Saturday, May 31, 2014

2014 Book Bloggers Conference

This post was originally published on Randomly Reading, but I'm just too tired to come up with another post about the same day so I am repeating it here for different readers. 

I was off at BEA in NYC this week, but I feel like I have been gone from here since forever (and now you all know I don't schedule posts ahead of time, which is really surprising for someone a little on the OCD side).  Today is the official last day, and I was really hoping to be there, but it turns our that yesterday was my last day.

What did I do at BEA for three days, besides stand on long, long lines?

On Wednesday, I went to the Book Blogger Conference, which was more a lot more useful this year.  I met up with my friend Elizabeth from Silver's Reviews and she introduced me to Laura, a blogger from Library of Clean Reads and a senior coordinator at iRead Book Tours.  It's always nice to see old friends and meet new ones.

The day began with opening speaker was Maureen Johnson, YA author of 10 novel and contributor to two short story collections.  She was very funny, has an adorable new puppy named Zelda after Zelda Fitzgerald, and told us that book bloggers have and use their ability to shake up conventional reviews that tell us not to read a particular book and counter denouncements such as today's YA literature is too dark (Maureen started the YA Saves Campaign back in 2011 - read her article about UA in the Guardian HERE).  In short, bloggers can and should shake up the status quo.

After Maureen's keynote speech, we broke up into different sessions.  The first one I went to was Design 201 - Taking your Blog to the Next Level with Hafsah Faizal of Icey Designs and David Piakowski of BookLikes.  The basics of a great design were covered and include:

1- Color - use color to match your blog's theme: use dark colors, if your blog is dark; light if your blog is light.  But always use hues that you really love and don't limit yourself to one color.  Hafsah recommends using

2- Branding - this defines your blog.  Make sure to have a nice square logo that encompasses your blog and you, and be sure to include your blog's name in it and don't keep changing your logo.

3- Layout - make sure you have a responsive design which is a layout that accommodates all screen sizes: desktop, tablet, phone or any other device.

4- Themes - if your blog is on Wordpress, you can find themes at, starting at about $3.00, or at creative  I don't recall anything being recommended for Blogger.

5- Design - it's all about you and how your readers feel while visiting your blog.

Some more pointers from Hafsah:
1- Do make your content area 1000px
2- Do place icons for all your social networks in a visible location
3- Do make sure you have easy to follow navigation
4- Do add a search function to your site
5- Do make sure your site loads easily
6- Do ensure your graphics across social networks match your blog
7- Do use web fonts to spruce up your content
8- Don't clutter your sidebar with too many gifs and worse, animated gifs
9- Don't have annoying pop up messages

We were give 5 tips and tricks:
     1- Use gifs, you can find some at
     2- Be social - interact with your readers
     3- Have a proper photo of yourself
     4- Show what you read - put a bookshelf on your site
     5- Introduce yourself on your sidebar (longer intro goes on your about page)

The next session was on Software 101, Best Blogging Tools with Thea James of Book Smugglers, Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Stephanie Sinclair from Cuddlebuggery Book Blog, and Becca Brennan from Mad Mimi.  The panelists talked about histing, RSS feeds, scheduling posts, plugins and things that again mostly pertained to Wordpress, includingAkismet for spam control, Jetpack and  Co-Scheduler and for male ware control, which gives you a free scan but the rests cost $$$.

Next was Blogging and the Law with Amanda Brice, Allison Leotta and Katie Sunstrom

The gist of the session was to know what is copyrightable and make sure you have a copyright on your blog.  You can register your blog with the United States Copyright Office and of course, there is Creative Commons.  Be sure to display your copyright on your blog.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a lot of information, including a Legal Guide for Bloggers which might be very helpful if you aren't sure of something.  If you think someone is stealing your stuff from your blog, you can find some help at PlagarismToday

Finally, the last session was called The Publishing Process: How Bloggers Have Changed the Game with Merrilee Heifetz, Senior VP, Writers House Literary Agency, Emily Meehan, Editorial Director, Hyperion Teen, Alexandra Bracken, author of The Darkest Mind series, Christine Riccio of Poland Bananas and Andrew Sansome, online Marketing Manager, Disney Publishing.

Apparently they didn't get the memo about the session topic.  It was all about YouTube blogging, which nobody in the audience was interested in.  Alexandra Braken was part of a vlogging video to promote her book, and that was OK, she was interesting to hear and we got free copies of The Darkest Mind, but the message we got from the rest of the panel was that vlogging was better that blogging.   People walked out!

The day ended with lots of giveaways, music from Tiger Beat and a free beer or soda.

It was a busy day, and for the most part productive.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Vango: Between Sky and Earth by Timothée de Fombelle

Born in 1915 and raised on by a nanny simply known as Mademoiselle, Vango has no idea who he is or where he came from.  He and Mademoiselle were rescued from the sea by the strange Mazzetta when Vango was only 3 and they remained on Salina, one of the Aeolian island off the coast of Sicily.  At 10 Vango discovers a hidden monastery on another island called Arkudah and befriends its founder, Father Zefiro.

The story begins in April 1934 just as Vango, now 19, is ready to take his vows, following Father Zefire into the priesthood.  Lying prostrate in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris with others about to be ordained, a shot directed at Vango suddenly is heard.  Within seconds, Vango finds himself on the run, a wanted man, for a crime or crimes of which he is completely innocent.

Eluding the very Inspector Clouseau-like Superintendent Augusta Boulard of the Paris police, as well as unknown, but the just as persistent sinister pursuers from Stalinist Russia, and Gestapo from the newly created Nazi Germany, Vango does find aid from old friends.

First with the elderly anti-Nazi German commander of the Graf Zeppelin, Hugo Eckener and second, with young, beautiful Ethel, 16, who witnessed the shooting at Notre Dame.  Since the death of their parents, Ethel and her older brother Paul have lived in the family's Everland  Castle on Loch Ness, Scotland.  Paul is in the RAF, and Ethel skillfully drives a speedy Railton automobile all over Europe looking for Vango.

As Vango remains on the run, a master of disguise and escape, he begins to wonder who he really is and why he is the focus of such an intense international manhunt.  The reader, of course, has been wondering this all along.  Is the mystery solved by the end of the novel?  Well, remember, there is a second book.

What an exciting adventure reading Vango is.  I began it one night after dinner and by the next afternoon I had finished reading this 432 page whirlwind of a novel.  Timothée de Fombelle has brought together such a varied cast of characters, some real figures from history, others completely imagined, all excellent at the part they play in Vango's story.

Though there is a lot of back story throughout the novel, the central story runs from April 1933 to Christmas Eve 1935, and both the settings and time frame are pivotal points of the interwar years.  Politically, Hitler has just seized power in Germany, Stalin had just been re-elected in Russia (thanks to the assassination of his political rival, the anti-Communist Sergi Kerov) and both dictators were beginning to tighten their grip in their respective countries through the use of secret police.

The Zeppelin had been in use since before World War I and during the war was actually used for bombing raids over England.  By 1934, the Nazis had insisted that a swastika be painted in the right fin of the Graf Zeppelin (in the novel, Eckener has trouble with the Gestapo after painting over the swastika), a real nail-biter scene.  Commander Eckener and Captain Ernst Lehmann of the Graf Zeppelin are two more characters taken from real life that populate Vango.

Vango was seamlessly translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone.  I can't think of one awkward sentence in the whole book and I think she has really captured the feel, the flavor and the style of the storytelling, which reminded me very much of novels written during that period of time.  And as epic as  Vango is nothing is superfluous.  Everything is there for a reason.

All this results in a very exciting and interesting Zeitgeschichte.  But the mystery remains - who is Vango and why does someone want his arrested or even dead?  And what is the meaning of the Latin words "How many kingdoms know us not" that are embroidered on the handkerchief Vango is almost never without?  I have not idea!

I don't any of the answers to the mystery raised in the story, but I can't wait to read the second book: Vango: A Prince Without a Kingdom.  Maybe the answers to all the question raised in Vango: Between Sky and Earth will be answered.  One thing I do know is that this is historical fiction at its best!

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This was an EARC received from Net Galley

This book will be available in the U.S. October 14, 2014 and normally I wouldn't post about a book so far in advance, but...

FYI: If Vango sounds like a book you might like to read and you will be at BEA 2014, galleys will be handed out by Candlewick Press at some point, according to Publisher's Weekly (but remember, that is all subject to change)

AND Walker Books Australia has posted a very useful teaching guide for Vango that can be found HERE

This is book 8 of my 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry
This is book 4 of my 2014 European Reading Challenge hosted by Bay City Reader

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Funnies #16: Memorial Day 2014

This Memorial Day weekend please take some time to think about those who served their country and are no longer with us.  And then, like Nancy, take a moment to thank those who are still with us.

Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker May 30, 2010
Hi and Lois by Brian and Greg Walker May 28, 2012
Red and Rover by Brian Basset May 28, 2012

Nancy by Guy Gilchrist May 28, 2012

In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday #14: Top Ten Books About Friendship

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

This week's topic, Top Ten Books About Friendship, posed a real dilemma for me.  I've used the label Friendship 109 times so far, and I know there were other times I could have used it, but to choose the top ten friendship books?  No easy task, because they are all top draw.   Here, then,  are the 10 books about friendships that I have reviewed and that had the most impact on me:

1- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein- this is the best story of a friendship that I have ever read.  Wein follows the friendship between two young women, a young spy, Julie, and a ferry pilot, Maddie, by letting each character tell their own story.  This is one of the most poignantly written friendships I've ever read.

2- Traitor by Gudrun Pausewang - a dangerous friendship forms between a 16 year old German girl and a Russian POW hiding in her family's barn even though they don't speak each others language.  If caught, both would be immediately killed by the Nazis.

3- The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico - this is the story of the friendship that develops between a deformed recluse and the young girl who overcomes her fear of him when she finds an injured Canadian goose, bringing it to him and believing he can help it.  This beautifully written story still brings tears to my eyes whenever I think about it.

4- The Cay by Theodore Taylor - a friendship ultimately forms between a young white boy, Phillip, and Timothy, the black man who, despite saving his life after their boat is torpedoed, considers him to be inferior as he had been taught while living on the island of Curacao.  

5- Mister Orange by Truus Matti - though he is never mentioned by name, this is a fictional tale of the friendship between modernist artist Piet Mondrian, who has just escaped from Nazi occupied Holland, and Linus, the boy who delivers his oranges.  I wrote: "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."

6- Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool - I loved the friendship that develops between Jack and "that strangest of boys" Early at boarding school.  They are bound together by their individual traumas and so they go on a quest together to try and heal their wounds.

7- The Dolphin Crossing by Jill Paton Walsh - two teen boys from different classes are brought together by the war and form an unusual friendship.  Events polarize the friendship but they are united again by their desire to help bring back soldiers stranded at Dunkirk, ferrying them to saftey in a small boat.

8- Warriors in the Crossfire by Nancy Bo Flood - Joseph, son of a Saipan chief, and his Japanese cousin Kanto have always been best friends, but now the war has come between them.  They must try put aside their differences to save Kanto's family from certain death ordered by the Japanese occupiers of Saipan.

9- Johnny and the Bomb by Terry Pratchett - I loved the friendship between Johnny, Yo-less, Bigmac, and Wobbler, three modern day boys who time travel back to the 1941 and the night of the Blackberry Blitz.  This is friendship as only Pratchett can write it - funny, serious, dangerous, slapstick.

10- Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein - I started with an Elizabeth Wein book and I am ending with one.  When ferry pilot Rose Justice finds herself in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, she meets a group of young Polish woman called the Rabbits, so-called because of the medical expiments performed on them by Nazi doctors.  The life-saving, life-affirming friendship that forms between Rose and the Rabbits in the midst of unutterable horrors is not to be missed.  Wein is a master at writing about female friendships.

What are your top ten books about friendship?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Announcing the very first 2014 Kids Author Carnival

So, maybe you're going to BEA 2014 this year, and you think all the fun will come to an end on Saturday, May 31 at 3 P.M.

Well, I'm here to tell you that if you love Middle Grade books, the fun continues!!

That's right!  Because on May 31, from 6:00 to 8:30 P.M. at the NYPL's Jefferson Market Library the very first, the inaugural Kids Author Carnival will be the happening place to be in NYC.  It is your chance to meet around 37, count 'em, around 37* Middle Grade authors that you know and love.  And the best part is that your age 7+ kids are more than welcome.  In fact, age 7+ kids are encouraged to come to the Kids Author Carnival.  And it's all FREE!

The Jefferson Market Library is located at 425 Avenue of the Americas at 10th Street, almost in the heart of Greenwich Village.  You can find easy directions and a map HERE

Afraid you might not recognize the building once you get to the Village?  No problem!  It looks like this:

And speaking of Middle Grade books and the Jefferson Market Library, this is the very same place that Theo and her new best friend Bodhi go when they need to find information in Under the Egg.  And by now, you may have noticed that Laura Marx Fitzgerald, who wrote Under the Egg, is one of the around 37, count 'em, around 37* authors at the first, the inaugural Kids Author Carnival. So...

Be there, or be square!

*Alexander London is not able to attend Kids Author Carnival, after all.  Prior commitments and all that.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The One I Was by Eliza Graham

For Benjamin Goldman, 11, the Kindertransport is a life-saver.  Oh, sure, he's homesick, but the people in England are nice and there is always plenty to eat at the refugee camp.  No one seemed interested in fostering Benny, though, except one nicely dressed man, but then, all he does is give him a chocolate bar and leave.

Nevertheless, next thing Benny knows is that his name is being called, and he is told that he and some other boys would be living at Fairfleet, the estate of Lord and Lady Dorner.  And life at Fairfleet is pretty good, with private tutoring lessons for the boys, plenty of good food and even time for recreation and dreaming.  But, Benny, who always keeps his distance from the other boys, is still haunted by things that had happened in Germany, and he just can't forget about his best friend, Rudi Lange.

The boys' benefactress, Lady Harriet Dorner, is a pilot who is often away, flying planes in the Air Transport Auxiliary.  Still, when she was at Fairfleet, it seems she and Benny shared some kind of connection, which, as the years go by, becomes a deeper mutual attraction.  Nothing comes of it and after the war, Benny leaves Fairfleet and goes on to a successful career as a journalist.

Now, many years later, Benny is one his deathbed, and a hospice nurse has come to care for him - at Fairfleet, which Benny had purchased after a forced sale.  Little does he know at first that his nurse, Rose Madison, is really Rosamond Hunter, granddaughter of Lady Dorner and a person haunted by her own ghosts of the past at Fairfleet.  But, as the days go by, Benny begins to sense something about Rose that doesn't feel right.

When a threat from Rose's childhood at Fairfleet shows up again, and begins make new threats, Rose finds she must confess her own secret in order to keep everyone safe.

And as Benny comes closer to death, it becomes clear to Rose that he needs to make his own confession of something regarding his life in Germany as a young boy.  And when he finally does, it is a stunner!

There is a lot going on in Eliza Graham's novel The One I Was.  It moves between three time periods that connect Benny and Rosamond's individual stories to each other, though they are strangers when they meet.   The red thread that ties them together is, of course, Lady Harriet Dorner.  And though I would classify this novel as historical fiction, it is also a mystery and a thriller.

Benny's story gives the reader lots of interesting, realistic background into life in Nazi Germany in 1939, as well as life in England both during and after WWII.  Graham has done her research on both early time periods and so there is an authentic blending together of events that keeps the continuity of the storyline going nicely, and framed by the present time.

Each of the characters are drawn with such depth and personality that you feel a compelling need to keep reading their story.  The overriding theme of The One I Was is the idea of reinventing oneself and why that may be done.  In the end, after reading Benny's confession, you may even find yourself in a bit of a moral dilemma regarding his actions.  There is no denying that Benny's story is thought provoking, but remember, hard times call for hard decisions and Benny was only a child when he made his fateful decision.

This is the kind of crossover novel I would have read and loved when I was about 15 years old and still straddling the worlds of young adult and adult novels.  It has some mild violence and equally mild sexual content, but nothing a young adult reader hasn't come across already.

I One I Was is a nice meaty novel that is sure to leave you feeling satisfied.

This book is recommended for readers age 15+
This book was received from the author

This is book 7 of my 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry
This is book 3 of my 2014 European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

After her artist grandfather is struck and killed by a car, loner Theo Tenpenny, 13, is now even more alone in the world.  There's her mom, but mom is a bit unhinged and hasn't been there for Theo in years, staying in her room drinking expensive tea and working on theorems that will never be proven.  And the 200 year old Tenpenny house in Spinney Land in Manhattan is literally falling apart at the seams and although grandpa Jack's last words to Theo were that he had left her a treasure, and  to "look under the egg," up til now she had only found $463.00 in the house.  And to top that off, a letter from Veterans Affairs arrived, stating that Jack Tenpenny's monthly VA benefits were now terminated.

Things were not looking good for Theo.

Until the day some rubbing alcohol spills on her grandfather's painting of a suspended egg.  As the egg painting rubs off, suddenly, under the egg, another painting appears - one of a Madonna and Child, with a Latin inscription at the bottom - and it looks like it could be a genuine work of art from the Italian Renaissance.

Now, Theo is really worried.  Grandpa Jack had once worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a security guard…in the European Paintings wing.  As hard as it is to believe it about her beloved grandfather, Theo can't help but wonder if he might have done the unthinkable.

But first things first.  So, Theo heads off to the library to find out what the Latin inscription says.  Along the way, a rain shower begins, and the owner of a diner calls her in out of the rain, and next thing Theo knows, there is a plate of hot meatloaf and potatoes in front of her - the first real food she's eaten in a long long time.  Not only that, but she strikes up a conversation with a girl about her age and the second thing Theo knows is she has just met her first real friend.  Bodhi is the wealthy daughter of two well known celebrities and lives in a completely renovated house, also on Spinney Lane.  The two girls couldn't be more opposite, and yet, more alike.

Suddenly, Theo's life has changed - no, not the financial part of her life, but the social part.  Jack carried grudges, and Theo was never allowed to speak to anyone on his list.  But with Jack gone, Theo finds that some of them are supportive adults who really like her and can help her solve the mystery of the Madonna and Child painting.  And, most surprising, Bodhi turns out to be a big help as well.

Together, Theo and Bodhi go on an adventure that will will include the Metropolitan Museum of Art; a little history of paintings from the Italian Renaissance; Nazi-occupied France; art stolen and hidden by the Nazis; and art uncovered and rescued by the Monuments Men; as well as modern ways of dating works of art; a bit about iconography found in works of art and, most important, how to survive in Manhattan when you have no money.

In the end, Theo and Bodhi solve the mystery of the painting, but will any of this change Theo's circumstances?

So, now you know why I have included Under the Egg on The Children's War.  When the mystery is solved, you will see how the war impacted the life of one child then and how the aftermath impacted the life of another now.

Theo is an interesting character.  She's creative, independent, intelligent, resourceful and she really knows her art history.  She has a lot of responsibility for a 13 year old, but handles it well.  To save money, she buys nothing that is not imperative.  After all, the streets of Manhattan are teeming with working castoffs, just there for the taking.  And she has a limited garden, egg laying chickens and Theo has learned the fine art of canning and pickling.

Best of all, Theo isn't a perfect character.  She wants to find out about the painting in the hope of selling it and alleviating some of her money woes.  So, maybe she really doesn't want to find out too much about the painting.  And she even gets annoyed and avoids her new best friend for these totally selfish reasons.

I really liked Under the Egg, especially the friendship that developed between Theo and Bodhi.  They make a great team, most of the time.  Despite her wealth, Bodhi is also a pretty down to earth kid, but has as much to learn from Theo and Theo did from Bodhi.  It is a friendship that you know will last for years to come.

Fitzgerald has also included lots of art history in Theo's story without overdoing it and without sounding teachy.  It will most likely be read by the same readers who loved E.L Konigsburg's From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and who knows, it may even inspire an art museum visit (From the Mixed Up Files was the book that sparked my Kiddo's first of many visits to the Met).

For young readers who like a a fun novel, a good mystery and well-developed characters, Under the Egg should definitely please them.

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

But that's not all:
Look under Resources on Laura Marx Fitzgerald's website for information on all things Under the Egg, including information on the painter Raphael (yes, he's in the book, too),  and information on WWII, stolen art and the Monuments Men.

 But, wait there's more:  
Look under Discussion Guide for help on themes and issues designed around the Common Core standards for grades 5-7.

And yet, still more:
Look under Life with Theo, and you can also find a map of her Greenwich Village neighborhood, out how to pickle beets, which I will definitely try, or how make a sweater purse like Theo's, (um, more my Kiddo's style).

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Your Hit Parade #3: There'll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs of Dover

In WWI popular music had the power to bind people together on the face a common enemy, to buck them up in the face of defeat, and to encourage them to be strong, loyal, and brave, even when they didn't much feel that way.  Some of the more popular songs were patriotic, but the best loved ones simply were those that appealed to the heart. 

In October 1940, two American songwriters from New York, composer Walter Kent and lyricist Nat Burton, penned a song called They'll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs of Dover.  The song was originally written with a war-torn, war-weary Britain in mind, as is evident in the first two verses:

I'll never forget the people I met
Braving those angry skies
I remember well as the shadows fell
The light of hope in their eyes

And though I'm far away
I still can hear them say
Bombs up…
But when the dawn comes up
They'll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Just you wait and see

It was a favorite in Britain right from the start.  And why wouldn't it be?  The white cliffs of Dover had always been a welcome home symbol to weary travelers crossing the English Channel, but now that there was a war on, it became an icon, especially for those pilots in the RAF.  Once the United States entered the war, The White Cliffs of Dover began to appeal to Americans as much as it did to the British
with its lyrical images of hope and peace, although it was usually recorded in the US without the original first 8 lines.  

The White Cliffs of Dover was first recorded by Glenn Miller and his orchestra in 1941.  Miller's version was the first war related song to show up on the pop charts, coming in at 10th place on Billboard's Popularity Chart for the week ending December 26, 1941, just 19 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

By the week ending January 2, 1942, Miller's version was replaced by Kay Kyser and his orchestra, also in 10th place, although it was in 2nd place on the Your Hit Parade chart as of January 3, 1942.  The song stayed on the top 10 charts for a number of months, with the weekly favorite swinging between Miller and Kyser.

Singer Kate Smith also recorded The White Cliffs of Dover early on, but her version didn't show up on the national charts until the week ending February 7, 1942, when she placed in 9th place to Miller's 10th place.  Other recordings were made by Bing Crosby, Guy Lombardo, Bebe Daniels, Rose Marie, and Tommy Tucker, all with varying popularity.

In Britain, a 23 year old singer from London named Vera Lynn also recorded The White Cliffs of Dover.  It was immensely popular, giving Lynn her first commercial success, although she is probably more well known for her iconic recording of We'll Meet Again in 1942.  The version I have included above is the one by Vera Lynn.  I chose that because this in the one I heard growing up when my Welsh father was waxing nostalgic for his homeland years after the war ended.  It is also the version that still occasionally runs through my head.

The White Cliffs of Dover  remained a favorite all through the war, frequently played on the radio and was one of the most requested by the troops abroad.  Of course, the song isn't without some irony, since the bluebird is an American bird, and not found in the British Isles, so it was unlikely that anyone would ever see bluebirds flying over the white cliffs of Dover heralding peace.  Luckily for us, peace did come eventually, anyway.

The white cliffs of Dover may have been a icon of home for British and American pilots, but they were also a beacon for Luftwaffe pilots.  Sadly, the cliffs were bombed during the war and badly damaged, though they are still pretty incredible.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Fabio Santomauro

It's 1943 and Denmark has been occupied by the Nazis since 1940.  One morning, when young Anett comes downstairs, her mother tells her that there are 'new friends' in the basement.  Anett isn't the least bit surprised to hear this and simply goes downstairs to the secret room to bring breakfast to young Carl and his mother, Danish Jews waiting for a fishing boat that will take them to the safety of Sweden.

The nights are foggy and cloudy, and the new friends can't leave right away.  Each day, Anett stops to pick up things they need - extra bread from the bakery, extra eggs from the farmer, extra books from the library for Carl to read.  And at each stop, Anett whispers to the baker, the farmer, the librarian that there are new friends who need these extras.

But each day, on her way home, Anett sees the Nazi soldiers knocking on doors, looking for hidden Jews and with orders to arrest everyone in the house if any are found.  Then one day, Anett sees the Nazi soldiers heading for her house.  She hurries around to the back door, but when she enters, the house is empty.

When the Nazi soldiers knock, Anett tells them there are no Jews in the house, and though they go away, the solders do so with threats.  Later, it becomes clear to her parents that they can't wait any longer.  But how to get Carl and his mother to the harbor in a dark, cloudy, foggy night?

Well, young Anett has a solution.  That night, as Carl and his mother leave the hidden room in the basement, all over the village there are whispers of "This way."

Jennifer Elvgren's simple depiction of this dangerous, yet heroic rescue makes this story all the more poignant.   There is no sentimentality, but this gentle story shows ordinary people just doing what needs to be done to keep other people safe from Nazi hands.  But it will no doubt elicit questions from curious young readers and is probably best read with an adult who can answer them age appropriately.

Fabio Santomauro used sparse, dark cartoonish illustrations that seem to work very well with the simplicity of the text and he has chosen a palette of the dark foreboding black, blues and grays broken up with bits of reds, yellows and khaki dialogue against an almost white background.  The dialogue is done in word bubbles.  This style may attract young readers and make them feel comfortable, but there is nothing cartoonish or funny about the story.

By now, most of us are familiar with the story of how Danish Jews were smuggled out of Denmark by Danes who refused to support and collaborate with their Nazi occupiers.  In fact, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Danes were the "only occupied country that actively resisted the Nazi regime's attempts to deport its Jewish citizens."

So it is no surprise that the best resistance, rescue and escape stories set in Denmark always come from real life.  In her Author's Note, Elvgren writes that The Whispering Town is based on one of the true stories from the fishing village of Gilleieje.  And if Gilleieje sounds familiar to you, you may remember it from Number the Stars by Lois Lowery.  Elvgren writes, 1,700 Jews escaped from this small fishing village.  In fact, Danes managed to evacuate 7,220 out of 7800 Danish Jews, 668 of their non-Jewish spouses.
Gilleieje is the uppermost town in Denmark
If you are looking for a way to introduce young readers to the Holocaust, The Whispering Town will definitely help you do that.

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sunday Funnies #15: Garden for Victory

Planting time has come around once again, so I thought I would share these two pages from a comic book produced during WWII to encourage kids to get involved with planting and maintaining Victory Gardens to help supplement food after rationing went into effect.  People really took to the idea, planting in backyards, allotments, rooftops, fire escapes and even in window boxes.

From: How Boys and Girls Can Help Win the War 1942

This weekend I decided to take a page out of this comic and do some planting, too.  Now, living in a city apartment has some definite advantages, but having a backyard garden isn't one of them.  So, I do what I can with window boxes with lots of herbs.  All summer long, I just open the screen and snip at what ever I need to make things tastier.  Luckily, NYC has some wonderful farmer's markets where I can buy all kinds of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.

This morning, I had sad, sad window boxes:

But lots new plants:

 And now, I have very happy window boxes: