Sunday, October 20, 2019

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

White Eagles by Elizabeth Wein

Twins Kristina and Leopold Tomiak have always been fiercely competitive with each other and also share a love of flying. Naturally, when it looks like Germany is getting ready to go to war, they both sign up for the Polish Air Force Reserve. But when only Kristina is accepted into the White Eagles, Leo is totally perplexed.

Not long after becoming an Eagle, Kristina is assigned to fly an important visitor from the Vistula Aeroclub outside Warsaw to a meeting in Lvov, in southern Poland, to relay important information. But just as the plane carrying the visitor lands, it is clear that it has been attacked by machine gun fire. It turns out the Luftwaffe has been scouting over Poland and shot at their plane. The visitor is killed but the plane's pilot is still alive and knows what the information is.

Now, it's Kristina's job to get the information to Lvov, which she does, safely arriving at Birky airstrip just outside the city limits on August 31, 1939, and where her brother is already waiting for her. The next morning, Kristina wakes up to sirens and an announcement that the German Army has begun its invasion of Poland. The next day, the battle for the airstrip at Birky begins, and Kristian is taken prisoner by a German soldier.

In the sky, she sees two fighter planes caught in a dogfight, without firing at each other, but fighting with only their planes and Kristina realizes the pilot in the Polish plane is her brother. Leo finally comes out the victor, after causing the German plane to crash. But his victory is short lived. Held by the arms by two German soldiers, a German officer pulls his gun and shots Leo between the eyes, as Kristina watches stunned and horrified.

As the other prisoners around her go berserk over the shooting, Kristina, devastated over losing her twin, manages to take advantage of the chaos and to get to her plane. Without a helmet or goggles, she takes off, flying away from her brother's murder and not landing until she finally finds a narrow, clear field in an apple orchard. But no sooner has she landed, than she realizes she isn't alone. A gun is pointed at her head and she was told to put her hands up and get out of the plane. Thinking it is a Nazi soldier, imagine her surprise when it turns out to be an 11-year-old boy named Julian Srebro with a story to tell and a desperate need to get out of Poland. What follows is an exciting, perilous journey for both Kristina and Julian, marked by grief, biting cold, hunger, kindness, cruelty and a few pieces of life-saving chocolate Hanukkah Gelt

White Eagles is a short book written in three parts and inspired by real life aviation hero Anna Leska, liaison pilot for the Polish Air Force and flying missions for them when the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 (do read the Author's Note at the back of the book for more information). It is a well researched novel that contains a lot of information about what life for the Polish people was like right after Hitler's army invaded their country. Around that reality, Wein has woven a historical fiction novella that will hold readers captive until the end. But, let's face it, Wein is a master historical fiction storyteller and she knows just how to create characters and settings that make you question whether it is fact or fiction you are reading.

I bought White Eagles at the Book Depository in part because it is written by Elizabeth Wein and in part because it is published by Barrington Stoke, a children's book publisher in Edinburgh, Scotland. And what makes this book special, besides the great story, is that Barrington Stoke publishes books that are adapted for reluctant and dyslexic readers. And since I'm a dyslexic reader, I know first hand how really important the design of these book is. I first discovered them when I read D-Day Dog by Tom Palmer and now I'm sold on them. And no, I get nothing for talking about these books, and there are lots of them by great authors, not from Book Depository or from Barrington Stoke. It's just my experience.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

At the Mountain's Base by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre

At the Mountain's Base by Traci Sorell,
illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre
Kokila, 2019, 32 pages
"At the mountain's base
grows a hickory tree.
Beneath this sits a cabin."

And in this cabin lives a Cherokee military family. Watched by her grandchild, a worried grandmother weaves together red, gold, green, and black threads while sitting by an old wood burning stove where there is something warm and nourishing cooking in a well-worn pot. The women in the family sit with her and together they sing and worry, too. Over their shoulder, is a picture of a woman in military dress.

The family sings a song of protection for the woman in the photo, a pilot flying in WWII. The perspective changes to show the woman pilot involved in that battle, protecting and defending her country, and offering up her own prayerful plea for peace. Hovering over her is the spirit of her families prayers for her safe return.

Again the perspective changes back to the cabin at the mountain 's base, under the hickory tree. There, too, the spirit of her families prayers and and the family awaiting the pilot's return.

Using soft, very spare, lyrical language, Sorell and Alvitre manage to convey so much to the reader about this family and the love they have for each other, and especially their family member in such a dangerous situation. Within the circularity of the story, the old and new are seamlessly woven together, and reflected in the different generations of women in the cabin. The threads of the grandmother's traditional Cherokee finger weaving are wonderfully juxtaposed with the newness of Native American women flying planes for the military. 

One of the things I loved about the artwork for At the Mountain's Base is the way the grandmother's threads wrap around the illustrations, binding the family together even when they are apart. The palette of earth tone red, greens, browns, yellows have a generous amount of white space that really helps call attention to the specific details on each page.

The Author's Note pays homage to the Native women who have served in battles and conflicts over time, and to those active service-members in today's military.  Her main focus is on Ola Mildred Rexroat, a Oglala Lakota pilot who was one of 1,074 Native women who served in the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) in WWII.

 At the Mountain's Base a celebration of Cherokee women and of the unsung women who make history. It isn't often enough that I get to write about Native Americans in WWII, let alone a woman, so I was very happy to discover this beautiful picture book and I think you will enjoy reading and exploring it, as well.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Sunday, September 29, 2019

True Brit: Beatrice - 1940 (Book 1 in the Far and Away trilogy) by Rosemary Zibart

It's September 1940, the Blitz is already in full swing, and the last thing 12-year-old Beatrice Sims wants is to be sent away to Santa Fe, New Mexico for safety while her family, parents and older brother, stay behind in London. An upper middle class girl, Beatrice travels in first-class comfort, first by train, then by ship across the Atlantic Ocean, and finally, by train across the United States from New York to New Mexico.

Before she leaves London, her father suggests Beatrice think of her trip as an adventure and herself as an explorer, giving her a red leather notebook to fill with all the different and interesting things she will see and do and experience while away. Her mother, however, is convinced that the war would be over by Christmas and Beatrice would come home.

Arriving in Lamy, New Mexico, Beatrice finds herself alone in a small train station, with only a sleeping cowboy on a bench. Eventually, Clem Pope arrives with two chickens and a beat up truck named Maude. Clem is the local practical nurse, the only one around now that the world was at war and everyone expected the US would be in it soon enough. Her house is comfortable but nothing like Beatrice is accustomed to.

The first day of school, Beatrice meets Esteban, son of Delores, who helps Clem in the house, and Arabella, who introduces her to her new surroundings as only a 12-year-old would know them. But soon enough, Beatrice discovers that Esteban and his friends think she is faceta, a spoiled little Princess. Beatrice is upset by this nickname, especially because she really likes Esteban. Hurt that the kids think about her that way, she also discovers and can't understand that many Americans don't want to get involved in the war in Europe or help England in its fight against the Nazis.

But when Beatrice decides the change her reputation, she discovers it isn't as easy as she would have liked. After a few unfortunate incidents, things aren't looking good. It will take one big life-or-death incident to really turn things around for Beatrice, not just how others see her, but, more importantly, how she begins to see herself.

True Brit is the first book in Rosemary Zibart's trilogy about the different experiences of young people from war-torn countries during WWII, now living on the American home front. It is an engaging story, one I found I couldn't put down. And I thought Zibart really did a great job in depicting Beatrice's culture shock as she begins to adjust to her new surroundings. I could understand how Beatrice felt since I was once a New York City girl who found myself living in a desert area for four years.

Zibart also looks at the class differences between Beatrice and Arabella and most of the kids they are in school with, kids who are native, biracial, and poor by comparison. Yet, neither one is presented as better than the other, but accepted for who they are as people. In that regard, readers see how the stereotype ideas Beatrice arrives in New Mexico with about the land, culture and people are dispelled as she gets to know and understand her new surroundings better. Beatrice does records her adventures in the red notebook her father gave and these entries give the reader more insight and information than even Beatrice's first-person narration does.

Of course, True Brit are some humorous moments - her first hot dog with mustard and relish, her first milkshake, and American slang - is all A-okay. But it is the eye-opening experiences that she has that really make a difference. Beatrice arrived in New Mexico, very much a fish out of water, a self-involved, pampered and privileged girl who expected to be taken care of by servants much the way her mother is. And yet, despite her flaws, I found Beatrice to be a likable character who really grows and comes appreciate her new, temporary (?) home.

Astute readers who are also fans of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis will like the scene on the train station where Beatrice sees and envies a girl named Lucy and her siblings getting on another train to stay with great-uncle in the country. Interestingly, Beatrice recalls that scene later in the book as she wishes she could be a comfortable as Clem is in her new setting, and envying those four children again.

True Brit is an interesting, informative book that gives readers another detailed look at the life of a young girl in WWII who finds herself in a totally different land and culture than what she is accustomed to.

You can download an Activity and Discussion Guide courtesy of the publisher, Kinkajou Press, HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Kinkajou Press

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Sunday Funnies #31: Batman with Robin in Swastika Over the White House

Have a Happy Batman Day!

I know it's Saturday, but I thought I'd do a Sunday Funnies post anyway since today is Batman Day, celebrating 80 years of the Caped Crusader and my Kiddo's favorite Superhero. This Batman story is called "Swastika Over the White House." It's from Batman Vol. 1, No. 14 and was published in January 1943. It's one of the few stories that actually relate to the war, although Batman and Robin lots of other things to help the war effort.

Fred Hopper a/k/a Fritz Hoffner may have fooled the other cameramen, but now he has orders to get rid of Batman. As luck would have it, Batman and Robin were coming by the Gotham City Newsreel offices that very day to help with the nation's war effort. Suddenly, a car appears and shots are fired at the dynamic duo.

The young Nazi spy may not have gotten rid of Carson, but he does manage to swap out their camera footage of the shipyard to give to his superiors, along with footage of bomber plants, including gasoline storage tanks. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, in reality Batman and Robin, have suspicions about the cameramen, so that night, out comes pair in the Batmobile, to check on the industrial suburbs of Gotham City.