Tuesday, March 19, 2019

I Survived the Battle of D-Day, 1944 (I Survived Series #18) by Lauren Tarshis

Lauren Tarshis's I Survived series has introduced young readers to a variety of significant, but scary events that have occurred in both recent and distant history through a young eyewitness protagonist. With the same themes of courage and resilience the protagonist didn't realize they possessed, they become active participants in these events, providing the reader with an exciting fast-paced story and lots of historical background information. In her latest book, Tarshis takes her readers to France's Normandy coast just before and after the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.

Living there in the town of Le Roc, Paul Colbert, 11, has waited and waited for the Allied Forces to come and rescue France from the hands of the Nazis and end the war. After France had fallen to the Nazis in 1940, his father had been arrested and sent to a German prison camp; then his best friend Gerard and his family were arrested by the Nazis because they were Jewish and had disappeared. Later, Paul had seen his favorite teacher, Mr. Leon, being pursued and shot by Nazi soldiers for being in the resistance, and he watched in horror as his hero sank into a river.

But just as he is beginning to lose hope, it's Paul's turn to be a hero when he discovers an American paratrooper caught in a tree and injured. Paul knows that helping this man is dangerous if the Nazis catch him, especially with Nazis soldiers nearby looking for the paratrooper. But despite his fear, Paul climbs the tree and frees the American, whose name he learns is Sergeant Victor Lopez. But now, the wounded Victor needs a safe place to hide and Paul knows just where to take him. The old, crumbling Castle Le Roc isn't a place anyone wants to be in, what with the all the stories that told about it, and Paul knows how to get there so the Nazis don't discover them. So, imagine Paul's surprise when they are greeted at the castle by a man pointing a rifle at them.

Little does Paul realize that he has stumbled into a resistance hideout and that his life is about to change. Not only does he discover Mr. Leon is still alive and working for the resistance, but so is his mother. At the moment, resistance fighters all over France are waiting for the code that will let them know the D-Day invasion, what Mr. Leon called "the largest invasion by sea in the history of the world," is happening. And now even Paul has a part to play in it.

I Survived the Battle of D-Day, 1944 was written to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 2019. It is the 18th novel in the I Survived series and like the 17 that came before it, it is an exciting novel that will not let readers down. And while the main focus is on the anticipated Allied invasion, the novel also introduces young readers to the important work of the French resistance and the dangers involved in that kind of work.

Some of the descriptions of Nazi cruelty toward their enemies, and some of the scenes of the Normandy coast during the invasion are a little more graphic than most books written for this age group, though none of it is gratuitous. But, as with all of the novels I've read in the I Survived series, the writing is excellent and completely accessible and there is lots of kid appeal. Paul is a sympathetic character, and readers will no doubt relate to his fears, but also cheer his bravery.

This is a serious story told about a dangerous time, but Tarshis includes some lightheartedness in the form of Ellie, the carrier pigeon who accompanied Victor to France and whose job it was to fly back to England and let them know he had arrived safely. But Ellie isn't about to abandon Victor, even after he is at Castle Le Roc. Good thing, she turns out to be a lifesaver and a real hero, too. 

Tarshis has included a lot of back matter for curious kids, including a letter from the author to her readers about writing this book, answers to some questions about D-Day, and other points of interest to young readers, an overview of the vehicles used for the invasion (which I also found very informative), a Timeline, a list of books for Further Reading and a Selected Bibliography.

I Survived the Battle of D-Day, 1944 is a solid edition to the I Survived series, and is sure to appeal to kids who like exciting stories, historical fiction and/or WWII novels.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press

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.