Monday, July 28, 2014

Eyewitness World War I by Simon Adams, photography by Andy Crawford

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.  I have to be honest and say this I don't really know much about this war except what I learned in school, or from a few books I have read.  And I have always felt that when your knowledge is lacking on a particular topic, begin learning about it by looking at a good overview, then you can look more closely at particular areas that might be interesting to you.

So, when I realized this anniversary was coming up, I decided to begin with one of DK's Eyewitness books.  Eyewitness World War I begins with an introduction to Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, explains who the major powers were and well as the major conflicts that created alliances that would prove to be important in 1914 and the beginning of World War I.

The war was a result of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.  He was shot in Sarajevo, Bosnia.  Bosnia was claimed by Serbia, so naturally Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the assignation and declared war on them on July 28, 1014.  Immediately, countries began to chose side - Germany supported Austria-Hungary, Russia supported Serbia, France supported Russia, then Britain declared war on Germany for invading Belgium.  The US didn't enter the war until April 6, 1917.

Each important aspect of the war is cover, usually in two page spreads, with lots of photographs supporting the text.  Readers will learn about how people signed up to fight, the most important battles, the role of women, the use of air power for the first time in a war:

Source: DK Eyewitness 

Other topics included are Life in the Trenches, the War at Sea, and the use of one the worst weapons of this war - the Gas Attack.  I have always been interested in spying and code breaking, so I was happy to see pages devoted to Espionage:

Source: DK Eyewitness

World War I made good use of carrier pigeons, using up to 500,000 of them according to this page of the book, for espionage and often for sending messages from behind enemy lines.

Back matter to Eyewitness World War I includes more facts, a Q&A, a list of important people and places, where to go to find out more, places and websites to visit, a Glossary and in Index.

If you have a young reader developing an interest in war books, Eyewitness World War I would be a good introduction for them.  And if you are a classroom or home schooling teacher, this is one you will definitely want as a resource for students.  I use my Eyewitness World War II book all the time, and kids really like all the photographs of what people and things looked like.  I'll be placing Eyewitness World War I with it for their use, since WWI is on the agenda for the next next year.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library

It's Nonfiction Monday, be sure to visit today's Round Up of other nonfiction books for kids and teens


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Time to be Brave by Joan Betty Stuchner

Ever since the Nazis invaded Denmark, David Nathan, 10, and his best friend Elsa Jensen have been hungry, despite the fact that his dad is the best baker in all of Copenhagen.  But the Nazis have been helping themselves to whatever they want since 1940, and that includes anything that they fancy in Nathan's Patisserie

Now, it is September, 1943 and David is looking forward to Rosh Hashanah and his mother's special honey cake all month long.  The Jewish New Year is always a family celebration shared with Elsa's family.   If only he thought his sister might be there, but university studies keep her at school more and more.

Or so David's mother tells him whenever he asks about Rachel.  But on their way home from school one afternoon, Elsa tells David her secret - Rachel and Elsa's cousin Arne are in the Resistance, doing whatever they can to sabotage the Nazis.

That very afternoon, when he arrives at his father's bakery, David is asked to deliver 6 éclairs to Arne's house and to make sure all 6 get there.  But no sooner does David leave the shop, when he is stopped by two Nazi soldiers who insist on seeing what he has in his bakery box.  Seeing the éclairs, each soldier helps himself to one.

Finally, David is able to deliver the remaining four éclairs to Arne, who immediately dips his finger into each, finally pulling out a piece of paper from the last one.  All David can make out is the word train.  A few days later, David's father tells him that a train has been sabotaged by the Resistance, and David proudly realizes he had actually played a role in that.

And at last Rosh Hashanah arrives.  The longed for honey cake has been made, but when David and his father are sitting in the synagogue, the Rabbi announces that the Nazis are planning to round up Denmark's Jews that very night and advises everyone to go home and prepare for their escape.

Well, we know the end of this story because we know that Denmark's citizens did not allow the Nazis to capture most of that nation's Jewish citizens, and so we know that David and his parents escape to Sweden with the help of their friends the Jensens.  But, of course, young readers may not know this.

A Time to be Brave is a nice easy reader chapter book that provides a good introduction to what happened in Denmark in World War II.  It is the perfect book for a young reader who is not quite ready for Number the Stars.

The writing is simple. never condescending, the story is straightforward and the characters well-drawn. There is nice back matter, too, including a map of Denmark and Sweden, a World War II timeline, explanations of who Victor Borge is (yes, he in mentioned in the novel), the Resistance, King Christian X (an important figure to the Danish people during the war), and a recipe for honey cake (that I may have to try making).

If A Time to be Brave sounds vaguely familiar, it is because it was originally published in 2008 under the title Honey Cake.  I suspect it has been reissued under the new title because it now has "updated content that emphasizes Common Core and renewed interest in nonfiction" even though the story is fiction.  It is, however, based on a true story.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was provided by the publisher


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Funnies #17: What the heck are Canadian Whites?

I learned something new this week when I read Jacqueline Guest's novel The Comic Book War.  Canada, as you probably know, entered WWII two years before the United States did.  But wars cost money and in order to conserve Canada's balance of trade with the United States, Parliament passed War Exchange Conservation Act on December 6, 1940.

What this meant for fans of American comic book living north of the 49th Parallel was that there would be no more importation of such comic favorites as Superman, Batman or relative newcomer Captain Marvel.

To make up for this deficit, Canadian publishers scrambled to start producing their own superhero comic books.  In March 1941, Maple Leaf Publishing introduced the first issue of Better Comics and the first Canadian-created superhero Iron Man, created by Vernon Miller, formerly of the Disney Studios.  Iron Man was indestructible, having super strenght and was amphibious to boot.  He had originally lived on an island in the South Pacific, but an earthquake had obliterated all the inhabitants save him.  When the war started, Iron Man decided to throw his lot in with the Allies.  Like Iron Man, all the content in Better Comics was original and the stories were often serialized to keep customers coming back for more, but it seems to have been relatively successful, continuing to publish through the war.

August 1941 saw the publication of Triumph Adventure Comics by Hillborough Studio.  Founded by three artists, Triumph Adventure Comics introduced Canada's first Canadian-created, true Canadian superhero: Nevlana of the Northern Lights.  She was the child of a mortal mother and the King of the Northern Lights, Koliak the Mighty.  Nelvana could fly and travel at the speed of light by riding on a light beam from the Aurora Boralis.  Over time, more powers were written into the stories as they were needed.  It should also be noted that Nelvana arrived on the comic book scene a full four months before her American counterpart Wonder Woman.
Triumph Adventure Comics #1 August 1941; Triumph Comics March 1942
Nelvana continued to appear in Triumph-Adventure Comics until February 1941, for a total of 7 issues.  When her creator, Adrian Dingle, left Hillborough, he went to Bell Features taking Nelvana with him.

Bell Features was a very successful comic book publisher.  They were very Canadian focused and that was what readers really wanted during the war.  Besides Nelvana in Triumph, there was the Penguin in WOW Comics.  Unlike Batman's nemesis by the same name, WOW's Penguin spent his time fighting evil, especially the evil that was the Axis powers.  He was a master spy, a detective, an expert marksman, excellent at hand to hand combat and once you saw his face, you knew you didn't have long for this world.  And his identity was often speculated about but never revealed.

Bell also published Dime Comics and in February 1942, another true Canadian hero made his appearance.  Johnny Canuck was the creation of a 16 year old boy name Leo Bachle.  Johnny Canuck, a captain in the allied Air Force was also endowed with super strength.
Dime Comics February 1942 introducing Johnny Canuck
Last, but not least, we come to Educational Projects of Montreal.  Educational Projects introduced Canadian Heroes into the mixed of superheroes, focusing on real people who were real heroes.  Needless to say, this kind of comic books didn't really go over well with kids who were used to much more daring, dangerous and exciting fare for their heroes.
Canadian Heroes #1 November 1942 and #5, March 1943 introducing Canada Jack
And so Education Projects decided to forgo the real, focus on the fictional and so Canada Jack was created for the March 1943 issue of Canadian Heroes.  Canada Jack was just an ordinary guy without superpowers but he was an expert gymnast at the top of his form.  He actually became popular enough with kids that The Canada Jack Club was formed and kids were encouraged not only to join the club, but to do work to help the war effort.  Then, each month a different member and their war activities were spotlighted in the comic book.

Members spotlighted in Canadian Heroes V. 4 #6 December 1944 
But alas, this golden age of Canadian comic books was not to last beyond the end of the war, when the War Exchange Conservation Act was not longer needed and once again, American comic books flooded the Canadian markets with the kind of glitzy comics that the Canadian publishers just couldn't compete with.

So, what are they called Canadian Whites?  The covers may have looked just like the kind of four color covers you would find on American comics, but that is where the similarity ends.  The stories inside were all done in black and white, as you can see from some of the examples used here.

In 1995, the Canadian Post Office issued a set of 5 stamps commorating comic book heroes.  These included WWII superheroes Superman, Johnny Canuck and Nelvana, as well as Captain Canuck and Fleur de Lys from the 1970s and 1980s.


Source:
Bell, John. Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe.  Toronto: Dundum, 2006.

Most images used are public domain.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I Survived #4: I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941 by Lauren Tarshis

Living in New York City, Danny Crane, 11, and his best friend Finn were always in trouble.  Danny's father had skipped out before he was born, so his mother worked as a nurse by day and cleaned offices at night to support them and was often not home.  There are just too many kids in Finn's family for anyone to keep an eye on him  The two boys skip school, sneak into the movies, and pretty soon, they were hanging out with gangster Earl Gasky.

So, in late1941, Danny's mother takes a nursing job at the hospital at Hickam Air Force base on Oahu, Hawaii.  Danny hasn't been living in Hawaii for very long before he hatches a plan to stowaway on a ship bound for San Francisco on December 7th, and from there, he plans to cross the country riding the rails back to Finn and the life he loves and wants.

On the morning of December 6th, Danny meets his new neighbors when toddler Aki Sudo wanders into the Cranes backyard.  The Sudos are a family of Japanese descent that had been born in Hawaii.  And Aki Sudo may only have been 3 years old, but he knew every plane the Americans had in their Air Force, thanks to the detailed drawings his fisherman father drew for him.

Danny likes the Sudos, but he is still determined to get back to Finn and NYC.  Yet, on the morning of December 7th, Danny is having a hard time getting out of bed and setting his plan in motion.  Thinking about his mother and how she will feel when she discovers him gone, Danny is jolted out of bed by little Aki's cries.  Planes, swarms of them, are coming and they aren't American.  Suddenly, as the two boys are heading to the Sudo home, they hear loud explosions followed by fire and smoke.  Pearl Harbor is under attack.

Returning Aki to his mother, Danny decides he needs to get the Hickam, to find his own mother.  But along the way, there is another round of bombing, and shooting.  Then, Danny meets Mack, a  lieutenant and pilot of a B-17.  Mack likes Mrs. Crane, but Danny was resentful of that.  Now, though, with a bullet wound to his arm, he and Danny try to make their way to Hickam together.

But, will the two be able to survive the rain of bullets and bombs the Japanese pilots are unleashing on all of Pearl Harbor?

I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor is the 4th book in this popular, action packed I Survived series for boys about boys living in different time periods and facing different historical disasters and making them real coming of age stories.  And, like the others, it won't let the reader down.  There is plenty of real historical information couched in the fictional story of Danny and since Danny more or less sees the attack on Pearl Harbor from a distance, the descriptions of it are realistic, but not so graphic they will upset the age appropriate reader.

One of the side issues that Lauren Tarshis addresses in this particular story is how easy it was for boys like Danny to fall into the wrong kind of life.  Danny is at an age when friends can be all important, so the reader sees how he is torn between staying with his mother and his loyalty to his friend and partner in crime Finn.  These two friends were on their way to being in real trouble when Mrs. Crane moved Danny to Hawaii.  Juvenile delinquency was a problem back then because so many parents, like Mrs. Crane, had to work long hours, often at two jobs.  Doing little things for someone like Earl Gasky was just the beginning.  Both boys are at an age when they could have gone either way and I wondered what happened to Finn, left in NYC.  

Since I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor is a work of historical fiction, the author has included lots of back matter for further exploration.  There is a lengthy Q&A about the actual attack, a Pearl Harbor Time Line, Pearl Harbor facts and resources for reading other books about kids caught in the bombing of December 7, 1941.

In addition, the publisher of the I Survived series, Scholastic, has put a Teacher's Guide online that is compatible with Common Core State Standards and it can be downloaded HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Comic Book War by Jacqueline Guest

It's 1943 and Robert Tourand, 15, misses and worries about his three older brothers who are off fighting in Europe with the Canadian armed forces.   So when he finds a small piece of a meteorite, it becomes a kind of magical charm for him.  Thanks to it, Robert soon, he begins to see and believe a cosmic connection between what his brother write about from the front line in their letters, and the heroes in the comic books he obsessed with.

And so, he pairs brother to comic according the their parallel experiences: favorite brother Patrick is assigned The Maple Leaf Kid, brother James and Sedna of the Sea go together because James could use her wisdom, brother George, a pilot, is paired with flying ace Captain Ice.  Their assignment: to keep his brother's safe.

It all works nicely until his mother finds a pair of torn pants and decides Robert need to be taught a lesson.  Now, she decides, his weekly allowance, his only means of buying the newest editions of the comic book that contain secret messages about his brothers, would be better spent on war stamps.  Now, Robert needs to figure out a new way to make sure he can buy his three favorite comics every month.

And it seems that ever since his found his magical piece of the universe, luck has been with him.  When his teacher announces that the student who collects the most fat for the war effort will win four completely filled books of war stamps, valued at $4.00, Robert thinks he's found the answer to funding his comic addiction.  But despite his best efforts, he didn't expect such stiff competition from Crazy Charlie (Charlene) Donnelly, a girl as much on a mission as Robert.

So, when fat collection doesn't yield the needed money, Robert decides to take a job as a telegram delivery boy.  Trouble is, Crazy Charlie has the same idea.  They are both hired, and as more and more telegrams need to be delivered, Charlie seems to be able to get around Calgary some much faster than Robert on her dilipated second hand bike compared to his sleek newish Raleigh.  Robert is so busy thinking about his comic books, he never bothers to ask Charlie about herself.  Nor does he think about what is in the telegrams he is delivering, until one arrives at his house in Charlie's hands.

At first, I didn't much care for The Comic Book War.  I found Robert to be a very unappealing character, too focused on himself and completely lacking in empathy for anyone else.  Ironically, Robert and Charlie are both loners, outsiders that could have been friends from the start, if Robert had been able to see beyond himself.  But as I continued to read, I began to see Robert in a different light, as a person who could actually have some compassion for the recipients of the telegrams he was delivering.

I also thought that Robert was a little too old to be so obsessed with comic books, even for the WWII time frame.  But this is, after all, a coming of age novel.  I began to think about how kids will use all kinds of ways to cope with fear, loss and trauma.  Robert keeps his fear about his brothers (and about growing up) from overwhelming him using magical thinking (always a good defense mechanism) that his comic book heroes will keep his brothers (and him) safe.

Charlie, who was much more in touch with reality, was a good contrast to Robert, despite her own problems in life.  I would have actually liked to have read more about Charlie, who is a story in her own right.

It is always interesting to find a Canadian story about kids in WWII because they have such a distinct perspective.  Canada was still part of the British Commonwealth in 1939, and even though it declared war on the Axis powers independently of Britain, it sent troops overseas to fight with the British Expeditionary Forces and the RAF.

Two nit-picky things did bother me.  Kids did not carry their school books to school in backpacks back them.  They used school bags or carried them in their arms.  And I did wonder about why lights were left on so freely at night.  I thought all of Canada had blackout precautions during the war.  But I could be wrong on these.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was received from the publisher