Sunday, November 11, 2018

Poppy Field by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman

Today is Veterans' Day in the United States and Remembrance Day for the rest of the world. And while it is important to honor and say thank you to those who serve and have served in the armed forces, today is even more special. It is the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice that ended the Great War, or World War I as it later came to be called.

No one had ever experienced a war like WWI before. New weapons were developed that had devastating results on both soldiers and civilians. From the air, planes could now drop bombs on battlefields and cities; at sea, submarines could now torpedo battleships and cargo ships carrying food and supplies; and on the battlefield, tanks with machine guns and canons could roll over no man's land and attack their enemies in the trenches, while chemical weapons like chlorine, mustard gas and flamethrowers were also used in trench warfare. It's no wonder so many returned suffering from PTSD.

To commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day, Michael Morpurgo has written a lovely book that tells a fictionalized story of how and why the poppy have became the flower that symbolizes the sacrifices made by those who have fought in their country's wars.

Young Martens Merkel lives on a farm in Flanders near Ypres in Belgium with his mother and grandfather. The farm, once part of No Man's Land in WWI, is in the middle of a vast poppy field and surrounded by several cemeteries. Sadly, Martens father was killed while plowing one of his fields by an unexploded shell. There is also a part of a poem written on an old wrinkled paper, framed and hanging on the hallway wall in the Merkel home. It is the beginning of a poem and Martens loves to hear his grandfather tell the story connected to that poem.

When Martens' grandfather's mother Marie was an eight year old girl, she used to sell eggs at a field hospital to the English soldiers. In the spring of 1915, the poppies were in bloom and Marie would pick some to give to those who bought her eggs. One morning, there weren't many soldiers to buy eggs, but Marie noticed one sitting nearby, writing in a notebook. Irritated at her for interrupting him, he threw the now scrunched paper he had been writing on away, but he asked Marie if she would place her poppies on the grave of his best friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who had been killed the day before and who loved poppies. The poppies immediately began to blow away, but the soldier didn't seem to mind and began writing again - a poem dedicated to his friend.

Marie's mother read and translated what was on the paper she kept, and the whole family agreed that the words were too precious to throw away. Her father made a frame and hung it on the wall. The
poem is, of course, In Flanders Fields by John McCrea, a Canadian surgeon and Lieutenant-Colonel.

There is much more to the story Martens' grandfather tells, which becomes a nice blending of the fictional Merkel family history and some factual wartime history, including war's aftermath. Michael Morpurgo has a wonderful ability to take real events and write a story around them that works perfectly for young readers, entertaining and informing at that same time. Here, he says in an interview, he wanted kids to understand why it is important to remember those who fought in a long ago war by bringing it into the present, as well as showing the impact war has on civilians. And he has done an outstanding job of that with Poppy Field.

The 100th anniversary of the end of the World War I is perfect timing, since it has been in the news so much this weekend and kids can witness world leaders acknowledging the men and women who served their country, and who gave their lives then, just as they do now.

Be sure to read the Afterword for more information on the history of In Flanders Fields, John McCrea, and how the poppy became the symbol of remembrance.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased from Book Depository for my personal library.

Don't forget in all the commemorations, however, that this is also Veterans' Day in the US and 
remember the thank all veterans for their service. 
In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Kingdom Falls (Book 3 of the Ravenmaster Trilogy) by John Owen Theobald

When last we left Anna Cooper and her boyfriend Timothy Squire, it was June 5, 1944 and the D-Day invasion was about to begin. Timothy and his friend Arthur Lightfoot, both sappers, are on their way to France with orders to disarm bridges wired by the Nazis so that the Allies could pass over them safely when they arrive. Book 3 begins the very next day - June 6, 1944.

Anna, still in London, has learned that the father, Wilhelm Esser, she believed to be dead, has had a big hand in developing Hitler's Vengeance Bombs, or V2 bombs that are so fast and powerful, there is no escaping or surviving them. After her father gives her the information about how the bombs work, and where they are being sent from, Anna decides to hide her father in the Tower of London, her official home.

But having the information about the bombs doesn't mean anyone will listen to Anna. Especially after an not after she loses her pilot's licensee and is stripped of her wings. Anna may have been grounded but her fellow pilots in the ATA aren't and their commander, Pauline Gower, isn't above turning a blind eye on the use of Spitfires with which Anna and her friends can practice dive bombing under the tutelage of Joy Brooks. Joy, you will remember, is an African American pilot who couldn't fly for the Untied States, but was welcomed into the ATA. And, oh yes, Anna manages to get some wings and papers to fly, just maybe not her own.

Meanwhile, Timothy Squire and the other men in D-Company are in France, but not where they should be, landing in a swampy river and losing most of their equipment and a few men. Eventually, Timothy and Arthur get separated when they are attacked by Germans, and Timothy is sure Arthur has been killed. Timothy is eventually found by a group of French partisans and spends the rest of the war fighting with them.

When his family receives notice that Timothy is missing in action, Anna never loses faith that he is alive and will return to her.

A Kingdom Falls is an exciting third novel. There is perhaps more action both on the battlefield and at home in it than in the previous novels as the war draws to a conclusion, but that would be expectable. And readers should never lose sight of the fact that Anna and Timothy are still just teenagers. But war matures young people fast, and Theobald has taken that into consideration as he developed his characters. It may not be quite as obvious with Anna and Timothy, but is sure is with Anna's friend Florence Swift. In These Dark WingsFlo spent the blitz in Canada, learning about comics and ice cream. She returned to England in What the Raven Brings, but it is in A Kingdom Falls Flo decides to become a nurse in France, and you can see how she has changed.

One of the things I liked about The Ravenmaster Trilogy is that Theobald writes from different points of view, and in A Kingdom Falls readers knows just what is happening to tow more familiar characters, including pilot Cecil Rafferty, rich, handsome, but rejected by Anna, and, of course, Flo. The switching of point of view throughout is not the least bit confusing and really adds to the excitement and tension of the novel. I have to confess that I secretly wanted to hear directly from Anna father, the Nazi Will Esser. I really wondered what he would have to say, but readers learn much from his through his interactions with Anna.

I am sorry to have to say good-bye to Anna and Timothy now that the trilogy has come to and end, but I was glad that Theobald brought it all to a very satisfying conclusion.

A Kingdom Falls, and in fact, all three books in The Ravenmaster Trilogy, offer an exciting window into many aspects of World War II and how it impacted the lives of young people. Theobald handles themes of war, friendship, loyalty, love, betrayal and survival in the lives of his characters realistically through his engaging narrators. I can't recommend this trilogy more.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was sent to me by the author, John Owen Theobald

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Ski Soldier: A World War II Biography by Louise Borden

After finding a pair of his mother's old skis in the family barn, 7-year-old Peter Seibert quickly taught himself how to ski and immediately decided there was nothing better in the world than gliding through snow on skis. At 9, Pete got brand new skis for Christmas, and also made a new life-long friend who also loved to ski, Morrie Shepard.

Pete was a skillful skier, spending as much time on the slopes as possible, entering and winning all kinds of races, all while still in high school. He was a 17-year old senior in high school when the United States entered World War II, too young to enlist. He knew it was only a matter of time before he would join the army and defend his country, especially after he heard that they were looking for skiers to form a specialized unit of ski troops.

Pete finally enlisted in May 1943, joining the mountain troops that had been created earlier. He was now part of the 10th Light Division (Alpine). Day after day, Peter and his fellow soldiers trained with the best instructors that could be found, many of them already his skiing heroes.  Their training was harsh and intense, but eventually the 10th Mountain troops found themselves in Italy. Though much of Italy had already been liberated from the Germans, they still has a tight hold in the northern Apennine Mountains. The 10th Mountain Division has orders to break through this German line. This would be no mean feat - the Germans were high up the mountains, and the Americans had to stealthily climb up during the night. After successfully accomplishing what they set out to do, the 10th Mountain Division were given orders to attack the German stronghold at Mount Belevdere, part of the treacherous Riva Ridge. But it was on this mission, that Peter was seriously injured by a mortar attack.
With his left arm almost cut in half and his right leg sliced open, Peter was sent home to recuperate. As he achieved milestones in his recovery, one thing remained constant in his mind - he would definitely ski again, and if he could ski, he could race. So it's no surprise that Peter was part of the 1950 Olympic ski team or that he and his friend Earl Eaton eventually opened the Vail Ski Resort in 1962. Peter Seibert was nothing if not determined to do what he loved best in the world - ski.

You can always count on Louise Borden to find an interesting subject, and write a well researched, very readable book about it (see, for instance, His Name was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, Rescue and Mystery During World War II). And that is just what she has done with Ski Soldier. Written in blank verse, she introduces young readers to one of the unsung, but very important people that helped the United States win World War II.

Not only is Peter Seibert's personal life well represented, so is his life as a skier and a soldier, so the reader gets a really well-rounded picture of this brave man. He was the embodiment of the themes of courage, resiliency, perseverance, and determination.  Borden also includes lots of black and white archival photographs, many from Pete's personal life. Back matter includes more about Pete Seibert, as well as the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division, and a long list of sources for further exploration.

Ski Soldier is a biography that will be of interest to anyone who likes history, WWII, or just reading about a courageous man.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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