Monday, June 29, 2015

Nim and the War Effort by Milly Lee, pictures by Yangsook Choi

It's 1943 in San Francisco's Chinatown and young Nim and her classmates are all competing to see who can collect the most newspapers for the war effort.  So far, Nim and Garland Stephenson are in the lead.

One morning, Nim takes her wagon to her aunt's house to pick up some papers tied with a red string, but when she gets there, the papers are gone.  Disappointed, Nim decides to look around the neighborhood to see if she can find other papers to add to her pile at school.  Along the way, she runs into Garland, who not only has a pile of papers tied with a red string, but he is taking the new ones that were just delivered to the newspaper stand that morning.  When Nim confronts Garland about both piles of papers, he tells her they are his now and Mr. Wong shouldn't have left his lying on the sidewalk.

Garland's wagon is so overloaded, that the papers spill all over the sidewalk when he tries to turn a corner.  While he is picking them up, he tells Nim she can't win the contest, that they are in an American war and that only an American should win the newspaper competition and "not some Chinese smarty-pants."

Undaunted by Garland, Nim decides she has some time after school to search for more papers before she has to go to Chinese school, which her Grandfather has always been adamant she not be late for or miss.  But when she approaches the doorman of a big building in Nob Hill and asks if there are any newspapers she can have for the war effort, he is more than obliging.  To Nim's amazement he opens the door to a room full of newspapers, stacks and stacks of them.  Surely, Nim would win the competition with all those papers.  After all, Garland said it should be won by an American and Nim is as American as he is.  But how can she get all those papers to the school and still get to Chinese school on time so she doesn't anger her Grandfather?

Nim's solution will surprise readers but her reasoning is sound and she is only doing what she was taught to do - call the police and ask for help.  But, she comes home late, greeted by an very angry Grandfather who says she has disgraced the family by being seen riding in a police paddy wagon.  Can she win back her Grandfather's respect and trust when he learns the truth about what happened?

Nim and the War Effort is one of those picture books for older readers that packs in a lot of information about kids and WWII.  Kids did a lot to help the war effort, and really throw themselves into it, just a Nim and Garland do for the scrap paper contest.

Garland's cheating is a sad note about needing to win the contest.  There was nothing at stake for him, except to show her up.  Garland's behavior reminded me of the saying I was taught as a girl:
"Winners never cheat, and cheaters never win" and that's just what happened.

Cheating is one issue, but Garland also enables Milly Lee to quietly but effectively take on issues of racism and misplaced patriotism in her debut children's book.  Garland only sees Nim as Chinese, his attitude towards her, that she isn't a real American, was common after the US entered the war.  A lot of Chinese people were ostracized during WWII by those who lumped all Asians together and felt it gave them the right to mistreat them.  Lee adds a nice touch of reality when she shows grandfather wearing a pin with the American and the Chinese flag, something many Chinese people did to differentiate themselves.

Lee also takes the reader inside Nim's home, where Chinese American family life is thoughtfully depicted.   Young readers may find the relationship between Nim and her grandfather a little stiff and formal, and probably more realistic for the 1940s than in today's world.  He is a real patriarch, with Nim's mother and grandmother firmly in the background.  I thought it interesting that there is no mention of Nim's father.  Was he away fighting the war?  Another interesting note is that her grandmother has bound feet, something that most of today's young readers might not know about.

The muted realistic illustrations give the readers a true feeling of the past by using a palette of yellows and browns, making Nim's white shirt and red wagon really standout.  Like Lee, this is a debut children's book for Yangsook Choi and the two really seem to have been on the same thought-wave, producing a thoughtful, thought-provoking picture book that no doubt generates all kinds of questions and observations among young readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was borrowed from the Bank Street College of Education Library

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Sound of Life and Everything by Krista Van Dolzer

It's 1953 and WWII has been over for 7 years.  In fact, for most of 12-year-old Ella Mae Higbee's life.  Her older brother Daniel had been killed in the war in Europe and her cousin Robby Clausen died in the Pacific at Iwo Jima.  And while Ella Mae's mother has accepted the death of her son, her Auntie Mildred hadn't accepted that her Robby was gone for good.  In fact, she still holds on tightly to Robby's bloody dog-tags.

So when Auntie Mildred heard about a scientist who could re-create a person with just a few drops of their blood in his laboratory, she was ready to welcome Robby back from the dead.  There was just one problem - the person who was resurrected using Robby's bloody dog-tags was a young Japanese man.  How had a Japanese boy's blood ended up on Robby Clausen's dog-tags?  Hysterical, Auntie Mildred, along with Ella Mae and her mother leave the laboratory.

But the lab wants someone to take custody of the Japanese man, whose name is Takuma Sato, and since Auntie Mildred didn't get the son she wanted, it was up to Ella Mae and her mother to bring him home with them, much to the chagrin of Mr. Higbee.  By now, Auntie Mildred is convinced that it was Takuma who killed Robby and refuses to speak to her sister for taking care of him.

Indeed, Takuma becomes the unwitting catalyst for long held resentments and hatred in Ella Mae's small California town.  While he doesn't remember much about his life before he died, for some who are still coming to terms with family members lost in the war,  he brings up their hostile feeling towards the Japanese in general.  For others, like the Reverend, the fact that Takuma was created in a lab makes him an abomination on the eyes of God.

Even as tempers flare, even as they are ostracized by family, friends and neighbors for taking in Takuma, Ella Mae and her mother stand firm in their belief that they did the right thing.  At school, Ella Mae's cousin and best friend Theo turns his back on her, though when she and Takuma are gone after by the class bully, Theo does get help.

Little by little, Takuma begins to remember his former life, but after a few months, he also begins to physically fail.  As he grows weaker and weaker, he starts to draw pictures from the war.  Soon the truth about how his blood got on Robby's dog-tags become evident in his drawings.  But will Auntie Mildred and everyone else in town be able to accept that what happened on Iwo Jima just didn't happen exactly the way they had thought it had?

The Sound of Life and Everything was an interesting book.  It's not often that I get to read speculative fiction that has anything to do with WWII with the exception of time travel books, so this was a welcomed addition.  The early 1950s was a time when people were becoming aware of DNA thanks to people like Linus Pauling, Francis Crick and James Watson, all mentioned in the novel.  But the science isn't the real focus of the story, merely the means to a way of opening up questions of racism, of forgiveness and of replacing ignorance with knowledge.

I thought Ella Mae was a feisty protagonist in this coming of age story, which is told in the first person by her.  Sometimes, though, she is a little too quick with her fists, and yet, she is also a thoughtful young girl willing to admit when she is confused by events and attitudes.  She willingly takes Takuma under her wing, teaching him English and showing him her favorite spots to hang out.  And when her older cousin Gracie takes over the teaching job, there are some pangs of jealousy.

Ella Mae's mother is wonderful.  A deeply religious woman, yet she doesn't hesitate to take on the minister when he refuses to let the Higbees into church with Takuma.  And though she acknowledges science, her faith will always be in God, even when it comes to Takuma.  But, best of all is how she treats Ella Mae.  It's nice to read about a mother who isn't crazy or distant or mean.  She is right there in Ella Mae's life, and it's clear she loves and respects her daughter, even when she is mad at her.

The Sound of Life and Everything reads so much like realistic historical fiction, I had to keep reminding myself that it is speculative historical fiction - and while that is the best kind of sic-fi, this is a novel that should appeal to almost anyone.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom with Elizabeth & John Sherrill

This biography of Corrie ten Boom's work in the Dutch Resistance during World War II has been around since 1971 for adult readers.  Now, the story of this brave woman and her family is available for younger readers.  It is a story that is compelling, inspiring and proves once again that anyone can make a difference in dangerous times.

The ten Boom family had been watchmakers in the Dutch town of Haarlem since 1837, which also served as the family home.  And it was at the 100 year celebration of the family business that Corrie, her sister Betsie and father Casper, already 77 years old, became truly aware to what what happening in Germany.  On this happy occasion, they met a Jewish man who had just escaped Germany after some kids had set fire to his beard, burning his face.

Three years later, in 1940, Holland was invaded by the Nazis. A curfew was put in place, newspapers were taken over and radios were confiscated - well, maybe not all the radios in the ten Boom household.  Jews began to be harrassed and rounded up for deportation.  While a neighbor's shop was being searched by the Nazis, Corrie managed to get the owner, Mr. Weil, into her home without being noticed. It was decided that Mr. Weil needed to go into hiding and Corrie knew just the person who could help - her brother Willem.

After that, it didn't take long and Corrie, along with Betsie and their father, found themselves playing an active part of the Dutch underground.  Soon, a secret room was build into Corrie's bedroom wall and a constant procession of Jews on the run found themselves in this welcoming home and hidden room.  By now, Corrie and her sister Betsie were in their 50s, and their father was in his 80s and with no thought of giving up their underground activities.

Though many in the town of Haarlem knew of the ten Boom's activities, they turned a blind eye.  But in February 1944, someone talked and the family was arrested, but although they searched the house, the seven people in the hidden room were not found by the Nazis (they were rescued later).  Corrie, Betsie and Casper were taken first to Scheveningen prison, Sadly, Casper ten Boom passed away 10 days later, on March 9, 1944.  Corrie and Betsie were sent to a concentration camp in Holland called Camp Vught, which was mainly for political prisoners, but from there, they went to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp in Germany.  It was there that Betsie passed away, but eventually Corrie was released.

Corrie ten Boom's story is so powerful and this shortened version for young readers is ideal for introducing them to this extraordinary woman and her family.  Sometimes an abridged book just doesn't work, but in this case, nothing important is left out and it still reads smoothly.  It is written as though Corrie were right there telling her story, and I may say, quite modestly and with all the surprise that she ended up as part of the Dutch underground as the reader might feel.  You don't expect older people to be the stuff of such heroism, but, as Corrie, Betsie and Casper show us, why not?

Corrie and her family were very religious Christians, members of the Dutch Reformed Church, and their religion was very much a part of their daily lives.  This comes up in the book, especially towards the end and it may put off some fo today's young readers.  However, it should be remembered that the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people was a racial and a religious issue.  It only stands to reason that the deeply religious would be exactly the people who most understand the need to help another deeply religious group.

In 1975, a movie was made about the ten Boom family in World War II, starring Julie Harris as Betsie and Jeanette Cliff as Corrie.  I haven't seen it yet, but hope to soon.  If it is any good, and it seems to be well liked, I will be back here to tell you what I think.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

The ten Boom home and watch shop, now a museum:
:

 The inside of the ten Boom home showing where the secret room was built into Corrie's bedroom wall:

This is book 5 of my 2015 Any War Reading Challenge hosted by War Through the Generations

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Weekend Cooking #27: Remembering Marguerite Patten

Marguerite Patten 1915-2015

I haven't written a Weekend Cooking post in a while, but this week, while I was reading the NY Times the other day, I came across a familiar face in the Obituary section.  It was a photo of Marguerite Patten, the lady who taught Britain how to cook despite rationing in WWII (and you may recall, rationing lasted there until 1954).  Marguerite passed away on June 4, 2015, at age 99 years.  I discovered Marguerite long before I started blogging, and during my first year of blogging, I did a post about her and some of her recipes.  I thought I would repost it today in homage to all that she accomplished with food when there was very little of it to be had.

From March 6, 2011:

Weekend Cooking #5: We’ll Eat Again: A Collection of Recipes from the War Years by Marguerite Patten – Dropped Scones

Talk about celebrity chefs - Marguerite Patten was a celebrity chef as early as World War II, long before the term was even coined.  During the war, Marguerite worked for the British Ministry of Food, where her job was to teach housewives how to making good meals despite rationing. In 1944, she began working on a radio program for the BBC called Kitchen Front. To date, Marguerite has written over 170 cookbooks, has been honored by the Queen and, at 95 years of age, she is still (relatively) going strong.

Next to Welsh Cakes, scones were my favorite tea food, much better than the bread and butter tea we usually had. My dad worked in the Museum of Natural History and he came home around 4 every afternoon. As kids, we were required to be home than for tea, unless we has something related to school to do. It was my favorite time of day, and a ritual I never gave up. So today I have drop scone recipes. These come from Marguerite’s book We’ll East Again, published in association with the Imperial War Museum and can be found on page 84 of that book.

Drop Scones aka Scottish Pancakes (as it was written)

Sift 4 oz. plain flour with 2 level teaspoons of baking powder and a pinch of salt. Add 1 tbsp dried egg powder then beat in 1 pint milk and 2 tbsp water.

Grease and heat a heavy frying pan, electric solid hotplate or griddle. To test if the right heat, drop on a teaspoon of batter, this should turn a golden brown on the bottom in 1 minute. Put the mixture in tablespoons on to the plate and leave until the top surface is covered with bubbles then turn and cook on the second side. The scones are cooked when quite firm.

Potato Drop Scones (this one sounds like something my dad may with leftover mashed potatoes on Mondays)

Rub 2 oz mashed potato into 4 oz flour and ¼ teaspoon salt. Make into a stiff batter with half a beaten egg and ¼ pint milk. Allow to stand for a time. Sift in the small teaspoon of cream of tartar and a small level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and ½ oz sugar just before cooking. Cook in spoonfuls – as for Drop Scones – on a greased griddle or in a heavy frying pan. Serve with a little hot jam.

Coffee Potato Scones (this one sounds intriguing)

Sift 6 oz plain flour, 2 level teaspoon baking powder and ½ tsp salt into a basin. Mix thoroughly with 4 oz mashed potato. Rub in 2 oz fat with the tips of the fingers. Blend to a soft dough with ½ teacup strong, milky, sweetened coffee. Roll out to ½ inch thickness on a floured board and cut into rounds. Glaze the tips with a little milk. Bake on greased baking sheets in a hot over for 15 minutes.

I still make drop scones for tea, but I have to confess, I use Bisquick for them. Apparently the Queen likes them too. I found this bit in a 1965 book review from the New York Times. The review was for a book by Dwight D. Eisenhower called Waging Peace: 1956-1961.


For more on Marguerite Patten see
MailOnline
The Sunday Times
Celebrity Chefs

In 2007, Marguerite received a Lifetime Achievement Award and you can was it here:


Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. As always Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads

Monday, June 8, 2015

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee

Hiroki Sugihara, the son of a Japanese diplomat posted to Lithuania in 1940, tells how his father suddenly found himself confronted with a terrible dilemma.

Hundreds of Jewish refugees, driven out of Poland by the Nazis after they had invaded and then occupied that country, began to show up at the gates of the Sugihara home, which doubled as the Japanese embassy.  The Sugihara's, Hiroki, his younger brothers Chiaki and Haruki, his Auntie Setsuko, and his parents lived upstairs, and his father, Chiune Sugihara, worked downstairs.

Men, women and children, dressed in layers of clothing despite the July heat, were seeking visas that would enable them to travel through Russia to find asylum in Japan.  Sugihara knew he had to do something, so he asked the crowd to choose five people to come inside and talk with him.

The next day, Sugihara cabled the Japanese government asking if he might be allowed to issue visas to the desperate refugees.  His country refused his request, leaving Sugihara with a tough moral decision - turn away the people outside his gate and leave them to certain death at the hands of the Nazis or disobey his government.

Sugihara chose to issue visas to each and every person outside his gates, disregarding Japan's order.  Day after day, from early morning to late in the evening, Sugihara hand wrote about 300 visas per day.  Even after the Nazis and Soviets began to close in on Lithuania, visas were written, right up until the family was ordered by Japan to leave when Sugihara was reassigned to Berlin.

In telling his father's story, Hiroki writes in the Afterward that it is a story that he believes "will inspire [readers] to care for all people and to respect life. It is a story that proves that one person can make a difference."  His father remained a diplomat for many years after the war, eventually leaving the Foreign Service.  In the 1960s, Chiune Sugihara began to hear from some of the people to whom he had given visas, and who referred to themselves a Sugihara survivors.  He ultimately received the Righteous Among Nations award from Yad Vashem in Israel.

Dom Lee's sepia-toned illustrations provide close detail and give a feeling of dimension and authenticity to the story being told, seemingly based on old photographs of the July 1940 events.  They are done by an very unusual method.  Lee applied encaustic beeswax to paper, scratched out the image he wanted and then added oil paint and colored pencil.

Passage to Freedom is indeed an inspiring story and one that should be shared with young readers.  Sugihara was a real hero, a man who put human life above politics,  even at a time when Japan was at war with China and relations were already contentious with Great Britain and the United States.  One thing that did amaze me was that his government didn't call him back to Japan to censure him.

An extensive PDF Classroom Guide for Passage to Freedom is available from the publisher, Lee & Low books.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

This 11 minute video recounts the life of Chiune Sugihara at the time he was writing so many visas, it includes Sugihara survivors and his wife's recollections.



Today is Nonfiction Monday, be sure to check out this week's nonfiction roundup