Monday, October 15, 2018

Island War by Patricia Reilly Giff

It's September 1941 and 12-year-old Izzy is beside herself with excitement at the idea of going to the Aleutian Island that her recently deceased father loved so much. Traveling with her mother, an ornithologist who will be studying the island's rare birds, Izzy isn't too happy when she discovers that Matt, an older boy from school, is also traveling to the same island.

Matt isn't at all happy about leaving his mom and traveling to an Aleutian Island with this remote father. He would much rather be rowing around Long Island Sound and cheering on his mom at her swim meets. And an encounter with Izzy on the boat doesn't help his attitude.

On the island, Izzy meets Maria, and the two girls immediately become friends, as well as the friendly but nameless village dog.  Matt is given a kayak by his father, who is as remote as ever, holed up in his room all day long and giving Matt freedom to kayak and explore whenever he isn't in school.

But when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and the United States enters the war, things change quickly. One Sunday morning, not long after Izzy and Matt's first Christmas on the island, Japanese soldiers arrive, shooting out the windows of everyone's home and rounding the people up inside the church. Matt's father has just enough time to hide the radio he has been using for a government job. After ransacking the homes and taking all the food, the Japanese soldiers send everyone back to their homes. From then on, the men go fishing everyday, and the barest minimum of their catch is given to the people, the rest kept for the soldiers. When Maria comes down with scarlet fever, Izzy is on her own.

Watching Matt, Izzy learns how he sneaks out of the village, through the barb wire wrapped around it, and begins escaping for a few hours of freedom, too. Matt's father suspects they will all be sent to a Japanese prison camp, and in September 1942, it begins to look imminent. One night, while away from the village, Izzy sees Matt's father being forced onto the Japanese ship. After realizing everyone is gone, Izzy believes she is alone on the island. Matt, who was out kayaking, believes the same thing when he returns.

Izzy and the village dog, whom she names Willie, head to Matt's house and find food there. When Matt arrives and accuses her of stealing, the two agree to stay away from each other. But when Izzy discovers some Japanese soldiers are still on the island, she realizes it's time to hide. Maybe she and Matt can find the cave her father had loved and told her about. When Matt falls and breaks his leg, the two are forced together in a battle for survival even as the island becomes a battleground between the Japanese and the Americans.

Island War is, without a doubt, an exciting story. Based on the actual occupation of two Aleutian Islands during WWII, Giff has woven a gripping story about two young, very different teens fighting for survival in the face of harsh elements and enemy soldiers. Ironically, their survival is helped by their absent fathers. For Izzy, it was the cave her father loved that provides shelter against the bitter winter cold and snow, while Matt's father provided him with skills to navigate the icy waters around the islands, among other life-saving measures.

The novel is narrated in first-person alternating sections by Izzy and Matt, so the reader knows exactly how each feels about what is happening to them and how they feel about each other. Interestingly, neither character particularly appealed to me at first, Matt felt like a moody, resentful teen, and Izzy too flighty and impulsive. So I particularly liked seeing how both characters grew and matured as the story went along and how the two former enemies had to learn to work together, and even begin to caring about one another, becoming more likable to the reader.

I've read a number of Patricia Reilly Giff's wartime novels now. She takes a real event and cleverly creates a story around it, presenting what life was like at each time and place during the war. In reality, the people living on the two Aleutian Islands occupied by the Japanese were all sent to prison camps in Japan, so Izzy and Matt's experience is strictly from her imagination, but still believable and certainly thought provoking.

I would most definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in WWII or simply historical literature. For an interesting, diverse look at life on the home front during WWII, I recommend this quartet of books by Patricia Reilly Giff: Island War, Willow Run (a young girl finds herself living in a village created for the war effort), Gingersnap (a young girl goes to Brooklyn looking for her unknown grandmother) , and Genevieve's War (an American girl visiting her grandmother finds herself living on the French home front).

And you could definitely pair Island War with Samantha Seiple's nonfiction work Ghosts in the Fog: the Untold Story of Alaska's WWII Invasion for a well-rounded look at this little known part of WWII history.

Island War will be available on October 23, 2018

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

Friday, October 5, 2018

Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Melissa Iwai

I first heard about Thirty Minutes Over Oregon way back in 2011, when I did a post for Marc Tyler Nobleman about the possibility of getting it published. His post, Picture Book for Sale, is still online and quite interesting to read, in case you are interested.

Thirty Minutes Over Oregon begins September 1942, less than a year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when a Japanese pilot named Nobuo Fujita flew a small plane that had been catapulted from a submarine in the Pacific Ocean over to Oregon. The goal was to drop two 168 pound bombs into the Oregon woods to start a fire that would burn the woods and any nearby towns and cities. The mission was so hush-hush, not even Nobuo's wife could know about it. 

The bombs didn't start much of a fire, but imagine how the people in Brookings, Oregon felt when they realized that a Japanese plane has entered American airspace right over their heads. And twenty days later, Nobuo again flew into American airspace, in the same plane carrying two bombs. Though nothing came of this second attempt either, the Japanese still claimed victory.

The war ended in 1945 with the US bombing of Japan. Lucky for Nobuo who had been ordered to make a kamikaze attack on an American warship. Instead, he returned home and opened a hardware store.

Fast forward to 1962. The people of Brookings decided to track down and invite Nobuo Fujita as their Memorial Day guest of honor and thinking it would be a wonderful symbol of reconciliation between American and Japan. Not everyone in the US thought it was a good idea, but to everyone's surprise, Nobuo accepted the invitation, not without some fear and reservation, however. Was it a trick, would he be arrested and tried as a war criminal?

The 1962 visit showed the positive value of reaching out to a former enemy in peace. Nobuo was a friendly, respectful man, who had lived with the guilt of his attempted bombings of Brookings. His initial visit there began a lasting relationship between Nobuo and the people of Brookings, including an invitation extended to three high school students to visit Japan at his expense. Nobuo also donated large amounts of money for a town library for children's books. After he died in 1997, some of Nobuo's ashes were also scattered in the area where he had dropped his bombs.

As always, Nobleman has done his research on the only enemy bombing with the United States during WWII. And he has taken that research and written an compelling and emotional work of nonfiction. His text is simple and clear, and complimented by Melissa Iwai's beautifully rendered watercolor and mixed-media illustrations. Iwai has captured the gentle humanity of both the citizens of Brookings and of Nobuo and his family.

The message for us to take away from this little known WWII event and its aftermath is that a soldier is doing his job even if he is the enemy. What is important is how we reconcile after a war in order to heal and move on. That is the important legacy that Nobuo and the people of Brookings have demonstrated and that Nobleman has so poignantly captured in this picture book for older readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from a friend

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Skylark and Wallcreeper by Anne O'Brien Carelli

It's August 2012 and Superstorm Sandy has hit New York City with all her force. With rising waters flooding the first floor of the Rockaway Manor Nursing Home in Queens, it's time to evacuate the residents. And that includes Lily, 12, and her 80-year-old grandma Collette, whom she happens to be visiting. But not before Granny insists Lily find and bring along a flat red box, and slips back into speaking her native French as soon as Lily asks what's inside.

Flashback to Nazi-occupied Brume, a small town in the south of France in the winter of 1944. A 12-year-old Collette, disguised as a young boy named Jean-Pierre, is working for the resistance. Her job is to deliver a package. In reality, it is a code for letting other resistance members know if their next operation against the Nazis is a go or not. The confirmation that the message was received is an X marked in her notebook with a Montblanc fountain pen. Collette's stealthiness and success at avoiding Nazis soon earn her a code name, Wallcreeper, and a place in the resistance group referred to by the Germans as Noah's Ark.

Back to 2012: once Superstorm Sandy has finally passed and her granny is settled in on a cot at the Brooklyn Armory, Lily is asked by one of the nurses if she would try to scrounge up some food - preferably free food. Before she leaves to do that, granny shows Lily what's in the red box - a very special Montblanc fountain pen with the initial F engraved on the side - and asks her to keep it safe for her. Lily manages to find free food, but in the process she loses the pen her granny asked her to safeguard.

Realizing that her granny will be upset if she learns that she has lost her special pen, Lily is determined to find it or one just like it. Armed with a packet of old letters written in French and addressed to her Granny, Lily's quest for the lost pen will take her to an odd little pen store in Manhattan, on a long train ride to Stratford, CT and a meeting with Skylark. Along the way, Lily will interact with a variety of interesting people, all willing to help her accomplish her pen quest. And it all unfolds without her frantic mother's knowledge (or permission).

As more surprising details about her granny's life unfolds, a life neither she nor her mother had any knowledge of, Lily learns the identity of Skylark and Wallcreeper - two young French girls working together in the Noah's Ark resistance where members only go by the names of animals in their quest to help defeat the Nazis.

Although Skylark and Wallcreeper is written in two time periods, it is not a time travel book. Lily stay firmly in 2012, it is Granny's story as a 12-year-old resistance worker in 1944 that is interspersed with the events of 2012 and Lily's story throughout the novel. Interestingly, the present is told in the first person by Lily, and the past is narrated in the third person, so there is no confusion.

Usually when I read a dual time setting novel, I end up wishing the author had just written two separate books instead of combining them. However, in this novel, I really thought it worked well. There was just enough of the past and present to satisfy. The chapters that take place in WWII always start at an appropriate point in Lily's story, so it is not a jarring jump into Nazi occupied France.

I found myself completely caught up in Lily and Granny's stories immediately. Lily, Granny, and Skylark are appealingly vivid characters, more well-rounded than the supporting characters around them. In German, there are these words called flavoring particles which add particular zest to a sentence and that's how I felt about the secondary characters in this novel. They really add a lot, but it remains Lily, Granny, and Skylark's story.

Skylark and Wallcreeper is a very satisfying, compelling novel that examines the importance of friendship, family relationships, courage and loyalty in the face of difficult and challenging times. There are a few peccadillos, but not so bad as to spoil the overall story and I would still highly recommend this book.

Do read the Author's Note to learn when elements of this novel are based in fact and what is based in fiction.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EBOOK provided to me by the publisher, Little Bee

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The War Outside by Monica Hesse

It's August 1944 when Haruko Tanaka, 17, her sister Toshiko, 12, and her mother have just arrived at the Crystal City Internment Camp, in Texas to join their father. They haven't seen Ichiro Tanaka, in five months, not since the government came and removed him from their home, accusing him of passing secrets to the Japanese through his night job at a hotel in Denver, Colorado. Living in Denver, the Tanaka's weren't interned, unlike the people living on the western coast of the United States. Shortly after Mr. Tanaka was detained, Ken, Haruko's older brother, enlisted in the army.

Watching the Japanese families arriving in Crystal City is Margot Krukow, a German American girl, interned in Crystal City with her German-born parents. As the families begin to walk away from the gate, Haruko and Margot catch each other's eye. But it isn't until Haruko's first day of school at the Federal School that she finds out who Margot is. Sitting next to each other, they completely ignore one another while being completely aware of each other. Generally, Japanese and Germans internees don't mix in Crystal City, going to separate schools, shopping in separate commissaries, but Margot chooses the Federal School because the German school is too Nazi for her and isn't accredited.

It isn't until a dust storm hits that the two girls finally speak. Margot pulls the confused Haruko into the icehouse, and before she knows it, Haruko is pouring her heart out to Margot, telling her things she can't tell anyone else. Slowly over time, the two girls find they are attracted to each other, using their meetings in the icehouse to escape the pressure and tension they both feel within their families and at being in an internment camp. Haruko can't help but wonder whether he is guilty of espionage or not, and continually worries about her brother, whose letters are beginning to sound less and less like the Ken she knows.

Margot worries about her mother's health, concerned that her pregnancy will end in miscarriage like the previous ones. And concerned that her father will finally be won over by the Nazi contingent among the Germans in the camp, and that he also may be guilty of aiding the enemy.

When a tragedy strikes the camp, things come to a head and the two girls begin to wonder if they can really trust one another. Because of the way the novel is structured, however, the reader knows right from the beginning that the friendship is doomed and that some kind of betrayal has happened, but not what it is or why. The basis of the novel are the events leading up to that betrayal, if you can really call it that.

The War Outside is told in alternating points of view, switching between Haruko and Margot to give both sides of their story in this family internment camp and the events that lead to the conclusion. It is told from the perspective of the present but there are interruptions by both girls that refer to the narrated events from a future perspective. It's an interesting device and by the second interruption (there aren't that many), I did not find them at all disconcerting, but rather interesting and made me even more curious to see what they are talking about.

Still, given the way the relationship between the girls unfolds, and the way their respective home lives are depicted, I wondered where this novel or should I say where the relationship between the two girls was going. The writing is certainly compelling, the descriptions of life in this particular internment camp are incisive and accurate, all of the characters are realistically flawed and believable, but in a place where there was no privacy, where armed guards watched internees from towers spaces along fences topped with the barbed wire, and walls were paper thin, and where Germans and Japanese don't fraternize, I have to admit I did kind of assume where the story was heading. Boy, was I wrong! Boy, did my jaw drop! I did not see that coming.

The War Outside is a very interesting coming of age novel. It is part romance, part mystery, and historical fiction at its best. Monica Hesse has really done her research resulting in a clear picture of what life was like in Crystal City. Crystal City was not quite the same as the other internment camps in that it was a place for people of Japanese, German, and Italian ancestry who were considered to be "enemy aliens" or spies. It was not run by War Relocation Authority, but by the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) division of the Department of Justice and yes, forced repatriations were carried out from there. I suspect that on several levels this novel will resonate for today's readers.

Do read the author's A Note on Historical Accuracy to discover how she researched this novel as well as what events really happened in Crystal City and how they were seamlessly incorporated into The War Outside. It is s fascinating as the novel.

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss+

You can find more information about the internment of Japanese Americans in Crystal City HERE
You can find more information about the internment of German Americans including Crystal City HERE (I haven't completely explored this site yet)

There are lots of real places that were part of life in Crystal City used in The War Outside and this map may help orient readers:
Source: "Hand-drawn map of Crystal City internment camp, Texas.." Densho Encyclopedia. 17 Jul 2015, 15:20 PDT. 16 Sep 2018, 07:26 <https://encyclopedia.densho.org/sources/en-denshopd-p64-00005-1/>.
(Click to enlarge)

Monday, September 10, 2018

📚Save the Date: BookFest@BankStreet 2018 is coming


If you're looking for a fun, bookish way to spend Saturday, October 20, 2018 in NYC, look no further than BookFest@BankStreet. It's a day chockablock with some of your favorite authors and their books, with panel discussions and autographing tables. There's refreshments in the morning, with time to chat, and a box lunch with more socializing. All in all, it's a great day and, in fact, it is one of my favorite autumn events and it's only a mere $75.00.  So if you're interested, it's time to register and you can do that HERE

Here's a copy of this year's Schedule of Events for your perusal:

Click to Enlarge
The Book Discussion Sessions are a chance for you to participate in talking about your favorites with a qualified leader. Click HERE for a list of discussions and the books that will be discussed from which you can chose what you would like. 

Won't be in NYC on October 20th, no problem, Book Fest @Bank Street 2018 will be live streamed by and thanks to