Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving
and a very large helping of 
happiness, peace and plenty!

Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving Paintings from WWII

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Funnies #22: Superheroes in Gotham

Anyone who has read The Children's War knows that I have a soft spot for one of my favorite childhood pastimes - reading the Sunday funnies and comic books.  So naturally, I was pretty excited when I heard that the New York Historical Society was planning an exhibit called Superheroes in Gotham.  The exhibit is open now through February 21, 2016.  I was particularly interested in seeing it because, as you know, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were all WWII superheroes, doing their bit for the war.  But the exhibit goes way beyond that.

How many remember George Reeves as Superman?  I must have watched Superman rerums a million times each when I was growing up.  Well, one of the old Superman suits from this show is there and it looks more like thick, woolen underwear that the kind of slick suit you see today:

There's even one of Adam West's Batmobiles from the 1960's Batman show:

The exhibit also contains some original art pieces original comic books, TV, movie, cartoon and audio clips of favorite comic superheroes, as well as comic characters you may never have heard of.  For me, that was Will Eisner's Private Joe Dope, a character who is like a combination of Beetle Bailey and Sad Sack.  Eisner, a talented artist, joined the army in 1942.  Every post has a newspaper and Eisner became an artist on the paper his post in Maryland produced.  But, Eisner quickly realized that soldiers needed training in preventative maintenance and Joe Dope became the bumbling incompetent solider whose mess-ups were lessons in how to not do something.  Eisner's Joe Dope was so popular that he was soon appearing monthly in Army Motors, a maintenance magazine (and I was happy to discover that the NYPL has original copies of Army Motors to explore after the holidays). 

For more on Will Eisner and his comic characters, see the article Rare Eisner by Ken Quattro
at Comicartville
After the war, in 1951, Joe Dope was resurrected and began to appear in another publication called PS Magazine.

Of course, no visit to the New York Historical Society would be complete without a visit to the museum shop, and that's where I found two books that were exactly what I was looking for:

Both volumes contain complete comic book stories from the war years (more about these later).

If you would like to know more about Superheroes in Gotham, you can find a great article with extensive photos from the exhibit by Jen Carson at the Gothamist

If you are going to be in NYC this holiday season, after you've seen all the stores windows and the tree at Rockefeller Plaza, you might want to journey uptown a bit and see this exhibit, as well as the Historical Society's annual Holiday Express: Toys and Trains exhibit.  Both of these exhibits are totally kid-friendly and somewhat interactive, and not on that, but they even have a wonderful,very interactive Children's History Museum to visit. 

Where is the NY Historical Society?  It's the one with the statues of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass outside their doors, on Central Park West and West 77th Street, right across the street from the Museum of Natural History.  Go this coming Wednesday, and you can even see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons being blown up.

Available for selfies

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

It's bedtime but young Cole still wants a story, a true story before going to sleep.  And so Cole's mother begins to tell him a story about Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian from Winnipeg who lived long before Cole was born.  When war begins far from Canada, Harry's veterinary services are needed to care for the army's war horses and so he joins the army.

When Harry's troop train makes a stop in White River, Canada, he sees a man with a baby bear and next thing he knows, Harry has bought the bear for $20.00 and names it Winnipeg - nickname Winnie.  Winnie is quite a hit among all the soldiers and proves herself to be a gentle, but rambunctious bear cub.  Eventually, Winnie travels with Harry all the way to England, where Harry and his fellow soldiers will train for war.

When Harry gets his orders and is about to be sent to the front lines in France, he realizes that a battlefield would be too dangerous for Winnie and decides to leave him at the London Zoo for the duration of the war.  It is, indeed, a sad parting between man and bear.

However, Winnie adjusts to life in the zoo and ever the gentle bear, he is popular with the kids who visit, and in particular, one boy named Christopher Robin Milne, who frequently comes to see Winnie with his father.  Christopher even names his teddy bear after Winnie, calling it Winnie- the-Pooh, and out of his love for the real bear comes the books by his dad about Winnie-the-Pooh's adventures with a young boy named Christopher Robin.

As for young Cole, well, he was named after his great-great grandfather - Harry Colebourn.

Finding Winnie is a nice all-in-the-family true story since Linsay Mattick is actually the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn.   Son Cole's request for a bedtime story, one he has clearly asked for and heard many times before, cleverly frames the real story about how the tales about Winnie-the-Pooh evolved and it is nicely connected to the present for young readers by Cole's relationship to Harry.  Mattick has even included a family tree so kids can trace the family's relationship.

In addition, Mattick has included photos and artifacts from the time that Harry and Winnie spent together, as well as a photo of herself and Cole at the back of the book.

Sophie Blackall's beautifully rendered watercolor and ink illustrations are bright, detailed and gently soothing, makinf for an excellent merger of story and picture that is sure to please even the youngest Winnie-the-Pooh fan.  She really has captured the affection between Harry and Winnie and Blackall's illustrations will elicit more than a few "ahhhs" for readers.  In fact, she has even made the illustration of the soldiers marching in the rain look not as dreadful as it probably was.

And I really liked that the story is always focused on Winnie and never strays into Harry's time on the western front, so there are no combat illustrations, even though this is technically a WWI story.

Finding Winnie is a lovely addition to any library, a terrific read-aloud (at bedtime, perhaps?), and the perfect introduction to the Winnie-the-Pooh stories for young readers.

And, yes, I know that Finding Winnie is the second book to come out this year about the true story of Winnie-the-Pooh.  Both are equally delightful, each one tells the story equally well, and the illustrations in each are every bit as good as the other.  What to do?  Read them both.  That what I did and even though they tell the same story, they are wonderfully different and I enjoyed both for different reasons.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans' Day 2015

How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate out heroes and she-roes!                 
Maya Angelou


It is the Veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the Veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the Veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Veteran, who saluted the Flag,
It is the Veteran, who serves under the Flag,
To be buried by the flag
So the protester can burn the flag.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Soon (Book #5 in the Felix and Zelda family of books) by Morris Gleitzman

It's 1945 and the war is over but not the danger.  Felix, now 13, and Gabriek are hiding out in a relatively safe albeit rather wrecked building, and have one simple rule - Stay quiet and out of sight.  There are roving bands of men wearing badges that say Poland for the Poles and never hesitate to shoot anyone who is Polish, and that includes Felix, who is Polish, but he's also Jewish.

The war was hard on Gabriek and Felix who lost quite a few people they loved very much, and now Gabriek spends most of his time sleeping off the cabbage vodka he makes in his still, when not doing repair work to get food for the two of them.

Felix, who wants to become a doctor, goes how on the streets with his "medical bag" and the skills he learned from Doctor Zajak, when he and Gabriek joined the partisans before the war ended.  While out looking for people to help, Felix runs into two people - Anya, a mysterious girl wearing a filthy pink coat and carrying a gun, and Dimmi, who threatens the lives of Felix and Gabriek because the lock they fixed for him has broken.

Felix isn't out on the street long before he is kidnapped by the Poland for the Poles thugs who require his "medical services."  Luckily, Felix escapes and back on the street, a woman throws her baby to him just before she is shot to death.  Felix is immediately smitten by the baby and brings him home to an unhappy Gabriek.

It turns out that Anya is living in an orphanage with other kids under the care of Dr. Lipzyk, who invites Felix to visit his medical library anytime he wants to.  But things happen that make Felix uncomfortable about the doctor.  First, nothing seems to be done about Anya constant vomiting, then, Felix makes a deal with Anya for an endless supply of powdered milk and other baby needs for Pavlo (yes, Felix and Gabriek name the baby a nice Ukrainian name, since his mother was from the Ukraine), and lastly, the doctor cold attitude toward him when he sees Felix without pants on.

In the post-war danger and chaos in Poland, where hate and bigotry still seem to rule the day, will Felix be able to retain his hopeful spirit that the world will someday be a safe and happy place?

I wasn't expecting a 5th book and I may have jumped the gun a little in my need to find out more about Felix's experiences during World War II when I ordered it from The Book Depository.  It's out in Australia, New Zealand and Britain, but I don't know when or if it will be published in the US.  But is is do worth reading, even though I didn't get any sense of closure when I finished it - but perhaps that is as it should.

Soon is an action packed novel, partly because Felix is able to go out among people in a way that he hasn't been about to for a long, long time.  And amazingly, Gleitzman has managed to keep Felix a consistent character in Once, Then, After, and now Soon even as he matures, and despite some of the horrific things he has witnessed (I don't count Now because it is about Felix at 80 year old and not told from his point of view).  Felix is a character who seems to understand human behavior instinctively even if he does still read some behaviors incorrectly at first, but that is just because he is an optimist.  And readers can't help but care about what happens to him.

Soon can be read as a stand alone book, but it would be a much richer experience if readers at least read the first three books.  And like all of the Felix and Zelda family of books there is violence, but not sex or bad language.

Once again, Gleitzman has explored themes of family and friendship in the worst of times and written a powerful, appealing novel and now I would really like to know what happens to Felix next, but I have a feeling it's not going to happen this time.

You can read an except of Soon on Morris Gleitzman's website HERE

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