Sunday, December 20, 2020
🎄🎶Your Hit Parade #8: I'm Sending a Letter to Santa Claus sung by Gracie Fields
Thursday, December 17, 2020
Saving Hanno: The Story of a Refugee Dog by Miriam Halahmy
That makes leaving home a little better, but Rudi still doesn't want to leave his parents. Besides, he doesn't speak any English and then he learns that Lotte won't be living with him, that she'll be with another nearby family.
The couple Rudi lives with, Auntie Irene and Uncle Don Evans, are very kind and patient, but Rudi is reticent to speak English. They do seem to know that he can't eat pork, so that isn't a problem though Rudi does miss Friday night Shabbos with his parents and Lotte. What he really worries about is school. What if the kids there don't like Jewish German boys and are mean, picking on him the way the Hitler Youth always did. But Rudi immediately makes a friend, a genial boy named Sidney Scudder. And through Sidney, Rudi makes even more friends.
Things are really great when Hanno comes out of quarantine. Rudi takes him everywhere during summer vacation and all the kids love him. But as summer goes by, England going to war with Germany becomes more and more of a possibility. In September 1939 war is declared, and the possibility of losing Hanno looms again. It seems the everyone is have their pets put down because of the war and rationing. When Rudi hears Uncle Don and Auntie Irene talking about having Hanno put down, Rudi knows he must act to save his beloved dog's life. But what can he do? Perhaps Sidney has an idea.
Saving Hanno is a story about an aspect of World War II that most people don't know or just don't want to think about. But the act of putting pets down was quite widespread at the beginning of the war in Britain. Pets weren't allowed in shelters, and rationing meant little left over for feeding a pet. This is the dilemma that Rudi faced with Hanno. After all he had given up - his home, his parents, to some extent even his sister - how could he give up his beloved Hanno, this time with no hope of getting him back?
Besides depicting the fate of one beloved pet, Saving Hanno also illustrates two different situations that Jewish kids who were sent to England on the short-lived Kindertransport (1938-1940). Rudi is very welcomed by the childless Don and Irene Evans, who show consideration for his dietary needs, as well as just treating with kindness and understanding. Lotte, on the other hand, ends up in a family that treats her like a free servant, keeping her out of school and giving her only one day off a week. One can only imagine what other situations the Kindertransport children found themselves in.
Throughout his stay in London, Rudi never loses hope that his parents will find a way to leave Germany and get to England. To keep that hope alive, he keeps a notebook of things they might find helpful once they arrive. I thought it was a sweet touch, but also lets readers know some of the day-to-day things Rudi faced as a refugee.
After I finished reading Saving Hanno, I discovered that Miriam Halahmy had written an early book called The Emergency Zoo, a longer novel that is about the saving animals about to be put down because of the war. Now, I can't wait to read it. Saving Hanno is an ideal book for kids in the early middle school grades, while The Emergency Zoo looks to be a book for kids in later middle school.
I think Saving Hanno is a story that kids will definitely like.
Tuesday, December 8, 2020
Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy by Kenneth C. Davis
Davis then devotes a chapter to the history of democracy from antiquity to the American Revolution, pointing out just how fragile the concept of democracy is, especially when its enemies seek to dismantle democratic governments and solidify power for themselves. What follows is a biography of five dictators, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Saddim Hussein, and their power grabs.
Davis shows that in their early lives, none of the Strongman - dictators who used any and every means possible to acquire power - showed any sign of what they were to become. Most had nondescript early beginnings, often with doting mothers and cruel fathers. Yet, all became charismatic figures, convincing people to support and follow them and to even commit atrocities in the name of their individual ideologies.
Following a short biography of their early lives, Davis traces the influences surrounding their rise to power, their seizure of power and their political philosophies for ruling their respective countries. Davis shows how each used propaganda to manipulate their citizens. For example, Mussolini recognized the need to control mass media and the beneficial use of fascist propaganda films shown in movie theaters, a lesson that the other four dictators learned all to well. And all found it important to mobilize young people with an eye to the future, such as the Mussolini's Vanguards, the Hitler Youth, Stalin's Young Pioneers, Mao's Red Guard, Hussein's Lion Cubs.
At the beginning of each biography, readers will find a time line tracing each dictator's life in the context of the place and times in which he lived and his rise to power. There are also a wide range of photographs throughout the book. Back matter includes an extensive Bibliography, including general and dictator-specific reading for further investigation.
Davis has written an very readable, very relevant work that easily serves as a jumping off point for anyone interested in government, politics and the rise and fall of political systems.
Friday, December 4, 2020
The Book of Lost Names, a Novel by Kristin Harmel
It's 2005, and 86-year-old Eva Taube Abrams is still working in a Winter Park, Florida library when she reads an article about a German librarian, Otto Kühn, who is trying to return books that were looted by the Nazis towards the end of WWII to their rightful owners, or at least their families. What catches Eva's eye is a picture of a book called Epitres et Evangiles, a book she hasn't seen in over sixty years. She immediately makes a plane reservation to fly to Berlin and find Otto Kühn to get her book back.
Flashback to July 1942. The Nazi occupation of France has brought out a lot of anti-Semitism among the French, and now roundups of Jews are starting. Before her father is taken away by the Nazis, he tells Eva to visit his employer who will provide her with forged documents he has already paid for. But Monsieur Goujon only gives her all the materials she needs to forge her own documents.
The forgeries, though not perfect, work and before long, Eva and her mother are on their way to Aurignon, a small village in France's free zone. It doesn't take long for Eva's papers to be recognized as forgeries, but luckily it is by a member of the French Resistance. Soon, she finds herself in a secret library within the town's Catholic church, working with fellow forger Rémy Duchamp and creating documents for fleeing Jews and RAF pilots who need to get back to Britain.
But when it came to forging documents for unaccompanied escaping Jewish children, Eva is adamant about preserving their real identity somehow. That way, if they survive the war, they can know who they really are. At first, Rémy is just as adamant about not keeping a record, but, afraid of losing Eva's forging talents, he works up a code that allows the names of the children to be hidden in a book called Epitres et Evangiles.
There is definitely an attraction between Eva and Rémy, though neither acts on it, and Eva believes he was killed after the Aurignon resistance is betrayed.
I can't say I was emotionally swept up in The Book of Lost Names, but I certainly did enjoy reading it enough that I finished it in one sitting. It's clear that Hamel has done her research and put together an exciting tale of resistance and survival, and, lost love. It is a story based on a newspaper article in the NY Times about how the Germans were trying to find the owners of books stolen by the Nazis that Harmel read. I always find this slice of reality gives a story a real feeling of authenticity.
The story goes back and forth between past and present, and one of the things I found interesting is that the present is narrated by older Eva, while there is an omniscient narrator for the past. Eva is such a realistic protagonist. She embodies all the fear, desperation, doubt, and courage of a young women caught in a life and death struggle to save herself and her mother, always believing that her father will one day come back to them.
Two things I didn't like about this book were 1- Eva's mother, whose bitterness and anger didn't help Eva in her struggle to keep them out of Nazi hands; and 2- a few too many coincidences and close calls that probably wouldn't have happened under Nazi occupation.
Nevertheless, I would still definitely recommend this book for teens and adults.
You can find a reading guide for The Book of Lost Names courtesy of the publisher, Simon & Shuster, HERE