Monday, August 22, 2016

Hitler's Canary by Sandi Toksvig

It's April 1940 and suddenly the sunny blue sky over Copenhagen, Denmark is dark with airplanes. The German Luftwaffe is dropping leaflets telling the Danes that the Germans have come to protect them from the evil British and French.

At first, life doesn't change much for Bamse, the 10 year old son of a famous stage actress and a set designer/painter father, or for his best friend Anton, also 10 and Jewish.  They keep their heads down and try to stay out of trouble.

But Bamse begins to notice his older brother's odd new behavior. Orlando refuses to be quiet and allow his country to be invaded and occupied, and he's especially angry that the Danes are being called Hitler's Canary in Britain, because they didn't fight back and now, they are just being quiet and docile towards the Germans.  It is particularly galling to Orlando, since Denmark was a country the believed in freedom and equality for all.

After letting Orlando know that they are aware of his activities, Bamse and Anton begin running resistance errands for him. At first, it all seems exciting and fun to the two young boys, but as time goes by, Nazi oppression begins to be felt more and more.  To make matters worse,  incidents against Jews increase.  Then Bamse's family is rocked when it is discovered that sister Masha has become romantically involved with a young German soldier, actually meeting him at night in the family garden.

To top that off, Uncle Johann arrives in Copenhagen, announcing he will be staying with the family, a situation that becomes awkward when they discover he is a Nazi sympathizer, thinking they are right about the Jews ruining everything in Denmark, despite evidence to the contrary.  Fear and occupation begin to feel real and scary for Bamse and Anton when they learn that Orlando has been arrested, along with the other resistance members.  Arriving at the dentist's office that also served the resistance, they find it has been ransacked by the Nazis, and everything in it confiscated.

Though Bamse's father had believed that the Nazis would never deport the Danish Jews if they all cooperated, in 1943, word leaks out that they do indeed plan on rounding up all of Denmark's Jews on Rosh Hashanah, figuring they will all be home for the Jewish New Year. Knowing that the Nazis are watching their apartment, Bamse's family and neighbors quickly mobilize to hide Anton and his family, plus a few more Jews who are in their apartment.

We do know that Denmark's approximately 7,800 Jews were almost all save, but will Bamse's friend Anton and his family make it out of their hiding place and to Sweden before the Nazis find them?  

Hitler's Canary is a captivating novel that is based on the experiences of author's Danish family in World War II, which may be why it has such a strong feeling of reality despite being historical fiction. Told in the first person by Bamse (the character modeled on the author's father), he proves to be quite a lively narrator, easily detailing his exploits with Anton for the resistance with both gravity and humor.  He also details the way life was before the Nazis arrived in Denmark, so the reader can compare the changes under Nazi occupation. Denmark had long ago granted full emancipation to the Jews living there, and, for the most part, they lived quiet lives among friends and neighbors.  So when it came time to decide what to do when word came that the Nazis planned on rounding the Jews up, most Danes believed that preventing that from happening was just the right thing to do, and Bamse makes sure his readers understand that.

I had picked up Hitler's Canary a while ago and just couldn't get into it, so when I saw it in the library, I decided to give it another try and I am so glad I did.  The characters are all so wonderful. I loved Bamse's mother Marie.  She is such an eccentric person, drawing on lines from past plays she had acted in whenever the situation called for a response.  But when it counted, she came through, even if it cost her more than she could possibly imagine.  Bamse's father is more down to earth, though sometimes taking the path of least resistance, but in the end, he, too, really understands the seriousness of the Jewish situation and comes through.

At one point in the story, the boys from the Churchill Club are mentioned, and for anyone familiar with this resistance ground, it will add more of a sense of reality to the novel, reminding readers that all over Denmark, people were active underground in a effort to sabotage everything the Nazi's did in their country.

Hitler's Canary is a thought provoking novel about courage, loyalty, the importance of family and friends in difficult times, demonstrating that people can make a difference if they work together.  

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

FYI: it was Winston Churchill who called the Danes "Hitler's pet canary" for not fighting back when the Nazis invaded their country, but in all fairness, the Danish were a peaceful people and their fighting forces were just not match for the Germans.  On the other hand, they had a great resistance movement that really drove the Nazis to distraction.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that highlights
upcoming releases we can't wait to read.

There was an article published in the New York Times on July 13, 2016 called "Novels Bring World War II to Life for a New Generation."  According to the article historical fiction about World War II is having a renaissance and when on to showcase three relatively new novels: Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, and The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne (links are to my reviews).   

It seems as though the boon in WWII books is continuing - in fiction as well as nonfiction.  Take October 2016, for instance.  As you can see below, it is going to be a big month for books written for young readers about WWII:


Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter
Calkins Creek, 2016, 288 pages, age 9+
Available: October 4, 2016

From Goodreads:
As World War II threatens the United States in 1941, fourteen-year-old Junior Bledsoe fights his own battles at home. Junior struggles with school and with anger—at his father, his insufferable granddaddy, his neighbors, and himself—as he desperately tries to understand himself and find his own aim in life. But he finds relief in escaping to the quiet of the nearby woods and tinkering with cars, something he learned from his Pop, and a fatherly neighbor provides much-needed guidance. This heartfelt and inspiring prequel to the author’s Blue andComfort also includes an author’s note and bibliography.

Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II by Alan Gratz 
Scholastic Press, 2016, 320 pages, age 9+
Available: October 11, 2016

From Goodreads:
Infiltrate. Befriend. Sabotage.
World War II is raging. Michael O'Shaunessey, originally from Ireland, now lives in Nazi Germany with his parents. Like the other boys in his school, Michael is a member of the Hitler Youth.
But Michael has a secret. He and his parents are spies.
Michael despises everything the Nazis stand for. But he joins in the Hitler Youth's horrific games and book burnings, playing the part so he can gain insider knowledge.
When Michael learns about Projekt 1065, a secret Nazi war mission, things get even more complicated. He must prove his loyalty to the Hitler Youth at all costs -- even if it means risking everything he cares about.
Including... his own life.
From acclaimed author Alan Gratz (Prisoner B-3087) comes a pulse-pounding novel about facing fears and fighting for what matters most.

Liberty (Dog of World War II) by Kirby Larson
Scholastic Press, 2016, 240 pages, age 9+
Available: October 11, 2016

From Goodreads:
Fish has a knack for inventing. His annoying neighbor, Olympia, has a knack for messing things up. But when his latest invention leads Fish to Liberty, a beautiful stray dog who needs a home, he and Olympia work together to rescue her.
At the Higgins boatyard, where the boats that just might save the Allied forces during World War II are built, the wartime workforce is integrated and includes women and the disabled. However, a friendship that crosses racial lines is not the norm in 1940s New Orleans.
Fish, who suffered from polio and whose dad is away fighting in Europe, looks up to Mr. Higgins, and he's thrilled when one of his inventions helps Mr. Higgins's engineers unlock the mechanics of the landing crafts. Mr. Higgins inspires him to be bold and brave. As Fish enlists the help of unexpected friends and allies to save Liberty, he finds his perceptions of the world -- of race and war, family and friendship -- transformed.


Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II by Albert Marrin
Knopf BFYR, 2016, 256 pages, age 12+
Available: October 11, 2016

From Goodreads:
Just seventy-five years ago, the American government did something that most would consider unthinkable today: it rounded up over 100,000 of its own citizens based on nothing more than their ancestry and, suspicious of their loyalty, kept them in concentration camps for the better part of four years. 
 How could this have happened? Uprooted takes a close look at the history of racism in America and carefully follows the treacherous path that led one of our nation’s most beloved presidents to make this decision. Meanwhile, it also illuminates the history of Japan and its own struggles with racism and xenophobia, which led to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, ultimately tying the two countries together. 
 Today, America is still filled with racial tension, and personal liberty in wartime is as relevant a topic as ever. Moving and impactful, National Book Award finalist Albert Marrin’s sobering exploration of this monumental injustice shines as bright a light on current events as it does on the past.

What new books are you waiting for?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

WWII and Turkish Delight

My original hand-me-down copy
Every Sunday morning, I look forward to reading the week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction reviews compiled by Charlotte at Charlotte's Library.  And at the end of her round-up, Charlotte always includes a feature called Other Good Stuff.  This week, she has included a link to an article at Tor, publishers of fantasy and science fiction, that interested me very much.  Why?  Because it was about one of my very favorite things to eat - Turkish Delight.  The articles is called Why was Turkish Delight the Ultimate Temptation in C.S. Lewis' Narnia?

This article refers readers to another one published in JSTOR/Daily.  Written by Cara Strickland, it is called Why Was Turkish Delight C.S. Lewis's Guilty Pleasure? and basically says the same thing as the Tor article (but do read them both, they are equally interesting).  But why am I writing about this here, on The Children's War?  Because...

"Lewis began taking notes for the story that would eventually become The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in 1939, when he and his household began receiving groups of schoolchildren fleeing the bombings of World War II...But the book wasn't finished until late in the 1940s, and it was published in the autumn of 1950, just in time for Christmas.

The lengthy timeline between setting and writing meant that Lewis, unlike Edmund, experienced wartime rationing.  On July 26, 1942, confectionery was added to the list of items that required coupons from a ration book along with money to purchase.  In addition, one needed to register at a shop before making a purchase, and when new stock came in, the lines were long and quantities limited.  Not only were sweets hard to come by, even when you had the ration coupons, but prices were also exorbitant.  It was hardly the time for pounds of Turkish delight..."

Way back in 2011, I did a post for Beth Fish Read's Weekend Cooking feature about Turkish Delight, including two recipes for making it.  It all began like this:

One year, I picked up a box of Turkish Delight because it is a confection I have always loved. When my Kiddo saw it on the kitchen counter, she looked at me in amazement, saying “Turkish Delight is a real thing? I thought it was just something C. S. Lewis made up in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” She was very disappointed in the taste, though, given what she had read in Chapter 4 – Turkish Delight

“It is dull, son of Adam, to drink without eating,” said the Queen presently. “What would you like best to eat?”
“Turkish Delight, please, your Majesty, said Edmund.

The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very center and Edmond and never tasted anything more delicious. He was quite warm now and very comfortable.

When I was growing up, there were two things I loved getting in the mail from relatives in Britain.  One was a big, fat roll of English newspapers sent once a month, the other was a big box of Turkish Delight sent in a Christmas package.  Sadly, my Kiddo never developed a taste for Turkish Delight, but she did read and love all of the Narnia books, and still occasionally re-visits them. 

Thanks, Charlotte, I probably wouldn't have known about these two wonderful articles on Turkish Delight if it weren't for your round-ups.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

August 6, 2016 marks the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, followed by the bombing of Nagasaki on August 9th.  And by now, most readers are familiar with the story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr.  Sadako's compelling story focuses on her illness 9 years after being exposed to the deadly radiation that resulted in the aftermath of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. However, we don't really learn much about what Japan was like during the war, before the atomic bomb destroyed two cities and some many lives.  Until now.

The Last Cherry Blossom is the fictionalized story based on the experiences of the author's mother living in Hiroshima as a child during the war.

Despite the fact that Japan has been at war with the United States since the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, life hasn't been too difficult for 12-year-old Yuriko Ishikawa, affectionately called Joya by her beloved papa.  She is proud of her samurai heritage, and loves to hear papa tell stories about it.  But, when her teacher tells her that she has made a mistake on her koseki or family tree project, Yuriko becomes quite upset, asking papa what she meant.  Instead of an answer, he has the teacher fired.  But why?

Despite that, living on the outskirts of Hiroshima, with papa, owner of a newspaper, and her annoying Aunt Kimiko and five-year-old cousin Genji, the family hasn't suffered many of the usual hardships of war - rationing and making do just don't seem to be in evidence.  Of course, there are air raids, American planes flying overhead, and Yuriko, her best friend Machiko, in fact, all school children are expected to learn how to fight using a bamboo spear, if necessary.  But when Yuriko's papa and Aunt Kimiko both decide to get remarried at the same time, there is still silk to buy for new kimonos.

Yuriko has always cherished the time she spends alone with her papa, and wonders if her new stepmother, Sumiyo-san, now living in the family home, along with Akira-san, Aunt Kimiko's new husband, will understand that.  Happily, Sumiyo-san turns out to be a loving, kind stepmother who understands.  But when the mother of her fired teacher tells her that a man named Nishimoto-san would love to see her, she opens a Pandora's box of family secrets that turns Yuriko's world up-side-down and it is up to Aunt Kimiko to explain things.

Yuriko barely has time to digest what Aunt Kimiko tells her, than the war begins to hit closer to home.  First Tokyo is badly bombed, and, a few months later, an atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, changing Yuriko's life forever.

The Last Cherry Blossom is author Kathleen Burkinshaw's debut novel, and I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to write her mother's story and yet, how necessary.  Perhaps having listened to her mother's memories of Japan during WWII and of her survival after the bomb was dropped while growing up is what made this such a realistic narrative.  Told in the first person by Yuriko, the reader is pulled into the story right from the start.

The Last Cherry Blossom is a shattering story, and part of what makes it so devastating is the detailed descriptions of daily life and favorite special occasions that Yuriko lovingly provides when all the while the reader knows what was coming.  I did like reading about the happy times, so filled with Japanese culture, such as how Yuriko's family celebrated the weddings, as well as Oshagatsu (New Year's Celebration) and Sakura Hanami (the Cherry Blossom Festival) and other festivals, though the chohei pati, the celebration party families have when a son is sent to war, is definitely not a happy occasion.  It is supposed to be an honor to fight for Japan, but in reality, no one feels very honored.

(Burkinshaw does use lots of Japanese words throughout the novel, giving this a real feeling of authenticity, and there is an extensive Glossary in the back matter to help readers.)

In fact, the chohei pati points to the ways in which propaganda is used during war by all countries. At the beginning of each chapter, there are quotes from radio addresses, newspapers and propaganda posters about how well Imperial Japan is doing in the war or what is expected of civilians at home, most of which is incorrect, but people are expected to simple believe what they are told.

The Last Cherry Blossom is a story of unfathomable loss, but also of hope, resilience, and survival. Paired with Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, both these stories should stand as a cautionary tale about war and the use of what we would now call weapons of mass destruction, and never forget that, as Burkinshaw reminds us in her Afterword, "the victims were all someone's mother, father, brother, sister, or child."  It was true then, and is still true today.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss/Above the Treeline

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Your Hit Parade #6: Thanks for Dropping In, Mr Hess

I had to chuckle to myself when I was reading These Dark Wings by John Owen Theobald and the protagonist Anna Cooper, 12, runs into a fellow named Rudolf Hess on the grounds of the Tower of London during WWII.  He was a prisoner in the Tower for a few days and I don’t know if he would have been allowed to walk around the grounds or not, but it was very well guarded, so perhaps he could.  But who is Rudolf Hess and why was he in the Tower, in the first place?

Rudolf Hess was an old and loyal friend of Adolf Hitler’s and an original member of the Nazi Party, joining in 1920.  After the failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, Germany, in which the Nazis attempted to take over the Bavarian government, both Hitler and Hess were sent to jail.  It was while in prison that Hitler began Mein Kampf.  Hitler ranted and Hess wrote it all down.

Naturally, when  Hitler seized control of Germany in 1933, he rewarded his old pal Hess by making him the Deputy F├╝hrer, the third most powerful position in Nazi Germany, placing him right behind Hitler and Hermann G├Âring.

So it was a little surprising when Hess took it into his head to climb aboard a German Messerschmitt plane belonging to the Luftwaffe all by himself on the night of May 10, 1941 and fly to Scotland.  The weather was bad as Hess neared Scotland and he was forced to parachute out of his plane.  Both Hess and the plane crash landed in farmer David McLean's field.  Hess had hoped to meet with the Duke of Hamilton for the purpose of instituting peace talks, but instead, he soon found himself in a farmhouse kitchen having a cup of tea with the farmer’s wife before being arrested.  Hess’s problem was that no one in Germany or Great Britain knew anything about his so-called peace mission and in fact, to this day, it is still wondered at.
Rudolf Hess and Farmer David McLean
Having never met with the Duke of Hamilton, Hess was taken into custody and yes, Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered him to be taken to the Tower of London.  He was only there for a short time, but Hess has the distinction of being the very last state prisoner ever held in the Tower.  He was later transferred to a fortified mansion in Surrey until after the war, when he was sent back to Germany.  There, he was tried as a war criminal in Nuremberg, receiving a life sentence.  He was sent to Spandau Prison, where he remained until his death in 1987 at age 93.  

It didn’t take long for Hess’s arrival in Scotland to become fodder for British humor, after all, the British were fascinated with Hess’s flight into enemy territory.  And Arthur Askey, a well-known actor/comedian and a popular personality on BBC radio during the war, was just the person to capture the whole Hess incident with his perfect comedic timing.  In a song written by Harold Pucell, Askey recorded a tune originally called "It's Really Nice to See You, Mr. Hess" but later changed to "Thanks for Dropping In, Mr. Hess" for His Master’s Voice on their bargain BD label, just in time for the record company’s July 1941 releases.  Unfortunately, the British War Office wasn’t quite as amused as everyone else and demanded that the song be banned, afraid that it might be detrimental to morale of those serving in the Armed Forces.

So, it wasn’t until after the war that that “Thanks for Dropping in, Mr. Hess” surfaced again, in various collections of wartime songs.  I discovered it when I was putting together a playlist of humorous songs that were popular during WWII (and there were a lot).  I have never found sheet music for it, nor have I found the lyrics anywhere.  I copied the lyrics down while listening to the song to share with you (so if I'm wrong about any, please let me knew):

Welcome, little stranger, falling from the sky
Falling like the raindrops or the dew.   
Are you out of danger? do you realize 
Just what sort of welcome’s waiting you?

Well, thanks for dropping in, Mr. Hess,
We’ve told your friends to note your new address.
They’ve heard you got her safety in Berlin and in Rome,
So put away your parachute and make yourself at home.

Thanks for dropping in, Mr. Hess,
Forgive the small announcement in the press.
Had you told us you were coming and informed us where you’d land,
We would certainly had a big reception nicely planned
With a  carpet  and some streamers and Jack Hylton and his band.*
Thanks for dropping in, thanks for popping in, what nice surprise, Mr. Hess.

Nice and unexpected, just the way we like,
Strolling in as friendly as can be.
Soon we’ll have  ol’ Adolf, jumping off his bike, calling in to have a cup of tea.
Thanks for dropping in, Mr. Hess,
We trust you haven’t left behind a mess.
Perhaps you thought that someone there had taken you for a ride, 
Perhaps you thought it safer here than on the other side.

Thanks for dropping in, Mr. Hess,
Don’t tell us why you came, we’d like to guess.
Perhaps you’ve such a lot to tell us that you thought we’d like to know,
Perhaps you heard that bonny Scotland was a charming place to go.
Perhaps you even thought George Black might sign you up to do a show.**
Thanks for dropping in, thanks for popping in, what a nice surprise, Mr Hess.

* Jack Hylton was a popular band leader
**George Black was a popular theatrical agent