Monday, July 10, 2017

MMGM: I Am David

I initially picked up this book for my son. He’d been studying modern history this year, and I wanted a book about what it was like behind the Iron Curtain. He didn’t read it, but I did. And what a book! Many of you know I have a place in my heart for anything Eastern European or Russian. Honestly, I think it goes back to my own teen years. Before the wall fell, I watched an interview of Russian teenagers on TV.

 “They’re just like me,” I thought. And that one show changed my life. I went on to study Russian in college and live there for a semester because I wanted to meet in person these teens who “were just like me.” I still feel fortunate to call these people, former Soviets, friends.

I think when you read I AM DAVID, you will be struck with the same sort of “ah hah” moment. Yes, he has suffered more than most. He’s never known joy or a loving family or even tasty food. But at its heart, I AM DAVID, is about the strength of the human spirit, about not giving in and rising above those people who’ve sinned egregiously against you. I dare you not to fall in love with his amazing boy.

David's entire twelve-year life has been spent in a grisly prison camp in Eastern Europe. He knows nothing of the outside world. But when he is given the chance to escape, he seizes it. With his vengeful enemies hot on his heels, David struggles to cope in this strange new world, where his only resources are a compass, a few crusts of bread, his two aching feet, and some vague advice to seek refuge in Denmark. Is that enough to survive?

David's extraordinary odyssey is dramatically chronicled in Anne Holm's classic about the meaning of freedom and the power of hope.

What to like:

1. An amazing main character: What I loved about David, more than anything, is despite his various mishaps and misunderstandings of the world outside, he never loses his desire to not be like his captors. “You must hate what is bad or else you grow just like them.”

2. An outsider’s view of the western world: One of the most interesting parts of the book for me is David’s innocence, which seems ironic, seems he's been exposed to so much. But his misunderstandings about babies, families, God, among other things, are quite realistic and endearing.

3. A book in translation. As I shared here, I think we have too few books in translation in the United States. While we are a large country with lots of talented writers, I love reading children’s books from writers from other countries. It expands your view of the world.

It's hard for me to come up with bullet points for this book. I loved it because this character touched my heart and gave me a glimpse of a completely different world. I was initially drawn in by David’s unusual experiences and reactions, but I walked away inspired to be like him.

Have you read any inspiring books lately? Or something set during the Cold War?

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.  


  1. My grandfather escaped the Bolshevik revolution by stowing away on a fishing boat. Definitely looking for this. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for sharing this book and your own story that got you interested in Russian culture and history. I have added this one to my list as I enjoy character driven stories.

  3. I still have my own hardcover copy of this book from fifth grade, but back then it was called NORTH TO FREEDOM. I found it fascinating when I was growing up and re-read it every few years. But then I've always liked books about a kid having to survive on his own. The part that stuck with me most was his request for a cake of soap!

  4. I bet it's really powerful. That is a viewpoint we don't see.

  5. I haven't heard of any MG books that cover this time and place. How interesting. Thanks for the review and for sharing your story of how you came to be interested in the Russian culture.

  6. My sis-in-law is from Russia, so this would of course have an added interest for me. However, it really sounds like the kind of book that has something to offer nearly everyone.
    Thanks for the recommendation, and happy MMGM!

  7. Glad to hear that you enjoyed this book, even if your son didn't have the chance to read it. I do like modern history books, they feel much closer and real to me than history books set centuries ago. And I always love an outsider's view on western culture! Thanks for the review!

  8. Thanks for the review. I have never heard of this book before. I had a book published earlier this year (Duck and Cover) that takes place during the cold war - the Cuban Missile Crisis to be exact. Talking with kids, I have found that a lot of them don't know much about this time period.

  9. My daughter was adopted from Russia, so we are interested in all things Russian in our house. You might like the YA book Between Shades of Gray, which has a similar theme.