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

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Top Blogs Posts (are not what I would have expected)

I was reading Cecelia's Top Ten Blogging Confessions over at her blog The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia when something she wrote made me stop and wonder.  I know Cecelia participates in the  meme Weekly Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads and one of her blogging confessions is that 4 recipe posts are among her top posts.  I enjoy reading Cecelia's book reviews, but I have to confess, she has posted some pretty good recipes and I know because I have tried some of them.  So thank you for both, Cecelia.

But all this did make me wonder what my most popular posts are.  It's not something I usually pay much attention to when I look at my stats.  So this morning I looked and, boy, was I surprised.  Here they are:

1- Going Solo by Roald Dahl, posted September 13, 2010
Roald Dahl recounts his life in Africa as an RAF pilot during the early years of the Second World War.   I was still a novice blogger when I posted this, and it shows.

2- Black History Month - The Double V Campaign: African Americans and World War II by Michael L. Cooper, posted February 7, 2011
This is a very interesting, excellently written book about the Double V Campaign, in which African American men and women were fighting for victory for their country and for equality in the Armed Services.

3- My Brother's Shadow by Monika Schroder, posted January 3, 2012
This is a story about a family at the end of World War I living in Berlin, Germany and their struggles, hardships and their participation in the charged political events of the time.

4- The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, posted July 18, 2011
The story of three children trying to survive while hiding from the Nazis in the rubble of war torn Warsaw, Poland after their parents are arrested and the strange boy with a silver sword connected to their missing parents.

5- I Survived #9: I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944 by Lauren Tarshis, posted January 31, 2014
When they accidentally leave the Jewish ghetto Esties, Poland, to pick some raspberries, brother and sister Max and Zena are caught, but manage to escape their Nazi capture and decide to keep running.

6- The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall, posted June 15, 2011
When Chas and his friends find a wounded German airman, they befriend him, then force him to repair the machine gun that was attached to his plane.  

7- The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo, posted April 6, 2011
A young boy learns about his grandmother's life in England during WWII when British and American soldiers took over her town to practice for D-Day and about the cat she loved named Tips.

8- Parallel Journeys by Eleanor Ayer with Helen Waterford and Alfons Heck, posted December 13, 2010
Follows the lives of two Germans in WWII and afterwards.  One is an Aryan member of the Hitler Youth who completely believed in Hitler, the other a Jewish woman who escapes to Holland, only to be sent to Auschwitz.  This is a fascinating nonfiction book.

9- Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr, posted August 6, 2013
This most famous book recounts the life of Sadako Sasaki as she struggles with A-Bomb disease ten years after the bombing of Hiroshima.  Believing that if she folded 1,000 origami cranes, she thought she would be granted her wish to live.  Unfortunately that didn't happen, but Sadako sparked a peace movement among the children of the world, who still send thousands of paper cranes to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park every year to honor Sakako and the others who perished as a result of the atomic bomb.

10- Weekend Cooking #10: Victory through Carrots, posted May 14, 2011
This was one of my favorite posts to do.  Who knew there was such a thing as a World Carrot Museum?  Well there is and you can visit it online.  This is the museum that inspired my Favorite Funky Museums board on Pinterest.

What are your top ten posts?  

Saturday, July 5, 2014

First Dog Fala by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illustrated by Michael G. Montgomery

On Wednesday, I wrote War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus by Kathryn Selbert, detailing the relationship between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his little pet poodle Rufus, his constant companion during WWII.  Well, Rufus wasn't the only dog to have a master who was also a world leader.  American President Franklin D. Roosevelt went through the war years with a little black dog named Fala.

In her dog biography, Elizabeth Van Steenwyk writes that Roosevelt spent much of his time during his first term as president alone at the end of the day.  His children were grown and away, his wife traveled to different parts of the country giving speeches   And so, one day, his cousin Margaret Suckley brought him a little Scottish terrier.  The two took an instant liking to each other.  Roosevelt promptly named his new puppy Murray the Outlaw of Fala Hill (Murray was an old Scottish relative of the Roosevelt's), shortened to Fala.

Once trained, it didn't take Fala long to settle in as the first dog, whether he was at the White House, the president's home in Hyde Park, NY or just riding around in the presidential car.  Because Roosevelt was confined to a wheelchair do to polio, Fala often has to rely on visitors and cabinet members to throw his toys for him to fetch.

Fala was apparently a somewhat adventurous dog and managed to escape the White House and wander the streets of DC before being brought home by the secret service.  Unfortunately, Steenwyk doesn't tell us how Fala managed to get or if his escape hole was ever discovered.

Not only is this a book about Fala, but it also introduces and gives insight in the kind of man Franklin D. Roosevelt was, and how he conducted a war in Europe and the Pacific without the same kind of mobility other world leaders had.

First Dog Fala proves itself to be a very engaging picture book for older readers.  Each two page spread has a page of text accompanied by a detailed corresponding illustration.  The illustrations, which have somewhat of an Edward Hopper quality to them, are done in oil on canvas and give a warm sense of companionship, but also the darker tones reflect the seriousness of the times.  

While this is a wonderful historical look at the times, it does lack any back matter, such as more information, a time line and sources Steenwyk used.  Still, I would definitely recommend First Dog Fala and I would also pair it with War Dog: Churchill and Rufus.  These are perfect books for dog lovers and/or budding history buffs.

If you ever are in Washington D.C., you might want to visit the relatively new Franklin Delano Memorial where you will find not only the President memorialized, but also his canine companion Fala.


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