Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sunday Funnies #35: Comics, Polio, and the March of Dimes

On March 26, 2020, amid the terrible Coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world , we celebrated the 67th anniversary of the announcement that a vaccine had been discovered that could kill the polio virus. The result of research by Dr. Jonas Salk, clinical trials began in 1954 with  schoolchildren, called Polio Pioneers, all over the country some receiving the vaccine, other a placebo. By 1955, it was announced that the vaccine was a success.

The vaccine brought an end to the polio epidemics that had begun in Vermont in 1894 and that affected so many people, especially kids. Adults also suffered from polio, and one of the most well known was President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was diagnosed in 1921, and left paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. The 1930s and 1940s saw a number of polio epidemics around the country and in 1937, FDR helped found the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. It was this foundation that funded research on polio, including the work of Dr. Salk.

Interestingly, it was actor-comedian Eddie Cantor who coined the phrase March of Dimes for the foundation's fundraising efforts in 1938. Fundraising attracted lots of actors and actresses, but they weren't the only ones to get involved in raising money to fight polio. Comics books were also right on the forefront, too, appealing to youthful readers to make contributions to the March of Dimes by offering free fan club memberships and autographed postcards. For example,

Sensation Comics #15, March 1942

All-Star Comics #9 Feb-March 1942
All-Star Comics # March 1944

Action Comics #70 March 1944

Once so feared, polio is now almost non existent. Which gives me hope that we will also defeat the Coronavirus in the not-to-distant future. Meanwhile, may I recommend a few books about kids dealing the epidemics and pandemics?

Once, I Was Loved written and illustrated by Belinda Landsberry
Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter
To Stand on My Own: The Polio Epidemic Diary of Noreen Robertson by Barbara Haworth-Attard
Risking Exposure by Jeanne Moran
Secrets at Camp Nokomis, a Rebecca Mystery by Jacqueline Dunban Greene

Stay Safe, Stay Home, Stay Strong

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Rosie: Stronger than Steel written and illustrated by Lindsay Ward

Rosie: Stronger than Steel written and illustrated 
by Lindsay Ward
Two Lions, 2020, 40 pages

When a country goes to war, it mobilizes all its resources to help win that war. That was certainly true during World War II when men enlisted, children collected paper and cans, people donated whatever metal objects they could, and, women found themselves working in factories and fields, doing jobs traditionally held by men, all to help with the war effort.

The important work of women, those in the factories, collectively and iconically known as Rosie the Riveter and those working in the fields, appropriately known as the Land Girls, is highlighted in this appealing picture book through the eyes of a one-of-a-kind tractor.

The tractor is made out of donated items, then welded, riveted, painted green, given a lovely rose tattoo, and befittingly named Rosie. All the work is done by a group of women singing as they work.
As she leaves the factory, Rosie promises:
               "I plow and I dig.
                 I dig and I plow.
                   No matter the job,
                this is my vow."

Then, it's off by plane, ship, truck and train, until Rosie finally arrives at her destination - an overgrown farm in England in desperate need of tending. Between Rosie and the Land Girls, working day and night, they spent endless days in the fields, even as enemy planes fly overhead, helping to  provide desperately needed food to troops fighting in Europe to help win the war.

Together, Rosie and the Land Girls also hauled milk containers, and freshly picked produce. They even clear more land together, "Day after day. Year after year." Until finally, Victory! And the war is over.

But what happens to Rosie now that the war is over?

March is Women's History Month and I can't think of a better book for introducing young readers to some of the important contributions of women during WWII. Ward situates Rosie using newspaper headlines that encapsulate not just her story about one tractor's journey, but the historical background upon which it is based.

Rosie: Stronger than Steel is in part written in rhyming verse, and in part, lyrical language. The rhymes are repeated throughout the book, and if your young readers are anything like mine, they will have those verses memorized and in no time at all, you will be hearing "This is our Rosie, / stronger than steel. / She'll plow all the land / with the turn of her wheel."

The engaging illustrations are done using color pencils and cut paper and have a decidedly retro feel to them. I liked the way Ward used a brown palette for the factory illustrations, and a lush green palette for the farming images. True to life, the factory images age also diverse.

My young readers are 4-5-years-old and they saw this mainly as a story about a tractor that helped people during a war. Older readers will appreciate the roles of women as well as the call for action during the war, making this a great book for use both inside and outside the classroom/home school room.

Back matter includes a very informative Author's Note about the women who inspired Ward to write Rosie and a bibliography of books about the Women's Land Army, Rosie the Riveter, and Ford tractors.

All readers will love the We Can Do It spirit that permeates the story of Rosie: Stronger than Steel.

Meet the Author:
Lindsay Ward is the creator of the Dexter T. Rexter series as well as This Book is Gray, Brobarians, Rosco vs. the Baby, and The Importance of Being 3. Her book Please Bring Balloons was also made into a play. Lindsay lives with her family in Peninsula, Ohio, where she often sees tractors from the 1930s and 1940s. Learn more about her online at And you can follow her on Twitter at @lindsaymward.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was gratefully received by me from Blue Slip Media.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Missing: The True Story of My Family in World War II by Michael Rosen

Michael Rosen is a beloved British children's book author, perhaps most well-known for the picture book We're Going on a Bear Hunt (1989). Now, he has written a book about a personal journey he took to discover what happened to his Jewish relatives that had been living in Europe and who disappeared during World War II and the Holocaust.

Rosen begins with some informative history about his family. His mother's family had lived in London, and as a young boy, Michael loved visiting them and going out for bagels with his Zeyde (grandad in Yiddish) or shopping with his Bubbe (granny in Yiddish). His great grandparents on this side came from Poland and his grandmother Rose had been born in England. When she married, she and her husband Morris moved to the United States, which is why Michael's dad is American. But when the marriage ended, she returned to London. During the war, his dad was an American soldier, and growing up, Michael loved to hear his stories about his time as a soldier.

Grandad Morris had one brother Max who also emigrated to the United States, and six other siblings, four of whom remained in Poland and two who emigrated to France. Whenever young Michael would ask what happened to the six siblings, his dad would answer "I don't know...They were there at the beginning of the war, but they had gone by the end. I suppose they died in the camps."
Michael Rosen's Family Tree. Click to enlarge
A brief recounting of Hitler, the Nazis and their treatment of the Jews followed this brief family history. Because of an early interest in France and French, Michael decided he first wanted to learn more about the fate of his two uncles, Oscar and Martin, who had lived there before the war. At first, he didn't find much, but then his cousin Teddy in the United States sent him two letters that had been written by his great Uncle Oscar. This was the opening Michael hoped for.
Click to enlarge
He spent the next several years trying to find out just what happened, and while Michael didn't find all the answers to his questions, he did find enough so that his relatives would no longer be simply "missing" but will be remembered and memorialized not just in this book, and in his poetry, but the names Martin  and Oscar are now on the commemorative wall at the Museum of the Shoah in Paris. Michael Rosen's journey is poignant, heartbreaking and personal, and in the end, his young readers will be able to  look at and understanding history through one family's experience. And it is all told in simple, clear and accessible language.

Interspersed in this family history are poems that Michael Rosen has written over the years about his relatives while he was searching for the missing members and which are strategically placed throughout. There is a humorous poem called "Bagel" is about going out for bagels with his Zeyde, while a poem called "Dear Oscar" affectively imagines what his ride in a cattle car to Auschwitz might have been like.

The book ends on a hopeful note that today's children will develop empathy and understanding towards other people, especially those who are different from themselves, and not fall for the racist, xenophobic rhetoric that is once again on the rise throughout the world.

There is really extensive back matter that includes a Bibliography of first hand accounts and other nonfiction books  about WWII and the Holocaust, recommended fiction for young readers, fiction and nonfiction recommendations about today's refugees.

The Missing: The True Story of My Family in World War II is the perfect accompaniment for anyone interested in the war, the Holocaust, and it is especially recommended for anyone studying these units in the classroom or being home schooled. I can't recommend it highly enough.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library from Book Depository, however, I understand Candlewick Press will be publishing it in the United States on September 8, 2020.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Courageous Women of the Vietnam War: Medics, Journalists, Survivors, and More by Kathryn J. Atwood

"Vietnam is like a huge jigsaw puzzle where none of the pieces fit"
Today, I digress from WWII. March is Women's History Month and today is International Women's Day, a time for celebrating women and their achievements. In this book about women in Vietnam, Kathryn Atwood not only presents the reader with some incredibly brave women, but uses their accomplishments to fit the puzzle pieces together to form a whole picture of the events to shaped Vietnam between 1945 and 1975. 

Organized into five distinct chronological parts, each part gives a brief history detailing the political events that were occurring both within and outside Vietnam's borders, pivotal events that were often the result of the actions of outsiders, first the French and later the Americans. This political history is seen through the lens of the fourteen brave women profiled. These are women who came from different backgrounds - Vietnamese, American, French, Australian, and New Zealand, and each for their own reasons. Who were these amazing women?

One example is Geneviève de Galard, who came from a long line of French ancestors that had always proudly served in the military. In 1953, at 27, she followed in their footsteps as a military nurse and part of an evacuation team that transported wounded soldiers from remote parts of Indochina to Saigon and Paris. On one mission to Dien Bien Phu, surrounded by Vietminh artillery assaults, Geneviève realized she would be on the ground indefinitely helping to care for the wounded, where she was "in a way, a mother, a sister, a friend" as well as a nurse. 

Almost as soon as US Navy nurse Bobbi Hovis received her orders in 1963, she was on a plane heading to Saigon. There, Bobbi and other medical personnel spent their days turning a filthy, rickety apartment building into a hospital. As wounded arrived, improvisation became a way of life. In November 1963, a coup to overthrow South Vietnam's unpopular leader Ngo Dinh Diem began, then later that month the news of President Kennedy's assassination was announced. Fighting in Saigon increased with the threat of killing two Americans a day, and in February, the VietCong bombed Bobbi's favorite movie theater. But it was the photo of a dead soldier's wife and children that finally made Bobbi realize she had had enough. 

New Zealander Kate Webb decided to go to Vietnam as a journalist because it "...was simply the biggest story going, and [she] didn't understand it." Beginning as a freelance reporter in Saigon, Kate wrote about things that interested her, spending time with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Eventually, she made her way to the Cambodian border, where the US allied Khmer Republic had just been put in place. But the Cambodian communists, the Khmer Rouge, were also becoming stronger and soon a civil war broke out. Kate covered the fighting and when it was over, found herself, along with other reporters and cameramen, prisoners of the NVA (North Vietnamese Army). Marched northward, starved, lacking water, regularly interrogated, tortured, and expecting to be killed at any moment, Kate survived her 23 day capture, but not without serious PTSD.

You may not recognize the name Kim Phuc, but most likely you know who she is. On June 8, 1972, Kim's family had taken refuge in a temple with others when bombs filled with napalm were dropped. Kim's clothing and body were burned by the napalm from a second bomb, and photographer Nick Ut captured her running away naked and screaming in pain. Kim's photo made history, but not her years of pain and recovery. Year's later, she became the pawn of a communist official named Hai Tam, who used her to lure western journalists with the promise of an interview and forcing Kim to leave medical school. Eventually, Kim did get away from Hai Tam, married and lives in Canada. 

I tend to avoid books about the Vietnam War. It was always so confusing, and there was so much controversy surrounding it in the United States between supporters and protesters, it just seemed easier to ignore. So I have to admit, I approached this book with some trepidation.  

What I found is a well-crafted book about women of courage. And not all of them were on the side of South Vietnam, nor were they all pro-war. All of their stories are fascinating, and include what later became of them after they left Vietnam. Kim Pfuc's story is a good example of that, so is that of the navy nurse Kay Wilhelmy Bauer who worked as a recruiter when she returned home. Kay indirectly survived the war when her neighbor's house was bombed by protesters, killing the people who lived there, by mistake. I was particularly happy to see Joan Baez included. Her political songs and visit to Vietnam may have been popular with anti-war protesters, but some veterans felt she had contributed to the terrible treatment they experienced when they returned home from Vietnam. As she told them, it was the war, not the veterans, she was against. This proved to be an important lesson about distinction to learn, when the US entered future wars not of the soldiers making.  

The great thing about Courageous Women of the Vietnam War, and in fact, all of Kathryn Atwood's books are that they are not young reader editions of adult books. They are first and foremost written for young adults so that they read smoothly but without talking down to the reader. Unfamiliar terms are clearly explained, and the intros to each part of the story make the complicated Vietnam War understandable. There is a map at the beginning of the book, which is always helpful, and I found myself referring to it more than once. Back matter includes a Glossary, Notes, and an excellent Bibliography.

In her Introduction, Atwood writes that "when women volunteer to participate in a war, they exhibit  a particular kind of courage, to face not only the dangers of battle, but also the negative opinions - perhaps even their own - of those who don't believe them capable of enduring war's grueling difficulties." (pg. 5) As you read these 14 amazing stories, I think you will see that particular kind of courage present in each one of them. 

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Chicago Review Press 

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Catherine's War by Julia Billet, illustrated by Claire Fauvel

**Contains Spoilers**
It's 1942 and Rachel Cohen, a Jewish teen, has been enrolled in the progressive Sèvres Children's Home just outside Paris for four months. It's also been months since she heard anything from her parents and has no idea where they are or what may have happened to them. Luckily, she loves being part of Sèvres, and is convinced that the kind husband and wife who run it, Penguin and Seagull, are part of the French resistance. Thanks to Penguin, Rachel has found an interest in and has a talent for taking photographs and he has lent her a Rolleiflex camera, and has even taught her how to develop the photos she takes.

But as the Nazi stronghold in France tighteneds, and Jews are required to wear yellow stars, the heads of  Sèvres refuse to force that on their Jewish students. Instead, the students are asked to change their names to ones that are more Christian sounding and are given false identity papers. Rachel becomes Catherine Colin.

But when the Nazis begin rounding up Jews, it becomes clear that Sèvres is no longer safe for its Jewish students, even with false papers, and plans are made for the students to be spread around France for their safety. Catherine alias Rachel is sent to a convent in Riom with a younger student named Alice, but not before she is gifted the school's precious Rolleiflex camera by Seagull, who tells her to take photos of everything she sees as testimony after the war.

In Riom, Catherine is forced to eat pork, take catechism classes and communion in order to keep her cover. Taking photos proves to be the thing that helps her through. Then, in town to get her photos developed, she meets Étienne, who lets her use his darkroom. Catherine and Étienne are strongly attracted to each other, but when the convent is reported to the Nazis, it is time for Catherine and Alice to move on.

Over the course of the Nazi occupation of France, Catherine and Alice are sent to a small farm in Limoges, then an orphanage in the Pyrenees, where she and Alice go their separate ways, and finally to another small farm. But when France is finally liberated by the Allies, Catherine returns to Paris, where she hopes to find her parents. Instead she finds their apartment trashed and no information about what happened to them. But she is able to reconnect with Seagull, Penguin, and Alice. In 1945, she is finally able to become Rachel Cohen again. Rachel now finds there is a great deal of interest in the photographs she had taken all through her travels during the Nazi occupation and is offered a show in an art gallery. And finally, she and Étienne also reconnect, and yes, they eventually marry and move to the United States.

Catherine's War is based on the real life experiences of the author's mother as a Jewish teen in France during WWII. It is a powerful coming of age story that interrogates questions of identity during a time of crisis, when who one is was all that the Nazis needed to arrest and send you away, often never to be heard from again, like Rachel's parents.

This is one of the best graphic novels I've read in a while. The story's text is clear, straightforward, and succinct, thanks to the excellent translation from the French by Ivanka Hahnenberger. Text and panels harmonize completely, making Rachel's story easy to follow despite so many characters and places. In her ink and watercolor panels, artist Claire Fauvel captures the differing emotions of the characters - fear, anger, happiness, loneliness, kindness - remarkably well, so that nothing is missed and there is no ambiguity. She used a palette of subtle dark grays, blues, and browns, which touches of brighter colors throughout. These dark colors reflect the dark times in which the story takes place.

When I was in college and living in the East Village in the early 1980s, I used to have an old Minolta SRT 101, that I absolutely adored. I also had a pen and ink drawing of it with the words "It's All in the Focus" written in the lens that a friend made for me. I learned a lot about life through my camera's lens, especially when the Aids crisis hit the village so hard then. For me, there is no question as to the power of art to bear witness and convey truth. I think this idea is brought to bear in an important conversation between Rachel and Étienne. He prefers portrait and landscapes while Rachel prefers more candid, in-the-moment daily life shots. The question becomes whose camera tells the greatest truth or do they both, but in different ways? Something to think about.

Back matter includes a map of Rachel's travels between 1942 and 1945, as well as some of the real photos taken by the author's mother, Tamo Cohen. There are also four pages of questions from readers with the author's answers.

Catherine's War is a story, as Julia Billet writes, "that reminds us that even when the wolves are howling death at your door, there are women and men who are still faithful to mankind." So, while this could be classified as a Holocaust story, it is also a resistance/survivor story. Either way, it is a graphic novel not to be missed.

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