Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy

In January 1938, Juttta Salzberg, an 11-year-old Jewish girl living in Hamburg, Germany with her family, received a new blank Poesiealbum, in which her friends and relatives could write their comments, thoughts, poems, advice, and wishes for Jutta. Along with their handwritten entries, they often included small stickers or hand drawn illustrations. Posiealbums were quite popular at the time. 

In this slim. reissued book, author and Jutta's daughter, Debbie Levy, has poignantly recreated her mother's memories of living in Nazi Germany in the year 1938. Each chapter begins with a page from Jutta's original Poesiealbum, written in German with an added English translation. This is followed by a free verse poem written by Levy. Each verse is written in her mother's voice as a young girl and really captures what was happening and what Jutta thought about what she was witnessing and experiencing within her family, her friends, and Germany itself.

By 1938, Jews in Germany already feeling the force of Nazi power, losing basic rights and freedoms because of changing laws designed to limit Jewish lives more and more. Only wanting to have a somewhat normal childhood, the entries in Jutta's Poesiealbum and the accompanying poems document just how worried by and scared of the Nazis and their futures these children were:

"Yes, I am eleven-and-three-quarters years old.
I used to worry about my grades
and having to eat stuffed cabbage.
But now I wonder,
what will become of us?
What will become of me?

As persecution and roundups being to increase along with Nazi cruelties, the Salzberg family decides that it is time to emigrate to the United States with the help of relatives already living there. But getting Nazi permission to leave the country isn't easy and acquiring the necessary visas from the American consulate is just as difficult. Finally, out of desperation, Jutta's father takes a drastic step in front of his family and the consul. Standing at the window in the consul's office, he tells him:

"that if he must wait longer for visas,
he might as well jump out the window.
'I might as well jump,'
Father tells the man,
'because the Nazis will be
murdering me soon anyway.'"

Finally, with approved visas, the Salzbergs are able to leave Germany, leaving behind family, friends, possessions, and most of their money. Yet, even their train trip to Paris is fraught with tension and fear until they reach the French border. Imagine the mixed emotions they must have felt when they discovered that their arrival in France on November 11, 1938 is the same day as the Kristallnacht pogrom.

The Year of Goodbyes a small book, yet it is very compelling look at what was happening in Nazi Germany through the eyes of a young victim/witness. It is particularly interesting to read what Jutta's friends wrote in the book, thoughts that cover a broad range of fears and hopes. Debbie Levy researched the fate of the family and friends left behind, and you can read about them in her Afterward. Many did not survive the Holocaust, but some did and Jutta was able to reconnect with some of these friends later in her life.

Jutta Salzberg and her daughter Debbie Levy in 2010
Sadly, Jutta passes away on September 4, 2013.

Besides the Afterward, back matter includes a collection of photos of Jutta, her family and friends, a Time Line, a Note on Sources used, and a Selected Bibliography.

You can find a very useful Discussion Guide for The Year of Goodbyes, provided by the publisher, HERE

Here is the book trailer for the original edition of The Year of Goodbyes, still relevant for this edition:

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

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sunday Funnies #33: The World War I Flying Ace and the Christmas Eve Truce

This is a strip that ran in the Sunday Funnies on December 24, 1967. Without directly saying it, it's clear that the strip refers to the Christmas Eve Truce in 1914, the first year of the war.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Keep Calm and Carry On, Children by Sharon K. Mayhew

It's September 7, 1940 and the sound of the air raid sirens has just begun throughout London. For Joyce Munsey, 11, and her younger sister Gina, 6, that means getting out of their beds and heading out to the backyard and the makeshift, shelter that their dad had dug there, as bombs begin to fall. By September 10th, after witnessing the destruction the bombs had brought into their lives and neighborhood, and after the loss of two neighbors, Joyce's parent decide it time for their daughters to join the next trainload of school children being evacuated to the countryside. On September 11, 1940, Joyce and Gina, unable to even wash up after the previous night's bombing, board a train at Euston Station heading who knows where with a number of other children.

On the journey, the two sisters meet Sam Purdy, 11, and Molly Neal, 12, and after hours and hours of riding, the four of them disembark in a place called Leek. As people look over the evacuees, Sam is chosen quickly by an elderly man who claims to need someone who can help him now that his boys are away fighting. Molly is next, chosen by an elderly lady who likes her humor and cheekiness. And just as Joyce and Gina begin getting worried they would be left behind, a woman and her daughter Phyllis Woods, 10, decide to take in the sisters.

Joyce and Gina's placement works out very nicely, and Phyllis proves to be an instant friend. After a few days, they decide to call on Sam and Molly, to see if they can come out and play for a while. But when they find out he is living with a Mr. Badderly, Phyllis recognizes the name and tells Joyce he isn't a very nice person.

Sure enough, he has Sam working hard in his victory garden and won't let him leave until Joyce, Phyllis, and later Molly help Sam finish his chores. When they finally get away from Mr. Badderly, Sam tells them how badly he is being treated, even forced to sleep in the cellar. But when Sam, Molly, Joyce, and Phyllis discover a hut full of items that are now being rationed, they realize these are things being sold on the black market. I think no one will be surprised to discover who the ringleader of the black marketeers is. But what can a group a kids do about these ruthless crooks?

Keep Calm and Carry On, Children is an interesting story, with lots of everyday details about the early days of the Blitz, and the fear, worry, and trepidation that children must have felt at being sent to strangers in the countryside and away from their family. Many of the evacuees in the book arrived in the countryside in dirty clothes and not have washed, because as the bombing in London increased, the water and gas lines were damaged. That is something I never encountered in a WWII novel about evacuees before. Also, it was so surprising to learn that Joyce and Gina had never used a toothbrush until living with the Woods family. I wonder how common that might have been. The Munsey family was poor in London, and at times, Joyce feels so embarrassment because of it, but was never made to feel bad by Phyllis or her mother.

It took some time to get to the part about the black market and Mr. Badderly's mistreatment of Sam, which sadly really did happen to some of evacuees. I think some of the early details could have been edited out without spoiling the story. Also there were mistakes in the ARC I read, which will hopefully be fixed in the final copy, but it was nothing that would ruin the basic story.

Mayhew's story was inspired by her grandfather's family, when his parents took in two evacuees from London during the war. And one final thing: though she used the slogan in her title, to her credit, Mayhew didn't use it in the story. Keep Calm and Carry On was only to be used in case of invasion, and that never happened.

Keep Calm and Carry On, Children is a novel that should interest young readers interested in history, especially WWII history.

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

Friday, December 6, 2019

Teachers and Librarians! Your Students Can Help Choose Two Prestigious Children's Book Awards

Teachers and Librarians!
Make Selection of Two Bank Street Children's Book Awards Part of Your Elementary Curriculum

Want your students to practice their reasoning, persuasive speaking, and sharpen their visual skills while participating in  selection of Bank Street’s Center for Children’s Literature’s annual best picture and best science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) books?

First and Second Grade classes may participate 
in the selection of the Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature (Irma Black Award). The award goes to an outstanding picture book for young children – a book in which text and illustrations are inseparable, each enhancing and enlarging on the other to produce a singular whole. The Irma Black Award is unusual in that children are the final judges of the winning book.

Register here.

Learn more here about last year's award and the award curriculum.  Note we will send the 2020 voting link to new registrants in early spring. 

Third and Fourth Grade classes are invited to jury the Cook Prize.  The Cook Prize honors the best STEM book of the year published for children eight to ten. It is the only national children’s choice award honoring a STEM title.

Register here.

Learn more about last year's award and the award curriculum.  The 2020 voting link will be sent to registrants in  early spring. 

Please share this information with your fellow educators and librarians.  Everyone is invited to participate.

Monday, December 2, 2019

A Scarf for Keiko by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard

A Scarf for Keiko by Ann Malaspina,
illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard
Kar-Ben Publishing, 2019, 32 pages

Ever since President Roosevelt had declared war on Japan on December 7, 1941, the kids in Sam's class have stopped talking to the Japanese American kids at school. Now, Sam's whole class are learning to knit so they can make scarves and socks for the soldiers who are fighting in the war, including Sam's older brother.

But Sam hates knitting and he isn't very good at it, unlike Keiko Saito, whom he's know for years and who sits next to him in school and is a great knitter. But whenever she offers to help him, he refuses. In fact, Sam now refuses to have anything to do with Keiko, even after witnessing her being harassed by a teenager as she rode her bike home from school.

But when Sam's mom sends him to the flower shop for some flowers for Shabbat, he sees that Mr. Saito's grocery has been vandalized and Go Back to Japan is written on the closed flower shop. During the Shabbat meal, Sam's dad tells him and him mom that President Roosevelt has decided going to send people of Japanese ancestry away, fearing they might be spies for Japan.

On Monday, Keiko isn't in school, but Sam sees her after school, knitting in front of her house. At home, Sam's mom tells him the Saito have to pack and leave soon, taking only what they can carry and she has volunteered to care for Mrs. Saito's lovely tea set. On the morning after the Saitos have left, Sam finds Keiko's bike in front of his house with a note for him to use it while she's away and a pair of hand knit socks for his brother Mike.

Thinking that Keiko will be cold where she is in the desert, Sam is determined to learn how to knit something to send her: a lovely red scarf to keep her warm.

A Scarf for Keiko is a great story about tolerance and how easy it is to be swayed by friends into turning on good neighbors and friends because they are being portrayed as being un-American simply for being who they are. It also shows how conflicted Sam is about no longer being friends with Keiko, whose family has been such good neighbors with his family, and the way his brother Mike helped Keiko fix her bike, and then not speaking up when he sees injustice all around him. He conflict is increased when his mother reminds the family that her sisters in Poland are in danger because they are Jewish and that Mike is in danger as a soldier.

The simple illustrations add much to the story and are done in a muted palette of blues, browns, greys, and touches of red that give a retro feeling. Faces are a bit exaggerated so that they reflect the wide spectrum of character's emotions - fear, conflict, worry, sadness, hate, kindness, even happiness.

A Scarf for Keiko is a great picture book for older readers who may be old enough to have witnessed acts of intolerance in today's world and are also conflicted about what is happening.   

Back matter includes an Author's Note that explains why and how people of Japanese ancestry, including Japanese Americans like Keiko and her family, were put in internment camps by President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066. I need to mention that there is a typo here, stating the date of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as December 6, 1941, when in reality it was December 7, 1941. Other than that typo, this is an excellent book to share with young readers.

Teachers and students can find a useful downloadable Activity Guide for this book HERE

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

It Rained Warm Bread: Moishe Moskowitz's Story of Hope, story by Gloria Moskowitz Sweet, poems by Hope Anita Smith, illustrated by Lea Lyon

**Contains Spoilers**
This fictionalize free verse biography chronicles the life of Moishe Moskowitz's life just before and then during the Holocaust. In 1936, Moishe, his mother, father, older brother Saul, and younger sister Bella live in Kielce, Poland. Their home life is warm, loving and religious, though there is some they watch the Nazi threat grow stronger and come closer. On the street, Moishe often has to be on the lookout for Polish boys who "want to pound me like schnitzel" simply because he is Jewish. Moishe's mother often encourages his father to leave for America where they have relatives, and save enough money to send for the family. However, his father keeps refusing to leave, finally agreeing only to discover the opportunity has passed.

Moise is 13-years-old when Nazi Germany invades Poland, and the lives of the Jewish families living there are forever changed. At first, the Moskowitz's hide out in the barn of a Christian friend, but when nothing happens, they decide to return home, only to be rounded up in 1941 to temporarily live in the Kielce ghetto. Somehow, Mosihe's father escapes and joins the resistance. From there, in August 1942, the ghetto is liquidated and Moise's mother and sister are pulled away from the family - never to be seen again.

Moishe and Saul are moved from one concentration camp to another. When his brother comes up with an escape plan, only Moishe survives and, now alone, is sent to Auschwitz, to do hard labor. By 1945, when it is clear the Nazis are losing the war and the Allies are closing in, Moishe finds himself on several death marches. During the first march, he pretends to fall down and manages to convince the guards that he is actually dead. When an unkind farmer finds him, Moishe is put into another group of Jewish prisoners, where he is put into a cattle car. It is here that he finally finds the hope he needs to carry him through, when a group of Czechoslovakian women defy the Nazi guards and toss warm, freshly baked bread into the cars for the people in the cattle cars.

Taken off the train, Moishe begins his second death march, trying the same tactic he used before of falling down as though dead. Left behind, he hides in a haystack. It's here an American soldier who speaks Yiddish finds Moishe.

Yes, Moishe survives the Holocaust and eventually makes his way to Los Angeles, California where he marries and raises a family.  And like most Holocaust survivors, he was reluctant to talk about his experiences under the Nazis. But finally he did, and now his daughter Gloria as shared his stories to poet Hope Anita Smith and together they wrote Moishe's story.

It Rained Warm Bread is told in the first person through a number of short spare, sometimes understated, poems, and divided into seven chapters, each focusing on specific events and time in Moishe's life, Smith has created a record that is as heartbreaking as it is hopeful. Interestingly, the Nazis are metaphorically referred to as predatory wolves throughout, and never really portrayed as human.

The text and the small watercolor wash spot illustrations are all done in shades of brown, and add much to this testimony of a man who bore witness to what was done to Europe's Jews during Hitler's reign.

It Rained Warm Bread is not the book to read if you are looking for a factual account of what happened to Moishe and his family. If that's what you want, or if, after reading Moishe's story you want to find out more, you can find an account of Kielce and the Kielce Ghetto HERE

Instead, be sure to read the Author's Note by Moishe's daughter Gloria for more information about this courageous man who lost everything but found the hope he needed to carry him through those dark days.

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

Thursday, November 14, 2019

White Bird, a Wonder Story written and illustrated by R.J. Palacio, inked by Kevin Czap

**May Contain Spoilers**

If you have already read R.J. Palacio's book Wonder, than you might remember 10-year-old Julian, the boy who bullied Auggie and made his life so difficult. Well, every bully has a reason for being like that and so R.J. wrote The Julian Chapter to help readers understand him. And if you've also read The Julian Chapter, you may remember his Grandmére telling him about her experience in WWII, hiding from the Nazis. Well, now White Bird, done in graphic format, expands that story and you won't want to miss it.

Given a school assignment to interview someone he knows for his humanities class, Julian, in a video chat with his Grandmére in France, asks if she would tell him again about the boy named Julien who saved her life during the Nazi occupation of France. As Grandmére begins her story, the novel flashback to that time. Living in Paris with her mother, a math teacher, and father, a renowned surgeon, Sara Blum is a happy, friendly Jewish girl, not very good a math, but very artistic. In school, Sara has been sitting next to a boy named Julien for years, but has never spoken to him. Julien had been stricken with polio and now walks with crutches. Nicknamed Tourteau because of crab-like gait, he is the subject of some pretty cruel treatment, especially by the school bully and Nazi sympathizer, Vincent.

After France falls to the Nazis in 1940, little by little life becomes difficult for French Jews, but Sara and her family live in the free zone (Vichy France - no explanation about this in the text) and they believe they are relatively safe. That is, until the winter 1943, when the Nazis begin roundups. As the Jewish children in Sara's school are rounded up one day and taken away by the Nazis, Sara is able to escape and hide in the unused bell tower. Which is where Julien finds her before the Nazis do (but how did he know she was there?) and sneaks her out through the city sewers, taking her to his family's barn, where she can hide in the hayloft.

Sara remains hiding in the hayloft until the end of the war with the help of Julien and his parents, hiding from nosy neighbors who are believed to support the Nazis, and knowing she will probably never see her parents again.

White Bird is Palacio's debut graphic novel and the graphic format worked for me because I know kids like them and there's a good chance they will read this book. I also like a well-done comic. It doesn't bother me that the panels aren't perfectly lined up and I prefer the inking to be done is soft colors rather that bold garish colors for this targeted age group.  The novel is divided into three parts that take place when Sara is in hiding and after the war, plus a prologue and epilogue in the present day, and each is introduced with a relevant quote by people like George Santayana, Anne Frank, and Muriel Rukeyser. 

So, while I do feel that White Bird is a very worthwhile book when I first read it, a second reading revealed some flaws. As with her other Wonder books, the real agenda of White Bird is to extend the message of kindness, as Julien's mother tells Sara: "In these dark times, it's those small acts of kindness that keep us alive, after all. They remind us of our humanity." But, with this message in mind, it must be very difficult to find a balance of what to reveal and what to not include when writing a Holocaust story. My feeling about White Bird is that it a book full of good intentions, a book about resistance and courage, that carries an important message for today's world, given the rise of nationalism, but doesn't quite find this delicate balance.
This makes it a somewhat flawed novel. Sara lived in a barn's hayloft and yet no Nazis ever demanded to search it, as they did in reality, looking for hidden Jews. And one only gets a hint at the horror of the Holocaust, as when the Nazis discover what happened to the other Jewish school children and kill the marquisard who was trying to save them (what's a marquisard?) Yes, this is dealt with in the back matter, but how many 10-year-olds look at back matter? What drove me really crazy is the Sara was such a passive character. She did nothing to help herself, Julien's family, or the resistance. Maybe I've read too many books where the Jewish protagonist acts that I've come to expect that kind of resistance action. Sara should have been more of a heroic character, but her passivity precludes her from that.

In the end, though, I would highly recommend this book for middle grade readers. What saves it for me is connecting the events of WWII and the Holocaust to the present day policies towards refugees, as Santayana reminds us: those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Back matter does include an Afterword by Ruth Franklin, an Author's Note, a Glossary, a Suggested Reading List, and Organizations and Resources for further research, and a Bibliography.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Monday, November 11, 2019

Veterans Day 2019: America's Welcome Home by Henry Van Dyke

"The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and
bear the deepest wounds and scars of war."
Douglas MacArthur

America At War: Poems Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins,
illustrated by Stephen Alcorn
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008, 96 pages

Today is Veterans Day, a day to honor the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces. This year, I would like to share a poem called "America's Welcome Home" by Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933), an American poet, educator, and Presbyterian minister. I found this poem in an anthology for young readers called America At War, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (1938-2019). I chose this poem because Veterans Day, as you may know, was originally called Armistice Day. The poem was written at the end of World War I, with the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918 and calling for a ceasefire beginning at 11 o'clock in the morning.

In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

It's not often enough that I get to read and report on books written about Mexicans and/or Mexican Americans in WWI and WWII, but it's not for a lack of heroes, rather it is for a lack of books written about them for kids and teens. So I was really happy to see that Duncan Tonatiuh, one of my favorite Mexican American writers, has written a wonderful new picture book for older readers that is a such an important contribution to the history of Mexican Americans in this country.

Despite being born in the United States, José de la Sáenz and other people of Mexican origin (Tejanos) living in Texas were often harassed and mistreated. They were people who did as much and sometimes more work than the white Texans, but were still treated like second-class citizens. They were prohibited from entering business with signs reading NO MEXICANS ALLOWED, and children were sent to schools that were segregated, small, cramped and ill-equipped. José was proud of his Latinx roots and worked hard, graduating college and becoming a teacher.
Click to enlarge
When the United States entered WWI in 1917, José and other Mexican American men did not hesitate to enlist to defend their country, a country they loved. José was sent to boot camp in Oklahoma, where he and others were still mistreated by their white officers. These were the soldiers who formed the 360th Regiment of the 90the Division of the US Army.

Finally, in June 1918, José and the other soldier left for the war in Europe, arriving in France shortly after. There, José began to study French, relatively easy for him given the similarities it has with Spanish. Because of his quick language skills, José worked in communications in a protected command post instead of fighting in the trenches. In fact, the war ended just before he was finally sent to fight in a attack that José knew would mean the death of thousands of American soldiers.
Click to enlarge
Back in the States, José began to organize the Mexican American soldiers of the 360th to socialize and talk about their experiences. That led to an idea to form organization that would fight for the rights of all Tejanos. But back home in Texas, José noticed nothing had changed. It was time for José and all Mexican American veterans together with other Tejano other civil rights leaders time to organize.  Finally, in 1929, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) was formed. José remained a member of LULAC, fighting to end racism, prejudice and school segregation, and for equality and justice for all Latinx.

The life and work of José de la Sáenz is certainly inspiring and, might I add, timely. As usual, Tonatiuh has really done some careful research on his subject, using the diaries that José kept over his lifetime to the best advantage in this new work. To give it a feeling of authenticity, simple Spanish phrases like No es justo are included throughout the book, but require no previous knowledge of Spanish, since like French, there is enough Latin in English to understand them. But, because Tonatiuh is a thorough writer, there is a Glossary included in the back matter. Also included in the back matter are references to the quotes and paraphrases from José's diaries that are used in the text, an important Author's Note, a Timeline of WWI and José's involvement, as well as a Timeline of the League of United Latin American Citizens, and a Select Bibliography.

Tonatiuh's flat, geometic hand drawn illustrations are done in a palette of dark earth-tones, then digitally collaged, and are done in the same style as his other books. This style is based on the Pre-Columbian 15th century art of the Mixtecs, an indigenous group from Southern Mexico, and Tonatiuh has been using it ever since to foster a sense of pride in Mexican culture for his readers.

This is a wonderful book for anyone interested in WWI and/or Latinx history and I highly recommend it. It would be an especially nice book to share with students for Veterans Day which is coming up on November 11, 2019.

You might want to pair this with other Mexican wartime heroes found in The School the Aztec Eagles Built: A Tribute to Mexico's World War II Air Fighters by Dorinda Makanaõnalani

You can find out more about Duncan Tonatiuh and his art on his website HERE

You can read an article with more information on José de la Sáenz and the 360th Regiment in France HERE

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

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Infinite Hope: A Black Artists' Journey from World War II to Peace, an Autobiography by Ashley Bryan

Infinite Hope: A Black Artists' Journey from World War II to Peace,
an Autobiography by Ashley Bryan
Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2019, 112 pages

I've always been such an admirer of Ashley Bryan's work for young readers, so I was really interested when I heard he had written a book about his World War II experiences. Born and raised in Bronx,  New York, Ashley was a 19-year-old art student at the prestigious art college Cooper Union in Manhattan when, in 1943, he received his draft notice. The United States had already been at war since December 7, 1941, when Japan attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii so he had been expecting to be drafted.

Though he had experienced prejudice growing up, the Army was the first time Ashley had ever experienced overt segregation and it began right at the start of his military career. He was quickly assigned to the 502nd Port Battalion, Company C and made up of only Black soldiers, where he became a winch operator. Stationed in Boston, his job was to load and unload supplies of all kinds on or off ships. In Boston, Ashley makes friends with some of the local kids, drawing with them and sharing cokes.

After a few months, the 502nd was sent to Glasgow, Scotland, where Ashley continued working as a stevedore loading and unloading supply ships. And the Scottish people, Ashley notes, welcomed the Black soldiers warmly and treated them like equals despite the Army's continued attempts to enforce their segregation policy by working the stevedores such long hours, making them too tired to venture out and socialize with the welcoming Scots. However, Ashley's battalion commander, Colonel James Pierce had a real appreciation for the arts, and gave Ashley permission able to attend the Glasgow School of Art. Not only that, but Colonel Pierce also created the 502nd Port Battalion band after noticing the many gifted musicians among the stevedores.

Ashley's time in Glasgow came to an end too quickly for him, and on June 2, 1944, the 502nd Port Battalion found themselves heading for the coast of Normandy and the invasion they had spent so much time preparing for.

Ashley's ship was anchored off the Normandy coast, at Omaha Beach where, beside loading and unloading ships, his battalion was to invade and clear the beach of land mines, a dangerous job give to the Black soldiers, many of whom lost their lives when mines exploded. Then they were ordered to dig foxholes where they would sleep and could take cover from enemy fire, and also to send up huge barrage balloons to make it difficult for the German Luftwaffe to attack for above.

All the while, Ashley carried paper and drawing materials with him, recording all that he witnessed. And yet, all of those drawings were carefully put away for most of Ashley's live, because, like many soldiers, he simply did not want to speak about or be reminded of his wartime experiences: "In a sense, I hid those drawings away just as I hid my experiences from those three years." (pg. 97) And it has taken for Ashley almost a lifetime to be able to finally confront his wartime experiences.

Using spare prose, and told in the first person as though he is speaking directly to you, Ashley allows his words, his illustrations and his letters to tell his story, together with photographs of the time that he's overlaid with sketches. And he manages to give readers an intimate view of what WWII was like for him and other black soldiers, to capture all the horrors of war, and the racism and injustice he and his fellow blacks soldiers were subjected to, always given the lowest, the meanest, often the most dangerous jobs to do, but also he records acts of camaraderie, kindnesses and genuine friendship.

I've gone over this book again and again, captivated by all of the boldly painted illustrations made from his sketches. It is easy to see how art helped him through those terrible years: "What gave me faith and direction was my art. In my knapsack, in my gas mask, I kept paper, pens, and pencils." (pg. 60) These sketches and illustrations are now a treasure trove of information to add to the history of African Americans in this country, and the history of WWII in general.

You can also hear Ashley Bryan speak about his WWII exhibit and his experience as a stevedore during the Battle of Normandy HERE

Pair this book with Courage Has No Color: the True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone, where you will also find some of Ashley Bryan's wartime sketches.

Infinite Hope is an autobiography not to be missed.

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Allies by Alan Gratz

Beginning just before dawn on June 6th, 1944 and ending close to midnight on the same day, Gratz weaves together six unrelated perspectives that bring the D-Day landings to life in all its chaotic, grim reality.

Private Dee Carpenter is a 16-year-old who lied about his age to get into the Army, but since they needed soldiers, the Army looked the other way. Dee and Sid Jacobstein became friends right from the start in boot camp. But Dee wonders what Sid, a Jewish American, would think if he found out Dee's truth.

Samira Zidane, 11, and  her mother Kenza are French Algerians working in the French Resistance. Six hours before the invasion begins, mother and daughter are on their way to deliver an important message about the invasion to the Resistance when Kenza is arrested and taken into custody by the Nazis. Samira delivers the message, and is determined to find and help her mother escape her captors.

James McKay, 19 and Sam Tremblay, a Cree Indian, are in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion and about to jump into the midst of the invasion. James decided to join the army after his home town of Winnipeg staged a mock Nazi invasion. Now, though, he is wondering what he is doing parachuting into France on D-Day. His pal Sam, despite being promoted to Lance Corporal, still faces insults and microaggressions as a First Person from the other men, who are white.

Bill Richards, 19, from Liverpool, England is a Private in the Royal Dragoons, and a tank driver just like his dad was in WWI. Bill was named after and is obsessed with William the Conquerer and determined to get to get to Bayeux, France to see the famous Bayeux Tapestry. But he was also obsessed with getting to Amiens, France where his father had carved "Jack Richards was here 1918" on a stone, and Bill was determined to add his name underneath.

Corporal Henry Allen, 20, is an African American medic in the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion. And even though the United States military is segregated, Henry is on Omaha Beach, risking his life, dodging bullets and racist comments to save the lives of the mostly white soldiers shot and injured as the D-Day landings happen.

Monique Marchand, a 13-year-old French girl with an interest in medicine, was swimming with friends on Normandy Beach the day before the D-Day and ended up in the swimming hut on the beach during the invasion because of a forgotten bathing suit. When she notices an injured soldier, she leaves the hut to help him and that's when she meets Dorothy Powell, an American journalist for Collier's Magazine, there to write about the invasion.

There's not much more to say about this incredible book without giving too much away. Some of the people will live to see the end of the day, others won't, but all contribute to giving a broad view of this important day and what it was like. And Gratz doesn't hold back, so just know this is not a book for the faint at heart.

One of the things I really liked was how Gratz divided the day into the names of different operations. He explains in the back matter that some of the operation names are real, and some he made up to fit the story. Either way, it gives the reader a real sense of time passing and what might have happened. But be sure to read the Back Matter where you will find so much more information.

Gratz also includes a map to give readers a sense of place, since some of the landing units ended up in the wrong beach in all the chaos.
Click to enlarge
WOW! Allies is a great work of historical fiction by a great storyteller. I found myself spellbound from the first word of Allies to the last, but then again, I had the same experience with Gratz's other books, namely Prisoner 1065, Refugee, and Grenade.

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

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

White Eagles by Elizabeth Wein

Twins Kristina and Leopold Tomiak have always been fiercely competitive with each other and also share a love of flying. Naturally, when it looks like Germany is getting ready to go to war, they both sign up for the Polish Air Force Reserve. But when only Kristina is accepted into the White Eagles, Leo is totally perplexed.

Not long after becoming an Eagle, Kristina is assigned to fly an important visitor from the Vistula Aeroclub outside Warsaw to a meeting in Lvov, in southern Poland, to relay important information. But just as the plane carrying the visitor lands, it is clear that it has been attacked by machine gun fire. It turns out the Luftwaffe has been scouting over Poland and shot at their plane. The visitor is killed but the plane's pilot is still alive and knows what the information is.

Now, it's Kristina's job to get the information to Lvov, which she does, safely arriving at Birky airstrip just outside the city limits on August 31, 1939, and where her brother is already waiting for her. The next morning, Kristina wakes up to sirens and an announcement that the German Army has begun its invasion of Poland. The next day, the battle for the airstrip at Birky begins, and Kristian is taken prisoner by a German soldier.

In the sky, she sees two fighter planes caught in a dogfight, without firing at each other, but fighting with only their planes and Kristina realizes the pilot in the Polish plane is her brother. Leo finally comes out the victor, after causing the German plane to crash. But his victory is short lived. Held by the arms by two German soldiers, a German officer pulls his gun and shots Leo between the eyes, as Kristina watches stunned and horrified.

As the other prisoners around her go berserk over the shooting, Kristina, devastated over losing her twin, manages to take advantage of the chaos and to get to her plane. Without a helmet or goggles, she takes off, flying away from her brother's murder and not landing until she finally finds a narrow, clear field in an apple orchard. But no sooner has she landed, than she realizes she isn't alone. A gun is pointed at her head and she was told to put her hands up and get out of the plane. Thinking it is a Nazi soldier, imagine her surprise when it turns out to be an 11-year-old boy named Julian Srebro with a story to tell and a desperate need to get out of Poland. What follows is an exciting, perilous journey for both Kristina and Julian, marked by grief, biting cold, hunger, kindness, cruelty and a few pieces of life-saving chocolate Hanukkah Gelt

White Eagles is a short book written in three parts and inspired by real life aviation hero Anna Leska, liaison pilot for the Polish Air Force and flying missions for them when the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 (do read the Author's Note at the back of the book for more information). It is a well researched novel that contains a lot of information about what life for the Polish people was like right after Hitler's army invaded their country. Around that reality, Wein has woven a historical fiction novella that will hold readers captive until the end. But, let's face it, Wein is a master historical fiction storyteller and she knows just how to create characters and settings that make you question whether it is fact or fiction you are reading.

I bought White Eagles at the Book Depository in part because it is written by Elizabeth Wein and in part because it is published by Barrington Stoke, a children's book publisher in Edinburgh, Scotland. And what makes this book special, besides the great story, is that Barrington Stoke publishes books that are adapted for reluctant and dyslexic readers. And since I'm a dyslexic reader, I know first hand how really important the design of these book is. I first discovered them when I read D-Day Dog by Tom Palmer and now I'm sold on them. And no, I get nothing for talking about these books, and there are lots of them by great authors, not from Book Depository or from Barrington Stoke. It's just my experience.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

At the Mountain's Base by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre

At the Mountain's Base by Traci Sorell,
illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre
Kokila, 2019, 32 pages
"At the mountain's base
grows a hickory tree.
Beneath this sits a cabin."

And in this cabin lives a Cherokee military family. Watched by her grandchild, a worried grandmother weaves together red, gold, green, and black threads while sitting by an old wood burning stove where there is something warm and nourishing cooking in a well-worn pot. The women in the family sit with her and together they sing and worry, too. Over their shoulder, is a picture of a woman in military dress.

The family sings a song of protection for the woman in the photo, a pilot flying in WWII. The perspective changes to show the woman pilot involved in that battle, protecting and defending her country, and offering up her own prayerful plea for peace. Hovering over her is the spirit of her families prayers for her safe return.

Again the perspective changes back to the cabin at the mountain 's base, under the hickory tree. There, too, the spirit of her families prayers and and the family awaiting the pilot's return.

Using soft, very spare, lyrical language, Sorell and Alvitre manage to convey so much to the reader about this family and the love they have for each other, and especially their family member in such a dangerous situation. Within the circularity of the story, the old and new are seamlessly woven together, and reflected in the different generations of women in the cabin. The threads of the grandmother's traditional Cherokee finger weaving are wonderfully juxtaposed with the newness of Native American women flying planes for the military. 

One of the things I loved about the artwork for At the Mountain's Base is the way the grandmother's threads wrap around the illustrations, binding the family together even when they are apart. The palette of earth tone red, greens, browns, yellows have a generous amount of white space that really helps call attention to the specific details on each page.

The Author's Note pays homage to the Native women who have served in battles and conflicts over time, and to those active service-members in today's military.  Her main focus is on Ola Mildred Rexroat, a Oglala Lakota pilot who was one of 1,074 Native women who served in the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) in WWII.

 At the Mountain's Base a celebration of Cherokee women and of the unsung women who make history. It isn't often enough that I get to write about Native Americans in WWII, let alone a woman, so I was very happy to discover this beautiful picture book and I think you will enjoy reading and exploring it, as well.

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

Sunday, September 29, 2019

True Brit: Beatrice - 1940 (Book 1 in the Far and Away trilogy) by Rosemary Zibart

It's September 1940, the Blitz is already in full swing, and the last thing 12-year-old Beatrice Sims wants is to be sent away to Santa Fe, New Mexico for safety while her family, parents and older brother, stay behind in London. An upper middle class girl, Beatrice travels in first-class comfort, first by train, then by ship across the Atlantic Ocean, and finally, by train across the United States from New York to New Mexico.

Before she leaves London, her father suggests Beatrice think of her trip as an adventure and herself as an explorer, giving her a red leather notebook to fill with all the different and interesting things she will see and do and experience while away. Her mother, however, is convinced that the war would be over by Christmas and Beatrice would come home.

Arriving in Lamy, New Mexico, Beatrice finds herself alone in a small train station, with only a sleeping cowboy on a bench. Eventually, Clem Pope arrives with two chickens and a beat up truck named Maude. Clem is the local practical nurse, the only one around now that the world was at war and everyone expected the US would be in it soon enough. Her house is comfortable but nothing like Beatrice is accustomed to.

The first day of school, Beatrice meets Esteban, son of Delores, who helps Clem in the house, and Arabella, who introduces her to her new surroundings as only a 12-year-old would know them. But soon enough, Beatrice discovers that Esteban and his friends think she is faceta, a spoiled little Princess. Beatrice is upset by this nickname, especially because she really likes Esteban. Hurt that the kids think about her that way, she also discovers and can't understand that many Americans don't want to get involved in the war in Europe or help England in its fight against the Nazis.

But when Beatrice decides the change her reputation, she discovers it isn't as easy as she would have liked. After a few unfortunate incidents, things aren't looking good. It will take one big life-or-death incident to really turn things around for Beatrice, not just how others see her, but, more importantly, how she begins to see herself.

True Brit is the first book in Rosemary Zibart's trilogy about the different experiences of young people from war-torn countries during WWII, now living on the American home front. It is an engaging story, one I found I couldn't put down. And I thought Zibart really did a great job in depicting Beatrice's culture shock as she begins to adjust to her new surroundings. I could understand how Beatrice felt since I was once a New York City girl who found myself living in a desert area for four years.

Zibart also looks at the class differences between Beatrice and Arabella and most of the kids they are in school with, kids who are native, biracial, and poor by comparison. Yet, neither one is presented as better than the other, but accepted for who they are as people. In that regard, readers see how the stereotype ideas Beatrice arrives in New Mexico with about the land, culture and people are dispelled as she gets to know and understand her new surroundings better. Beatrice does records her adventures in the red notebook her father gave and these entries give the reader more insight and information than even Beatrice's first-person narration does.

Of course, True Brit are some humorous moments - her first hot dog with mustard and relish, her first milkshake, and American slang - is all A-okay. But it is the eye-opening experiences that she has that really make a difference. Beatrice arrived in New Mexico, very much a fish out of water, a self-involved, pampered and privileged girl who expected to be taken care of by servants much the way her mother is. And yet, despite her flaws, I found Beatrice to be a likable character who really grows and comes appreciate her new, temporary (?) home.

Astute readers who are also fans of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis will like the scene on the train station where Beatrice sees and envies a girl named Lucy and her siblings getting on another train to stay with great-uncle in the country. Interestingly, Beatrice recalls that scene later in the book as she wishes she could be a comfortable as Clem is in her new setting, and envying those four children again.

True Brit is an interesting, informative book that gives readers another detailed look at the life of a young girl in WWII who finds herself in a totally different land and culture than what she is accustomed to.

You can download an Activity and Discussion Guide courtesy of the publisher, Kinkajou Press, HERE

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

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Sunday Funnies #31: Batman with Robin in Swastika Over the White House

Have a Happy Batman Day!

I know it's Saturday, but I thought I'd do a Sunday Funnies post anyway since today is Batman Day, celebrating 80 years of the Caped Crusader and my Kiddo's favorite Superhero. This Batman story is called "Swastika Over the White House." It's from Batman Vol. 1, No. 14 and was published in January 1943. It's one of the few stories that actually relate to the war, although Batman and Robin lots of other things to help the war effort.

Fred Hopper a/k/a Fritz Hoffner may have fooled the other cameramen, but now he has orders to get rid of Batman. As luck would have it, Batman and Robin were coming by the Gotham City Newsreel offices that very day to help with the nation's war effort. Suddenly, a car appears and shots are fired at the dynamic duo.

The young Nazi spy may not have gotten rid of Carson, but he does manage to swap out their camera footage of the shipyard to give to his superiors, along with footage of bomber plants, including gasoline storage tanks. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, in reality Batman and Robin, have suspicions about the cameramen, so that night, out comes pair in the Batmobile, to check on the industrial suburbs of Gotham City.

Friday, September 20, 2019

A Boy Is Not a Bird by Edeet Ravel

Living in Zastavna, Romania, 11-year-old Natt Silver, a Jewish boy with asthma, has had a pretty comfortable life. He has a loving family, a best friend named Max Zwecker, and he can already speak five languages: German, Ukrainian, Romanian, Hebrew, and Yiddish. The only thing that makes life difficult is the presence of Iron Guard, a nationalist, anti-semitic Romanian movement whose members resemble those of the Hitler’s Brownshirts. When the Iron Guard comes to town, everyone hides.**

Then in the summer of 1940, just like that the Iron Guard is gone, replaced by Soviet soldiers. Even the teachers at Natt’s school are replaced with Communist teachers. Life without the Iron Guard is better until the Communists arrest Natt’s father, along with 15 other men. While he’s in jail, Natt and his classmates are taught how to be Pioneers, causing him to be torn between love for his father, now considered an enemy of the Soviets, and being a good Pioneer. 

While his father is in jail, Natt is sent to stay on a farm with friends of the family for his safety. But in the summer of 1941, when Natt is taken into custody and questioned about his mothers whereabouts, he honestly can’t tell them what they want to know. After a few days, his mother shows up, gets Natt released and they go home - to pack. Natt’s father has already been sent to a gulag in Siberia, and now Natt and his mother are being exiled to Siberia, along with thousands of others, all labeled as an “enemy of the people.” 

A Boy Is Not a Bird is an eminently readable novel, in part because the author starts Natt off as a kid who just wants to belong, and who wants to be the best Pioneer he can be. He often misreads people and their motives, leading him to believe that everything will eventually be OK. Part of the reason Natt can hold on to his innocence for so long is that there are enough kind people in his life that really like this winsome 11-year-old. Interestingly, his best friend Max is just the opposite of Natt. Max's cynicism is the window of reality that Natt lacks, but that the reader needs. 
Natt, it turns out, is a wonderful observer but also an unreliable narrator.

It is, however, sad to see that little by little, Natt's innocence is striped away by the actions and behavior of others. As I read Natt's first person narration of what is happening around him, his naiveté reminded me so much of Felix from Morris Gleitzman’s Once series. 

A Boy Is Not a Bird is a fictionalized story based on the ones the author's fifth grade teacher, Mr. Halpern, used to tell her class, about his childhood in Soviet occupied Zastavna. The novel ends with Natt's still on the train to Siberia, his future unresolved,  But take heart, this is only the first part of a planned trilogy. And I can't wait to read the rest. 

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

**FYI: In 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression treaty generally referred to as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. One of the things the pact did was define boundaries where each country had influence. But not long after Adolf Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and effectively disregarding the Pact, Joseph Stalin launched also invaded Poland. As a result, new borders were drawn and in the summer of 1940, the formerly Romanian territory of Bukovina was divided between the USSR in the north, and Romania in the south. The Soviets demanded Bukovina in the north because it was mostly Ukrainian, whereas the southern part of Bukovina was mostly Romanian. And that is where this story begins.