Monday, April 29, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? is the original weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.  It's Monday! What are you reading? - from Picture Books to YA is a kidlit focused meme just like the original and is hosted weekly by Teach Mentor Texts.  The purpose is the same: to recap what you have read and/or reviewed and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week.

Last week, I probably read less than I have in a long, long time.  I was down in Washington DC, visiting family and doing other things and just had no time to really be able to get into a book, which is not a good thing when you have two different blogs.  But I did read and World War II: a visual history of the world's darkest days by Sean Callery and Odette's Secrets by Maryann MacDonald, none the less:

This week, I plan to read the following (all descriptions from the publisher's blurbs): 

Kid Soldier by Jennifer Maruno
Fatherless and penniless, fifteen-year-old Richard Fuller wants a bike, so Mr. Black, the baker hires him to help with deliveries. Mr. Black entertains him with army stories and teaches him Morse code. He invites Richard to attend the opening ceremonies of the local 1939 military camp. Infatuated with army life, Richard takes part in Army training camp under an assumed name. When war looms, he makes the most impulsive decision in his life and enlists.
He travels to England, witnesses the terror of the Battle of Britain, the horrible death of a German pilot, is caught in the London Blitzkrieg, and is wounded himself. When his true age is discovered, Richard faces a possible court-martial.
Will Richard’s desire for adventure lead to disaster so early in his life?

After by Morris Gleitzman
In the fourth part of Felix's story, continuing his adventures in World War Two, he faces perhaps his greatest challenge - to find hope when he's lost almost everything, including his parents. As Europe goes through the final agonizing stages of the war, Felix struggles to reconcile hatred and healing. He's helped by a new friend, but if he should lose her as well ...

(my review of Once, Then and Now, the first three books about Felix and his survival while on the run from the Nazis.)

Sorrowline by Niel Bushnell
The past is not a frozen place. Graveyards are not dead ends. And if the Sorrowline lets you in there is a hidden world of adventure waiting behind every gravestone.
Just when 12-year-old Jack Morrow’s life is falling apart he discovers his natural ability to travel through Sorrowlines: channels that connect every gravestone with the date of the person’s death. Confused and alone Jack finds himself in 1940. He embarks on an adventure through London during the Blitz with Davy, his teenage grandfather, to find a mystical Rose that might just save his mother’s life, a mother who he has already seen die. But the terrible power of the Rose of Annwn, is sought by many, and the forces of a secret world are determined to find it first. With a league of Undead Knights of his trail, commanded by the immortal Rouland, can Jack decipher the dark secret hidden at the heart of his family? Can he change his own destiny and save his mother? 

His Majesty's Hope (Maggie Hope Mystery #3) by Susan Elia MacNeal
...whip-smart heroine Maggie Hope returns to embark on a clandestine mission behind enemy lines where no one can be trusted, and even the smallest indiscretion can be deadly.World War II has finally come home to Britain, but it takes more than nightly air raids to rattle intrepid spy and expert code breaker Maggie Hope. After serving as a secret agent to protect Princess Elizabeth at Windsor Castle, Maggie is now an elite member of the Special Operations Executive—a black ops organization designed to aid the British effort abroad—and her first assignment sends her straight into Nazi-controlled Berlin, the very heart of the German war machine. Relying on her quick wit and keen instincts, Maggie infiltrates the highest level of Berlin society, gathering information to pass on to London headquarters. But the secrets she unveils will expose a darker, more dangerous side of the war—and of her own past.

(my review of Mr. Churchill's Secretary (Maggie Hope Mystery #1) and Princess Elizabeth's Spy (Maggie Hope Mystery #2)

What are you reading this week?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Odette's Secrets by Maryann MacDonald

 "My name is Odette.
  I live in Paris."

Odette Meyers lives with her parents in an apartment building in Paris and spends a lots of time with her godmother, Madame Marie, who is also the building's caretaker.  Odette is around 5 when the Second World War begins.  Her father and uncle immediately enlist in the French army, but are soon captured and sent to a Nazi labor camp.  Despite the war, life is OK until the Nazis march into Paris and changes drastically for everyone.  And Odette quickly learns that being a secular Jew doesn't matter to the Nazis - they hate all Jews equally.

One night, when the Nazis are rounding up Jews to send east, Madame Marie hides Odette and her mother in her broom closet and deftly manages to keep the Nazis from searching it and the Meyer's apartment.   But life is now too dangerous for Odette and her mother, who also works with the French Resistance and it is decided to send Odettte away.  With the help of Madame Marie and her husband Monsieur Henri, Odette is sent to live with a family in the French countryside.  There she must pretend to be Catholic, learning everything a young Catholic girl would need to know.  As she quickly assimilates herself into the life of the family, church and country life, Odette begins to feel safer:

"I know the reason I feel safe in the country.
It's because here,
I am not a Jew."

But when her mother comes at Christmas to visit, she is not really pleased to see her daughter in this new Catholic light, even though it is the reason her child is safe.  Before the winter is over, she comes to take Odette away to a little cottage in the country where they can live together.  They adjust and begin living a quiet life, until one day Odette's new best friend accuses them of being Jews who have fled Paris.  And though she denies the accusation, Odette is nevertheless attacked by the other schoolchildren.  Life is again getting more dangerous for Odette and her mother and now the old farmer Père René has overheard Odettte's prayer for Our Lady to watch over them because they are Jewish.  Will Père René keep this secret, just as Odette must keep all the secrets she has in order to be safe?

Though fictional, Odette's Secrets is based on the real Odette Meyers.  Having acquired as many facts about Odette's life as she could, Maryann MacDonald filled in the blanks using her imagination and ides.  The story follows Odette's life for the length of the war, or until she is around 10 years old.  It is written in free verse, and at the beginning, Odette's voice is age appropriate and ages as she ages.

Free verse is a style I am really beginning to like for some historical Fiction written for young readers.  Odette's Secrets.  Its brevity provides a more focused perspective, allowing the reader to really feel the words being read.  And though I would recommend a steady diet of free verse novels, I think it is the ideal form for

There a a number of photographs throughout the novel of the real Odette, her mother and the family she lived with.  I was sorry there was no picture of Madame Marie, with whom Odette has such a close relationship.  This is a wonderful story of one Jewish girl's survival in WWII in Frances.  According to the Author's Note at the back of the book, 11, 400 children were deported from France, but 84% of French children did survive.  How, MacDonald wondered, did that happen?  Odette's Secrets is the result of that thought.

There is a very interesting interview with author Maryann MacDonald over at The Hopeful Heroine in which she discusses her inspiration for this story and her reasons for writing it in free verse.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library.

Monday, April 22, 2013

World War II: a visual history of the world's darkest days by Sean Callery

 This is a shiny new book from Scholastic, part of their Discover More series.  It covers World War II, beginning with the end of World War I and the rise of Nazism right through to the end and even some of the postwar period.  The layout consists of different time lines for each aspect of the war, as follows:  the path to war, Europe and the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific theater, the war in Africa and the Middle East  and the End of the War,  followed by subcategories of information pertinent to the years covered in each timeline.

This is by no means an in-depth history of the war, but it is a comprehensive one and what it does is give a little information on a wide range of topics.  Two of the topics I liked best were the Resistance and Codes.  After reading so many books about how resistance workers or Special Operations Executive agents parachuting into an occupied area with a radio transmitter disguised in a suitcase, it was nice to see a large, clear photograph of a real one.  The same was true under the section on Codes, which I have always been fascinated with, particularly the German Enigma, a cipher machine which produced messages that the German thought were unbreakable.  Again there is a up-close photo of a real Enigma machine.

In the side margins of some of the pages are ways to get more information about what is covered, as well as definitions of words that may be unfamiliar.  Since I am interested in pop culture, I used that page as an example:

Click to enlarge
There is also a free digital book that you can download from Scholastic called WWII Heroes and Heroines.  It comes in PDF form so you will need Adobe Reader.  I actually did download this digital book and look through it.  I liked that among the adult heroes and heroines there was a section about the children who were also heroes, beginning with Anne Frank, but also including many unknown and unsung child.

Before I started this blog, I would have thought that young readers were not terribly interested in WWII beyond some interesting novels and what they learned in school, but the longer I write this, the more I hear from kids who are genuinely interested in it.  This is an ideal book for a classroom, a school library and certainly a homeschooling situation,  but it is also a great beginning reference book for any kid who is showing some curiosity.

World War II is truly an visual history, with an abundance of photographs, maps, and illustrations, some familiar, some not and none very graphic.  I was very happy to see that under the Holocaust section there was a special homage to the 1.5 million children who perished as well as a section on Wartime Childhood, since there are areas young people are very interested in.  "What was it like for kids?" is probably the question I am asked the most.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was provided by the publisher.

Nonfiction Monday is hosted this week by A Mom's Spare Time

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mister Orange by Truus Matti

Front Cover of Mister Orange
Racing along New York City streets one March 1945 day, Linus Muller stops to catch his breath when his attention is suddenly arrested by a familiar face on a poster.  Noting the address on the poster, Linus changes course and sets off for it instead.

Flashback to September 1943: Linus is 12 years old and has just inherited his older brother's shoes and his job delivering groceries for his parent's shop.  In fact, with six kids and a war on, everything is a hand me down, except for Linus's older brother Albie, who is off to war now that he is old enough to enlist.  Linus has also inherited Albie's bed and has been made caretaker of Albie's superhero comic books collection, a love they shared, as well as Albie drawing of his own superhero Mr. Superspeed, with whom Linus keeps a running conversation while he makes his deliveries.

As Linus begins his life as a delivery boy, he meets all the customers and quickly learns their quirky ways, like Mrs. DeWinter who always has another task waiting for Linus to do when he brings her groceries.  His job takes him all over the Upper East Side of Manhattan, an area Linus knows like the back of his hand.  Late in the afternoon, on his first day, his mother hands Linus a crate of oranges and tells him to deliver them to 15 East 59th Street.  Little did Linus know this would be his most interesting monthly delivery.

Living there is an elderly painter with a difficult to remember name and a studio that has stark white walls, except for the groups of brightly colored squares and rectangles here and there.  Linus started called the painter Mister Orange and it turns out that Mr. Orange had recently arrived from Nazi-occupied Holland to escape Hitler's oppressive control on the arts.

Meanwhile, brother Albie is still excited to go to war and ships out to Italy as soon as basic training is over.  At first, Albie's letters are still filled with enthusiastic descriptions about being a new recruit and the friends he has made.  From Italy, he asks Linus to play a rather harmless practical joke on a friend's mother for her birthday and leave a card from her son at the same time.  Linus carries out his mission with stealth, but then Albie's next letter is more somber and sad, as he reports his friend has fallen in battle.

Linus understands how it feels to lose a friend.  It appears that he is losing his best friend to an older boy who dislikes Linus as much as Linus dislikes him.

And so his visits to Mr. Orange become a bright spot in his life and it is there that the two talk about life.  Angry at the reality of war that Albie describes, Linus decides that comics and superheroes are imaginary escapes from all the horrors in life and rejects them completely.  Now he doesn't even have the voice of Mr. Superspeed to accompany him.   But as Mr. Orange talks to him about his painting and even teaches him how to dance the boogie woogie, he also tells Linus about the importance of imagination, especially during wartime: "If imagination were as harmless as you think...then the Nazis couldn't be so scared of it." (pg 122)  All the while, Mr. Orange works on his latest painting, a freedom he would not have had if he has remained in Europe.

Can Mister Orange help Linus through this difficult time?

Originally written in Dutch and skillfully translated by Laura Watkinson, Mister Orange is itself a wonderful historical fiction work of imagination that skillfully portrays the daily hustle and bustle of life in one New York City neighborhood during WW2 as Linus makes his deliveries.  I grew up in Brooklyn and Manhattan at a time when Mom and Pop grocery stores were still common (my brother's first job was delivering groceries), and if you had a fight with your best friend, you just went over to their house to make up - just the way Linus does - very simple, very easy.    So I know that this and more  of Mister Orange is pretty spot on.  And so is the Action Comic that Linus buys for Albie - November 1943 No. 66.  Matti has done her research well.

But the friendship between Mister Orange and Linus would be unusual, though maybe not impossible.  In a way, however, it is a nice example of how even a short lived friendship can impact our lives, in this case from September 1943 to February 1944.

Mister Orange is a nice coming-of-age story that unfolds slowly and steadily, but should still engage young readers, though probably not everyone.  Linus is a thoughtful, introspective, observant boy who really loves life, at least until reality comes knocking and he finds his world terribly shaken.

I put Mister Orange on hold at the library based only on the cover and knowing it was a WW2 story because I loved the cover of the American edition.  Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) is one of my favorite abstract painters, so as soon as I saw the cover, I knew he would be in the story somewhere, someway.  Jenni Desmond, the illustrator of Mister Orange, has really captured both the motion of the city as Linus travels around and the sense of movement that Mondrian's painting reflect, so that it becomes such a wonderful mixture of Linus's life, and Mondrian's painting, which is as it should be.  I found myself going over it again and again after I finished reading the book.

In the back on the book is a section called Mister Mondrian.  This FYI section describes his life and the paintings he did while live in New York City.  The painting that he was working on during Linus's visit was his never completed Victory Boogie Woogie, see here:
Victory Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian
Mondrian's studio had an immediate, deep impact on Linus and helped him realize hope for the future.  Here, though, are photos of that studio, almost exactly as Linus describes them (right down to the orange crates):

 (click the images to enlarge them)

There are some who think this book would not appeal to young readers, but I think they will enjoy reading about Linus and his life, and the person who helped him work things out for himself.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Weekend Cooking #25: My Chocolate Year: a novel with 12 recipes by Charlotte Herman

There was just no way a chocoholic such a myself could pass on reading a book called My Chocolate Year.  And I am glad I did.

It is September 1945, the war is over and Dorrie Meyers is starting fifth grade.  And the best part is that her best friend Sunny Shapiro is in her class and their teacher is the very popular Miss Fitzgerald.  Popular because each year, Miss Fitzgerald has a Sweet Semester, in which each student thinks up a dessert to make, writes an essay about it and in January they all bring in their entries and a prize goes out to one winner dessert and one winning essay.

Dorrie loves chocolate passionately and is very excited about Sweet Semester, except for one problem - she has no idea how to make anything, let alone a prize winning dessert.  And this year is a special Sweet Semester because not only will family members be invited, but the winners will also get their pictures in the Chicago Daily News.  In addition, since there are now so many orphans in Europe as a result of the war, the class will has a donation jar set up to collect money to send to a charity which cares for the orphans.

The subject of orphans soon hits home for Dorrie.  Her grandparents had all migrated to America, but there were still relatives who had remained in Lithuania.  No one knew what happened to them after war.  Since they were Jewish the worst was feared and Dorrie's mother has been making inquires to find them.  Then, one November morning, good news arrives.  Victor Dubin, son of Dorrie's Aunt Mina and Uncle Joseph and grandson of Dorrie's Bubbie, was found living in a Displaced Persons camp.  No sooner found, than arrangements begin to be made to bring Victor to America.  Sadly, no other family members survived.

Victor, now an orphan, and orphan jar in school get Dorrie to thinking about the Margaret O'Brien and the movie Journey for Margaret, about a young girl orphaned during the London Blitz.  How, Dorrie wonders, did she play such a convincing orphan?  So she writes a letter to the actress to ask.

Meanwhile, Dorrie and Sunny experiment with different possibilities for Sweet Semester.  The first idea, Chocolate Covered Gum, dissolves into a chocolaty mess.  Their chocolate  covered nuts and raisins clusters taste delicious, but was that all chocolate in them?  Oh, and when you add flour to brownies using the electric mixer, it is much easier if you turn the mixer off.

It is really beginning to look like Dorrie isn't going to win that Sweet Semester competition despite the fact that  both her mother and Buddie are excellent bakers.  She just doesn't seem to have a natural instinct for baking.  She really needs a miracle...could that miracle come in the form of both real and movie orphans?

This is a lovely story about the strength and importance of family.  It is told in Dorrie's voice and even though it is not written as a diary, it reads like on.  The book follows the year though all the Jewish holidays, starting with Rosh Hashanah and Dorrie explains the story and Jewish customs for celebrating each holiday for the benefit of readers who may not be familiar with them.  She also talks about the war and it's effect on her family, and when Victor comes, we hear his story in detail, but not so much detail that it would be too much for the targeted age of intended readers.  This is a book, after all, that is written for kids who are beginning to learn about the Holocaust.

Now, the 12 recipes.  Not all are real recipes, but some are and they are made from scratch.  My 10 year old budding chef liked that idea, since she is a cooking purist.  We actually make Dorrie's Sweet Semester entry, which was so good that when I went to take a picture, they were all gone.  Lesson learned - don't leave good tasting stuff unattended with kids in the house and without telling them hands off.  

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Weekend Cooking is a weekly event hosted by Beth Fish Reads

Monday, April 8, 2013

From the Archives #23: Biggles Defies the Swastika by Captain W.E. Johns

Not long ago I reviewed a book by John Boyne on my blog Randomly Reading called The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket.  This was a really good fantasy novel about a boy who floats and must be weighed down to stay on the ground.  Barnaby has a dog named Capt. W.E. Johns, which caused me to laugh when I read that.  There is no explanation why that is the dog's name, but I (and others, I am sure) know exactly who Johns is.

Captain W.E. Johns was a very prolific writer with 169 books to his credit.  But he is probably best known for two of his series books: 96 'Biggles' books for boys and 11 'Worrals' books for girls.  Worrals, or Joan Worralson, flies for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, part of the RAF.  I reviewed Worrals of the W.A.A.F in 2011.  Biggles, or James Bigglesworth, learned to fly in World War I and continued flying right into World War II and beyond.

Biggles Defies the Swastika (#22 in the series and written in 1941), begins in April 1940.  A Major with the RAF, Biggles has been doing some work in Oslo when he wakes up one morning to discover that the Nazis have invaded Norway.  Fortunately, Biggles has false identity papers naming him as Sven Hendrik, allowing him to pass as a Norwegian who supports the Nazis until he can get to his plane and out of Norway.  Arriving at the aerodome in Boda on a stolen Nazi motorcycle, Biggles finds it is under Nazi control now.  Somehow, Biggles fools the Germans into thinking he is a quisling who speaks fluent German and is made a leutnant on the spot by the German commandant there.  Now under a safe cover, Biggles gets himself to the Swedish border on a his stolen motorcycle and crosses over to safety.

But not for long.  At the British Consul, he is told to return to Norway to do some ntelligence spying and that his friends and fellow fliers Ginger and Algy will contact him as soon as possible.  Back in Norway, he hears that the Germans are looking for a British pilot named Bigglesworth who was spotted in Oslo and wanted by the Germans.  Luckily, as Sven Hendrik, Biggles is ordered to look for himself and given a Gestapo pass that will allow him freedom to get around without question.

Biggles soon discovers that his old nemesis Oberleutnant Erich von Stalhein is in Norway and is desperate to capture him.  Biggles calls Gestapo headquarters and tells them he has information that Bigglesworth is in Narvik and he is on his way there.  But along the way, he runs into some captured British sailors.  He tells them he's really a British pilot and concocts a plan for them to tell their captors that they saw Bigglesworth escape.  In Narvik, Biggles finds other British POWs, including his old friend Algy, who was sent over to help him.  He manages to free all the prisoners, but is then ordered back to Boda Aerodome to be questioned by von Stalhein.

Before that can happen, Biggles is ordered to Stavanger airfield by the British to gather intelligence about Nazi defenses there and then to go to Fjord 21, where he runs into his other old friend Ginger.  It is time to get out of Norway now that they have the needed intelligence, but Biggles refuse to go with Algy.  Meanwhile, Algy, after being freed at Narvik has returned to Boda to find Biggles.

Biggles returns to Boda, finds Algy and they make their way to Fjord 21, Ginger in his plane and escape, only to find that the Fjord is now occupied by Nazis and that Ginger is missing.  But not for long. Ginger tries to rescue Biggles and Algy, but things go wrong and Algy is again captured by the Nazis.  Biggles, with the help of his Gestapo pass, learns that the British warships are sailing right into a trap.  He can do nothing about it though because of growing suspicion about who he really is.  He accepts a ride in a water plane back to Boda and von Stalhein, because he has no choice.  During the flight, Biggles overtakes the pilot.  Flying low enough for the German to jump into the water, Biggles orders him out, but not before telling him they must get together after the war and have dinner together (yes, he really did say that).


Now flying a German plane, Biggles is attacked by none other than Ginger.  But then Ginger is attacked by a German plane and goes down.  Luckily, Biggles is able to rescue Ginger, tells him about the trap the British warships are heading into and has Ginger drop him off to find Algy.  Ginger delivers his warning, sets off to find Biggles and Algy, but is captured by the Germans.  Meanwhile, Bigglesand Algy are also captured by von Stalhein at Boda.  But when Ginger arrives with his German captor, the three of them manage to overpower him, steal a German plane and fly safely off to England and further adventures - lots of them!

All this action/adventure tokes place in only a few days.  The back and forth between Oslo, Boda and Stavanger were a bit like watching a ping pong games with airplanes, but I never got confused, in part because of the simplicity of the writing.  It is not great literature, is sometimes politically incorrect and everyone smokes, but Johns seems to have understood his young readers.  There is just action, constant movement, and a feeling of being in control, something young readers probably found comforting in wartime Britain.

If you are going to read them for the first time, don't take them too seriously, just have some fun, after all, they feel a bit campy nowadays.  And I thought the rivalry between Biggles and von Stalhein had shades of the later rivalry between Snoopy and the Red Baron.  I did, however, learn that anti aircraft flak was refered to as archie, as in 'you will probably run into lots of archie when you fly a German Dornier over Britain.'

While I have read most of the Worrals books, I seem to only have Biggle Defies the Swastika - but I have two copies of it, somehow.  And both smell like they just came out of my gram's attic.  Luckily, since Biggles is still somewhat popular, now editions of his books have become available recently, for your reading pleasure.

Johns with his novels
Biggles has has lots of influence on people's lives.  Here are some examples:
A Life of Biggles by Hilary Mantal
I Longed to Fly with Biggles by John Crace
Good Eggs and Malted Milk: Has Biggles Stood the Test of Time by Giles Foden

More information on Biggles and his creator Captain W. E. Johns can be found Collecting Books and Magazines (a great site for all kinds of information about kids books from the past.

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

This is book 3 of my 2013 Pre-1960 Classic Children's Books Reading Challenge hosted by Turning the Pages

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz

Imagine surviving 1 ghetto, 10 concentration camps and 2 death marches.  Well, here is the story of a boy who did just that.

At 10 years old, Yanek Gruener's life means friends, school and most importantly, being surrounded by loving relatives all living in the center of Krakow, Poland.   But his relatives know that soon something is going to happen - after all, they are Jews in a Europe that Hitler wants to make "Jew free."  Sure enough, only six days after the German invasion of Poland, Nazi soldiers march into Krakow, and not long after that, one after another rights, privileges, pleasures, food and freedom are denied its Jewish citizens, until, in 1942, when Yanek is 12, the Nazis begin building the wall that will become the Krakow Ghetto and Yanek soon finds himself living there along with thousands of other displaced Jews.

In the ghetto, Yanek and his father prove to be very resourceful in order to survive.  When roundups start, to avoid be sent "to the east" and an unknown future, Yanek finds an abandoned pigeon coop on the roof of their building where the family takes up residence.  To feed his family, Yanek's father manages to get bread under very dangerous circumstances.  And, most telling of all, despite the danger after the Nazis forbide Jews to practice their religion, his father gets together a minyan (a quorum of 10 bar mitvahed men) late one night for Yanek's very unusual secret bar mitvah.

The ghetto proves to be only the beginning of Yanek's journey through a system of concentration camps, where survival sometimes depends of cunning, sometimes on luck, always knowing that your life is in the hands of sadistic Nazis, some of whom like to kill Jews for sport.

By the time Yanek is sent from the ghetto to the first of ten concentration camps, he has lost his family in a roundup and deportation heading "east" but finds his Uncle Moshe at Plaszów Concentration Camp.  You may remember Plaszów from Schindler's List, the camp run by the very, very cruel SS Commander Amon Goeth.  It is here that Yanek's Uncle Moshe teaches him survival skills that will  serve him well at each camp he is sent to.  As a result, Yanek's resolve to survive almost never falters, even when he comes very close to dying.

Prisoner B-3087 (B for Birkenau) is based on the life of the real Yanek/Jack Gruener.  It is told in a simple, straightforward manner, narrated in the first person by the fictional Yanek, but the voice of the actual Gruener comes through clearly, giving it a sense of authenticity.  Yanek never, no matter how badly he is treated, gives into feeling victimized, which is amazing, but may also account for his strong will to survive.  Yanek's descriptions of certain things that he either witnesses or that were done to him are sometimes a bit hard to read, but never gratuitous and not including them would sanitize Nazi cruelty to every degree.

The narration skillfully balances these cruel, sadistic acts against the Jews with some real heartwarming moments, like the night of Yanek's secret bar mitvah, a kindness Yanek was to repay in Birkenau two years later when he is the first to volunteer to be part of a minyan for another 13 year old boy's forbidden bar mitvah, even though getting caught would mean certain death.

After I read Prisoner B-3087, I felt compelled to do two things.  First, I had to make an outline of the places and events in Yanek Gruener's life as he was sent from camp to camp, sometimes in cattle cars, sometimes on foot in freezing weather.  Second, I would have liked a map to get a real sense not just of where Yanek was at each part of his life under the Nazis, but also the distances he traveled.  I think these would give a real appreciation of his survival.  But since they didn't include map, and others might  fell as I do, I found this one at the Jewish Virtual Library and modified it a bit to reflect Yanek's experience:

Click to enlarge

Prisoner B-3087 is a book that really must be read to be fully appreciated.  Yanek/Jack Gruener's story is incredible, haunting, compelling, heart wrenching, rewarding and not to be missed (and you will find out how Yanek became Jack).

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was received as an E-ARC from Net Galley

Monday, April 1, 2013

Books for Children of the World: The Story of Jella Lepman by Sydelle Pearl, illustrated by Danlyn Iantorno

Imagine you are a German Jew who managed to escape Hitler's Germany during the war.  Now, the war is over, but you have been asked to return to Germany by the United States Army to assess what the German children living in that now decimated country need to live a better life.   After all that happened to Jews in Germany, could you have done it?  It would indeed take a strong, caring, forgiving person to embark on such a task, but that is exactly what Jella Lepmaan did.

As Jella traveled through Germany in an army jeep, she saw that the children needed so much - clothing, food, homes, warmth.  But they also wanted books.  She spoke to the General at army headquarters where she was stationed about an exhibition of children's books from around the world.  The General agreed this was a good idea and, night after night, Jella wrote to publishers to ask for books donations for the exhibition.  She called her letters doves of peace.  And, amazingly, even after what Hitler had done to the world, publishers around the world did respond.

The books were great, but were for an exhibition, not for the children who wanted them.  So, Jella decided to translate The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf into German.  Then she had it printed - 30,000 copies on newsprint and a few days before Christmas, they were handed out to Germany's children.

That was just the beginning.  By 1949, Jella's first children's book exhibition had grown into the International Youth Library in Munich.  This research library still exists today and still collects children's books from around the world.

Sydelle Pearl's Books for Children of the World: The Story of Jella Lepman is a beautifully written homage to a very courageous woman and the library she founded.  Lepman believed that just as her letters were doves of peace, books were messengers of peace and the idea of peace is a clear message in her work.  Pearl is herself a librarian and it is easy to see that she believes in the power of books.

Giving out newsprint copies of The Story of
Ferdinand to children in Germany 
Illustrations add so much to a book and those of Danlyn Iantorno are no exception.  These bold, colorful realistic illustrations, which appear to have been rendered in oil paint, capture both the bold spirit of Jella Lepman and the varied emotions of the children.  I also thought that the tones of the colors used reminded of picture books and readers from the late 1940s and 1950s reflecting the Zeitgeist of that particular time.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the end of the book for more information about Jella Lepman and the International Youth Library.  There is list of selected sources as well, should you be inclined to explore Lepman and the library further.

Bear in mind that this is a historical biography and not really a picture for young readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was provided to me by the publisher.

There is a wonderfully informative lesson plan based on Books for Children of the World: The Story of Jella Lepman which, though produced in 2011, is nevertheless still very useful and  can be found here.

Nonfiction Monday is hosted this week by Wendie at Wendie's Wanderings