Thursday, May 31, 2012

Toys Go To War: World War II Military Toys, Games, Puzzles and Books by Jack Matthews

My original interest in World War II began with children's books when I was working on a project about books published in the 1930s and 1940s.  For that project, the stories all had to be written during that time period and had to be about how the war impacted the lives young people for young readers.  Pretty much the same perimeters as my blog.  In fact, I called this blog The Children's War because the Second World War impacted the lives of children more than any other modern war ever had.  Millions of people, including children, were moved through evacuations, resettlement or transported to concentration camps right from the beginning and in some cases, even before the war began.

Some of my vintage WWII books 
I managed to amass a large collection of books to meet my criteria from England, Germany and the United States.   But, given my love of pop culture, it didn't take long for my  interest to spread into other areas.  Before I knew it, I was looking at comic books, rationing, knitting, and, inevitably, toys that were also part of the experience of young people during the war.

So I sent for a copy of Toys Go To War, not because I wanted to start another collection, the books were quite enough, and besides that, I couldn't afford to think about toys financially and there simply wasn't room for that in my house.  So I content myself with looking through the pages of Jack Matthews Toys Go To War.
Here is a wonderful book that gives a pictorial, often anecdotal history of World War II toys, followed by chapters devoted to various kinds of toys.  The chapters are divided by the kinds of toys or pastimes under discussion.  There are chapters on puzzles and books, wooden toys, toys obtained by collecting cereal boxtops and toys that are put together by the owner, among others.  And one example of the kinds of anecdotes included is the one that tells how God Bless America is substituted for Gesundheit whenever someone sneezed, because Gesundheit was an enemy word.

Since most factories were turned over to war production, and metals, rubber and paper used for making necessary munitions, there wouldn't seem to be much left for childhood entertainments.  And yet, toys and games were produced, most of which were designed to instill/reinforce a sense of patriotism in kids.  Cardboard planes, tanks and even soldiers could be found under a Christmas tree, paper dolls became even more popular then previously and books were printed according to the war economy (which means that today the pages are quite browned and brittle - some of an older cousins old hand-me-down Nancy Drew books are from this time period and can't even be opened anymore with extensive damage to the pages.)

This is a great book if you are interested in what kids played with or even how kids were propagandized into supporting the war.  There is a small valuation guide at the back if you might want to start collecting, but I think the main purpose of this book is just to see what kids played with during this most difficult of times and maybe even a walk down memory lane for the author.  Matthews also includes, as you will see, some of the German games that are really not so very different from the games produced for American and British children (German books for boys and girls are not so very different either.  They were nothing like I expected them to be.  For the most part, they were just patriotic stories, but not the kind of virulent anti-Semitism I had expected.)

Some example of what can be found in Toys Go To War:
Wartime Wedding Paper Dolls

Books for Boys and Girls

Bubble Gum Cards, Paper Doll Military Clothes

Soldier Paper Cut Outs for Boys

Patriotic Puzzles
Games for German Children
The book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

"It's like being in love, discovering your best friend."
                                                             Verity (page 88)
From Electric Monkey Books:
Two young women become unlikely best friends during WWII, until one is captured by the Gestapo.
Only in wartime could a stalwart lass from Manchester rub shoulders with a Scottish aristocrat, one a pilot, the other a special operations executive.  Yet whenever their paths cross, they complement each other perfectly and before long become devoted to each other.  But then a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France.  She is captured by the Gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war.  The story begins in Verity's own words, as she writes her account for her captors.
Truth or lies? Honour or betrayal? Everything they've ever believed in is put to the test.

From Disney - Hyperion:
Oct. 11th, 1943 - A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France.  Its pilot and passenger are best friends.  One of the girls has a chance at survival.  The other has lost the game before its barely begun.
When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance.  As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare.  Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.
As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane.  One each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home.  But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

OK, I need to rely on the publisher's blurbs to help me not give away too much of this most wonderful of stories.
I finished reading Code Name Verity at 2 o'clock in the morning because I couldn't put it down.  When I woke up a few hours later, I picked it up and began reading it all over again.  It is just that powerful.

Simply put, it is a story about the friendship between two young women during the Second World War.  Maddie, a commoner who is also a gifted mechanic and whose love affair with flying began on an ordinary Sunday while out with her then best school friend Beryl.  The two girls had gone for a picnic tea on Maddie's motorbike, a Silent Superb, when a plane crash landed in a field not far away from them and, after rescuing the pilot, another young woman, Maddie knew that she too wanted to fly.  And so she became a gifted pilot and airplane mechanic, became part of the ATA program (Air Transport Auxiliary) ferrying planes around England and doing her bit for the war effort.

Verity is a well-bred, well-educated Scottish girl who grew up in a castle, went to school in Switzerland, speaks fluent German and who is doing her bit for the war effort as a British spy.  They would be unlikely friends under normal conditions, but war makes for strange bedfellows and it didn't take long for Verity and Maddie to realize they "make a sensational team.

The story is told in two parts.  Part One is Verity's version of the events leading up to her friendship with Maddie and how they ended flying together to Nazi occupied France.  Now in the hands of the Gestapo, and at their mercy, Verity is providing them with what they want - information about England's airfields, wireless codes and any other information they believe will help them conquer the British.

Part Two is not told from Verity's point of view.  And in order to avoid spoilers, I shall leave it at that.

Needless to say, Code Name Verity is one of the best books I have read in a long time, best not just because it it a good story, but because it kept me guessing and questioning for just long enough.  And I love a good unreliable narrator and Verity is one of the most delicious of these, spinning out her tales like Scheherazade to buy more time and playing a game with her cruel German literature loving Gestapo captor SS Hauptsturmführer von Linden.

Bravos to Elizabeth Wein for crafting such a wonderful story.  She has clearly done her WWII research for Code Name Verity and  it is apparent throughout the entire book with rich details woven into the the story.  And it is mesmerizing, the whole book holding you in its grip wanting the next part of Verity's narrative.  When I came to the end of Code Name Verity the first time I read it, and it all came together and made sense, the only thing I  could do was shake my head and say out loud "Elizabeth Wein, you are wizard, utterly brilliant."

In fact, Elizabeth Wein wrote an article on how she researched Code Name Verity which you can read here.

Or visit her on her website E Wein and be sure to look at some of her wonderful WWII knitting.

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
The UK edition of this book was purchased for my personal library (and I am glad I did, cause I like the cover so much more than the US edition)
The US edition was received as an E-ARC from

This is book 4 of my European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader
This is book 3 of my Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day.  Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, because it was a time when people would decorate the graves of those soldiers who has fallen in war to honor and remember them.

In many of the national cemeteries, they still mark all the graves with a flag for this weekend.  This makes me feel good, since my baby brother is buried in one of those cemeteries.

I always think of the poem "In Flanders Fields" on Memorial Day because I had to learn it in school and never forgot.  The poem has an interesting history.

In 1915, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrea who a poem called "In Flanders Fields" while presiding over the funeral of a fellow fallen soldier who was killed in the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium and buried in Flanders Fields, a field were red poppies grew everywhere.  McCrea was not very happy with the poem he wrote and threw it away, but one of his fellow officers saved it.  It was published in Punch on December 8, 1915.

In What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? which was broadcast for Memorial Day in 1983, Linus recites "In Flanders Fields" while the Peanuts gang is visiting the cemetery there:

So, if you see a vet selling poppies this weekend, and you decide to buy one, remember that the money goes towards helping needy veterans.  Oh, and by the way, they are mady by vet themselves, and although they receive a small amount of money for making poppies, so many it is their only source of income.

All this being said, have a happy, healthy and safe Memorial Day and have some fun, too.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Victory (Resistance Book 3) by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis

With Victory, Book 3, the talented team of Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis will bring their graphic novel trilogy about kids working in the French Resistance during World War II to its conclusion when it is published on July 17, 2012.

Victory begins after the Nazi occupation of France and one month after the allied invasion of Normandy.  For the first time, victory seems to be a possibility for the allied forces, but tensions are also running very high.  As Nazi losses increase, so does their cruel treatment of their victims.  And now, to make matters worse, there is infighting among the different resistance groups.

Paul Tessier has just gotten himself arrested by the Milice (a paramilitary group of Frenchmen formed by the Germans to do their dirty work) to find out what cell another resistance worker is being held in.  When he is freed, Paul hurriedly reports back to his friend and fellow resistance worker Jacques with the information.

Meanwhile, Paul's older sister Sylvie is still dating a German soldier in order to get information from him about Gestapo plans.  When the soldier tells her that the Gestapo is going to search in the Jura Mountains for the Marquis, a group of resistance fighters, she immediately reports back to Jacques and Paul.  Trouble is, however, it looks like Sylvie is beginning to fall for the German soldier, which could be a real problem.

Paul and Jacques now want the resistance workers to arm themselves with stolen German weapons.  Since they only have a few weapons, they decide to sabotage a trains using what they have and manage to get more of from the Germans on the train. In retaliation and believing the citizens of this small southern French town know who attacked the train, the Nazis begin to execute 10 townspeople every hour until someone turns the saboteurs in.

While all this is going on, Marie, Paul's younger sister, has been deeply depressed about their father, who is missing in a German POW camp, and their Jewish friend and former neighbor Henri, whom Paul and Jacques helped to escape to Paris earlier, where he was reunited with his parents that everyone had believed to be dead.  While out walking in the woods, Marie finds a downed allied airplane with a wounded pilot.  She gets Paul to help her hide the pilot so his wounds can be taken care of.  The pilot was on a mission to deliver a message to resistance fighters in Paris from DeGaulle in London about the direction he wants the resistance to go in now that the Germans are losing the war.  Naturally, Paul and Jacques volunteer to complete the pilot's message, arriving in Paris just in time participate in the Battle of Paris that ultimately leads to its liberation from its German occupiers and the return of Charles DeGaulle.  But not before a few surprises for Paul.

Victory is every bit as exciting, informative and well done as the previous two volumes, and every bit a well written as Resistance and Defiance.  This story, like it predecessors, is full of intrigue, adventure, danger, and suspense.  Altogether these excellently done graphic novels give an interesting perspective on a part of World War II most people don't really know about and would probably not like to think about their kids participating in - young peoples involvement in resistance movements throughout Europe.  But it makes you realize how incredibly brave these young people were in the face of such odds.

Leland Purvis has also continued to produce exceptionally well detailed drawings perfectly matched to the text and Hilary Sycamore's coloring only adds to the over effect of the graphics.

All in all, the Resistance trilogy is well worth reading and should be appeal to the most reluctant readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This was received as an E-ARC from

Victory will be published on July 17, 2012.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday #8: Top Ten Blog/Sites That Aren't About Books

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

Here are my personal top ten favorite non-book related sites or blogs in no particular order

1- Pinterest - a great place to do exactly what you are supposed to do with it - pin up things you want to remember for whatever reason AND you don't need to clutter your real world with any of it until you want to do something you have pinned.

2- Twitter - I am not a big tweeter but I love Twitter for what I do use it for, not to mention finding more than a few really great people on it.

3- Wendolonia - this is a bento website that I like to follow because when I need to take lunch somewhere, I bento.  Well, I don't make cute bento food, just healthy stuff in little bento boxes.  

4- INY so I like to read lots of NY history sites, but my favorite is Daytonian in New York.  Here Tom Miller gives a detailed history about some of my favorite NYC buildings and homes.

5- Skype - i am on skype a lot talking to my kiddo in China, in fact as I write this, I am chatting with her.

6- Facebook - I mostly use my personal FB page to keep in touch with my cousins scattered around the globe.

7- YouTube - because somewhere on YouTube someone has uploaded just the thing you want.

8- Wikipedia - for instant gratification when you need to know something.

9- Photobucket - to fix up those nice graphics and photos for my blog and for other projects I am working on.

10- The New York Times - even though I get the paper delivered, I find I use the Times website at least once a day, mostly for archived information, especially old book reviews and recipes.

What are your favorite non-book related place on the web?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Funnies #7: How Superman Would End the War

In 1940, Superman was still a relatively new phenom in the comic culture world, but he already had a rather large fan base of kids and even adults.  So, in 1940, LOOK magazine asked Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster to create a two page strip showing how Superman would end the war in Europe (the US wasn't in the war yet.)  This is the strip as it appeared in the February 27, 1940 edition of LOOK:

Well, it seems that the Nazi leadership in Berlin got wind of this strip created by two young Jewish Americans and didn't think it was very entertaining.  It is even rumored that Josef Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, was so outraged that in anger he declared that Superman was Jewish!  Then, on April 25, 1940, an article appeared in Das Schwarze Korps with an ad hominem attack on Jerry Siegel and Superman.  I was curious to see this article before I wrote about it, so I went off to the NYPL and found it (recognize the picture of Jerry Siegel that they used? It is from the LOOK magazine article.)  The article is a odious rant about Siegel for being Jewish and Superman, whose deeds are compated to those of a "Colorado beetle."

If you want to read some of what the annonymous article writer wrote, it has been translated and can be found here.  I can't in good conscience repeat it.

Superman, my favorite superhero, has gone through a lot of trials and tribulations since his creation in 1938.  He even died once, but he always manages to come back.  And I am pretty sure that this Nazi attack would have simply bounced off him just like bullets did - after all, he is the Man of Steel.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

From the Archives #19: The Ark by Margot Benary-Isbert

I found The Ark to be an oddly pleasant story about a family trying to survive in post-war Germany, not the subject of too many YS novels.   And even thought it was originally written and published in Germany in 1948 under the title Die Arche Noah, and not translated and published in English until 1953, I felt it qualified for a That's The Way It Was Wednesday post..  Some of the books content comes from Benary-Isbdert's own experiences in Germany at the end of the war.

The Ark center's on the Lechow family: Mother, eldest son Matthias, 16, Margaret, 14, Andrea, 13 and Joey, 7, but is, for the most part, Margaret's story.  It is October and the Lechow's have been refugees for a long time, after fleeing west from their home in Pomerania just ahead of the Russian Army at the end of the war.  Now, after two years of living in refugee camps, they have finally been assigned two rooms in the home of elderly Mrs. Zerduz, and though she can't do anything about it, she has made it clear that Mrs. Lechow and her children are not welcome.

Little by little the Lechow's settle into their new, more stable home.  Joey is finally enrolled in school, where he immediately meets a best friend and fellow adventurer Hans Ulrich, an orphan.  Andrea is offered a full scholarship at a private girls school, Margaret stays home and helps with the house and shopping (she doesn't want to return to school) and Matthias is assigned to work in construction, where he meets a best friend and fellow musician, Dieter.

And Mrs. Lechow uses her considerable skill as a seamstress to make some additional money.  All in all, life has take a turn for the better for the Lechow's.  Even Mrs. Zerduz begins to feel very attached to the family.  But they still haven't heard from Dr. Lechow, a POW in a Soviet labor camp; Matthias would rather be an apprentice to a gardener than work in construction; and animal-loving Margaret would rather work on a farm.

Just before their first Christmas in their new home, the children, with Dieter, go out caroling and end up at the lovely Almut farm.  One thing leads to another and pretty soon Matthias is taken on as an apprentice and Margaret as a kennel maid.  Both of them are ecstatically happy with this arrangement, plus they get to live in an old railroad car that Mrs. Almut had purchased many years ago.  They fix it up into a lovely home that can sleep eight people and pretty soon find themselves with both human and animal visitors. For that reason, Margaret decides to christen it "The Ark"

The Ark is an easy to digest novel about the hardships people faced after the devastation of war.  Yet, there is no real mention of Germany's recent Nazi past and what went on under their domination, with one exception where it is made known that the Lechow family did not support this government and its policies.  On the other hand, Benary-Isbert does not ignore the realities of life too much either - there are abundant shortages with rationing is still in effect, so there is hunger, homelessness, people die, animals die, and children don't always thrive.  Margaret, for example, had a twin brother Christian whose war related death always left a void in her life.  Yet, there are also pockets of happiness and kindness and the idea that we can create our own areas of contentment and satisfaction even in the midst of chaos and ruin.

The Ark was one of the first books to be published as a way of dealing with the aftermath of Hitler's Reich.  Benary-Isbert handled the topic well, considering there was probably still a lot of anti-Germany sentiment around and many other countries were still in the throes of recovery from the war as well.  The story takes place in an unspecified town in the Hessian area of Germany under the control of the Americans, whose short appearance in the novel in not particularly flattering, but, oh well, I probably wouldn't much like my occupiers either.  There had been an underground arsenal of weapons in that area during the war and it had sustained considerable damage in the last days of the war when bombing caused the arsenal to explode.  Many of Benary-Isbert's post war descriptions reminded me of that area.

This is almost an overly sentimental story, and people always seem surprised by how much they like the novel, despite that.  I also found that to be true and, it turns out,  there is a sequel to The Ark called Rowan Farm, which I am now looking forward to reading.

This book is recommended for readers 12+
The book was borrowed from a friend.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Henderson’s Boys: The Escape by Robert Muchamore

Robert Muchamore is the author of the very popular CHERUB series.  These are series books about the orphaned minors who are members of CHERUB, which stands for Charles Henderson’s Espionage Research Unit B, and modern day spies working with British Security Service.  
The Henderson’s Boys series is a prequel to the CHERUB series and takes place during World War II.  It begins as people all over Paris are fleeing south before the arrival of Hitler’s Army, with one exception.  Marc Kilgour, 12, is an orphan who has just run away from the abusive orphanage he has lived his entire life in.  He arrives in Paris and finds what looked to be a very comfortable, abandoned house to live in.  That is until the Nazis show up and torture him for information about the real occupant of the house - Charles Henderson 
At the same time, Paul, 11, and Rosie Clarke, 13, are pulled out of school by their father, Digby Clarke, a traveling salesman for the Imperial Wireless Company.  They are loaded into his Citroën along with stacks of papers and head south to Bordeaux to try to return to England.  On the way, the town they stop in is bombed by Nazi planes and just before he dies, Clarke tells the kids they must find Charles Henderson.
After the Nazis leave, Henderson returns home, finds Marc and after some very exciting adventures in Paris, these two also hit the road looking for Clarke and his children before the Nazis can find them and the papers Clarke has in his car.  
The papers at the center of this story are the blueprints for a miniature transceiver designed by a French Jew named Luc Mannstein.  France and Britain were both a little wishy-washy about acquiring the plans even though the transceiver would have been a real boon in the war because of it portability.  The Nazis had a great deal of interest in it and promised safety in Poland if Mannstein would supply the blueprints to them.  But, Clarke now has the blueprints, so there is a pressing need for him to get out of France.  
Henderson’s Boys: The Escape takes place over a short but crucial period of time during the fall of France.  Part One covers June 5, 1940 to June 6, 1940 and Part Two covers June 14, 1940 to June 15, 1940.  And France has been turned into a large, chaotic country for everyone, but especially for people who don’t know each other to find each other - Will the Clark kids and Henderson meet up?  And what becomes of Marc?  
Henderson’s Boys: The Escape is a brilliantly written, graphically depicted, gritty, action-packed novel and no one is more surprised that I liked than I am.  I don’t usually like these kinds of stories, and yet, Muchamore’s novel held me spellbound.   It truly spares no punches, is at time brutal, has mild language and sexual references, and lots of violence.  It is not for the fainthearted, yet it really is no worst than many of the other  popular YA novels kids read.  
Curious?  You can read the first two chapters and find out more about the Henderson Boys series here.

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine

This week I am waiting for two books, both of which are the last volumes in a trilogy:

The FitzOsbornes at War finishes the tale of Sophie FitzOsborne and the Royal family of Montmaray exiled to England after the Nazis attacked their island and bombed their castle.  Told through journal entries, Sophie is a keen, witty observer of what goes on around her and there is plenty of social, political and familial intrigue to record.

The Australian edition of The FitzOsbornes at War was available as of April 2, 2012.  The American edition will be available October 9, 2012.

Oh well, this will give me time to reread
The Brief History of Montmaray and The FitzOsbornes in Exile (my reviews)

If you like novels like I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, the FitzOsbornes are sure to please you.

The second book I am waiting for is Becoming Clementine by Jennifer Niven.  This continues the adventures of Velva Jean Hart.   Growing up Appalachian-born Velva Jean Hart faced all kinds of hardships and sorrows with the help of singing, the thing she loves to do best.  Her teenage marriage to a revival preacher didn't work out,  but Velva Jean gained some freedom when she learned to drive.  She decided to follow her dream of singing at the Grand Ole Opry and  drives herself to Tennessee and the next thing she knows, she is flying for her country at war.

Becoming Clementine will be available on September 25, 2012.

Find my review of Velva Jean Learns to Fly here.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Children's Book Week 2012

Today marks the start of Children's Book Week.  This year's wonderful poster is by David Wiesner depicting a cast of favorite children's book characters. The following is a post from the archives of The Children's War about some of the past posters created for this special annual event.

Be sure to visit the Children's Book Week website for participatory events around the country, to find the winners of the Children's Choice Book Awards and to download a free bookmark.

The following was originally posted on May 5, 2011:
Books, especially for young readers, have always been considered to be a weapon during wars because of the influence they can have on the reader. This was as true for the Allied Powers as much as it was for the Axis Powers during World War II. Despite paper shortages everywhere, a good number of children’s books were still written and published between 1939 and 1945.

Children’s Book Week, sponsored by the Children’s Book Council, has been celebrating books and reading and encouraging youthful readers since 1919. Each year the Council commissions a poster by a well-known illustrator of children’s books for the purpose of commemorating this week.

75 Years of Children’s Book Week Posters contains the first 69 posters for Children’s Book Week. This is a book well worth close examination if you are a reader who really appreciates the work of each illustrator in the books you read. According to the publisher’s description of the book, these posters are not only first rate illustrations, but the also reflect the history, social climate and wider concerns of the country at the time each was created.

This made me think of one of my favorite quotes about children’s books by A.S.W. Rosenbach, who was a famous rare book seller and collector of children’s book. In 1933, in the introduction to his own book Early American Children’s Books, Rosenbach wrote:

“…more than any other class of literature, [children’s books] reflect the minds of the generation that produced them. Hence no better guide to the history and development of any country can be found than its juvenile literature.” (pg xxvii)

I think about this quote each time I read a kidlit book.

Since this is Children’s Book Week at the Children’s Book Council, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the posters that were created for it during World War II.

If you are ever in the Philadelphia ares, be sure to visit the kid friendly Rosenbach Museum and Library or visit online at

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Movie Matinee #1 - Journey for Margaret

Based on a 1941 novel by William Lindsay White, Journey for Margaret tells the story of American journalist John Davies and his wife Nora, a very happy, in-love couple.  They have just arrived in London from France in 1940 and the Davies' are expecting their first baby.

John wants Nora to return to the US, but she wants to stay by his side, despite the Blitz.  But after a bomb hits the hotel she is in, Nora loses the baby and the doctor tells John she is no longer able to have children.

Nora leaves the hospital a bitter, detached woman and leaves for the US a few days later.  John remains in London to report on the blitz, but the quality of his reporting has decidedly lost its edge.  One night during an air raid, John witnesses a mother carrying her dead daughter, believing she is only asleep and later helps rescuers pull a three year old boy out of the rubble, during which he absently pockets the boy's toy lamb.  John Davies get mad and gets his journalistic edge back.

His next assignment is a home for children orphaned by the Blitz.  There he runs into the little boy he helped save.  The boy, whose name is Peter, immediately attaches himself to John and "adopts" him after John returns his lamb.

Before John leaves the home, a little girl is brought by a woman who had adopted her after her parents were killed by bombs.  The little girl, Margaret, was too hard to handle.  For one thing, she carries the shell casing of a magnesium bomb around her neck, and she constantly is wiping her eyes.  Why? Watch the clip -

Margaret also attaches herself to and "adopts" John Davies, setting up a very funny sibling rivalry between Peter and herself.  This turns to sad poignancy, however, when John takes them for a visit to meet people who are willing to adopt them and he must enter and exit the house with both children clinging to his legs.

It isn't long before John decides to adopt them and return to the US.  When his wife receives his letter about this plan, she has a bit of a breakdown but emerges from it her old self, happily agreeing to the adoption.

But of course, there is a SNAFU - the plane they are planning to take is completely booked.  John convinces the airline to permit him to use his baggage allowance for the kids, but they are over the weight limit.  So it is decided he will take Margaret, and Peter, who regresses to his old shell-shocked behavior, is sent to live with the people he had visited earlier.

Can John manage to finally get Peter on the plane?

This movie, while at time overly sentimental, is actually a pretty good film.  It depicts the way people dealt with the Blitz - guests bedding down in the hotel shelter or in its one save corridor, the loss of a child or parent(s), and of course the fires, the rubble of everyday life and the people who worked though these conditions even as the bombs continued to fall to save lives..   But the film's most redeeming quality is the picture it paints of the effect the war had on young children - the fear of the sky causing children to walk around always looking up, or the little girl who screams reliving what happened to her.  In the 1942 movie review of Journey for Margaret, the critic wrote "As Director Van Dyke and his authors have made a film of childhood as if they knew that all the heartbreak lay in childhood's...inability to speak and tell its wounds."

Journey for Margaret is rated 4 hankerchiefs. 

Journey for Margaret is sometimes shown TMC, and can be rented from various online sources, but I borrowed it through interlibrary loan.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Now (Book #3 in the Felix and Zelda Family of Books) by Morris Gleitzman

Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad. Once I saved a girl called Zelda from a burning house. Once I made a Nazi with a toothache laugh. My name is Felix. This is my story.'

Then I had a plan for me and Zelda.  Pretend to be someone else.  Find new parents.  Be safe forever.  Then the Nazis came.’

‘Once I didn’t know about my grandfather Felix’s scary childhood.  
Then I found out what the Nazis did to his best friend Zelda.
Now I understand why Felix does the things he does.  At  least he’s got me.  My name is Zelda too.  This is our story.’

As you can see, Now continues the story of Felix begun in Once and Then.  And true to the meaning of the word, Now takes place in the present.  Felix, that charming 10 year old we last saw curled up in a hiding hole to avoid capture by the Nazis, is about to turn 80 years old. He is living in Australia, has had an eminent career as a physician, was married, is now separated from his wife, but on friendly terms, and has one son.  His son and daughter-in-law, also physicians, are off in Africa, helping sick children in Darfur and so Felix’s 11 year old granddaughter, Zelda, has come to stay with him in his somewhat isolated home.

Felix is a sad, but understanding grandfather.  He doesn’t even get mad at Zelda when he learns she has taken the locket, his most precious possession that had belonged to the first Zelda, the spunky 6 year old who was fleeing the Nazis with him.  He is especially not mad after she explains that she thought it would make her brave, but he does guess she is being bullied.  Zelda, as the new kid in school, immediately finds herself confronted by bullies and devises a number of ways to avoid and hide from them - shades of her grandfather here.

At the same time, though, Zelda also feels she must deal with her grandfather’s sadness.  To cheer him up, she plans a surprise birthday picnic tea for him, attaching hundreds of thank you notes from patients to a tree, and lighting some candles, despite the no fire ban.  The entire state of Victoria, Australia was a tinder box because of an intense heatwave.  So naturally, when Josh, a boy in her class and the asthmatic brother of her main tormentor, shows up Zelda accidentally sets the letters on fire, when she pushes him away.  But later when she hears the bush fires that are raging nearby, Zelda is afraid that she has caused them with the burning thank-yous.  

So far their area has not been in danger, but then, the day after the picnic tea fiasco,  while in town, they hear that the wind has changed direction.  Zelda and Felix race home to save the house and Felix’s dog, Jumble, only to find themselves forced to find safety in a hiding hole while the fire rages about them.  

Felix, despite all he has accomplished, has never really come to terms with original Zelda’s death and his failure to protect and save her.  That is a heavy burden to carry around for almost 70 years.  But now he finds himself confronted by another conflagration and a chance to protect and save another girl named Zelda who also means the world to him.  It seems Felix has come full circle - but will he and Zelda both survive this time?

In books 1 and 2, Once and Then, Gleitzman gave the reader a pretty good look at what life was life under the Nazis, the level of cruelty people can be capable of and the level of kindness, too.  But the scars left by the Holocaust on those who survived it must be so unimaginably painful, one wonders how any healing can happen.  But healing is what  Felix needs to do in Now and so, for that matter, does granddaughter Zelda, who feels she can never to good enough to live up the idealized image of her namesake. 

Gleitzman has managed to pull this trilogy completely together, yet, interestingly enough, each novel can even stand on it own.  So, if you have any interest at all in WWII literature, this is a trilogy not to be missed.

Well, I say trilogy very tongue in cheek.  I thought Once, Then and Now would be a trilogy, but maybe , maybe not.  Time will tell.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was obtained from the publisher and will be available in the US June 5, 2012.

Be sure to visit Morris Gleitzman to read about the real life stories that influences Felix's story.

There is an online teacher’s guide for Now, but I am including the link to all three guides for your convenience:


FYI: the bush fires in the novel is based on a real event. The bush fires that began on Saturday, February 7, 2009 have come to be known as the Black Saturday Bushfire.  You can read about them here.