Thursday, December 7, 2017

2017 Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

Today is National Pearl Harbor Day and at a time when it feels like we are edging closer and closer to another war, it's a good time reflect on that day 76 years age that forced the United States into World War II when a sneak attack on the naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by the Japanese decimated the Pacific fleet. This is a copy of the dispatch sent by Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, who was the commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet to all navy command.
And I can't count the number of times I've read the words "Air Raid On Pearl Harbor X This Is Not Drill" in books I've reviewed for this blog. The following are some of the books about Pearl Harbor that I think readers may find insightful:
What was Pearl Harbor? by Patricia Brennan Demuth
illustrated by John Mantha
2012 Grosset & Dunlap

by Harry Mazer
2002 Simon & Schuster BFYR

by Lauren Tarshis
2011 Scholastic Press

by Kirby Larson
2017 American Girl

Under the Blood Red Sun (Prisoners of the Empire #1)
by Graham Salisbury
1994 Delacorte Press

by Graham Salisbury
2005 Wendy Lamb Books

by Graham Salisbury
2014 Wendy Lamb Books

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar

It’s 1942 and while Britain and the rest of the world are engaged in WWII, in Bombay (today’s Mumbai), the Quit India movement, whose goal is to rid India of British rule and gain independence, is begun with a speech by Mahatma Gandhi on August 8th. The very next day, August 9, 1942, Gandhi is arrested but it doesn’t stop many from still having faith in the Quit India movement. 

Gandhi, a practitioner of Ahimsa, or civil disobedience, had already asked that one member of every family become a freedom fighter for Indian independence. Anjali Joshi, 10, a member of the high born Brahmin caste, knew that some of the kids in her class had family members who were freedom fighters, but after Gandhi's speech, she is more than surprised to learn that her mother has also joined the fight. And one of the things her mother is focused on is attempting to make the lives of those considered to be untouchable better (Gandhi referred to the untouchable caste as Harijan, meaning children of God, but Anjali learns they consider that an insult and would rather be referred to as Dalit, meaning oppressed).  

At first, Anjali isn’t really too happy, especially when her mother makes her burn all of her beautiful foreign-made ghagra-cholis and replaces them with plainer khadi, a handwoven homespun cotton they spin themselves. She is particularly unhappy after her mother shows kindness towards the young Dalit boy, Mohan, who cleans their outhouse, causing him to run away, and then decides that Anjali and she will clean the outhouse themselves. 

Slowly and reluctantly, however, Anjali begins to support her mother’s attempts at being an activist. They begin attending freedom movement meetings together, and after visiting the basti where the Dalits live and get to know the people better, Anjali decides that it is unfair that the young Dalits are not able to go to school, too. They begin teaching the children in the basti, even finding help from a surprising a very surprising source. Soon, Anjali and her mother are working to make it possible for the kids to actually attend the school that Anjali goes to, getting uniforms and tiffins all ready for them.

But the weekend before their first day of school, rioting breaks out between the Hindus and Muslims and schools are closed. Later, Anjali’s best friend, Irfaan, a Muslim boy who is more like a brother to her than a friend, accuses her of writing anti-Muslim words on his father’s store, ending their friendship, and worst of all, Anjali’s mother is arrested on charges of helping to instigate the riots. While in prison and still practicing Ahimsa, or non-violence, her mother goes on a hunger strike, and although Anjali is afraid for her, she decides to carry on their work, even as she realizes she herself must unlearn the prejudices and superstitions that were so much a part of her life.

Ahimsa is a debut novel for Supriya Kelkar, based on the experiences of her great-grandmother, who had joined Gandhi’s freedom movement so her husband could continue working, much the same way Anjali’s mother did. 

I found Ahimsa to be a very interesting novel about social injustice in 1940s India that covers quite a lot of historical and political ground, some of which may not be familiar to young American readers. But, Kelkar has taken great pains to make this important period in Indian history accessible, although at times she waxes a little on the didactic side when it comes to describing the political situation. 

But one of the things I did like is that Kelkar has included a lot of interesting, personal details in her narrative descriptions, including what daily life was like, the kinds of clothing people wore, food they ate, games kids played, holidays celebrated as well as accounts of the living conditions of someone in the Brahmin class, of the basti where the Dalits live, and even a bit about how the members of the British Raj (rulers) lived. These are the kinds of details that often work to bring a story to life, and Ahimsa is not different.

The other thing I liked is the Kelkar has written flawed characters who learn from their mistakes. Anjali's mother is an enthusiastic freedom fighter, so enthusiastic that she can't see better alternatives to her actions, and sometimes not listening to the very people she is trying to help. For instance, burning the family's clothing in protest, following Gandhi's example, rather than giving them to the poor who really could have used them. Even Anjali is flawed, at first not really understanding what her country is going through, but slowly she becoming more enlightened, though at times no less feisty and headstrong, which can and does get her into trouble. Even Gandhi and some of his ideas are presented as somewhat flawed, as Anjali discovers the more involved she becomes in the Freedom Movement.

Ahimsa is a very readable novel and a nice introduction to the Freedom Movement in India. It is also a novel about trying to make a difference, about social injustice, and about resistance, and although these themes are put into the context of Indian history, they will certainly resonate with today's young readers.

Be sure to read the Author's Note for a detailed overview of this period in Indian history and the leaders involved in it. Kelkar has also included a list of books for Further Reading and a very helpful glossary.

Although it's for slightly older readers, pair Ahimsa with Padma Venkatraman's Climbing the Stairs for another view of India's fight for independence.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library

You might find this interview published in The Washington Post with author Supriya Kelkar about Ahimsa interesting and informative.

I've read a number of books that are set in India or have Indian characters and often the kids in them play a game called Gilli Danda. If you've wondered, as I have, what the game is and how it is played, you may find a helpful article HERE

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Suspect Red by L.M. Elliot

It’s June 1953, the Cold War is in full swing, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s have just been executed on charges of committing espionage, and under the influence of Senator Eugene McCarthy (R-WI), certain books deemed to have secret communist themes are being removed from the State Department, and overseas embassies. 

Now, though, summer vacation has just begun and Richard Bradley, 14, can finally get away from the bullies at school and lose himself in the pile of books he’s put together, beginning with a reread his favorite Robin Hood. Well, until his mom takes it away now that it has been determined too subversive, and she would know, since Richard’s dad is. K a G-man, working for the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, who seems to agree with everything Senator McCarthy says. But Richard’s father also is suffering from PTSD as a result of his wartime service, and Richard seems to be the only one who realizes it. And he is trying to redeem himself after a failed FBI mission that Hoover blames him for. 

When Richard and his mother visit a new neighbor,Teresa White, from Czechoslovakia who’s married to an American in the State Department, he meets her son Vladimir, a confident 14 year old who had lived in Prague and London during the war. Vladimir is a musician at heart, but he’s also an ardent reader like Richard, and though his taste in books is more sophisticated, he’s also willing to lend his books.

The two become friends, and while everyone in the White family is rather bohemian in their taste for art and left leaning politically, Richard soon begins to notice some suspicious things regarding Vlad’s mom. Perhaps he has been reading too many books like Herb Philbrick’s FBI espionage novel I Led Two Lives, but soon Richard is sure Mrs. White is involved in some kind of spying. Not sure what exactly it is all about, he talks to his dad, who advises him to think like a G-man and report back to him if he notices anything suspicious.

It’s exciting to think of himself as a spy, but Richard also feels disloyal towards Vlad. When school begin in September, Richard is sure Vlad will leave him flat and make friends with the other boys. While he is relieved when that doesn’t happen, Richard is still wrestling with his conscience about spying on Vlad’s family when he notices what appears to be really incriminating evidence. Telling his dad what he observed, Richard realizes that for the first time he and his dad are having the kinds of talks he has always longed to have - real father/son talks.

But when Vlad tells Richard in confidence what is really going on with his mom, Richard knows he has to tell his dad. But is it too late for that?

Suspect Red covers one year, from June 1953 to June 1954. It’s an important coming of age year in Richard’s life, where he learns the meaning and value of a good friendship and the consequences of betraying it, and in the life of the United States, when it allows itself to be influenced by one person with an agenda. The chapters are done by month, and each one includes documentary information at the beginning, relating to the politics of that month.

Richard was a very interesting character. I could see where he is standing with one foot in the kind of conventional life style his parents have and one in the unconventional life the White family lives, and trying to decide where he belonged. Both life styles seem to appeal to him. Luckily, McCarthy started to lose his hold over the US in 1953, so I could imagine Richard finding a way of blending of the best of both. Elliot is also spot on with her depiction of kind of indecisiveness and questioning Richard is wrestling with, as well as he struggle to figure out what the right thing to do is. And it's all muddied by his desire to have a relationship with his dad. 

Pay attention to Ginny, Richard’s 9 year old sister. She has courage, confidence, and charm and her ambition is to become an Inquiring Camera Girl a la Jacqueline Kennedy. Besides Kennedy, Ginny has also managed to befriend Ladybird Johnson, and she’s culled lots of helpful information from a bunch of Washington’s other elite women. A novel about Ginny would be very different than Richard’s story.

On the whole, I though Elliot really captured the communist paranoia that gripped people during these early years of the Cold War. These lots of little details to add to the story and give it a certain realistic quality. I can remember my parents talking about how terrible McCarthy and the Senate hearings he held were, even years after they were over. 

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Nanea: Growing Up with Aloha by Kirby Larson

By the time Mattel rebranded the historical dolls from the American Girls collection, my Kiddo’s doll days were behind her, so I didn’t really pay attention to what was going on with any of these new dolls until I read that Molly, the WWII girl on the home front, was being retired. Molly was the fun favorite in our house, and we were sad to see her.

Now, however, there’s a new WWII girl in the American Girls collection and her name is Nanea Mitchell, a 9 year old girl who lives on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. She has two older siblings, a sister named Mary Lou, 15, and a brother named David, 17. Their mother was born on the island and is Hawaiian, and their dad came from Oregon and is white. 

It’s 1941 and Nanea would like her parents to stop treating her like a baby and give her more responsibility. With the help of her friends, Lily, who is Japanese, and Donna, who is from California, Nanea decides to enter a contest that requires contestants to do a number of nice things for others.

In the first few chapters of Growing Up with Aloha, readers see that Nanea’s life is pretty much what you would expect - there’s school, friends, her little dog Mele, but there are also hula lessons with her grandmother, practicing for the big USO Christmas show, and making lei’s to be sold on Boat Day - the day ships full of tourist arrived in Hawaii. Luckily, there are also a few opportunities for Nanea to do some nice things for others.

But on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor is attacked and everything changes overnight. Nanea’s dad, who works in Pearl Harbor’s shipyard, and Richard, a Boy Scout with first aid training, both leave immediately to see what they can do to help. Everyone is scared, and there are all kinds of rumors about more attacks coming, and to make thing more difficult for the people, the radios are knocked offline. And then, Nanea realizes that her little Mele is missing.

Lily’s father is immediately taken into custody by two FBI men because he is Japanese and Lily's anger and fear cause her to suddenly have trouble being friends with Nanea and Donna. 

Once war is declared, it doesn’t take long for the women of Oahu to mobilize for the war effort, and despite missing her father, brother and dog, and despite the changes war brings, it is an opportunity for Nanea to prove just how responsible she can be. Will she succeed in accomplishing the requirements of the contest in time, though?

This is a first book (so far, there are three) and so there’s lots of introductory information in it, which, at times, make the storyline it a little awkward, but it’s a very interesting look at the impact the bombing of Pearl Harbor had on the people of Oahu as seen through the eyes of a 9 year old girl. 

Growing Up with Aloha also contains a lot of interesting information about Hawaiian culture and life, and there is a liberal sprinkling of Hawaiian words used (there’s a glossary with pronunciation help in the back). 

Nanea’s home front story is very different from Molly’s, mostly because her story is set in 1941 in a place that did get bombed, and Molly's stories are set in 1944 in a relatively safe place in middle America. And, whereas Molly was more about the war in Europe, I suspect Nanea’s will be more about the war in the Pacific.

Growing Up with Aloha was written by Kirby Larson, no stranger to middle grade WWII books (see my reviews of Liberty, Dash and Duke). I found this to be every bit as satisfying, readable, and informative novel as Larson's other historical fiction.

The word Aloha is defined in the glossary as meaning hello, goodbye, love, compassion, and it does mean those things, but it is more than that. The school that Nanea and her friends go to is named after Queen Liliuokalani (1838-1917), Hawaii’s first queen and last monarch and who is credited with saying that Aloha Spirit “… is hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen, and to know the unknowable.” As you read Growing Up with Aloha, you’ll notice here are many examples of Aloha Spirit in the book as Nanea herself comes to understand it better. 

And do read Inside Nanea's World at the end of the book for more background information about the effects the bombing of Pearl Harbor had on her and the other Hawaiian people.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library