Sunday, April 29, 2012

Far from My Home, Never to Return: a Polish Child's WWII Memoir by Nadia Bogdaniec Seluga

There are not as books written about the arrest and deportation of people living in the Eastern Europe that Stalin’s Soviet Union invaded in 1940, but what is available are excellent tellings of the cruelty so many innocent people suffered in Siberian labor camps.  Added to that body of work that includes the fictional Between Shades of Gray and Esther Hauzig’s memoir The Endless Steppe is another true account - Far From My Home, Never to Return: a Polish Child’s WWII Memoir by Nadia Seluga.

Born Nadia Bogdaniec in Lunin, Poland, she was only 8 years old when her home town was bombed and later invaded by Soviet soldiers,  It wasn’t long before the soldiers arrived at her home and arrested her family in the middle of the night.  Loaded into cattle cars with some many other Polish families, they were sent to a labor camp in Siberia.  

Life was harsh in Siberia.  No one was adequately clothed to endure the bitter cold Siberian winter.  There was very little to eat, and if a day of work or school was missed, there was nothing to eat that day.  The conditions were unsanitary, and bedbugs, lice and illness was prevalent.  But the Bogdaniec family managed to stay together, and survive.  

Then, suddenly in 1941, it was announced that all Polish prisoners had been granted amnesty, when the Soviet Union was forced to join the Allied powers in order to defeat Hitler.  But amnesty didn’t mean freedom to return home.  The family was forced to stay in Siberia for a while longer.  Unlike so many others who had to remain in Siberia, the Bogdaniec family was lucky enough to eventually be put on a train and sent southward on a journey that would take them from Siberia to Uzbekistan, Krasnovodsk, across the Caspian Sea to Pahlevi, Iran.  From Pahlevi to Teheran, then Karachi, India (now Pakistan), until [they] stopped at the northern part of Lake Victoria (Uganda, Africa) where they remained until 1948.

Seluga discusses her wartime experience openly and honestly, and a good bit of poignancy.   Yet, Seluga never falls into any kind of self-pity or resentment.  Perhaps because the Bogdaniec’s were among those fortunate enough to survive with the family intact.  And it wasn’t easy.  WW II was a time when so many families were ripped apart, and death was a constant companion, fueled by Illness, starvation, inclement weather conditions, inadequate housing and heating.

Far From Home, Never to Return is told in a series of memories and flashbacks, but in a loose linear way.   As a reader, I felt that I was sitting in Seluga’s living room while she described her life to me, in other words there is a very intimate feeling to the narrative.  Throughout the book, there are photos of Nadia as a child, along with her sisters, brothers and parents, so that by the end I felt I really knew the Bogdaniec family. 

If you are interested in the stories about those who were sent to Siberian labor camps, this is a book not to be missed.  
This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was sent to me by the author’s grandson, Jacob Seluga.

This is book 3 of my European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Regrets...I've had a few

A while ago I decided to take the word verification function off my comment section of this blog.  I thought I would see how things went, spamwise.  But when I received the following comment,

Helloi (I) want to say that this article is amazing, nice (Adv. nicely) written and include (pl. includes) almost all significant info (?)  I would like to see more posts like this.
I thought, time to reinstate.  It wasn't just the spam that bothered me.  But, read this comment and then ask yourself if you would really want an online diploma from these folks?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Weekend Cooking #19: Victory through Colman's Mustard and The Three Mustardeers

When I was growing up, we always had Colman's Mustard on the table.  It was always the dry kind that had to be mixed up in order to use it.  And it went on everything.  So, naturally, when I struck out on my own, I continued to use Colman's Mustard because sometimes the apple just doesn't fall that far from the tree.

Funny thing, though, the other day I was going through some old girl's magazines looking for something completely unrelated to mustard, when I came across an ad that I knew was there but never really paid attention to.  Turns out, it was a very short story involving three kids - Jim, Mary and Roger.  They were The Three Mustardeers, who solved crimes and at the end of the story there was a plug for Colman's Mustard.   The magazines I own were published during the war, so, as one might expect, there were new war related stories every month.

I tried to find out more information on this advertising campaign involving this crime-fighting trio, The Three Mustardeers, but found nothing.  I do know that besides the Girl's Own Paper, these ads appeared in other children's publications, like the Boy's Own Paper and The Children's Newspaper and they continued for a while after the war.

There was always a central villain, The Man with the Twisted Finger, who managed to get away each month, just as the The Three Mustardeers exposed his latest attempt to help the F├╝hrer defeat England.

I have included three stories below to give you an idea of what they were like, but first some Colman's trivia:

1928 The Mustard Club advertisement 
In the 1926, Dorothy Sayers was working in advertising and created an advertising campaign for Colman's Mustard called The Mustard Club, which became immensely popular for a while.  And yes, a similar campaign showed in Murder Must Advertise for Whifflets Cigarettes and tells his friend "It'll be the biggest advertising stunt since The Mustard Club."

Apparently, Dorothy was also responsible for creating a Colman's Mustard slogan that went "Come on, Colman's, light my fire."

And if you are ever in Norwich, England, be sure to visit the Colman's Mustard Shop and Museum.

Now, some adventures of The Three Mustardeers:

GOP May 1943

GOP November 1943

GOP December 1943
Now, I want a nice corned beef on rye with lots of mustard - Colman's, of course!

Weekend Cooking, one of my favorite memes, is hosted weekly by Beth Fish Reads.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday #7: Top Ten Tips for New Bloggers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

After almost two years of blogging, these are some of the things I would recommend:

1- Dare to be daring - be creative and try new things on your blog. If you don't like it, just don't do it again.  If you like, maybe make it a regular feature on your blog.

2- Don’t focus on stats - instead focus on making people want to read your blog by making it the best you can.

3- Be honest - if you are reviewing a book, a movie, or anything else and you don't like it, say why.

4- By the same token, don’t fake a book review - people can tell if you didn’t really read it.

5- Read lots of blogs and learn from them - as they say "there's gold in them there hills."  There is nothing like seeing how other people do something successfully to get your own creativity going.  It is one of the reasons why author read the books other authors have written.

6- Comment on lots of other blogs and make new friends - this part is great.  Everyone likes comments, so do it often, but again, be honest.  After a while, other bloggers will get to know you and you will get to know them, and sometimes you can attend events and meet each other in person.

7- Learn a little HTML and CSS - I can't stress the importance of this enough.  Every time I use HTML or CSS, I save it somewhere, so I always have it handy.  It also helps when Blogger is being temperamental and simply will not do what you want it to do.

8- Remember every blog is a work in progress - I think most people who have been blogging a while will agree that their blog today is very different from the way it was in the beginning.  

9- Ask questions - there are lots of places to do this and lots of people willing to help.  Join something like Book Blog, Kidlitosphere or any of the countless other groups like these.

10- HAVE FUN!  You started your blog because you loved something and wanted to share it with the world.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

Molly - Just for Fun: The Make it, Play It, Solve It Book of Fun

My 9 going on 10 year old niece L'naya was visiting me this past spring break.  She has always spent her school vacations with me and one of the things she really enjoys is playing with my daughter's American Girl doll Molly (which is now 9 going on 21.)

Before L'naya arrived, I had gone to a bookstore to see if there were any new Molly books that we didn't already own.  I bought one called Molly Just for Fun and put it away for a rainy day while my niece was visiting.  Well, weather being what it has become lately, we never saw a single raindrop, so I just gave it to her.

Molly Just for Fun is exactly what it is described as: a make-it, play-it, solve-it book of fun - in other words, an activity book.  I thought that since L'naya was learning about World War II and the Holocaust this year in school, it might be fun to see what kinds of things kids did back them.

I was wrong!

Molly Just for Fun is basically an expensive book, $12.95, of do-once-then-become-bored activities.  The first activity is called Sticker Sudoku.  You solve the puzzle using pictures from Molly's 1940s life instead of numbers.  And I am pretty sure that no one had even heard of Sudoku back then.  L'naya did like learning how to make a secret code, but I could have shown her that - I learned this particular method when I was a kid.  Very few of the activities call for a child to use their imagination or involve any of the arts and crafts projects kids usually enjoy so much.

So I am sorry to say, I would not recommend Molly Just for Fun.  Much better is Molly's Cookbook: A Peek at Dining in the Past with Meals You Can Cook Today.  This is an old 1994 edition that belonged to my daughter when she was young and was published by The Pleasant Company.  

Molly's Cookbook really does teach kids about food during the war when shortages and rationing made life so very difficult.   And there lots of fun recipes like Volcano Potatoes and Deviled Eggs, both of which we have often enjoyed.

Molly's Cookbook is not to be confused with Molly's Cooking Studio, a newer, more high priced book published after The Pleasant Company was sold to Mattel.  And even though Molly's Cookbook is not longer published, it is easily available online, sometimes as low as 25¢.  This is a wonderful book for adults and kids to work together in the kitchen.  Kids learn not just about food in the war, but also how to prepare simple but tasty food and basic kitchen safety.

In my house the all-time favorite recipe in Molly's Cookbook is a breakfast dish called Toad in the Hole which I learned how to make in Girl Scouts when we called them Sunshine Eggs.


Non-Fiction Monday is hosted this week by The Nonfiction Detectives

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Girls They Left Behind by Bernice Thurman Hunter

This is a novel that was recommended to me by my Goodreads friend Emily.  And I am so glad she did.  Thanks, Emily.

The Girls They Left Behind opens in June 1943 in Toronto, Canada.  Beryl Brigham, 16, had decided two things: to get a summer job and to change her name to Natalie.  But first she must attend her best friends wedding.  Eloise is marrying her high school sweetheart just before he ships out to the war in Europe.   In fact, all the boys are enlisting and shipping out, and it seems like the girls spend all their time at Union Station saying goodbye to friends and family.

After working the summer in a department store and dissatisfied that all she can do for the war effort is buy War Saving Stamps, Natalie decides not to finish her last year of school and takes a job at the local factory making machine guns.  Now 17, Natalie applies for and gets a job there, much to her parents unhappiness.  Later, she gets a job with the help of an old high school friend at De Havilland Aircraft making bombers.

So things are too bad for Natalie.  She is making good money, able to save and help out at home, has a job and friends, and feels she is finally doing something important for the war effort.  Things are good until war suddenly becomes real.

First, her on again, off again boy friend turns 18 and enlists.  Then her favorite cousin and best friend Carmen writes to her through his English girlfriend to avoid the censors and although Natalie received more news from him than is allowed, she nevertheless feels very jealous of Carmen’s girlfriend Joan who sends the letters.  When Carmen is recruited to be a gunner with a squadron called the Dambusters (because they blow up enemy dams), Natalie is told not to tell his mother.  But when he is reported missing in action, the family is devastated by the news. Yet, Natalie still resents his girlfriend when Joan reaches out to her. 

At first annoyed that all the boys were going away just as she reached the age where she could have fun, Natalie must deal with some very grown up issues, especially as more and more familiar names start to appear on the missing or dead list.   

The Girls They Left Behind is a coming of age story told in part through diary entries and in part through first person narration.  Natalie is a bit immature at the beginning, but as she learns to deal with responsibility, loss and the other deprivations of war, she must also learn to to know and accept who she really is - hopefully. I thought that the voice of Beryl/Natalie rings true because the story is based on the author’s own experiences in Canada while growing up right down to working in the same department store.

One of the interesting aspects ofThe Girls They Left Behind are the details of wartime Canada the author provides.  For example, a lot of British soldiers were sent to Canada to train and, away from their own families at the holidays, they were invited into the homes of Canadians, just as the Brigham family does.  And there is the leg make-up that Natalie had to use sparingly to make her legs appear to be wearing hose, or the ditty bags she, her mother and aunt made and filled to send to Carmen overseas.  

But not everything is about war.  Best friends change, or drift away, old friends pop up and are again important for a while and once more fade in the background, only to resurface later - in other words, the ordinary life of a teenage girl is also played out in this story.  And all of these details help to make this a funny, sad and well-rounded realistic novel.  

This book is recommended for readers age 12 and up
This book was borrowed from the Bronx Library Center branch of the NYPL

The American Red Cross has an online museum where, among other interesting things, you can find instructions for making ditty bags, like the ones that Natalie and her mother and aunt made to send to Carmen overseas here.

Monday, April 9, 2012

World War II: On the Home Front by Martin Gitlin

World War II: On the Home Front is described as an Interactive History Adventure.  It begins with an explanatory chapter giving a brief introduction about how and why World War II began for the United States.  Then the reader is supposed to choose a story path to follow.

There are three path choices: a woman living in New York City, with one child and a husband who is serving in the Armed Forces overseas; a 12 year old boy living in San Diego; or a wounded African American veteran from the segregated south.  At the end of each chapter, the reader can make more choices and as the story progresses can more fully experience what it might have really be like for either the woman, the boy or the soldier.

Depending on which path the reader chooses, there is a possible 7 endings for each one.  Everything depends on the choices made, yet in the end the reader comes away with a pretty good overview of what life on the American home front in World War II.

Title: Twice a Patriot!
Sound complicated?  I thought so, too, and yet when I sat down to read this book, I found it really quite interesting and novel and not hard to figure out.  I liked the interactive element of the book, found the pictures and posters were appropriate to what was being experienced in the chapter where they appear and I liked going back and exploring a new and different path for each character.  History and concepts were explained clearly and concisely, and there is also a timeline a glossary, suggestions for further reading, and a well done index, making it a well-rounded book.

I also really liked that the author makes suggestions for paths that the readers can do themselves: explore life as a German or Italian American, as a man declared 4F or the famous people who entertained the troops.  The war affected people differently and this books helps make that clear.  The interactive element is furthered by suggesting that kids create paths for these or other additional experiences.

World War II: On the Home Front is perfect book for homeschooling or classroom use when studying the war.

This book is recommended for readers age 9-12.
This book was purchased for my personal library.

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted today by Ana's NonFiction Blog

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Weekend Cooking #18: 1940s Ads: Easter Ham and a Bunny Cake


Despite the war and rationing, people tried to celebrate the holidays as traditionally as possible.  I found this ad for Swift Premium Ham in a 1944 copy of American Home on page 344. 

I found this bunny cake ad in a March 3, 1941 issue of Life magazine, put it away and forgot about it.  It resurfaced again when I was looking for the Easter Ham ad and I thought it would be the perfect cake for the Easter holiday.  It originally appeared just 8 months before the US would enter World War II.    

If you have a desire to make this cake, here are the instructions:

  Weekend Cooking is a weekly meme hosted by BethFishReads

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

Since tonight is the first night of Passover, I thought I would review a book that is appropriate to the season.  I chose The Devil's Arithmetic because, like the Passover story, it is also about the importance of remembering who you are and where you came from.

Hannah Stern, 12 but almost 13, is a happy girl living in New Rochelle with her parents and little brother, except that she doesn't want to go to her family's Passover Seder.  Bored and apathetic, Hannah is tired of hearing her grandfather's stories about the past, including those about the concentration camp where he spent part of his youth.  But this year's Passover holds a big surprise for Hannah.

When she goes to open the door to let Elijah in, Hannah suddenly finds herself transported back in time to a Polish shetl in 1942, where her name is Chaya Abramowitz and she is living with her Aunt Gitl and Uncle Schmuel.  Hannah learns that Chaya parents have recently died and she has been very sick.  The next day, Chaya goes with her family to another shetl where Uncle Schmuel is to be married.  But before that can happen, the entire residents of both shetls are rounded up by Nazi soldiers and sent on a days long train ride in a cattle car to a concentration/extermination camp.

Before she knows it, the men and women are separated, their clothes are taken away, their hair is shaved off and a number is tattooed on their left arms.  Chaya and Aunt Gitl are assigned to a barracks and give jobs to do.

Working in the kitchen, Chaya meets Rivka, a wise ten year old who has survived life in the camp for a year and knows how to do things to avoid being "chosen" by the camp commandant for "processing."  So far, Chaya, Rivka and their other friends have been lucky, but can their luck hold out?  And will Chaya ever become Hannah again and return to her present day family?

The Devil's Arithmetic is a wonderfully well-written middle grade novel.  The randomness of life for Jews under the Nazis is captured so well, as it the horror their methods, yet not to the point where it is so graphic it would turn kids away from the book or from learning about the Holocaust, but it does help understand at least the how of what happened.

And yes, Hannah does remember what she had learned about the Holocaust in school and home, but little by little she finds her memory fading.  Even her present day family begins to recede from her memory.  And she does try to warn everyone about what happened to Jews in the Holocaust, but they find it so outlandish that they can't comprehend what she says.  And who could blame them?

While Hannah's experiences in the concentration camp point to the importance of remembering, they also demonstrates the perils of forgetting, a good lesson for us all to think about during this holiday season. 

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

Be sure to visit Jane Yolen's website for more on The Devil's Arithmetic, including lesson plans, poems, and an interview with Kirsten Dunst about being in the movie version of the book.

The Devil's Arithmetic has received the following honors:
The National Jewish Book Award
The Sydney Taylor Award
The Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award
Nebula Honor Book
1992 Kentucky Bluegrass Master List
1991-92 Florida Children's Book Award nomination
Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig

One beautiful June morning in 1941, Esther Rudomin, 10, finds her happy, care free life in Vilna, Poland changed forever.  Early in the morning, her family - father, mother, grandmother and Esther, are arrested by the Soviet Army.  They are charged with being capitalists and sent on a six week long train ride in cattle car ride Siberia.  

Arriving at a gypsum mine in Siberia, they are assigned their jobs - father to drive a horse and cart, mother to work at dynamiting the mine, Esther and her grandmother to work in the fields.  The work is back-breaking, the food almost non-existent (mostly watery soup) and the summer heat unbearable in a place as endlessly flat as the Siberian Steppes.

Luckily, by the beginning of fall, the Soviet Union, the exiled Polish government and Britain were allies against the Nazis and amnesty was granted to the Polish deportees.  No longer prisoners, they were allowed to leave the mine and live in the small nearby village. 

But life in the village isn’t easy either.  The family moves into the hut of people without much more than they have, and must share a small space with not room to move around it.  But it is better than the mine and Esther is able to attend the village school.  After a series of moves from hut to hut, the Rudomins are eventually able to get their own hut.

But life is still a struggle of obtaining food, having a means of heating the hut during the long, bitter cold winter and the gradual wearing out of the clothing they had brought with them and not money to buy more.  And since so many people are bound together by the cold, the desolateness of the steppe and the struggle to survive, they are often helped by others, just as they help others when they can.   When Esther’s father is forced to serve at the Russian front, the Rudomin women are devastated, but by now quite capable, they managed to find ways of surviving.  And most importantly, they continue to have each other to lean on.  

This is a wonderful, very appealing autobiography of Esther’s life from age 10 to 15.  Hautzig has captured her childhood voice beautifully as she recalls her life - the reader meets a very indulged child and watches her become an accomplished, clever survivor.  Yet, Hautzig has also shown herself not always in the best light - there is the bratty Esther, the whinny Esther and the willful Esther - giving a sense that she was indeed a real person, not an unrealistic paragon of courage.

My only problem with The Endless Steppe is that there is no explanation about why the Rudomin’s were arrested by the Soviets for being capitalists, but not the rest of the family, and why they weren’t rounded up by the Nazis because they were Jews. 

Short History Lesson:
The answer is simple but maybe not well known.  In 1939, the Nazis and Soviets signed a 10 year non-aggression pact called the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.  The pact has a clause that divided Poland - the western part to Germany and the eastern part to the Soviets.  In the summer of 1940, the Soviets began to secure eastern Poland.  But, Hitler being Hitler, he decided to pull a fast one on the Soviets and disregard to pact and invade Russia.  The Rudomins were arrested in that short space of time when eastern Poland was under Soviet control, for being capitalists because they owned a jewelry business.  

This book is recommended for readers age 12 and up
This book was purchased for my personal library

The Endless Steppe has been in print continuously since it was published in 1968.  It has received the following honors:
1969 National Book Award finalist
1969 American Library Association Notable Book
1970 Jane Addams Book Award
1971 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award

A lesson plan for The Endless Steppe is available from The UN Refugee Agency

Esther Hautzig led a very interesting life and the School Library Journal ran a fitting obituary when she passed away in 2009 that is well worth reading.

The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia
Esther Hautzig
Harper Collins
1968, 1995
256 Pages

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bloggiesta Wrap Up - A Day Late and A Dollar Short

So Bloggiesta 2012 ended yesterday and when I go over my list of goals to see how I have done - well, not too bad, I think.
1- I made a favicon, and it show up once and disappeared again and who knows if it will ever show up again.
2- I did fix my grab button, which had one line of HTML too many.
3- I revisited my About My Blog page and did some work on that, but not my About Me information.
4- Cleaned up Google Reader, but did nothing with my RSS feed.
5- I did learn all about Pinterest, thanks to Joy at Joy’s Book Blog.
6- I really cleaned up my labels, thanks to the mini challenge hosted by Candace at BethFishReads
7- Thanks for the mini-challenge hosted by The Bluestocking Society, I did create a rating system, using the Kilroy was here picture instead of stars, which seemed appropriate given my blog’s focus.  But I am still waffling about using it.  Using a five-Kilroy scale, this is how a three star rating might appear: 
Maybe stars would be better.
8- Charlotte at Charlotte’s Library hosted a mini-challenge to create some pages, which I did, but I am still working on them.
9- I did nothing at all with my Facebook page, but thank you for hosting it Sockets and Lightbulbs.
And yes, I did make new friends and kept the old.
And again, thank you Suey at It’s All About Books and Danielle at There’s A Book for hosting this event and keep an eye out for the next installment of Bloggiesta on September 28, 29 and 30.