Saturday, July 13, 2019

Stolen Girl by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

**This review contains a spoiler at the end**

Ever since the war had ended, Ukrainian born Nadia Kravchuck and her adoptive mother Marusia have been living in a displaced persons camp in Europe. But now it's 1950 and 12-year-old Nadia has just arrived in Canada with her mother Marusia to join her  adoptive father Ivan, already living in Brantford, Ontario. On her first night in her new home, several people come to visit and Nadia is introduced to Mychailo, a fellow Ukrainian immigrant with whom she will be attending school and receiving English lessons at a neighbor's house.

Unfortunately, Nadia is also plagued with nightmares and flashbacks, none of which make sense to her at first, although she feels that they have something to do with her past, a past she doesn't remember. She knows that although Ivan and Marusia aren't her real parents that they love her as if she were their own child. But who is she really? When Mychailo tells her that she doesn't sound Ukrainian and that she looks like a Nazi to him, Nadia worries that maybe that's who she really is. But Mychailo also seems like her, taking her to the library,  and reminding her to call Ivan and Marusia mother and father, or the Canadian authorities will take her away. 

Disturbed by that she might indeed be a Nazi, the nightmares and flashbacks increase, often triggered by what seem to be totally unrelated things, and finally Nadia remembers that her name used to be Gretchen Himmel and that she was a member of a Nazi family.

Later, on the first day of school, Marusia presents Nadia with a new ethnic-looking outfit that she had handmade her, despite working long, hard hours on her farm job. At school, the teacher is kind, but when a boy says she looks like a Nazi, she runs away in humiliation. Luckily, another new girl named Linda sits next to Nadia in class and the two become best friends.

Nadia eventually begins to adjust to her new life, but continues to be plagued by flashbacks to her past, causing her a great deal of confusion. Little by little, however, the puzzle pieces begin to fit together and form a picture of her life as Gretchen Himmel, daughter of a high ranking Nazi official, his cold, distance wife and his other daughter Eva. But the dreams and flashbacks continue, leading Nadia to believe that Gretchen Himmel is not her real identity. And gradually, more puzzle pieces fit together, finally falling into place through the most innocuous of triggers - a piece of candy. 

Stolen Girl is one of the most emotionally draining books I've read, and knowing before hand who Nadia really is didn't lessen the tension one bit. The novel centers around Nadia's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD and the way it manifests in her after her traumatic wartime experiences. It has to one of the hardest conditions to successfully write about in a young person for young readers to really understand, but Skrypuch has managed to do just that in the ways Nadia's past reveals itself to her through her dreams and flashbacks.

                                                               **Spoiler Alert**
Stolen Girl is also one of the most compelling books I've read about the Lebornsborn Program. With her blond hair, blue eyes and young age, Nadia was a perfect Aryan-looking fit for this Nazi program designed to strengthen the Hitler's master race. Children like her were kidnapped, sent to Germany to be Germanized and than adopted by a Nazi family. Interestingly, other children who did not fit the Aryan picture were sent to labor camps, and Skrypuch gives hints about who Nadia/Gretchen really is when she sees a girl in an German labor camp of Ostarbeiters (workers from Eastern Europe) who looks just like her, and is in return noticed by the same girl. 

If you read Making Bombs for Hitler, you already know some of Nadia"s story and why she was recognized by the young Ostarbeiter. You may recall from that book that in 1943, after the Nazis shot their mother and the Jews she had been hiding, Lida, 8, and her younger sister Larissa, 5, were kidnapped from their grandmother's home in the Ukraine and sent by cattle car to Germany, along with all the other Ukrainian children the Nazis took. Days later, arriving at a slave labor camp in Germany, Lida and Larissa were forcibly separated from one another, and from that point the story follows only Lida's life in the labor camp. If you haven't already read Making Bombs for Hitler, and the other companion book, The War Below), I highly recommend it. Stolen Girl, the companion to Lida's story, is the story of what happened to Larissa after being taken from her sister. 

Stolen Girl is gripping novel that demonstrates how the trauma of war lives on long after the war has ended. It's a suspenseful, visceral journey that proves once again Skrypuch's talent for bringing difficult stories to life. 

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

Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Soldier Dogs: Air Raid Search and Rescue by Marcus Sutter, illustrated Pat Kinsella

Matt Dawson, 12, is angry and unhappy. It isn't bad enough that the family has been relocated from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Canterbury, England so Matt's father could work for the war effort in England. Now that the United States has entered the war, older brother Eric immediately returned home and enlisted in the Marines. Matt is angry at Eric for leaving, and at his parents for letting him. Adding to his irritation, foster sister Rachel keeps tagging after him. The only thing that makes it all bearable is Chief, Eric's well-trained German Shepherd, left in Matt's care.

Of course, both Matt and Rachel knew what to do in case of an air raid, but so far Canterbury had been lucky. But Canterbury's luck changed on the night of June 1, 1942. When the air raid sirens began, Matt, Rachel and Chief are sent to the shelter deep in Canterbury Cathedral. On their way, they hear the roar of the Luftwaffe approaching and they aren't far away. But when Matt's mom finally arrives at the shelter with his dad, they are bearing bad news - Eric is MIA.

Upset and even angrier, Matt runs out of the shelter just as incendiaries and bombs begin to fall on Canterbury. Followed by Chief, boy and dog both get disoriented when a bomb explodes near them. Matt heads upstairs, eventually finding himself on the cathedral's roof where the fire watchers are feverishly working to remove incendiary bombs and prevent a fire. And just as he starts back downstairs, Matt discovers Rachel has followed him, and with bad news - she saw Chief run into the streets of Canterbury - no doubt confused and looking for Matt.

Heading out to look for Chief, Matt and Rachel find themselves in the middle of a catastrophic blitz. And in the midst of that, they witness a parachute landing in a canal not far from them. Rushing to help, they discover a German soldier tangled in his parachute who convinces them he will turn himself in if they help save him from drowning. But can this German soldier be trusted?

Meanwhile, Chief is having dangerous adventures of his own. After he runs into a burning building to save a man's life, he finds himself in the hands of an American solider named Landry. Not knowing how well trained Chief is, Landry immediately thinks that Chief is a real natural search and rescue dog, and begins taking him as he searches for survivors among the fire, dust and rubble caused by the bombing.

In all the chaos, will Chief, Matt, and Rachel ever be reunited with each other and with their family?

Air Raid Search and Rescue is an exciting, action-packed adventure alternately narrated in the third person from the point of view of Matt and Chief. I don't usually like novels that anthropomorphize animals by giving them language but it really worked here for showing the reader two different perspectives of the action and of course, for paving the way for Chief's future endeavors in the war.

Rachel's backstory is also interesting. She was a child of the Kindertransport that brought Jewish children from countries occupied by Nazis to England in 1939/40. She was immediately drawn to Matt, and he treated her like any 12-year-old would an annoying little sister - until the bombs start to fall. It is nice to watch their relationship evolve.

Sutter includes a lot of back matter in this novel, answering questions readers might have about dogs in war, the Kindertransport, and the bombing of Canterbury. There is also a WWII timeline. And as a real bonus, there is a pull-out poster of Chief and on the back is information about the the bombings that became known as the Baedeker Air Raids:

As you can see, Canterbury was the last of the Baedeker Air Raids, named after the famous guidebooks produced in Germany. It was Hitler's plan to obliterate all of the most famous cultural sites in England according to the book in retaliation for England's bombing of German cities. In the case of Canterbury, the bombing raid was pay back for the RAF's bombing of Cologne, Germany.

I actually read this book thanks to Ms. Yingling Reads review of it. I had already read a book about another Baedeker air raid, The Exeter Blitz by David Rees, which was also very good, and thought it would be interesting to read another - and it was. Those interested in WWII novels might want to pair these together.

Air Raid Search and Rescue is the first book in the Soldier Dogs series, and I am really looking forward to reading them all. They will certainly appeal to young readers interested in WWII history and the roles that dogs played.

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Re-reading Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis

I decided to re-read Blackout and All Clear not long ago. I read them back in 2010, and while I don't usually re-read books, I did these because I always felt that I had read them too quickly. And the fact is I loved them as much the second time around as I did the first. Then I re-read my review and decided, 9 years after I wrote it, to repost it. This is what I wrote on November 17, 2010:

"I have just finished reading Blackout and All Clear and find myself wishing that Connie Willis could have kept going. After reading these two books totaling 1,168 pages, I find I have become quite attached to the characters and had a hard time saying goodbye when I came to the end. They are just that good!

The books are based on a simple enough premise. In 2060 Oxford, history is studied by traveling back in time to observe, collect data and interpret events firsthand under the tutelage of Mr. Dunworthy, the history professor in charge of time travel. The story centers on three students interested in different aspects of World War II. Michael Davies, disguised as Mike Davis who wants to go to Dover as an American war correspondent to observe the heroism of the ordinary people who rescued British soldiers from Dunkirk; Merope Ward becomes Eileen O’Reilly, working as a servant to Lady Caroline Denewell in her manor at Backbury, Warwickshire in order to observe evacuees from London; and Polly Churchill becomes Polly Sebastian, a shop girl by day working in the fictitious department store Townsend Brothers on Oxford Street, who wants to observe how Londoners coped during the Blitz.

In Blackout and All Clear, Willis makes it clear that there are certain cardinal rules of time travel. First, the traveler may not do anything to alter a past event. But that was supposed to have been taken care of so that it couldn’t happen. In addition, an historian is not allowed to travel to a divergence point, a critical point in history that can be changed by the presence of the historian. Nor can a predetermined drop site open if there is a “contemp” nearby who might see what is going on. Furthermore, once they have arrived at their destination, the historian is required to return to 2060 Oxford and report in. If they don’t do this, a retrieval team is sent to bring them back to Oxford. One other thing, time traveling historians are not supposed to have contact with each other while in the past.

That being said, Mike ends up in Dunkirk, saving a life and Eileen is prevented from returning to Oxford at the end of her stay by an outbreak of measles among the evacuees. Both ultimately travel to London, seeking Polly, hoping to use her drop to get back to 2060, but Polly’s drop has been compromised by a bomb and has stopped working. These extended stays do not result in the arrival of retrieval teams; but in much more complex adventures and worries. Have they altered the future unintentionally? Or unalterably? And if so, what does that mean for the future? And will the historians ever get back to 2060 Oxford?

In addition to Mike, Polly and Eileen, Willis has drawn some interesting supporting characters in Blackout and All Clear, all very different from each other and all of whom I found myself caring about. There is Sir Godfrey Kingsman, the well known actor who is part of the entourage in Polly’s bomb shelter, though he did get on my nerves with his constant quoting of Shakespeare, yet he was still endearing. He always referred to Polly as Viola from Twelfth Night because of the way she arrived at his bomb shelter her first night, and she was going by the last name Sebastian, the name of Viola’s twin brother, something to keep in mind as you read. And Colin Templer, 17 and besotted with love for Polly and who had promised to rescue her if anything went wrong. Colin wants to go to the Crusades so he can use the paradox of time travel to close the four year age difference between himself and Polly. Eileen’s life was plagued by Alf and Binnie Hodbin, brother and sister urchins evacuated from London to Backbury, pranksters and troublemakers extraordinaire. Mike had Commander Harold, elderly captain of the Lady Jane who unofficially went across the English Channel to participate in the evacuation of soldiers from Dunkirk and changed the course of Mike’s time travel.

Connie Willis has done a brilliant job writing Blackout and All Clear, even though I know I will probably have to reread both books again to really appreciate them [yes, that's exactly what happened]. When I first read Blackout, I didn’t pay close attention to the dates at the beginning of each chapter, so sometimes they were a little confusing. I found myself preoccupied with questions about why I was suddenly in 1944 or 1945 and who were Mary Kent and Ernest Worthing and how did this connect to Mike, Polly and Eileen?  Blackout sets up all the questions and All Clear answers them.

Throughout both novels, the three main characters are confused by what has happened to them, and the chaos of the period, such as not knowing when or where bombs may fall, adding to their sense of helplessness once Polly's knowledge of when and where bombs will fall is exhausted. As in the real war, anger, anxiety, confusion, fear, frustration and helplessness are exactly the array of emotions that the reader experiences along with Mike, Eileen and Polly. Yet, all is not doom and gloom. Willis balances these with instances of hope, courage, selflessness and heroism. She also injects some very comical scenes into the story, such as an angry bull and the deployment of rubber tanks in a muddy, foggy pasture to fool the Luftwaffe, or the constant antics of the Hodbins. And of course, there is the dry wit of the British and their ‘carry on’ attitude after a blitz attack. I really like the fact that Willis keeps the story focused on the plight of the stranded historians, rather than jarring the reader by going back and forth between them and Oxford 2060.

Blackout and All Clear are both chock full of action, information, comedy, tragedy and everything else that goes into making a great story. They are not really meant for YA readers, yet they are perfectly suitable for high school kids, and even some younger ones. So without reservation, I would definitely recommend Blackout and All Clear to readers in their teens and to everyone else. It is a wonderful a tale about survival and heroism."

These books are recommended for readers age 13+
These books were purchased for my personal library.

Willis described the blitz and the bombs that hit Oxford Street, where Polly worked, in amazingly realistic detail.  Check out the following for an online exhibition of the West End at War including photos and maps of the blitz in that area, the same area that plays a large part in Blackout and All Clear

The following has online information about the Docklands and East End during the war, another area highlighted by Connie Willis;

Sunday, June 16, 2019

I Survived the Hindenburg Disaster, 1937 (I Survived Series #13) by Lauren Tarshis, illustrated by Scott Dawson

It's Monday, May 3rd, and Hugo Ballard, 11, is about to embark on an exciting journey flying from Germany to New Jersey on the Hindenburg, one of two zeppelins crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1937. Hugo had already had one big adventure, living in Kenya with his mom, dad, and younger sister Gertie for a year. But now Gertie is sick with malaria and needs to get home to NYC for the right medicine as quickly as possible and the zeppelin could get the family there in only three days.

The Hindenburg is big, almost as big as the Titanic, but it's a highly flammable gas, hydrogen, that gets the zeppelin off the ground and flying. And that's a pretty scary thought for Hugo and Gertie, but almost immediately, Hugo makes a new friend, Martha Singer, or Marty as she prefers. Marty is a zeppelin pro, this is her eight Atlantic crossing in one, thanks to her dad who works for the company. "It's magical" she tells Hugo, and indeed, it seems to be so. Even Gertie is looking and feeling better.

The next morning, Tuesday, May 4th, at breakfast, however, Hugo's good feelings about being on the smooth-riding zeppelin with a new friend are somewhat diminished by the appearance of Nazi Colonel Joseph Kohl, known for his viciousness (even Gertie thinks he looks like a snake) and two other Nazi officers. When they leave, one of the passengers says that he believes the Nazis are looking for a spy on board the zeppelin.

On Wednesday, May 5th, the day before the zeppelin is scheduled to arrive at the airfield in New Jersey, Mr. Singer offers to show Hugo and his dad around the ship, even taking them into its main body, usually off limits to passengers. While there, Mr. Singer hears a terrible, unfamiliar growling noise. Alarmed, he starts to call the ship's captain, when Hugo realizes it is none other than their dog, Panya, who was put into the cargo hold for the trip. But their tour is interrupted with news that Gertie is once again very sick. After a long, scary night, Gertie's finally fever breaks and the only thing she wants is Panya.

But when Hugo sneaks down to get the dog, he sees someone else there. Is this the spy who is sneaking German secrets back to the United States? Apparently Colonel Kohl thinks so, too. After threatening Hugo with his gun, he manages to get away and get Panya to Gertie. But does an even deadlier fate await the Ballad family when the Hindenburg suddenly erupts in flames while landing?

A WWI Recruiting Poster
I Survived the Hindenburg Disaster, 1937 is, like all the I Survived books, very exciting with themes of courage, resilience, and the importance of family. And Tarshis is genius at being able to weave these into a gripping tale in the midst of a dangerous historical event without distorting any of the history. She has included lots of information within the story about zeppelins, how they work and their use, even during World War I when they were used to drop bombs on civilians in both France and England. I knew airplanes were used for that, but I didn't know about zeppelins.

Nor does she shy away from Nazi violence or cruelty and yet it is never gratuitous. In this novel, Colonel Kohl is portrayed as the kind of cold-blooded Nazi who would not think twice about shooting Hugo to get what he wants. But Tarshis also always makes sure to surround her protagonist with kind people, too, as she does here with Hugo's parents, Mr. Singer, and Marty. And her protagonists are also kind people. Hugo risks a lot to make his sister happy, but he knows what he has to do. And when the ship erupts in flames, his first thought is how to save his family.

Tarshis has also included even more information about zeppelins and the Hindenburg disaster in her back matter, beginning with the question "Would you want to ride on a zeppelin? To which my answer would be unequivocally no, thank you, although I do appreciate the excitement and spectacular views of such a ride. There is also a section about the possibilities of why the Hindenburg disaster happened (to this day, no one knows), More Hindenburg Facts, and a Selected Bibliography.

I Survived the Hindenburg Disaster, 1937 is one of four books that are focused on World War II, beginning with I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941, I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944, and I Survived the Battle of D-Day, 1944. Each excellent and informative, and age appropriate.

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

If you would like to know more about zeppelins, be sure to visit

And if you are curious about what Hugo saw on his tour of the Hindenburg, this is the best example of the inside of it I could find (you can even see the catwalk where Hugo had to walk to get Panya for Gertie):

Monday, June 10, 2019

Stubby: A True Story of Friendship by Michael Foreman

2018 was the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I and to commemorate it, a fair number of books for young readers were published. Stubby is one of those books and his story begins in a training camp far away from the war.

For some soldiers, basic training can be a cold lonely process of endless drills and exercises. But in one particular camp, each time the bugle calls soldier's to a meal, stray dogs from all over always seem to show up, too. One of them takes a real liking to one particular soldier [Robert Conroy] and before you know it, man and dog have bonded. The soldier names the dog Stubby.

Stubby is pretty smart, and learns to sit and to salute quickly and, of course, everyone seems to love him, But when orders come that the soldiers are shipping out, sailing across the Atlantic to a land at war [France]. Stubby is supposed to stay home, but at the last minute, he gets smuggled on to the troop ship.

In the trenches, Stubby's excellent sense of smell and hearing more than once comes in handy, catching enemy soldiers who sneak into the trenches, or warning the men of poison gas attacks in time to put on their gas masks (yes, Stubby also has a gas mask), and sometimes just keeping his master warm on cold, rainy nights.

But when Stubby is injured in battle, he is sent off in an ambulance with other wounded soldiers and his owner wonders if they will ever see each other again. But, Stubby's nursed back to health at a field hospital just like a real soldier, and after six weeks, he is returned to the tranches. When the enemy is finally driven out a one town, the local ladies get together and make Stubby his own army jacket, complete with medals and badges.

When peace is finally declared in 1918, Stubby returns home to the United States a hero and is even given a position of honor at the front of a victory parade.

This is a sweet story, not so much about Stubby heroics during the war, though these are certainly included, but about what a good, loyal companion he was to Conroy. And to keep the story focused on Stubby, Foreman never uses Conroy's name and makes the dog the main focus of the illustrations.   
The illustrations are done in Foreman's signature style, using a soft pastel palette. He doesn't shy away from the realities of war, but none of the battlefield illustrations are so graphic they would upset young readers. Even the illustration of Stubby laying unconscious in the midst of fighting isn't frightening, but kids will definitely know Stubby is injured.

Be sure to read Forman's note at the back of the book, complete with a photo of Stubby in his army jacket.

Stubby: A True Story of Friendship is a heartwarming story, made all the more poignant by the fact that it is a true story.

You can download an extensive Teaching Guide courtesy of the publisher, Anderson Press

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

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Some Books About D-Day

D-Day June 6, 1944
"You are about to embark upon the 
great crusade toward which we have striven these
many months. The eyes of the world are upon you...
I have full confidence in your courage, 
devotion to duty and skill in battle."
                                                       General Dwight D. Eisenhower 

Tuesday, June 6, 1944
My dearest Kitty,
"This is D Day," the BBC announced at twelve. "This is the day."
The invasion has begun!
                             Anne Frank

Today is the 75th anniversary and the world is honoring the heroes of that day in a big way - as we should. The D-Day landings on the Normandy coast by American, British, and Canadians soldiers and all the equipment they brought with them sometimes seems like an overwhelming mission, it feels like a miracle that it succeeded at all. But it did, and it change the course of the war. The allied invasion cost so many people their lives, and as the quote from Anne Frank reminds us, it was a momentous turning point, not the end of the war.

There are a number of very well written books about D-Day which I've already read (but haven't necessarily reviewed) and I would like to share them with you today.

by Ronald J. Drez
National Geographic Children's Books, 2004, 64 pages

by Rick Atkinson
Henry Holt and Co., 2014, 224 pages

D-Day: The World War II Invasion The Changed History
by Deborah Hopkinson
Scholastic Press, 2018, 400 pages

D-Day: Untold Stories of the Normandy Landings
inspired by 20 real-life people
written by Michael Noble, illustrated by Alexander Mostov
Wide Eyed Editions, 2019, 48 pages
This is a picture book for older readers (age 8-12). I loved reading about these "stories of bravery, sacrifice, and innovation. 

Invasion: The Story of D-Day
by Bruce Bliven, Jr.
1956, 2017
I haven't reviewed this book yet, but it is a very detailed look at what it took to prepare for the D-Day allied invasion and it's aftermath, there is just one problem with it -  there is absolutely no sourcing. I gave it a four star rating for the prose content, but a one star for the sourcing.

by Lauren Tarshis
Scholastic, 2019, 144 pages

by Kate Messner
Scholastic, 2018, 160 pages

Barrington Stoke, 2019, 120 pages

Walter Dean Myers
Scholastic Press, 1999, 2012, 144 pages

by Walter Dean Myers
Scholastic Press, 2013, 224 pages

by Amy McAuley
Walker Children's Books, 2012, 326 pages

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

D-Day Dog by Tom Palmer

Jack Ashville, an 11-year-old living in England, had always wanted a dog, and finally his parents had said yes. Now, except for school, he and Finn are inseparable, and Jack has worked very hard taking care of Finn and having fun with him. But Jack also loves to play video games with his dad, a soldier in the Army Reserves. Their newest video game is based on the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944, and while his dad wants to teach Jack something about D-Day before playing, Jack just wants to get to the video game. Then, Jack learns that his father might be deployed to a war zone, and he couldn't be more excited.

At school, Jack's class is beginning to learn about the D-Day invasion of the Allies in World War II in preparation for a class trip to the beaches of Normandy, France. One of their assignments is to pick a soldier who died on D-Day and is buried in Ranville Cemetery there and learn all about them. Then, when they arrive at Ranville, each student can plant a small cross with a poppy on it on the soldier's grave.

At first, Jack is pretty gun-ho about the trip, but after hearing his parents fighting about his dad's deployment, and learning that his dad would be staying at this
grandmother's for a while, until things can be worked out, he's feeling a little deflated about everything. However, when his teacher suggests Jack research "D-Day and dogs," his enthusiasm picks up again as he's sure he's found the perfect soldier to honor.

That is until he reads about what happened to his soldier and the dog he trained to parachute out of an
airplane on D-Day. Emile Corteil was a young private in the 9th Parachute Regiment and Glen was his German Shepard. When it came time to jump, Glen got spooked by all the noise below and Emile had to literally throw him out of the plane. The jump didn't killed them, but both did die on June 6, 1944. Reading their story, Jack become so angry at what he feels is Emile's betrayal of Glen, that he subsequently refuses to go on the class trip. In fact, Jack does a complete 180° turn, now finding the reality of war to be abhorrent.

Trouble is nobody's having any of that and Jack finds himself on the bus sitting between his friend Lucas, a special needs student, and Kassandra, a girl whose family had to flee their home in Aleppo because of war. But anger causes Jack to act out and now his punishment is to sit by the bus driver, a gruff, chain-smoking old soldier, and apart from the other kids.

Needless to say, Jack's class trip is a real eye-opener for him as he learns not just about the cost of war in human life, but also comes to understand why people are willing to fight and die for what they believe, and that there is a big difference between the reality of war and war fought in a video game.
Grave of Emile Corteil and
Glen in Ranville

It is interesting to read the way Palmer has brought three subsequent wars into this story. There is Jack's dad, who could be sent to fight in the war in Afghanistan, the bus driver who had fought in the Falklands War, and Kassandra, a refugee from Syria whose family lost everything, including her beloved dogs, in the fighting there. American readers may not be familiar with the Falklands war, but there is enough about it in the driver's story to understand what happened. Each one contributes to Jack's increasing understanding about war.

Palmer has poignantly captured the volatility of an 11-year-old's feelings and emotions in Jack, which run the gamut of happy, sad, angry, betrayed, and even understanding. Jack romantic, almost idealistic ideas about war come crashing down when he learns that his father actually puts his family first and being a soldier second, and those ideas seem to just spiral down as the story goes along until Jack can finally see his way to a more realistic concept of war, making this a nice coming of age story.

I have to admit, I knew nothing about paradogs until I read D-Day Dog but although found the idea interesting, I felt a big like Jack when he discovered what happened to Glen. I would definitely recommend D-Day Dog as it is a well-written contemporary story and a timely book for young readers who may be interested in WWII. 

You can find all kinds useful resources for D-Day Dog on author Tom Palmer's website HERE

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

There is a recent addendum to the story of Emile Cortiel and his dog Glen. Emile and Glen were buried together in Ranville Cemetery, even though it was a breach of military rules, but as of now, there is no mention it anywhere. Now, a new British memorial is to be built to honor the men and women killed in 1944 liberating France and will include a memorial dedicated to all the animals who were killed in action during the summer of 1944, including Glen. You can read the whole story HERE
Emile Corteil and Glen

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II by Robert Matzen

I spent a lot of afternoons watching movies with my best friend growing up, and one of our favorite screen stars was Audrey Hepburn. I can't count the number of times we saw Roman Holiday, Charade, and Breakfast at Tiffany's? Audrey Hepburn was the quintessential Holly Golightly. So when I saw that a book about her life during World War II had been written, I was really excited to read it, especially when I realized I knew nothing about Audrey Hepburn's off-screen life.

Robert Matzen has written a biography that focuses mainly on Audrey Hepburn life during the Second World War when she was living under Nazi occupation in Holland, with her Dutch family on her mother's side. Hepburn was only 11 years old when the Nazis invaded, and it would understandably have a deep impact on her. In fact, all through her adult life, Audrey was haunted by what much of what she witnessed and experienced during WWII.

Audrey was born in 1929 to a Dutch mother, Ella, Baroness van Heemstra and a German/English father, Joseph Ruston, but money problems soon meant Ruston would be gone a largely absent father. Audrey, her mother, and two stepbrothers, Alex and Ian, found themselves living in Arnhem with her Opa, Baron van Heemstra and his wife. Then, in the early 1930s, both Joseph and Ella fell under the influence of Sir Oswald Mosley, head of the British Union of Fascists, and both parents became strong supporters of Hitler. In fact, Ella wrote two published articles in support of National Socialism, she even attended the 1935 Nuremberg rally, and is present in a photo with Hitler and others at Nazi headquarters in Munich.

But after the Nazis defeated the Dutch in 1940 and began occupying Holland, life changed for everyone. With her country under siege, and life getting more and more difficult, Audrey threw herself into ballet. She had begun ballet while in school in London, and it remained her greatest passion throughout her life. Though her first performances as a ballerina were for German audiences, Audrey later used her increasing dance skill to raise money for the Dutch Resistance, evenings referred to as zwarte avonden or black evenings. She spent much of her time volunteering for Dr. Visser't Hooft, a leader in the Dutch Resistance, at his hospital It was he who encouraged her dancing in service of the resistance.

But Audrey's life during WWII wasn't all about dance. She took the death of her beloved Uncle Otto van Limburg Stirum, executed by firing squad with four other men in retaliation for resistance activities, very hard. Witnessing the Nazi's cruel treatment of Dutch Jews, and later their mass deportation was also seared in her memory. But it was the deprivation and starvation of the last year of the war, the Hunger Winter, that seems to have had the greatest impact on Audrey physically as well as mentally and influenced her relationship with food for the rest of her life, and perhaps even her decision to serve as a representative for UNICEF, the United Nations organization that provides world-wide emergency food and healthcare to children.

Matzen has written an intense, exciting biography of Audrey Hepburn. Interestingly, he has interspersed chapters about her later life as it relates to WWII. It appears that Audrey never quite reconciled her parents support of Hitler and National Socialism, but there was an unspoken agreement between mother and daughter to never speak of it in public, though she lived in fear that it would be discovered.

But Dutch Girl is more than just Audrey Hepburn's wartime experience. It is a very well-researched  history of World War II, as it relates to the Netherlands. Holland was a peace-loving country that was traumatized by constant dogfights in the air between Allied and German pilots, heavy bombing and towards the end of the war, the particularly destructive V1 and V2 bombs meant for England but landing in Holland when they malfunctioned. And although Hitler thought the Dutch were Germany's Aryan cousins, as things intensified, they were treated with more and more cruelty.

Included in Dutch Girl are extensive photographs, maps, Chapter Notes, and Selected Bibliography.

On a personal note, I found Dutch Girl to be especially valuable because of my interest in the impact of war on children, part of the reason I began this blog in the first place. I was really glad Matzen included the chapters about Audrey Hepburn's life after the war, often quoting her. I could see the impact of WWII on her young life in a way that fiction often doesn't provide. It is very well written and organized, and I found I could not put this book down once I began reading it.

Dutch Girl is, I think, a book that will appeal to people interested in WWII history, more so that those who simply might be looking for a book about the glamorous life of a movie star.

This book is recommended for readers age 17+
This book was provided to me for purposes of review.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Memorial Day 2019

I thought I would repost my Memorial Day post from 2012 because I fear that I can feel the winds of war as blowing once again, however faintly, and I thought a reminder of what Memorial Day is all about might help us remember why we have this three-day weekend at the end of May.

Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, as it used to be called, originated in 1868, when General John A. Logan declared May 30th the day for remembrance, a day when the graves of those soldiers who had fallen in battle during the Civil War were decorated with flags, flowers and wreaths as a way of honoring and remembering them. Logan picked May 30th because it was a day on which no battles had occurred in the Civil War. The tradition continued, and, in the 1880s, Decoration Day became Memorial Day. In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed and in 1971, Memorial Day would always be celebrated on the last Monday in May, giving us the three-day weekend we now have.

FYI: I was reading one of my twitter feeds and came across some information about the first Memorial Day. Apparently on May 1, 1865, a group of former slaves in Charleston, SC gathered to honor the 257 Union soldiers who were buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. I learned this from Joe Braxton (@TheJoeBraxton), and you can find out more about how this was discovered HERE

In all of our national cemeteries, they still mark all the graves with a flag for this weekend.  This makes me feel good, since my younger brother is buried in one of those cemeteries. 

Every Memorial Day, I always think of the poem "In Flanders Fields" because I had to learn it, along with Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!," in school and I'v never forgot it.  The poem has an interesting history.

In 1915, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrea who a poem called "In Flanders Fields" while presiding over the funeral of a fellow fallen soldier who was killed in the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium and buried in Flanders Fields, a field were red poppies grew everywhere.  McCrea was not very happy with the poem he wrote and threw it away, but one of his fellow officers saved it.  It was published in Punchon December 8, 1915. 

My favorite version of "In Flanders Fields" is What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? which was broadcast for Memorial Day in 1983, in which Linus recites the poem while the Peanuts gang is visiting the cemetery there:

By the way, if you see a vet selling poppies this weekend, and you decide to buy one, remember that the money goes towards helping needy veterans.  Oh, and by the way, they are made by vet themselves, and although they receive a small amount of money for making poppies, for so many,  it is their only source of income.

All this being said, have a healthy and safe Memorial Day and have some fun, too.

Lastly, thank you to all the scouts, scout leaders, parents, and other volunteers who will again be decorating the graves of soldiers at Calverton National Cemetery this year. 

In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Monday, May 20, 2019

When We Were Warriors by Emma Carroll

After reading Emma Carroll's WWII book Letters from the Lighthouse a while back, I knew I was going to have to go back for more. So I was pretty happy when I read about When We Were Warriors and ordered it from Book Depository immediately.

This time, instead of a complete novel, Carroll has written three short stories, all set in the summer of 1942, all along the Devon coast, and connected to each other by an interesting thread.

Story number 1 is called "The Night Visitors" and the main protagonist is a boy named Stan. Living in Bristol, Stan and his sisters are on their way to get some fish and chips for dinner when a bomb hits and changes their lives. With their house destroyed, and their mum hurt rather badly, Stan, older sister June, and younger sister Maggie are evacuated to the Somerset hills, to a large old supposedly haunted house called Frost Hollow Hall, joining other kids who have already been there for a while.

No sooner are they told about the three places on the property that are off limits to all the evacuees, then June and Clive Spencer, a smirky troublemaker, come up with a game of dare - it's the boys against the girls, and whichever team nicks the most things from each forbidden areas is the winner. Just as the game takes off, American soldiers arrive when one of their drivers, Eddie Johnson, drives right off the road and into a ditch outside Frost Hollow Hall. Left there to take care of the vehicle, things suddenly take a very strange turn.

The second story is called "Olive's Army" and takes place Budmouth Point, not far from Frost Hollow Hall. Londoners Olive and younger brother Cliff live with Ephraim Pengilly, the lighthouse keeper, while older sister Sukie and friend Esther, who had come to England on the Kindertransport, live with Queenie, the postmistress. Needless to say, Olive is quite shocked when Sukie announces that she is going to marry Ephraim, as soon as she asked him. But when a body washes up on the beach with identity papers claiming he is Ephraim Pengilly and that he is German, Sukie's fiancé is taken away to Plymouth for questioning - the day before their wedding.

Enter the Americans - who decide that the papers the dead man is carrying are plans for the German invasion everyone in Britain has been expecting. Off they go, following the plans to stop the invasion and leaving one soldier behind to guard the dead body. Yep, none other than Eddie Johnson. But what happens when Olive figures out what the German's plan is really about? Can she convince everyone, including Eddie, of what she's worked out and stop the invasion?

The third and final story is called "Operation Greyhound" and takes place in Plymouth, just up the coast from Budmouth lighthouse. Plymouth has already been nearly bombed out of existence, but when yet another air raid siren goes off, Velvet Jones heads to the shelter with her best friend Lynn. Luckily, their shelter warden, Mr. Perks, lets everyone bring their pets to the shelter, too. But on this night, they have a new warden, Mr. Jackson, and he is not letting pets into the shelter anymore. And now it's even more crowded that usual as people from Portland Place are sharing the shelter, thanks to bombing, including stuck up Mrs. Clements and son Robert.

Velvet and Lynn take it upon themselves to find an alternative pet-friendly shelter, but on the first night, Velvet finds a man lying in the street as bombs begin to fall, and yep, it's Eddie Johnson, American soldier. After helping him, Velvet realizes that their alternative shelter isn't going to work out, and she and Lynn decide to find another solution. But when they discover their truth about Robert Clements's father and then he and his pregnant dog go missing, the girls make some surprising discoveries, because sometimes people just aren't who or what you think they are. 

When I first got When We Were Warriors, I was a little disappointed to see it was three stories instead of a novel, but no sooner did I begin reading, and I was totally hooked, reading it straight through. It was, simply said, unputdownable.

And there were a lot of things I liked about this book. I loved that the stories are connected to each other by the presence of Eddie Johnson, an African American soldier on his own personal mission and whose life is ultimately changed. I also loved that so many characters were diverse. I had no idea how diverse small towns along the coast of England were at the time, but I somehow found it plausible. And I did discover that there apparently was some diversity in port cities, thanks to WWI (see Mixing It: Diversity in World War Two Britain by Wendy Webster, Oxford UP, 2018).

Did you recognize Olive, Sukie and Cliff in the second story? That's because they are the same wonderful characters in Letters From the Lighthouse and they are every bit as appealing. Remember Frost Hollow Hall in the first story? Well, I didn't, but you can bet the book by the same name will be the next Emma Carroll novel I read.

If you are looking for a great book that explores themes of family and friendship along with some mystery and adventure, look no further that When We Were Warriors for a wonderfully satisfying middle grade book.

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

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Captain Rosalie by Timothée de Fombelle, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, translated by Sam Gordon

In this short novella, a 5½-year-old girl calls herself Captain Rosalie, thinking of herself as a soldier on a secret mission during WWI, spying on the enemy and preparing her plan of action. And she is sure that one day she will be awarded a medal for what she does.

Living in a small French village, Rosalie is really too young for school, but the teacher, a wounded war veteran, lets her sit quietly drawing in the back of his classroom every day while her father is away fighting in the war and her mother works in the factory for the war effort. Rosalie is given a notebook and pencils with which to draw. But since it contains her plan of action, she never, never leaves the notebook where it can be found.

At night, her mother reads letters from her father at the front, a father she has almost no memory of. Instead of writing about war, he writes about what they will do when the war is over, but Rosalie refuses to listen to her mother reading the letters. 

Then one night, after Rosalie is in bed, there's a knock and she hears her mother speaking to the gendarme. The next day, there's a blue envelope on the table with a letter her mother doesn't read to her, nor is she able to look at her daughter. Rosalie knows something has changed, and her mission now becomes even more imperative.

Finally, on a day in February, it's time for Rosalie to carry out her secret mission. But first she must convince the teacher to let her go home to get her notebook. She is finally allowed to go, but is accompanied by Edgar, there only student who has ever noticed Rosalie. In the kitchen, Rosalie finds a box containing the letters from her father and her secret mission becomes apparent - Rosalie hasn't been drawing at the back of the classroom, she has been learning to read with the other students. And now, she can read the letters from her father well enough to realize they are about the horrors of war, not about what they will do when he comes home. But one letter, the last on brought by the gendarme, is missing.

Now, Rosalie will have to come up with another plan to find that letter and learn the final truth that has been withheld from her. Luckily, Edgar is just the kind of friend who will help her accomplish her mission.

Captain Rosalie is a beautifully crafted novella that is at once heartbreaking and hopeful. There are no unnecessary words or wasted actions and yet it packs such a strong emotional reaction. de Fombelle brilliantly holds the mystery of Rosalie's secret mission until it is time to reveal it, yet upon rereading, I noticed subtle hints. Narrated by Rosalie, author de Fombelle and translator Gordon never lose the voice of a 5½-year-old as she plans her mission and closely watches the world around her. Her realistic voice is even there when she is reading the letters from her father, not knowing all the words, but knowing enough to understand what her father is saying.

Interestingly, while her mother made up letters that she thought would make Rosalie's father more real for her daughter, and ignoring the truth of what he actually wrote, this only served to make Rosalie more distant from him and inspired her to learn to read. And, it doesn't take much to figure out that the gendarme brought news that Rosalie's father was killed in action. But that isn't what the story is about. It is about adults telling kids the truth so that they don't have to find it out for themselves.

Arsenault's spare watercolor, pencil and ink illustrations are done in cold, barren winter grays and whites, with only touches of color - red hair for Rosalie, her mother, and her ally Edgar, and the flames of a fire, and the blue of the envelopes and letters from Rosalie's father add to the feeling of life and hope in the midst of death and despair.

If Captain Rosalie sounds familiar, it is because it was originally published in an anthology called The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items From the First World War. The stand alone version of Captain Rosalie will be available on June 11, 2019.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley and Candlewick Press

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Good Son: A Story From the First World War Told in Miniature by Pierre-Jacques Ober, illustrated by Jules Ober and Felicity Coonan

The Good Son is probably the most unusual book I've reviewed on this blog. It is a World War I story about one small soldier's experience and although it's a picture book for older readers, the recommended is age 14+. And it isn't exactly illustrated in the traditional sense - each page is photographed using customized painted miniature figures, more sophisticated versions of the kind toy solders so many kids played with, and all of them are set in detailed landscapes, creating powerfully effective tableaus.

Written one hundred years after the end of WWI, the tale opens, in slightly blurred black and white photos, long after the war is over.  It was a war that was supposed to be over by the first Christmas, but instead went on for years, while people suffered and kept going into battle.
"About one hundred years ago, the whole world went to war"
The story shifts then to color photos of Pierre, a young French solder, sitting alone, locked in a barn. Pierre is facing execution for desertion, having gone AWOL for two days to spend Christmas with his widowed mother and not wanting her to be alone. Left by himself in the barn, Pierre has time to think about why he enlisted, about loyalty, about the horrors of war, and about what had been his hopes and dreams for his life after the war.

Believing the propaganda and wanting to make his mother proud, Pierre had, like so many men, signed up to fight once war was declared in 1914. As the war drags on, and more and more men are killed, Pierre realizes that war is terrible, a point that is made over and over. But, Pierre was a good soldier, even receiving a commendation for capturing six German soldiers, albeit, soldiers who are tired of war and just want to be out of it - feelings Pierre shares with them.

Readers learn a lot about Pierre as he sits in the barn awaiting his fate. His friend Gilbert, who once saved Pierre's life, brings him in food, wine, and company. But even Pierre's good behavior and  commendation don't help him when his colonel sentences him to be shot for desertion the next morning:

As the war drags on, and morale sinks among the other soldiers, the colonel had decided to make an example of Pierre.

So, no, Pierre doesn't not survive the war but his story is sure to remain with sensitive readers long after they close this book.

The Good Son is probably one of the most effective anti-war books I've ever read. Pierre's story is told in one or two short lyrical sentences on each page, with accompanying photos that move the tale along, revealing the pointlessness and the unfairness of war. Readers will find themselves asking questions about how propaganda is used to motivate people, especially young people, about patriotism, and about how does a good son, a good soldier end up in front of a firing squad? All this makes The Good Son is a very interesting and unusual philosophical look at war.

An compelling point that this book makes is that war is fought by little solders, young men like Pierre, and that these soldiers are at the mercy not only of the military, but also the politicians who decide to go to war, a point the is driven home through the metaphorical use of little toy soldiers, making Pierre's story all the more poignant. And I think that the little toy soldiers have a much more profound impact on the reader that conventional illustrations would have had.

You may have a hard time getting your teens into this picture book, but I believe that once they begin to think and explore its pages, The Good Son will really resonate with them. After all, some of them may be the future's little soldiers.

Back matter includes A Note from the Author and photographs and an explanation on The Process by which The Good Son was created. You can also find would some photographs of how each tableau was created on the author's Instagram page.

Parents and teachers can also find factual information giving context for The Good Son HERE

The Good Son will be available in the US on May 14, 2019.

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Candlewick Studio

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

White Rose by Kip Wilson

The people I tend to admire most are the ordinary citizens who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances and who act bravely in the face of danger. Which probably explains why I like resistance stories do much. One of those people who has always been high one my list is Sophie Scholl, the young German university student who stood up to the Nazis and paid with her life. So naturally, I was pretty excited when I read that a novel in verse about Sophie and the other members of the White Rose resistance was being published. And when I was offered an ARC of Kip Wilson's work, I jumped at the chance to read it. I was not disappointed. Wilson definitely did Sophie justice in this fictionalized biography.

Told in free verse, Wilson opens her fictionalized biography of Sophie with her arrest in 1943 and her first interrogation by the Gestapo, then immediately sends the reader back to 1935 and happier, almost carefree days with her large, loving family. At first, Sophie and older brother Hans are willing members of the Hitler youth - she in the Bund Deutsche Mädel (BDM) and he in the Hitlerjugend (HJ). But as more restrictions are imposed on Germans, and especially on German Jews, Sophie begins to see Hitler's regime for what they really are.

By the time she's at university with Hans, Sophie has done much soul-searching, worrying that her silence makes her complicit in the regime's shameful actions, and now she desires only to do the right thing - to stand up for her beliefs. Soon, a leaflet comes her way, and judging by the inky fingers on Hans's hands, she suspects he has something to do with it, and angered that he has used her idea:

"Duplicating leaflets and sharing
them with the world -
this was my idea.

My own brother excluded
me, probably thinking,
She's only a girl." (pg. 139)

Calling themselves the White Rose, Sophie is determined to be part of her brother's resistance group and work on the anti-Nazi leaflets they produce. Once she is finally let in, her job is to make sure the leaflets get into the hands of an many people as possible, including some influential people.

While the Sophie and the other members of the White Rose work against the Third Reich, readers also follow the efforts of Robert Mohr, the Gestapo investigator who is determined to find and arrest the traitors who are "the masterminds of this plot" to undermine the Nazi government. We hear from Hans, Christoph Probst, who was executed along with Sophie and Hans, Sophie's friend Fritz, even Jakob Schmid, the school custodian who turned them in, and more, making this a really in-depth, well-rounded narration. But one of the things I really liked was how Wilson shows readers that Sophie, Hans and their friends were also typical kids, getting together and listening to music and just enjoying each other's company. Their passion and their friendships are kind of things that makes them so easy to identify with.

Although, Wilson arranged White Rose in a non-linear way, going back and forth in time to present events relevant to understanding how and why the Scholl siblings did what they did, it is not at all confusing, but rather heightens the tension and at the same time, makes the actions of the White Rose all the more inspiring.

Of course, we know how things turn out for Sophie and the White Rose resistance, but Wilson has nevertheless created a nail-biting story that gives some insight based on extensive research into what the key figures might have been thinking and feeling, both the pursued and the pursuers. 

Sophie Scholl never regretted what she did, and went to her death believing that the world would take notice of what she did, learn from it, and carry on the work of defeating the Nazis:

"Because I am
courageous and
about what I hope will happen now:

That the world will see
and the world will know
and the world
stop." (pg. 332)

Sadly, that didn't happen in Nazi Germany but because White Rose is such a well-done work of historical fiction, it will hopefully resonate with readers in today's world.

Wilson's back matter includes a list of the Dramatis Personae, a Glossary of German words and phrases used, a list of Selected Sources for more investigation, and an Author's Note.

You can also find a Reader's Guide that uses both White Rose by Kip Wilson and We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement that Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman courtesy of Versify Books.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was sent to my by the publisher, Versify