Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Keep Calm and Carry On, Children by Sharon K. Mayhew

It's September 7, 1940 and the sound of the air raid sirens has just begun throughout London. For Joyce Munsey, 11, and her younger sister Gina, 6, that means getting out of their beds and heading out to the backyard and the makeshift, shelter that their dad had dug there, as bombs begin to fall. By September 10th, after witnessing the destruction the bombs had brought into their lives and neighborhood, and after the loss of two neighbors, Joyce's parent decide it time for their daughters to join the next trainload of school children being evacuated to the countryside. On September 11, 1940, Joyce and Gina, unable to even wash up after the previous night's bombing, board a train at Euston Station heading who knows where with a number of other children.

On the journey, the two sisters meet Sam Purdy, 11, and Molly Neal, 12, and after hours and hours of riding, the four of them disembark in a place called Leek. As people look over the evacuees, Sam is chosen quickly by an elderly man who claims to need someone who can help him now that his boys are away fighting. Molly is next, chosen by an elderly lady who likes her humor and cheekiness. And just as Joyce and Gina begin getting worried they would be left behind, a woman and her daughter Phyllis Woods, 10, decide to take in the sisters.

Joyce and Gina's placement works out very nicely, and Phyllis proves to be an instant friend. After a few days, they decide to call on Sam and Molly, to see if they can come out and play for a while. But when they find out he is living with a Mr. Badderly, Phyllis recognizes the name and tells Joyce he isn't a very nice person.

Sure enough, he has Sam working hard in his victory garden and won't let him leave until Joyce, Phyllis, and later Molly help Sam finish his chores. When they finally get away from Mr. Badderly, Sam tells them how badly he is being treated, even forced to sleep in the cellar. But when Sam, Molly, Joyce, and Phyllis discover a hut full of items that are now being rationed, they realize these are things being sold on the black market. I think no one will be surprised to discover who the ringleader of the black marketeers is. But what can a group a kids do about these ruthless crooks?

Keep Calm and Carry On, Children is an interesting story, with lots of everyday details about the early days of the Blitz, and the fear, worry, and trepidation that children must have felt at being sent to strangers in the countryside and away from their family. Many of the evacuees in the book arrived in the countryside in dirty clothes and not have washed, because as the bombing in London increased, the water and gas lines were damaged. That is something I never encountered in a WWII novel about evacuees before. Also, it was so surprising to learn that Joyce and Gina had never used a toothbrush until living with the Woods family. I wonder how common that might have been. The Munsey family was poor in London, and at times, Joyce feels so embarrassment because of it, but was never made to feel bad by Phyllis or her mother.

It took some time to get to the part about the black market and Mr. Badderly's mistreatment of Sam, which sadly really did happen to some of evacuees. I think some of the early details could have been edited out without spoiling the story. Also there were mistakes in the ARC I read, which will hopefully be fixed in the final copy, but it was nothing that would ruin the basic story.

Mayhew's story was inspired by her grandfather's family, when his parents took in two evacuees from London during the war. And one final thing: though she used the slogan in her title, to her credit, Mayhew didn't use it in the story. Keep Calm and Carry On was only to be used in case of invasion, and that never happened.

Keep Calm and Carry On, Children is a novel that should interest young readers interested in history, especially WWII history.

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

Friday, December 6, 2019

Teachers and Librarians! Your Students Can Help Choose Two Prestigious Children's Book Awards

Teachers and Librarians!
Make Selection of Two Bank Street Children's Book Awards Part of Your Elementary Curriculum

Want your students to practice their reasoning, persuasive speaking, and sharpen their visual skills while participating in  selection of Bank Street’s Center for Children’s Literature’s annual best picture and best science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) books?

First and Second Grade classes may participate 
in the selection of the Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature (Irma Black Award). The award goes to an outstanding picture book for young children – a book in which text and illustrations are inseparable, each enhancing and enlarging on the other to produce a singular whole. The Irma Black Award is unusual in that children are the final judges of the winning book.

Register here.

Learn more here about last year's award and the award curriculum.  Note we will send the 2020 voting link to new registrants in early spring. 

Third and Fourth Grade classes are invited to jury the Cook Prize.  The Cook Prize honors the best STEM book of the year published for children eight to ten. It is the only national children’s choice award honoring a STEM title.

Register here.

Learn more about last year's award and the award curriculum.  The 2020 voting link will be sent to registrants in  early spring. 

Please share this information with your fellow educators and librarians.  Everyone is invited to participate.

Monday, December 2, 2019

A Scarf for Keiko by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard

A Scarf for Keiko by Ann Malaspina,
illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard
Kar-Ben Publishing, 2019, 32 pages

Ever since President Roosevelt had declared war on Japan on December 7, 1941, the kids in Sam's class have stopped talking to the Japanese American kids at school. Now, Sam's whole class are learning to knit so they can make scarves and socks for the soldiers who are fighting in the war, including Sam's older brother.

But Sam hates knitting and he isn't very good at it, unlike Keiko Saito, whom he's know for years and who sits next to him in school and is a great knitter. But whenever she offers to help him, he refuses. In fact, Sam now refuses to have anything to do with Keiko, even after witnessing her being harassed by a teenager as she rode her bike home from school.

But when Sam's mom sends him to the flower shop for some flowers for Shabbat, he sees that Mr. Saito's grocery has been vandalized and Go Back to Japan is written on the closed flower shop. During the Shabbat meal, Sam's dad tells him and him mom that President Roosevelt has decided going to send people of Japanese ancestry away, fearing they might be spies for Japan.

On Monday, Keiko isn't in school, but Sam sees her after school, knitting in front of her house. At home, Sam's mom tells him the Saito have to pack and leave soon, taking only what they can carry and she has volunteered to care for Mrs. Saito's lovely tea set. On the morning after the Saitos have left, Sam finds Keiko's bike in front of his house with a note for him to use it while she's away and a pair of hand knit socks for his brother Mike.

Thinking that Keiko will be cold where she is in the desert, Sam is determined to learn how to knit something to send her: a lovely red scarf to keep her warm.

A Scarf for Keiko is a great story about tolerance and how easy it is to be swayed by friends into turning on good neighbors and friends because they are being portrayed as being un-American simply for being who they are. It also shows how conflicted Sam is about no longer being friends with Keiko, whose family has been such good neighbors with his family, and the way his brother Mike helped Keiko fix her bike, and then not speaking up when he sees injustice all around him. He conflict is increased when his mother reminds the family that her sisters in Poland are in danger because they are Jewish and that Mike is in danger as a soldier.

The simple illustrations add much to the story and are done in a muted palette of blues, browns, greys, and touches of red that give a retro feeling. Faces are a bit exaggerated so that they reflect the wide spectrum of character's emotions - fear, conflict, worry, sadness, hate, kindness, even happiness.

A Scarf for Keiko is a great picture book for older readers who may be old enough to have witnessed acts of intolerance in today's world and are also conflicted about what is happening.   

Back matter includes an Author's Note that explains why and how people of Japanese ancestry, including Japanese Americans like Keiko and her family, were put in internment camps by President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066. I need to mention that there is a typo here, stating the date of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as December 6, 1941, when in reality it was December 7, 1941. Other than that typo, this is an excellent book to share with young readers.

Teachers and students can find a useful downloadable Activity Guide for this book HERE

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

It Rained Warm Bread: Moishe Moskowitz's Story of Hope, story by Gloria Moskowitz Sweet, poems by Hope Anita Smith, illustrated by Lea Lyon

**Contains Spoilers**
This fictionalize free verse biography chronicles the life of Moishe Moskowitz's life just before and then during the Holocaust. In 1936, Moishe, his mother, father, older brother Saul, and younger sister Bella live in Kielce, Poland. Their home life is warm, loving and religious, though there is some they watch the Nazi threat grow stronger and come closer. On the street, Moishe often has to be on the lookout for Polish boys who "want to pound me like schnitzel" simply because he is Jewish. Moishe's mother often encourages his father to leave for America where they have relatives, and save enough money to send for the family. However, his father keeps refusing to leave, finally agreeing only to discover the opportunity has passed.

Moise is 13-years-old when Nazi Germany invades Poland, and the lives of the Jewish families living there are forever changed. At first, the Moskowitz's hide out in the barn of a Christian friend, but when nothing happens, they decide to return home, only to be rounded up in 1941 to temporarily live in the Kielce ghetto. Somehow, Mosihe's father escapes and joins the resistance. From there, in August 1942, the ghetto is liquidated and Moise's mother and sister are pulled away from the family - never to be seen again.

Moishe and Saul are moved from one concentration camp to another. When his brother comes up with an escape plan, only Moishe survives and, now alone, is sent to Auschwitz, to do hard labor. By 1945, when it is clear the Nazis are losing the war and the Allies are closing in, Moishe finds himself on several death marches. During the first march, he pretends to fall down and manages to convince the guards that he is actually dead. When an unkind farmer finds him, Moishe is put into another group of Jewish prisoners, where he is put into a cattle car. It is here that he finally finds the hope he needs to carry him through, when a group of Czechoslovakian women defy the Nazi guards and toss warm, freshly baked bread into the cars for the people in the cattle cars.

Taken off the train, Moishe begins his second death march, trying the same tactic he used before of falling down as though dead. Left behind, he hides in a haystack. It's here an American soldier who speaks Yiddish finds Moishe.

Yes, Moishe survives the Holocaust and eventually makes his way to Los Angeles, California where he marries and raises a family.  And like most Holocaust survivors, he was reluctant to talk about his experiences under the Nazis. But finally he did, and now his daughter Gloria as shared his stories to poet Hope Anita Smith and together they wrote Moishe's story.

It Rained Warm Bread is told in the first person through a number of short spare, sometimes understated, poems, and divided into seven chapters, each focusing on specific events and time in Moishe's life, Smith has created a record that is as heartbreaking as it is hopeful. Interestingly, the Nazis are metaphorically referred to as predatory wolves throughout, and never really portrayed as human.

The text and the small watercolor wash spot illustrations are all done in shades of brown, and add much to this testimony of a man who bore witness to what was done to Europe's Jews during Hitler's reign.

It Rained Warm Bread is not the book to read if you are looking for a factual account of what happened to Moishe and his family. If that's what you want, or if, after reading Moishe's story you want to find out more, you can find an account of Kielce and the Kielce Ghetto HERE

Instead, be sure to read the Author's Note by Moishe's daughter Gloria for more information about this courageous man who lost everything but found the hope he needed to carry him through those dark days.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library