Friday, March 29, 2013

Welcome to America, Champ! by Catherine Stier, illustrated by Doris Ettlinger

Once the United States entered WWII, the inevitable was bound to happen - American G.I.s who were stationed in England before deploying to combat areas would meet, date and fall in love with English girls.  And sometimes they got married.  Welcome to America, Champ! is the story of this very thing and what happens next, all told from the point of view of a young boy named Thomas.

Thomas begins his story in 1944, telling us about his mother marrying Jack Ricker, a US serviceman stationed in England.  It is one of the few happy occasions during Thomas's experience of war.  Before Jack, things were pretty sad for Thomas and his family, even though their village hadn't been bombed like other places in England.  His mother friends all put together their rations to make a cake for the bride and groom and there is lots of dancing at the small reception, but Thomas has lots of questions for his new dad about some day living in America, which his dad is happy to answer.  And he promises to teach Thomas how to play baseball with a stick once they are all together in the US.

But soon after Jack is sent off to war.  And eventually Thomas has a new baby brother named Ronnie.

One day, the church bells start ringing all over England to announce that the war is finally over.  But Jack is sent directly back to the states, with no time to visit his wife and sons.  The family waits until the finally get a letter from the army - be ready to sail to America in two weeks.

Sailing to America
Pretty soon, Thomas, Ronnie and their mom are on the Queen Mary, sailing across the Atlantic to a
a new life.  Excited but apprehensive, Thomas reads the answers his dad had given him to all his questions over and over again to reassure himself that things will be work out.  And he spends lots time exploring the ship with his new friend Lucy, who is going to America for the same reason as Thomas.  Thomas and Lucy are both still rather homesick and anxious, but when they finally see the Statue of Liberty early one morning, Lucy's homesickness get the better of her and she begins to cry.

But maybe Thomas has just the thing to help Lucy with her fears and to help himself at the same time.

Welcome to America, Champ! is one of those very well written, well done picture books for older readers that are being published more and more lately.  I think these are perfect classroom books and offer a way of introducing different historical events to kids in first, second and third grades without overwhelming them with facts and figures.

I personally found this book to be very interesting for two reasons: first, because my best friend's grandmother was a war bride from England and because my dad had also immigrated here from Wales.  We both used love listening to their stories about leaving Britain and coming here.  And Welcome to America, Champ! is, after all, a story about immigrating to a new country and what that means to a child - getting to know a new dad, a new school, new friends, new way of life at the same time as leaving behind your old home, old friends, old school and your family.  Thomas's apprehension about these issues makes this a perfect read aloud for any child who is about to or has just dealt with a an event that has changed their lives.

Doris Ettlinger's beautifully rendered realistic watercolor illustrations complement and support this heartwarming story throughout, giving us a real sense of not just of Thomas's life but also his feelings and emotions.

My second reason for finding Welcome to America, Champ! is that I was fortunate enough to have sailed from Southampton to New York on the Queen Mary just before she was retired and I was old enough to remember it.  The Queen Mary was a lovely old ship and being on her was like stepping back in time (or at least that is what my memory tells me).

Queen Mary entering New York harbor
Be sure to read the Author's Note at the end of Welcome to America, Champ! for more information about war brides.

FYI: The Queen Mary, converted from a warship to a floating nursery, arrived in New York Harbor on February 10, 1946 with the first of the war brides and their children, all of whom were greeted by an army band playing Brahms' "Lullabye."  On board were 1,666 brides and 688 children.  What a day that must have been!

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was purchased for my personal library.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust by Leanne Lieberman

That is quite a title, isn't it.  I know I did a double take when I first saw it.  So, what kind of a kid would say she hates the Holocaust?  Meet Lauren Yanofsky.  Lauren is entering her junior year of high school, has a big crush on Jesse, a boy she has known most of her life, and is finding her best friend drifting away.

Oh, yes, and Lauren has also decided not to be Jewish anymore.  Lauren had always felt that her religion was full of persecution in the Bible and history.  Then, three years ago, she found out that her grandmother had eleven relatives who all perished in the Holocaust.  "Who needed all that misery?  Why would anyone want to belong to a religion that was all about loss, grief, and persecution?" she asked herself.  (pg13)

Lauren even managed to convince her parents, with the help of a hunger strike, to let her leave the Hebrew School she was attending in favor of public school.  But try as she might, Lauren just can't get away from Judaism and the Holocaust.  Her father is a Holocaust scholar at the University and he and her mother continually try to tempt Lauren back to her faith by joining a Jewish youth group, going a Taglit birth right trip to Israel and/or other religion-based  activities.  Lauren wants none of it, however.

As school begins, Lauren finds herself sitting beside her crush, Jesse, and her best friend, Brooke.  Things go well and it looks like Jesse may be more attracted to Lauren that just as a friend, and it also seems that Brooke is really supportive of this.  But Brooke has more than one surprise in store Lauren. where Jesse is concerned.  As the days pass, and their other two friends Chloe and Em become involved with the school production of Grease, and Brooke begins to drift off at lunchtime to hang outside with the Smokers, particularly with one named Chantel, Lauren finds herself alone in the lunchroom with her own thoughts.

One night, after getting together with Brooke, Chole and Em for pizza (just like the old days, Lauren thinks), they end the evening at the park, watching the boys from school, including Jesse, playing Nazi war games with water guns and paper armbands with Swastikas drawn on them.  The worse part is that everyone seems to think this is OK, except for Lauren.

When Lauren finds a lost Nazi armband after the boys finish playing their Nazi war game again, she finds herself in a dilemma: she knows the game is a form of anti-Semitism and that's unacceptable.  And she knows the right thing to do would be to turn them in at school, but Jesse is one of the players.  Now, Lauren must confront herself, her beliefs and her own ideas about the Holocaust and Judaism, again.

Narrated in the first person by Lauren, Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust is a realistic look at a teenager coming to grips with who she is as a person.  It is a coming of age novel that catches Lauren right in the transitional moment of time when she must make the choice about which way her moral compass is going to go.  And at the center of that choice is the Holocaust.  Reporting the boys, including Jesse, would mean taking a big risk, possibly losing friends, embracing her religion and accepting responsibility for her actions.  Not reporting them would make Lauren as guilty of anti-Semitism as her friends, of betraying her religion, its culture and most importantly, the 11 relatives and all the other people who perished in the Holocaust.  Lauren has a true moral dilemma to grapple with, but does get some surprising help along the way.

Lieberman has peopled her novel with all kinds of realistic characters, just the kind you would find in any high school, like the Perfects and the Smokers.  Lauren and her friends drink a little, curse a little, make out some and in general behave just like most teens do when adults are not around.  Besides moral choices, Lauren also deals with ordinary things like taming her very frizzy hair each morning even though her straightener is usually defeated by the damp weather.  She also has a younger brother Zach, who is studying to make his Bar Mitzvah, but whose sensory integration issues are making that difficult for him.  Without sinking into the stereotypical, the characters are all familiar to us but have their own individual quirks.

Though sometimes predictable, Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust is also written with lots of humor, at times a bit on the snarky side, some sentiment, and teen drama.   And if I say anymore about Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust, I will have to include a spoiler warning.  I would suggest reading it for yourself, which I highly recommend.

Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust will be available on April 1, 2013.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was sent to me by the publisher

Monday, March 25, 2013

Bloggiesta 2013: At the Finish Line

Well, Bloggiesta 2013 is over.  I hope everyone had a great weekend and accomplished all their goals.  I accomplished almost all of mind, but the weekend was cut short by a Sunday afternoon at the theater and then dinner.  But I am at the finish line so let's see what's what.

This is my original list and my finished tasks are crossed off.

1- Write reviews for the books I have already read and the pile is getting higher. 
I did all but one review.

2- Back up my blog.
Now I need to remember to back up both my blogs more frequently.

3- Do some work on my other blog, Randomly Reading
I did lots of work on this blog - made drop down menus for labels and blog archive, created an archives page, and changed the whole look because the background I was using wouldn't always let me respond to comments, among other things.

4- Participate in the following challenges:

Organizing Reviews hosted by Lauren at Lose Time Reading using Excel, something I need a lot.  I don't have Excel, so I am going to try to do it on Google Docs.  
I did manage to make this work in Google Docs, so I was very pleased.  I even used a color coding system the way Lauren shows on here mini-challenge.

Declutter Your Sidebar hosted by Debz at Debz Bookshelf
I didn't get far enough with this to say I completed it, so it is still a work in progress.

Google Reader Replacement Options hosted by Jenn from The Picky Girl.  I have already tried Bloglovin', Feedly and The Old Reader, but still haven't made up my mind about which I like best.
For the moment, I am sticking with Bloglovin'  Feedly was OK, but there were almost 38,000 subscriptions ahead of me and after a few hours, very few of those were done.  There was also a note saying that in the future there would be a charge.  The Old Reader was also OK, but in the end I preferred Bloglovin'

Thank you again to all the hosts of the mini-challenges and especially to Suey from It's All About Books and Danielle fromThere's A Book for organizing and hosting Bloggiesta.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ole! Bloggiesta is Here!

Yes, it is that time of the year!  A time when you can take a weekend and work on your blog.  This year Bloggiesta is once again being hosted by Suey from It's All About Books and Danielle from There's A Book   Here is a great big Muchas Gracias to both of you for organizing and hosting this year's Bloggiesta.

Bloggiesta runs from Friday, March 22 to Sunday, March 24th so break out the chips and salsa and get yourself up to the Starting Line:

I have been waiting for Bloggiesta to do some work on The Children's War, so here is my To-Do List:

1- Write reviews for the books I have already read and the pile is getting higher.

2- Back up my blog.

3- Do some work on my other blog, Randomly Reading

4- Participate in the following challenges:

Organizing Reviews hosted by Lauren at Lose Time Reading using Excel, something I need a lot.  I don't have Excel, so I am going to try to do it on Google Docs.  

I did manage to make this work in Google Docs, so I was very pleased.

Declutter Your Sidebar hosted by Debz at Debz Bookshelf

Google Reader Replacement Options hosted by Jenn from The Picky Girl.  I have already tried Bloglovin', Feedly and The Old Reader, but still haven't made up my mind about which I like best.

Happy Bloggiesta and see you Sunday!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Alice at the Home Front by Mardiyah A. Tarantino

It is sometimes a serendipitous world.  Now sooner did I write about plane spotting in December, than I started reading a book about an 11 year old girl who really wants to be a plane spotter.  Alice Calder has memorized all the plane silhouettes on her plane spotting cards, has a brand new log book and a pair of binoculars.  All she is missing is her mother's permission.  But when her mom figures out that Alice has been plane spotting out the window one cold night in December 1942 in Providence, Rhode Island, she takes away her plane spotting equipment.  Now how will anyone be able to recognize her as the important spotter she fancies herself as?

Alice wants to do something more for the war than just writing to her Uncle David (almost) everyday. So the next day, after school, she heads over to the Red Cross, where she can fold bandages for wounded soldiers.  On her way, she envisions herself being introduced on the radio as a real patriot for her bandage folding.  Though is it satisfying enough work, Alice still  dreams of being a plane spotting heroine.

Then, as she and her Gramps are preparing a bomb shelter at home, Alice talks him into letting her use her grandmother's opera glasses (if it's OK with mom) and hits on the idea of joining the plane spotters in the Ground Observation Corps.  But when she asks Mr. Parker, the head of the corps, about joining, he tells her she is too young.  Taking pity on her, he gives Alice an old Ground Observer's manual that is still serviceable.

Civil Air Patrol  
One day, after dancing class, Alice runs in her old friend (and crush) Jimmy Brownell, 16.  Over cokes, he tells her he has joined the Civil Air Patrol her and will be training to get a pilot's license.   In CAP, he will fly his dad's plane over the coast looking for enemy submarines.

Sure enough, Jimmy gets his license and begins flying and Alice flies with him, at least in her imagination.  Meanwhile, with hard won permission to plane spot, Alice does her patriotic duty spotting and keeping a meticulous log book.  But then, one cold winter night, a phone call comes, saying that Jimmy's plane was lost over the sea because of a nor'easter and it doesn't look good.  Upset, Alice passes out and spends a number of days in bed, seriously ill.

When she recovers, she is told that Jimmy had been found alive, but in pretty bad condition.  And to her chagrin, Alice discovers that binoculars and log book have been take away once again.  And that would seem to be the end of Alice's spotting days.  Or is it?  There is a big surprise in store for Alice and her meticulous log book.

Alice at the Home Front is a story that really demonstrates the desire of young people in WWII to do something, anything to help the war effort.  The war wasn't something far away on unimaginable battlefields to them.  They felt the effect of it wherever they lived.  Rationing, bomb shelters, air raid sirens and blackout were the kinds of things that brought it all home for them every day.  Tarantino has given the reader a picture into what it was all about for them through Alice.

Plane Spotting Cards
Plane spotting was a big very big thing for kids and there were all kinds of ways to learn plane identification, including playing cards with images on them  It was something they could do right in their own backyard and maybe feel a little more empowered than they actually were.  And naturally, kids could get pretty competitive about who could identify and/or spot the greatest number of different planes.  And I suspect that lots of kids, like Alice, had Walter Mitty-like dreams be being a hero/heroine.  And it is part of what made Alice at the Home Front such a realistic novel.

This is a heart-warming story with lots of humorous bits, lots of slang and some pretty serious stuff, too.  I loved that she wanted to be a plane spotter, and really was dedicated to it, even at the risk of falling out the window.  The most amazing part of the novel was that a 16-year-old boy was allowed to fly a plane alone the way Jimmy did, but it certainly demonstrates how different times were back then.

This book was recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library.

Be sure to visit the National Museum of the Civil Air Patrol where you can see an extensive online exhibit of the role CAP played in World War II.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian

On September 1, 1939, Operation Pied Piper commenced and thousands of children were evacuated from London to the English countryside to keep them safe from the war that was just beginning.

Among the evacuees to Little Weinwold is William Beech, 8, left in the care of Tom Oakley, a widower and a rather crusty loner.  William is much to small for his age, frightened of everything and covered in black and blue bruises.  Inside he duffel, Tom find a belt with a large buckle and instructions to use it on William whenever he sees fit.  Appalled by what he sees that first day, Mr. Tom, as he tells William to call him, begins to soften towards the boy, taking him out and buying him some appropriate clothing and boots, feeding him well and doctoring the bruises.

As William's body heals, he comes out of his frightened shell and even develops a fondness for Mr. Tom's dog Sammy.  But William has a bed-wetting problem that continues despite everything.   Soon William meets Zach, another evacuee, and they become best friends.  And other kids begin to join in on their fun.  And it turns out that William is quite a talented artist, receiving some art supplies from Mr. Tom for his ninth birthday.  Things go well until school starts.

It turns out that William cannot read, that in London his teachers ignored him and the other students taunted him.  When all his friends to into their proper class, William is put in with the younger kids who are just beginning school.  Mr. Tom begins to teach him to read and by the end of the term, William has conquered not just reading but his bed-wetting problem as well.

Life for William, Mr. Tom and Sammy the dog has evolved into a comfortable,  happy companionship and Mr. Tom has even begun to participate in village activities again, something he hasn't done in forty years after the death of his wife and new baby son, also named William.  But one day a letter arrives from William's mother, asking for her son to come home for a visit.

And it is with very heavy hearts that Mr. Tom and William say good-bye at the train.  William is laden with all kinds of lovely, friendly gifts for his mother as he leave and promises to write to Mr. Tom as soon as he can.  When weeks go by and not letter arrives, Mr. Tom and Sammy take the train to London to find out if things are going well for William, arriving just at the Blitz begins.

And yes, he does find him - locked in a closet, tied up to a pipe in it and holding a baby who turns out to be his illegitimate sister.  Traumatized and blaming himself for the baby's death, William is taken to a hospital.  Mr. Tom keeps watch and makes himself useful when people injured by the bombing are brought in.  After a few days, however, he is told that William is going to be transferred to a home where he will be given psychiatric treatment.

Not agreeing that this is the best thing for William, Mr. Tom resorts to something desperate.  Will the two ever make it back to Little Weinwold or is this the end of things for Mr. Tom and William?

Good Night, Mr. Tom is Michelle Magorian's first novel.  It was written in 1981 and hasn't lost any of its appeal nor does it have a dated feeling.  It is probably her most well-known work, particularly since it has been made into a television movie (ITV in the UK, Masterpiece Theater in the US, and with John Thaw, a favorite) and a play.

I have read Good Night, Mr. Tom a few times and never get tired of it.  The writing is elegant, and Magorian has great talent in fleshing out her characters so that they are believable and well-developed. And the same can be said for her settings, actually.

Magorian also has a way of presenting difficult issues without getting too graphic or going overboard.  In this novel alone, there are issues of abuse, bullying, anti-Semitism, skewed religious beliefs, the death of children and suicide.  These are dreadful things, and yet not presented in such a way that they   will disturb young readers, but enough is said to make this book appeal to an adult reader as well.  And in the end, it is a novel of healing, hope, love and trust, and these are the issues that predominate, even without a really pat ending.

If you haven't read Good Night, Mr. Tom, be warned - it is a tearjerker, but oh, so worth it.  But there is much in the story that will make you chuckle, especially William's very outgoing friend Zack, whom I haven't mentioned much even though he is a good part of the book and who makes me smile just thinking about him.

This old favorite is worthy of a first read if you haven't already read it, or worthy of another read if you have read it before.

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

Monday, March 11, 2013

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Sometimes, when you read a debut novel that also wins a Newbery, your expectations for next novel by the same author are way too high.  That was exactly what I was thinking when I picked up Navigating Early at the library and I must say I was very pleasantly surprised when I began reading and realized that I was not to be disappointed.

The book begins just after World War II has ended in Europe and 13 year old Jackie Baker's father, a Navy captain, has returned home to Kansas, not because of the end of fighting, but to bury his wife.  Not knowing what to do with their son Jackie, he enrolls him in the Morton Hill Academy for Boys, a boarding school in Maine.  

Not happy about this and somewhat of a misfit in the school, Jackie discovers a boy living in the janitor's workshop instead of the dormitory.  Early Auden, that strangest of boys, as Jackie describes him, is also a misfit, a boy who uses rituals to organize and navigate the world.  He also has an extraordinary ability for mathematics.  Numbers, Early tells Jackie, tell a story, specifically a story about Pi, that most mysterious of numbers: "The numbers have colors - blues of the ocean and sky, green grass, a bright-yellow sun.  The numbers have texture and landscape - mountains and waves and sand and storms.  And words - about Pi and about his journey.  The numbers tell a story." (pg 66)  

Early and Jackie becomes friends.  And it turns out that Early, like Jackie, has suffered a loss of someone important to him.  Fisher Auden, a hero and a rowing legend at Morton Hill, was Early's older brother who went to war right after graduation.  But after a dangerous mission, Fisher is declared Missing in Action, presumed Dead.  Early, however, is convinced that Fisher is hiding in the Maine woods and has decided to find him during a school break.

Jackie, disappointed that his father couldn't come to get him for the break, decides to join Early on his quest along the Appalachian Trail to find Fisher.  

And what a quest it is.  It is a story about how Jack, Early and Pi lost heir direction in life and how they tried to navigate their way back to it.  And along the way, they meet all kinds of strange people, like the  pirates searching for treasure, a Norwegian still pining for his first love, a 100 year old woman stilling waiting for her son to come home.  As the boys travel along the Appalachian Trail, Early narrates his story about Pi's journey in an attempt to earn the name Polaris which his mother had given him.  

And as the boys travel along, there are lots of coincidences, lots of twists and turns in Navigating Early, but never a dull moment.  In the most enchanting language, Vanderpool weaves a taut, complex, entertaining story.  I found myself anxious to get back to Jack and Early whenever I put the book down and, like Jack, I wanted to hear more and more of Pi's story.  

Whenever a book is set in or after WWII, I ask myself why that time period.  The war impacted everyone in some way or other.  It brought Jackie's father home before it was over.  But more importantly, it showed how lost some people were when it was over.  Jackie's father knew the Navy, how the operate, organize, control his ship.  But in Kansas, after his wife's death, he was faced with an inability to navigate his world there.  And this led to his inability to guide Jack, who without mother and father, also has difficulty navigating the world.  Fisher was also a lost soul because of the war, and Early completely lost his way of navigating the world when Fisher went missing.  And so while Navigating Early is about navigating, it is also about finding your direction again, just as Pi must.  Some many had to grapple with that after the war.  

A lot of people have used the words autistic or Asperger's to describe Early.  Yet, it is not for us to diagnose him and to her credit, Vanderpool does not label Early either, but merely has Jackie call him "that strangest of boys" which would be more apropos for the time.  

This is a wonderful novel, and I think it is not to be missed.

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

Monday, March 4, 2013

Finding Zasha by Randi Barrow

Of course, after reading Saving Zasha, we all wondered where she really came from and who was the German soldier she was with.  Well, Randi Barrow has written a prequel that pretty much answers those two questions.

Finding Zasha begins with the September 1941 Siege of Leningrad.  When German soldiers surround the city and cut off all supply lines, life becomes more difficult for everyone living in Leningrad, including Ivan, 12, and his mother, a factory worker.  There is never enough food or heat and people are dying of starvation all over the city.

When her apartment is hit by a bomb, an elderly neighbor, called Auntie by everyone, moves in with them and begins to teach Ivan how to survive under siege, lesson she learned in WWI.  As winter comes on, and the blockade holds, the three survive on the cans of beans Auntie had hidden away.  Then one day, Ivan's mother announces that her job is moving to the Ural Mountains for safety and she must go with it - but without Ivan.

It is decided that Ivan will go live with his Uncle Boris and Auntie will live with her sister-in-law, Galina, as soon as the ice road across the frozen miles long Lake Ladoga can hold the weight of transport trucks and they can leave Leningrad.  In January, the ice is finally thick enough and Ivan and Auntie set out on their journey.  When no one meets them on the other side of the lake, they are fortunate enough to be offered a ride by a friendly sleigh owner.

At last, they arrive at Galina's home and Ivan settles in there for a few days before going on to Uncle Boris.  He meets Polina, a girl about his age, who seems to know every nook and cranny of the area.  It turns out that Polina, along with Galina and now Auntie, are working as partisans under the leadership of Petr, and along with other villagers.  This is right up Ivan's alley and he too joins the partisans, staying at Galina's instead of traveling on to Uncle Boris.

Not long after this, the Germans arrive.  Ivan has been playing his concertina for Auntie and Galina's pleasure and as the Germans roll in, their commander, Major Axel Recht, comes to the door to listen to Ivan play.  With him are two German Shepard puppies.  And when Commander Recht leaves, he takes Ivan with him.

Now, basically imprisoned in the makeshift Nazi headquarters, it is Ivan's hope to discover useful information he pass on the the partisans.  Luckily, the cruel animal trainer who is to teach the puppies to hate and kill Russians, gets news that his son has been injured in fighting, and leaves immediately to be by his side.  Ivan convinces the commander that he has experience training dogs and can do the job.  And of course, Ivan begins to plot how he can get the puppies, Zasha and Thor, away from Recht's cruelty.  This won't be easy - Recht is a sadistic, vengeful man, who loves his whip.  And when he forces Ivan to watch a German soldier being whipped for a minor breach, the full extent of his cruelty becomes apparent.

But Ivan's plan of escape may happen sooner that he expects when Recht and his soldiers must leave the village soon to go help in the fighting at Tikhvin where things are not going well for the Germans.  Can Ivan succeed in escaping Recht with both of his prized puppies?

This is a nice historical fiction work about Russia in WW2, an area not frequently explored in novels, though lately some really excellent works have been published. Another book depicting the terrible conditions in Russia during the war and how they impacted the ordinary Russians that people this story is always welcome.  And certainly all the historical facts in this novel were spot on - the siege of Leningrad, the ice road over Lake Ladoga, the fighting at Tikhvin, a battle that helped turn the tide for the starving people in Leningrad.  Be sure to read the Barrow's information and timeline about these things at the end of the book.

But Finding Zasha left me with very mixed feelings.  I actually enjoyed the first part of it quite a bit, but I felt that the story was sometimes forced in order to create a history for Zasha.  And I thought that the second half and the ending were rushed in order to get to the end of the war and the point at which Saving Zasha could begin.  Although the story is filled with adventure and danger, I didn't find myself holding my breath at the places where that should have happened.

Sadly, I didn't care much for Ivan, either.  Rather than strong and brave, I found him to be too headstrong, impulsive and public to be a partisan.  And the other partisans accepting him as one struck me as took simplistic.   He was basically an unknown to them and had proved himself trustworthy yet.

Yet, at the end of the day, I would recommend reading Finding Zasha.  It is still a well written novel, and there is much to cull from this book for fans of Zasha and/or Randi Barrow.  And I hear there is a third Zasha book on the horizon.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an E-ARC from Net Galley

I found the concept of the ice road very intriguing and so I looked it up.  It took Ivan and Auntie quite a long time to cross Lake Ladoga in a truck in Finding Zasha.  The ice road was almost 17 miles long and was constructed under enemy fire in the winter of 1041/42.  But it lived up to its nickname The Road of Life during the Siege of Leningrad when it allowed limited food supplies to be brought into the beleaguered city and allowed others to leave if they had places they could go to.

The Ice Road - April 1942 (you can see the ice
starting to melt)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss

And the turtles, of course...all the turtles are free
As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.

Today is the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel A/K/A Dr. Seuss.  Dr. Seuss was born in Springfield, MA on March 2, 1904.  He attended Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where he first began using the pen name Seuss while working on the college's humor magazine Jack-O_Lantern.  Not long after graduation, Seuss became Dr. Seuss.

Meanwhile, Dr. Seuss published his first children's book And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street in 1937.  This was followed by The 500 Hat of Bartholomew Cubbins in 1938, The King's Stilts and adult book The Seven Lady Godivas in 1939 and Horton Hatches the Egg in 1940.

After Dartmouth, Dr. Seuss went to Oxford graduate school, got bored and traveled around Europe instead.  Returning to the US, he worked in advertising and did some cartooning but once World War II started, Dr. Seuss began working for a left wing weekly magazine called PM.  Seuss was a strong opponent of American isolationism, and used his PM cartoons to express his feelings:

After the US entered the war, he continued to use his biting humor in his political cartoons, like the one below that introduced his idea of the vulnerability of stacking turtles to call out the defense producers that were delivering defense material 'at a turtles pace' thereby slowing down defense production and the threatening an Allied victory with instability and failure:

All of which brings me to Yertle the Turtle.  With a history of no-holds-barred political cartooning, it wasn't surprising to find out that Dr.Seuss, that master of political satire, was at it again just few years after the war ended.

Yertle is the story of the king of the pond who one day looks around and despite the contentment of his turtle subjects, decides he needs to increase the area he rules over.  So he demands that build his a higher throne:
"If I could sit high, how much greater I'd be!
What a king! I'd be ruler of all I could see!" 
The turtles pile themselves up, one on top of the other, creating a higher throne, so Yertle could "see 'most a mile!"

But then the bottom turtle, named Mack, complains about the standing so long with turtles on his back.  Angered, Yertle demands a higher throne and once again,  turtles,"Whole families of turtles, with uncles and cousins" come to add themselves to the stack of turtles already there.
And once again Mack speaks up:
"I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down at the bottom, we, too, should have rights.
We turtles can't stand it. Our shells will all crack!
Besides, we need food.  We are starving! groaned Mack."
But Mack speaks to no avail.  That night, when the moon rises, Yertle, seeing that it is higher than he is, starts to demands more and more turtles when suddenly Mack, having had enough of Yertle, burps and the whole stack of turtle shakes, throwing Yertle into the mud below - where he remained, ruling all he could see through the mud.
"That plain little turtle below in the stack,
That plain little turtle whose name was just Mack,
Decided he'd taken enough. And he had
And that plain little lad got a little bit mad
And that plain little Mack did a plain little thing
He burped!And his burp shook the throne of the king!
Now, I am sure you can see the resemblance to Hitler and his quest for more and more Lebensraum in Yertle.  And it isn't hard to figure out that the turtles are the German people under Hitler's dictatorship.  But there is a moral of this story and it is simply that anyone can make a difference and their action can bring about change.

If you wish to explore the social and political meanings behind Yertle the Turtle in greater depth, you can find a excellent lesson plan at the Teach Peace Foundation.

Two interesting notes:
1- Yertle the Turtle was first published in 1958 by Random House (which is actually the copy I own, a hand-me-down from an older cousin I wouldn't to give up to a younger cousin).  At the time, a word like burp was considered to be in poor taste and there was some concern at publishing it, never mind the political message in it.  But kids being kids, the book was an instant successful and no one was the worse for the use of burp.  And speaking of the political message...

2- In 2012, a teacher at a school in British Columbia was asked to remove a quote from Yertle the Turtle that she had displayed in her classroom because there was a line in it that was considered too political.  It seems that there was a vote in 2011 to keep political materials out of classrooms in British Columbia, because children must be shielded from them.  The quote in question:
"I know up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down at the bottom we, too, should have rights." 
 You can read the whole story here.


This is book 2 of my 2013 Pre-1960 Children's Books Reading Challenge hosted by Turning the Pages