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