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