Monday, November 11, 2019

Veterans Day 2019: America's Welcome Home by Henry Van Dyke

"The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and
bear the deepest wounds and scars of war."
Douglas MacArthur

America At War: Poems Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins,
illustrated by Stephen Alcorn
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008, 96 pages

Today is Veterans Day, a day to honor the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces. This year, I would like to share a poem called "America's Welcome Home" by Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933), an American poet, educator, and Presbyterian minister. I found this poem in an anthology for young readers called America At War, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (1938-2019). I chose this poem because Veterans Day, as you may know, was originally called Armistice Day. The poem was written at the end of World War I, with the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918 and calling for a ceasefire beginning at 11 o'clock in the morning.

In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

It's not often enough that I get to read and report on books written about Mexicans and/or Mexican Americans in WWI and WWII, but it's not for a lack of heroes, rather it is for a lack of books written about them for kids and teens. So I was really happy to see that Duncan Tonatiuh, one of my favorite Mexican American writers, has written a wonderful new picture book for older readers that is a such an important contribution to the history of Mexican Americans in this country.

Despite being born in the United States, José de la Sáenz and other people of Mexican origin (Tejanos) living in Texas were often harassed and mistreated. They were people who did as much and sometimes more work than the white Texans, but were still treated like second-class citizens. They were prohibited from entering business with signs reading NO MEXICANS ALLOWED, and children were sent to schools that were segregated, small, cramped and ill-equipped. José was proud of his Latinx roots and worked hard, graduating college and becoming a teacher.
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When the United States entered WWI in 1917, José and other Mexican American men did not hesitate to enlist to defend their country, a country they loved. José was sent to boot camp in Oklahoma, where he and others were still mistreated by their white officers. These were the soldiers who formed the 360th Regiment of the 90the Division of the US Army.

Finally, in June 1918, José and the other soldier left for the war in Europe, arriving in France shortly after. There, José began to study French, relatively easy for him given the similarities it has with Spanish. Because of his quick language skills, José worked in communications in a protected command post instead of fighting in the trenches. In fact, the war ended just before he was finally sent to fight in a attack that José knew would mean the death of thousands of American soldiers.
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Back in the States, José began to organize the Mexican American soldiers of the 360th to socialize and talk about their experiences. That led to an idea to form organization that would fight for the rights of all Tejanos. But back home in Texas, José noticed nothing had changed. It was time for José and all Mexican American veterans together with other Tejano other civil rights leaders time to organize.  Finally, in 1929, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) was formed. José remained a member of LULAC, fighting to end racism, prejudice and school segregation, and for equality and justice for all Latinx.

The life and work of José de la Sáenz is certainly inspiring and, might I add, timely. As usual, Tonatiuh has really done some careful research on his subject, using the diaries that José kept over his lifetime to the best advantage in this new work. To give it a feeling of authenticity, simple Spanish phrases like No es justo are included throughout the book, but require no previous knowledge of Spanish, since like French, there is enough Latin in English to understand them. But, because Tonatiuh is a thorough writer, there is a Glossary included in the back matter. Also included in the back matter are references to the quotes and paraphrases from José's diaries that are used in the text, an important Author's Note, a Timeline of WWI and José's involvement, as well as a Timeline of the League of United Latin American Citizens, and a Select Bibliography.

Tonatiuh's flat, geometic hand drawn illustrations are done in a palette of dark earth-tones, then digitally collaged, and are done in the same style as his other books. This style is based on the Pre-Columbian 15th century art of the Mixtecs, an indigenous group from Southern Mexico, and Tonatiuh has been using it ever since to foster a sense of pride in Mexican culture for his readers.

This is a wonderful book for anyone interested in WWI and/or Latinx history and I highly recommend it. It would be an especially nice book to share with students for Veterans Day which is coming up on November 11, 2019.

You might want to pair this with other Mexican wartime heroes found in The School the Aztec Eagles Built: A Tribute to Mexico's World War II Air Fighters by Dorinda Makanaõnalani

You can find out more about Duncan Tonatiuh and his art on his website HERE

You can read an article with more information on José de la Sáenz and the 360th Regiment in France HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Infinite Hope: A Black Artists' Journey from World War II to Peace, an Autobiography by Ashley Bryan

Infinite Hope: A Black Artists' Journey from World War II to Peace,
an Autobiography by Ashley Bryan
Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2019, 112 pages

I've always been such an admirer of Ashley Bryan's work for young readers, so I was really interested when I heard he had written a book about his World War II experiences. Born and raised in Bronx,  New York, Ashley was a 19-year-old art student at the prestigious art college Cooper Union in Manhattan when, in 1943, he received his draft notice. The United States had already been at war since December 7, 1941, when Japan attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii so he had been expecting to be drafted.

Though he had experienced prejudice growing up, the Army was the first time Ashley had ever experienced overt segregation and it began right at the start of his military career. He was quickly assigned to the 502nd Port Battalion, Company C and made up of only Black soldiers, where he became a winch operator. Stationed in Boston, his job was to load and unload supplies of all kinds on or off ships. In Boston, Ashley makes friends with some of the local kids, drawing with them and sharing cokes.

After a few months, the 502nd was sent to Glasgow, Scotland, where Ashley continued working as a stevedore loading and unloading supply ships. And the Scottish people, Ashley notes, welcomed the Black soldiers warmly and treated them like equals despite the Army's continued attempts to enforce their segregation policy by working the stevedores such long hours, making them too tired to venture out and socialize with the welcoming Scots. However, Ashley's battalion commander, Colonel James Pierce had a real appreciation for the arts, and gave Ashley permission able to attend the Glasgow School of Art. Not only that, but Colonel Pierce also created the 502nd Port Battalion band after noticing the many gifted musicians among the stevedores.

Ashley's time in Glasgow came to an end too quickly for him, and on June 2, 1944, the 502nd Port Battalion found themselves heading for the coast of Normandy and the invasion they had spent so much time preparing for.

Ashley's ship was anchored off the Normandy coast, at Omaha Beach where, beside loading and unloading ships, his battalion was to invade and clear the beach of land mines, a dangerous job give to the Black soldiers, many of whom lost their lives when mines exploded. Then they were ordered to dig foxholes where they would sleep and could take cover from enemy fire, and also to send up huge barrage balloons to make it difficult for the German Luftwaffe to attack for above.

All the while, Ashley carried paper and drawing materials with him, recording all that he witnessed. And yet, all of those drawings were carefully put away for most of Ashley's live, because, like many soldiers, he simply did not want to speak about or be reminded of his wartime experiences: "In a sense, I hid those drawings away just as I hid my experiences from those three years." (pg. 97) And it has taken for Ashley almost a lifetime to be able to finally confront his wartime experiences.

Using spare prose, and told in the first person as though he is speaking directly to you, Ashley allows his words, his illustrations and his letters to tell his story, together with photographs of the time that he's overlaid with sketches. And he manages to give readers an intimate view of what WWII was like for him and other black soldiers, to capture all the horrors of war, and the racism and injustice he and his fellow blacks soldiers were subjected to, always given the lowest, the meanest, often the most dangerous jobs to do, but also he records acts of camaraderie, kindnesses and genuine friendship.

I've gone over this book again and again, captivated by all of the boldly painted illustrations made from his sketches. It is easy to see how art helped him through those terrible years: "What gave me faith and direction was my art. In my knapsack, in my gas mask, I kept paper, pens, and pencils." (pg. 60) These sketches and illustrations are now a treasure trove of information to add to the history of African Americans in this country, and the history of WWII in general.

You can also hear Ashley Bryan speak about his WWII exhibit and his experience as a stevedore during the Battle of Normandy HERE

Pair this book with Courage Has No Color: the True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone, where you will also find some of Ashley Bryan's wartime sketches.

Infinite Hope is an autobiography not to be missed.

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Allies by Alan Gratz

Beginning just before dawn on June 6th, 1944 and ending close to midnight on the same day, Gratz weaves together six unrelated perspectives that bring the D-Day landings to life in all its chaotic, grim reality.

Private Dee Carpenter is a 16-year-old who lied about his age to get into the Army, but since they needed soldiers, the Army looked the other way. Dee and Sid Jacobstein became friends right from the start in boot camp. But Dee wonders what Sid, a Jewish American, would think if he found out Dee's truth.

Samira Zidane, 11, and  her mother Kenza are French Algerians working in the French Resistance. Six hours before the invasion begins, mother and daughter are on their way to deliver an important message about the invasion to the Resistance when Kenza is arrested and taken into custody by the Nazis. Samira delivers the message, and is determined to find and help her mother escape her captors.

James McKay, 19 and Sam Tremblay, a Cree Indian, are in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion and about to jump into the midst of the invasion. James decided to join the army after his home town of Winnipeg staged a mock Nazi invasion. Now, though, he is wondering what he is doing parachuting into France on D-Day. His pal Sam, despite being promoted to Lance Corporal, still faces insults and microaggressions as a First Person from the other men, who are white.

Bill Richards, 19, from Liverpool, England is a Private in the Royal Dragoons, and a tank driver just like his dad was in WWI. Bill was named after and is obsessed with William the Conquerer and determined to get to get to Bayeux, France to see the famous Bayeux Tapestry. But he was also obsessed with getting to Amiens, France where his father had carved "Jack Richards was here 1918" on a stone, and Bill was determined to add his name underneath.

Corporal Henry Allen, 20, is an African American medic in the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion. And even though the United States military is segregated, Henry is on Omaha Beach, risking his life, dodging bullets and racist comments to save the lives of the mostly white soldiers shot and injured as the D-Day landings happen.

Monique Marchand, a 13-year-old French girl with an interest in medicine, was swimming with friends on Normandy Beach the day before the D-Day and ended up in the swimming hut on the beach during the invasion because of a forgotten bathing suit. When she notices an injured soldier, she leaves the hut to help him and that's when she meets Dorothy Powell, an American journalist for Collier's Magazine, there to write about the invasion.

There's not much more to say about this incredible book without giving too much away. Some of the people will live to see the end of the day, others won't, but all contribute to giving a broad view of this important day and what it was like. And Gratz doesn't hold back, so just know this is not a book for the faint at heart.

One of the things I really liked was how Gratz divided the day into the names of different operations. He explains in the back matter that some of the operation names are real, and some he made up to fit the story. Either way, it gives the reader a real sense of time passing and what might have happened. But be sure to read the Back Matter where you will find so much more information.

Gratz also includes a map to give readers a sense of place, since some of the landing units ended up in the wrong beach in all the chaos.
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WOW! Allies is a great work of historical fiction by a great storyteller. I found myself spellbound from the first word of Allies to the last, but then again, I had the same experience with Gratz's other books, namely Prisoner 1065, Refugee, and Grenade.

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

Sunday, October 20, 2019