Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Two Refugee Stories: The Journey by Francesca Sanna and Stepping Stones by Margriet Ruurs

Refugees seeking asylum and safety is a old as humanity and a recent as today’s news. It is hard to imagine having to leave the home you have always known, the place you have always thought of as safe, leaving behind your beloved possessions whether it is a doll, or a stuff toy, perhaps pawning your great grandfather’s pocket watch or your great grandmother’s tea service to get money to pay for the trip you and your family are about to embark on. But that is just what these two excellent books are about.

The Journey written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna
Flying Eye Books, 2016, 48 pages, age 5+

The Journey begins with a young girl, the narrator, introducing her happy close-knit family living in a city near the sea, until war arrives and bad things began to happen. But when the war takes her father, her mother decides it is time to leave their homeland despite the dangers, and to try and reach a country where they can live without war and fear. So the family packs up what belonging they can and leave. But the journey is difficult, and little by little they begin to leave belongings behind to lighten their load and make traveling easier.

And they face all kinds of obstacles - a high guarded wall, a sea that stretches far and wide, a scary ferry boat ride, followed by a long train ride, all in search of a home where the family can begin their story all over again.  

Sanna used a collage of migration stories from different people she interviewed at a refugee center in Italy to create The Journey, inspired by the story of two girls she met there. Using simple language, and folk art style illustrations, Sanna has written a book that really captured what it is like to be a refugee, to be fleeing friend, family and home for your life with no idea how it will all end. Kids who may have heard about the ongoing problems in Syria this year may greatly benefit from this book, not because it will help them understand the politics of what is happening, but because, on a more personal level, it will help them understand what being a refugee means.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey written by Margriet Ruurs, 
artwork by Nizar Ali Badr, translation by Falah Raheem 
Orca Books, 2016, 28 pages, age 5+

Stepping Stones is a collaboration of Canadian author Margriet Ruurs and Syrian stone work artist Nizam Ali Badr that tells the story of Rama and her family.  For Rama, living in Syria means waking up to breakfast prepared by Mama, with tomatoes from the garden. It means playing outside with her friends and brother Sami, and it means stories in the evening when Papa comes home from work. So many wonderful days and memories, until war comes to Rama's country. Families started leaving her village and one day, she also left with Mama, Papa, Jedo (grandfather), and Sami. Walking with only the things they can carry, they join the "river of people" fleeing the war with its destructive bombs. Then Rama and her family take an overloaded boat to a new land, walk some more, until finally they are welcomed by the people living in their new village far away from the war in Syria. 

The story of Rama and her family is similar to the story that the young narrator tells in The Journey and certainly just as compelling. The text is simple and Ruurs has really captured how confusing and frightening it is to go from a life filled with love and serenity to one that knows only fear and upheaval and the hardships refugees experience on their journey. To it credit, the story is written in both English and Arabic, increasing its accessibility to young readers. 

What makes this book unusual is the artwork done by Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr. Using carefully and skillfully placed stones, he has created Rama's tight-knit family and surroundings, creatively capturing all the mixed emotions and feelings that they experience as they flee.  

I liked that in The Journey there are no names used for the family, making it a kind of Everyman tale, encompassing all refugees regardless of when, where, or what the circumstances of their leaving might be, while Stepping Stones personalized the story by naming the family members on their journey to freedom and safety, yet both stories are so much the same.

War inevitably leads to people fleeing from the fighting, the persecutions, because their homes, schools, cities, towns and villages have been bombed and/or shelled to smithereens, because of the color of their skin, their religion, or simply because they have been caught in the middle of someone else's war. We see it everyday on the news and so do our children. The Journey  and Stepping Stones are two excellent books that will help young readers understand what is happening to the children they see on TV. I can't recommend these two books highly enough.

These books were both purchased for my personal library.

Monday, January 23, 2017

It's Monday! What are you reading? The State of My TBR Pile

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

I haven't been blogging over here at The Children's War very much lately.  As you can see from the photo, it's not because I don't have lots of books to read and that isn't even counting the eBooks I have sitting on my iPad. But, I been reading books for two award committees - one committee is the 2017 Cybils Middle Grade Fiction award. As you may know, there are 7 finalists chosen this year and for all I read middle grade fiction, the only book on the list that I had already read was In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall. The other nominees are Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm, Ghost by Jason Reynolds, Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson, Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan, Slacker by Gordon Korman, and lastly, Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand.

The other award committee is the Bank Street Children's Book Committee and, sorry, but I can't say what books we are considering for our three awards: The Josette Frank Award for fiction, The Flora Stieglitz Straus Award for nonfiction, and The Claudia Lewis Award for poetry. I'll let you know the winners as soon as I can.

It's a lot of reading and I have gotten woefully behind here but I am hoping to begin catching up this week.  I finally read Anna and the Swallow Man. Until then, feel free to visit my other blog, Randomly Reading, where I review books for kids, teens and grownups. My latest post is an expanded version of My Favorite Books About Resistance in World War II, inspired after participating in the Women's March this past weekend.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Norman Rockwell: Native New Yorker. Who knew?

Source: NY Daily News June 9, 2016
The other day I was taking the Broadway bus uptown to Bank Street School when I noticed that there was a previously un-noticed sign on West 103rd Street. Now, NYC is famous for honorifically naming streets after famous people connected to a particular block, you can see them all over the city. In fact, there are approximately 1,550 honorific street names throughout the five boroughs, including historic figures, athletes, 9-11 victims, educators, actors, actresses, playwrights. You can find out all about these honored folks and more at NYC Honorific Streets.

Still, I was surprised to see Norman Rockwell, an artist I always associate with Massachusetts, The Saturday Evening Post and WWII. It turns out that Norman Rockwell was born right here in the Bigh Apple at 206 West 103rd Street (FYI: don't bother to Google the address, his building is gone and replaced by a newer one). And thanks to some very persistent high school students from Edward R. Reynolds West Side High School, who campaigned and petitioned their Community Board and City Hall, Norman Rockwell has received his street honorific designation.

After seeing the sign last Thursday, I started thinking about Rockwell and his paintings. And that led my thoughts to Willie Gillis. Willie Gillis is a series of paintings Rockwell did for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Willie was actually based on a real person, Robert Buck, who passed away in 2011. There are 11 paintings all together, following Willie from new recruit through the war and finally a college man studying under the G.I. Bill, though only eight were on the cover. You can read all about how Willie became Rockwell's model HERE.

The Willie Gillis painting are some of my favorite Rockwell paintings. *sigh* I look at them whenever I need to remember that no matter how bad things may get, we will get through them.

I thought I would share the covers with you today:

If you are ever in the Stockbridge, Massachusetts area, be sure to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum, it's a wonderful place to spend some time in and it's even kid-friendly. The museum also posts videos on their YouTube channel, which you can find HERE

Below is a talk give on YouTube called Private Passion: Rockwell, Willie Gillis, and American Obsession in World War II presented by James Kimble, PhD, a professor at Seton Hall University.  It is 37 minutes long, but well worth watching.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Four-Four-Two by Dean Hughes

In December 1941, right after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, high school student Yuki Nakahara witnessed his father, a California strawberry farmer, being arrested by the FBI as a Japanese spy and them tell his mother she is now an enemy alien.

Now, in April 1943, Yuki, his mother, younger brother Mick, and sisters Kay and May have all been living in the Central Utah Relocation Center, also known as Topaz. In fact, all west coast Japanese peoples, regardless of whether they were Nisei, born in the United States and whose parents were from Japan, or Issei, first generation Japanese immigrants, had been relocated to various internment camps around the country, as per Executive Order 9066 signed by President Roosevelt.

The United States mow needs more soldiers and are letting Japanese men enlist, as long as they swear allegiance to this country. Having just turned 18 years old, Yuki and his best friend Shigeo 'Shig' Omura have both decided to enlist, and despite the fact that the country he is going to defend is still holding his father prisoner. Yuki is determined to prove his loyalty to his country.

As part of the all Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Yuki and Shig find basic training hard and tough, but they are determined to prove themselves. Added to that, Japanese recruits find they are still facing the same racist attitudes from others in and around Camp Shelby, Mississippi, even though they are fighting for the same country. But then, basic training gave way to endless war games and Yuki thought they would never get a chance to fight. But, finally, in March 1944, the Four-Four-Two received their orders to ship out to Italy.

Although they had been anxious to get to the front, Yuki and Shig aren't really emotionally prepared for what they find in combat. Death and destruction surrounds them, friends are lost, and Yuki discovers that the enemy is now just a kid like he and Shig. He gets a small break from the fighting because of a very serious case of trench foot exacerbated by having to wear combat boots. But for Yuki, the hardest part of battle was still to come before he could find his way home.

I have to honest and say I don't care much for books where most of the action takes place on the battlefield, I am generally much more interested in the home front then the front lines. That said, I found Four-Four-Two to be a very interesting novel. Most books about Japanese internment during WWII are focused on the families living in those camps. Even when the young men enlist and go to war, the story stayed focused on the family at home.

But by focusing on two young Japanese American men who enlist in the army, author Dean Hughes is able to show that even though they were fighting on the same side as other Americans, they were still segregated into their own regiment, the 442nd. Men like Yuki and Shig had to constantly deal with racial prejudice both in the army and away from it. One telling example is the barber who refuses to cut "Jap hair" despite Yuki's uniform and the two medals he wore on the (a purple heart and a Silver Star for gallantry in action).

Hughes begins Four-Four-Two with a Preface that explains how some Americans saw German, Italian and Japanese immigrants at the start of the war, and why. Japanese immigrants were not allowed to become citizens, and Hughes goes on the give background into the treatment of Issei as 'enemy aliens', and includes details about the exemplary wartime performance of their sons who joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Also included is a breakdown of military units for people like me, who can never keep them straight.

This is a book that should appeal to anyone interested in WWII, Japanese American history and I think they will find that parts of it unfortunately still resonates in today's world.

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss/Above the Treeline

Saturday, January 7, 2017

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

I rarely give a negative review on this blog, mainly because there are so many good books to read I don't feel I have to, but I was particularly disappointed by this book. It began with so much promise of an important story that needed to be told, but it wasn't long before I found myself losing interest in it and the two main characters. 

Basically, this is the story of a Polish family, Janusz, his wife Silvana and their son Aurek, torn apart by from each other at the start of World War II. Required by law to join the Polish army, Janusz is on a train that is attacked by the Luftwaffe on his way to join his regiment. He hides, injured, in a ditch, and the train leaves without him. He ends up living alone in a small cabin in the woods, until he is warned that the enemy is approaching and he is not longer safe there. He leaves, and stays in a variety of safe houses until he finally makes it to England.

Silvana and Aurek are living in a apartment in Warsaw until German soldiers are billeted there. One of them rapes Silvana and she takes her son and leaves, heading for a nearby forest where they spend the rest of the war living. 

At the end of the war, Silvana and Aurek are located in a refugee camp and travel to England to join Janusz, who has been living there for a number of years now, and needless to say, has cheated on Silvana, not knowing if she were dead or alive.

The story of their wartime experiences and their reuniting in England afterward is told in alternating chapters, each telling their own story. These are harrowing experiences, yet I never really connected to either character. On the whole, I was very disappointed by this book and although I think the writing is wonderful but the story and characters left a lot to be desired.

This book is recommended for readers age 16+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016 Reading Challenge Wrap Up and 2017 Reading Challenge


I only did one reading challenge this year for this blog and it was the World at War Reading Challenge hosted by Becky at Becky's Book Reviews.  I chose a Bingo card for this challenge and actually got one bingo, and almost got another.
Not too bad for someone who notoriously doesn't do well on reading challenges. 

This year, Becky has another war themed reading challenge using a bingo card or a list. I'm going to do the bingo card because I like crossing out accomplishments by making little Xs on things, and since this is a much broader range the WWI and WWII, I am also using books that I read for my other blog, Randomly Reading
If this reading challenge appeals to you, head on over to Becky's Book Reviews to sign up and see all the rules for participating.  And be sure to check out Becky's other reading challenge that she is hosting.

Now, let the games begin and may the odds be ever in your favor!