Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Ranger in Time: D-Day: Battle on the Beach by Kate Messner, illustrated by Kelly McMorris

This is the 7th Ranger in Time novel in this series, but I have to confess, it is the first one I've read. The overall premise is simple: Ranger is a golden retriever that has been trained as a search-and-rescue dog but has failed to pass the official test. It seems he keeps getting distracted by squirrels. Ranger lives with Luke and his sister Sadie. One day, while playing in the garden with Luke, Ranger finds a mysterious first aid kit complete with a strap that can go around his neck. Whenever the first aid kit begins to hum, Ranger knows that somewhere, someone is in trouble, and once he has the kit around his neck, Ranger will be transported through time to help whoever needs him.

This time Ranger is transported to Normandy Beach just as the D-Day invasion is beginning. Walt Burrell, an African American soldier in the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, is also at Normandy Beach, packed tightly in a landing craft waiting to storm the beach. As part of the 320th, Walt's job is to hoist up the giant barrage balloons once the beach has been secured so that enemy planes can't fly over and bomb the American soldiers.

Meanwhile, Leo Rubinstein is living on a farm just beyond Normandy Beach. Leo is going by the name Henri Blanc to hide his Jewish identity from the Nazis. On the morning of the invasion, the Blanc family prepares to take shelter from the constant barrage of bombs and gunfire. But Leo gets caught in a bomb hit in the house while looking for his sister's cat.

Ranger finds himself on Normandy Beach next to Walt, who figures they brought a dog along to sniff out landmines. At first, Ranger doesn't know why he was sent to this chaotic place, but when Walt realizes his friend Jackson didn't make it to the beach, man and dog race back to the water to rescue Jackson and, thanks to Ranger, two other men.

But even after all that, Ranger knows his work isn't done. Dodging gunfire and avoiding Nazis soldiers, Ranger makes his way to the Blanc farm, where he finds Leo, who is unhurt but knocked out. But when his sister's cat runs away towards the beach, Leo follows and there is nothing Ranger can do to stop him.

Back on the beach, it is still absolute mayhem, with gunfire, shelling, and bombs going off, and then there are the landmines all over the area. But Ranger isn't trained to sniff out landmines. Can Ranger, Walt, and Leo survive the allied invasion?

I've always enjoyed Kate Messner's other books and I really enjoyed reading this one. I found the writing to be clear, with straightforward descriptions, realistic characters and lots of excitement. I think Messner has captured the feeling of finding oneself in the midst of a very scary, very chaotic situation, whether man, boy, or dog.

Ranger in Time is the ideal chapter book for all readers, but the excitement of a time traveling dog and the places he finds himself in may entice even the most reluctant readers. To her credit, Messner makes sure Ranger is always a dog - he doesn't think in words, but goes by his instincts and what he recognizes from his training, making it an even more interesting story. Sometimes, even Ranger doesn't know why he is somewhere, until trouble presents itself.

There is lots of historical fact woven into this D-Day story, and Messner has included a list of sources she used, as well as a list of books for further reading. And while Walt is a fictional character, he is based on a real life hero of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion named William Dabney. You can find out all about him and all the other the research Kate Messner did for D-Day: Battle on the Beach in the back matter or you can read it online HERE.

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Holocaust: Racism and Genocide in World War II (an Inquire & Investigate Book) by Carla Mooney, illustrated by Tom Casteel

This history of the Holocaust is such a complicated, often confusing history that teaching it can be difficult - especially to upper elementary/middle school students. Most students have read novels that take place during World War II and the Holocaust, and while they certainly help to explain things, teaching the facts can still be difficult. How do you reckon the intentional destruction of 11 million people, including the attempted extermination of the entire Jewish race, 6 million of whom did indeed die at the hand of the Nazis, with the desire of one man bent on achieving his own ends of creating a master race.

To help students and teachers understand the Holocaust better, Carla Mooney, who has written over 70 books for kids and teens covering science, social studies, and current events, has written a book to help readers learn about the Holocaust. In Chapter One, she begins with a brief, but detailed history of anti-Semitism, a history that began over 2000 years ago when the Romans exiled that Jews after defeating them and taking over their land in the Middle East, then brings the reader through the Enlightenment, the Great War and finally to the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party.

Chapter Two traces the rise of the Nazi party, the use of propaganda to sway the German people, the early treatment of Jews, the Nuremberg Laws, and finally the violence of Kristallnacht, including the destruction of Jewish businesses and homes, the arrest of Jewish men, and the killing of other Jews.

Chapter Three details the occupation of different European countries by the Nazis, increased persecution of Jews, the different ghettos Jews were forced to live in until they were ultimately liquidated and the Jews sent "east" to concentration camps.

Chapter Four looks at the Final Solution and the different, inhumane ways the Nazis used for eliminating Jews, including mobile killing squads, slave labor camps, and finally the creation of extermination camps, some capable of killing as many a 6,000 people a day.

Chapter Five covers the end of the war, the liberation of concentration camps and the humanitarian crisis that followed, including the large number of displaced persons.

Chapter Six asks the question how could the Holocaust happen? And there are lots of reasons for it, beginning with the fact that other countries simple did not want to offer refuge to Jewish refugees by increasing their limits on immigration, as well as countries that collaborated with the Nazis.

Chapter Seven looks at the ways people found to resist the Nazis and save some Jews, including children, and Chapter Eight look at the legacy of the Holocaust.

So what makes this book different? The Holocaust: Racism and Genocide in World War II is not a book where the student passively receives information. This is an interactive book that helps readers understand the Holocaust using the Inquire and Investigate section found at the end of each chapter. Students are taught the use and value of primary sources, and there are activities for them that pertains to the particular chapters being studied. Here, for example, are the activity pages found at the end of the Introduction:

In addition to being interactive, you will also find sidebars that give more details, including Vocab Labs, Bear Witness sections, and key questions. There is also a detailed timeline, copious photographs and illustrations, a Glossary and a list of Sources. For students who can't used the QR code scans, there is a list at the back of the book of the websites used.

If you are a teacher or a student, or just have an interest in finding out more about the Holocaust, I can't recommend this book highly enough.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Nomad Press

Monday, March 5, 2018

When the Flu Comes Calling...

Before I begin getting back to the business at hand, let me just say I have been sick with flu for the last two weeks (yes, I had the flu shot). I never had the flu before and it was horrible, including two days I didn't think I was going to ever be OK again. If the flu does come calling, take care of yourself and, if you can, take the time needed to recover. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place ( a Flavia de Luce Mystery) by Alan Bradley

This is the 9th Flavia de Luce mystery and the 6th book I've reviewed here. Of course, I do know it is now June 1952, Flavia has turned 12, and that aside from the odd mentions, WWII no longer plays much of a part in the stories.

As I said, it is June 1952, and six months have gone by since Haviland de Luce, father of Flavia and her sisters Feely (Ophelia) and Daffy (Daphne), passed away after an illness. Though the family estate, Buckshaw, was left to Flavia, her Aunt Felicity, bully and tyrant, arrives from London and decides it is to be sold and Flavia will go to London to live with her. Given six months to mourn, Flavia, Feely, and Daffy, are on a trip planned by faithful retainer Dogger, where, after punting along a river, they land in the village of Volesthorpe, near the notorious St.-Mildred's-in-the-Marsh church. It was here that Canon Whitbread allegedly poisoned three ladies in his congregation with the communion chalice, for which he was hanged. Yes, Dogger certainly does know his Flavia, poisons are her thing.

But when Flavia fishes out the Canon's son Orlando from the river by the church, new questions arise. Flavia cleverly manages to get some stomach fluid from the corpse for later analysis before the arrival of Constable Otter. As clever as he is unfriendly, Constable Otter quickly lets her know that her help is absolutely unwanted, an attitude that causes Flavia's suspicious nature to be on guard.

Away from her own well equipped chemistry lab at Buckshaw, Flavia and Dogger find they must improvise in order to carry out the investigation into Orlando's death. Luckily, Dogger, who seems to have an abundance of all kinds of knowledge, also turns out to be a genius at using whatever is at hand. I loved how Dogger made an improvised microscope (pg 85), especially clever and amusing after Otter condescendingly manplained to Flavia what a microscope is (pg 45). Still, Flavia is disappointed that Orlando wasn't poisoned, but she has become more and more aware that there are, nevertheless, sinister things under foot in Volesthorpe, and she is determined to get to the bottom of them all. And, as it turns out, there is plenty to get to the bottom of.

When I first began reading The Grave's a Fine and Private Place, I was feeling a little disappointed. It definitely has a slightly different feel to it than the previous 8 books. But as I got further into the story, I began to enjoy it as much as the other Flavia books, but it never lost the feeling of difference. I've thought about it and this is what I think:

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place is the next to the last Flavia de Luce mystery and, at 12, Flavia is entering adolescence. No longer a child, she is maturing and it shows - kudos to Bradley for portraying the subtle ways in which this happens. I realized it had actually began in book 8, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd after Flavia returned to Buckshaw from boarding school in Canada. Most notable is the way she now sees Dogger as more of an person in his own right and an equal and less as a servant, and there are changes in her relationship with her sisters, particularly Daffy, whose literary passions turn out to be pretty useful for solving murders. Don't get me wrong, Flavia is still as enthusiastic about solving murders, performing chemical experiments and learning about poisons as ever she was, but now her life is expanding.

Being away from the confines of Buckshaw and Bishop's Lacy also allows Bradley to bring in more varied but no less eccentric characters. There is Orlando Whitbread's mentor Poppy Mandrill, former actress now confined to a wheelchair; Arven Palmer, the landlord of the Oak and Pheasant and his wife, Greta Palmer; three roustabouts from the traveling Shadrach's Circus and Menagerie as well as the proprietor, Mrs. "Dreadnought" Dandyman; the village's undertaker F. T. Nightingale, whose son Hob befriends Flavia; and last but not least, Dogger's old friend (?) Claire Tetlock - each with their own secrets to be uncovered.

Like most of Bradley's plots, this one will require you to suspend your disbelief, not because he has delved into fantasy, just into things improbable, exciting but improbable. But is wouldn't be a Flavia de Luce mystery if the improbable were left out, would it?- then it would just be a book about a girl who likes chemistry. If you love a little off the wall, somewhat noir mystery with unconventional characters, this is the book/series for you.

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

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The United States v. Jackie Robinson by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

When most of us think about Jackie Robinson, it's in the context of his breaking the color barrier by becoming the first African American man to play major league baseball, joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Jackie was a great baseball player, and I have that on authority of everyone I knew growing up in Brooklyn who remembered the day the Dodgers won the 1955 World Series. They say there literally was dancing in the streets that day. But baseball wasn't the first time Jackie challenged segregation's accepted status quo.

In The United States v. Jackie Robinson, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen looks past his life as a Dodger, and focuses on his early experiences growing up in segregated Pasadena, California and, later, his life in the United States Army.

As a boy in Pasadena, Jackie's mother Mallie had taught her children to stand up for what was right, even if that was difficult to do. Mallie lived by example, refusing to be bullied out of the white neighborhood the Robinson had moved into. Jackie loved sports and was a great athlete in school, and as his parents had hoped, he was recruited to play for UCLA. And although he was a one of the country's most successful college athletes, people still saw him as a black man, including his teammates and coach. Discouraged that only white players could become professional athletes, Jackie left college and joined the army when the United States entered WWII.

And it was in the army that Jackie faced his greatest challenge. It turned out that the army was no different for Jackie than Pasadena and college had been. When he joined up, the army was still segregated, and Jackie was forced to deal with discrimination every day. When he tried to join the baseball team, he was told in no uncertain terms that he could only play on the 'colored team' which simply did not exist.

Then, in 1944, the army was ordered to end segregation on all military posts and buses. So, when Jackie sat in the middle of an army bus and refused to move to the back when the white driver demanded that he do so, it was Jackie who was arrested and who faced a court-martial. Like his mother, Jackie stood up for what was right, and after five hours of testimony by different people, he received a not-guilty verdict.

Bardhan-Quallen presents Jackie Robinson's early life clearly and concisely, making it fully accessible in this picture book for older readers. She has not only captured Jackie's learned sense of justice and fair play, but also the fact that changing laws doesn't change people's learned prejudices, as readers will see in the book. And while this may be a work of historical nonfiction, the message in it will resonate in today's world. Nevertheless, kids will certainly discover a hero in Jackie Robinson, a courageous man who lived life with quiet dignity and integrity coupled with a firm belief in standing up for what is right. 

R. Gregory Christie's straightforward acryla gouache illustrations also reflect the quiet dignity of Jackie Robinson's life, and they also carry their own powerful message to the reader. 

Bardhan-Quallen has included a timeline of both Jackie's life and events that impacted it. She also has an important Author's Note for understanding what the times were like during Jackie's life, and a Bibliography for further exploration.

The United States v. Jackie Robinson is an inspiring depiction of this lesser known episode in Jackie Robinson's life.

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