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 <>.
(Click to enlarge)

Monday, September 10, 2018

đź“šSave 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
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.

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 JosĂ© DĂ­az. 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, nĂ©e 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 RavensbrĂĽck 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.