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T4 by Ann Clare LeZotte tells the story of Paula Becker, a young German girl born deaf, in the form of free verse poems. She learns to cope with her lack of hearing and creates her own sign language. Her mother was exposed to the German measles during her pregnancy, but Paula didn’t lose her hearing completely until she was about a year old. Still, she manages to enjoy her life and her surroundings.

But in 1939, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis roll out Action T4, or Tiergartenstrasse 4, named after its Berlin headquarters. The program calls for the killing of the mentally ill and disabled because they are deemed unfit to live and don’t fit Hitler’s vision of a “perfect” race. Paula quickly understands that the Nazi party hates her and wants her dead. Though she doesn’t want to leave her family, she values her life and understands that saving herself means going into hiding. Her journey begins when Father Josef takes her from her home, and the people she meets along the way, especially the disheveled Poor Kurt, shape who she becomes after the war.

T4 is intended for middle grade readers, and The Girl and I easily finished the 105 pages of free verse in about 30 minutes. But we spent more time discussing the book and the fact that T4 was a real euthanasia program instituted during World War II, then pulled in 1941 when Germany was busy with the Russian campaign. We talked about how Paula must’ve felt to realize that her own country wanted her dead, how her parents must have felt about letting her go, and how horrible it is to understand that the Nazis killed many mentally ill and disabled people during the war.

The book doesn’t provide any graphic details of the killings, but it clearly spells out how terrible the situation was. The simple verse is easy for children to understand, and I think it’s a good book for parents to start a dialogue with their children about discrimination and the need to embrace all people, even if they are different from others.

Here’s what The Girl (age 8) had to say:

T4 is a book about World War II. It’s about a girl who is deaf. Hitler was killing people who were blind, deaf, or had other disabilities. The girl has to hide so she won’t be killed. She has to be taken away from her family to hide. I liked the book because it tells a good story, and it’s in poem form. People should read this book because they’ll learn something.

Disclosure:  We borrowed T4 from the library. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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