The book is split between two groups of children, Sally and Billy Thomas in Sheffield, England and Manfred and Hansl in Dachau, Germany during World War Two.  In England, Sally and Billy are investigating the mysterious case of the ‘Blackout Burglar’ who is stealing money whilst the neighbourhood seeks refuge in the community shelters.  Telling the story from their perspective, we find out about tiny rations of meat, the black market and the problems caused by ‘phony’ air raid warnings.

Manfred’s story begins in Dachau.  His class have been given the opportunity to talk to his brother Ernst, a member of the Luftwaffe, and they ask him what it is like to fly a plane.  After school he meets a young girl called Irena, who is being set upon by girls he knows.  Irena is a Polish prisoner who is sent on errands around Dachau.  Manfred believes that the Germans would never hurt an ‘under-human’, and that they are just helping the war effort.  When he and Hansl visit Irena secretly in the camp they begin to realise the situation is very different.

A plan unfolds to help Irena escape, which involves breaking her out and sneaking her onto Ernst’s plane when it flies to England.  As Manfred is about to leave Irena and Ernst, a Nazi officer almost uncovers the mission, and Manfred is forced to stay aboard the plane.  This coincides with the first night when Sheffield will actually be bombed, and Sally and Billy Thomas are about to discover who the burglar is when the blasts start.

The book helps us to imagine what life might have been like at the beginning of the war in both countries for children, as well as being a thrilling adventure tale.

About the author

Terry Deary is the author of the Horrible Histories books for children.

Key Themes

People are not all good or all bad

  • the people who are Blackout Burglar suspects are members of the community, the Vicar, the School Teacher, the Sweet Shop Owner and the ARP Warden
  • the guard in Dachau Concentration Camp lets Manfred and Hansl inside when they bring him packets of ham

Small acts of resistance

  • throughout the Second World War, many ordinary people helped victims of Nazi Persecution to escape

Download the PDF version of the Put Out the Light book activity.

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