Monday, January 30, 2012

The Dog in the Wood by Monika Schröder

The Dog in the Wood is a realistic look at what happened at the end of World War II to one family, told through the eyes of a child.  As the Russians advanced, they left a trail of death, destruction and devastation generally directed at woman, children and the elderly in retaliation for Germany’s attempt to invade their country.  Schröder has taken these events of the war and written a moving account through the eyes of a 10 year old boy.

It is April 1945, the Second World War is ending and the Russians are advancing towards Schwartz, a small farming community in eastern Germany.  But the war isn’t officially over yet, and anticipating the Russian arrival, Grandpa has decided that he and his grandson Fritz Friedrich will fight to defend their land against the “Bolshevik enemy.”

Grandpa has always been a staunch Nazi supporter and had always believed the the war would end with a German victory.  But when it is announced on the the radio that Hitler had ‘fallen’ at the head of his troops, Grandpa knows the war was over and Germany is defeated.  The next morning, Fritz finds Grandpa and Oma Lou hanging in the barn, choosing death rather than defeat. 

The Friedrich family, Fritz, his mother, older sister Irmi, and now Lech, their Polish laborer, decide to stay on the farm.  But soon the Russians do arrive, and two officers move in and use the house as their headquarters.  One, Mikhail Petrov, treats the family very kindly, even befriending Fritz.

After stealing and pillaging the Schwartz area, the Russians move on and the town begins to govern itself again under the communist system.  The Friedrich’s have their farm taken away to be evenly divided among new farmers and refugees.  The Friedrich’s are told to leave immediately and they, too, soon become one of the many refugee families trekking westward.  

Arriving at Oma Clara’s house in Sempow, they hope to begin anew.  And at first, things seem to go well, but soon Lech and Fritz’s mother are arrested.  Oma Clara can’t get any information about them from the authorities and Fritz is faced with a big decision about what to do.

The Dog in the Wood was Schröder’s debut novel in 2009 (she has since written Saraswati’s Way and more recently, My Brother’s Shadow, my review here.)  Her writing style in the two books I have read is clear and straightforward with no words wasted or superfluous.  In this novel, she has managed to get across the revenge done by Russian soldiers as well as by some Germans themselves without being too graphic for young readers. 

I thought it interesting that Fritz’s friend Paul, whose father is in a concentration camp for being a political enemy, is so aware of his father’s Communist dogma, whereas Fritz does not seem aware of Nazi dogma, despite his Grandfather. He is a very sensitive boy with a strong sense of right and wrong, who loves animals and gardening, but who is rather timid.  Yet as his world crumbles around him, he must try to find courage and strength within himself to overcome his timidity, and with the help of a true friend, to take matters into his own hands in order to find out about his mother and Lech. 

The Dog in the Wood is a not to be missed, powerful coming of age story.

This book is recommended for readers age 11 and up.
This book was sent to me by the author

The Dog in the Wood
Monika Schröder
Front Street Press
162 Pages

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Blog Tour 2012: The Sydney Taylor Book Awards

The Sydney Taylor Book Award honors new books for children and teens that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.  The award memorializes Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series.

The Sydney Taylor Book Award will be celebrating and showcasing its 2012 gold and silver medalists and a few selected Notables with a Blog Tour, February 5-10, 2012!  Interviews with winning authors and illustrators will appear on the following blogs:


Susan Campbell Bartoletti, author of Naamah and the Ark at Night
Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Ima On & Off the Bima

Holly Meade, illustrator of Naamah and the Ark at Night
Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Into the Wardrobe

Shelly Sommer, author of Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, Baseball Pioneer
Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category at Great Kid Books 


Marcia Vaughan, author of Irena's Jar of Secrets
Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category at Shelf-Employed

Ron Mazellan, illustrator of Irena's Jar of Secrets 
Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category at The Children's War


Trina Robbins, author of Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer
Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category at Bildungsroman

Anne Timmons (and possibly Mo Oh), illustrators of Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer
Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category at Gathering Books

Morris Gleitzman, author of Then

Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category at The 3R's


Michael Rosen, author of Chanukah Lights
Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy

Robert Sabuda, illustrator/paper engineer of Chanukah Lights
Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Practically Paradise

Susan Goldman Rubin, author of Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein
Award Winner in the Older Readers Category at Cynsations

Robert Sharenow, author of The Berlin Boxing Club
Award winner in the Teen Readers Category at Jewish Books for Children


Durga Yael Bernhard, author and illustrator of Around the World in One Shabbat
Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Frume Sarah's World

Shirley Vernick, author of The Blood Lie
Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category at The Fourth Musketeer


Eric Kimmel, author of The Golem's Latkes
Notable Book and winner of the National Jewish Book Award at Ann Koffsky's Blog

Gloria Spielman, author of Marcel Marceau, Master of Mime
Notable Book and finalist for the National Jewish Book Award at Shannon and the Sunshine Band

Richard Michelson, author of Lipman Pike, America's First Home Run King
Notable Book and finalist for the National Jewish Book Award at Blue Thread

Sydney Taylor Award Winners - Wrap Up
All Winners, All Categories

Monday, January 23, 2012

Man Overboard! by Curtis Parkinson

Man Overboard! is a novel whose opening action takes place on the very real Rapids Prince,  one of several large steamships which ran the rapids on the St. Lawrence between Prescott and Montreal, Canada before the St. Lawrence Seaway was built.  Though dangerous when it passed through the maelstrom, the trip was otherwise routine.  
So, when high school friends Scott and Adam took summer jobs as deckhands on the Rapids Prince, they never expected to have the kind of adventure it turned out to be, and all because of Scott’s passion for a Packard Twelve Touring Sedan and a delicious piece of apple pie with ice cream.
It all started when the chauffeur driven car arrived at the dock and a a very wealthy-looking man got out and boarded the Rapids Prince under the name G. Phillip Dale.  Scott wanted to take a look at the car, and asked the chauffeur, named Twitch, if it would be OK.  Twitch promptly told Scott to get lost.  Meanwhile, Adam, now a waiter instead of a deckhand, slipped the apple pie to Scott.  Looking for a quiet place to eat it, Scott decided to sit on the car’s running board.

A Packard Twelve Touring Sedan
That was when he overheard the conversation between Twitch and Mr. Dale who was really named Mr. Vandam.  Vandam was telling Twitch that their contact, Heinrik, was being followed, presumably by a government agent.  Vandam and Heinrik plan to deal with this agent onboard the Rapids Prince, while Twitch takes the car to Montreal.
Things went smoothly onboard ship until it reached the beginning of the maelstrom, the most turbulent part of the rapids, when someone suddenly screamed “Man Overboard!”  Turns out, it was Canadian Agent Dereck Patterson, a name Scott recognized from the overheard conversation between Vandam and Twitch.
What to do?  Tell the Captain or police why he was on the running board of a car would mean getting both Adam and himself in trouble, maybe even fired, and the Captain’s temper was legendary.  
To make matters worse, the German spies had seen him running from the car and knew what he looked like.  Scott hoped that they were no longer interested in him, but when the boat docked in Montreal that hope was dashed.  Yet, the spies managed to capture Adam instead, threatening to hurt him if Scott told anyone what he knew.  As the Packard drove off with Adam inside, Scott jumped on the back and held on for dear life in an attempt find out where the spies were hiding out.
Parkinson based Man Overboard! not just on the real Rapids Prince, and his first hand knowledge of the area in which the story takes place, but also on reports about the German spies who really did enter Canada via submarine on three different occasions during World War II, just as they has in the United States, and were quickly arrested  These unsuccessful attempts to infiltrate the US and Canada always make such good fictionalized adventure stories and Man Overboard! doesn’t disappoint on that score.
What I liked most about Man Overboard! was that it reminded me of some of the books I read growing up, books like the Hardy Boys.  The characters aren’t particularly deep, but they don’t have to be, what counts is the action.  And there is plenty of that.  It is an exciting, fast paced action packed story from beginning to end that is sure to please middle grade readers, particularly boys.

Two early postcards showing the Rapids Prince in the
maelstrom, and from the passengers point of view
And right now, there is still time to sign up to win 1 of 2 copies of Man Overboard! on Goodreads courtesy of the publisher.  The giveaway runs from January 10, 2012 to February 10, 2012.  You can enter to win a copy here
This book is recommended for readers age 10-12
This was was received as an E-ARC from
Man Overboard!
Curtis Parkinson
March 2012
160 Pages

Friday, January 20, 2012

Annexed by Sharon Dogar

Annexed is a fictionalized imagining of the content in the diary kept by Anne Frank in hiding, but this time life in the annex is told by Peter van Pels.

And I have to admit I started reading Annexed with a great deal of trepidation.  After all, it had caused quite a sensation when it was published.   Sharon Dogar was accused exploiting Anne’s diary and of ‘sexualizing’ her.  There were many who did not want to see this Anne Frank.  But, while the Anne of the diary may be a symbol of courage and hope, the real life Anne, as we know now know, was much more human, a teen who could be self-centered, demanding and highly critical of those around her one moment and sweet, charming and full of confidence the next.  And who also thought about love and sex.  In other word, Anne Frank was a typical 13 year old adolescent.  And, to her credit, Dogar has captured this human version of Anne so well in Annexed.  
But now, it is Peter van Pels’s turn to tell his story. The real Peter was only 15 years old when he disappeared into the annex.  In this imagined version, Peter is at first portrayed as angry, sullen and resentful, not wanting to go into hiding, especially not with Anne Frank and her family.  But after witnessing his girlfriend and her family being rounded up by the Gestapo, he realizes it is the only real option left to him.
Once he is inside the annex, Peter just wants to sleep.  Everyone there gets on his nerves, especially the always cheerful, constantly talking, sometimes critical Anne.  But gradually he gets up and starts participating in life in the annex.  At first, Peter, Anne and her sister Margot spend a lot of their time together in the attic, but gradually an attraction begins to bloom between Anne and Peter, much to the disapproval of the adults around them, particularly Anne’s parents.
But as curious as Peter and Anne are, this relationship doesn’t go beyond some cuddling and a kiss.  It is all in the diary and Dogar has not added anything to it except Peter’s feelings.  Dogar makes it clear that this fictionalized Peter, like Anne, is afraid of missing out on an intimate relationship with a girl because of the circumstance under which is now lives.
Annexed is written in two parts.  The first part covers daily life in the annex.  Each chapter begins with a date and a one line description of what is going to happen, yet Dogar doesn’t seek to imitate Anne’s diary doing this.  This part is interspersed with Peter’s thoughts as he lay dying in Mauthausen’s sick bay and this gives the impression that he is reflecting on his life in the annex. The second, much smaller part of the novel takes place in the camps - Auschwitz and Mauthausen.  It too is told reflexively at Mauthausen. 
I thought that Dogar’s portrayal of Peter is completely believable.  He probably was, after all, a teenage boy with all the fear, anger, frustration and resentment of hiding and being confined simply for being a Jew, as well as all the thoughts, urges and questions about girls, love, and sex that boys have at the age.  
Sadly, no one knows who betrayed the people in the annex.  It could have happened any number of ways.  Dogar does intimate that the betrayal and a break-in may be linked, but that is all.  It remains a mystery even today.  
All in all, I thought Dogar did a great job in imagining the the annex from Peter’s point of view.  And it is important to remember Annexed is a fiction, even though it feels so real a times.  Perhaps because there are so many parts of the story that are more obviously taken from what Anne had written in her diary.  Which is not to imply that Dogar simply rewrote the diary.  Peter is his own person in the novel.  But I do think it is important to read Dogar’s afterward, to see where she has taken poetic license and why.
Most important, I feel that Dogar remains respectful of Anne Frank’s memory as a hero of Holocaust, and reminds us that everyone in that annex is a hero, too, in their own way. But she doesn’t let us forget that they were also human, and heroes are always more heroic when we remember that they are only human. 
This book is recommended for readers age 14 and up.
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL.
Some excellent lesson plans for teaching Annexed can be found here.     

Sharon Dogar
Houghton Mifflin
341 Pages

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA and PIPA - The Next Great Wall

As some of you may know, I have a daughter who lives and teaches in China.  According to her, the food is great, the cost of living is low and China has two great walls.  One is the original built by, umm, which emperor built the Great Wall?  Same guy who did the terra cotta warriors.  I forget his name, but I'll just look it up quickly on Wikipedia.  Oh, wait, I can't.  Not today, maybe not ever.

The other wall is the Great Firewall.  So my daughter can't read my blog, or yours or yours, can't read anyone's blog.  A few other things she can't do - can't google anything, or use Wikipedia or read certain publications, can;t watch YouTube either.  Sometimes, if the wrong word is said in a conversation between us, our SKYPE conversation is abruptly ended.  She can't keep up with her friends and family on Facebook, can't Tweet them either.

Now, Congress wants to build a Great Firewall around US.  SOPA is designed to stop online piracy and PIPA to protect intellectual property.  Want to find out more about these bills and how they will effect your life, read this from the WSJ  The Motion Picture Association of America is a big supporter of these bills because of people watching pirated movies.  Irony of ironies, pirated movies are the one thing that they can download in China.  And that will be true here, too.

If you want to live behind a Great Firewall, then do nothing.  If you don't, think about letting your Senators and Representatives in Congress know how you feel. There is bipartisan opposition to these bills, so don't think politics, so

Make your voice heard, consider signing this petition here

I should add that I am not China bashing.  My daughter has lived there for 1 1/2 years and loves it, loves the people, loves the food, just not crazy about the firewall.  It is hard to get used to.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From the Archives #17: The Chalet School Goes To It by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

When last we left the staff and students of the Chalet School (see my review of The Chalet School in Exile, they were fleeing Austria just ahead of the Anschluß and heading for the Channel Islands.  The school was then closed for a year, and then reopened on the island of Guernsey.  Yet, after only two terms, the world is at war and the Chalet School is forced to move again, this time, fleeing to England just ahead of the Nazi invasion of the Channel Islands.

Wondering what to do and where to go once they reach England, the Chalet School is rescued when Rev. Ernest Howell offers his estate, Plas Howell on the Welsh border, while he serves as a Naval chaplain, providing the school accept his younger 13 year old sister, Gwensi.  
Chalet School owner Madge Russell is first to cross the Channel and travel to Howell Village.  Next to go is her sister Jo Maynard, with her triplets, accompanied by Nell Wilson, science and geography mistress.  While crossing, their boat is attacked by a German U-boat.  Realizing the war is coming closer to home, the school move is expedited.  
The school reopens at the beginning of summer term and staff and students settle into their new location and routine quite smoothly.  Like everyone in England, the school wants to do its bit for the war effort and chose to Dig for Victory as their project.  Even Gwensi, angry at having her home invaded by a school full of strangers, settles in, making friends and having a wonderful time.
But of course trouble arrives when lights are spotted on the school’s grounds during blackout hours.  A Colonel Black comes to the school to see who might be sending light signals to the enemy offshore.  Even though he questions students and staff individually, no one owns up to doing this treasonous deed.
Much to everyone’s chagrin, Colonel Black has the posted around the school, severally curtailing everyone’s movements.  But all that is pushed aside when their first air raid occurs.  And though the bombing is aimed at Cardiff and Newport, South Wales, it feels too close for comfort to everyone as they take shelter in the basement of the house.   
During the raid, the headmistress goes out to see if the house has been hit at all and while she is looking things over, something lands just six feet away from her.  Expecting a bomb, she finds metal container with a streamer that says Schule Chalet.  Thrown by a passing Luftwaffe plane, it is a note from he brother of a former student telling her they are all well, and being forced to do what is demanded by the Reich because they are German, but by no means do they support the actions of their country

I was surprised at the depiction of some of the prefects laughing at stories about some evacuees in the area.  These were described as around 6, 7 and 8 years old, from London and didn’t have any idea what a farm was like.  Among the things they were laughing at was that one child thought eggs came out cooked, another thought a pig had a ring in it’s nose because it was married.  This episode just seemed out of character to me.
Aside from this slightly far-fetched event, I found The Chalet School Goes to It to be an interesting novel.  Doing without because of food, walking or riding a bike great distances because of gas rationing, soldiers stations in the area, suspicions that quislings and saboteurs are a foot all reflect life in Britain during the early days of World War II.  There is even an incidence of former student and friend of Jo’s, Frieda von Ahlen (formerly Mensch) being put into a internment camp on the Isle of Man, a not very well publicized practice in Britain for dealing with aliens.
Elinor Brent-Dyer wrote a number of books set in the war besides The Chalet School in Exile and The Chalet School Goes to It, though the war begins to take more of a back seat. Yet, she never wrote about the end of the war and the Allied victory. A fill-in book, Peace Comes to the Chalet School by Katherine Bruce was published in 2005.  Bruce does a pretty good job picking up Brent-Dyer’s characters and bring closure to the Chalet School war years.
So, if  you like school stories as I do, you can’t go wrong with The Chalet School series.
This book is recommended for readers age 11 and up.
This book was purchased for my personal library
The Chalet School Goes to It
Elinor Brent-Dyer
1941, 1952

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy

There seems to be a lot of anticipation about to soon to be released novelThe Baker’s Daughter and I can understand why.  Split between past and present, Nazi Germany in the last year of World War II and present day El Paso, Texas, it is the story of two very different women and how they each find themselves.
Elsie Schmidt,16, is the second daughter of bakers in Garmisch, Germany.  Her older sister, Hazel, has been in the Lebensborn Program to produce strong, racially pure babies for the Fatherland since her fiancee was killed.  Their young son Julius is also there being educated in Nazi dogma.
The Schmidt’s have always been supporters of Hitler and his policies, and when Lieutenant Colonel Josef Hub, a family friend since Peter’s death, invites Elsie to the Nazis Weihnachten (Christmas) party, they are thrilled.  At the party, Joseph asks Elsie to marry him, giving her a ring that has a Hebrew in it.  Elsie doesn’t know what to do - on the one hand, he provides the bakery with supplies and the family with protection, on the other hand, he is much older and she doesn’t want to marry him.  
At the same party, a young Jewish boy with a breath-takingly beautiful voice is brought in to entertain. Elsie later learns he will be killed as soon as he is taken back to the concentration camp he was in. When a General Kremer attacks Else is an alley she escaped to for some air, it is the boys voice that save her.  Later that night, when the boy shows up at the back door of the bakery, their lives are changed forever.
Years later, in 2007,Reba Adams, a journalist, is trying to get in touch with the now elderly Elsie Schmidt to do an article on Christmas traditions around the world.  She wants to talk to Elsie about German traditions.  But her interviews turn out the be very different from what Reba had expected.  And again lives are changed.
The Baker’s Daughter is about the journey two women must make in order to find their true selves.  And even though the time and facts of their individual journeys are different, the outcomes are very much the same.  
There is a very diverse cast of characters in this novel, some nice, some not, but all very relevant in the lives of Elsie and Reba.  I felt more connected to Elsie’s story and found it much more compelling than Reba’s story.  I believe that is because we are give more details about her life and follow it from 1944 to the present, whereas we learn about Reba’s past mainly from her thoughts and they are not as thoroughly explored.  I also found myself more drawn to Elsie than I did to Reba and maybe that is why.  
Don’t get me wrong, however.  I really enjoyed reading The Baker’s Daughter, and found it hard to put down.  I found it to be a well researched story and it does bring out a disturbing  aspect of the Lebensborn Program that many people may not know about.   
A bonus: at the end of the novel, there is a collection of recipes to bake that are mentioned throughout the story, some from Elsie’s families bakery in Germany, so new ones from life in El Paso, and all, I am sure, scrumptious.
This book is recommended for readers age 15 and up.
This book was received as an E-ARC from
You can find a reading group guide for The Baker’s Daughter at Sarah McCoy

The Baker’s Daughter
Sarah McCoy
January 24, 2012
304 Pages