picture of a hot-air balloon and overhears them discussing fabric and fuel. Late one night, more than a year later, in 1979, his parents wake him, and the Wetzels and their friends drive to a field where they inflate a hot-air balloon as the sound of a police siren approaches.
For a nail-biter, Flight for Freedom has an unexpectedly pacifying quality. Torben Kuhlmann, who is also an author (Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon, Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse), employs a gelid palette to show Peter passing armed soldiers on his walk to school, but imbues domestic scenes with a tranquility befitting any story about a loving family. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author