Friday, December 19, 2014

Hit Parade #5: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas



The not terribly Christmasy
original 1944 sheet music
On November 28, 1944, MGM released a movie starring Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor and Tom Drake, among others.  The movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, takes place in 1903, a year before the St. Louis World's Fair.  The Smith family has just learned that they will be moving from St. Louis to New York City.  Esther, 17 and played by Judy Garland, have fallen for the boy next door and is very unhappy about the move.  During Christmas, Tootie, her much younger sister played by Margaret O'Brien, is also upset about leaving family behind and is also afraid Santa won't be able to find her because of the move.  Esther sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to try and comfort her sister as much as herself.

When the song was first written in 1944 by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine for the movie, some of the lyrics were very not quite as heartwarming as the ones that we are most familiar with now, so they were rewritten.  As you can see, there is quite a difference in meaning and sentiment:


Why the change?  Well, the world was still at war and, according to *Ace Collins, Judy Garland had spent a lot of time entertaining the troops during the past three years as well as visiting, talking and reading their fan mail.  She had a pretty good idea that a depressing song wasn't what was wanted or needed by these courageous soldiers and so, with support from the movie's director (and her future husband), Vincent Minnelli, she sent the song back to Martin and Blaine and asked for a rewrite.  The new version was certainly more hopeful than the original.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"was released as a single in time for Christmas 1944, and Collins writes, when Judy Garland "sang in to soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen, there wasn't a dry eye in the place."

The song only spent one week on Billboard's charts in 1944.  With its message of hope for a future, it was extremely popular with troops, particularly those still serving overseas.  It seems that it wasn't until later that "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" became a big hit with the general public.

In 1957, Frank Sinatra recorded it for an album called A Jolly Christmas.  Thinking the line "Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow" wasn't very jolly, he asked Martin to revise that lyric and so it became "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough," which may the the lyric you are most familiar with, although both are still recorded by singers today.



Of the approximately 150 different versions that have been recorded since 1944, all by different recording artists, I think my favorites are the ones by Rosemary Clooney (1976) and Diana Krall (2001).  

Do you have a favorite version of this beloved Christmas song?

*Collins, Ace.  Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday #16 - Top Ten Books I Read in 2014


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

Picking the top ten books I've read in 2014 was no easy task, so I've decided to list the top ten books I've read here on The Children's War and list the top ten books I've read on my other blog Randomly Reading.

(I liked these books all equally well, so the list isn't from favorite to least favorite)

1- Dash by Kirby Larson
Mitsi and her family lose everything when they are forced to live in an internment camp, including her beloved dog Dash.  Luckily, a kind neighbor agrees to care for Dash.

When a cruel German captain orders the killing of the last of a small herd of Przewalski's horses, a young Jewish girl tries to save the mare and stallion that survive, even if it means putting herself in danger.  

I love a good mystery and I love historical fiction, so this mystery series is perfect.  Maggie Hope is a great main character, an American who found herself in England at the start of World War II and remained there.

This graphic novel, illustrated in a palette of wonderful colors, tells the story of a Japanese American teen and his American mom forced to go into an internment camp and the nightmares he has about his dad, stuck in Japan when Pearl Harbor was bombed while caring for his elderly parents.

With his signature collage illustrations, Sis writes about the life of Antoine de Saint Exupéry, his love of flying and its connection to writing The Little Prince.  A beautiful picture book for older readers. 

This was a fun novel to read.  It's a great New York story, but also a nice introduction to monuments men who saved works of art in Europe during WWII.

This is a poignant World War I story about a boy, his dad and PTSD.  When his dad's letters stop coming from the front lines, his young son wonders why.  Then an overheard comment in King's Cross  Station results in discovery and surprise for the son.

This is a two for one because I read both this year and couldn't decide which to list.  Besides, I'm really hooked on these post war mysteries.  Young Flavia de Luce is quite the amateur detective, complete with her own lab.  These are fun mysteries and I can't wait to read the next one.

I loved Hartnett's The Midnight Garden and this is just as wonderful.  Two children, evacuated to the country during WWII, meet two boys who seem to be from another time.  And they are, but it is all connected as only Hartnett can do. 

My mom was a nurse and so I have a real soft spot for them.  This nonfiction book about nurses caught in the Pacific war, their dedication to their patients, even under harsh circumstances as POWs, is an excellent addition to women's history, especially during wartime.  

11- The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin
Another favorite nonfiction book, I learned so much about this almost completely unheard of event that happened in WWII, perhaps because it involved African American sailors.  This is really one of the best books I've read this year.






Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hunt for the Bamboo Rat by Graham Salsibury

Zenji Watanabe is 17 years old in the summer of 1941, a Nesei born on Honolulu to Japanese parents.  Naturally, he is fluent in both Japanese and English.  He has also just graduated from high school and is thinking about studying Buddhism in Japan, Meanwhile, he was working to help support his family - mother, older brother Henry, younger sister Aiko, father deceased.

All that changes when Zenji's JROTC commanding officer Colonel Blake shows up at his house one day.  He wants Zenji to be interviewed and tested, but for what?  To travel to the Philippines to translate some documents from Japanese to English.

But when Zenji arrives in Manila, he is instructed to stay at the Momo, a hotel where Japanese businessmen like staying, to befriend them and keep his ears and eyes open.  He is given the key to a mail box that he is required to check twice a day to be use for leaving and receiving information and instructions.  Zenji is also given  a contact person, Colonel Jake Olsten, head of G2, the Military Intelligence Service, and even a code name - the Bamboo Rat.

In December 1941, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and the war in the Pacific begins.  It isn't long before the Americans are forced to withdraw from Manila.  Zenji chooses to remain, giving his seat on the last plane out to another Japanese American with a family.  Not long after that, he is taken prisoner by the Japanese, who torture and threaten him trying to make him admit he is the Bamboo Rat, and considering him a traitor to his county - Japan.

Eventually, the Japanese give up and Zenji is sent to work as a houseboy/translator for the more humane Colonel Fujimoto.  Fujimoto seems to forget that Zenji is a prisoner of war, and begins to trust him more and more.

By late 1944, it's clear the Japanese are losing the war in the Pacific.  They decide to evacuate Manila and go to Baguio.  Even though food is in short supply, Zenji starts to put some aside for the day he may be able to escape into the jungle and wait for the war to end.

But of course, the best laid plans don't always work out the way we would like them to and that is true for Zenji.  Will he ever make it back to Honolulu and his family?

WOW! Graham Salisbury can really write an action-packed, exciting and suspenseful novel.  Salisbury was born and raised in Hawaii, so he gives his books a sense of place that pulsating with life.  Not many authors explore the Japanese American in Hawaii experience during World War II and not many people realize that they were never, for the most part, interned in camps the way the Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians on the west coast of the US and Canada were.  And although Hawaii was only an American territory until it became a state in 1959, if you were born there, you had American citizenship, just like Zenji continuously tells his Japanese captors throughout Hunt for the Bamboo Rat.

At first, I thought Zenji was too gentle, too innocent and too trusting for the kind of work he was recruited to do, which amounted to the dangerous job of spying.  But he proved to be a strong, tough character even while he retained those his aspects of his nature.  Ironically, part of his survival as a spy and a POW is based in what his Japanese Buddhist priests had taught him before the war.

One of the nice elements that Salisbury included are the little poems Zenji's mother wrote.  Devising a form of her own, and written in Kanji, it is her way of expressing her feelings.  They are scattered throughout the book.  Zenji receives one in the mail just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and keeps it with him as long as he can, deriving comfort from it.

Like the first novel I read by Salisbury, Eyes of the Emperor, one kept me reading straight through until I finished it.  It is the fourth novel in his Prisoners of the Empire series, and it is a well-crafted, well-researched story, but it is a stand alone novel.  Zenji's story is based on the real wartime experiences of Richard Motoso Sakakida.

True to form, Salisbury brings in a lot of history, along with real people and events, but be careful, fact and fiction are seamlessly woven together.  He also includes the tension between the Filipino people and the Japanese after the Philippines are occupied by the Japanese and the cruel treatment of the Filipino people.   And included is the tension between Chinese and Japanese in Hawaii because of the Nanjing massacre of Chinese civilians in 1937/38.

All of this gives Hunt for the Bamboo Rat a feeling of authenticity.  There is some violence and reading the about Zenji's torture isn't easy, so it may not appeal to the faint at heart.

Hunt for the Bamboo Rat is historical fiction that will definetely appeal to readers, whether or not they particularly enjoy WWII fiction. And be sure to look at the Author's Note, the Glossary and additional Resources at the end of the novel.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bear on the Homefront by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat, illustrated by Brian Deines

In A Bear in War, a young girl named Aileen Rogers sends her beloved teddy bear to her father, a medic in Europe with the Fifth Canadian Mounted Rifles during World War I, in the hope that it would keep him safe from harm.  Unfortunately, Aileen's father didn't return home, dying on the battlefield, but Teddy did.

Now, it is 1940, the world is at war again and England has decided to send as many children as possible to Canada to keep them safe.  Aileen Rogers is all grown up, working as a homefront nurse, whose present job is excorting the English children to their wartime foster homes.  And yes, she still has Teddy, carrying him in her pocket in hope that seeing him will help the children feel less afraid.

As a ship arrives, Teddy notices that two small children, Grace and younger brother William, 5, look particularly lost and afraid.  With a long ocean voyage behind them and now facing a long train ride across Canada, Aileen and Teddy take them under their wing.  William is allowed to keep Teddy when they arrive at their destination.  And so, for the rest of the war, Grace, Teddy and Wiliam live on a farm, helping their host family and keeping in touch with the parents by post.

The war lasted five years, and by the end, William was 10 years old.  Grace and William return to England and their parents, and Teddy is returned to Aileen.

This lovely, gentle story about separation is narrated by Teddy, an old hand at being away from Aileen, and so someone who really understands the feelings of loneliness and anxiety that William feels at being so far away from his mom and dad.  Sometimes, just having a warm and furry toy is enough to provide just the right amount of reassurance needed to get through something difficult.

Along with and complimenting Teddy's narration are beautiful, realistic oil paintings by Brian Deines.  These illustrations are the same softness to them that Teddy's words offer.

Author Stephanie Innes created A Bear in War and Bear on the Homefront used family memorabilia, including letters, photographs, Aileen's journal and, of course, Teddy.  Teddy was donated to the Canadian War Museum.  You can hear about it in the short video below (after the annoying ad).


This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Your Hit Parade #4: Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)

In honor of the return of my very favorite variety of apple, the *Honey Crisp, returning to produce shelves now, I have had the song "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" running through my head now for the past two weeks and I thought it would be interesting to explore the song's WWII roots.

In the spring of 1942, things were not going well for the United States, now at war in Europe and the Pacific.  In fact, things were really looking bad in the Pacific, where the US was losing in the Philippines and would end up surrendering in Bataan and in Corregidor to the Japanese.  Yet, even as the US was losing the war in those early days, Americans were still wanting and listening to war-related  music, but mostly of the novelty or sentimental variety and if only to boost morale.

"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" proved to be a real favorite during those dark days, but it was not originally a war-relate song.  It was written in 1939, with music and the lyrics by Sam H. Stept, Lew Brown and Charles Tobias and was called "Anywhere the Bluebird Goes," but the name was changed when it was used in a play called Yokel Boy starring Judy Canova.  According the Playbill, Yokel Boy opened  July 6, 1939 and closed January 6, 1940, after only 208 performances.

But the song's popularity increased after the US entered the war.  In early 1942, it had been recorded by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, and with vocals by Beneke, Marion Hutton (older sister of Betty Hutton), and the Modernaires.  Miller's version of "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" was very popular and stayed on Billboard's charts for 13 weeks in 1942.

Billboard January 2, 1943 pg 27
In May 1943, the movie Private Buckaroo, a musical comedy about army recruits after they are finished with basic training, was released.  In it, the Andrews Sisters travel around the US, performing at USO dances in uniform  accompanied by Henry James and his Orchestra.  One of their most popular songs in the film was "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree."  The song was a perfect fit, since it is about a young soldier who is off to war and is basically asking his sweetheart to stay true to him while he is off fighting, something that was happening every day in real life.


"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" proved to be a very big hit for the Andrews Sister, and though not as big as "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", it does have that distinctive swing style Maxine, LaVerne and Patty Andrews were so well known for, as you can see in this clip from the movie:



In his 1985 Pulitzer Prize winning oral history of World War II, The Good War, author Studs Turkel interviewed Maxine Andrews about the wartime experiences of Andrews Sisters. This is what she said about "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree":
"I remember we sang it up in Seattle when a whole shipload of troops went out.  We stood there on the deck and all the young men up there waving and yelling and screaming.  As we sang "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," all the mothers and sisters and sweethearts sang with us as the ship went off.  It was wonderful.  The songs were romantic.  It was a feeling of - not futility,  It was like everybody in the United States held on to each other's hands."

"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" was so popular that during 1942, three different versions were recorded and all ended up on the pop charts - Glenn Miller's The Andrews Sisters, and Kay Kyser and his band.


*The Honey Crisp is the only apple that should be refrigerated otherwise it gets mealy real quick.