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.
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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.
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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