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 inMiniature 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

Friday, April 19, 2019

My Best Friend: The Evacuee by Sally Morgan, illustrated by Gareth Conway

Young readers can follow two friends as they experience the first year and a half of World War II in completely different circumstances in this epistolary chapter book and discover just what it was like for kids at that time.

Londoners Harriet Hale, 11, and Teddy (Edward) Wilson, 10, have always been best friends and comic book lovers. In fact, they have even been working on their own comic book for a while now, working on it inside the Anderson shelter in Harriet's backyard. But Teddy has a secret and Harriet doesn't find out what it is until she receives a letter on 1st August 1940 and learns that her best friend has been evacuated to America. What a blow! Not only that, but he took Harriet's newest Beano comic book with him.

Meanwhile, Harriet is left in London, and although most of the other kids there have been evacuated to the countryside, Harriet is staying home with her mum. Soon, Harriet and Teddy begin corresponding with each other and their letter exchange is how readers learn what is going on in their lives.

Remaining in London means that Harriet must contend with the fear that Hitler is getting ready to invade the England. And that means that he has already begun to heavily boob London, even Buckingham Palace takes a hit. But for Harriet, the scariest is when the Underground shelter she and her mum are in takes a direct hit, and people begin stampeding out of the shelter, scaring her enough that for a while she refuses to shelter in the Underground whenever the air raid sirens go off.

For Teddy, life in Dayton, Ohio with the Mayer family isn't very eventful, but there is plenty to eat and no fear of invasion or bombs. There is also baseball, and while it's not cricket, it's still kind of fun for him. But even though the Mayer family really likes him, Teddy can't help but feel homesick. At first he believed he would be home by Christmas, but when that didn't happen the time stretched out longer and longer, until finally in 1945, he can return home.

The aren't many chapter books written about World War II, so I'm always curious to read one when I find it. I found My Best Friend: The Evacuee to be chock full of factual information and presented in such a way that an 11 year old would experience what is happening around them. Beside that direct hit on the Underground station where Harriet was, readers will learn how Teddy was able to be evacuated to America, and why that program had to be stopped when one of the ships was torpedoed in the Atlantic by a German submarine.

Sally Morgan has really captured the intensity of Harriet's fear and Teddy's homesickness, and has packed this story with historical facts that really make it an interesting work. It is a story that was written to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the start of WWII this year, and it is an excellent work for introducing young readers to this dark period on two different home fronts, without graphic descriptions. I like that Morgan pays homage to the women who did so much for the war effort, include Harriet's Aunt Lucy, who loves puzzles and is clearly working at code breaking at Bletchley, and her sister who may or may not be a land girl, but is definitely working on a farm.

There is lots of back matter, including a WWII timeline, and brief bios of relevant people from history who are mentioned in this book. 

My Best Friend: The Evacuee is an excellent addition to WWII books for young readers.

This book is recommended for 7+
This book was sent to me by the author, Sally Morgan

Monday, April 15, 2019

Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange

This is a novel that is so atmospheric and so spell binding, that I couldn't put it down. It begins with the legend of the Daughters of Stone and the Wyrm, the treacherous sandbank that caused boats to sink. According to the legend, four daughters bargained their souls away for the safe return of their fathers, lost at sea and sunk by the Wyrm in a days-long dense fog. The Wyrm returned their fathers, but the daughters were turned to stone, and now stand in a semi circle on the edge of a cliff in front of a lighthouse overlooking the English Channel.

Petra Zimmermann Smith, 12,  has always imagines that the stones were just like her family - her lighthouse keeper Pa, her German Mutti, her older sister Magda, or Mags, and herself. It's been an almost idyllic life but now World War II has just begun. Soon, there is talk of evacuations, gas masks are being given out and the government is requiring that they paint their beautiful lighthouse green from top to bottom to try to camouflage it from enemy planes. And it doesn't take long for the people of Stonegate village who had always been their friends and neighbors to turn on Pet's family with fear and suspicion because of Mutti being German and, then, sure enough, things begin to take a strange turn.

Pet's idyllic life begins to unravel as a series of disturbing acts of sabotage begin to happen in the village. At home, Mags is acting particularly secretive, disappearing for whole days at a time. And Pet fears that something is up with Mutti, who has begun taking early morning walks alone, and Pa is acting quite secretive and distanced. Pet is fearful that the family bond, once so strong, seems to be eroding before her eyes and she doesn't know why:
"We had always been such a close family, we had always trusted each other, but secrets had started to seep in the gaps between us. And now, like water freezing in the cracked surface of a stone, those secrets were growing colder, harder, starting to force us apart."

Then Mutti, known for her drawing, is classified as an enemy alien, arrested and indefinitely interned "as a matter of national security..." after a package is intercepted containing hand-drawn incriminating maps, charts and records Stonegate village. But when Mutti confesses to being a traitor, even at the risk of a death sentence, Pet begins to question everything she ever believed about her beloved family.

Our Castle by the Sea is definitely not your typical WWII novel, and yet everything is there, dogfights between the RAF and Luftwaffe pilots over the channel, the possible appearance of a German submarine off the Kent coast, the mistreatment and internment of anyone who is German and Italian, the heroic rescue of British and French soldiers from Dunkirk, even some Fifth Columnist and quisling activity, and a setting that is a character in its own right. And as characters go, Pet is hardly what you would expect - afraid of the enemy planes flying over head, living in the shadow of her spirited and determined sister, a girl who prefers the isolation of the lighthouse and her drawing pad and pencils. and who relates to the story of the Daughters of Stone perhaps a little too much.

But what elevates this novel to a thriller is Pet's fascination with the legend of the Daughters of Stone, a legend she relates to a little too much, and her suspicions and the assumptions she makes about her own family. It is a novel where no one is who they appear to be but its hard to know if they are up to good nor something else and Pet, with no one she can trust to turn to, is on her own to figure it all out.

All through Our Castle by the Sea, I kept thinking there was going to be some magical realism because of the high level of suspense wrapped around the legend, but what I got was so much better. Instead of magical realism, Strange uses Pet's sensory feelings to heighten the perception of unreality and other worldliness that pervade her thinking, all the while keeping her in reality.

My only regret about Our Castle by the Sea is that I can't read it again for the first time and once more savor the mystery of it all.

You can download an excellent Teaching Guide for this book courtesy of the publisher, Chicken House.

Our Castle by the Sea will be available in the United States on April 30, 2019

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

Friday, April 5, 2019

Masters of Silence by Kathy Kacer

Sometimes, silence can speak louder than words as this novel about the world-famous mime Marcel Marceau shows.

Late one night siblings Helen, 14, and ten-year-old Henry Rosenthal arrive with their mother at a convent in the south of France, having clandestinely traveled there from their home in Kronberg, not far from Frankfurt, Germany. Their father had been arrested on Kristallnacht, and they have had no news of him for over a year now. Frau Rosenthal could hid with a Catholic family, posing as a servant for safety, but not the children and so they have journeyed to France, to a convent that was taking in Jewish children.

After their mother leaves to return to Germany in the hope of one day being reunited with her husband, Helen and Henry have their names changed to more French sounding names. Their new names are Claire and Andre Rochette. They are expected to assimilate into life at the convent and to be very careful about guarding who they and the other children really are, because as Mère Supérieure tells them "There can be no mistakes here...The safety of every child in this convent - the safety of us all- depends on each one of us." (pg. 37-8)

Fortunately both children speak French fluently, and though she misses her parents terribly, Helen begins to adjust to her new life, making friends with the other girls in her dormitory and a boy named Albert. For the most part, she likes the nuns, especially Sister Cecile but has particular difficulty with Sister Agnes, whom it seems Helen can never please and is given punishments for even the merest of reasons.

Henry, on the other hand, withdraws into silence as soon as his mother leaves, refusing to speak to anyone. He spends his time writing in a small notebook he had been given by Sister Cecile, who said that "maybe if he didn't want to talk, he could use it as a diary and write down his thoughts and feelings." (pg 41-2) The first thing he writes is his real name in big letters followed by a Jewish star, clearly in an attempt not to surrender his identity.

Helen is told that sometimes a clown named Marcel Marceau comes to the convent to entertain the children and they all look forward to his visits. And like Henry, the clown doesn't speak while he is performing his show. When the clown finally does come, Henry is immediately drawn to him and the way he can make himself understood without words. Henry begins staying after the shows, learning some of Marcel's miming mannerisms. A bond forms between them and they are soon able to silently communicate with each other.

But after a disastrous visit to the nearby village, where Helen and Henry are confronted by Nazi soldiers, life becomes increasingly dangerous at the convent. When one of the nuns is arrested, it is decided that the children need to be evacuated to Switzerland and safety, a few at a time. On the night that Helen, Henry, and Albert are scheduled to leave for the Swiss border, Marcel shows up to lead the way. It turns out the the clown is also a member of the French Resistance, who has been guiding people to the border all along by pretending to be a Scoutmaster. But as the Nazi danger grows, the trips are more and more perilous. Will they be successful escaping from France?

Masters of Silence is book 2 in Kacer's Heroes Quartet, the first book of which was The Sound of Freedom. And like Book 1, this is a fictionalized story that has its basis in fact - as a teenager, Marcel Marceau was indeed a member of the French Resistance and helped save Jewish children by bringing them to the Swiss border and providing them with forged papers and identity cards.

Masters of Silence is told in the third person, with points of view alternating between Helen and Henry. While is it is not an action-packed novel in the traditional sense, it is a nail-biting, tension-filled story that demonstrates the dangers and the fears that Jews were subjected to under Nazi domination, as well as the strength of one's sense of who they are, and that Jewish identity may be suppressed for safety's but it can never be destroyed. 

Helen is certainly a sympathetic character but is it Henry who really pulled on my heartstrings. Locked in his silence, angry, afraid, and traumatized, Henry learns how to communicate his feelings without using words, with the help of Marcel, and in the end, using what he has learned, he transforms into a courageous hero.

This is another excellent novel by Kathy Kacer, one that informs readers of another important yet relatively unknown WWII hero. Be sure to read Kacer's biography of Marcel Marceau in the back matter.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC gratefully received from NetGalley and Annick Press

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sunday Funnies #30: Women's History Month

I thought I would end Women's History Month 2019 with some Peanuts comic strips of Lucy paying homage to her grandmother and the work she did in WWII. As always, Charles Schultz was ahead of his time with his Peanuts comic strips.

November 8, 1976
November 9, 1976
November 11, 1976
November 12, 1976

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The American Agent (a Maisie Dobbs Mystery #15) by Jacqueline Winspear

It's September, 1940, and the German Luftwaffe is blitzing bombs down on London nightly. Maisie, who you may recall was a nurse on the battlefields in France during WWI, and her best friend Priscilla Partridge have volunteered to be ambulance drivers, doing what they can night after night to help the injured. One night, a young American journalist, Catherine Saxon, rides along with Maisie and Priscilla. Catherine is writing accounts of the Blitz for Americans and is hoping to become one of "Murrow's Boys" - American reporters based in London, working for Edward R. Murrow on BBC radio.

Unfortunately, the next day, Maisie learns that Catherine Saxon has been murdered and her old friend Robert MacFarlane of Scotland Yard wants Maisie to be part of the investigation to find out who killed her and why. Oh, and he wants Maisie to work with Mark Scott, an American agent attached to the Department of Justice. And yes, if you've been keeping up with Maisie, this is the same Mark Scott with whom she worked and had a bit of a flirtation in Journey to Munich (Maisie Dobbs #12).

The investigation of Catherine Saxon's murder is complicated by a number of things. For one, her father is a wealthy isolationist American senator with whom she never got along and who has cut her off completely for not doing what he wanted her to do - be a wife in an advantageous marriage. And Mark Scott, for all his flirtiness, doesn't really seem interested in solving Catherine Saxon's murder, disappearing and showing up at odd times so that Maisie is left to wonder what he's up to. And, of course, Maisie is still in the midst of trying to adopt her orphaned evacuee Anna, which she would much rather focus on. Anna is still living with Maisie's father and step mother at Chelstone, the family farm, and having meltdowns whenever Maisie needs to return to London. And as if these things aren't bad enough, one night while driving their ambulance, Priscilla is very seriously burned while rescuing some children in a bombed house.

Maisie has a lot of personal stuff to contend with in this novel, but luckily, for all his disappearing during the Catherine Saxon investigation, Mark always reappears just when Maisie needs him to. Could it be that these two are ready to take their previous flirtation to another level? But why can't she discover anything about him? Is he somehow up to no good? What's his connection to Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, also an isolationist and Nazi appeaser? And will her job as an investigator jeopardize her chances of adopting Anna? As Maisie interviews the women in Catherine's life, including her best friend Jennifer Barrington and her husband, is she beginning to look at her own life differently?

Looking at these questions, you can see that this is an intriguing book, and a more personal and introspective one than the last few Maisie Dobbs' novels I've reviewed. In addition, Jacqueline Winspear has really captured just what London was like during the Blitz, with fires all around, lives and homes lost, the smell of fires burning everywhere, buildings sandbagged and barb wired, barrage balloons in the air and "where tension was threaded into the fabric of life" but where "people prided themselves on their ability to carry on as normal." There's even a bit of humor. Whenever the V-formation of Luftwaffe bombers fly over Chelstone, next-door neighbor Mr. Avis "could be seen shaking his fist and shouting at the sky, before aiming his rifle towards the bombers," a gesture nicely summed up by Mark Scott "You know, you've gotta love you Brits."

Winspear includes a Prologue that consists of reports by journalists about London in the days just before and after the Blitz begins on the night of September 7, 1940. This nicely sets the stage for not only Catherine Saxon's murder, but also for what Maisie and all Londoners faced on a nightly basis while carrying on as normally as possible during the day. The inclusion of Edward Murrow and other journalists reporting to Americans about the Blitz, as well as different isolationist politicians, will certainly resonate with today's readers. But in the end, you will be very surprised at 'who done it' and why. I know I was.

The American Agent is definitely my favorite Maisie Dobbs so far and I can't wait for the next adventure.

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

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Sunday Funnies #29: Carrier Pigeons

A pigeon played a much larger roll in I Survived the Battle of D-Day 1944 than I indicated in my review. In fact, carrier pigeons played an important roll in both World War I and World War II. I thought the cartoon below was a nice homage to carrier pigeons. It is a George Wolfe cartoon, but I have unfortunately the actual citation, though I believe it is also from the Saturday Evening Post, just like the one I posted for Women's History Month.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

I Survived the Battle of D-Day, 1944 (I Survived Series #18) by Lauren Tarshis

Lauren Tarshis's I Survived series has introduced young readers to a variety of significant, but scary events that have occurred in both recent and distant history through a young eyewitness protagonist. With the same themes of courage and resilience the protagonist didn't realize they possessed, they become active participants in these events, providing the reader with an exciting fast-paced story and lots of historical background information. In her latest book, Tarshis takes her readers to France's Normandy coast just before and after the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.

Living there in the town of Le Roc, Paul Colbert, 11, has waited and waited for the Allied Forces to come and rescue France from the hands of the Nazis and end the war. After France had fallen to the Nazis in 1940, his father had been arrested and sent to a German prison camp; then his best friend Gerard and his family were arrested by the Nazis because they were Jewish and had disappeared. Later, Paul had seen his favorite teacher, Mr. Leon, being pursued and shot by Nazi soldiers for being in the resistance, and he watched in horror as his hero sank into a river.

But just as he is beginning to lose hope, it's Paul's turn to be a hero when he discovers an American paratrooper caught in a tree and injured. Paul knows that helping this man is dangerous if the Nazis catch him, especially with Nazis soldiers nearby looking for the paratrooper. But despite his fear, Paul climbs the tree and frees the American, whose name he learns is Sergeant Victor Lopez. But now, the wounded Victor needs a safe place to hide and Paul knows just where to take him. The old, crumbling Castle Le Roc isn't a place anyone wants to be in, what with the all the stories that told about it, and Paul knows how to get there so the Nazis don't discover them. So, imagine Paul's surprise when they are greeted at the castle by a man pointing a rifle at them.

Little does Paul realize that he has stumbled into a resistance hideout and that his life is about to change. Not only does he discover Mr. Leon is still alive and working for the resistance, but so is his mother. At the moment, resistance fighters all over France are waiting for the code that will let them know the D-Day invasion, what Mr. Leon called "the largest invasion by sea in the history of the world," is happening. And now even Paul has a part to play in it.

I Survived the Battle of D-Day, 1944 was written to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 2019. It is the 18th novel in the I Survived series and like the 17 that came before it, it is an exciting novel that will not let readers down. And while the main focus is on the anticipated Allied invasion, the novel also introduces young readers to the important work of the French resistance and the dangers involved in that kind of work.

Some of the descriptions of Nazi cruelty toward their enemies, and some of the scenes of the Normandy coast during the invasion are a little more graphic than most books written for this age group, though none of it is gratuitous. But, as with all of the novels I've read in the I Survived series, the writing is excellent and completely accessible and there is lots of kid appeal. Paul is a sympathetic character, and readers will no doubt relate to his fears, but also cheer his bravery.

This is a serious story told about a dangerous time, but Tarshis includes some lightheartedness in the form of Ellie, the carrier pigeon who accompanied Victor to France and whose job it was to fly back to England and let them know he had arrived safely. But Ellie isn't about to abandon Victor, even after he is at Castle Le Roc. Good thing, she turns out to be a lifesaver and a real hero, too. 

Tarshis has included a lot of back matter for curious kids, including a letter from the author to her readers about writing this book, answers to some questions about D-Day, and other points of interest to young readers, an overview of the vehicles used for the invasion (which I also found very informative), a Timeline, a list of books for Further Reading and a Selected Bibliography.

I Survived the Battle of D-Day, 1944 is a solid edition to the I Survived series, and is sure to appeal to kids who like exciting stories, historical fiction and/or WWII novels.

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

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Fish for Jimmy: Inspired by One Family's Experience in a Japanese American Internment Camp written and illustrated by Katie Yamasaki

When people of Japanese descent were rounded up and sent to live in internment camps shortly after the United States entered World War II, they found themselves eating a very different diet than the fresh fish, vegetables, and fruit that had been available when they had lived near the Pacific Ocean. Jimmy and his older brother Taro are no exception to enjoying fresh food, after all their parents own a Farmer's Market.

But early in December, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, their father is taken away by three men in the FBI. The family can no longer live in their home and run their Farmer's Market, and Jimmy, Taro and their mother find themselves "forced to live in tiny barracks surrounded by guards." Confused about what is happening, Jimmy refuses to eat the unfamiliar food he is served.

And no matter how much they try to coax him, no one can get Jimmy to eat. Although everyone is worried about him, Jimmy just doesn't understand why his family isn't living in their home near the ocean. Or why they can't eat his mother's good rice and noodles, or the fresh vegetables and fish he loves so much? Soon, Jimmy even stops playing with the other kids.

One night, Taro, worried about Jimmy and feeling responsible for taking care of him in their father's absence, makes a big decision. Taking a borrowed pair of garden shears, he quietly leaves the barrack, find a place in the fence where the guards can't see him and clips a hole he can crawl through.

Finding a mountain stream, Taro waits until he feels a fish hitting against his leg, then quickly grabs fish after fish, wrapping them in his mother's scarf. And in the morning, there is fish for Jimmy, who finally eats to his mother and Taro's relief.

In her end note, author Katie Yamasaki writes that Fish for Jimmy is based on a true story from her family's history. Her great-grandfather was arrested by the FBI just as Taro and Jimmy's father had been, though it was her grandfather's cousin who snuck out of the camp to find fish for his young son. I think that by putting the stories together, Yamasaki is able to highlight the impact that interning innocent people, particularly children, based solely on their ethnicity through Jimmy's depression and his refusal to eat and works to make this a very accessible story for young readers. Sadly, it made me think about all the Jimmys who found themselves in these camps and who were too young to understand what was happening.

The illustrations, done with acrylic paint, vividly capture the emotions each person is feeling. The reader sees Jimmy going from a happy little boy to a depressed child and finally as a smiling kid after having a taste of home again. The danger Taro faced sneaking out to catch the fish is aptly shown in a spread with the barbed wire fence in the foreground and guards with big guns in the background, and behind that, readers can see Taro's searching for the right spot in the fence to cut through. It is a wonderful, dynamic, rather sophisticated image, and Yamasaki the muralist painter is really present in it.

Fish for Jimmy is an excellent choice for introducing the history of the internment of Japanese Americans to young readers and it will definitely resonate with things happening in today's world for them.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was borrowed from the Bank Street School Library

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet

It's 1941 and Augusta "Gusta" Hoopes Neubronner, 11, is on a bus traveling with her French horn from New York City to Springdale, Maine by herself. She wasn't always by herself, but she had to leave her parents for financial reasons and go to live with her grandmother in Maine. Gusta's mother had remained in NYC working. Her German-born father had traveled with her until he had to abruptly get off the bus in Portland, Maine when two men boarded looking for him. Gusta's father is a union organizer, an accused communist, and therefore a wanted man.

To Gusta's surprise, her grandmother, Clementine Hoopes, and her Aunt Marion Hoopes run a small orphanage in their house and were not expecting her. Nevertheless, after reading the letter Gusta's mother sent with her, they welcome her into the house and pretty soon she is assimilated into their daily routine. She quickly becomes friend's with Josie, an orphan already in high school, and her cousin Bess, who lives nearby. Gusta settles in at school as well, but when it is discovered how really nearsighted she is, she is sent to an oculist, Mr. Bertmann, a German immigrant, to have her eyes tested and get a pair of glasses. To pay for them, Gusta will work in his shop a few afternoons a week dusting, helping with his accounts, and taking care of his beloved carrier pigeons.

Gusta also loves playing her French horn, but her grandmother doesn't see the value of music and forbids her to practice at home. Gusta's Aunt Marion has always won a blue ribbon for her jam at the county fair, something her grandmother brags about often. Josie suggests the three friends form a band and enter the Blue-Ribbon Band competition at the county fair next summer, hoping to win and change Gusta's grandmother's mind about music, it is an idea met with enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, Josie introduces Gusta to the high school music teacher, Miss Kendall. Miss Kendall is impressed enough with her playing to let Gusta join the high school orchestra. Miss Kendall also takes a real interest in Gusta's French horn, recognizing its value immediately. She is also the sister of Fred Kendall, owner of Kendall Mills, a man who treats the Hoopes women with contempt.

Gusta, who knows something about union organizing, decides to help her Uncle Charlie. He had been injured in at work accident at Kendall Mills and is not longer able to work unless he has an operation the family can't afford. Gusta invites a labor organizer to Springdale to organize the Kendall family's factory and hopefully get some compensation for Uncle Charlie.

And then there is the war in Europe. Though the United States is still not in the war yet, patriotism is running high in Springdale. A new airfield is about to open and the Springdale Aviation Committee is sponsoring a contest for the best patriotic essay on the theme "A Vision of American on High." And snooty classmate Molly Gowen is starting a Real Americans Club with the help of the Women's Patriotic Society of Springdale and she's made it clear that Gusta is not qualified to join because of her German father. Nor does all this misplaced patriotism bode well for Mr. Bertmann and his carrier pigeons, as you can imagine.

Oh yes, there is also a magic wish that threads through this story, an belief that Gusta holds on to tightly in her new living situation.

I had a little trouble getting into The Orphan Band of Springdale at first, but once I did, I couldn't put it down. And I won't kid you, this is a big book - 448 pages long - and I know it looks like there's a lot is going on in it, and that's probably because a lot is going on. But eventually it all comes together and long hidden truths are exposed, including a family secret in the Hoopes household that will leave you gobsmacked.

Gusta is a very likable character, well developed and with an wonderful internal dialogue that really lets her personality shine through. She is also a girl with a well-developed moral compass, thanks to her parents, and alway just wants to do the right thing. And it is through her goodness that the hidden secrets and nativist patriotic agendas are ultimately exposed and truth is illuminated. Hence, Gusta's new glasses serve as a metaphor for events in the novel or as her father described it "the way the sun catches things out against the darkness of a coming storm: "the clear light of trouble." (pg 29)

The Orphan Band of Springdale is a thoroughly satisfying novel, with a kind of comforting heartwarming old fashioned sensibility as it explores themes of family, truth, misplaced patriotism, otherness, and, finally, forgiveness. The book I had trouble getting into turned out to be just that book I wanted to read.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing me with a copy of this book.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII by Mary Cronk Farrell

I've just reread Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis, a novel about one woman who had enlisted in the Women's Army Corps during WWII and was part of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. I've always thought that the author had really captured the difficulties of being an African American woman in the armed services at that time. And now, Mary Cronk Farrell has written a book that explores these difficulties in depth and introduces readers to some of the courageous African American women who served their country with determination, dignity and patriotism.

Farrell begins with the creation of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps in May 1942. Though women in the WAAC were not considered to be military personnel and so they had no rank, no entitlements for dependents, and received less pay than men in the military, women signed up anyway, wanting to do their patriotic duty for their country. Thanks to the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt and Civil Rights leader Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, black women were also allowed to join and train for positions of rank, and a number of women were recruited from different colleges around the country for officer training.

After training, African American women like Lieutenant Charity Adams were assigned a command of enlisted women of color ready to begin basic training. These were women who wanted to serve their country, but they also "saw the army as an opportunity to better their life, find adventure, or see the world." (pg. 49)
Major Charity Adams
What officers and enlisted black women hadn't really counted on was the army's policy of segregation. While discrimination wasn't tolerated, the army continued the practice of separating black and white soldiers under the idea of separate but equal. But, as Farrell shows, it was definitely separate, but it wasn't equal. For example, after basic training, black WAACs sent to southern bases were ordered to do menial tasks, such are cleaning toilets, scrubbing floors, and stacking beds. If they objected, they were given even more grunt work to do, such as washing the walls in the laundry, and doing the laundry - all jobs that had not been approved for WAACs to do. Sometimes, there was even talk of a court-martial for such insubordination. What is interesting is that Farrell looks at the responses of the African American women when they were faced with Jim Crow laws, prejudice, segregation, and ordered to do menial tasks, interviewing several of the women who served and were still living while she was writing this book.

A good potion of the book is devoted the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion (aka the Six Triple Eight), the only female African American battalion to serve overseas and under the leadership of Major Charity Adams. In February 1945, more than 800 members in the 6888th were sent to Birmingham, England to sort through "six airplane hangars, piled to the ceiling with bags of mail," letters and packages that had been piling up for months (pg. 4) These WACs* knew it was important work, soldiers needed their mail from home and the women worked under the slogan "no mail, low morale." After their mission in England was finished, the 6888th moved on to Paris, France.
The 6888th arriving in England
Standing Up Against Hate is a book about service and honor that will draw in young readers and keep them. It is informative and reader accessible, with personal accounts that bring the history of African American women serving in the army vividly to life. Complimenting and supporting these accounts are copious archival photographs, many of which include the women interviewed.

If you've ever read a book by Mary Cronk Farrell, you know that she is a careful researcher, and talented craftswoman at telling a true story. Though much in this book is a positive look at the women and their accomplishments, it is also concerned with institutionalized racism and discrimination that faced both black men and women in the armed services during WWII. Nor, does Farrell does not shy away from describing some of the degrading treatment personally directed by individual women - not just by southern white male officers, but by fellow white WACS, and civilians, male and female, while riding buses and trains, called names and at times, badly beaten. Yet, they continued to serve with dignity.

Did the WAC provide the hoped for opportunity to better their life, find adventure, or see the world? You be the judge!

Farrell supplements her text with an abundance of photos and newspaper articles, many of which I had seen before. Back matter includes an Author's Note, a Glossary, a Time Line, Notes, and a Select Bibliography.

There is a teaching guide available on the author's website for this outstanding book.

Standing Up Against Hate is a book I couldn't put down and I can't recommend it highly enough for both middle and high school age readers. There is just so much to learn from it. Enhance your readers experience by pairing this with Mare's War.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an ARC sent to me by the published, Abrams BFYR

*The Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) became the Women's Army Corps (WAC) on July 1, 1943 when it was changed to active duty status.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Searching for Lottie by Susan L. Ross

When seventh-grader Charlotte "Charlie" Roth is given a family tree project to do for school, she decides to try to find out what happened to her great aunt and namesake, Charlotte "Lottie" Kulka, older sister to Charlie's Nana Rose. The family has always assumed that Lottie had perished in the Holocaust, but now Charlie wants to learn more about her and maybe even discover what really happened to her. Lottie had been a talented violinist living with her family in Vienna, and had been sent to Budapest, Hungary to study music there just before the Nazis annexed Austria. Lottie's younger sister Rose and mother survived the incoming Nazis by fleeing Vienna after their father and husband was arrested. He to was never heard from again.

Nana Rose is more than happy to help Charlie, and sends her an old diary of Lottie's that she had managed to save. The only problem is that it is looks like it is written in German, but when a friend's grandmother tries to read it for Charlie, she tells her it is a music journal that includes all the people she went to concerts with and that it is not only written in German, but in Hungarian, too. Two names stand out - one is Nathan Kulka and the other is Johann Schmidt.

Using mementos, old photos, letters, Lottie's journal, and Nana Rose's scrapbooks and memories, Lottie slowly begins to form a picture of who Lottie was, but she is not closer to finding out what happened to her. Nana Rose knows who Nathan Kulka was, but never found him, either. The son of a dentist, she thought maybe he might also be a dentist and living in Connecticut after the war, but she had never followed up on it. Could it be that he was indeed a long lost relative who might be able to shed some light on Lottie's fate?

Like her namesake, Charlie is also a talented violinist and is hoping to be named the school's orchestra concertmaster, an honor usually reserved for 8th graders. In between research, school, family life, and thinking about her crush, Charlie spends as much time as possible practicing for her audition. When the results come in, Charlie is surprised to learn that there is a boy who is crushing on her.

Searching for Lottie is a novel based on Susan Ross's family history, which you can read more about on her website Here and in her Author's Note at the end of the book. I thought that Charlie's quest to discover what happened to Lottie, her life as a middle schooler, and her aspiration to become concertmaster were nicely intertwined in this short novel. I loved seeing Charlie's determination even in the face of disappointment, her courage in approaching strangers, not all of them friendly, to find out more about Lottie, and her patience with her grandmother, who is clearly the beginning stages of Alzheimer's. Nana Rose's fading memory highlights how imperative it has become to record stories regarding the Holocaust that might otherwise be lost forever, especially as more and more witnesses to it pass away. 

One thing I was surprised by is that Nana Rose never tried to get in touch with the person in Connecticut she thought could be Nathan Kulka, despite her great love for her missing sister. I know she said it was too painful, but still, Kulka isn't a common name and she could have returned to this later when she had some distance from the past.

Still, I thought this was an interesting novel, and despite one or two terribly convenient coincidences, one I would recommend. Ross does manage to let her readers know that the trauma of the Holocaust is real and deep, but without being overly graphic, making this a good book for kids in the 4th, 5th, 6th grades who may just be learning about WWII.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was an EARC received from the publisher, Holiday House

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Golden Tresses of the Dead (a Flavia de Luce Mystery #10) by Alan Bradley

It's autumn 1952, and although Flavia de Luce and her sisters, Feely (Ophelia) and Daffy (Daphne) are still distraught over the loss of their father less than a year ago, the Buckshaw household is getting ready for Feely's marriage to Dieter. Dieter, you may remember, was a former prisoner of war, a German pilot shot down over England by RAF pilot Reggie Mould. Now, Reggie is Dieter's best man at his nuptials.

All goes well at the wedding until Feely makes the first cut of her wedding cake, and discovers a severed human finger where the slice used to be. Feely's subsequent hysterics naturally gives Flavia a chance to wrap the finger in a napkin and whisk it away to her laboratory upstairs, where she is soon joined by Dogger, who had previously been her father's valet and loyal family's servant. You may recall that at the end of Book #9, The Grave's a Fine and Private PlaceFlavia and Dogger had gone professional, establishing Arthur W. Dogger & Associates, Discreet Investigations. Needless to say, they immediately begin investigating the finger and lose no time in identifying it as belonging to a famous guitarist, Mme. Adriana Castelnuovo.

Before they get too far with the mystery of how Mme. Castelnuovo's severed finger ended up in Feely's wedding cake, they are hired by a Mrs. Anastasia Prill. Mrs. Prill believes that several letters of a delicate nature have been stolen from her home. Her father, Dr. Augustus Brocken had been a homeopathic practitioner and the developer of Brocken's Balsamic Electuary, a miracle cure all balm, which made him oodles of money. Now, though, the elderly Dr. Brocken has been living in an unresponsive state in Gollingford Abbey, a very expensive private hospital. But no sooner do they begin piecing together the clues to the missing letters then Mrs. Prill is found dead in her home, a suspicious cup of coffee nearby.

In the middle of all this, Flavia's friend and wife of the vicar, Cynthia Richardson, asks if two missionaries from Africa, Miss Doris Pursemaker and Miss Ardella Stonebrook, can stay at Buckshaw for a while, a request to which Flavia grudging agrees. It doesn't take long for Flavia and Dogger to wonder if the severed finger, the Brocken family's intrigues and the two missionaries are somehow connected to each other.

Flavia, who has been acutely feeling Feely's departure from Buckshaw, "Feely, with whom I had been engaged in an eternal joust since the day of my birth; Feely whom I always loved; Feely whom I sometimes hated" (pg 32), stoically throws herself into investigating these new mysteries as a way of avoiding this new loss in her life.

And Bradley writes this novel with the same zeal with which he has always approached his Flavia novels. And now he has given Flavia a foil in the form of Undine, her younger orphaned cousin now living in Buckshaw. Undine has always felt like an intruder there, treated more like an annoyance than someone who might have some good detection ideas, and she has been trying to prove herself to Flavia the whole time she has been living in Buckshaw. Will she ever get Flavia's respect?

Bradley has a way of incorporating interesting bits of trivia into his novels and this one is no different. I found the idea of the London Necropolis Company fascinating and I suspect fans of Flavia will too. And riding the same rails from Waterloo Station to Brookwood that this one famous funeral train traveled on is the first official act of Arthur W. Dogger & Associates and seems just so absolutely appropriate.

The Golden Tresses of the Dead is as delightful to read as all the previous books. It is supposed to be the last Flavia de Luce novel, but boy, it sure doesn't feel that way and let's hope it isn't.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book is an EARC received from NetGalley

Sunday, February 17, 2019

MMGM: The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA by Brenda Woods

It's the summer of 1946 and in Birdsong, South Carolina, Gabriel Haberlin has just tuned 12 and received a brand new Schwinn Autocycle Deluxe for his birthday. Excited to test it out and show his friend Patrick, Gabe sets off not paying too much attention to a stoplight ahead of him that has just turned red, and it's too late for him to swerve out of the way of an oncoming car. Lucky for Gabe, someone pushes him out of way just in time.

That someone is Meriwether Hunter, a black man looking for work. Gabe, so grateful to him not just for saving his life, but for fixing his mangled bike on the spot, convinces his father, owner of a garage that is listed in The Negro Motorist Green Book, to give Meriwether a job fixing cars. It seems Meriwether is a genius at fixing things. The only problem is that the other mechanic, Lucas Shaw, really doesn't like black people and rumor has it that he either belongs to the Ku Klux Klan or at least has friends who belong.

Gabe's mother has always thought of Birdsong as a "peaceful, pretty place" but that's because the Haberlins are white. For the black people living on "The Other Side," Birdsong is a segregated, potentially dangerous place, as Gabe discovers when he befriends Meriwether. And as they spend more time together, Gabe begins to look around him and see just how life really is for those living on The Other Side: his school so much better than the school the black children go to, he has access to the public library, while Meriwether's daughter Abigail, an avid reader at 10, can only use the makeshift library in her church, and Gabe begins to notice the large number of signs everywhere saying Whites Only, and the way white people refer to African American adult men as "boy" or "uncle" and women as "auntie," including his friend Patrick.

But a mystery surrounds just how Meriwether learned his excellent mechanical skills fixing cars, and why he refuses to answer when asked about it. When Gabe returns from Charleston after attending a July 4th parade honoring local servicemen who fought in WWII, including Gabe's Uncle Earl who was at the Battle of the Bulge, Meriwether's truth comes out. He, too, had fought in WWII as part of the all-black 761st Tank Battalion a/k/a the Black Panthers, had also been at the Battle of the Bulge, and had proven himself as a great mechanic throughout his service. Gabe learns not only are there no parades for African American veterans who served honorably in the war, in the south, they are also being advised not to let people know about their service so as not to bring harm to themselves or their family.

Everything comes to a head when a mysterious package shows up on Meriwether's doorstep putting the family in grave danger.

As I started reading, I thought it was interesting that Brenda Woods wrote this from a white boy's point of view. But as I kept reading, I realized that this story couldn't be told any other way. By looking at the injustice and inequality that African American were subjected to in the Jim Crow south through Gabe's awakening eyes, Woods was able to create a richly layered story.

Despite growing up in a home where he was taught to "treat all folks, regardless of color, with courtesy and respect. And be as good a person as you can be" (pg 50), Gabe's friendship with Meriwether that summer of 1946 is a real coming of age summer where the truth of injustice and inequality becomes an undeniable reality to him.

And through Gabe, Meriwether's story becomes all the more poignant and, for the reader, all the more informative. For example, the fact that Uncle Earl participates in a big parade celebrating the white veterans makes the lack of a parade for black veterans that much more painful for Meriwether. It really highlights how during the war American lives were in the same danger as the white soldiers, that they were fighting every bit as hard as them and that many fell in action as well, and yet they received not honors when they returned home accorded white soldiers, only threats to their lives.

Meriwether Hunter's story really shows how the war may have ended for the world, but another fight, the fight for justice and equality, continued for African American veterans.

Woods has written a novel that is both serious and often amusing, especially when Gabe gets together with his camera toting, slang using cousin Tink. And to underscore his coming of age, his crushes on a local girl and on Tink's liberal neighbor from NYC. I loved Meriwether's daughter Abigail, who was not afraid to speak her mind and I know in my heart of hearts that if these were real people, the future Gabe and Abigail would be out there in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement fighting for change.

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

You can read an interesting article by Brenda Woods about The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA HERE

And if you would like more information about the treatment of African American veterans after WWII, the following may be helpful:

"More Likely to be Attacked Than Honored": Changing the Way We Remember Black Soldiers by Douglas Walter Bristol, Jr.,

The Tragic, Forgotten History of Black Veterans by Peter C. Baker,

Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans from the Equal Justice Initiative

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

Sunday, February 10, 2019

#MMGM: How I Became a Spy: A Mystery of WWII London by Deborah Hopkinson

It's 1944, American servicemen have arrived in London and everyone is talking about the pending invasion of France to break the Nazi stronghold in Europe and end Hitler's reign. London is being bombed once again by the Germans, and for Bertie Bradshaw, 13, and his rescue dog Little Roo, it means finally being old enough to become a messenger for the Civil Defense post in his neighborhood.

One night, as the air raid sirens begin, Bertie bumps into an American girl in a blue coat about his age, who drops a little red notebook. Bertie picks it up to return, but the girl has already run off and so has Little Roo, down a different street and straight to a unconscious woman laying on the sidewalk. Determining that she isn't a bomb victim, Bertie reports the incident to his Civil Defense post, but when they return to the spot where the women was laying, she is nowhere in sight. What could have happened to this mysterious lady?

Back home, Bertie pulls out the red notebook to see if he could find the owner's name. Instead, he finds notes made by someone in training with the SOE (Special Operations Executive) to become a spy. Fascinated by what has been written, Bertie keeps reading until suddenly the writer begins using random letters that just look like gibberish. Thinking it might be a cipher, Bertie decides to talk to his best friend David, a German Jewish boy who had come to London in 1939 on the Kindertransport, and is a Sherlock Holmes fan who also happens knows all about ciphers.

The next day, a Saturday, Bertie and Little Roo head over to where most of the Americans are staying hoping to find the girl in the blue coat. Realizing it was a long shot, the two begin walking when Bertie notices that he is being following by a man. Dodging the man, Bertie decides to follow him instead and is led right to Baker Street, to a place called the Inter-Services Research Bureau. Thinking this might just be the SOE offices he read about in the notebook, there's no time to investigate what it's all about because suddenly his arm was grabbed by none other than the American girl in the blue coat, demanding he return the red notebook immediately. But why? A 13-year-old girl can't be training to become a spy, can she? But how is the notebook connected to this American girl named Eleanor Shea?

Right from the start there's a lot going on in this exciting mystery/adventure novel. It turns out that Eleanor knows that the notebook belongs to Violette Romy, a former French tutor of hers. David is able to help with some of the cipher in the notebook, but not all of it. As secrets about the impending top secret invasion and the French Resistance are revealed to the three friends, they also discover a series of double crosses and traitors putting both Violette's life and the liberation of Europe from the Nazis in jeopardy.

But that still leaves a question about the identity of the unconscious lady and the man following Bertie. Mystery abounds.

I loved reading How I Became a Spy. Not only is it full of historical references, but for added interest and authenticity, Hopkinson has also peopled it with some real, if not necessarily, familiar people, such as General Dwight Eisenhower, Leo Marks, a SOE code maker, and she modeled the character of Warden Ita, of the Civil Defense after the real air-raid warden E. Ita Ekpenyon, who was born in Nigeria. The story is narrated by Bertie, who is a lively character despite living with the memory of his paralyzing fear during the Blitz that caused injury to his older brother, Will and who alway feels like he has disappointed his father.

The novel takes place over the course of one week, beginning on Friday, February 18, 1944 and ending on Thursday, February 24, 1944, plus an Epilogue dated Sunday, July 2, 1944. The one week perimeter adds to the excitement and tension of needing to decode the pages written in cipher and then getting the information into the hands of the right people.

The bombing of London by the Luftwaffe in 1944, often referred to as the "Baby Blitz" isn't generally the setting for historical fiction, let alone that written for middle graders, making this a great addition to the body of home front literature.

One of my favorite things about How I Became a Spy is that Hopkinson has included four different ciphers scattered throughout the book, allowing readers to learn about some of the different kinds of ciphers they work alone with Bertie, David, and Eleanor. There is a Simple Substitution Cipher, a Caesar Cipher, a Atbash Cipher, and a Mixed-Alphabet Cipher. And at one point, they make and use a Cipher Wheel. I really liked this hands on activity for kids to try.

How I Became a Spy is an engaging historical fiction novel with engaging characters that will surely have wide-spread appeal. I can't recommend it highly enough.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was provided to me by the author

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

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

World War II: From the Rise of the Nazi Party to the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb (an Inquire & Investigate Book) by Diane C. Taylor, illustrated by Sam Carbaugh

The history of WWII is so big and so complicated, with roots going back to WWI, that it can sometimes (understandably) overwhelm students. Sure, they may like to read novels set in WWII, but they are usually about how main characters faced and met different kinds of challenges, which is great but they don't really give kids the whole picture of what this war was about.

So, how does a teacher, whether in the classroom or home schooling, help their young students understand how and why the world found itself at war again just 20 years after the "war to end all wars" had ended?

To answer that question, Diane Taylor goes back to World War I. In Chapter One, The First World War, Taylor gives a brief but detailed history of the causes for that the war, looking at the early alliances European countries formed as a way of avoiding conflicts and their lingering distrust of one another, especially Germany, so that by 1914, they were all primed for a war that just needed a spark. That spark came when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie of Austria were assassinated 1914. Taylor then brings the reader through the war, why the United States was pulled into it into the conflict, and the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the war.

Chapter Two, Hitler's Rise to Power, traces the rise of Adolf Hitler beginning with the economic factors that made it possible. The end of WWI and the reparations Germany was required to pay to the Allies helped bring about severe inflation, and that together with Hitler's National Socialist party, his anti-Semitic agenda and his desire to make Germany great again appealed to many Germans. It was just a matter of time until Hitler found a way to seize power and become Chancellor of Germany,

Chapter 3, The War in Europe, looks at the war in Europe, beginning with Germany's invasion of Poland, followed by the invasion of other European countries in Hitler's quest for more and more Lebensraum (living space) for German colonization. It also covers the Battle of Britain a/k/a the Blitz, Hitler's attempt to invade Russia and the beginning of the Holocaust.

Chapter 4, The Bombing of Pearl Harbor, details the U.S. entry into WWII, after a sneak attack of the American navy fleet in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, the U.S. response declaring war on Japan, and its ally Germany, home front fears of Japanese loyalty, and America's decision to open up concentration camps for Japanese Americans living on the West Coast, and the role of minorities in the still segregated armed services.

Chapter 5, War in the Pacific and Asia, covers the beginning of the war in the Pacific, America's unpreparedness against the strongly militarized Japanese, the capture of Americans and the Bataan Death March, the Japanese practice of death before dishonor, and the use of incendiary bombs against Japan, as well as the building of the Burma Road, needed to help supply China with essentials. The war in the Pacific was a very bloody war, yet most people on the home front were more focused on the war in Europe, and the reasons why are also looked at.

Chapter 6, War's End, looked at the factors that finally brought WWII to an end, beginning with the African and Italian Campaigns, and the invasion of Normandy or D-Day, the liberation of Europe and finally the liberation of Hitler's concentration and death camps, followed by the use of the atom bomb and the end of war in the Pacific.

Chapter 7, Legacies of World War II, focuses on the many stateless people who wandered Europe after the fighting stopped, having no place to call home, the birth of Israel, the Nuremberg trials of Nazis for crimes against humanity, and the new role of the United Nations and eventually the establishment of the European Union.

Why is World War II: From the Rise of the Nazi Party to the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb such a stand out book for teaching upper middle grade and high school students about WWII? Like all the books in the Inquire & Investigate series, this is an interactive text that gives enough information about each topic, designed to get kids to explore more in depth and to help them understand the causes, the aftermath, and consequences of a war of global magnitude. Along with photographs and maps, each chapter has sidebars with additional information and vocabulary labs, key questions, and prompts for more exploration. There are also pages with projects about different aspects of the war to inquire and investigate:

Teachers can also download a useful Classroom Guide to use with this book, courtesy of the publisher, Nomad Press.

Pair this this with The Holocaust: Racism and Genocide in World War II by Carla Mooney and Great World War II Projects You Can Build Yourself Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt for an in-depth study of WWII.

If you are a teacher or just interested in WWII history, I can't recommend these books highly enough.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was provided by the publisher, Nomad Press