Monday, September 30, 2013

Invasion by Walter Dean Myers

Invasion is Walter Dean Myers latest war novel.  It begins on May 14, 1944 as American troops are preparing for the D-Day invasion of France, which they know will happen but they don't know when.  It is narrated by the main character, Josiah "Woody" Wedgewood, who is with the 29th Infantry Division.  During practice, Woody runs into an old friend from home, Marcus Perry, an African American soldier in the all black Transportation Corps.

The story follows Woody before, during and after the invasion.  Throughout, Woody describes his feelings, his fearsand his loneliness.  These feelings finally prompt him to write home to a girl, Vernelle Ring, that he likes but who doesn't know it.

But the main part of the story is really about fighting to win back Europe from the Nazis and Woody provides some pretty graphic descriptions of what happens on a battlefield.  Walter Dean Myers does not romanticize the war nor does he spare the reader.  Invasion is rough, raw and detailed, as is some of the language used by the men.  According to his Author's Note, Myers wanted his readers to understand that the "...basic truth about war is that it is unbelievably brutal..."  He has certainly succeeded in that purpose.

I did have one problem with Invasion.  I found there was the real lack of camaraderie among the soldiers who formed the 29th Infantry Division.  It almost felt like they were each other's enemy.  Woody felt more like a distanced observer of his comrades, recording their behavior as an onlooker, not a participant.  Granted when men he knew were killed, he felt really felt the loss, but it was related more to his own fate than the fate of the dead soldier.

Marcus Perry, Woody's friend from back home in Virginia, appears briefly three times in this novel.  Naturally, because the Armed Forces were segregated in WWII, they couldn't serve together and probably wouldn't see each other very often, and, in reality, most likely never.  But Invasion is also a prequel to two of WDM's previous books about war.  Fallen Angels is about the Vietnam war, and focuses on Richard Perry, son of Marcus Perry.  Sunrise over Fallujah follows Robin Perry, nephew of Richard Perry, as he goes to war in Iraq following the September 11th attack on the US.  

Invasion is a fast-paced novel, though some of Woody's detailed descriptions of unimportant things could have been edited down somewhat.  I never really connected with any of the characters, and really didn't feel there was much to Woody, and his comrades felt like shadowy figures.  I was sorry about this because I think WDM's message is important.  I suspect, however, readers will find this a much more exciting book than I did.  And I certainly think it is a worthwhile novel to read.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an ARC received at BEA

Friday, September 27, 2013

Anne Frank's Chestnut Tree by Jane Kohuth, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles

Anne Frank and her family went into hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam on July 6, 1942,  until the morning of August 4, 1944 when they were taken into custody by the Nazis.  During the time she lived in the annex of her father's business building, she would escape the living quarters and go up to the attic to "get the stale air out of my lungs."  Outside the attic window was a large chestnut tree, a tree Anne refers to three times in her diary, on February 23, 1944, on April 23, 1944 and lastly on May 13, 1944 when she wrote in her diary:
"Our chestnut tree is in full bloom.  It's covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year."

Now, Jane Kohuth has written picture book for young readers that introduces them to this heroic girl and the chestnut tree that she loved so much.  Written in free verse, Jane Kohuth provides the reader with enough details of Anne's life as a child to give a sense of what her life had been like, and a brief explanation of why she and her family were forced into hiding in 1940.

The middle focus of the book is on Anne's life in hiding and the comfort she took in going up to the attic to look out of the window at the blue sky and the lovely chestnut tree that grew alongside the building she was in.  Jane Kohuth employs, in part, Anne's own words to accentuate the free verse used.  This section ends with the arrest of Anne and the other people in the attic.

The last part of the book focuses on the life and death of Anne's beloved chestnut tree.  The tree survived until 2010 when it was knocked down during a storm.  But, Kohuth, tells her reader that like Anne's words in her diary, her tree will live on even after its death.  Saplings from the tree were cut and are being planted around the world, 11 of which are or will be ceremoniously planted in the United States.

Anne Frank's Chestnut Tree is well written and would serve as a nice introduction to Anne's short, but heroic life.  It certainly captures Anne's feelings of hope and her appreciation of nature, as well as her deep belief in God.  In fact, it is quite well done for a leveled "Step into Reading" book that must be written to meet certain criteria.

In the case of Anne Frank's Chestnut Tree the leveled age range is designed readers who can read on their own in grades 1-3.  The problem is, of course, should a child that young be reading this book on their own, given the subject matter.  I can just imagine some of the questions that will arise from reading this book, the answers to which some children may not be ready to hear.  Personally, I would probably not give it to a child before third grade.  But that is a something parents and/or teachers would have to evaluate for themselves, based on what they think their children can handle.  Whatever they decide, this is a lovely book for introducing Anne Frank to kids.

The free verse is enhanced with appealing illustrations created by Elizabeth Sayles.  My only problem was that Anne looked a little younger in the first illustration than her actual 15 years.  Other than that, I found the illustrations and the text worked very well together in this newest book about Anne Frank.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+, but I would say more like 8+
This book was an E-F&G from Edelweiss

You can learn more about The Sapling Project HERE

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak, illustrated by Philip Hopman, translated by Laura Warkinson

When a group of five Polish men end up together in British army base in Iran after being released from a Russian prison in 1942, they quickly become part of the 22nd Transport Company.  One of their assignment is the task of transporting large amounts of artillery ammunition from Iran to a larger British base in Palestine.  On their very first trip, they encounter a young boy en route dragging a large moving sack.  Inside is a small baby bear, a Syrian brown bear whose mother either abandoned it or had died.  The five softhearted Polish friends decide to trade some objects for the bear, and before long, they even decide to keep the baby bear, no matter what their superiors at the base say.  And so they name the bear Voytek, Polish for smiling warrior.

Perhaps because there is a war on, but things are a little loosey-gooset at the base and the men are actually permitted to keep their new baby bear, feeding it condensed milk in an empty vodka.   And it doesn't take long for the Voytek to become part of army life in the desert.  He haunts the cook for scraps, uses all the shower water to cool down and becomes best friends with an unnamed stray dalmatian, and enemies with a monkey named Kaska, who delights in tormenting Voytek at every opportunity and who rides around the base on a large dog named Stalin.

As the war goes on, the Polish soldiers are eventually given orders to sail for Italy after the Allied soldiers have successfully been able to push back the Germans.  And yes, because Voytek was officially listed as Private Voytek, he was allowed to go along.  In fact, the whole menagerie is allowed to board ship and travel to Rome, though Voytek wasn't too fond of sailing.

Voytek was a strong, sometimes goofy bear who seems to think loading and unloading heavy artillery ammo is some kind of game with the men.  Imagine a bear carrying a bomb that could blow up the whole army base if dropped, but the men and even the brass has faith in Voytek's ability to safely transport deadly ammunition.  

I often found myself laughing out loud while I was reading Soldier Bear.  There was something in the writing style and the antics of the animals reminded me so much of Roald Dahl's WW2 book Going Solo.  Voytek was definitely a bear with his own personality who seemed to believe he was just "one of the guys" which may explain his penchant for beer and cigarettes.  Of course, part of what makes this story so charming is that most of the time the soldiers are based in the Middle East, which did not see the kind of fighting that was happening in Europe.  It was a much more relaxed setting and really allowed for the antics of people, bears, dogs and even the monkey Kaska more easily.

Soldier Bear is an absolutely delightful fictionalized account of the soldierly life of the real Voytek and made even more delightful because of the wonderfully whimsical illustrations of Philip Hopman, a Dutch artist, on the cover and throughout the book.

I loved this book and even though Voytek was a beer-drinking smoker, would not hesitate to recommend it to Middle Grade readers.  I think that they will be able see that the fact that Voytek was such a good friend and that he made the war easier for everyone he came in contact with, especially this five Polish fathers, is the more important aspect of this story.

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

More information about the real Voytek and his life after the war can be found HERE

There are a number of short videos online about Voytek like this one that you can find at YouTube:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Warriors in the Crossfire by Nancy Bo Flood

Twelve year old Joseph. son of a Saipan chief and clan leader, and his Japanese cousin Kento Tanaka  have always been friends and now they both want to become warriors.  But Saipan has been occupied by the Japanese for the past 25 years and becoming warriors has been forbidden.

Up til now, World War II hasn't had much of an impact on life on Saipan, but one day at the Japanese school the boys attend, they are sent home by their teacher with words of warning to obey.  As the Americans get closer, the Japanese need more soldiers, Kento explains to Joseph, so the school was close and the older boys will become soldiers.

Joseph and Kento don't see each other very much now, when they do meet, Kento tells hims more soldiers have arrived on the island, that the war is coming closer.  Then Joseph's father tells him to trust no one who isn't family, not even Kento.  Later, Ako, Kento's younger sister, tells Joseph not to go to the cave when war comes.  But what cave is she talking about?

One night, before he reports for mandatory work at the airstrip used by the Japanese, Joseph's father wakes him and takes him to the cave where he has stored water and food for the family's survival when the war comes to the island.

Soon, the bombing starts and Joseph thinks of all his has been told to do.  It is a confusing time for a 12 year old who is now responsible for the safety of his mother, pregnant sister, and nephew.  Once again, Kento and Ako beg Joseph to not go to the caves, but to come with them.  But Joseph takes his family to the caves anyway.   But when the family needs more water, Joseph risks going to the grotto to get it, and instead meets Kento, who asks for his help.  The Japanese are losing the war and the soldiers are forcing all Japanese citizens on Saipan to honor the code of the samurai - defeat, dishonor, death.  Ako and her mother have been forced to go to the cliffs, "the precipice that plunged straight down, the place of lost spirits, of a moaning wind that never stopped" where they along with the other Japanese were expected to jump to their death, according to Emperor Hirohito's directive.  Joseph remembered these cliffs - his father had taken him there once and told him never to go there again.  

Would Joseph and Kento get there in time to save Ako and her mother?  Or would the American soldiers in the helicopters over them kill everyone first, just as the Japanese always said they would?

Warriors in the Crossfire is a small but powerful book, one that made quit an impression on me.  I had never read a book for young readers about the impact that the fighting between the Americans and the Japanese had on the indigenous people or the innocent Japanese civilians living on Saipan.  Saipan is a small island but was strategically important militarily for both nations in WWII.   One of the effects of war, in general and WWII specifically because it was a total war, is that the people most frequently caught in the crossfire are the innocents - those people not engaged in warfare, and especially the children and that is exactly what happens in this well-written, well-researched book.

This is a true coming of age story for both Joseph and Kento.  At the beginning, both boys think they know what it means to be a warrior and that is what they want to become.  But in the end, caught in the crossfire of warring nations, the boys learn that being a warrior, a true warrior turns out to be something very different than what they had thought.  

Flood gives the reader a wonderful insider's view of the rich culture of the island's indigenous people despite living under Japanese occupation for so many years.  But there is also Japanese culture on the island and Flood gives a nod to that as well by introducing each chapter with a Japanese Haiku, for example (and my favorite)
After darkness We seeWhat had been Un-seeable.
This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was sent to me by the author

These are the cliffs that Joseph's father took him to and told him to never return there again.  And these are the same cliffs were Japanese soldiers forced Japanese civilians to honor the code of the samurai.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb

The Nazi Hunters was a book that was promoted at BEA this year, so naturally I was very curious to read this account of the capture of Adolf Eichmann in 1960.   The author, Neal Bascomb, had already written a book about the group of Holocaust survivors who pulled off Eichmann's capture for adults called  Hunting Eichmann and now he has revised it for younger readers.

Eichmann was the very high ranking Nazi who had been responsible first for the emigration of Jews to Palestine and later for implementing the Final Solution beginning in 1942 to meet Hitler's goal of making Europe "Jew free."  But in April 1945, as the Allies attacked Berlin and with the deaths of 6 million Jews on his hands, it was time for Eichmann to get out of Europe.  For 16 years, no one heard anything about him.  It was as if he simply disappeared off the face of the earth.

Amazingly, despite efforts to find Eichmann and bring him to justice, he was never found until a teenage girl named Sylvia Hermann, living in Buenos Aires, South America in 1956, started dating a young man named Nick Eichmann.  Invited to dinner at the Hermann home, Nick, like his father, was also anti-Semitic and couldn't resist commenting at table that his father had been a high ranking Nazi officer and it would have been better if Germany had finished what it started as respects the Jews in Europe.

It seems amazing that the capture of such a notorious criminal began with two young people dating for a brief time, but eventually a group of survivors of Eichmann's concentration camps came together based on this and additional information.  But it didn't happen immediately.  In fact, interest in what the Hermann's reported to Israeli intelligence died and it wasn't until a few years later that Eichmann was again identified and a group of highly trained Mossad spies and Holocaust survivors set the plan to capture him in motion.

The Nazi Hunters is a hard book to put down, but it is also a fast read, in part because it is so well researched and so excellently written.  It is as exciting and tense as any spy thriller you might read with one difference - it all really happened.

Lest you forget that what you are reading is nonfiction, there is also an abundance of photographs of the people, the places invloved and the documents used, some forged, to help the reader formulate a well rounded picture of the whole very clandestine operation from start to finish.  And because most of the names will not be familiar to readers today, and because there were so many of them, there is also an in-depth list of all the people who participated on some level or other in the plan to capture Eichmann.  Bascomb has really done such a good job of presenting the whole story factually and appropriately for young readers, without simply dumbing down his original adult work, and he includes plenty of back matter for further information and/or inquiry. 

I have read Hannah Arendt's account of Eichmann's trial in Israel, Eichmann in Jerusalem, a number of times, but have never read an account of how he got there.  Bascomb does cover the trial briefly, but his main focus is really the capture of Eichmann.  And I can say unequivocally, that from the beginning to the end, Bascomb will keep you on the edge of your seat as Eichmann's fate unfolds.  The Nazi Hunters is a book I would definitely recommend to anyone interested in the Holocaust and its perpetrators.

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

Friday, September 13, 2013

Going Solo by Roald Dahl, an encore presentation

Going Solo is one of my most popular posts and so I have decided to give it an encore presentation today.  After all, September 13th is Roald Dahl Day in honor of his birthday - he was born in Wales in 1916.ld Dahl Day in honor of his birthday - he was born in Wales in 1916.

Going Solo begins with Dahl traveling to East Africa to work for the Shell Oil Company in 1938 at the age of 22. It took two weeks to travel from London to Mombasa by boat and Dahl provides vivid, humorous descriptions of some of his fellow travelers, which he characterizes as “that peculiar Empire-building breed of Englishman who spends his whole life working in distant corners of British territory,” And they are a set of characters, for instance, the elderly Major and his wife who exercise every morning by running around the ship’s deck – stark naked. Or his roommate who sprinkles Epsom Salt on his shoulders everyday to look like he has dandruff in order to hide the fact that he wears a wig. 

Dahl was stationed at a place called Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, then called Tanganyika. He lived there with two other young Shell employees and their servants, but was also required to travel to Shell outposts, often for a month at a time. Dahl doesn’t go into any detail about his job, but he does about the people, the land and especially the animals he encountered.

I loved that life. We saw giraffe standing unafraid right beside the road, nibbling the tops of trees. We saw plenty of elephant and hippo and zebra and antelope and very occasionally a pride of lions. The only creatures I was frightened of were the snakes. (pg 26)
Dahl also provides amazing anecdotes about encounters with a lion and the dreaded killer mamba snakes he was so afraid of.

As soon as war was declared against Germany, Dahl was ordered to leave his job and became a temporary Army officer. His first order was to round up all the German civilians, mostly shopkeepers, in the area and put them in an internment camp, even though they had been doing friendly business with them all along. There was one ugly incident doing this, but in the end the task is accomplished, although the German women and children were allowed to return to their homes instead of the camp. 

In November 1939, Dahl decided to join the Royal Air Force, traveling alone for 600 miles to enlist in Nairobi. Flight training went well and Dahl was assigned to the 80 Squadron in the Western Desert. Flying solo to reach them, he could not find a landing airstrip to refuel before nightfall and was forced to land his plane in the desert, where it hit a boulder and burst in flame. Dahl survived, but spent months in hospital recovering from his injuries. Once he was sufficiently recovered, he was sent to Greece where the 80 Squadron had relocated and discovered they were expected to defend against a very well equipped enemy, the Germans and the Vichy French, with only 15 one man Hurricane planes of their own. Given his descriptions of the air battles with Germans, it is amazing anyone survived, and actually, not many did including Dahl's good friend, David Coke. Dahl seems to have had great good luck all through his RAF days. He was transferred to Palestine after Greece was captured by the Germans in April 1941. One of the oddest stories he tells was of finding a group of German Jews, about 50 children and two adults in the middle of a secret landing strip in Haifa, who had actually helped to build the landing strip. 

Altogether, Dahl flew sorties from April 1941 to June 1941 often as many as five times a day. He was invalided out of the RAF and sent back to England when he began to experience terrible headaches that caused him to blackout while flying. These headaches were the result of his old crash injuries.

I found Going Solo to be an oddly engaging book, pulled in from the start by Dahl’s wonderful descriptions of what was going on around him, first on the ship and then in Dar es Salaam and later in Kenya. Of course, the book was written in 1986, so one must always keep in mind that Dahl’s memories had forty years to marinate. Generally, I space out when I am confronted with detailed descriptions of military things because I don’t really understand that kind of stuff. However, I found Dahl’s explanations to be quite interesting and understandable without sounding condescending. Dahl loved photography and many of the black and white photos he took from this time in his life are interspersed throughout the book, as well as maps and bits of letters and telegrams. 

Dahl originally wrote about his RAF experiences in a 1946 book called Over to You: Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying, which is also still available, but the stories are definitely not meant for young readers. 

The official Roald Dahl website can be found HERE Visit it and have some fun!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

It's 1944 and the D-Day invasion has already happened.  The Allies are pushing their way through France.

American Rose Justice has been flying since she was 12 years old.  Now, out of high school six months early, she is off to England to ferry planes for the Air Transport Auxiliary.  But Rose wants to do more than just ferry planes from one place to another in England.  she wants to fly into France and she has just the uncle who can pull strings for that, just as he had to get her to England and the ATA.

After flying Uncle Roger, alone in her plane, Rose spots a doodlebug, Germany's pilotless V1 bomb that can go so far and do so much damage, on its way to England   So Rose decides to take up the challenge and do a little doodlebug tipping, ramming the bomb with her plane's wingtip and causing it to lose course and explode in an unoccupied area.

But chasing the bomb leads Rose into dangerous territory and next thing she knows, she is being escorted to Germany by two Luftwaffe pilots.  And it doesn't take long before she finds herself in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp.

There, ironically, Rose is assigned to work in the Siemens factory making fuses for the V1 bombs.  But she refuses to do it and ends up in Block 32, on the third tier of a bunkbed, sleeping on a narrow wooden plank with no blanket but with three other people.  Here,  Rose meets the Rabbits, the girls and young women who were used for medical experiments in 1942.  But the Germans are losing the war and want to cover up their atrocities.  In Ravensbrück, they begin to execute the women, including the Rabbits, who had always been somewhat privileged.  Now, the challenge facing Rose is to survive in order to tell the world about the Rabbits and the experiments done on them.

First, if you plan to read Rose Under Fire, remember it is a companion book to Code Name Verity, not a sequel, though no less powerful, and it gives a nice sense of connectedness and continuity.  You will meet a few familiar characters like Maddie, Julie's friend, her brother Jamie, and her mother, still caring for evacuees in Castle Craig, Scotland.  But this is Rose Justice's story.

And it is quite a story.  Where Code Name Verity is about friendship and loyalty, Rose Under Fire is about family and loyalty. Not the family that we are born into, but the kind of family that is formed by shared experience.  Related by trauma, by living together in the worst of conditions, yet finding the strength to support each other, to care for each other and to help keep alive the hope that their stories won't die with them, but will be told to the world.

Rose Under Fire is a first person narrative, told by Rose through journal entries.  A young, naive girl from Pennsylvania, as we read Rose's entries, we see her change as she experiences the realities of war firsthand.   And Wein doesn't spare us.  She gives us concentration camp life at its worst.  But she counters the cruel, the dehumanizing, the sadistic acts that were inflicted on all the prisoners, with the sustenance of Rose's own beautifully sad heart-wrenching poetry, as well as the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay, of Rose's wonderfully made up rescue stories and her remembered Girls Scout camp songs:
"I taught my companions Scout song and learned theirs; I produced more poetry in six months than I'd ever produced in my life, most of it in my head.  And I was part of a family - Lisette, Irina, Karolina Rózȧ." (pg 323)
I knew those camp songs, remember the sense of solidarity they produced as we sang them around a campfire (and I'm still friends with my old camp mates).

Though it has a slight connection to Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is a stand alone novel.  You don't have to read one to understand the other.  But like, CNV, it is rich in historical detail.  Readers should be sure to read Wein's Afterword since she did make a few minor changes to keep the flow of Rose's story.  But, it is also clear that Wein has really done her research on Ravensbrück Concentration Camp and should you wonder, and as she stresses in the Afterword, it really did exist and so did the Rabbits.

Wein writes novels that make it difficult to write an effective review without slipping in spoilers, so I will end with saying that Rose Under Fire is indeed a Five Star novel, as was CNV,  If you like historical fiction, then this might be a novel for you (but don't forget the tissues).

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was an E-ARC from Netgalley

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Wendy Watson

When I first started this blog, I reviewed a book called The Cigarette Sellers of Three Crosses Square by Joseph Ziemian.  It was the first of many books about the Warsaw Ghetto that I have reviewed here and these stories about the brave individuals who were part of the resistance never has ceased to awe me.

So when I found The Cats of Krasinski by Karen Hesse on the library shelf, I thought Wonderful! A nice picture book for older readers who may already have some familiarity with the Holocaust to introduce them to the Warsaw Ghetto and Jewish Resistance in WWII.

As we know, lots of Jewish children of all ages often escaped the Ghetto and lived openly right under the Gestapo's nose, passing for Aryan.  Whenever they were able, they smuggled food and other necessities back to family and friends still behind the Ghetto wall.

In Hesse's story, two sisters have escaped the Ghetto and are living hand to mouth in Warsaw.  The younger sister has befriended the cats that became homeless when their owners were rounded up to live in the Ghetto.  Her older sister, Mira, is working with the resistance.  They are expecting some food to arrive by train, carried by other resistance workers, to be stuffed into the holes in the Ghetto wall where it can be found by the Jews still living there.

But word comes that the Gestapo knows about the plan and will be waiting at the train station with trained dogs to arrest the resistance workers and confiscate the food.  The young girl gets an idea to distract the Gestapo's dogs when the train arrives.  And it works, thanks to the cat of Krasinski Square.   The cats are gathered up and let loose just as the train arrives.

The Cats of Krasinksi Square is an uplifting age appropriate story that has a lot to say to young readers not only about courage and taking risks,  but that sometimes kids can come up with ideas that actually work.   Told in sparse, lyrical free verse, the story is enhanced by the corresponding illustrations by Wendy Watson.  Watson used washed out muted colors in pencil, ink and watercolor that certainly evoke the place and period in her beautifully rendered illustrations.  

I thought that putting a merry-go-round in Krasinski Square at the the beginning and end of the book was an interesting touch.  Carousels are such iconic symbols of happy children having fun, yet here it is juxtaposed with and accentuating the deplorable conditions that the Nazis forced upon the Jewish children.  It makes a very telling comment.

This story is, as Hesse writes in her Author's Note, based on a real event involving cats outsmarting the Gestapo at the train station in Warsaw that caught her attention when she read about it.  There is also a historical note about the Warsaw Ghetto and Jewish Resistance that anyone not very familiar with these might want to read.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Coming On Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

When Ada Ruth's Mama decides to go to Chicago to earn some money to send home, Ada Ruth must stay home with her Grandma.  Yet as the days pass, and no letter or money comes from Chicago, Ada Ruth misses her Mama more and more.  But Grandma reassures her that Mama with be coming on home soon and to just keep writing to her.

When Ada Ruth finds a kitten at the door one cold snowy morning, Grandma tells her she can't keep it,  there isn't enough food for themselves with the war going on. let alone a kitten.  But she lets Ada Ruth give her some milk anyway.

After a while, with no word from Mama, even Grandma feels like crying.

Day after day, Ada Ruth and her Grandma go about their lives, listening to the war news on the radio, hunting for food in the woods behind the house, always  followed by the kitten, and missing Mama and hoping for a letter.

Until, finally, one comes.  And sure enough, there's money and the news that Mama will really be coming on home soon.

In this gentle, yet powerful story Jacquelline Woodson has poignantly captured the fear, the worry and the loneliness of a young girl left behind when her mother must leave home for a job, a not uncommon occurrence in WWII.  The story is set in the middle of a very cold winter, metaphorically expressing the warmth that Ada Ruth associates with her mother and which is now missing from their home.  But, the soft warm of the kitten keeps the memory of her mother's warmth alive for Ada Ruth.  Their anticipated renion ends the story on a happy, hopeful note.

The text is completely supported by the realistic watercolor illustrations by E.B. Lewis, that are so expressive of the time and place that this story.  I loved Ada Ruth's saddle shoes, so popular at the time.  And the color palette used, in rich tones of browns, blues and icy whites, also reflects the sense of country living in the dead of winter.

Woodson has subtly given us a glimpse of one of the ways that the war effected the lives of African American woman and children on the home front in this story.  Ada Ruth's experience of the war was, unfortunately, not uncommon.  When men went to fight in WWII, it created a shortage of workers and opened opportunities for women to take over their jobs and earn better money than they normally would have been paid.  Here, Ada Ruth's Mama went to Chicago and worked for the railroad, washing train cars.  Pullman in Chicago had begun to hire black men in the 1930s, but by 1944, as the war went on, the company faced a shortage of workers and began to hire black woman as well.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL