Monday, July 16, 2018

Where I Am


It's time for the annual Baugh Cousins Reunion. It's a get together of siblings, 1st cousins, 1st cousins twice removed, nieces, nephews, and some brave souls who have married into this group. Every year, we pick a different venue, and this year we are in sunny, warm hot Boynton Beach, Florida (we base our venue decision based on school schedules):

A bunch of Baughs being serious (except me, I'm taking the picture)
Next year: Albany, NY so we can include my 94 year old uncle in the festivities.

I'll be back next week with new reviews of good books.

(This post was originally posted on Randomly Reading)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Jazz Owls: A Novel About the Zoot Suit Riots by Margarita Engle, art by Rudy Gutierrez

It's 1942 in Los Angeles, California. America hasn't been in World War II very long, but already the country is doing maximum war effort work. And that includes Mexican American sisters Marisela, 16, and Lorena, 14, who work long, exhausting days in a cannery, canning fruits and vegetables that will be sent to the armed forces overseas. But when night comes, the sisters are escorted to the local USO by their younger brother Ray, 12, to dance the night away with navy recruits on leave before they ship out to fight in the Pacific. Oldest brother Nicolás is off fighting somewhere in the where.

Rau may only be 12, but he already identifies as a zoot suiter, wearing the large jacket and loose pants, he calls drapes, that are their signature style and giving dancers plenty of room for dancing the jitterbugging and lindy hop. One night, after dropping his sisters off at the USO, Ray heads to a private party at a place called the Williams Ranch. A fight breaks out there and some members from "the 38th Street gang" leave but later return to get revenge. Ray is beaten up pretty badly, and another teen named José Díaz is found with stab wounds, and dies the next day. Ray is arrested along with members of the gang.

Reporters slant the story about the so-called "Mexican Problem" and the zoot suiters in such a way that they influence their readers against them for being unpatriotic. First, because they are Mexican, and second, they feel the large amount of fabric in a zoot suit is a waste and should be used for the war effort instead. Eventually released, Ray and the other zoot suiters are now seen by police, reporters, and civilians as baby gangsters.

Meanwhile, Marisela meets an Afro Cuban musician named Manolito and the two fall in love and want to get married, but California's anti-miscegenation laws of 1941 prohibit them from doing that. Ironically, Marisela, though of Mexican descent and hated by whites for that, is still considered "white" under this law, and can even marry a white person, but not a person of African descent.

Tensions increase over the next 10 months, during which time the family learns that Nicolás is now Missing in Action. The trial for the murder of José Díaz also concludes with a conviction of "a bunch of Mexican kids" sent to San Quentin for life.

The convictions only serve to outrage the white sailors nearby, and one night they go on a rampage, terrorizing Mexican Americans, publicly beating and stripping any zoot suiters they find of their drapes and burning them, including Ray. Even though the police see what is happening, they do nothing to stop it, ultimately arresting a hundred kids and only two sailors.

Angry at the pervasive discrimination they experience and the unimaginable violence they witness against the Mexican American community, and the poor working conditions at the canneries and factories they employ them, especially when so many have family members fighting in a war for freedom, the Zoot Suit Riots have a profound impact on the future of all three siblings.

Jazz Owls tells the story of a not very well known part of American history. is a novel told in free verse. It is told mainly in the voices of Marisela, Lorena, and Ray, and to a lesser extent, by their Papá, Mami, Abuela, different reporters, sailors, police, and even the spirit of José Díaz. It sounds confusing, particularly since this is a relatively small volume, but each is realized to the extent that they need to be and plays a pivotal part in the narrative.

Jazz Owls is a work of historical fiction based on real events and gives readers a window into the lives of patriotic Mexican Americans living in California during World War II. By interrupting and interrogating the predominate narrative in much the same way that books about the lives of African Americans, Japanese Americans, and Chinese Americans do, it draws attention not only to the roles they played in helping to win the war, but also the unmitigated bigotry they were made to deal with on a daily basis.

Ray calls zoot suits drapes, and whenever I look at Rudy Gutierrez' incredibly expressive illustration on the cover of Jazz Owls I can see exactly what he means, it is sheer drape and one of the most striking covers I've seen in a long time.

Jazz Owls is a much needed addition to the body literature about WWII historical fiction based on a real event, and I believe today's readers may be surprised at how much the story of a Mexican American family and the racial hate they faced that led to the Zoot Suit Riots will most certainly resonate with them.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Fania's Heart by Anne Renaud, illustrated by Richard Rudnicki

Back in 2015, I reviewed a book for teens called Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott. A novel in verse, it told the story of two young Polish women, Zlaka and Fania, who were slave laborers in Auschwitz in 1944. At the center of the novel is a small heart, crafted by Zlatka for Fania's 20th birthday, and signed by all of the 19 girls that Fania worked with.

Now, this inspiring story has been is retold in a picture book for older readers by Anne Renaud. Fania had survived Auschwitz, and traveled to Canada after the war, married and had a daughter named Sorale, nicknamed Sandy. As a young child, Sandy understood that her mother had many secrets, among them were why she had no relatives - no mother, father, siblings, cousins. aunts or uncles, and why there was a tattooed number on her arm.

Then, one day, when Sandy was 10, she came across another of her mother's secrets. It was a tiny book shaped heart, with a purple cloth cover and the letter F embroidered in orange thread. Opening it up, she saw lots of words in different languages, but could only read a few names. Her mother finally told her daughter her secrets when Sandy asked her about the heart.

Fania begins with her imprisonment in Auschwitz, after being torn from her home and family because Hitler hated certain people, but especially Jews. In Auschwitz, she was no longer a human being but became a number - 74207.  She describes the deplorable conditions she and everyone else in Hitler's concentration camps were forced to live under, how she and the other girls in her barrack worked as slave laborers in a munitions factory making weapons for the German army, and how they tried to sabotage the what they made whenever they could, and then, how they were forced to walk a mile to and from the their job in all kinds of weather. All the while, Fania searched for her family among the other prisoners, but never saw them.

Although they lived in constant fear and extreme hunger, Fania and her friends would recall recipes and food they loved. One day, Fania mentioned she was going to turn 20 soon. Imagine her surprise when she was secretly handed a small handmade heart-shaped card from her friends on her birthday. The heart was a cherished bit of hope and resilience for Fania: "It is an act of defiance. A symbol of strength. An expression of hope and love. My friends wanted to prove that despite all that was inflicted upon us, we could still treat each other with humanity. Their words saved me."

The heart is also the only tangible thing Fania had left from her past.

Fania's Heart is a very moving story. It is historical fiction based on the true experiences of Fania Fanier, née Landau. This is such a well written, poignant story of resistance and survival under such  unimaginable circumstances. It begins from the point of view of her daughter Sandy, but seamlessly switches to Fania's voice, always shown in quotes. To her credit, Renaud has managed to describe the horrors of living in a concentration camp under the Nazis including enough reality without getting overly graphic, given he age of her target audience.

There is an interesting Author's Note at the end of the book that briefly describes how Hitler and the Nazis believed in the racial inferiority of certain groups of people, including Jews. It goes on to describe how Fania's heart was made and hidden from the Nazis. The heart was eventually donated to the Montreal Holocaust Museum, where it is on display.

I thought that Rudnicki's realistic watecolor illustrations captured so much truth about the harsh conditions in Auschwitz, but also the intensity of the friendships the girls developed with each other. The post-Auschwitz illustrations have a bit more clarity to them than the ones that involve Fania and her friends during the Holocaust, giving them  a real sense of being a focused part of Fania's memory.

While this is an excellent telling of Fania's important story, I do wish there had been more back matter, such as a more detailed biography of Fania's life before and after the war, and a list of suggestions for further reading. For this reason, it book felt incomplete to me.

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

So, who was Fania before she became 74207? Fania was born on December 12, 1924 in Bialystok, Poland. According to the Museum's website, she ended up in Auschwitz after a boy in Bailystok pointed to her and yelled "Jew!" Fania wasn't wearing the required yellow star and was immediately arrested. She never saw her parents, her brother Leybl, or sister Moushka again. Fania found herself first in Stutthof Concentration Camp doing forced labor. In 1943, she was transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she was put to work in the munitions factory there. In 1945, as the Russians advanced towards Auschwitz, the Nazis decided to evacuate Auschwitz in an attempt to hide their crimes there, and Fania was part of a forced death march of prisoners. She survived the march and was deported to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. Once again, she survived and after the war, she moved to Toronto, Canada.

If you are wondering how such an elaborate heart could be made under such stringent conditions, you might want listen to the creator of the heart, Zlatka Pitluk (née Snajderhauz). It's in German or Yiddish, but there are subtitles:

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman

Twelve-year-old Imani Mandel was told she could have anything she wanted as her Bat Mitzvah gift. And she knows just what she wants, but she's too afraid to ask for it. Imani was adopted and now she is wondering about her biological parents and wants to know who she is and who they are. It's especially important to her since she is a young black girl and her parents are a white Jewish couple, albeit very loving parents.

As part of their Bat Mitzvah preparations, everyone in Imani's hebrew school class must do a Holocaust project, an assignment she has found to be pretty uninspiring. That is until she finds the diary.

Imani knew her great grandmother Anna has come to America from Luxembourg when she was young, but when the Rabbi at her funeral mentions something about her new family, Imani begins to wonder if Anna had also been adopted. Later, Imani is told that Anna had left all her books to her, her younger brother Jaime, and a younger cousin, Isabel. While sorting through the books, Imani finds the diary that Anna begun on the ship to the United States in August 1941 (and which she had conveniently translated the Luxembourgish entries into English in 1950).

As she reads the diary, Imani learns about Anna's life with her twin Belle, her parents, older brother Kurt, and young siblings, Mina, Greta and Oliver, about life in Nazi-occupied Luxembourg, and, despite have sponsors in the US, about how they were forced to make a last minute when the passeur* suddenly jacked up the cost of false papers and passage, allowing only one person to travel to New York and safety instead of two.

Anna was taken in by a couple, Max and Hannah, living in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Max was a furrier, working in the garment district for his two uncles, who has escaped the Russian pogroms as young men. Anna's first friend is a boy named Freddy, who helps her pick up English pretty quickly, teaches her the kind of street games played by kids, and even introduces her to the Coney Island Cyclone. Anna records all of this in her diary hoping to share it with Belle if and when she and the rest of her family arrive in NY. Sadly, Imani already knows that Anna's family has perished in the Holocaust, making her yearning all the more poignant.

As Imani reads her diary, she decides to make Luxembourg during the Holocaust her hebrew school project with the help of Anna's diary. Using Anna's story as a way to speak to her own parents about finding out who she is seems like a good idea, but she is still too scared to talk to her parents about it. It takes a surprising discovery for Imani to finally open up about what she wants. 

In the end, both Anna and Imani have to learn that their identity is not necessarily jsut a matter of a biological connection, as much as it is feeling a deep connected to one's family, traditions, and history. A word about the title: it is the answer to the question how long is a piece of string? and length is unknown, variable or infinite. Here, the Anna and Imani's connection to their families is unmeasurable.

This was an interesting story about identity, though I felt that a little more about Imani being black could have been included with the same conclusion. Her Jewish roots were definitely privileged over her African American roots and I couldn't help but wonder what Imani sees when she looks in the mirror.  Deep down inside, I also felt that, in real life, this would be an issue that will return in Imani's future.

I have to agree with Ms. Yingling when she says she wished the book had followed Anna's story and Imani's had been it's own story. Both would have felt richer and more full-bodied then combining them. I did want to know more about Anna's family in Luxembourg. Did they ever receive the package that Anna and Hannah sent to them? Were they really forced into the Lodz Ghetto, as the people in shul speculated?

And I wanted to know why Imani was given up for adoption. And why her adoptive mother kept the name her biological mother gave her. Weissman writes they both mean Faith, but I would have expected her Jewish mother to change it to Faith, but she didn't. 

I did like the fact that Weissman included enough about Imani's life so that the reader knows she is also just a kid on the verge of becoming a teen. There are tennis games (Imani is quite a good player), a best friend, other friends, parties, boys, crushes, and all the usual interests of a girl who is 12 going on 13.

While some things make this novel feel a bit incomplete, which is too bad, I still think it is an important book about adoption and family and definitely recommend it to young readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

*A passeur was a person who smuggled people out of Nazi-occupied territories. They were often resistance fighters who escorted down pilots to safety, as well as Jews. Here, the impression is that the passeur isn't a very honorable person. Though some passeurs were heroes, after the war, there were also charges that some has profited from the desperation of the people they were helping to escape.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Button War, a Tale of the Great War by Avi

It's August 1914 and World War I has just begun, and it has arrived in 12-year-old Patryk's small Polish village, within Galicia, a kingdom in eastern Europe that has seen varying occupations over its history. Presently, it is occupied by the Russian Army, who pretty much leave the villagers alone.

Though Patryk and his six friends like to hang out by the village's water pump, they also have a favorite spot in the woods just outside their village. One day, while playing there, Patryk finds an old button. When his friend Jurek sees it, he demands it be given to him: "Give it. I'm king here!" (pg 5) Jurek is a rather cruel, sneaky boy, an orphan who lives in poverty with a sister that hates him, and he's a boy who has no boundaries in his craving for power. That doesn't stop him from claiming he is a descent of King Boleslaw, making the village and surrounding area rightfully his, including Patryk's found button.

Soon after, Jurek shows Patryk a button from the uniform of a Russian soldier, claiming he cut it off one of the uniforms his older sister had just laundered. Jurek invites Patryk to meet him later that night so he can also get a uniform button. Later that night, they run into another friend, Raclaw, who tells them that the Russian soldiers are leaving the next day because the Germans are coming, as they take him to get his own button.

Sure enough, the Russians leave and the Germans arrive and life changes for everyone in the village. And as the boys pass their buttons for the others to envy and admire, Jurek gets an idea for a contest: "Whoever gets the best buttons, wins. Winner gets to be king. Means everyone has to bow down to him. Best dare ever. Buttons." (pg 62). Only military buttons are acceptable, and no asking for a button, they have to be stolen.

With the Germans come bigger, more dangerous weapons, restrictions on life for all villagers, unwelcome billeting, and very tantalizing buttons. But what begins as a typical dare soon turns dangerously serious and deadly, as Patryk realizes that Jurek will stop at nothing to get the best button and be king over them all. Patryk's plan is to get the best button so he can win and stop the deadly competition.

The Button War is quite simply Avi-brilliant. Like William Golding's Lord of the Flies, it is an allegorical statement about bullies, their will to power, and the people who empower them. In its simplicity, young readers may begin to understand how power struggles, whether in the schoolyard or the world stage, can happen. In this novel, the fallacy of Patryk's thinking he can end the insanity of the contest by getting the better button fails because Jurek keeps changing the rules to the competition so that they are always in his favor, and the boys, including Patryk, continue to feed his craving for power by complying with those changes, thereby giving him the power he so desires.

The setting of the story, a small village in Galicia, is unusual, but I thought it worked perfectly for what Avi was trying to say. It was a small enough place to see how war can impact the lives of people, especially children, and for witnessing the death and devastation that war, world war or button war, brings. In fact, sensitive readers may have difficulty with some of the scenes in this novel.

The Button War is an action-packed, exciting coming-of-age novel. One that I found I couldn't put down once I began reading it. I only wish it has some back matter about WWI, a short history of Galicia, if for no other reason than to find out who King Boleslaw was, and a map, which is always helpful and welcome. On pages 25 and 26, the boys do discuss what country this are in and the answers give some idea of Galicia's history (which I ultimately did look up in the encyclopedia). This doesn't diminish the novel in the least, it just would have in nice to have.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Candlewick Press

Monday, June 11, 2018

American Theatre Wing, An Oral History: 100 Years, 100 Voices, 100 Million Miracles by Patrick Pacheco

American Theatre Wing, An Oral History: 
100 Years, 100 Voices, 100 Million Miracles
edited by Patrick Pacheco
Graphic Arts Books, 2018, 268 pages
When I was at BookExpo this year, I was lucky enough to get a copy of Patrick Pacheco's new book American Theatre Wing, An Oral History: 100 Years, 100 Voices, 100 Million Miracles (yes, if you watched the Tony Awards this year, that was Patti LuPone plugging it). Quickly going through it, I noticed that Pacheco included sections on WWI and WWII. Not many people know this, but the American Theatre Wing (ATW) was very active during both wars.

Shortly after the US entered WWI, the Stage Women's War Relief was founded by playwright Rachel Crothers, and 6 fellows playwrights and actresses. Run entirely by theater people, these volunteers worked hard sewing, running clothing and food collection centers, setting up and manning a canteen on Broadway for servicemen, and selling liberty bonds, among other things. And they didn't limit their work to just New York City - there were five other branches throughout the country. Altogether, by the end of WWI, the Stage Women's War Relief had raised almost $7,000,000 for the war effort.

In 1939, even before the U.S. entered WWII in 1941, the Stage Women's War Relief was revived, organizing clothing drives and knitting for refugees in Europe, and, of course, fundraising. Once the U.S. entered the war, the name of the organization was changed to The American Theatre Wing for War Service. Beside Crothers, one of the other people who helped organize this was Antoinette Perry, for whom the Tony Awards are named).

One of their most popular measures was the Stage Door Canteen. Opened in March 1942, it was staffed entirely by theater people and open to all serviceman. There was entertainment by well known performers like Frank Sinatra, the Andrew Sisters, Ethel Merman, and hostesses included such luminaries as Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Helen Hayes, and ever Gypsy Rose Lee. Servicemen could be served refreshments (but no alcohol), they could jitterbug the night away with Lauren Bacall, a wounded solider could find help eating by Ingrid Bergman, or they could find a shoulder to cry on if needed. One of the best things about the Stage Door Canteen was that it wasn't segregated - everyone was welcomed.
Opening Night at the Stage Door Canteen by Al Hirschfield
New York Times, March 1, 1942
I love the theater and I really enjoyed reading American Theatre Wing, An Oral History: 100 Years, 100 Voices, 100 Million Miracles, especially the pages devoted to WWI and WWII. I suspect I will be reading this book again and again. Pacheco has included so much information I didn't know about the theater along with so many wonderful photographs I've never seen before. I was a little surprised that he didn't have more drawings by Al Hirschfield or the wonderful postcards by Barney Tobey:

I'm not much of a collector, but I have bought a few of these postcards on Ebay, as well as my very favorite piece of memorabilia - Stage Door Canteen paper dolls. I loved paper dolls when I was a kid, and I couldn't resist these when they can up on Ebay at a reasonable price:
These are not my actual paper dolls, which are too fragile to scan
If you are a lover of live theater as I am, I can't recommend Patrick Pacheco's book American Theatre Wing, An Oral History: 100 Years, 100 Voices, 100 Million Miracles highly enough.

The book will be available on August 28, 2018

This book is recommended for everyone

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Amiko Hirao

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into WWII, this country, the country that was fighting for freedom and democracy aboard, did a terrible thing to some of its citizens. It began when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, an order that authorized the internment of over 100,000 Japanese American citizens, including men, women, and children, as well as any resident aliens from Japan.

Write to Me is the story of one San Diego librarian, Clara Breed, who saw the injustice of incarcerating innocent people and whole families and tried to make it somewhat bearable for her young library patrons. Grady begins with the sad moment when young Katherine Tasaki has to return her books and relinquish her library card. Later, seeing the children she knew from the library off at the train station, Miss Breed gave out books and stamped postcards for the kids to write and let her know how and where they are and if they needed anything.

Soon, the postcards Miss Breed had give out began to arrive at the library from [Santa Anita Racetrack] Arcadia, California. She began writing the kids, sending them boxes of books and more postcards. The one time she visited Santa Anita, she brought even more books. After seeing the kinds of circumstances her young friends were being subjected to and the enjoyment the books she sent gave them, Miss Breed began writing letters and magazine articles asking for libraries to be opened in the internment camps for the kids to have easier access to reading.

Miss Breed continued to correspond with the kids she knew even after they were moved to the Poston Internment Camp in Poston, Arizona, in the middle of the desert. She also continued sending books, as well seeds, thread, soap, and crafts materials. Learning about the harsh desert conditions they lived with everyday, Miss Breed continued to write letters and magazine articles, hoping to make the country aware of how its citizens were being treated.

Write to Me is a picture book for older readers who are just beginning to learn about this period of American history and while it focused on Miss Breed's actions more than on the actual treatment of the Japanese American families she tried to help or the pervasive racism towards them, it does show young readers that one person can really make a difference in the lives of others. I think that's a message that will certainly resonate for them in today's world.

Interestingly, the focus of each of Amiko Hirao's gently muted color pencil illustrations is reflected in the postcard excerpts sent by the children that are found on almost every page.

There is extensive back matter, including an Author's Note, a recounting of Notable Dates in Clara Breed's Life, Selected History of Japanese People in the United States, a Selected Bibliography, and suggestions for Further Reading. The front and back end papers contain relevant captioned photographs.

Though it is for a somewhat older child, with scaffolding teachers might want to pair this with I Am An American by Jerry Stanly, for a more rounded picture of Japanese American internment camps.

The Japanese American National Museum has an online collection of letters written to Clara Breed from her young patrons incarcerated in internment camps, including Katherine Tasaki. You can read them HERE

One of the magazines Clara Breed wrote articles for was the Horn Book Magazine and you can read one of her articles "American with the Wrong Ancestors" published July 7, 1943 HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Clara Breed wrote another article in Jan/Feb 1945 issue of the Horn Book Magazine, which is not online but I found it in the library. The article is "Books That Build Better Racial Attitudes" and while it is really dated, I was curious to see what she recommended. One of the books is called The Moved-Outers by Florence C. Means, about the internment of a Japanese American family, and may very possibly be the first book about it. It was also a 1946 Newbery Honor book. I actually read it when I was researching my dissertation, but ultimately didn't use it, except as an example of patriotic propaganda. I'm definitely going to have to reread it one of these days.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code: A Navajo Code Talker's Story by Joseph Bruchac, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes

In 1929, when he was only 8 years old, Betoli was removed from his Native family and sent to the Navajo boarding school at Fort Defiance, Arizona, the very same place where Navajos had been held captive in the 1860s by the United States Army, after a forced long walk of 300 miles. At Fort Defiance, Betoli had his long, black hair cut short, was given the English name Chester, and forbidden to speak his native Navajo language. If children were caught speaking Navajo, their mouth would be washed out with yellow soap by a matron.

Every year, Chester returned to his family during the summer and kept his native ways. Then, in 1941, when he was in tenth grade, the United States entered World War II. In 1942, the US Marine Corps visited the Reservation. They wanted men who could speak English and Navajo to develop a code for sending messages that the Japanese codebreakers couldn't figure out. Initially, only 29 Navajos, including Chester, were chosen out of the many who volunteered, forming Platoon 382.

Slowly and methodically, they first developed an alphabet, then a vocabulary of words that wouldn't have to be spelled out each time they were used. So for example, the Navajo word for whale (lo-tso) became the code word for battleship. Once a complete code was developed, it was time to test it out on the battlefield. Chester and the other Navajo code talkers in Platoon 382 were sent to the Pacific Theater, where the code they created helped to finally defeat the Japanese.

Chester returned home after the war, but it had left its mark on him. His family arranged a four day long Enemy Way ceremony to help restore him to the "trail of beauty and the Right Way" so he would not have nightmares about war anymore.

Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code is both a wonderful introduction for young readers about the history of the code talkers and of one man's strong determination to maintain his connection to his Navajo heritage no matter what. Bruchac is very familiar with this topic, having previously published a middle grade novel about the code talkers. However, he has successfully synthesized the information about Chester Nez's experience as a Navajo child and man with the history of the Navajo code.

According to the Author's Note, the hundreds of Native American who were code talkers were told to keep their work secret, even from their families, until 1968, when it was declassified and they could finally talk about the important contribution they had made during the war. But it wasn't until December 2000, when the Honoring the Navajo Code Talkers Act was enacted, that they were finally honored and awarded the medals they so rightly deserved.

Liz Amini-Holmes soft-focused, richly textured illustrations are painted in a palette of mainly yellows, blues, and greens that do much to capture the relationship Nez had with his Navajo culture and home, and the pain and loneliness  of being taken away to boarding school and later of fighting in the war. They are almost expressionistic in the way they express the emotions Chester must have felt rather than merely depicting the external events he lived through.

Besides the Author's Note, the back matter also includes some of The Navajo Code and a timeline of Chester Nez's life.

Bruchac begins each section of Chester's story with the month and year in which something occurred followed by an unfamiliar description, for example. October 1929: Month of Small Wind or September 1942: Month of Half. At first, I thought perhaps the descriptions were part of the Navajo lunar calendar, but it turns out to be the names of the month in Navajo code. That made me understand even more clearly just why the Japanese were unable to break it.

I highly recommend this picture book for older readers who might be interested in WWII and/or Navajo history.

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

Monday, May 28, 2018

🇺🇸 Memorial Day 2018

Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, a day to spend some time honoring those who had once served in this country's Armed Services. And, just as they do every year, cub scouts, boy scouts, girl scouts, and service men have spent time decorating the graves of deceased soldiers buried in our many national cemeteries. For me, that means the scouts from Riverhead, NY have once again volunteered to place flags on soldier's graves in Calverton National Cemetery, including one that is important to me, and for that, I would like to say thank you to each and every one of them.

Enjoy your Memorial Weekend plans, but while you do, take a moment to think about those who fought and died for our freedom.

"Aye, bring the fadeless evergreens, the laurel and the bay,
A grateful land remembers all her promises today;
And hearts that gave their treasures up when manhood was the price.
Now bring the sweetest offerings and bless the sacrifice."
Kate Brownlee Sherwood

In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Book of Pearl by Timothée de Fombelle, translated by Sarah Ardizzone and Sam Gordon

I absolutely loved reading Timothée de Fombelle's two historical fiction novels, Vango: Between Earth and Sky and Vango: A Prince Without a Kingdom, so when I saw that he had another new work I couldn't wait to read it, too. And it was, quite simply, wonderful.

de Fombelle has spun a mesmerizing tale that seamlessly weaves together the world of fairy tales and the real world over different time periods. He begins his tale, in this world, with a 14 year old unnamed, unreliable narrator, who heart has just been broken by a girl who once was a fairy, stumbling upon the house of a recluse named Joshua Pearl. Inside the house, the narrator discovers hundreds of suitcases collected by Joshua Illiån Pearl. Asked what is in the suitcases, all the narrator is told is that they contain things needed for him to return to where he came from.

Who is Joshua Pearl and where did he come from? The narrator writes "the only thing I'm sure about are these first words: "Once upon a time." A young boy standing outside a marshmallow shop in Paris in 1936 is taken in by a man and his wife, owners of Maison Pearl, a couple whose son, Joshua, had died two years earlier. Not knowing how he ended up at the shop and with only bits of memory from his past life, the boy stays with the couple, who treat him like their own son. During Christmas, 1938, the boy found his first link to where he came from in a book of fairy tales that mysteriously appeared in the the kitchen of Maison Pearl while he was cleaning up. He knew then that he had to leave to find his way back to where he came from.

Meanwhile, fascism is on the march in Europe, and when war breaks out, the boy secretly enlists in the army under the name of Joshua Pearl. In June 1941, Joshua and a companion are captured by the Germans and sent to a prison camp in Westphalia, but not before telling his companion the truth about himself. In the camp, Joshua discovers a man wearing a mermaid's scale around his neck, a second link to his former life. Eventually escaping the stalag with the mermaid's scale, Joshua ends up fighting in the resistance. There, his captain tells him that the war will stop only when the world is really to believe, but they are not ready yet, so they must have tokens of proof about what is happening.

It is these words and having already acquired the Mermaid's Scale that sets Joshua Pearl on the quest of collecting tokens of proof that will take him back to the Kingdoms, back to where he came from.

In between the tale of Joshua Pearl, whose real name is Illiån, the reader also learns the story of Oliå, the fairy that Illiån loves and wants to return to, not knowing that she had given up her powers as a fairy to be near him in the real world. But before she did that, she was cursed and told that the moment he looked at her, she would disappear forever, she could only see him from a distance. Despite their love, they could never be together.

As for Illiån, before he became Joshua Pearl, he was the younger brother to Iån, who seized power to rule over the Kingdoms from his father, the King, at age 13, with the help of Taåg, an old genie, and Iån's godfather and adviser. Iån orders that Illiån be killed because he has also fallen in love with Oliå. But Taåg disobeys Iån and banishes Illiån to a far away world from which there is no return.

Or isn't there.

Three intertwined stories lines over three time frames makes for a difficult novel to review without spoilers, though I've tried not to include any. If I have, I apologize in advance. I know this sounds like such a complicated novel, but it is a such skillfully and meticulously crafted, that the readers goes from story to story, time period to time period without getting confused. Not that it is a flawless work, but the flaws and holes in the plot are minor enough that they don't take away from the story at all.

Each character is well defined, and each world is totally imaginable. At times, de Fombelle keeps the reader in such suspense about what will happen next, it is hard to put down. I began reading this on the train from NYC to Washington DC, and I could have ridden for as long as it took me to finish in one sitting (alas, that didn't happen and I had a busy few days ahead of me with not much reading time).

In the end, it is that 14 year old boy, now a man with a wife and family of his own, who goes back to that house of the reclusive Joshua Illiån Pearl, and who ultimately writes this story using those precious tokens of proof.

The Book of Pearl does an absolutely brilliant job of asking the reader to consider this: do we create stories or do stories create us, or perhaps, is it a combination of both.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Candlewick Press

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Promise by Pnina Bat Zvi and Margie Wolfe, illustrated by Isabella Cardinal

On the night that the Nazis took all the adults in their town away, sisters Rachel and Toby are separated from their parents but not before they are given a shoe paste tin with three gold coins in it. Not knowing what is going to happen to them, they are told to use the coins only if they have to, that they would know when the time was right. And most importantly, they must promise to try to always stay together.

Two years later, the sisters are now in Barrack 25 in Auschwitz, along with many other Jewish girls. Every other day, the girls build a wall of heavy fieldstone, and then, they tear it down only to begin again. When a girl gets sick, she is taken to the hospital and never seen again. Everyone in the barrack knows what has happened to her and do their best not to get sick, despite insufficient clothing, food, and bedding in bad weather.

When Rachel becomes ill, there is nothing Toby can do to prevent her from being taken to the hospital while she is working. Discovering Rachel gone when she returns, Toby knows she needs to do something quickly, or she will never see her sister again. Is this the right time to use the gold coins her parents gave them?

Using her wits, some clever planning, some luck, and the gold coins, Toby manages to get Rachel out of the hospital and back to the barrack. But the next day at roll call, she pays dearly for what she has done when the guard sees Rachel on line but not in her roll book. The guard whips Toby on her back with the leash of her dog, but she didn't send Rachel back to the hospital. Both sisters survive the war and walk out of Auschwitz together.

The Promise is a compelling and inspirational picture book for older readers about the importance of keeping promises, of family, and of the strength of sisterly love, particularly under the kinds of circumstances Toby and Rachel found themselves in trying to survive Auschwitz. And although it is a fictionalized biography, it is based on the real life experiences of sisters Toby, mother of author Margie Wolfe, and Rachel, mother of author Pnina Bat Zvi.

Photos of Toby and Rachel
The illustrations by Isabella Cardinal are done in a mixed-media of collage and photos together with textural drawings and finished in Photoshop, and really capture the emotions that sisters were feeling, and the anger and hate the guards had for them. The Holocaust was a very dark time in history and the illustrations aptly reflect that.

Holocaust picture books are always a difficult subject for young readers - how much graphic description to include. If too much is included there's the risk that the young reader will be so traumatized by what they read, that they never want to read about the Holocaust again. And although Toby and Rachel, like everyone in a Nazi concentration camp, faced beatings, brutality, starvation, and death everyday, Wolfe and her cousin Bat Zvi have managed to find a balance between the mistreatment and the love and resilience that kept these two sisters fighting for their lives.

The Promise is an important addition to the literature of the Holocaust, especially as it recedes into history. Keeping the Shoah alive by remembering it is so important now.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

You can read in interesting interview with authors Margie Wolfe and Pnina Bat Zvi and illustrator Isabella Cardinal HERE

Monday, May 7, 2018

The War Below by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

The novel Making Bombs for Hitler is the story of Lida Ferezuk, who was taken from her home in the Ukraine, put in a cattle car and sent to a slave labor camp, where she eventually ended up making bombs for the Nazis. In that same cattle car was Luka Barukovich, also taken from his home in Kyiv, Ukraine. Lida and Luka become friends and watch out for each other in the slave labor camp, but when the opportunity for escape arises, Luka decides to risk it at Lida's urging.

The War Below begins in 1943 with Luka hiding in a truckload of corpses, hoping to escape the camp, return to his home in Kyiv and find his father, who had been taken away by the Nazis and sent to Siberia. Now, wounded, wearing a hospital gown and bare foot, Luka jumps from the truck about two kilometers from the camp, in the rain, and finds his way to what appears to be an abandoned farm. The farm, however, is the home of Helmut and Margarete, an elderly couple who feed and clothe Luka, and urge him to remain with them until spring. But when he discovers that their son is a power-hungry officer from the camp he has just escaped, Luka decides it is time to leave.

By now, the Nazis are losing the war, and there is constant bombing around Luka by the British and Americans. Sticking to wooded areas, Luka meets Martina Chalupa, a girl who has been living and surviving in the woods for a while. The two decide to continue on together, and between Luka's knowledge of natural medicines and remedies (thanks to his pharmacist father) and Martina's survival skills, the two do well together.

Eventually, Luka and Martina run into members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, an underground (literally) resistance group. Both Luka and Martina decide to stay and fight with the resistance, Luka as a medical helper and Martina as a soldier. Luka stays with the resistance until the end of the war in 1945, when he is told to head west rather than east. Stalin has decided that if Russians and Ukrainians were captured by the Nazis, put to work and survived, they are traitors to the Soviet Union and are put to death.

Eventually, Luka makes his way to a displaced persons camp, where he begins searching for  his mother and his friend Lida, in the hope that they both survived the war. Eventually reunited with Lida in the DP camp, he is lured away again with the promise that his father has been found and is living in Kyiv. Anxious to see him, Luka boards a truck with other Ukrainians returning home. It very shortly turns out that they have been duped by NKVD (the Soviet secret police) and the plan is to kill them as traitors. But if you have read Making Bombs for Hitler, you pretty much know how Luka's story does not end on that truck.

The War Below, originally published under the name Underground Soldier, is every bit as solid a novel as Making Bombs for Hitler. Both books have been reissued, and they are part of a trilogy. The third book, called Stolen Child, is the story of what happens to Lida's younger sister Larissa, and, I am sorry to say, it is the only one I haven't read yet, but I am hoping it will be reissued as well.

Luka is a strong, resourceful, compassionate character, though he is also racked with guilt at not being able to save his friend David, killed in the Nazi massacre of Babi Yar in 1941, and at leaving Lida behind when he escaped the labor camp, and at not being able to help Martina more. Skrypuch very cleverly incorporates background information about what Luka experienced in Kyiv when the Nazis arrived, so that the reader really understands what is going on for him.

When I wrote about Making Bombs for Hitler, I said it was a real eye-opener for me in terms of what went on in the Nazi slave labor camps. I had the same reaction with The War Below. I haven't really read much about the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UIA), and how they operated and found it fascinating. Yes, I've written about other resistance groups, but I find they are all unique (see Uncle Misha's Partisans by Yuri Suhl, also about the Ukrainian resistance)

The novel is narrated in the first person by Luka, and it is a captivating novel. From the moment I began reading, I couldn't put it down. And, although there is a lot of overlap with Making Bombs for Hitler, repeating information you might already know, it really doesn't take away from the story at all, but also means this can be read as a stand alone novel.

Skypuch is not afraid to confront and interrogate the cruelties of the Soviet and Nazi regimes, and I again feel that I should warn readers that there are some graphic descriptions that might not be suitable for some sensitive readers. But, I also have to say that the overall story is one that shouldn't be missed, mostly because the Eastern Front is not one most of us are terribly familiar with, though that is beginning to change.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the back of the book, and you might also find the brief description of the certain historical events included in The War Below to be helpful.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book is an ARC received from the publisher, Scholastic Press.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

To Die But Once (a Maisie Dobbs Mystery #14) by Jacqueline Winspear

It's May 1940 and, while Britain is at war with Germany, nothing much has happened so far on the home front, except lots of talk about the possibility of England being invaded, and continued preparations for the war. But now that the so-called phony war has ended, things are heating up.

For 15 year-old Joe Coombes, already an apprentice for Yates and Sons, painters and decorators, it now means a job painting the buildings at every RAF airfield in the country with a special new fire-retardant paint. But the vapors from the paint give Joe headaches, and when he is found dead from an apparent fall, it's all chalked up to being a suicide rather than the fatal blow on the head he received from the two men following him as Joe was out walking one night (NOT a spoiler - it happens in the Prologue).

Joe's parents, owners of a local pub, ask Maisie to investigate what happened to their son, and Maisie readily accepts, having watched all the Coombes children, Joe, Archie, and Vivian, grow up in their close-knit family. The family has always been well provided for, but now, with the war finally beginning to heat up, Maisie notices that both Archie and Vivian are living better than most people, always wearing fashionable clothing, having nice living conditions, and even smoking expensive cigarettes from packs of 20 instead of cheap Woodbines, "sold by the one's and two's" and not even bothering to finish them.

Luckily, Maisie still has gas coupons, so she drives several times down to Hampshire with her assistant Billy Beale, the last known area Joe had worked in, and begins questioning everyone who had contact with Joe, including his fellow workers, his landlady and the air force. Everyone liked Joe, but no one can help much. And Maisie notices that she is now being followed by a car with darkened windows, all the way back to London.

Meanwhile, Maisie's best friend Priscilla Partridge has been having a problem with her middle son, Tim, ever since his older brother joined the RAF. Tim also wants to be involved in doing work for the war effort, but is still too young. She asks Maisie is Tim might visit Chelstone, Maisie's country home inherited from her deceased husband. The hope is that Maisie can talk to him, her father will keep him busy with farm chores, and her young evacuee Anna, 5, will be thrilled to have him there as she recovers from measles. 

The war in Europe isn't going well for the British and French, and they soon learn that the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF) are being driven to the coast of Dunkirk by the German Army and are basically sitting ducks for the Luftwaffe. But when a call goes out for any craft that can cross the English Channel in an attempt to rescue the stranded soldiers, Tim and his friend Gordon Sanderson suddenly go missing as does one of Mr. Sanderson's boats.

As if the death of Joe Coombes and the possibility that Tim went to Dunkirk as part of the rescue flotilla isn't enough, Maisie has also decided to begin looking into the possibility of adopting Anna, though things don't look good for her as a single woman. 

And just how does that nice man living in the same building as Maisie's office fit into the plot?

I really enjoyed this Maisie Dobbs mystery. There is lots of interesting every day information about life on the home front included as the Germans get closer and closer to the English Channel and the possibility of invasion become real. Invasion was something people really worried about during WWII, with good reason, considering the number of countries Hitler had already invaded. On top of that, there is worry about the sons who have already enlisted and are fighting in France - Billy's son Billy Jr. in the army, Tom Partridge flying in the RAF, both boys Maisie is quite fond of.

I found the mystery interesting and there were quite a few surprises I don't see coming - which I like in novel. And the subplot of the missing Tim allows Winspear to include a lot of information about events in the spring of 1940, just before the Battle of Britain began.

And as much as I loved reading the three Maisie Dobbs novels that take place just before and during WWII, and plan to read any future mysteries of hers in this time period, this novel made me realize that I don't much care for Maisie's character. I find she is too perfect and that she has too much of a flat affect - she never gets angry, or has a good laugh, or a good cry. Sometimes, when she thinks about her late husband and the child she lost, there is a sense of tearless sadness, or when she is with Anna a kind of motherliness about her, but even at that, I don't get a feeling of warmth. Odd that, to like the books in a series so much, but not the main character. Even odder, it doesn't spoil the novels for me at all.

What I did find interesting, and you may as well, is that the the story of young Joe Coombes is based in part on Winspear's father's WWII experiences as an apprentice painting building at military airfields with a new fire retardant emulsion. You can read what Winspear writes about this on her website HERE.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did, and I can't wait to see what Maisie's next novel will bring.

This book is recommend for readers age 14+
This book was an EARC received from EdelweissPlus

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Interview with Kirby Larson, author of Code Word Courage (Book 4 of Dogs of World War II)

It's September 1944 and fifth grader Billie Packer is anxiously awaiting her big brother Leo's visit, the first one since he joined the Marines. There's so much she wants to talk to him about, like how to get Hazel to be her best friend again. But when Leo arrives, much to Billie's disappointment, he isn't alone, he's brought his buddy Denny, a Navaho, and an injured dog they found near the highway. It doesn't take long for Billie to get friendly with Denny, and to fall the dog, that Denny had named Bear. 

Before Denny leaves, he tells Billie that he thinks Bear's purpose is to help her find what she is looking for. Soon, Leo ships out to the Pacific, Denny is recruited as a Navaho code talker, and Billie's life settles into a routine of school, chores, taking care of Bear, and hanging out with Tito, a Mexican boy in her class. Although Billie has been bullied by two boys in her class, their real target is Tito. When the bullying gets ugly and something happens to Tito, Billie finally realizes what she has been looking for, thanks to Bear. And thanks to Bear, in the middle of a battle, Denny also learns what is important to him.  

Readers who have read any or all of the previous Dogs of War series, which includes Duke, Dash, and Liberty, will surely enjoy Code Name Courage. Readers new to this series will find that their is so much to learn about the home front in these novels. They are all so well-written, well-researched, and historically accurate. In the following interview, I asked Kirby Larson about her research, what inspires her and what she hopes readers will get from her books. 

Did you always want to be a writer?
Though I have always loved reading and writing, I never knew writing was a career option until college; and then, it was journalism, which became my major.
Kirby Larson

Were you always partial to historical fiction? Why?
When my daughter was in 6th grade, she introduced me to the historical fiction of Karen Cushman (Catherine, Called Birdy) and Jennifer Armstrong (the Mary Meahan series). I fell in love with those books, wishing such rich treatments of history had been available when I was a kid. It wasn’t until I heard a snippet of my own family history, however, that I was drawn to writing historical fiction. That first foray turned out to be Hattie Big Sky and I haven’t looked back since.

Can you tell us something about your research process for your historical fiction novels?

Oh dear. What don’t I do during the research process?! I read every single first- hand account/primary document I can get my hands on, including recipes! I interview experts, and those who have lived through the time periods/experiences I’m writing about. For example, for Dash, I spoke to women who had been incarcerated in war relocation camps during WWII. And for my latest book, Code Word Courage, I read every Navajo Code Talker memoir published. I also interviewed a Code Talker, as well as the son of a Code Talker. I read old newspapers, read books published during the time periods I’m writing about, collect old maps, train timetables – you name it. I do whatever I need to do to feel confident I can recreate a slice of the past for today’s young readers.

I wonder, what were some interesting or surprising things you discovered during the research process for Code Word Courage and the other Dogs of War novels?

There are so many surprises – I’ll share a few. I was astonished to realize that normal American families loaned their pets to Uncle Sam during WWII (Duke); I was amazed to learn that, despite being sent to horrible, barren places, the incarcerees of Japanese descent created beauty with scraps of lumber, or found shells or greasewood branches (Dash); I was astonished and humbled to discover that 400 Navajo men helped to create a code based on the language they once had been punished for speaking (Code Word Courage). 

Each of the Dogs of War stories feature a triangular relationship between a young person, their dog, and an older person. What inspired you decide to write a series of WWII stories where a dog is the catalyst for the strong bond that develops between the three of them?

The honest truth is that the first book written, Dash, (the second book published) was inspired by the love of one person for her dog. Once I had written that story, inspired by Mitsi Shiraishi, I knew each of the stories that followed would also involve a dog. It was one of those serendipitous gifts that writing can bestow.

In Code Word Courage, you tell both Billie and Denny’s stories in the first person. I can understand how you could write Billie’s story but I wonder what sources did you draw upon to get into the mind and heart of a Navaho Code Talker?

As I mentioned above, I read every single first-hand account, memoir, newspaper article, etc. to help me understand the factors that would have shaped the character I’m writing about. I also rely on my imagination and empathy to put myself in any character’s shoes. Though those who were part of WWII are diminishing in number, there are still a few veterans surviving. I was able to interview Dr. Roy O. Hawthorne, whose experiences as a Code Talker shaped the creation of Denny’s story. In addition, Michael Smith, son of Code Talker Samuel “Jesse” Smith Sr. read my manuscript for accuracy. 

I laughed when I read Hobie Hanson, the main character in Duke, wore PF Flyers (my own personal sneaker choice). All of your Dogs of War stories (in fact, all your historical fiction) have this kind of authenticity to them without overwhelming readers with too many normal, but accurate details about what life was like for kids on the home front. How do you know when you’ve included enough realistic details?  And how do you decide on what to include, considering most of today’s readers may not be familiar with many of them?

I am so lucky to have a terrific first reader, and a terrific editor who kindly but firmly tell me when I am shoehorning in too many of the great facts I’ve learned about a past time and place. If it were left to me, I would share EVERY fascinating detail I uncover. But then my stories would read like history books and that’s not what I’m trying to create. As for deciding what to include, I have tremendous respect for my readers who, even if they might not understand every detail in a book, are smart enough to figure out the essence of each story.

What do you hope today’s readers will take away from your WWII stories?

One of my goals as a writer is to leave room for my readers to take away from each story what they need to take away. That being said, I wouldn’t be disappointed if my readers felt inspired to be kinder and more tolerant after reading one of my books.

I have really enjoyed reading all four of the Dogs of War stories. Will there be any more Dogs of War books?
I have learned never to say never but, at this point, I am ready to step away from WWII for a time. I am working on a novel with a slightly older main character (16) set in pre-crash 1929. After that, who knows?!

One last question - do you have a favorite dog story not written by Kirby Larson?
Oh my goodness. Must I choose only one??? I can’t, so, here are a few: Love that Dog (Sharon Creech); How to Steal a Dog, and Wish (Barbara O’Connor); and Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate Di Camillo). Books about dogs I haven’t yet read but are on my nightstand: Chasing Augustus (Kimberly Newton Fusco); Good Dog (Dan Gemeinhart) and Following Baxter (Barbara Kerley). 

Thank you so much for this opportunity to talk about my passion – writing historical fiction for young readers. I am grateful for your interest.


Thanks you, Kirby.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Ruby in the Ruins written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes

I mentioned in my review of Voices from the Second World War that writer/artist Shirley Hughes was one of the people who contributed her wartime experiences to that excellent collection of oral histories, and that she had also written a book based on them (see Whistling in the Dark).

Ruby in the Ruins is Hughes' latest picture book, one that takes place just at the end of WWII. Everyone in Ruby's London neighborhood is celebrating the end of the war with block parties, including Ruby and her Mum. 

But, though the fighting may have ended, the memory of the Blitz is still fresh in their minds. There were all those nights when the air raid sirens went off, and people were supposed to go to their nearest shelter. And kids had been sent out of London for safety, but Ruby and her Mum stayed - just in case her dad, who is in the army, got leave and could come home to visit for a visit. 

Those scary days and nights may be in the past, but all around her, Ruby sees houses had been bombed and blackened, and now they were fenced off piles of rubble that need to be cleared up. And while Ruby's friends have already welcomed their dads home from the war, she and her mum have to wait a long time for her dad.

When Ruby's dad finally does come home, Mum welcomes him with open arms, but Ruby doesn't know what to say to him. And besides that, now everything has changed. Ruby sleeps in the small attic room instead of with Mum, and  has forgotten that her tall dad takes up lots of space. Not only that, but she continues to feel rather shy around him.

But when her Mum allows Ruby to go off with two neighbor boys that she knows, they decide to explore the fenced off ruins of some bombed out buildings. When an accident happens, it proves to be just the catalyst that helps Ruby overcome her resentment and shyness towards her dad.

The detailed illustrations are done in ink, watercolor, and gouache, and, because Hughes has drawn them from her own memory of the war, have a real air of authenticity about them. The bombing damage to London's buildings was extensive and the fascination of playing in the rubble must have been irresistible for kids at that time, just as Hughes depicts, but also dangerous.

Ruby in the Ruins is a charming story with a pleasing ending, but it never become sugary sweet. What it does do, as Shirley Hughes always does so well, it look at the end of the war from the point of view of a child who world suddenly changes. The war is over, its no longer just Ruby and her Mum, and she experiences an expectable awkwardness when her Dad returns after being has been gone for such a long period of time. Post war picture books are in short supply, and I can't recommend this one enough.

Ruby in the Ruins will be available in the U.S. on May 8, 2018

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Candlewick Press

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Voices from the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today

When I was in college, I discovered a book by Studs Terkel called The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two. Terkel had collected the memories of a wide variety of people, providing a good overview of how each interviewee was impacted by the war. If you haven't read The Good War yet, I highly recommend it.

Oral histories have always fascinated me, so when I heard about Voices from the Second World War, I was pretty excited to see what it was all about. It turned out to be a unique collection of short, first person recollections (most are only 1-2 pages, some longer) told to some of today's young people, and though the book is basically Britain-centered, there is still plenty included for all children to appreciate.

The book is organized into 16 sections that follow the course of the war from outbreak to the fall of Japan. Interviewees relate their experiences in the RAF, the U.S. Navy, working as a Land Girl or a code breaker, being evacuated to London in 1938 with the Kindertransport from countries being threatened by Hitler, leaving family behind and often never seeing them again, being evacuated from London to the countryside when war was declared in 1939, fighting in the Resistance, surviving the Holocaust and POW camps. Readers will also read what the navigator of the Enola Gay has to say about the bombing Hiroshima, as well as hearing from a survivor of that bombing. It is affecting and compelling to read about how different people reacted, endured, and survived the circumstances this terrible war threw at them.

All of the stories are equally important, though some readers will surely recognize at least a few of the people interviewed. There is, for example, Sir Nicholas Winton, the humanitarian who saved 669 children in 1938 when he organized the Czechoslovakian Kindertransport to bring them to Britain and place them in homes where they would be safe from the Nazis (Sir Nicolas passed away shortly after being interviewed by Amélie Mitchell and Daniel McKeever.

Readers may also be surprised to learn that two favorite children's authors, Shirley Hughes and Judith Kerr, both had wartime experienced. Shirley was 12 when the war started, and living near Liverpool with her mother. She told her interviewer that at times the war was very frightening, at other times, it was very boring, but she had involved herself in doing things like collecting salvage for the war effort. When the Nazis started bombing the docks in Liverpool, Shirley stayed where she was rather than be evacuated to safety. Shirley Hughes has written a few books about WWII, including Whistling in the Dark, an novel based on her own wartime experiences.

Judith Kerr's experience began in Berlin almost as soon as Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Because her family was Jewish and her father was an outspoken critic of Hitler, it soon became apparent that the family needed to leave Germany. Packing only what they could carry so that they wouldn't arouse suspicion, Judith decided to leave her beloved pink bunny behind. The family made it to Switzerland, then to London in 1936. Fans of Kerr can see where the inspiration for When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit came from.

Each memory provides the reader with a personal window into the past told by those who actually lived it. What is particularly nice is that all the memories were collected by school children, some of whom you will meet at the beginning of the book.

In addition, each memory includes black and white photos, most are personal, but there are lots of photographs from the war in general. There is also an Index of Subjects, and an Index of Interviewees, as well as a useful Glossary.

As more and more of the witnesses to World War II die and take their stories with them, it is important to record their memories. Fortunately, what Terkel did for adults with The Good War, these young people have done for other children with Voices from the Second World War.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Candlewick Press

Monday, April 9, 2018

Live in Infamy (companion to The Only Thing to Fear) by Caroline Tung Richmond

Live in Infamy continues the alternative history begun in The Only Thing to Fear. The premise of both books is simple - it's 80 years after the Allies have lost WWII, and the Axis powers have divided up the United States into three territories - the Eastern American Territory (EAT) ruled by the Nazis, the Western American Territory (WAT) ruled by Imperial Japan, and the Italian Dakotas. And like all oppressive regimes, there is a resistance movement seeking to thwart and overthrow them. The Only Thing to Fear focused on the Eastern American Territory and resistance leader Zara St. James, who is also an Anomaly.

In Live in Infamy, Richmond takes the reader to the Western American Territory (WAT). where they meet Ren Cabot, a 16 year-old Chinese American whose Chinese mother was in the resistance and executed five years earlier. Since then, Ren and his father have worked together in the family's tailoring and cobbling business. A resistance movement still exists in the WAT but now essays by someone known only as the Viper are circulating and causing unrest among the people, and especially ruling Crown Prince Katsura, who wants nothing more than the catch the Viper. And no one suspects that Ren is the Viper, including his father, Paul Cabot, and cousin Marty.

Paul Cabot has recently been summoned to Fort Tomogashima, also called the Fortress, to help with sewing uniforms for an upcoming Joint Prosperity Ball. But one night, Marty brings him home with a badly injured hand, and Ren discovers they are both in the resistance. It is decided that Ren will take his father's place in the Fortress, where two other resistance members are already embedded.

Once inside the Fortress, the plan is to kidnap the Crown Prince's daughter, Aiko, during the ball, and take her to Alcatraz. Marty has intel that there are prisoners being held there, and when Ren learns his mother might be one of them, the mission becomes personal. But it is more than just about rescuing prisoners. Alcatraz is also being used as a laboratory for experiments with Anomalies.

Before the war, the Nazis had been involved in genetic testing in their concentration camps. The result was super soldiers called Anomalies, each of whom has a particular super human ability. Used by both the EAT and the WAT, the number of Anomalies has been dwindling quickly, and need to be replaced. More testing has resulted in a genetic breakthrough called V2, a joint effort of the Empire and the Nazis. The Joint Properity Ball is a chance to deliver V2 to Alcatraz while everyone's attention of focused elsewhere. But the resistance also really wants that V2 and the fifteen remaining Anomalies in Alcatraz.

At the Fortress, Ren also discovers that the Viper's essay's against the Empire are a focus of the Crown Prince's anger, so much so that he is willing to, and does, execute anyone caught with a copy of an essay - and copies are circulating widely. Marty and the resistance have come up with a wild, convoluted plan, but if the mission fails, Ren's cover could easily be blown.

Live in Infamy is not just a dramatic companion to The Only Thing to Fear, it is also a worthy one, and I think Richmond has really honed her writing chops for this second novel. She has included just enough twists and turns to make the story interesting, exciting, and suspenseful but not so much that the reader has trouble following the plot - and the best part is that it is a stand alone novel. Which means that if you missed reading The Only Thing to Fear, that's OK, although you might want to read it as well.

I thought Ren was a nicely developed character, one whose anger at the injustice and treatment of racially different and racially mixed people is totally justified. Other characters, like Marty, Mr. Cabot, and even Greta Plank, who plays a large part in Ren's time within the Fortress, aren't quite as developed as I would have liked them to be given their roles in the story's plot, but I don't think that diminishes the overall enjoyment of the novel.

I should also mention that there are some violent scenes so this book may not appeal to more sensitive readers.

I personally found reading Live in Infamy an intriguing alternative history of WWII, particularly at this moment in time. Richmond tackles race and biracial themes as well as political persecution, and the role of the resistance. These are themes readers find in books about WWII, but they are also once again coming to the surface in today's world, so although this is an alternative history, it will no doubt resonate with today's readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Scholastic Press