Thursday, August 29, 2013

Duke (Book 1 of Dogs of World War II) by Kirby Larson

It is January 1, 1944 - a new year and Hobie Hanson, 11, thought he was doing everything a kid his age could do for the war effort.  He collected scrape; he spent 10¢ on a 'savings stamp' every week to put in his Victory book; he had watched his father go to war, flying B-24's in Europe; and now he had to say good bye to his best friend Scooter, whose father was needed at the Portland shipyard.  So Hobie wasn't too happy when his neighbor Mr. Gilbert told him that his nephew had just donated his dog to the military's Dogs for Defense program and they sure could use a well trained dog like Duke, Hobie's German Shepard.  But give up Duke?  Never!

Not even when his favorite radio show, Hop Harrigan, talks about kids who have given their dogs  to Dogs for Defense to help win the war.  How could Hobie ever seriously consider giving up Duke?

When Hobie gets back to school after Christmas break, there discovers a new boy sitting at Scooter's desk.  His name is Max Klein and the class bully, Mitch Mitchell, immediately starts picking on him because of his German name.  Hobie just stood there and watched, wanting to avoid Mitch's meanness.  But, later that day, it is Hobie's turn to get bullied after Mitch takes his bike.  Only this time, he has Duke with him, who doesn't hesitate to go to Hobie's defense (no, Duke doesn't hurt Mitch).  Impressed by what he sees, a man walking a Doberman, asks Hobie if he would be willing to donate Duke to Dogs for Defense, of which he, Olin Rasmussen, is regional director.  Undaunted, as bullies often are,  Mitch later tells Hobie he doesn't have what it takes to give up his beloved dog.

Challenged by Mitch, remembering his father's words about doing what needs to be done while he is gone, but feeling somewhat less heroic that the other Hanson men in his family, Hobie makes the big decision and before he knows it, Duke has left for basic training in the Dogs for Defense program.

Can he stick to his decision even after he learns that Duke is being trained for combat?

At first, I didn't care much for Hobie, but he grew on me.  Duke is a story about bravery, and what that means for Hobie and by I finished the book, I realized that I liked the fact that Hobie's courage isn't perfect.  He has conflicting feelings about what he has done and changes his mind about volunteering Duke to Dogs for Defense over and over, even trying to get him back.  Hobie's is a very understandable wavering we can all relate to.

Like all good writers, Kirby Larson has done a lot of research to give Duke a sense of home front reality.  As she says in her Author's Note, she doe not write books about war, she writes about people dealing with tough times, like war.  Not only are her home front depictions believable, but Larson has also glimpse into the world of soldiers and their dogs, through the letter Duke's soldier, Pfc. Marvin Corff wrote to Hobie.

I am always up for a good home front story about kids and how they coped in WWII, and Duke did not disappoint.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an E-ARC from Net Galley

If you are interested in reading more about the Dogs for Defense program, you can read a short history about it HERE

Never heard of Hop Harrigan, America's Ace of the Airways, Hobie's radio hero?  Well, neither have I.     He wasn't very popular as a comic strip in the newspaper, but he did last for a number of years on the radio, where his sponsor was Grape Nuts.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans during World War II by Martin W. Sandler

The story of what happened to Japanese Americans shortly after the United States entered World War II never ceases to stun me. And, as Martin Sandler shows in his newest nonfiction book, Imprisoned, it is especially ironic that while we were fighting a war to save democracy, we had no compunction about taking it away was a whole section of American society by placing them in internments camps scattered throughout the US, located out in the middle of nowhere.

But, as Sandler points out, fear and mistrust of Japanese immigrants to the US didn't begin with World War II.  And so, we are given a short history about the arrival of the Japanese; their willingness to take any kind of work when they first arrived here; how they saved their money and how they were  eventually able to afford their piece of the American Dream.

But they looked different, their language was different, their religion and culture were different and so they faced anti-Japanese signs and sentiments all over the West Coast.  As more Japanese arrived, laws were passed preventing Japanese immigrants from owning law, then congress passed the Immigration Act, which banned Japanese immigration to the US altogether.  And of course, according to The Naturalization Act of 1790, citizenship was already out of the question for any non-white not born on American soil.  Yet, despite all of these obstacles, Sandler points out, the Japanese still managed to thrive in this country.

That was until December 7, 1941, when the Japan attacked the United States in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Once again, fear and mistrust reared up.  And, despite the fact that there was no indication that the Japanese and their Americans born children were the least bit sympathetic to or in cahoots with Japan, it didn't take long for the  hate and suspicion mongers to convince the President of the United States to sign Executive Order 9066 placing them in internment camps.

In this relatively short (176 pages), well researched, well written book, Sandler gives us tells the story of life in the internments camps through personal accounts and interviews never before published, all supplemented with a abundance of photographs, providing a more in-depth look at what went on before, during and after the war.

It was a little difficult reading this book because it was from Net Galley and I downloaded it to my Kindle App and the photos weren't where they should have been and the wonderful personal accounts that are included were also kind of helter-skelter so I am very anxious to see and reread the actual book when it comes out on August 27, 2013.

Despite my difficulty reading Imprisoned, I would still highly recommend it to anyone interested in WW2 home front history.  A nice companion book, which Sandler also mentions is Citizen 13660 by Miné Okubo, which I review back in 2011.

The story of internment of Japanese and Japanese Americans didn't end with WW2.  Given $25 and a ticket home, Sandler goes on to briefly cover how the internees returned to their homes to find everything gone, how they worked hard to get back on their feet yet again,despite yet more obstacles, and finally, their fight for reparations in the 1970s and 1980s.

There is copious back matter including places to visit, websites with additional information and a nice in-depth index (one of my favorite back matter elements that often is not as well done as this one).

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

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Movie Matinee Coming Attractions: The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one of my favorite books and I am hoping it will also become on of my favorite films.  The film is set to open in the US on November 15, 2013 and stars Geoffrey Rush as Hans Hubermann and Emily Watson as his wife Rosa Hubermann, the couple who take in Liesel Meminger, when her mother is taken into custody in Nazi Germany for her communist leanings.  Liesel is played by Sophie Nélisse, who looks exactly the way I pictured Liesel in my head when I read the book.

Here is the first trailer that was just released and so far, so good:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Bear Makers by Andrea Cheng

                                             *This review contains spoilers*

During the war, young Kata Steiner and her older brother Bela were sent to live on their aunt's farm in the Hungarian countryside under different names so no one would know they were Jewish.  When the war ended, the Steiner family were reunited in Budapest.  Their father, who had lost his factory under the Nazis, got it back and the family hoped  that life would now get better.

But the Steiners hoped in vain!

The end of war brought a very short period of calm but now in 1948, Hungary has been taken over by the communists and once again, there is fear of the secret police.  Now, instead of the Gestapo, it is the AVO (Allamvedelmi Osztaly) questioning people's loyalty to the Hungarian Worker's Party but with similar tactics.

And once again Mr. Steiner lost his factory, where he is now an employee, and his pay has been cut so much that he can no longer support his family.  Depressed, he takes to his bed for days at a time and even refuses to attend required party meetings, unless forced to by his boss.

Bela, who always used to play with Kata, is never home and when he is, he has no time for her.  Eventually, he goes in "an excursion" from which he doesn't return.  Instead, he and two friend escape over the border to Austria and freedom.

Despite the danger, Mrs. Steiner sits at her sewing machine all day and much of the night sewing teddy bears, and later purses, to sell on the black market and help support the family with the money she makes.  Any indication of capitalism, even just making bears and selling them, is a subversive undertaking, so it was imperative that no one finds out about it.

Kata, now 11, is  a smart, but immature girl, though she does well in school, and even begins attending Young Pioneer meetings with her friend and neighbor, Eva, despite being too young.  But Kata has been warned not to tell Eva anything about the Steiners, especially not about Bela's escape and her mother's sewing teddy bears.   The Steiners are convinced, correctly it turns out, that they are being watched by Eva's father, a staunch supporter of the Hungarian Workers' Party who would love to turn them into the oppressive AVO.

The Bear Makers is a story that disappointed a lot of readers because they felt there was not real story and no real denouement.  I read it as an interesting coming of age story set in a basically unexplored place and period in children's literature.   And while the ending wasn't all neatly tied up, there most definitely was an ending.

Kata is an extremely immature girl at the beginning of the story, but as events happen, she seems to develop more of an understanding about the danger of her family's actions under another oppressive regime.  That was evident when Kata was tempted to tell Eva what was going on in her family because she felt sorry for Eva, who had just opened up to her about her volatile home life and being forced to report to her father about anything she discovers in the Steiner household.  Torn between wanting to be Eva's friend and telling her what was going on in her home, in the end, Kata chose not to confide in Eva, sensing the danger if her did.

For me, though, the coming of age turning point begins when Kata makes the first name tag for one of the bears, much to her mother's chagrin, but later much to the delight of the buyer.  From than on, each bear leaves with a name tag giving it an identity.

The coming of age turning point culminated the night the AVO took her father for questioning and Kata finished a teddy bear for her mother, who simply went to bed in despair.  Up til now, Kata was innocent of any subversive behavior, but now, as a bear maker, she has crossed that threshold.

As for the denouement, the fact that Bela is going to America gives the family hope that he will send for them, and for the first time, Kata and her parents actually have a happy, hopeful evening together as they begin to learn English.

The idea for The Bear Makers was based on Andrea Cheng's grandmother's illegal bear making activity after WWII in postwar Hungary, also done to help support the family.  The picture of the bear on the cover is of a real bear she had sewn in postwar Hungary.  And each  chapter of The Bear Makers is headed by a piece of pattern used for making the bears.   These pieces of pattern seem to give the story its overall meaning: the fragmentation of the Steiner's both as a family and an individuals experienced under the Nazis.  As the pieces are sewn together to form the bears, the Steiners, too, are trying to piece their own lives back together again.

Or maybe I am overreaching.

Either way, I actually liked The Bear Makers very much, especially the historical background regarding Hungary.  I did knew that Hungarian Jews suffered devastating losses during WWII, but didn't know much about the post war years.  I think it would have been helpful to have an Author's Note at the end, to help put the story in context for its readers.  Cheng is, after all, a very prolific writer and people would naturally be drawn to her work.

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

This is book 5 of my 2013 European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader
This is book 9 of my 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Fiction

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Weekend Cooking #26: Victory through Sheila's Pickles

I reviewed this week called Willow Run by Patricia Reilly Giff, in which the protagonist's German-born grandfather grew cucumbers in his Victory Garden every year during World War II and then he would pickle them.  This was something a lot of people did then, who, unlike this grandfather, only did it during the war.

I was telling my friend Sheila about it because she also makes pickles.  Her pickles, however, are bread and butter pickles.  She calls them Christmas Pickles because they are green and have some red in them and because she gives them out to people at Christmas.   Everyone else calls them Sheila's Pickles and she has developed quite a fan base over time, so that every year she finds she must make more and more jars of pickles.

And yet, making Sheila's Pickles is not difficult and she has volunteered her recipe for anyone who wants to try their hand at it.

Sheila's Bread and Butter Christmas Pickles

1 gallon small firm cucumbers (about 35 firm kirbys or small firm zucchini, or a combination*)
2 red peppers
8 small white onions
1/2 cup pickling or kosher salt

For the Pickling Syrup:

5 cups of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon celery seed
2 tablespoons mustard seed
5 cups white vinegar

1- Select crisp, fresh cukes or kirbys.  Wash, but do not pare.
2- Slice cukes or kirbys and onions paper thin and cut peppers into fine shreds.**
3- Mix salt with the vegetables and bury pieces of cracked ice in the mixture.
4- Cover with an inverted weighted lid (so the salt and ice pushes as much moisture out of the vegetables as possible) and let stand for three hours.  Drain thoroughly.

5- Mix the dry ingredients with the vinegar and pour over vegetables.  Place over low hear and paddle occasionally with a wooden spoon.
6- Heat the mixture to scalding, but do not boil.
7- Pour in hot sterilized jar and seal.
8- Process the jars in a water bath for at least 10 minutes

Makes 7 to 8 pints

*Sheila uses small firs kirbys and I think they are better than either small cucumber or zucchini, but that would be a matter of taste.

**a mandolin makes slicing the cukes or kirbys much easier and faster.

If you have never done a water bath for preserving food, here is a short video that tells you how to do it.  You really don't need all the equipment they show, but it is nice.  For year, Sheila did her water bath in a large pasta pot.

Weekend Cooking is a weekly event hosted by Beth Fish Reads

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Willow Run by Patricia Reilly Giff

It is the summer of 1944 in Rockaway, New York and twelve year old Meggie Dillon's older brother Eddie is in the army and fighting somewhere in Europe.   Meggie spends much of her time doing things with her German-born Grandpa, even though he sometimes annoys with her by always calling her Margaret, not Meggie and when he always gets the letters V and W mixed up when he speaks, plus he always talks during a movie.

So when her parents tell Meggie they will be temporarily moving ("for the duration")  to a place called Willow Run, far from Rockaway, so her father can build B-24's for the war effort, she is somewhat relived to find out that Grandpa won't be coming along.  She had just caught two boys painting a red swastika on Grandpa's window, calling him a Nazi spy and telling Meggie that if he lived anywhere else but Rockaway something terrible would probably happen to him.  Worried, she rubbed the swastika off with a rag and turpentine so her Grandpa wouldn't see it.

No sooner does the Dillon family arrive in Willow Run, Michigan than Meggie begins to miss home - tending the garden with Grandpa, her best friend Lily, the sound and smell of the ocean right outside her door.  But Meggie soon makes friends with Patches from Tennessee, Harlan from Detroit and Arnold, the ice cream guy who Harlan thinks is a German spy and from whom the kids figure out how to steal ice cream when he locks up his truck.

But then comes the news that Eddie is missing in action after the Normandy invasion and the Dillon's world seems to collapse.   In the midst of all their sorrow, Meggie receives a package from Grandpa containing his most cherished possession - his Victory medal from World War I.   As Meggie begins to learn the truth about Patches' life before Willow Run and Arnold's demons, and witnesses her parents grief over Eddie as well has her own, she begins to understand what is most important in the world and hatches a plan to help herself and her parents.

Patricia Reilly Giff continues the story of Meggie and Lilly in Willow Run that she began in Lilly's Crossing, which I probably should have read first, but didn't.  Yet, somehow I don't think that will really matter in the long run, however since Lilly plays a very minor role in Willow Run, which is definitely a stand alone novel.

Meggie is an engaging down-to-earth narrator in this quiet coming of age novel.   When Eddie had joined the army, he told Meggie now she was an only child, no longer the baby.   And when she left Rockaway, she was indeed still quite immature.  But it is her experiences in Willow Run and having to deal with such different new realities and events that turn Eddie's word into truth.

The reality of war was a part of home front life for many kids during WWII and in Willow Run, Giff has given us a different version of that life by taking Meggie out of her familiar circumstances and placing her in a place place created specifically for the war, where she can meet other people from circumstances very different from her own.  It is a situation where people become friends quickly and help each other out, understanding that they are all in the same boat with shared fears, hopes and dreams.

And Giff has captured some wonderful bits of home front life, like the rag curlers worn by a neighbor, the contests for things life Hot-O-Soup that Meggie and Grandpa are constantly entering, Meggie's vow to never eat Spam again after the war (my mom made the same vow and never did eat it again).  All serve to give this well-written, thoughtful work of historical fiction a sense of authenticity.

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

Willow Run, Michigan was an actual place, a village and plant for making B-24 bombers, built by Henry Ford during the war.  The housing was slapped together quickly and was exactly as Meggie describes:
A kindergarten kid could have drawn it: a long low box that stretched from one end of the paper to the other, no paint, no color.  And if you divided the box into tiny sections, each family would have one to live in.  Worst of all, there was no grass, nothing growing, only tree stumps...  (pg33)

The plant where the bombers were built is described as a mile long, and as you can see here, it needed to be that long:

If you visit Willow Run Village, you can see pictures and read about peoples experiences living in Willow Run.  Many of the photos show exactly what Meggie describes in the novel Willow Run.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Something to do on a summer's day,,,,in August 1943

I've gone back to sorting and reorganizing my bookshelves yet again.  Naturally, it has been taking up most of the summer because I keep stopping and reading through things like old comic books (I had forgotten that Captain America had a brother who died at Pearl Harbor), magazines like Girls Own, Calling All Girls, Jack and Jill and Child Life, and of course, all the books and other small trinkets I have been given or gathered along my way - and all of it relating to kids during WWII.  

Since it is summer, I've had a bit of help (?) from a 9 year old visiting niece and her new friend who lives in an apartment upstairs.  This week, the girls decided to copy some puzzles from an old August 1942 Child Life.  They seemed to enjoy doing them so much that I thought I would share the puzzles they copied.    


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

It was Peace Day, August 6, 1954 and 12 year old Sadako Sasaki couldn't wait for the day to begin.  Sadako loved Peace Day - the crowds, the fireworks and, especially the cotton candy.   Sadako knew it was going to be a good day because she saw nothing less than a good luck sign in the bright blue sky over Hiroshima that day.

Still, her parents had to remind Sadako that Peace Day was a solemn occasion, a day for remembering that the first atomic bomb ever used - the Thunderbolt - was dropped on Hiroshima by the United States in an effort to end the World War II and for honoring the many, many lives lost because of it.  But Sadako, who was 2 years old at the time the bomb hit Hiroshima, considered herself lucky to have  survived the it without a scratch and avoiding its after effects, the dreaded A-Bomb disease.  Sadako and her best friend, Chizuko, spent a wonderful Peace Day together.

But then, in the fall, Sadako began to feel strange and dizzy.  Although the feeling came and went, Sadako decided to keep it to herself.  After all, she was a really fast runner and had just been chosen to run the relay race in school.  Nothing could spoil that.   Sadako did manage to keep the dizziness secret for a few months, until February 1955 when she collapsed while running in school.

Sadako, in the middle of the front row, with her relay team
Taken to the hospital, Sadako and her family learned that she did, indeed, have the A-bomb disease - Leukemia.  Now confined to a hospital bed, her friend Chizuko came to visit one day and brought Sadako a beautiful golden origami crane, along with some paper and scissors.

Chizuko reminded Sadako of the legend of the crane - if a sick person folds one thousand paper cranes,  the gods will grant their wish and make them healthy again.  That very night, Sadako begin folding cranes.

But folding one thousand cranes is a big job, especially when you are ill.  Sadako didn't finish folding all the cranes before she passed away on October 25, 1955.  But, according to Eleanor Coerr in her Epilogue, Sadako's classmates finished folding the rest of the cranes for Sadako.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is a emotionally, powerful story.  It is a perfect book for introducing this difficult topic to young readers.  There are no detailed graphic images described about the war, the bomb or even to after effects, only an acknowledgement of these things.  There is some controversy over whether or not Sadako actually did finish folding 1,000 cranes.  Regardless of whether she did or didn't, there is much to be learned from Sadako's story.

After her death, schoolchildren all over Japan helped raise money to erect a statue honoring Sadako Sasaki and in 1958, as statue was unveiled.  Since then, school children from around the world have been mailing or carrying folded paper cranes to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park by the thousands to honor Sadako and the many people who perished as a result of the A-Bomb with pledges of peace.

"I will write peace on your wings and you will fly over the world"
A second Atomic Bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945.  This year marks 68 years since the Atomic Bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.  No other atomic/nuclear bomb has been used since then...yet.

Doves released August 6, 2013 Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library

The Children's Peace Station Hiroshima has a virtual museum that you can visit online and learn all about Sadako's life and her paper cranes for peace.

Origami-fun is just one of many online sources where you can learn how to fold a paper crane.

Global Ministries also has instructions for folding paper cranes as well as the address for sending your peace cranes to the Children's Monument in Hiroshima's Peace Park.  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood

When most of us think special agents, the figure that most often comes to mind is that of James Bond, code name 007, part of the Secret Intelligence Service, or M16.  Bond is fun, but he is nothing like real life.  In reality, being a special agent can leave you cold, wet, dirty, hungry, and sometimes your stuff ends up in a lake when you parachute into an occupied country as you will discover when you read Code Name Pauline.

In a series of interviews, Pearl Witherington Cornioley tells about her life in the SOE, or Special Operations Executive, whose purpose was to "locate, assist, supply and train willing resisters within occupied countries by sending them British-trained agents," (pg xxi) people who could speak the language of the occupied country with native fluency.  The SOE was a top secret organization, so top secret no one in it knew its real name until after the war.

Pearl Witherington Cornioley was a perfect candidate.  Although she was a British citizen, she had been born and raised in Paris and so, naturally she spoke fluent French.   When the Germans began their invasion of France in June 1940, Pearl, her mother and three sisters (her father had already passed away) needed to get out of France and back to England.  It was a long, harrowing seven-month trip, but they luckily received help along the way and arrived back in London in July 1941.

Morally opposed to the occupation of France by the Nazis, Pearl knew she could do more tho help the resistance working in France than doing paperwork for the Air Ministry in England and so she applied to the Inter-Services Research Bureau, which actually turned out to be the SOE, along with an old friend from France, Maurice Southgate, also a Brit.

After a grueling training period and only three practice jumps, Pearl, at the age of 29, parachuted into France in September 1943 disguised as a cosmetics saleswoman.   For the most part engaging in acts of sabotage to slow down and thwart the Nazis, Pearl recounts some of the small every day details of resistance work we don't usually hear about in fiction and about her close calls with the Gestapo where luck was on her side.

Then, when her friend Maurice was captured by the Gestapo and sent to Buchenwald Concentration Camp, Pearl took over the leadership of 3,500 resistance workers and assumed the code name Pauline for the remainder of her time with the Resistance.

Pearl never spoke about her work in France with the Resistance after the war.  She married Henri Cornioley with whom she had been involved even before the war and who she worked with during it,  and lived a relatively quiet life.  In 1994, she and Henri decided to give some interviews to French journalist Hervé Larroque, which were published in French under the name Pauline.  Kathryn Atwood presents this narrative of Pearl's for the first time in English with the publication of Code Name Pauline.

Code Name Pauline is an interesting, exciting memoir about a woman I would love to have met.  Pearl/Pauline is feisty, almost fearless, and very morally principled, but she is also stubborn, as you will discover when you read about why she refused an honor given to her by Britain for her work in the resistance.  Bravo, Pearl!

And because reminiscences aren't always linear, or clear and sometimes digress,  Kathryn Atwood, who first introduced English readers to Pearl's story in her excellent work, Women Heroes of World War II, has written a comprehensive introduction to each chapter and has also included in her back matter a list of key figures, an extensive appendix and chapter notes, all very interesting and useful to the reader.  There is also an insert of photographs of Pearl, her family, her forged documents and, of course, Henri.

Pearl's intention for allowing herself to be interviewed was to hopefully inspire young people and to that end, this is indeed a fascinating book that will appeal to readers interested in WWII history as well as readers interested in women's history and it is most definitely inspirational.

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

Pearl passed away in 2008 at the age of 93.  Obituaries give much additional insight into a person's life and you might like to read Pearl's obituary from The New York Times and The Telegraph

This is book 4 of my 2013 European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader