Monday, September 1, 2014

Friday, August 29, 2014

The End of the Line by Sharon E. McKay

It is Fall 1942 and the Nazis have been occupying Holland since Spring 1940.  Beatrix, 6, and her mother are Jews who have been running and hiding from the Nazis for that long.  But now it is time to hid Beatrix in a safer more stable place.

Sitting on the tram, on their way to meet the woman who would take Beatrix to safety, her mother is suddenly taken away by the Nazis who regularly board and search the trams looking for Jews.  Beatrix is left sitting on the tram by herself.

Brothers Lars, 63,  and Hans Gorter, 65, both life-long bachelors, work together on a tram - Hans driving it while Lars collects tickets.  When it looked like the Nazis were also going to take Beatrix away, Lars suddenly told them that she was his niece.  The war and all the rumors they had heard about Nazi treatment of Jews suddenly became real for the brothers.

Now, these kind, well-meaning though naive brothers must learn how to care for a little girl, who has been traumatized by the loss of her mother and who must become someone different than who she really is - if only for the duration of the Nazi occupation.  Luckily, Hans and Lars have help from their elderly neighbor Mrs. Vos, 80, and from a new, younger neighbor, Lieve van der Meer, 30, who husband is rumored to have escaped Holland and is flying for the RAF.

Why would two older men who have made it a point to always live quietly and keep a low profile, suddenly risk everything, including their lives, for a little girl they know nothing about?  That is the question at the heart of The End of the Line and Canadian author Sharon McKay answers it eloquently as the story of Beatrix and her new uncles unfolds.

There are lots of books about Jewish children who were rescued by people during the Holocaust and who did what they did simply because they believed it was the right thing to do.  But these stories are generally written from the point of view of the child.  What makes The End of the Line stand out is that it is written from the point of view of the two brothers. and yet it is a thoroughly appealing, totally engaging book for young readers accustomed to reading about protagonists their own age.

Living under Nazi occupation meant living under a daily shroud of fear and anxiety, never knowing if you were going to be singled out at any given moment.  There are plenty of these moments portrayed in the story of Hans, Lars and Beatrix, like the time Beatrix whispers Geb Achting, Yiddish for be careful, to a young Nazi soldier.  However, the story offers more insight into what it was like for the brothers in order to survive the war and the occupation of Holland, from dressing Beatrix as she grows, managing to find food when there is almost none to be had, even to buying her a doll to cuddle and comfort herself with may be new experiences for Hans and Lars, but keeping her safe from the Nazis turns out to be instinctual for these kind brothers.

The End of the Line is an interesting supplement to Holocaust literature written for young readers by an author who is part of the Canadian War Artist Program and has already written books about child soldiers in Uganda, young girls caught in the war in Afghanistan and short stories dealing with the Holocaust with Kathy Kacer, another Canadian artist who also writes books for young readers about the Holocaust.  This should be a welcome addition to any library.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was received as an E-ARC from NetGalley

You can find more information and a very useful lesson plan for The End of the Line from the publisher HERE

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dash by Kirby Larson

Last year, Kirby Larson introduced us to Hobie Hanson and his dog Duke.  Hobie somewhat reluctantly volunteered Duke to be part of the country's Dogs for Defense program.  This year, Larson introduces us to Mitsi Kashino and her dog Dash.

It's January 1942, one month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  So far, things haven't been very different for Mitsi, 11, and her family, Japanese Americans living in Seattle, Washington.  But on the first day back to school, after the Christmas holidays, all that suddenly changes.  First, Mitsi's two best friends aren't at their usual meeting place, and at school they give her a cold shoulder.  Other classmates also ignore her in class and at recess.  On the way home from school in the rain, she is surrounded by a group of high school boys, who trip her causing her to fall and who tear up and kick everything in her school bag into puddles.  Luckily, a new neighbor, Mrs. Bowker comes along and breaks it up.

Change becomes even more apparent.  Cameras and radios had to be turned into the government, some of the Japanese men are being taken away by the FBI and even Mitsi's grandmother, Obaachan, must register as an alien because she was born in Japan.  Getting to know Mrs. Bowker seems to be one part of Mitsi's life that is pleasant, that and the comfort of her beloved little dog Dash.

But then April comes and with it the news that the Kashino family, along with all the other Japanese American families living in Seattle are to be sent to an internment camp for the duration of the war.  Each family member can being just one suitcase.  Naturally, Mitsi assumes she can bring Dash with her, but when she finds out that no pets are allowed in the camp, she is devastated.  What can she do with Dash to keep him safe?  Knowing that Mrs. Bowker lives alone, and might want some company, Mitsi asks her if she would be willing to take care of Dash temporarily.  Luckily, kind-hearted Mrs. Bowker agrees.

Losing everything, including her dog and her two best friends was a hard blow for Mitsi.  Now, Mitsi and her family must adjust to their new life behind a barbed-wire fence, surrounded by soldiers with rifles watching their every move.  One bright spot for Mitsi are the wonderful letters she receives from Dash, telling her about life with Mrs. Bowker.  But even that isn't quite enough to pull Mitsi out of the depression she falls into.  But a new best friend just might do the trick.

I have always believed that every persons experience of World War II is similar but different from everyone else.  And each novel I read reflects that.  Dash is based on a true story and much of what Mitsi does is taken from that story, giving the novel its sense of reality.

Dash spends a lot of time what life was like between the bombing of Pearl Harbor and life in an internment camp.  It would seem that it took a while after the initial shock of the bombing on December 7, 1941 for people began to be aware of such anti-Japanese feelings that they could turn on old friends and neighbors so vehemently, as it did with Mitsi and the kids she went to school with.  In that respect, Larson gives the reader a good picture of what it was like.

Larson also gives a good depiction of the internment camps, which were really fit only for the horses many of them were meant to house, and life was always dirty and unpleasant.  She really conveys the sense of betrayal, loneliness and the fear of the family coming apart that Mitsi experiences on top of losing everything she has known her whole life.

I like the way Larson shows the reader that even in times of great distress and hardship, good things can happen and in the end this is a story about the strength of family, the value of true friendship and learning to appreciate what is really important.

Dash will be of special interest to anyone who is a dog lover, or has an interest in WWII history on the home front.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was obtained from the publisher

Monday, August 18, 2014

Where I am and why I can't go to the (sniff-choke-sob) KidLitCon 2014

When I first started this blog way back in 2010, I wrote a post about my Kiddo graduating from college and going off to China to teach English.  Well, Kiddo had a great time in China, learned all kinds of new and interesting things and after two years, she came home in July 2012 - very changed.

Seems while Kiddo was in China, she met her soul mate, and it just happened that he was coming to America to study for a Master's Degree in August 2010 in San Francisco.  Naturally, August came and Kiddo was off to California.

In September 2012, Kiddo called and said "Guess what?  We are getting married - the day after Christmas.  Can we do it at home?"

I have never seen Kiddo so in love, so what could I say?  I called my cousin in NJ, an ordained minister, a few other relatives and friends, and the day after Christmas, Kiddo became Mrs. Kiddo and here is the happy couple:


What does all this have to do with KidLitCon 2014?  Well, I am in San Francisco visiting the Kiddos and we have been have lots of fun, but I finally had to take a morning to catch up with life.  Unfortunately, my travel budget only allowed for one trans-continental trip and I already had this reservation before the KidLitCon 2014 announcement.  So, sadly, I will not be going to Sacramento.  Had I known earlier, I would have come here in October, but I hope everyone has fun and that those who are going will share their experience with the rest of us.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Christmas Truce by Aaron Shepard, illustrated by Wendy Edelson

There have been lots of stories and books written about the Christmas truce of 1914 that spontaneously occurred between the Allied troops and German troops.  Now, Aaron Shepard has written another version of this astounding event.

In a fictional letter to his sister Janet back home in London, Tom, a soldier at the Western Front, tells her the extraordinary story of how the truce came about.  Soldiers on both sides of No Man's Land, a space of only 50 yards, were relatively quiet on Christmas Eve day, waiting for replacements after heavy fighting and many deaths.  It was cold and had snowed, so everything, including the soldiers, was frozen.

Suddenly as night fell and even the sporadic gunfire stopped, the British heard the Germans singing "Stille nacht, heilige nacht…" and saw that they had placed Christmas trees, complete with burning candles, all along their trenches.

Soon, the soldiers on both sides began to trade favorite Christmas carols back and forth across No Man's Land.  Finally, the Germans invited the Allied soldiers to come out of their trenches and meet in the middle: "You no shoot, we no shoot" they said.

As Christmas Eve wore on, soldiers on both sides discovered they had lots in common.  After exchanging gifts - badges and uniform buttons, cigars and cigarettes, coffee and tea, and even newspapers - the soldiers parted and went back to their trenches.

As Tom ends his letter to his sister, he writes: "All nations say they want peace.  Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough."

The Christmas truce of 1914 was quite remarkable in the annals of military history and some people even believed it never happened.  But as Shepard points out in his afterward, the truce was reported in the British newspapers, photos included (and I found reports about it in the New York Times dated December 31, 1914).  In this fictional letter from Tom, Shepard tries to clear up some false beliefs and misconceptions, all explained in the afterward.

Christmas Truce is beautifully and realistically illustrated in watercolor by Wendy Edelson, who has really captured the idea of the Christmas truce.  The cold browns of the trenches gives way to color, first in the line of brightly lit Christmas trees across No Man's Land, with warmer and brighter colors added as the men get closer and closer to each other.  Christmas Truce may be a picture book, but it is definitely meant for older readers.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI and this Christmas will be the 100th anniversary of that history-making truce.  It is nice to know that for at least a short time, it really was all quiet on the Western Front.

My two favorite illustrations from Christmas Truce
Christmas Truce would certainly be a welcomed addition to any library - home, school, classroom.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an E-ARC from NetGalley

GOOD NEWS:  If Christmas Truce is a book you think you might like to read, and you have an ereader, you can download this book for free at
iTunes (this is not a direct link)