Thursday, March 14, 2019

Fish for Jimmy: Inspired by One Family's Experience in a Japanese American Internment Camp written and illustrated by Katie Yamasaki

When people of Japanese descent were rounded up and sent to live in internment camps shortly after the United States entered World War II, they found themselves eating a very different diet than the fresh fish, vegetables, and fruit that had been available when they had lived near the Pacific Ocean. Jimmy and his older brother Taro are no exception to enjoying fresh food, after all their parents own a Farmer's Market.

But early in December, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, their father is taken away by three men in the FBI. The family can no longer live in their home and run their Farmer's Market, and Jimmy, Taro and their mother find themselves "forced to live in tiny barracks surrounded by guards." Confused about what is happening, Jimmy refuses to eat the unfamiliar food he is served.

And no matter how much they try to coax him, no one can get Jimmy to eat. Although everyone is worried about him, Jimmy just doesn't understand why his family isn't living in their home near the ocean. Or why they can't eat his mother's good rice and noodles, or the fresh vegetables and fish he loves so much? Soon, Jimmy even stops playing with the other kids.

One night, Taro, worried about Jimmy and feeling responsible for taking care of him in their father's absence, makes a big decision. Taking a borrowed pair of garden shears, he quietly leaves the barrack, find a place in the fence where the guards can't see him and clips a hole he can crawl through.

Finding a mountain stream, Taro waits until he feels a fish hitting against his leg, then quickly grabs fish after fish, wrapping them in his mother's scarf. And in the morning, there is fish for Jimmy, who finally eats to his mother and Taro's relief.

In her end note, author Katie Yamasaki writes that Fish for Jimmy is based on a true story from her family's history. Her great-grandfather was arrested by the FBI just as Taro and Jimmy's father had been, though it was her grandfather's cousin who snuck out of the camp to find fish for his young son. I think that by putting the stories together, Yamasaki is able to highlight the impact that interning innocent people, particularly children, based solely on their ethnicity through Jimmy's depression and his refusal to eat and works to make this a very accessible story for young readers. Sadly, it made me think about all the Jimmys who found themselves in these camps and who were too young to understand what was happening.

The illustrations, done with acrylic paint, vividly capture the emotions each person is feeling. The reader sees Jimmy going from a happy little boy to a depressed child and finally as a smiling kid after having a taste of home again. The danger Taro faced sneaking out to catch the fish is aptly shown in a spread with the barbed wire fence in the foreground and guards with big guns in the background, and behind that, readers can see Taro's searching for the right spot in the fence to cut through. It is a wonderful, dynamic, rather sophisticated image, and Yamasaki the muralist painter is really present in it.

Fish for Jimmy is an excellent choice for introducing the history of the internment of Japanese Americans to young readers and it will definitely resonate with things happening in today's world for them.

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

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet

It's 1941 and Augusta "Gusta" Hoopes Neubronner, 11, is on a bus traveling with her French horn from New York City to Springdale, Maine by herself. She wasn't always by herself, but she had to leave her parents for financial reasons and go to live with her grandmother in Maine. Gusta's mother had remained in NYC working. Her German-born father had traveled with her until he had to abruptly get off the bus in Portland, Maine when two men boarded looking for him. Gusta's father is a union organizer, an accused communist, and therefore a wanted man.

To Gusta's surprise, her grandmother, Clementine Hoopes, and her Aunt Marion Hoopes run a small orphanage in their house and were not expecting her. Nevertheless, after reading the letter Gusta's mother sent with her, they welcome her into the house and pretty soon she is assimilated into their daily routine. She quickly becomes friend's with Josie, an orphan already in high school, and her cousin Bess, who lives nearby. Gusta settles in at school as well, but when it is discovered how really nearsighted she is, she is sent to an oculist, Mr. Bertmann, a German immigrant, to have her eyes tested and get a pair of glasses. To pay for them, Gusta will work in his shop a few afternoons a week dusting, helping with his accounts, and taking care of his beloved carrier pigeons.

Gusta also loves playing her French horn, but her grandmother doesn't see the value of music and forbids her to practice at home. Gusta's Aunt Marion has always won a blue ribbon for her jam at the county fair, something her grandmother brags about often. Josie suggests the three friends form a band and enter the Blue-Ribbon Band competition at the county fair next summer, hoping to win and change Gusta's grandmother's mind about music, it is an idea met with enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, Josie introduces Gusta to the high school music teacher, Miss Kendall. Miss Kendall is impressed enough with her playing to let Gusta join the high school orchestra. Miss Kendall also takes a real interest in Gusta's French horn, recognizing its value immediately. She is also the sister of Fred Kendall, owner of Kendall Mills, a man who treats the Hoopes women with contempt.

Gusta, who knows something about union organizing, decides to help her Uncle Charlie. He had been injured in at work accident at Kendall Mills and is not longer able to work unless he has an operation the family can't afford. Gusta invites a labor organizer to Springdale to organize the Kendall family's factory and hopefully get some compensation for Uncle Charlie.

And then there is the war in Europe. Though the United States is still not in the war yet, patriotism is running high in Springdale. A new airfield is about to open and the Springdale Aviation Committee is sponsoring a contest for the best patriotic essay on the theme "A Vision of American on High." And snooty classmate Molly Gowen is starting a Real Americans Club with the help of the Women's Patriotic Society of Springdale and she's made it clear that Gusta is not qualified to join because of her German father. Nor does all this misplaced patriotism bode well for Mr. Bertmann and his carrier pigeons, as you can imagine.

Oh yes, there is also a magic wish that threads through this story, an belief that Gusta holds on to tightly in her new living situation.

I had a little trouble getting into The Orphan Band of Springdale at first, but once I did, I couldn't put it down. And I won't kid you, this is a big book - 448 pages long - and I know it looks like there's a lot is going on in it, and that's probably because a lot is going on. But eventually it all comes together and long hidden truths are exposed, including a family secret in the Hoopes household that will leave you gobsmacked.

Gusta is a very likable character, well developed and with an wonderful internal dialogue that really lets her personality shine through. She is also a girl with a well-developed moral compass, thanks to her parents, and alway just wants to do the right thing. And it is through her goodness that the hidden secrets and nativist patriotic agendas are ultimately exposed and truth is illuminated. Hence, Gusta's new glasses serve as a metaphor for events in the novel or as her father described it "the way the sun catches things out against the darkness of a coming storm: "the clear light of trouble." (pg 29)

The Orphan Band of Springdale is a thoroughly satisfying novel, with a kind of comforting heartwarming old fashioned sensibility as it explores themes of family, truth, misplaced patriotism, otherness, and, finally, forgiveness. The book I had trouble getting into turned out to be just that book I wanted to read.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing me with a copy of this book.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII by Mary Cronk Farrell

I've just reread Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis, a novel about one woman who had enlisted in the Women's Army Corps during WWII and was part of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. I've always thought that the author had really captured the difficulties of being an African American woman in the armed services at that time. And now, Mary Cronk Farrell has written a book that explores these difficulties in depth and introduces readers to some of the courageous African American women who served their country with determination, dignity and patriotism.

Farrell begins with the creation of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps in May 1942. Though women in the WAAC were not considered to be military personnel and so they had no rank, no entitlements for dependents, and received less pay than men in the military, women signed up anyway, wanting to do their patriotic duty for their country. Thanks to the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt and Civil Rights leader Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, black women were also allowed to join and train for positions of rank, and a number of women were recruited from different colleges around the country for officer training.

After training, African American women like Lieutenant Charity Adams were assigned a command of enlisted women of color ready to begin basic training. These were women who wanted to serve their country, but they also "saw the army as an opportunity to better their life, find adventure, or see the world." (pg. 49)
Major Charity Adams
What officers and enlisted black women hadn't really counted on was the army's policy of segregation. While discrimination wasn't tolerated, the army continued the practice of separating black and white soldiers under the idea of separate but equal. But, as Farrell shows, it was definitely separate, but it wasn't equal. For example, after basic training, black WAACs sent to southern bases were ordered to do menial tasks, such are cleaning toilets, scrubbing floors, and stacking beds. If they objected, they were given even more grunt work to do, such as washing the walls in the laundry, and doing the laundry - all jobs that had not been approved for WAACs to do. Sometimes, there was even talk of a court-martial for such insubordination. What is interesting is that Farrell looks at the responses of the African American women when they were faced with Jim Crow laws, prejudice, segregation, and ordered to do menial tasks, interviewing several of the women who served and were still living while she was writing this book.

A good potion of the book is devoted the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion (aka the Six Triple Eight), the only female African American battalion to serve overseas and under the leadership of Major Charity Adams. In February 1945, more than 800 members in the 6888th were sent to Birmingham, England to sort through "six airplane hangars, piled to the ceiling with bags of mail," letters and packages that had been piling up for months (pg. 4) These WACs* knew it was important work, soldiers needed their mail from home and the women worked under the slogan "no mail, low morale." After their mission in England was finished, the 6888th moved on to Paris, France.
The 6888th arriving in England
Standing Up Against Hate is a book about service and honor that will draw in young readers and keep them. It is informative and reader accessible, with personal accounts that bring the history of African American women serving in the army vividly to life. Complimenting and supporting these accounts are copious archival photographs, many of which include the women interviewed.

If you've ever read a book by Mary Cronk Farrell, you know that she is a careful researcher, and talented craftswoman at telling a true story. Though much in this book is a positive look at the women and their accomplishments, it is also concerned with institutionalized racism and discrimination that faced both black men and women in the armed services during WWII. Nor, does Farrell does not shy away from describing some of the degrading treatment personally directed by individual women - not just by southern white male officers, but by fellow white WACS, and civilians, male and female, while riding buses and trains, called names and at times, badly beaten. Yet, they continued to serve with dignity.

Did the WAC provide the hoped for opportunity to better their life, find adventure, or see the world? You be the judge!

Farrell supplements her text with an abundance of photos and newspaper articles, many of which I had seen before. Back matter includes an Author's Note, a Glossary, a Time Line, Notes, and a Select Bibliography.

There is a teaching guide available on the author's website for this outstanding book.

Standing Up Against Hate is a book I couldn't put down and I can't recommend it highly enough for both middle and high school age readers. There is just so much to learn from it. Enhance your readers experience by pairing this with Mare's War.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an ARC sent to me by the published, Abrams BFYR

*The Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) became the Women's Army Corps (WAC) on July 1, 1943 when it was changed to active duty status.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Searching for Lottie by Susan L. Ross

When seventh-grader Charlotte "Charlie" Roth is given a family tree project to do for school, she decides to try to find out what happened to her great aunt and namesake, Charlotte "Lottie" Kulka, older sister to Charlie's Nana Rose. The family has always assumed that Lottie had perished in the Holocaust, but now Charlie wants to learn more about her and maybe even discover what really happened to her. Lottie had been a talented violinist living with her family in Vienna, and had been sent to Budapest, Hungary to study music there just before the Nazis annexed Austria. Lottie's younger sister Rose and mother survived the incoming Nazis by fleeing Vienna after their father and husband was arrested. He to was never heard from again.

Nana Rose is more than happy to help Charlie, and sends her an old diary of Lottie's that she had managed to save. The only problem is that it is looks like it is written in German, but when a friend's grandmother tries to read it for Charlie, she tells her it is a music journal that includes all the people she went to concerts with and that it is not only written in German, but in Hungarian, too. Two names stand out - one is Nathan Kulka and the other is Johann Schmidt.

Using mementos, old photos, letters, Lottie's journal, and Nana Rose's scrapbooks and memories, Lottie slowly begins to form a picture of who Lottie was, but she is not closer to finding out what happened to her. Nana Rose knows who Nathan Kulka was, but never found him, either. The son of a dentist, she thought maybe he might also be a dentist and living in Connecticut after the war, but she had never followed up on it. Could it be that he was indeed a long lost relative who might be able to shed some light on Lottie's fate?

Like her namesake, Charlie is also a talented violinist and is hoping to be named the school's orchestra concertmaster, an honor usually reserved for 8th graders. In between research, school, family life, and thinking about her crush, Charlie spends as much time as possible practicing for her audition. When the results come in, Charlie is surprised to learn that there is a boy who is crushing on her.

Searching for Lottie is a novel based on Susan Ross's family history, which you can read more about on her website Here and in her Author's Note at the end of the book. I thought that Charlie's quest to discover what happened to Lottie, her life as a middle schooler, and her aspiration to become concertmaster were nicely intertwined in this short novel. I loved seeing Charlie's determination even in the face of disappointment, her courage in approaching strangers, not all of them friendly, to find out more about Lottie, and her patience with her grandmother, who is clearly the beginning stages of Alzheimer's. Nana Rose's fading memory highlights how imperative it has become to record stories regarding the Holocaust that might otherwise be lost forever, especially as more and more witnesses to it pass away. 

One thing I was surprised by is that Nana Rose never tried to get in touch with the person in Connecticut she thought could be Nathan Kulka, despite her great love for her missing sister. I know she said it was too painful, but still, Kulka isn't a common name and she could have returned to this later when she had some distance from the past.

Still, I thought this was an interesting novel, and despite one or two terribly convenient coincidences, one I would recommend. Ross does manage to let her readers know that the trauma of the Holocaust is real and deep, but without being overly graphic, making this a good book for kids in the 4th, 5th, 6th grades who may just be learning about WWII.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was an EARC received from the publisher, Holiday House