Friday, December 7, 2018

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler written and illustrated by John Hendrix

In its starred review, Kirkus calls The Faithful Spy an audacious graphic biography and it certainly is that. But then again, it is about a man whose whole being centered around theology and his own religious beliefs at a time when these beliefs were about to be sorely tested. Illustrated in bold teal, red, and black against black, white, teal or red backgrounds, this is equally a story about Adolf Hitler's seizure of power and of the rise of the German resistance.

Twins Sabine and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were born in Berlin, Germany 1906, second to last children in a large Lutheran family, one drawn more to science than theology. Dietrich, however, developed an interest in theology early in life, but felt that something was missing from the church he loved so much. He realized that something was causing it to feel static, to feel like just an academic exercise, and after a trip to Rome, he began struggling to discover how he could change that and make the church dynamic.

In 1930, Dietrich left Germany to study at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. There he met Frank Fisher, an African American and Jean Lasserre, a Frenchman. When Fisher took him to the Abyssinian Baptist Church, where a surprised Bonhoeffer saw the energy of the people at worship, heard them encouraged to act against the world's injustices, and to put their faith in God in opposition to the world's evils by their pastor, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell. From Lasserre, Bonhoeffer leaned that the church should be independent of the state, and should exist to help and serve the people, not to tell them what to do. After a year in NYC. Bonhoeffer returned to Germany, shortly before Hitler seized power.

Hendrix parallels Bonhoeffer's changing ideas about the church with Hitler's rise to power. Both have compelling stories that are made all the more interesting because they are such polar opposites. But, there is no lesson to be learned from Hitler's story, and everything to be gained from Bonhoeffer's. And Hendrix makes it a point to focus on Bonhoeffer's faith and his developing belief that the church required the faithful to act against injustice. Bonhoeffer joined the resistance, where he was able to serve as a double agent, reporting to Hitler's Reich and at the same time, gathering information for the resistance. When the plot to assassinate Hitler finaly became a reality, Bonfoeffer faced his greatest struggle between behaving morally as his religion ordained or acting against those moral principles by taking a life. He found his answer in Martin Luther to sin boldly:


Using only a three color graphic design, Hendrix has created a dynamic format with which to tell Dietrich Bonhoeffer's story. This is not a panel by panel work, but one that incorporates  a variety of layouts, nor is it a strict biography, there's plenty of text and allegorical illustrations used throughout to emphasize or illustrate a particular point:


The text is handwritten, and small, and affords plenty of information to be included on each page. There are some maps, and the allegorical illustrations have the feel of a good political cartoon. The whole book has the feel of old comic books from that time period, which somehow gives it a nice sense of authenticity. I wondered if this would make it more or less attractive to kids given how glitzy comics are today. Hopefully, the excellent visuals and compelling subject matter will pull them in. What I found most interesting is its relevance for today's world.

Be sure to read Hendrix' Authors Note at the back of the book, along with the other informative back matter.

The Faithful Spy is a book that will have such widespread appeal to readers, artists, comic book lovers, historical scholars, and everyone else and I can't recommend it more.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WWII written and illustrated by Sally Deng

It's 1927 and three girls living in different countries - Hazel, a Chinese American living in San Francisco, Marlene living in the English countryside, and Lilya, living in a small town in Russia - all have the same dream - they want to fly. What could feel more freeing that being up in the heavens in a plane?

As time went by, their dream of flying still very much alive, the girls did learn how to pilot a plane and experience the joy they knew they would find in the air. Marlene learned first with the help of her brother, getting a pilot's license even before she got her driver's license. Encouraged by her father, Hazel took lessons whenever she had the money to pay for them, reading books about the science of flying in between. Lilya's family wanted her to become a doctor not a pilot, so she secretly joined a high school flying club, paying for flight time by working in a factory.

When war broke out in 1939, and men left jobs to fight, women wondered what they could do to help. For Hazel, Marlene, and Lilya, the answer may have been easy, but their respective governments weren't interested in female pilots. At least, not until things began to be desperate. In the US, pilot Jackie Cochran established the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Hazel and her friend Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman, an African American pilot, both applied. Hazel was accepted into the WASPs, Bessie was rejected based on her race.

In England, Pauline Gower, the first woman to get a commercial pilot's license, was recruiting women for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). Naturally, Marlene applied but almost didn't get accepted because of something looking wonky during her physical. But in the end, though, Marlene was able to join the ATA.

In Russia, Marina Raskova, the most famous aviatrix in that country, was also recruiting female pilots and Lilya was invited to Moscow for an interview. Lily felt like she was in a dream, until she was accepted into Raskova's program.

The three women spent the war years risking their lives flying for their countries. Deng follows their adventures in WWII, as they perform feats of bravery even as they face of danger,  racism, doubt, misogyny and a general lack of support and encouragement.

This is Sally Deng's debut children's book and she makes it clear from the very beginning that this is a work of creative fiction based on real events and real women. While the character of Hazel might be based on the real Hazel Ying Lee, who did fly for the WASPs in WWII, there is not reason to think that this is a partial biography about her, but rather the author's homage to Hazel and all the other women who flew for their countries in WWII. However, Bessie Coleman, Pauline Gower, Jackie Cochran, and Marina Raskova are not fictional characters.

That being said, I loved this book. The text is simple, straightforward and easy to follow, even as it transitions from one character to another. This is, of course, supported by the illustrations, which are quite simply wonderful. Deng's washed illustrations are done in a palette that is reminiscent of old WWII posters and other illustrations from the time period. They run the gamut of spot illustrations to two page full-color spreads. There are also full pages with spot illustrations that, as you can see below, reflect all three women as they train and relax, despite being separated by thousands of miles, and which serves to move the story along nicely:
When I ordered this book, I did it sight unseen because it sounded like something I would be interested in, but I didn't really know what to expect. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. It is a thoughtful work of fiction, with beautifully rendered illustrations, that highlights the contributions of women pilots in WWII through three representative characters.

I can't recommend this book highly enough.

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade, A Thanksgiving Story by Trinka Hakes Noble, illustrated by David C. Gardner

It's Fall 1918 and the kids living on the Lower East Side in NYC are getting excited about the upcoming Ragamuffin Parade, especially Loretta "Rettie" Stanowski, 9. All you need to do to be in the Ragamuffin Parade is to dress up like a beggar, and Rettie certainly has enough ragged clothes to do that, right down to the holes in her shoes.

Being in the Ragamuffin Parade is simple enough, too. All kids have to do is walk down Broadway on Thanksgiving morning and people will toss pennies to them. Of course, it's a scramble to get any pennies, but Rettie really needs to get as many as she can. Her father has been away at war, and her mother has been ill, luckily not with the influenza that is running rampant in Rettie's neighborhood and throughout the rest of the country as well. If her mother gets sick with influenza, Rettie, her two little sisters and baby brother would be sent to live in an orphanage. So, Rettie carefully cares for her sisters and the baby, and now, she would really like to get something special for their Thanksgiving dinner. But what if the Ragamuffin Parade gets cancelled because of the flu epidemic?

Rettie with her baby brother
Rettie has already been doing everything she can to make a few extra pennies, including washing rags for the rag man. After shopping one day, Rettie finds a health service nurse posting a quarantine sign on the door of Mrs. Klumpenthal, the building manager. Now who would keep the building clean enough to satisfy the Board of Health? Rettie quickly negotiates 25¢ a week to do the work. Luckily, the nurse said Rettie's mother does not have influenza and gives her a tonic to help her get better.

Rettie with the health service nurse
Rettie has a lot on her shoulders, but a few weeks later, her mother begins to feel better thanks to the tonic she took, and finally, on November 11, 1918 come more good news - the war comes to an end. As an act of thankfulness, President Woodrow Wilson declares November 25th as the day the country would celebrate Thanksgiving. 

Thanksgiving morning, dressed in her raggedy clothes, Rettie heads to Broadway for the Ragamuffin Parade, collecting enough pennies to buy apples and a pumpkin to go with their dinner of stewed cabbage. As snow falls outside, and a kitten drinks a bowl of milk, Rettie, her mother, her sisters and brother gather together for the first hopeful Thanksgiving in a long time.

Thanksgiving Day
Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade is another entry in the Tales of Young America series (see also Paper Son by Helen Foster James ), presenting a moment in history through the experience of a young protagonist in a picture book for older readers. Each book in the series is informative and well-researched, Through Rettie, young readers can learn about the influenza epidemic that swept the country in 1918, the hardships felt by some families when their breadwinner is away at war, and about life in a tenement neighborhood like the Lower East Side, and how this meant that sometimes kids like Rettie had to do the work of adults despite being so young.

Rettie's family and neighborhood are richly and energetically depicted in David Gardner's wonderfully detailed, full-color water-color and pencil illustrations, capturing the expressions and emotions all the characters, and the crowded, noisy streets of lower Manhattan.

Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade is a wonderful choice for anyone interested in American history on the local level. It is also an excellent addition to books about Thanksgiving. Be sure to read the Author's Note at the back for more information about the difficulties faced by Rettie and the rest of the country in 1918.

If you ever visit New York City, you might want to travel down to the Lower East Side and visit the Tenement Museum. 

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was purchased for my personal library

FYI:
It seems that most people outside of NYC have never heard of the Ragamuffin Parade on the Lower East Side, or in any of the other boroughs, and in fact, my NYC-born Kiddo never has either. I remember learning about it in 4th grade when we studied NYC history and we were taught that it was the precursor to both the Thanksgiving Day Parade that we know today, and to Halloween Trick or Treating, not something that was really popular until after WWII.

Source: Bain News Service
Noble includes this photo in her Author's Note. If you look closely, you'll notice that some of the kids are wearing masks. This was not uncommon, cheap masks were sold for the Ragamuffin Parade in candy stores. Because of that, the Ragamuffin Paraders are sometimes referred to as Thanksgiving Maskers, but the goal is the same - to beg for money (in fact, you might recall that the Ragamuffin Parade is mentioned in the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith:

"Most children brought up in Brooklyn before the First World War remember Thanksgiving Day there with a peculiar tenderness. It was the day children went around "ragamuffin" or "slamming gates," wearing costumes topped off by a penny mask."

You can find out more about the Ragamuffin Parade tradition HERE

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Grenade by Alan Gratz

It's April 1, 1945 and for 13-year-old Hideki Kaneshiro, the war has become very real when his Okinawan school is bombed by offshore American battleships. Hideki and the other students of the Blood and Iron Student Corp are immediately given two grenades, one with which to kill as many Americans as possible and one with which to kill themselves, and sent on their way to fight.

On an American ship heading to Okinawa as part of a large invasion force of GIs and Marines, is Private Ray Majors, just a boy himself really, having enlisted in the Marines as soon as he turned 18 to get away from an abusive father who had fought in WWI and never really recovered.

Hideki is a gentle soul, an Okinawan who loves and honors his family and his ancestors, and who has learned to look at the world with a photographer's eye, thanks to the Japanese photographer, Lieutenant Tanaka. It was the Lieutenant's job to take pictures of Okinawa for generals to formulate their defense. Hideki became his assistant and Lieutenant Tanaka showed him how to frame a picture with his fingers in a rectangle and to ask what story the picture will tell, not just in the moment, but before and after the photograph was taken.

Ray is also a gentle soul who doesn't like the idea of killing anyone, but who knows that in war it is kill or be killed. As the Americans move inland after arriving in Okinawa, Ray begins to experience mixed feelings about the war. And although he has studied the brochure they were given detailing the difference between native Okinawans and the Japanese, and learning a few Japanese phrases, the other men in his unit don't really care about the difference, killing anyone who looks like they could be Asian. After facing his first kill or be killed experience, Ray begins to collect the photos of fallen Japanese soldiers and Okinawan people who have been killed.

As Ray and the other Marines move inland, Hideki moves towards the coast hoping to find his older sister, Kimiko. Despite being a fifth-year student, Kimiko was sent south work as a nurse in the southern part of Okinawa. Inevitably, along the way, Hideki and Ray meet and as you might expect, the outcome is disastrous, but far from the end of their story. 

Grenade is an action packed novel told from a duel third-person point of view. The chapters alternate between Ray and Hideki and are separated into two parts - before and after Ray and Hideki's fateful meeting. Gratz places these two poignantly drawn, sensitive characters in the midst of the last battle in WWII, the Battle of Okinawa, code named Love Day, and shows his readers the brutal cost of war not just in the lives of soldiers but also in the lives of innocent Okinawan families caught in a war they didn't want to be part of, and in the destruction of their farms and cities, and their cultural and religious objects and landmarks.

But in the end, Gratz also gives readers a lens through which they can find hope and redemption in the midst of war by introducing mabui, a concept of the Ryukyuan religion. Mabui is said to be the essence of the self, which is transferable from person to person, and can also found in a person's likeness, such as photos and drawings. Mabui found photographs plays a very important part in Grenade and ultimately, these photos tell a very potent story about war and the destruction of everything in its path, but also of the strength and endurance of the human spirit.

Some of Gratz' descriptions may be too graphic for sensitive readers, and there is a Note to the Reader in large letters that the book contains terminology used in WWII in order to accurately reflect this historical period. There is also a helpful map of Okinawa in 1945 showing where places in the book are located.

Grenade is a powerful book that successfully interrogates themes of loss, abandonment, and fear, as well as change, family, hope, and survival, and should appeal to readers who like WWII fiction, historical fiction, or just like a good book.

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

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Poppy Field by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman

Today is Veterans' Day in the United States and Remembrance Day for the rest of the world. And while it is important to honor and say thank you to those who serve and have served in the armed forces, today is even more special. It is the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice that ended the Great War, or World War I as it later came to be called.

No one had ever experienced a war like WWI before. New weapons were developed that had devastating results on both soldiers and civilians. From the air, planes could now drop bombs on battlefields and cities; at sea, submarines could now torpedo battleships and cargo ships carrying food and supplies; and on the battlefield, tanks with machine guns and canons could roll over no man's land and attack their enemies in the trenches, while chemical weapons like chlorine, mustard gas and flamethrowers were also used in trench warfare. It's no wonder so many returned suffering from PTSD.

To commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day, Michael Morpurgo has written a lovely book that tells a fictionalized story of how and why the poppy have became the flower that symbolizes the sacrifices made by those who have fought in their country's wars.

Young Martens Merkel lives on a farm in Flanders near Ypres in Belgium with his mother and grandfather. The farm, once part of No Man's Land in WWI, is in the middle of a vast poppy field and surrounded by several cemeteries. Sadly, Martens father was killed while plowing one of his fields by an unexploded shell. There is also a part of a poem written on an old wrinkled paper, framed and hanging on the hallway wall in the Merkel home. It is the beginning of a poem and Martens loves to hear his grandfather tell the story connected to that poem.

When Martens' grandfather's mother Marie was an eight year old girl, she used to sell eggs at a field hospital to the English soldiers. In the spring of 1915, the poppies were in bloom and Marie would pick some to give to those who bought her eggs. One morning, there weren't many soldiers to buy eggs, but Marie noticed one sitting nearby, writing in a notebook. Irritated at her for interrupting him, he threw the now scrunched paper he had been writing on away, but he asked Marie if she would place her poppies on the grave of his best friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who had been killed the day before and who loved poppies. The poppies immediately began to blow away, but the soldier didn't seem to mind and began writing again - a poem dedicated to his friend.

Marie's mother read and translated what was on the paper she kept, and the whole family agreed that the words were too precious to throw away. Her father made a frame and hung it on the wall. The
poem is, of course, In Flanders Fields by John McCrea, a Canadian surgeon and Lieutenant-Colonel.

There is much more to the story Martens' grandfather tells, which becomes a nice blending of the fictional Merkel family history and some factual wartime history, including war's aftermath. Michael Morpurgo has a wonderful ability to take real events and write a story around them that works perfectly for young readers, entertaining and informing at that same time. Here, he says in an interview, he wanted kids to understand why it is important to remember those who fought in a long ago war by bringing it into the present, as well as showing the impact war has on civilians. And he has done an outstanding job of that with Poppy Field.

The 100th anniversary of the end of the World War I is perfect timing, since it has been in the news so much this weekend and kids can witness world leaders acknowledging the men and women who served their country, and who gave their lives then, just as they do now.

Be sure to read the Afterword for more information on the history of In Flanders Fields, John McCrea, and how the poppy became the symbol of remembrance.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased from Book Depository for my personal library.

Don't forget in all the commemorations, however, that this is also Veterans' Day in the US and 
remember the thank all veterans for their service. 
In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Kingdom Falls (Book 3 of the Ravenmaster Trilogy) by John Owen Theobald

When last we left Anna Cooper and her boyfriend Timothy Squire, it was June 5, 1944 and the D-Day invasion was about to begin. Timothy and his friend Arthur Lightfoot, both sappers, are on their way to France with orders to disarm bridges wired by the Nazis so that the Allies could pass over them safely when they arrive. Book 3 begins the very next day - June 6, 1944.

Anna, still in London, has learned that the father, Wilhelm Esser, she believed to be dead, has had a big hand in developing Hitler's Vengeance Bombs, or V2 bombs that are so fast and powerful, there is no escaping or surviving them. After her father gives her the information about how the bombs work, and where they are being sent from, Anna decides to hide her father in the Tower of London, her official home.

But having the information about the bombs doesn't mean anyone will listen to Anna. Especially after an not after she loses her pilot's licensee and is stripped of her wings. Anna may have been grounded but her fellow pilots in the ATA aren't and their commander, Pauline Gower, isn't above turning a blind eye on the use of Spitfires with which Anna and her friends can practice dive bombing under the tutelage of Joy Brooks. Joy, you will remember, is an African American pilot who couldn't fly for the Untied States, but was welcomed into the ATA. And, oh yes, Anna manages to get some wings and papers to fly, just maybe not her own.

Meanwhile, Timothy Squire and the other men in D-Company are in France, but not where they should be, landing in a swampy river and losing most of their equipment and a few men. Eventually, Timothy and Arthur get separated when they are attacked by Germans, and Timothy is sure Arthur has been killed. Timothy is eventually found by a group of French partisans and spends the rest of the war fighting with them.

When his family receives notice that Timothy is missing in action, Anna never loses faith that he is alive and will return to her.

A Kingdom Falls is an exciting third novel. There is perhaps more action both on the battlefield and at home in it than in the previous novels as the war draws to a conclusion, but that would be expectable. And readers should never lose sight of the fact that Anna and Timothy are still just teenagers. But war matures young people fast, and Theobald has taken that into consideration as he developed his characters. It may not be quite as obvious with Anna and Timothy, but is sure is with Anna's friend Florence Swift. In These Dark WingsFlo spent the blitz in Canada, learning about comics and ice cream. She returned to England in What the Raven Brings, but it is in A Kingdom Falls Flo decides to become a nurse in France, and you can see how she has changed.

One of the things I liked about The Ravenmaster Trilogy is that Theobald writes from different points of view, and in A Kingdom Falls readers knows just what is happening to tow more familiar characters, including pilot Cecil Rafferty, rich, handsome, but rejected by Anna, and, of course, Flo. The switching of point of view throughout is not the least bit confusing and really adds to the excitement and tension of the novel. I have to confess that I secretly wanted to hear directly from Anna father, the Nazi Will Esser. I really wondered what he would have to say, but readers learn much from his through his interactions with Anna.

I am sorry to have to say good-bye to Anna and Timothy now that the trilogy has come to and end, but I was glad that Theobald brought it all to a very satisfying conclusion.

A Kingdom Falls, and in fact, all three books in The Ravenmaster Trilogy, offer an exciting window into many aspects of World War II and how it impacted the lives of young people. Theobald handles themes of war, friendship, loyalty, love, betrayal and survival in the lives of his characters realistically through his engaging narrators. I can't recommend this trilogy more.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was sent to me by the author, John Owen Theobald

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Ski Soldier: A World War II Biography by Louise Borden

After finding a pair of his mother's old skis in the family barn, 7-year-old Peter Seibert quickly taught himself how to ski and immediately decided there was nothing better in the world than gliding through snow on skis. At 9, Pete got brand new skis for Christmas, and also made a new life-long friend who also loved to ski, Morrie Shepard.

Pete was a skillful skier, spending as much time on the slopes as possible, entering and winning all kinds of races, all while still in high school. He was a 17-year old senior in high school when the United States entered World War II, too young to enlist. He knew it was only a matter of time before he would join the army and defend his country, especially after he heard that they were looking for skiers to form a specialized unit of ski troops.

Pete finally enlisted in May 1943, joining the mountain troops that had been created earlier. He was now part of the 10th Light Division (Alpine). Day after day, Peter and his fellow soldiers trained with the best instructors that could be found, many of them already his skiing heroes.  Their training was harsh and intense, but eventually the 10th Mountain troops found themselves in Italy. Though much of Italy had already been liberated from the Germans, they still has a tight hold in the northern Apennine Mountains. The 10th Mountain Division has orders to break through this German line. This would be no mean feat - the Germans were high up the mountains, and the Americans had to stealthily climb up during the night. After successfully accomplishing what they set out to do, the 10th Mountain Division were given orders to attack the German stronghold at Mount Belevdere, part of the treacherous Riva Ridge. But it was on this mission, that Peter was seriously injured by a mortar attack.
With his left arm almost cut in half and his right leg sliced open, Peter was sent home to recuperate. As he achieved milestones in his recovery, one thing remained constant in his mind - he would definitely ski again, and if he could ski, he could race. So it's no surprise that Peter was part of the 1950 Olympic ski team or that he and his friend Earl Eaton eventually opened the Vail Ski Resort in 1962. Peter Seibert was nothing if not determined to do what he loved best in the world - ski.

You can always count on Louise Borden to find an interesting subject, and write a well researched, very readable book about it (see, for instance, His Name was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, Rescue and Mystery During World War II). And that is just what she has done with Ski Soldier. Written in blank verse, she introduces young readers to one of the unsung, but very important people that helped the United States win World War II.

Not only is Peter Seibert's personal life well represented, so is his life as a skier and a soldier, so the reader gets a really well-rounded picture of this brave man. He was the embodiment of the themes of courage, resiliency, perseverance, and determination.  Borden also includes lots of black and white archival photographs, many from Pete's personal life. Back matter includes more about Pete Seibert, as well as the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division, and a long list of sources for further exploration.

Ski Soldier is a biography that will be of interest to anyone who likes history, WWII, or just reading about a courageous man.

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

Monday, October 15, 2018

Island War by Patricia Reilly Giff

It's September 1941 and 12-year-old Izzy is beside herself with excitement at the idea of going to the Aleutian Island that her recently deceased father loved so much. Traveling with her mother, an ornithologist who will be studying the island's rare birds, Izzy isn't too happy when she discovers that Matt, an older boy from school, is also traveling to the same island.

Matt isn't at all happy about leaving his mom and traveling to an Aleutian Island with this remote father. He would much rather be rowing around Long Island Sound and cheering on his mom at her swim meets. And an encounter with Izzy on the boat doesn't help his attitude.

On the island, Izzy meets Maria, and the two girls immediately become friends, as well as the friendly but nameless village dog.  Matt is given a kayak by his father, who is as remote as ever, holed up in his room all day long and giving Matt freedom to kayak and explore whenever he isn't in school.

But when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and the United States enters the war, things change quickly. One Sunday morning, not long after Izzy and Matt's first Christmas on the island, Japanese soldiers arrive, shooting out the windows of everyone's home and rounding the people up inside the church. Matt's father has just enough time to hide the radio he has been using for a government job. After ransacking the homes and taking all the food, the Japanese soldiers send everyone back to their homes. From then on, the men go fishing everyday, and the barest minimum of their catch is given to the people, the rest kept for the soldiers. When Maria comes down with scarlet fever, Izzy is on her own.

Watching Matt, Izzy learns how he sneaks out of the village, through the barb wire wrapped around it, and begins escaping for a few hours of freedom, too. Matt's father suspects they will all be sent to a Japanese prison camp, and in September 1942, it begins to look imminent. One night, while away from the village, Izzy sees Matt's father being forced onto the Japanese ship. After realizing everyone is gone, Izzy believes she is alone on the island. Matt, who was out kayaking, believes the same thing when he returns.

Izzy and the village dog, whom she names Willie, head to Matt's house and find food there. When Matt arrives and accuses her of stealing, the two agree to stay away from each other. But when Izzy discovers some Japanese soldiers are still on the island, she realizes it's time to hide. Maybe she and Matt can find the cave her father had loved and told her about. When Matt falls and breaks his leg, the two are forced together in a battle for survival even as the island becomes a battleground between the Japanese and the Americans.

Island War is, without a doubt, an exciting story. Based on the actual occupation of two Aleutian Islands during WWII, Giff has woven a gripping story about two young, very different teens fighting for survival in the face of harsh elements and enemy soldiers. Ironically, their survival is helped by their absent fathers. For Izzy, it was the cave her father loved that provides shelter against the bitter winter cold and snow, while Matt's father provided him with skills to navigate the icy waters around the islands, among other life-saving measures.

The novel is narrated in first-person alternating sections by Izzy and Matt, so the reader knows exactly how each feels about what is happening to them and how they feel about each other. Interestingly, neither character particularly appealed to me at first, Matt felt like a moody, resentful teen, and Izzy too flighty and impulsive. So I particularly liked seeing how both characters grew and matured as the story went along and how the two former enemies had to learn to work together, and even begin to caring about one another, becoming more likable to the reader.

I've read a number of Patricia Reilly Giff's wartime novels now. She takes a real event and cleverly creates a story around it, presenting what life was like at each time and place during the war. In reality, the people living on the two Aleutian Islands occupied by the Japanese were all sent to prison camps in Japan, so Izzy and Matt's experience is strictly from her imagination, but still believable and certainly thought provoking.

I would most definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in WWII or simply historical literature. For an interesting, diverse look at life on the home front during WWII, I recommend this quartet of books by Patricia Reilly Giff: Island War, Willow Run (a young girl finds herself living in a village created for the war effort), Gingersnap (a young girl goes to Brooklyn looking for her unknown grandmother) , and Genevieve's War (an American girl visiting her grandmother finds herself living on the French home front).

And you could definitely pair Island War with Samantha Seiple's nonfiction work Ghosts in the Fog: the Untold Story of Alaska's WWII Invasion for a well-rounded look at this little known part of WWII history.

Island War will be available on October 23, 2018

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss Plus

Friday, October 5, 2018

Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Melissa Iwai

I first heard about Thirty Minutes Over Oregon way back in 2011, when I did a post for Marc Tyler Nobleman about the possibility of getting it published. His post, Picture Book for Sale, is still online and quite interesting to read, in case you are interested.

Thirty Minutes Over Oregon begins September 1942, less than a year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when a Japanese pilot named Nobuo Fujita flew a small plane that had been catapulted from a submarine in the Pacific Ocean over to Oregon. The goal was to drop two 168 pound bombs into the Oregon woods to start a fire that would burn the woods and any nearby towns and cities. The mission was so hush-hush, not even Nobuo's wife could know about it. 

The bombs didn't start much of a fire, but imagine how the people in Brookings, Oregon felt when they realized that a Japanese plane has entered American airspace right over their heads. And twenty days later, Nobuo again flew into American airspace, in the same plane carrying two bombs. Though nothing came of this second attempt either, the Japanese still claimed victory.

The war ended in 1945 with the US bombing of Japan. Lucky for Nobuo who had been ordered to make a kamikaze attack on an American warship. Instead, he returned home and opened a hardware store.

Fast forward to 1962. The people of Brookings decided to track down and invite Nobuo Fujita as their Memorial Day guest of honor and thinking it would be a wonderful symbol of reconciliation between American and Japan. Not everyone in the US thought it was a good idea, but to everyone's surprise, Nobuo accepted the invitation, not without some fear and reservation, however. Was it a trick, would he be arrested and tried as a war criminal?

The 1962 visit showed the positive value of reaching out to a former enemy in peace. Nobuo was a friendly, respectful man, who had lived with the guilt of his attempted bombings of Brookings. His initial visit there began a lasting relationship between Nobuo and the people of Brookings, including an invitation extended to three high school students to visit Japan at his expense. Nobuo also donated large amounts of money for a town library for children's books. After he died in 1997, some of Nobuo's ashes were also scattered in the area where he had dropped his bombs.

As always, Nobleman has done his research on the only enemy bombing with the United States during WWII. And he has taken that research and written an compelling and emotional work of nonfiction. His text is simple and clear, and complimented by Melissa Iwai's beautifully rendered watercolor and mixed-media illustrations. Iwai has captured the gentle humanity of both the citizens of Brookings and of Nobuo and his family.

The message for us to take away from this little known WWII event and its aftermath is that a soldier is doing his job even if he is the enemy. What is important is how we reconcile after a war in order to heal and move on. That is the important legacy that Nobuo and the people of Brookings have demonstrated and that Nobleman has so poignantly captured in this picture book for older readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from a friend

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Skylark and Wallcreeper by Anne O'Brien Carelli

It's August 2012 and Superstorm Sandy has hit New York City with all her force. With rising waters flooding the first floor of the Rockaway Manor Nursing Home in Queens, it's time to evacuate the residents. And that includes Lily, 12, and her 80-year-old grandma Collette, whom she happens to be visiting. But not before Granny insists Lily find and bring along a flat red box, and slips back into speaking her native French as soon as Lily asks what's inside.

Flashback to Nazi-occupied Brume, a small town in the south of France in the winter of 1944. A 12-year-old Collette, disguised as a young boy named Jean-Pierre, is working for the resistance. Her job is to deliver a package. In reality, it is a code for letting other resistance members know if their next operation against the Nazis is a go or not. The confirmation that the message was received is an X marked in her notebook with a Montblanc fountain pen. Collette's stealthiness and success at avoiding Nazis soon earn her a code name, Wallcreeper, and a place in the resistance group referred to by the Germans as Noah's Ark.

Back to 2012: once Superstorm Sandy has finally passed and her granny is settled in on a cot at the Brooklyn Armory, Lily is asked by one of the nurses if she would try to scrounge up some food - preferably free food. Before she leaves to do that, granny shows Lily what's in the red box - a very special Montblanc fountain pen with the initial F engraved on the side - and asks her to keep it safe for her. Lily manages to find free food, but in the process she loses the pen her granny asked her to safeguard.

Realizing that her granny will be upset if she learns that she has lost her special pen, Lily is determined to find it or one just like it. Armed with a packet of old letters written in French and addressed to her Granny, Lily's quest for the lost pen will take her to an odd little pen store in Manhattan, on a long train ride to Stratford, CT and a meeting with Skylark. Along the way, Lily will interact with a variety of interesting people, all willing to help her accomplish her pen quest. And it all unfolds without her frantic mother's knowledge (or permission).

As more surprising details about her granny's life unfolds, a life neither she nor her mother had any knowledge of, Lily learns the identity of Skylark and Wallcreeper - two young French girls working together in the Noah's Ark resistance where members only go by the names of animals in their quest to help defeat the Nazis.

Although Skylark and Wallcreeper is written in two time periods, it is not a time travel book. Lily stay firmly in 2012, it is Granny's story as a 12-year-old resistance worker in 1944 that is interspersed with the events of 2012 and Lily's story throughout the novel. Interestingly, the present is told in the first person by Lily, and the past is narrated in the third person, so there is no confusion.

Usually when I read a dual time setting novel, I end up wishing the author had just written two separate books instead of combining them. However, in this novel, I really thought it worked well. There was just enough of the past and present to satisfy. The chapters that take place in WWII always start at an appropriate point in Lily's story, so it is not a jarring jump into Nazi occupied France.

I found myself completely caught up in Lily and Granny's stories immediately. Lily, Granny, and Skylark are appealingly vivid characters, more well-rounded than the supporting characters around them. In German, there are these words called flavoring particles which add particular zest to a sentence and that's how I felt about the secondary characters in this novel. They really add a lot, but it remains Lily, Granny, and Skylark's story.

Skylark and Wallcreeper is a very satisfying, compelling novel that examines the importance of friendship, family relationships, courage and loyalty in the face of difficult and challenging times. There are a few peccadillos, but not so bad as to spoil the overall story and I would still highly recommend this book.

Do read the Author's Note to learn when elements of this novel are based in fact and what is based in fiction.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EBOOK provided to me by the publisher, Little Bee

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The War Outside by Monica Hesse

It's August 1944 when Haruko Tanaka, 17, her sister Toshiko, 12, and her mother have just arrived at the Crystal City Internment Camp, in Texas to join their father. They haven't seen Ichiro Tanaka, in five months, not since the government came and removed him from their home, accusing him of passing secrets to the Japanese through his night job at a hotel in Denver, Colorado. Living in Denver, the Tanaka's weren't interned, unlike the people living on the western coast of the United States. Shortly after Mr. Tanaka was detained, Ken, Haruko's older brother, enlisted in the army.

Watching the Japanese families arriving in Crystal City is Margot Krukow, a German American girl, interned in Crystal City with her German-born parents. As the families begin to walk away from the gate, Haruko and Margot catch each other's eye. But it isn't until Haruko's first day of school at the Federal School that she finds out who Margot is. Sitting next to each other, they completely ignore one another while being completely aware of each other. Generally, Japanese and Germans internees don't mix in Crystal City, going to separate schools, shopping in separate commissaries, but Margot chooses the Federal School because the German school is too Nazi for her and isn't accredited.

It isn't until a dust storm hits that the two girls finally speak. Margot pulls the confused Haruko into the icehouse, and before she knows it, Haruko is pouring her heart out to Margot, telling her things she can't tell anyone else. Slowly over time, the two girls find they are attracted to each other, using their meetings in the icehouse to escape the pressure and tension they both feel within their families and at being in an internment camp. Haruko can't help but wonder whether he is guilty of espionage or not, and continually worries about her brother, whose letters are beginning to sound less and less like the Ken she knows.

Margot worries about her mother's health, concerned that her pregnancy will end in miscarriage like the previous ones. And concerned that her father will finally be won over by the Nazi contingent among the Germans in the camp, and that he also may be guilty of aiding the enemy.

When a tragedy strikes the camp, things come to a head and the two girls begin to wonder if they can really trust one another. Because of the way the novel is structured, however, the reader knows right from the beginning that the friendship is doomed and that some kind of betrayal has happened, but not what it is or why. The basis of the novel are the events leading up to that betrayal, if you can really call it that.

The War Outside is told in alternating points of view, switching between Haruko and Margot to give both sides of their story in this family internment camp and the events that lead to the conclusion. It is told from the perspective of the present but there are interruptions by both girls that refer to the narrated events from a future perspective. It's an interesting device and by the second interruption (there aren't that many), I did not find them at all disconcerting, but rather interesting and made me even more curious to see what they are talking about.

Still, given the way the relationship between the girls unfolds, and the way their respective home lives are depicted, I wondered where this novel or should I say where the relationship between the two girls was going. The writing is certainly compelling, the descriptions of life in this particular internment camp are incisive and accurate, all of the characters are realistically flawed and believable, but in a place where there was no privacy, where armed guards watched internees from towers spaces along fences topped with the barbed wire, and walls were paper thin, and where Germans and Japanese don't fraternize, I have to admit I did kind of assume where the story was heading. Boy, was I wrong! Boy, did my jaw drop! I did not see that coming.

The War Outside is a very interesting coming of age novel. It is part romance, part mystery, and historical fiction at its best. Monica Hesse has really done her research resulting in a clear picture of what life was like in Crystal City. Crystal City was not quite the same as the other internment camps in that it was a place for people of Japanese, German, and Italian ancestry who were considered to be "enemy aliens" or spies. It was not run by War Relocation Authority, but by the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) division of the Department of Justice and yes, forced repatriations were carried out from there. I suspect that on several levels this novel will resonate for today's readers.

Do read the author's A Note on Historical Accuracy to discover how she researched this novel as well as what events really happened in Crystal City and how they were seamlessly incorporated into The War Outside. It is s fascinating as the novel.

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss+

You can find more information about the internment of Japanese Americans in Crystal City HERE
You can find more information about the internment of German Americans including Crystal City HERE (I haven't completely explored this site yet)

There are lots of real places that were part of life in Crystal City used in The War Outside and this map may help orient readers:
Source: "Hand-drawn map of Crystal City internment camp, Texas.." Densho Encyclopedia. 17 Jul 2015, 15:20 PDT. 16 Sep 2018, 07:26 <https://encyclopedia.densho.org/sources/en-denshopd-p64-00005-1/>.
(Click to enlarge)

Monday, September 10, 2018

📚Save the Date: BookFest@BankStreet 2018 is coming


If you're looking for a fun, bookish way to spend Saturday, October 20, 2018 in NYC, look no further than BookFest@BankStreet. It's a day chockablock with some of your favorite authors and their books, with panel discussions and autographing tables. There's refreshments in the morning, with time to chat, and a box lunch with more socializing. All in all, it's a great day and, in fact, it is one of my favorite autumn events and it's only a mere $75.00.  So if you're interested, it's time to register and you can do that HERE

Here's a copy of this year's Schedule of Events for your perusal:

Click to Enlarge
The Book Discussion Sessions are a chance for you to participate in talking about your favorites with a qualified leader. Click HERE for a list of discussions and the books that will be discussed from which you can chose what you would like. 

Won't be in NYC on October 20th, no problem, Book Fest @Bank Street 2018 will be live streamed by and thanks to

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood

In the summer of 1940, as fear of a German invasion grew, the British government initiated a program called the Children's Overseas Reception Board, or CORB, which purpose was to evacuate British children from England and send them by ship to one of their (then) Dominion countries.

Lifeboat 12 follows the experience of one of the children chosen to be sent to Canada, a boy named Kenneth Sparks, 13, of Wembley in London, the son of working class parents. Kenneth, however, doesn't want to go, thinking his stepmum had finally found a way to be rid of him, even if she did buy him a very good, expensive overcoat to take with him. He was thrilled about getting such a nice coat, even if it was second hand. After all, by the summer of 1940, Ken was used to everything being second hand, makeshift or rationed because of the war. But he still wasn't happy about going to Canada.

Once the Blitz begins, and night after night is spent in a shelter, Ken quickly begins to look forward to leaving England. And he does finally leave in a convoy on Friday, September 13th, sailing on a luxury ocean lined called the City of Benares. And it is luxurious for the evacuees, who are fed wonderful and plentiful food including seconds, provided with brand new toys and games, and clean soft beds, even better than what Ken had at home. Ken makes friends with some of the other boys and spends his time exploring the ship with them. Only the constant lifeboat drills in case of an attack and the convey escorting the ship remind the kids of war they left behind.

That is until September 17th, their fourth day at sea, when a German submarine torpedoes the ship, causing severe damage. Ken heads to his assigned Lifeboat 8, but in all the confusion, he remembers he left his coat behind, the one his stepmum bought and admonished him to take care of and not to lose. Rushing back after retrieving his coat, Ken discovers Lifeboat 8 has left and he ends up squeezing into Lifeboat 12, along with 5 other boys, and 40 adults. 

Surrounded by bodies and overturned lifeboats, the survivors in Lifeboat 12 watch as the City of Benares sinks, and wonder when and if they will be rescued. With enough food and water for only eight days, Lifeboat 12 drifts in the rough seas of the open ocean for eight days.

Lifeboat 12 is based on the true story of the torpedoing and sinking of the City of Benares, and while it is a fictionalized telling, it is based on the account of the Kenneth Sparks and other survivors, whom Susan Hood interviewed for this free verse novel (knowing Ken survived isn't a spoiler).

Hood spent a lot of time interviewing Ken just before he passed away and she has really captured his 13 year old self. He is both is appealing and believable, a friendly, lively, bright boy who notices everything around him and is curious about it all. His anger at his family for sending him away feels genuine, as does his fear - going back for his coat so his stepmum won't be angry at him, sitting in an overcrowded lifeboat wondering if he would be rescued - and the disappointment that his parents couldn't see him off when he left, and then having travel alone to London when he returns to England. I liked how Hood has Ken mention in passing that planes are his hobby, rather than making a big deal about it, and he knows them all, knowledge that ultimately saved the people in Lifeboat 12.

Lifeboat 12 is a coming of age story that most readers will find hard to put down. It is divided into three sections - Escape, Afloat, and Rescue, and each section gives a day by day account of what Ken was experiencing. And when you are finished reading Ken's fictionalized story, there is plenty of back matter to explore, including facts about lifeboat 12, information on the people who survived, plenty of photographs, and books for further investigating, interesting websites, and videos, and information about the crewmen, particularly the Asian crew.

Lifeboat 12 is a testament to courage, a gripping, tension filled novel that will have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

This photo in the back matter really caught my eye. I had done some research years ago on overseas evacuations of British children, including the City of Benares. Sure enough, I had a copy of this picture from The Daily Telegraph and Morning Post dated September 28, 1940, along with this account by Kenneth Sparks. So I can honestly say that Susan Hood really has brought Ken's to life for today's readers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

G.I. Dogs: Judy, Prisoner of War (G.I. Dogs #1) by Laurie Calkhoven

Judy is an English Pointer born in Shanghai, China in 1936. She's a curious pup and, at only three weeks old, she escapes her kennel and has some wild adventures in Shanghai, including her first run-in with Japanese soldiers, who kick her out of their way. By the time she gets back to the kennel, her brothers and sisters have all gone to homes, and the kennel owner decides to keep Judy.

At six months, however, Judy finds herself an official member of the British Royal Navy, on a gunboat patrolling the Yangtze River. English Pointers are supposed to be good hunting dogs, but that isn't Judy's skill. Instead, Judy turns out to be an excellent watchdog, able to sense oncoming danger long before any humans do. A helpful skill on the dangerous, pirate infested Yangtze River.

By the time WWII officially begins in 1939, Judy is on another gunboat, the HMS Grasshopper, sailing between Singapore and Hong Kong. When the U.S. enters the war in December 1941, everything changes. In early 1942, the Japanese occupy Singapore and the HMS Grasshopper is ordered to evacuate British women and children, but on their way to safety, the boat is hit by a bomb and Judy is trapped below deck.

Rescued, she finds herself on an island with the survivors, but no food or water. Luckily, Judy's keen senses discover an underground fresh water stream. Eventually they are rescued, and Judy and surviving men of the Grasshopper make the long trek to Sumatra, where they had hoped to get a ship to India, but instead find themselves prisoners of the Japanese.

Life in their Japanese prison camp is hard, particularly so for Judy. She hadn't liked Japanese soldiers since she was a puppy in Shanghai and they would kick her out of their way, and things never got better. If the men are given little to eat and drink, there is nothing for Judy, and beatings are common for all POWs. Judy learns to fend for herself, sharing whatever she catches with the other POWs, and learning to hide from the Japanese.

Both Judy and her special human, Frank Williams survive life as Japanese POWs and after the war, they go to live in England. Bored, Frank gets a job in Africa, and Judy spends her remaining years exploring the African bush there.

Judy, Prisoner of War is a fictionalized version of Judy's true story, and it is told from Judy's point of view. This is a nice chapter book that isn't overly graphic in describing the horrendous treatment of the POWs held captive by the Japanese, even though they were known for their particular cruelty. What the book does focus on instead is the loyal relationships that developed between Judy and the different special humans in charge of her.

Judy was clearly a very intelligent dog, otherwise she probably would never have survived the events she lived through, but I think at times, Calkhoven may give her a little more reasoning power than dogs actually have. Yet, it doesn't take away from the story, and is there for the readers understanding. And Judy is sure to endear herself to young readers, especially when they see how sensitive and comforting she was to the youngest victims of the war.

Be sure to read the back matter and look over the photographs to find out more about Judy and her wartime experiences.

Judy, Prisoner of War is a nice introduction to historical fiction, and the role of dogs in wartime situations. It would also be a great read aloud. 

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Prisoner in the Castle (a Maggie Hope Mystery #8) by Susan Elia MacNeal

In a homage to Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None, comes the eight installment in the Maggie Hope series. And it's a good one.

It's November 1942, and for almost five months now, SOE agent Maggie Hope has been held as a sequestered prisoner in a castle on the deserted Isle of Scarra in Scotland. Sure, she has freedom to move around around the castle and the island, since no one lives there but their jailer Captain Evans and the McNaughton family that helps out in the castle, but it also means no phone calls or letters or communication of any kind with the outside world. And Maggie isn't alone on the island. In fact, there are nine other agents, all sequestered because they, like Maggie, know high level wartime secrets that the Special Operations Executive believes they might inadvertently let fall into the wrong hands.

The agents are well taken care on the island. Once a month, a boat arrives with their Jungian psychologist Dr. Charles Jaeger and whatever supplies are needed, but staying only a very short time.

Into this already sinister setting comes SOE agent Camilla Oddell, sent to the island after killing another agent during a training drill. Naturally, once the first body is discovered, that of Captain Evans, she immediately comes under Maggie's suspicions. But why? What would be her motive? Breaking into Captain Evans' office, the agents use his radio to call Arisaig House, command center for SOE agent training, but before they can come to get his body, another death is discovered.

As more agents are murdered, it becomes clear to Maggie that the murderer is one of the agents. When a severe storm hits the island, lasting for days, and making it impossible for a boat from Arisaig House to come, Maggie realizes that there is also a German spy, who could be living in the castle or hiding elsewhere. Can she discover what is happening before she becomes a victim?

Meanwhile in London, the trial of the Blackout Beast (See The Queen's Accomplice, Maggie Hope #6) begins, and in a surprise move, Nicolas Reitter, the accused murderer, pleads not guilty. Now, the case will go to trial and Maggie is the only living witness. Detective Chief Inspector James Durgin, who has more than a professional interest in Maggie, must now try to find the sequestered agent, or Reitter will go free.

Yes, for a "locked room" or rather a deserted island mystery, there's a lot going on here. MacNeal has imbued this novel with an interesting, eclectic cast of characters, all reflecting the kind diverse backgrounds of the real agents in the SOE, and then some. Readers get a real sense of each one, even those that don't last very long. 

And this is a novel where the setting plays a much of a role as each character. Killoch Castle, where they all live, has a really storied history of its own. Built in 1900, it is a large and ugly Tudor style structure, a mix of "Victorian and Edwardian excess," and populated by a large collection of taxidermied wild animals. It had been the hunting lodge of a wealthy man with a big ego named Marcus Killoch, reputed to be quite the playboy in his day, but who is said to have killed ten of his invited guests one night, and then himself.

There certainly seems to be parallels between Killoch's murders, the murders of SOE agents, and Christi's And Then There Were None, but like all good mystery writers, MacNeal gives The Prisoner in the Castle her own spin.

I enjoyed reading this novel as much as I have enjoyed all the Maggie Hope mysteries. This one was very different, in that Maggie is very frustrated at not being able to use her training for the war effort (be careful what you wish for, Maggie), and yet it was still war related and exciting. And I have to admit, I was surprised by who turned out to be the killer and who was the spy. And they weren't the only surprises. And a surprise ending is always a good thing in a mystery.

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was a EARC received from NetGalley

For your information, I am including the cast of the island characters, because in the beginning I found I had to make a list to keep them straight until I got to know them better:

The SOE Prisoners:
Maggie Hope
Dr Sayid Inayat khan (a nod to the real spy whose name was Noor Inayat Khan?)
Teddy Crane - older, arthritic
Ramsey Novak - mute
Quentin Asquith - gay
Anna O'Malley - scrappy, mousy and (to me) annoying
Helene Poole-Smythe - showgirl who married rich, and a flirt
Leonard Kingsley - admirer of Helene
Ian Lansbury - having affair with Helene and the first to go missing
Torvald Hagan - a little person
Camilla Oddell - the last agent to arrive on on the island

Captain Evans - their kind jailer

Dr. Charles Jaeger - their shrink
Captain MacLean 

The Three McNaughtons
Angus
Fiona
Murdo - their son

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Edelweiss Pirates by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Daniela Stamatiadi

In a country where any form of resistance or rebellion against the repressive Nazi regime almost always meant certain death, most resisters and defiers went underground and worked from there. But one group that was more open in their defiance was the Edelweiss Pirates. This was loosely connected groups of youths throughout Germany who lived by their own moral code, refused to participate in the Hitler Youth, and continued to do things the way they wanted and that included swing dancing and listening to jazz, both of which were prohibited in Nazi Germany.

Now, Jennifer Elvgren, who wrote the excellent book The Whispering Town, has successfully captured the rebellion of the Edelweiss Pirates in her new book. Taking place in 1938, and told in the first person present, it is the story of Kurt, the younger brother of Albert, a member of the Pirates. Kurt desperately wants to be just like his brother and join him with his friends swing dancing, listening to and playing the music of great jazz artists like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. But as Albert sneaks out one night, he tells Kurt that he's too young and it's too dangerous - they could be arrested. Instead, Albert gives Kurt a Louis Armstrong album.

That weekend, Kurt invites his Jewish friend Fritz to listen to the album with him. Fritz sneaks in through the same window Albert sneaks out of. The two boys are soon playing the music on the album by ear - Fritz on sax, Kurt on trumpet. At school, Kurt becomes more and more troubled as he sees anti-Semitic incidents directed at Fritz, but knows it is not the place challenge these acts. Instead he waits impatiently until he can be an Edelweiss Pirate like his brother - painting over swastikas and spreading around anti-Hitler leaflets.

Even after witnessing Fritz being forced to read a story to the whole class that says the Jews are their enemy, Kurt still does nothing to help his friend. Then, the school concert comes around, and the students are supposed to play music by Hitler's favorite composer, Richard Wagner. With his parents sitting in the audience, there to hear him play his trumpet, Kurt thinks of all the humiliations he has seen Fritz subjected to and before he knows it, he has finally finds a way to declare his defiance by loudly playing Louis Armstrong"s Saint Louis Blues instead, to the surprising accompaniment of Albert and the other Pirates, and even with some support from the audience, including his parents.

Such acts of open defiance were dealt with harshly, and Kurt is aware of that, but it was worth the risk. The next morning he discovers a note with an Edelweiss pin from his brother. Kurt is finally a Pirate, with the code name Blues.

The Edelweiss Pirates is indeed an interesting look at a group of resisters that most people have never really heard of, and although they didn't start out as saboteurs, by 1938, they were beginning to increase their subversive acts against the Nazis.

I liked that the story was told from Kurt's point of view. This coming of age story allows his frustration at not being able to protest the things he is seeing to grow until he must take a stand, even at the risk of severe punishment at school, and possibly at home. 

Stamatiadi's earth-toned illustrations are simple, but never let the reader forget that they are reading a book that is set in Nazi Germany by including the symbols of that regime throughout, including the required picture of Hitler in the classroom.

At a time when most people were afraid to speak out against the injustices and cruelties they were witnessing on a daily basis, Kurt is an inspiring character, finding his voice and means to protest. This is indeed a picture book for older readers that should resonate with strongly with them even today.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the back of the book to learn more about the history of the Edelweiss Pirates. You'll also see that there aren't any recommendations for age appropriate further reading on this topic because there simply wasn't anything until The Edelweiss Pirates was published.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was obtained from the author at BookExpo

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Sound of Freedom by Kathy Kacer

It's 1936, and, for Anna Hirsch, a 12-year-old Jewish girl living in Krakow, Poland, life revolves around school, her best friend, playing her clarinet, and home. Anna's father, Avrum Hirsch, is a music teacher and a well-known clarinetist, playing in the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra, and Baba, her grandmother, has been living with and caring for the family since Anna's mother passed away. Now, however, anti-Semitism is on the rise in Poland, thanks to Hitler's influence, and Anna's happy, secure life is beginning to crumble.

After learning that her best friend is leaving for Denmark with her family to escape the unpleasant and often dangerous treatment of Polish Jews, and after witnessing violence against a Jewish butcher, Mr. Kaplansky, Anna also no longer feels safe living in Poland. So when her father tells her that he had read that the famous musician Bronislaw Huberman was coming to Poland to begin forming an orchestra that would be situated in the British Mandate Palestine and made up of only Jewish musicians who would receive exit visas for themselves and their families, Anna knew her father needed to audition for it.

The only problem is that Papa refuses to uproot his family, believing that they were not in an danger in Poland. But after witnessing an even more violent attack on Mr. Kaplansky, and after she and her father are almost attacked at his office, Anna and Baba decide to write to Mr. Huberman, requesting an audition - behind Papa's back. When the letter came, inviting him to audition, Papa and Anna travel to Warsaw for it. There, she meets Eric Sobol, an energetic boy whose father plays the trumpet and is also auditioning. The two hang out together, and Anna hopes that both father's are accepted into the new orchestra.

A letter finally arrives offering Anna's father a seat in the new orchestra, but their leaving is fraught with all kinds of delays and setbacks. The trip to Palestine is long and when they finally board the ship that will take them to Haifa, Anna is happy to see Eric there. After arriving in Palestine, the two friends discover they will now be neighbors in Tel Aviv and go to the same school, and both discover that life in Palestine isn't going to be easy for a while. There is the ongoing conflict between the Jews, the British, and the Arabs, learning Hebrew isn't all that easy, and Anna's beloved clarinet, the one her mother gave her, is lost. But life is also exciting. Mr. Huberman allows Anna to attend rehearsals whenever she wants, and often chats with her when she does show up. And the first concert of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by Arutro Toscanini, who proves to be quite a hard taskmaster at best.

Then Mr. Huberman tells Anna he would like her to stop by is office, but about what could he possibly want to speak to her?

The Sound of Freedom is based on the actual events surrounding the formation of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra by Bronislaw Huberman, though the story about Anna and her family is completely fictional. But Kacer seamlessly and realistically weaves in the kinds of events and issues there were happening in Krakow into Anna's story, along with the fear she felt while traveling through Poland, Germany and Italy in 1936 and the difficulties adjusting to life in a new country.

There aren't all that many books that take place in Europe the mid-1930s, at time when crimes and restrictions directed at Jews were on the rise, but before the Final Solution actively began in full force. That makes this an important addition to Holocaust literature for young readers showing them just how things evolved into WWII and the Shoah. People always ask why didn't more Jews leave Europe as life became more and more difficult for Jews and Kacer addresses that, showing how many people, including Anna's father, really felt that things would eventually blow over and life would return to normal. In fact, that belief was so strong that some of her characters, like their real-life counterparts, returned to Europe when they found adjusting to Palestine too difficult.

The Sound of Freedom is an interesting coming of age novel, well-written, and well researched. Anna is a compelling character as we watch her innocence replaced by an acute awareness of what is happening around her, despite her father's attempts to shield her from it. Kacer descriptions aren't so graphic that they will scare younger readers, but they do convey the pain and humiliation that was inflicted on the Jewish people by followers of Hitler in realistic terms. And I think this novel will really resonate for today's readers.

It's always hard to read about anything related to the Holocaust, but Anna's story is one with a relatively good ending for her and her family., all the more so because of it is based in reality.

Arturo Toscanini and Bronislaw Huberman after the first concert
of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra December 1936
You can find out more about the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (later renamed the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra), Bronislaw Huberman and Arturo Toscanini HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Annick Press

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery by Allison Rushby

It's December 1940 and London is being bombed night after night by the German Luftwaffe. In Highgate Cemetery, however, the souls who are buried there are, for the most part, at peace, thanks to Flossie Birdwhistle, 12. Flossie had died of rheumatic fever, and now served as the turnkey or keeper of the key, of Highgate. It is her job to make sure everyone stays peacefully at rest there. As turnkey, Flossie must stay awake and can even leave the cemetery, sometimes visiting the Golden Galley atop St. Paul's Cathedral, a tranquil place overlooking London until the war began. But one December night, she runs into someone else up there - a man who was clearly dead and part of the spirit world, though not a turnkey, and dressed in the uniform of a Nazi officer and carrying a strange looking round glass object. When he sees Flossie, he quickly flees.

Confused, Flossie decides to visit her friend Ada, the Turnkey of Tower Hamlets cemetery. No sooner does she tell Ada what she saw, than the Turnkey of Brompton Cemetery shows up with at least 100 souls dressed in the uniform of the *Chelsea Pensioners. The men are there because of the Blitz, but are soon drawn into the mystery of the Nazi officer in the SS uniform carrying the mysterious round object.

On a quick trip to the Invalids' Cemetery in Berlin, Flossie learns from the Turnkey there that the officer is part of the Ahnenerbe. But what is that? Is the officer a German spy? How can that be if he's already dead? And why does he know who Flossie is?

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery is indeed a mystery...and historical fiction...and a ghost story.  And yet it just didn't grab me until Flossie sees the SS officer on the dome of St. Paul's. A ghostly Nazi looking out at the bombing of London by the Luftwaffe reminded me that the the Nazi's, particularly Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, had been interested in finding the "spiritual" roots of Germanic or Aryan heritage. That made this a definite game changer.

Flossie may only be a 12 year old protagonist, but she's smart and unrelenting in her pursuit of solving the mystery of the Nazi, especially after it becomes personal. But she's also compassionate and cares very much about the souls at rest in Highgate, as evidenced in the sub-storyline about Grace, a young girl injured in the Blitz who straddles life and death while trying to find her family. I could have lived without Grace's story, but I think it would have made a great sequel to this novel.

Highgate Cemetery is such a perfect setting for this story. It's creepy enough to make me never want to be there at night, but the spirits from all the London cemeteries are not the least bit scary:

Highgate Cemetery, London
The story does take a few unexpected turns that I didn't see coming and I liked that a lot. In fact, a lot of people have compared this novel to Neil Gaiman's Coraline and The Graveyard Book, and I suppose they are similar in a way, but I think The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery does a good job of holding its own.

I also thought that Rushby did a spot on job of presenting the Blitz in all its horror, and I liked Flossie's visits to the war rooms of the British and the Nazis, but I think one of my favorite things was the presence of the helpful Chelsea Pensioners in their tricorn hats and bright red coats. Which reminds me: The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery was originally published in Britain, and there may be some bits that young American readers don't not know about. Some of them are covered in the Author's Note, but not the Pensioners (see note below).

All in all, however, The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery is a great novel for anyone interested in WWII fiction, fans of ghost stories, and those who like a really good mystery.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Candlewick Press

*Chelsea Pensioners - according to Wikipedia, they are soldiers who are residents of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a retirement home for former members of the British Army.