Friday, July 23, 2021

MMGM: Arctic Star by Tom Palmer

I've read about convoys and their escorts crossing the Atlantic Ocean during WWII, but never about the ships that escorted convoys traveling parallel to Norway to a base in northern Russia through waters alive with German submarines loaded with torpedoes and Luftwaffe just waiting to take to the air and strike. But even more terrifying than U-Boat attacks and airplane strikes was Hitler's newest ship the Scharnhorst, "the most feared German vessel on the ocean" and rumor has it that she is on the move. Needless to say, this novel, based on a true story, is action packed. 

It may only be October 1943, but teenager Frank, along with his childhood friends Stephen and Joseph, have bundled up to go out on the deck of the HMS Forgetmenot, a convoy escort, to chisel as much ice as possible off the deck of the ship. It's not easy task, given the rough sea, the high waves, and the rolling and tossing of the ship. Which is how Frank suddenly lost his balance and found himself falling into the sea. Sure he was a goner, Frank is surprised to wake up back on the ship. 

Frank recovers, and eventually, the ship makes it to their destination in Russia, but on the way back to their home port, they are torpedoed, and once again Frank finds himself in the freezing Arctic waters as the HMS Forgetmenot sinks. Picked up by a rescue ship, Frank realizes his friend Joseph is dead, but Stephen, who was in the engine room, has miraculously survived. 

Frank and Stephen are given a Survivor's Leave, returning home to Plymouth, England to see their families, and pay their respects to Joseph's father. While there, they receive their orders to report to the HMS Belfast, back on Arctic Convoy duty. And while the HMS Belfast is a larger ship that the HMS Forgetmenot, the trip north to Russia is still filled with fear, anxiety and danger. 

The book ends with the Battle of North Cape, the real life battle between the Arctic Convoy and the dreaded Scharnhorst battleship. I said it is a nail-biter and it is right up to the end. Palmer's descriptions of the cold weather and icy waters of the Norwegian Sea, the ice that coated the ship and had to be constantly chiseled away to prevent the ships from getting top heavy and capsizing, were realistic enough to give me chills despite reading it during a heatwave. 

But even more realistic than the elements were Frank's thoughts and fears. Frank is a sensitive, conscientious boy, and dealing with a dangerous mission should be enough for a anyone who is still a teen, but he must also deal with worry about his mother alone in Plymouth, grieve for a friend who died while the two friends were not on speaking terms, and his own fears of what could happen. The story is told from Frank's first point of view and I thought Palmer did a great job of giving readers a sense of what it was like to be Frank without overwhelming them with too much tension. 

Arctic Star isn't a very long novel, but packs a powerful punch. The Arctic Convoys were such difficult and harrowing missions that an special award called The Arctic Star was created in 2012 for those men who served on what Winston Churchill called "the worst journey in the world." The book is not named for this award, but rather for the North Star that plays a small but important role in Frank's story.

Back matter includes an Author's Note and photographs of men who served on the Arctic Convoys, as well as additional information on the HMS Belfast.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, 
now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Bartali's Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy's Secret Hero by Megan Hoyt, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

Bartali's Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy's Secret Hero
written by Megan Hoyt, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno
Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins, 2021, 40 pages

For eight year, Gino Bartali rode his bicycle around Italy, memorizing trails and paths, winning races and collecting trophies and first-place ribbons. He was such a good racer that in 1938 Gino won the  grueling Tour de France. But it was after that race that Gino noticed things were changing at home in Italy.

Soldiers marched through Europe and soon the world was at war. Jews, who were blamed by some for Europe's ills, were rounded up and arrested. Gino had trouble believing the lies these leaders told about Jews. But Jews had already been denied any freedoms, and now they were being rounded up and arrested. Watching these abuses, Gino thought he needed to do something to help them. Summoned by Archbishop Elia Dalla Costa, Gino was asked if he wanted to become part of a network of Italians who were working to provide false identity papers to help Jews escape Italy and flee to countries like Switzerland and America. 

Despite being afraid, Gino began rolling up and hiding the forged identity papers in the hollows of his handlebars and other parts of his bike. He then began to use his cycling skills and the paths and trails all over Italy he had memorized earlier to pick up and deliver packages of these precious documents to anxious, startled families.  

But Gino did more that just deliver identity papers. For example, when Gino learned the soldiers were looking for his best friend's family, the Goldenbergs, he hid the whole family in his cellar for the duration of the war. Another time, capitalizing on his fame as a cyclist, Gino put on his racing clothes and headed to the train station where soldiers were herding arrested Jews into a train. Gino distracted the guards so that resistance workers could lead the Jews to different trains that would take them to safety. Another time, forced into the military, Gino used his uniform to find and help prisoners of war that were being held by the Italians. He led 49 English soldiers out to safety and no one took any notice of it. 

No one really knows how many people Gino helped to save. Some say more than 800, others dispute that figure. Gino never talked about his wartime activities and no records were kept by the resistance (for obvious reasons). Regardless, Gino has been named "Righteous Among Nations" by Yad Vasham, the Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel for his wartime work helping to rescue Jews.

Bartali's Bicycle is a well-told, well-organized picture book for older readers that introduces this brave man to today's children. Discovering new heroes is always inspiring, and this one is made particularly so thanks to the accompanying illustrations, done in a style and subtle palette of colors appropriate to the period. Both author and illustrator gave an amazing amount of attention to detail that is unusual in a picture book, even a picture book biography like this one. 

Back matter includes a Timeline, a letter from Gino Bartali's granddaughter, Lisa Bartali, an Author's Note and an extensive list the the sources used by the author. 

Bartali's Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy's Secret Hero would be an excellent addition to units on the Holocaust and World War II. And, in fact, you can download a free Teaching Guide for it from the publisher, HarperCollins, HERE   

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Bye Bye Feedburner, Hello Mailchimp

The Follow by Email subscribe link from Feedburner is no longer available on this blog.

If you still wish to follow The Children's War by Email, I have replaced Feedburner with a Subscribe by Email link in the sidebar. 



Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr

It's 1939 and England is at war with Germany. For Jimmy Travers, 12, and his younger brother Ronnie, 6, that means evacuation, leaving their dad and Nan behind in London for a village called Llanbryn in South Wales along with the rest of their school to be taken in by strangers. Jimmy's best mate Duff and his sister are chosen right away, and even Florence Campbell, a girl no one wants to have anything to do with because she and her clothing are always so dirty, is chosen before Jimmy and Ronnie.

Jimmy has been worried that he and Ronnie will be separated, chosen by different families, but luckily, a woman named Gwen Thomas decides she will take the brothers in even though she only wanted on child. Gwen and her husband, Alun, who works long hours in the Llanbryn coal mine, have no children of their own but are very kind to the boys, even though Jimmy refuses to accept them as Aunty Gwen and Uncle Alun, believing he will be home by Christmas. On the other hand, Ronnie adapts easily to valley life and seems to adore Aunty Gwen right off the bat.

One day, feeling sorry for himself, Jimmy takes off and finds a good climbing tree in the middle of a field.  And that's when he discovers a skull in a large gap in the tree. Scared, Jimmy takes off, but runs into the Vicar who seems to have a real dislike for Mr. and Mrs. Thomas. And that's when he discovers that Duff is living with the Vicar. 

It's a while before Jimmy sees his friend Duff, and much to his dismay, Duff has changed. Hanging around with the Vicar's son Jack and three other boys, the five of them go around bullying other kids. But to his real amazement, the next time Jimmy sees Florence, her hair, body and clothing are clean, she's happy and helping out in a shop, where the owner, Mrs. Hughes, is teaching her how to make Welsh Cakes. 

Jimmy returns to the tree, and to his surprise, is discovered by Ronnie, who has followed him. When he shows Ronnie the skull, it scares him and he wets himself. Naturally, that's when they run into Duff and his new gang, but it's Florence who punches Jack in the face defending Ronnie and leading to a new friendship between her and Jimmy.

When money goes missing from the Vicar's church, St. Michael's, people suspect it was stolen by the evacuees. It's clear they are welcomed by some people in Llanbryn, but not others and that there is a deep division between the people who go the St. Michael's and those who go to chapel, like the Thomas and the Hughes families. 

But it's the skull in the tree that holds Jimmy's attention, a secret he shares with Ronnie and Florence. When Jack's gang finds Ronnie at the tree by himself, they decide to kidnap him. Making a slip about the skull, they try to get that information out of him. Luckily, Jimmy and Florence find Ronnie before they hurt him too badly. Later, when Duff tries to pal up to him again, Jimmy knows he's being played and gives his former friend incorrect information about the skull. 

But Jimmy is still determined to find out who the skull belongs to and why is it in the tree? And perhaps, of all people, Alun Thomas has the answer. 

This is one of those stories that drew me in immediately. First, I love a story set in South Wales, and second, I love a good evacuee story and this is certainly that. I was happy that Gwen and Alun turned out to be kind and caring, even if there was some resentment in the village about the London evacuees. And Jimmy is an interesting character, unhappy about leaving his dad and Nan, resistant to letting himself settle in too comfortably with the Thomases, and very affectionate and protective of his younger brother.  

The Valley of Lost Secrets is a debut novel for Lesley Parr and clearly she knows her setting. Llanbryn is a fictional village, but it could easily have been Pontycymmer, where my dad grew up. My dad was raised chapel like the Thomases and Hughes families, and I'm not sure American readers will understand the difference between church and chapel that is talked about but that is a small part of the story and probably won't cause any lost of interest in Jimmy's story. 

Though this is a really great middle grade adventure/mystery with plenty of humor, Parr has explored some important themes in this novel, such as what makes a family and a community, forgiveness and acceptance, loss and guilt, courage and cowardice. The Valley of Lost Secrets is perfect for fans of Nina Bawden's Carrie's War, Michelle Magorian's Good Night, Mr. Tom, Emma Carroll's Letters from the Lighthouse, Kate Albus's A Place to Hang the Moon, and Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's The War That Saved My Life - all evacuation stories, all unique.

This book was purchased for my personal library.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Summer of Lost Letters by Hannah Reynolds

When a box of her O'ma's stuff arrives at the house addressed to her mother, Abby Schoenberg, 17, can't resist opening it. Inside, she finds a stack of love letters addressed to her O'ma, Ruth Goldman, living in New York City from someone named Edward living on Nantucket island, and who refuses to send Ruth a necklace she has asked to be returned to her. Not knowing much about her O'ma's past other than that she came alone from Germany as a 4-year-old shortly after Kristallnacht. Now, Abby is determined to discover more about her O'ma's life - who is Edward, why was he writing love letters to her in the 1950s and what happened to the necklace, which her Grandmother obviously never got back. 

After doing some research, Abby discovers the letter writer is Edward Barbanel, who mentions a place called Golden Doors on Nantucket. Luckily, Abby lands a job working in a bookstore on the island, and a room shared with a girl named Jane, with whom she immediately becomes friends. And yes, everyone she meets knows the very wealthy Barbanel family, who are having a party at which Abby is invited to help serve. Naturally, her curiosity overcomes her and she is caught snooping around by Noah Barbanel, 18 and the handsome grandson of Edward. 

To try to keep his family's personal business private and to protect his grandparents, Noah agrees to help Abby with her search to discover more about her O'ma and her family history. O'ma never talked about her parents and all the Schoenberg's knew was that they have perished in Auschwitz, but who they were and where they lived had always been a mystery. 

In between her job at the bookstore and her attempts to discover more about her O'ma, there are parties on the beach, sailing, ice cream and new friends, even Shabbat dinner with the Barbanel family. Abby hadn't been looking forward to this summer with her friends away, but decides to take the advice of best friend Niko who tells her to go crazy, be bold, have some chutzpah. And that is just what Abby does. 

The Summer of Lost Letters is a contemporary romance with some interesting historical fiction and some interesting historical facts throughout the novel and Reynolds has incorporated it all easily into the story. I thought it was interesting how she introduced some of the chapters with Edward's love letters almost as a portend of what is going to happen. I also thought that never getting to know who Ruth Goldman responded to the letters or what she felt was a great way to keep the mystery going. Of course, readers can  surmise her feelings for Edward by the fact of keeping the letters, despite having married another man (whom she did in fact love, too). 

At first the tension and bickering in between getting along really well was kind of fun as Abby and Noah dances around their attraction to each other. But after a certain point, I honestly felt that this could have used some editing when I found myself muttering "oh my God, own it already." Others may find this kind of dance appealing.  

In the end. all is revealed and I never saw it coming - and I really liked that. The end could come across as a little to pat, but that was fine with me. After all, this is a great summer romance to read, enjoy, and learn a few things.

This book is recommend for readers age 12+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from NetGalley

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Last Hawk: Pilot, Patriot, Spy by Elizabeth Wein

This is Elizabeth Wein's third novella about a female flier in WWII. The first, White Eagles, is the story of Kristina Tomiak who is accepted into the Polish Air Force Reserve in 1939, and whose job it is to fly a person carrying important information to a meeting in Lvov, Poland. In the second novella, Firebird, it's 1942 and teen Anatasia "Nastia" Viktorovna Nabokova is a Soviet flight instructor who is ultimately accused of treason for defying Stalin's orders.  

Now, it's 1944 and 17-year-old Ingrid Hartman is a talented glider pilot, who loves the feeling of freedom that being in the air gives her. Ingrid has a stutter and in Hitler's view, that means she does not belong in his master race. People like Ingrid are taken away, never to be seen again. So Ingrid has learned how to not speak unless absolutely necessary. When a German officer shows up at her home and becomes angry because she didn't respond to his knocking on the front door and forgets to greet him with Heil Hitler,  Ingrid and her father both fear possible harsh reprisals.  

Ingrid's cousin Jonni agrees to give her an official title at his glider school, where she is his best gliding instructor, giving her some sense of protection. One day, when she is there alone, a woman arrives looking for her. It turns out that the woman is Hanna Reitsch, Germany's most famous female test pilot. Ingrid's friend, Emil Bruck, had recommended her to Hanna because of her gliding skills. It seems she wants Ingrid to accompany her on a propaganda tour of Luftwaffe bases, where Reitsch will give speeches to new pilots and recruit the top glider pilots among them for a special mission.

Naturally, Ingrid jumps at the chance to work with this famous pilot who doesn't seem the least bit bothered by her stutter. And this new job will only require Ingrid to follow Reitsch in a Hawk glider, doing some synchronized fancy flying, but to take down the information of the enthusiastic recruits - none of which requires her to speak. But the mission Reitsch wants these young men to volunteer for begins to bother Ingrid. The project Reitsch is promoting is called the Leonidas Squadron, and it is her job to convince the young pilots that dying for their country is the right this to do for the Fatherland without actually telling them that they would be flying suicide missions.    

Ingrid is thrilled when her friend Emil lands at one of the air bases she and Reitsch are also at. Emil had already said things to Ingrid about the treatment of Jews and others forced to work in munitions factories. Ingrid knows that's a fate she could have met under different circumstance because of her stutter. Now, while forcing a kiss on her, Emil carefully slips something into the waistband of her skirt. At first, feeling betrayed by him, Ingrid is angry - after all, they are only friends - but once she sees what he gave her, she knows she must follow his pleading for her to fly to the safety of the Allied forces not so far away now and show them the photos of the concentration camps Emil had taken as proof of what Germany has been doing. 

But will Ingrid find the courage she needs do fly this last mission, knowing it would be treason?

Narrated in the first person by Ingrid, readers are introduced to a lot of information, from Nazi Germany's eugenics program to the almost formed suicide squadron. Ingrid not only has a stutter, but her mother, a nurse, had worked in a youth hospital for children who had learning difficulties, so the Hartman family knew firsthand about forced sterilization, followed by forced neglect, and that those who didn't die then were simple taken away to a place where they all died from "pneumonia," including the mayor's son. (pg 10-11) 

Readers will really feel the indecision Ingrid experiences when she learns about the Leonidas Squadron and why she and Hanna Reitsch are putting on glider shows. Hanna Reitsch is a friendly, accepting mentor who just happens to be helping to plan the possible deaths of so many young men, most not much older than Ingrid. It is also an opportunity for Wein, herself a pilot, to provide background information the different kinds of planes and gliders used in Nazi Germany, as well as the unmanned vengeance or V-bombs that terrorized England for a while in 1944. And all this is so seamlessly woven into Ingrid's narrative. 

The Last Hawk is published by Barrington Stoke in a dyslexic- and reluctant reader- friendly format. I really like these books, but as an adult dyslexic who has been reading a lot longer than most kids, I wondered if kids would find them as reader-friendly as I do. So, I gave one to a young friend (age 11) who has also been diagnosed as dyslexic and not a fan of reading. Sure enough, they not only liked the format but enjoyed the story, too. 

Pair this with White Eagles and Firebird for an amazing trilogy about girls who fly in WWII.  

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

Friday, June 11, 2021

Ensnared in the Wolf's Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge by Ann Bausum

One of the things I've learned after reading a number of books by Ann Bausum is that you can always count on her to write a compelling, well-researched book. She really knows how to present the participants, lay out the timeline, and contextualize the meaning of each historical event she tackles. And she has done it again in this book about the  Valkyrie plot to kill Adolf Hitler, in what could otherwise be a confusing event in the history of Nazi Germany. But then, Bausum takes the story further and tells the reader what happened later to the children of the people involved in the plot.

Bausum begins her account with a detailed account of Adolf Hitler's rise in popularity and his seizure of power after the death of President Paul von Hindenburg in 1934. From the beginning, Hitler used fear and brutality to maintain control over the German people, and his predilection for retaliation meant little dissent among the people. But by 1943, some prominent Germans, among the *Count Claus von Stauffenberg, Cäsar von Hofacker and Friedrich-Wilhelm von Hase, began to realize that Hitler had to be stopped. 

A plot to kill Hitler and overthrow his regime was planned, adapting the name Valkyrie. The plan was simple enough - von Stauffenberg would carry a briefcase with a bomb in it to a July 20, 1944 meeting at Hitler's Wolf's Lair retreat. He would excuse himself, but leave the briefcase behind. Unfortunately, the planned assassination  failed and the conspirators were quickly captured, put to death and cremated.  

But what about the families of the dead conspirators? Here is where Bausum shines a light on what is probably an almost unknown part of this story. The deadly fate of the conspirators wasn't enough for Hitler, who insisted on broadly applying a policy of Sippenhaft or family arrest to their "families, including spouses, children, siblings, parents and other relatives" (pg. 70) and put SS leader Heinrich Himmler in charge if it.

Over 700 family members were arrested, and then,  children were separated from adults and taken to a former youth retreat called Borntal located in the secluded town of Bad Sachsa. There, they were traumatized even further. All family mementoes, including photographs and personal items, were removed from their suitcases, they were given new last names, and although they were marginally taken care of by staff, they were forbidden to speak to any outsiders. 

What happened to these children, nicknamed the Ghost Children by the community around them, is really the main focus of this book. Using the diary kept by one of the children, Christa von Hofsacker, interviews with a number of the detainees still living, and extensive research, Bausum gives readers a detailed window into just what these children suffered without even knowing why it was happening to them. 

As much as I know about Nazi Germany, the story of these Ghost Children was new to me. I did know about the Sippenhaft policy, but has just assumed it didn't involve children, who could have been re-educated the same way the Nazis re-educated Jewish children who looked Aryan from conquered countries. Instead, they followed a policy of erasure, isolation and harassment. 

To help readers, Bausum includes a map of Europe on July 20, 1944, copious photographs, including many of the families of the conspirators before the assassination attempt, and extensive back matter. There is a timeline of the rise and fall of Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler, a list of the Borntal's Sippenhaft Families, a Resource Guide,  A Note from the Author, and a detailed Bibliography, among other resources. Bausum also has a number of classroom suggestions to use in conjunction with this book, which you can find HERE.

Ensnared in the Wolf's Lair is a book for readers interested history, World War II, and/or Nazi Germany.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from Karen Wadsworth at Media Masters Publicity

*Here is an interesting fact I learned when I was writing about Fliegerinnen or women pilots in Nazi Germany. As part of the Sippenhaft policy, relatives of Count Claus von Stauffenberg were also arrested, including his older twin brothers Berthold and Alexander. Alexander, who was not part of the conspiracy, was married to Melitta Schiller, a half Jewish, half Aryan aviator. She had been awarded the Iron Cross in 1943, arrested in the 1944 Sippenhalf roundup, but later released. Melitta tested dive bombers for the Luftwaffe, and was shot down by an American fighter plane in 1945. 



Thursday, June 3, 2021

A Peculiar Combination (An Electra McDonnell Novel #1) by Ashley Weaver

It's August 1940, Britain is at war with Germany, the Blitz hasn't begun yet, and so, Ellie McDonnell, 24, and her Uncle Mick thought it would be safe to break into the deserted home of some wealthy Londoners and rob their safe. Sure, they had done this plenty of times before. Uncle Mick is a locksmith by day, and cracking open people's safes at night was more like a hobby than theft, and niece Ellie is a natural. Only this time, they get caught and it isn't by the London police. Instead, they were take to a large townhouse in Belgravia, now occupied by the military under the command of the quite arrogant Major Gabriel Ramsey. After some interrogation about how they crack safes, Ellie and Uncle Mick are given a proposition - prison or help the Major break into a safe containing some stolen classified blueprints having to do with national security and retrieve them before they are given over to the enemy. 

It sounds like a simple enough job, so Ellie and Uncle Mick accept the proposition - after all, they are patriots who want to do their bit for the war effort. In fact, Ellie's cousins Toby and Colm are already serving their country. So the deal is, Ellie and Major Ramsey will break into a house and get the documents, while Uncle Mick is help as collateral. Everything goes well except the papers are gone and the person in whose safe they were has been murdered.

Having carried out their part of the deal made with Major Ramsey, Ellie and Uncle are released with a promise to live on the straight and narrow for the duration. But then Ellie gets called back to Major Ramsey's office who needs her safecracking skills once again. Ramsey is convinced that the documents will be handed over at a party and lecture on Chinese porcelain to a potential conspirator with German ties. There are any number of possible suspects, but thanks to Ellie's pickpocketing skills, they are able to glean enough information on what appears to be a solid lead. 

Meanwhile, a prickly relationship is growing between Major Ramsey and Ellie. And the fact that an old ex-girlfriend of his may be mixed up in the conspiracy to pass documents to the Germans doesn't help matters. Ramsey is uptight, formal, and slow to trust Ellie, whereas Ellie takes her tasks seriously, but can be feisty and a real buster when she wants to be, though her teasing adds some much needed humor to their relationship and their mission. Don't get me wrong - there are also enough serious and even dangerous moments. 

On the whole, I really enjoyed this first novel in what looks to become a series. It may seem wrong for the main character to be a criminal, after all, they are usually the pursued not the pursuer. But right from the start, Ellie and Uncle Mick are forced to mend their ways (permanently? I doubt it). And although more than one person is killed, the novel inn't graphic, putting into the cozy class. 

A Peculiar Combination lives up to it ironic title and more, and will have readers wanting even more by the time they reach novel's end. 

This book is recommended for mystery fans age 14+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from NetGalley

Monday, May 31, 2021

A Day for Rememberin': Inspired by the True Events of the First Memorial Day by Leah Henderson, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

This was originally posted on my other blog, Randomly Reading, but since it is Memorial Day today, I thought I would posted it here, too. 

A Day for Rememberin'
Inspired by the True Events of the First Memorial Day
written by Leah Henderson, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Harry N. Abrams, 2021, 40 pages
Most of us don't really know much about Memorial Day except that it's a time when we honor those who lost their lives in combat defending United States and the democratic principles upon which it was founded. And maybe some of us know that it was originally called Decoration Day, a day when families would go to the cemetery with flags and flowers to place on the graves of their fallen loved ones. But how many of us know about the origin of Memorial Day?

Well, now Leah Henderson has explored this question and has written a picture book for older readers that tells the story of one such origin and has chosen Eli, the ten-year-old son of formerly enslaved parents, as the narrator. It's 1865 and the Civil has ended with the Confederate surrender. And for nine days, Eli has wondered where his Papa goes to so early every day. Eli imagines him doing all kinds of things, but he isn't allowed to follow Papa because he is going to school, and as his mother reminds him, "...you have the hard earned right to learn...Masters locked away learning 'cause knowledge is its own freedom." 
Finally, though, on day ten, Papa wakes Eli up early and they join a procession of other formerly enslaved men and boys and head to the Charleston, South Carolina racetrack, once used for the entertainment white plantation owners. During the Civil War, the racetrack had become a prison where Confederates put captured Union soldiers, who were starved and treated so badly that even the enslaved women would try to sneak the men whatever morsels they could spare. 

Eli discovers that the men have been working to create a cemetery for the 257 dead Union soldiers who had been held in the racetrack. And it's here that Eli has a paintbrush put in his hands to help whitewash a fence with the other children. 

The next day, Eli is up early again, and heads out with his parents to join the procession other Black families heading to the racetrack, now a cemetery. Eli proudly carries the American flag, and the women carry flowers with which to decorate the newly dug graves. 
While this may be a work of historical fiction, the cemetery, called the Martyrs of the Race Track that was created in Charleston, South Carolina by formerly enslaved men, women, and children, is considered by some scholars to be the first observance of Decoration Day, later renamed Memorial Day. In her Author's Note, Henderson writes that she was inspired to write to story after seeing a photograph of about "200 Black children getting ready for what looked like a parade." Curiosity sparked, research led Henderson to the cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina, where she learned that the Decoration Day parade to the former racetrack included over 10,000 newly freed enslaved people were led by about 3,000 Black children. Henderson chose the fictional Eli and his parents to tell their story.

A Day for Rememberin' is such a poignant story about how one community honored the men who they believed fought for them, but also, as Eli reminds readers, about the fear that enslaved people lived with every day, wondering if their loved one would come home at the end of the day, or be sold to someone without their knowing. 

And who better to illustrate this moving, affective story than Floyd Cooper. Using his signature method of oil erasure in earth tones of yellows and browns seems somehow so perfect for this story. The hazy effect of this method doesn't diminish the details and the closeups of people faces really captures their different emotions. 

Besides the Author's Note, back matter includes a short essay on The Roots of Decoration Day, a Timeline of Decoration Day/Memorial Day, a list of other cities claiming to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, Endnotes, and a Select Bibliography. 

David W. Blight a scholar who believes that the birthplace of Decoration Day is Charleston, South Carolina. You can read two of his interesting articles about this HERE and HERE.

Full disclosure: I read a digital watermarked ARC received from the publisher.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+

In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Sunday, May 23, 2021

MMGM: The Good War by Todd Strasser


The Good War by Todd Strasser
Delacorte Press/Random House, 2021, 192 pages

I was in college taking a Propaganda course when I read Todd Strasser's The Wave. It's a story about how readily people will give up their individual rights and personal freedom to become part of a dominating peer group in a classroom experiment designed to show students how Germans were persuaded to support Nazism. It was a simplified experiment, but the part that Strasser got right was that we are all responsible for our own actions and to question a leader and never follow him blindly. Now, we have The Good War in which Strasser gives readers a somewhat updated version of The Wave, but takes it to a virtual battlefield.

Ironville Middle School has had to cancel football for lack of funds and taking advantage of that, seventh grader Caleb Arnett had worked with math teacher Ms. B on a grant that provided state of the art gaming computers to the school. Now, for the first time, there would be an eSports club, despite the Principal's skepticism about gaming. Eight students show up for the inaugural meeting, including loner Zach Cook and bully Crosby Fugard, and soon a game is chosen and teams are formed. 

The game, The Good War or TGW for short, mimics the Allied and Axis forces in World War II. Emma Lopez is chosen to be team captain for the Allies, and has Caleb, Zach and Nathan on her team, while Gavin Morgenstern is the Axis captain with Crosby, Tyler and Mackenzie on his side. The eSports Club meets once a week after school, and it doesn't take long for the players to really get into it. Soon, the Axis players are all wearing Nazi type clothing and speaking in fake German accents. Sadly, most of the students don't really have an understanding of World War II and what happened. For them, it's just a video game.

Things really get out of hand when there is a malware attack during a club meeting that features Nazi symbols, leading to a fight between two opposing players. After all Caleb's hard work to get these computers, this the end of eSports Club?

The Good War is told in the third person alternating voices of Caleb, Zach, Emma, Nathan and Crosby. Each of these students have issues and it is interesting to see how they evolve over the course of 10 weeks. Caleb is overly extended thanks to his hovering parents who want him to excel in everything; loner Zach is a fidgety boy with multiple tics, but is a great skateboarder and gamer, while quiet Emma lives in her older sisters shadow, unable to stand up for herself. Crosby, who mother has cancer and is going through chemo, is the most vulnerable of the group. He plays TGW online with a white supremacist who is slowly radicalizing him. 

Through the members of the eSports Club, Strasser explores themes of bigotry, prejudice, the misuse of social media, racism, and bullying. While it is a little hard to believe that a middle school would allow students to play a game like The Good War, which is rated Mature, I could still suspend my disbelief for the sake of the story. And what about Ms. B's lack of leadership and control over the eSports Club? In my teaching life, I have met a few Ms. Bs, which is sad to say. 
 
I wrote a dissertation on how novels for girls were used to indoctrinate them into NSDAP thinking, so naturally, I found The Good War and The Wave to be interesting books that tackle the theme of indoctrination and belonging. There was a reason Hitler courted German youth but you might be surprised to learn that German parents weren't quite as supportive as we have been lead to believe. Which made me wonder, where were all the parents of the kids in the eSports club? 

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from NetGalley

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and you can see all of this week's wonderful MMGM books thanks to Greg at Always in the Middle

Sunday, May 16, 2021

MMGM: War and Millie McGonigle by Karen Cushman

It's 1941 and life has been difficult for Millie McGonigle''s family lately. First, there was the Depression. Her dad lost his job, and still hasn't found one. Younger sister Lily is sickly with lung problems and takes up all her mother's attention, while younger brother Pete, 5, wants all of Millie's attention. Then the war started in Eurpoe and Millie began worrying that the Nazis might just come over to San Diego and drop their bombs. To make matters worse, on Millie's twelfth birthday her beloved Gram Tillie suddenly passed away, but not before she gave Millie a blank notebook and told her "Things that seem lost or dead - keep them alive and safe in your book. Whatever is lost stays alive if we remember it." And so Millie turned her notebook into The Book of Dead Things, Mission Beach, San Diego, Californiz, 1941. Now, Millie combs the beach looking for all kinds of dead things to draw in her book. 

And then the news that Gram's cousin Edna would be coming to live with the McGonigle's and Millie would have to share her bed with her. Edna is a little off center, seemingly unaware of what's going on around her and that there is a war happening. One good thing that happens is the her nemesis Dicky (Icky) Fribble's aunt and cousin Rosie move in with his family. Rosie is older than Millie, but the two girls hit it off immediately.

Then Pearl Harbor is attacked and everything changes again. Her dad gets a job as a clerk in the Navy Exchange, unable to join the army because of a heart murmur, and her mom begins welding school. Now, there are air raid drills in school, heavy black curtains on the windows at night, and rationing. Soon, kids are playing war games and collecting metal, fat and newspapers for the war effort. And, of course, Japanese hatred soon rears its ugly head in none other than Icky Fribble and his mother. Through it all, Millie continues to add drawings of dead things to her notebook. 

War and Millie McGonigle is such an interesting story. It takes place between Saturday, September 20, 1941 and Sunday, February 28, 1942, mimicking Millie's diary entries, so most accountings are on Saturday and Sunday, with only a few on weekdays. 

Millie is a sensitive character, who wallows in grievances, afraid to let go and enjoy life, because what if... But, over the course of the novel, she begins to change and watching that happen at the pivotal age between childhood and being a teen is what makes her so interesting. Add a war to that time, and you have a lively, endearing character. And while Millie's obsession with her The Book of Dead Things sounds rather morbid at first, it becomes an exploration of what to value in life for her. 

Readers will find plenty of daily home front details in this character driven novel. But my favorite aspect of the book is that it is set at the beach at a time when it was not such an attraction for tourists. In that respect, it will remind readers of Jennifer L. Holms' books Turtle in Paradise and Full of Beans, even though they take place in Key West, Florida. They all share the same salty air, smelly seaweed, cawing seagulls atmosphere that is so beachy. Cushman has really nailed the setting aspect of the novel. 

Hand this to readers interested in historical fiction, WWII, tween girls, and anyone looking for a good home front story.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an eBook gratefully received from NetGalley

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and you can see all of this week's wonderful MMGM books thanks to Greg at Always in the Middle

Sunday, May 9, 2021

MMGM: In A Flash by Donna Jo Napoli

It's July 1940 and though there is a war going on, Simona, 8, and Carolina, 5, have just learned that they will be moving from Italy to Tokyo, Japan for perhaps a year or two. It's only been half a year since their mother died, and now they will be leaving their beloved Nonna, too, in four days. The father, a chef, has been offered a job at the Italian embassy, cooking for the Italian ambassador and his wife, both of whom refuse to eat Japanese food. 

Four days after arriving in Tokyo, Simona begins public school, not knowing the language or having any friends. But by December, she and Carolina have both learned enough Japanese to get by, though Simona still has no friends at school. And within a year, they are both fluent and quite assimilated into Japanese customs. Simona still has no real friends, except Aiko who refuses to acknowledge her at school. Although Simona and Carolina are the children of a servant, the Japanese kids believe they are rich and living luxuriously and that is why they are snubbed. 

When the United States is attacked by Japan and enters the war, everyone assumes America will easily be defeated by Japan. After all, Japan, Italy, and Germany had signed the Tripartite Pact in 1940 pledging to come to each other's aid should their country be attacked. But everything changes in 1943 when Italy surrenders to the Allies. Suddenly, Italians are Japan's enemy and they are all forced into an internment camp, where Simona and Carolina are separated from their father.   

The sisters are able to escape, and begin to make their way across the countryside. As they make their way though Japan, they are able to survive with the help of three women living together, including a manga artist, then with help from a blind washerwoman in Tokyo where their father used to bring the embassy's dirty sheets, and ultimately finding themselves in a Catholic mission in Hiroshima in the spring and summer of 1945.

In a Flash is, to say the least, a harrowing story to read, yet it is compelling and hard to put down as well. Napoli has certainly done her research on what it was like to live in Japan during WWII. What makes this story unique is that the it is written in the first person perspective, by a citizen of one of America's enemies living in a country of another enemy. But while Simona is Italian she isn't political, she is much more an observer and reporter of what she sees around her, often without understanding it. She may sometimes voice some of the propaganda she has been told about the United States, and often observes the behavioral result of Japan's propaganda in those around her, but she remains a child trying to make sure she and her sister survive.

It was difficult reading about the "patriotic" propaganda, but even more difficult was the incredible level of rationing and starvation inflicted on people in the name of victory because it was so realistically portrayed. On the other hand, Simona and Carolina's will to survive in the face of adversity is the stuff of great historical fiction.

I read a lot of Napoli's books and In a Flash is now one of my very favorites. There are a lot of themes and a lot of information to be gleaned from this compassionate thought-provoking, eye-opening novel.

Front matter consists of a map of Japan and back matter consists of a Postscript, Notes on Research, and an extensive Bibliography.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and you can see all of this week's wonderful MMGM books thanks to Greg at Always in the Middle

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

After the War: From Auschwitz to Ambleside by Tom Palmer

Tom Palmer used to write books for kids about sports like rugby and football (soccer), but more recently he has turned his storytelling skills to historical fiction. Last year, I read D-Day Dog, a story I found to be very informative, as does the present-day protagonist Jack. This year, I was intrigued to read After the War after hearing about it for an event on World Book Day, March 4, 2021 in connection with the Anne Frank Trust

After the War is a fictionalized story based on true events that happened after the war ended. In 1945, 300 Jewish children who had survived life in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust were sent directly to the Lake District in England. 

It's summer 1945 when 15-year-old Yossi, and his two friends Mordecai and Leo arrive in England in one of 10 planes, each carrying 30 young Holocaust survivors. They have been told they are safe now, that they will all have enough to eat and a room of their own with a bed and electricity, and most importantly, there will be no guards. But after six years in a concentration camp, could they really trust that? 

Arriving at the Calgarth Estates on Lake Windmere, where they will live for the next few months, the children find it difficult to trust people and what they say, and to give up the survival habits that kept them alive in Auschwitz, especially when it comes to food. So despite there always being enough to eat, Yossi, Leo, and Mordedai stuff as much food as they can into their pockets to save for later - just in case there isn't enough food then. 

Slowly, however, they begin to gain weight, becoming healthier and stronger. They even begin to develop trust again, thanks to the the kindness of the people of the Lake District and those in charge of them at Lake Windmere. Soon, they are back in school and learning English, and since their stay is only temporary, they also need to start thinking about the future and what they will do. The Red Cross arrives visits to obtain information about the children's families in order to try to reunite them with relatives who might have also survived. Yossi hopes that they will find his father, whom he wants to believe is still alive, even though they were separated on a death march towards the end of the war. Yossi watched as his younger sisters and mother went to the gas chambers the night they arrived in Auschwitz, but he and his father were selected to work. 

Hoping against hope that the Red Cross will find his father, Yossi is unable to think about moving on. The three friends, who have become family to each other, want to stay together, but can't agree on how to do that. Mordecai, who is deeply religious, wants to join the Jewish community in Leeds after they reached out to the children at Lake Windmere, while Leo wants to go to Palestine, believing they would be safest there. 

But recovery and recuperation aren't as easy as clean sheets and enough to eat. Yossi, who is the main protagonist, is haunted by his memories of the things he witnessed before the war in Poland after the Nazis invaded and life first in the ghetto and later in Auschwitz. These memories are seamlessly woven into the story as incidents in Yossi's present ignite flashbacks in his past. Sensitive and caring, Yossi has a minor breakdown one day when he seems to have given up and, not seeing any point to it, refuses to get out of bed. Laying there, he recalls his father's words "...if we let ourselves go, the Germans will think they are right, that we are not human." His father believed that getting up and washing every morning in Auschwitz was an act of defiance, of resistance to the Nazis, and Yossi determines it is still true. Will the memory of his father give Yossi what he needs to be able to get up and move on?  

People sometimes forget that when a war ends, it isn't over, that there are always serious after effects. In this short, very readable novel, those after effects are clearly presented. Palmer depicts the children's survivor behavior in their present circumstances, relating it back to what happened in the concentration camps in the most heartbreakingly poignant way. And while he doesn't graphically describe the cruelty and the atrocities committed by the Nazis against Jewish men, women, and children, he gives enough detail that readers can get a clear picture of what happened then and the challenges the children now face.

After the War is a powerful book about courage, friendship, hope and resilience and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Be sure to visit Tom Palmer's After the War webpage for more information, including a link to read the first chapter, a link to hear about his researching and writing After the War and so much more.

Although After the War is fiction, you can find more information about the children who were brought to Lake Windmere at the The Lake District Holocaust Project HERE (BTW10% of author royalites are donated to The Lake District Holocaust Project). 

After the War is published by Barrington Stoke in a dyslexic friendly font, layout, spacing and page tint that makes it easier to read (and since I'm dyslexic, I can honestly say it does). 

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Monday, April 26, 2021

Stranger on the Home Front: A Story of Indian Immigrants and World War I (I Am American series) by Maya Chhabra

It's Autumn 1916 and the United States has still not entered the war that is raging in Europe. Margaret Singh, 11, and her parents have just arrived from their home in San Francisco to attend the annual Sikh festival Guru Nanak Gurpurab in Stockton., California. But when she overhears her father speaking with the other Sikh men about his contributions to their cause, Margaret has reason to worry. They were talking about the German backers of the Ghadar Party and a ship carrying weapons that had been caught by the British. Was her father involved in this? Since America wasn't in the war yet, it wouldn't be treason to work with Germany, but... And unfortunately, Margaret isn't the only one to hear this conversation. As soon as she noticed him, the other eavesdropper vanished.

When Margaret's father discovers she had listened in on the conversation, he explains that the members of the Ghadar Party are fighting for India's independence, that if they could get Indian soldiers to revolt against the British, India would be free. 

Margaret, whose father is Indian from the Punjab region and whose mother is white, attends the better funded white public school rather than the poorly funded segregated school most kids with dark skin are forced to go to after her mother begged the principal to accept her. Her best friend is Bettina, whose father is from Germany, and who excels in German, and Margaret's nemesis is new girl Agnes Fitzgerald, who just didn't want any dark-skinned students in white school. 

Then, in the Spring of 1917, America enters the war and everything changes. First, Margaret's father is arrested for his participation in the Ghadar Party, but quickly released. When Margaret returns to school, Bettina tells her she must call her Betty from now on. Pretty soon, Betty begins to work hard to prove her patriotism by volunteering for Junior Red Cross. It doesn't take long for their friendship to fall apart as Margaret becomes more aware of the hypocrisy of America's idealistic policies and the reality of its racist policies and immigration laws, and begins to speak her mind about her. 

Margaret also begins to question who she is and where her allegiances are. Margaret is an American citizen because she was born here, but her Indian father can never become an American citizen, and then she learns that her mother lost her American citizenship when she married her father. Knowing this and seeing how quickly Bettina was willing to deny her German roots, it's no wonder that Margaret also wonders where she really belongs and what being an American means to her now.

Although Margaret's story is fiction, it is based on real events in the United States during World War I. Narrated by Margaret in the first person, and using newspaper clippings and her diary entries, readers get a rounded picture of just what like was like for a biracial girl and her family in this country between 1916-1918. As the story moves along, readers can really see how much Margaret grows and becomes more aware of the world around her. 

Her parents are both portrayed as kind and gentle, though her father continues to want independence for India. He was never a member of the Ghadar Party, which is why he was released quickly and not deported, but readers get lots of information about these events through him. The author has included A Note on Vocabulary in the front matter to help readers unfamiliar with Indian culture and the Hindu religion, back matter includes an information Author's Note, a Timeline and photographs from the time. There are black-and-white illustrations throughout. 

Stranger on the Home Front is an great book for readers who like learning about different cultures and historical fiction.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from NetGalley 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Maurice and His Dictionary: A True Story by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Enzo Lord Mariano

Maurice and His Dictionary: A True Story
written by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Enzo Lord Mariano
Owlkids Books, 2020, 56 pages

It's May 10, 1940 and the Nazis have just invaded Belgium. For 14-year-old Maurice Fajgenbaum and his family - parents Adéle and Max, older siblings Adeline and soccer-loving Henri - that means having to leave Brussels, the only home they had ever known, as quickly as possible, packing only what they could carry and leaving the rest of their possessions for the Nazis to pillage. And simply because they are Jewish.

Page 6

Luckily, father Max has business contacts in Paris and so the family heads there. Since there were warnings about the Nazi invasion, Max had already bought the train tickets his family would need. But after days on the train, the family is dropped off in a small village. Weeks later, father Max is almost rounded up with other refugees, and the family is quickly on the move again. This time, they find themselves in Pau, at the foothills of the Pyrenees in Vichy, France, the unoccupied so called free zone. 

In Pau, life is a little easier for the refugee family and Maurice even begins school again, hoping to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer one day, comforting himself with his father's conviction that "the law will make us all equal." But once again, the Nazis begin to round up Jews, sending them to camps in Poland and Germany, and the Fajgenbaum family is on the run. 

This time, they make it to port city Lisbon, Portugal, but only long enough to get the papers and passage on a ship that will take them to Jamaica. It is on the ship that they are separated from each other for the first time. Arriving in Jamaica, the Fajgenbaums, along with their fellow passengers, are taken to an internment camp indefinitely. Maurice, still dreaming of becoming a lawyer, finds teachers all over the camp willing to tutor him, including an English teacher who recommends he get permission to go to town to buy a dictionary.  

Safe from the Nazis, Maurice continues to study hard, improving his English with the help of his tutor and his new dictionary, graduating high school and going on to college and law school in Canada.  

Maurice and His Dictionary is a picture book for older readers told in graphic format, an homage based on the true story of the author's father's experience during the Holocaust. While this book may lack some of the hair-raising details of how Jews were treated by the Nazis and even the French, it is definitely a survival story, and the Fajgenbaum family proved to be very resourceful, especially Max, and they were lucky enough to meet enough kind people to help them escape the Nazis and Europe just in time. 

The story is also a homage to Maurice's perseverance. He never wavered in his desire get an education and become a lawyer. And despite all the setbacks Maurice faced, he always followed his father's motto "Solve one problem, then the next, and then the next" which is how he finally finished high school.

The stylized illustrations, in sepia tones giving them a feeling of age, are simple but if you look closely you will discover all kinds of interesting details. The illustrations and the wide white borders around each page provide readers with lots of space to extend the story.

This is such an inspiring story, all the more so because it is a true story. Be sure to read the Author's Note for more information about Maurice, including photographs (there's even one of his dictionary). 

And there is a Teacher's Guide that can be downloaded courtesy of the publisher, Owlkids Books. 

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Consequences of Fear (a Maisie Dobbs Mystery #16) by Jacqueline Winspear

It's October 1941, Britain has been at war with Germany for two years with no end in sight, and Londoners are still being bombed and dealing with the aftermath. For 12-year-old Freddie Hackett, the fastest runner in school, it means running messages to and from agents all over London, to earn a few shillings that his cruel father will spend in the local pub. But when Freddie witnesses a murder one night while running a message, only to deliver the message to the man who had done the killing, he's terrified and needs to tell someone about what he saw. And he knows just who to talk to.

Meanwhile, Maisie Dobbs has been enjoying motherhood ever since adopting Anna, the young evacuee who has been staying with Maisie's father and stepmother in Kent. But Maisie is also realizing that she has fallen in love with Mark Scott, the American agent from the Department of Justice that she worked with for the British Intelligence services under Robbie MacFarlane, senior detective with Scotland Yard's Special Branch. Yet, as much as Maisie might want to spend most of her life in Kent taking care of Anna, she decides to take Freddie Hackett's case pro bono, after finding out that Scotland Yard doesn't believe him and discovering blood at the site of the murder. 

In the midst of her investigation, Maisie accompanies MacFarlane to Scotland where they are to test and evaluate twenty British recruits and a few French volunteers, all wanting to become overseas intelligence agents. But when Maisie meets Major André Chaput, there to observe the French recruits, she is sure that he is the murderer that Freddie Hackett described in such detail, including the deep ridges on either side of his face and the patch of pale skin under his eye. Could it possibly be a coincidence? MacFarlane has been annoyed at Maisie for taking on the Freddie Hackett case to begin with, but when she brings up her thoughts about Major Chaput, he immediately sends her back to London.

Once again, Maisie has a lot on her plate, but now that Anna and Mark have come into her life, you can really feel how torn she is between them and the happiness they bring her and her work, which brings its own satisfaction. Added to all that is Freddie Hackett, a child with a cruel alcoholic father who has had to grow up to fast in order to take care of his mother and younger sister, Grace, who has Down Syndrome. We all know Maisie is a softy when it comes to children and so, not surprisingly, she also manages to find the Hackett family a safe place to live away from Mr. Hackett while things are sorted out. 

I have a feeling this may be a pivotal novel in the life and career of Maisie Dobbs. Throughout the novel, she contemplates the possibility of turning her business over to Billy, her right hand man, marrying Mark Scott and being a full-time mother to Anna. Maybe that's why this novel wasn't as exciting as previous novels. Which is fine, I still enjoyed reading it. But now I really wonder what's in store for Maisie. I have to admit, I was crushed when Alan Bradley ended his Flavia de Luce series, but there are a few more war years left, so hopefully we aren't that close to saying good-bye to Maisie. 

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from NetGalley

Sunday, April 4, 2021

I am Defiance: A Novel of WWII by Jenni L. Walsh

The story opens in Munich on April 20, 1942. It's Adolf Hitler's birthday and to celebrate, the local chapters of the Jungmädelbund induct all 10-year-old Aryan girls into the Hitler Youth. Brigitte Schmidt and her best friend are12 and they can't wait for Hitler Youth summer camp and the freedom away from family that it brings. But Germany is at war and that evening, Brigitte is told that there will be no summer camp. Not only that, but when older sister Angelika, 18, begins talking about a time when Germany wasn't ruled by Hitler, Brigitte feels that such talk is blasphemous. After all, she's only known life under the Nazis and has been indoctrinated into believing everything Hitler says is truth.

Brigitte has noticed Angelika and Papa with their heads together late in the evening whispering about assassination attempts, bombings, and concentration camps in front of a large map. Papa is worried about Angelika. She had polio a few years back and had to be sent to Switzerland to recover. Now, she has a limp and her left arm is weak, but in a country that demands all its citizens be free of mental illness, deformities, paralysis, epilepsy, blindness, or deafness, Angelika could be sent to an institution or a concentration camp if she is discovered. 

One day when Brigitte picks up the mail, she discovers a leaflet in with other letters. It's all about hitler and fascism, and the bombing of Köln. Then, at the next JM meeting, the girls are asked if their family has received any blasphemous leaflets. When Brigitte's friend Rita admits her family did, the leaders and other girls begin to shun her. And more leaflets begin arriving in the Schmidt's mail. 

As much as Brigitte believed all the Nazi propaganda she was told, her blind faith is beginning to see things in a different light because of the leaflets and her father's concern about Angelika going to do her two months of Reichsarbeitdienst in August. But it is hard for her to let go. and even harder not to say something to her best friend Marianne, also a staunch believer in Nazism and who is hoping to become a group leader in the BDM when she's older. 

In August, Angelika leaves for Ulm to work in a munitions factory. It doesn't take long before her first letter arrives all about her new friend Sophie who is helping her meet her quota. Meanwhile, the British are bombing Germany more and more, and Brigitte is beginning to realize that she is becoming more and more anti-Hitler.  

When Angelika returns to Munich, she's a changed person. Brigitte worries about her and what she's up to with her new friend Sophie. Apparently, so does Papa who makes arrangements for them to escape Germany to an uncle's in Switzerland if worse comes to worse. And it does, Sophie and her friends are arrested for dropping leaflets. Papa is also arrested by the Gestapo leaving Angelika and Brigitte alone. Should they wait to see if Papa will come home or should they try to make it to Switzerland and safety alone?

I am Defiance is an interesting look at life inside Nazi Germany from the perspective of a young girl who, in the beginning, has blind faith in her Führer and what he says and readers slowly get to see that erode as truth seeps into her life. I thought her group leader in the JM, Elizabeth, 15, was true to life - cold, cruel and cunning - just the way the Nazis liked them. I also thought that Papa telling them to play their part as loyal to the Führer and his doctrines was true for many families - Papa bought the Nazi newspaper faithfully and the girls did their part (the Nazis were forced to threaten parents with imprisonment and fines for keeping their children out of the Hitler Youth because so many didn't support the regime). 

One of the things I really look for in historical fiction is a time reference. In I am Defiance, I felt I was reading in a vacuum until the first leaflet appears in the Schmidt's mailbox. That happened in June 1942, and Sophie Scholl's Reichsarbeitsdienst in the munitions factory in Ulm was August-October 1942. Her arrest (and Papa being taken into custody) happened February 18, 1943. Sophie Scholl and the White Rose's activities really helped put this in perspective for me. 

Two other things bothered me about this book. One was the language. I felt it was too modern and too American. When that happens, it pulls me out of the story. The other thing is the games Brigitte and her friend Marianne played. While there was a German version of Monopoly, it was quickly banned by the Nazis for being too capitalist. And although it says they played Sorry!, most likely they would have played Mensch ärgere Dich nicht, similar to Sorry! and very popular in Germany. Most likely, as Ms. Yingling pointed out in her review of I am Defiance, they would have played Nazi propaganda games. 

Aside from these things, I enjoyed the basic story and watching as Brigitte grow and begin to think for herself. Kids should be aware that it is true that not everyone supported what the Nazi's believed but played a part the way the Schmidt's do. And, of course, most of things that bothered me won't really bother young readers who are just looking for a good story about WWII. And they will find one in this book.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from Edelweiss+

Monday, March 29, 2021

Rescue by Jennifer A. Nielsen

It's February 1942 and Meg Kenyon, 12, is living on her Grandmère's farm with her French mother in Nazi occupied France. She hasn't seen her English-born dad since he left in May 1940 after receiving a telegram from London and Meg believes he has been imprisoned by the Nazis, if he is even still alive. Before he left, he created a jar full of coded messages for her to solve - deciphering each other's coded messages was something they both enjoyed doing. Now, however, there was only one message left and Meg has been putting off solving it. 

Meg has also been selling some of the vegetables from Grandmère's farm on the black market while secretly working for the resistance. When she unscrambles a message from them that reads Follow the German, Meg knows just who that is - newly arrived Lieutenant Becker, friendly upfront, cold-blooded underneath. And unfortunately, he now knows Meg's face now, after he figures out she was following him.

But Lieutenant Becker is temporarily forgotten about when Meg gets home and finds a badly wounded British officer, Captain Henry Stewart, in the barn, who claims to know Meg's father. After much sneaking around to help Captain Stewart, it turns out that he was on a rescue mission which he can no longer carry out. That's not all Meg discovers - it seems her mother has been working as a secret radio operator for the resistance. 

It turns out that the rescue mission Captain Stewart parachuted into France to carry out involved three Germans, Albert, Liesel, and Jakob, posing as a family named Durand. Since Captain Stewart is too injured to carry out his mission, it is decided that Meg would lead the Durands to Spain and safety. Before she leaves, she is given a note from her father that Captain Stewart delivered, written in coded language. The next day Meg finds the Durands hiding in a cave where she also finds Captain Stewart's backpack full of spy paraphernalia and a warning not let anyone see what's in it. Fortunately, Meg was told that there are resistance workers along the way who are aware of the mission and can provide some assistance, but for the most part, the four are on their own. 

As if their journey weren't difficult enough, Lieutenant Becker is on Meg's trail, suspecting her of resistance work. And just as they get to the point where they should head to Spain, Meg solves her father's message and insists they go to Switzerland instead. But why? And why would he say not to trust one of the "Durands" and which one?

Rescue is an exciting book, full of mystery, intrigue, danger, and betrayal. It's the kind of book my today self thinks is at time preposterous yet I know my 11/12-year-old-self would have hung on every word and every moment of danger. But my today self also knows that codes and ciphers were very popular during WWII, so it isn't surprising that Meg and her dad have their fun with them. Would I let a 12-year-old do what Meg is asked to do? Not a chance, but during the war, kids did this and more. 

Captain Stewart was part of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), as was Meg's father, and he arrived in France with his bag of spy tools, including a spy manual, which Meg refers to often. I liked that Nielsen used the rules from the book for some of her chapter headings. Since they worked in so well with what happens in the chapters they head, I suspect it was a made up book, but fun nevertheless. 

Nielsen has included a section called Secret Codes at the end of the novel for readers intrigued by them that includes all kinds of different codes they can try. I was one of those geeky kids who loved codes and secret languages growing up and still have a fascination for them.* There is also a section called The Special Operations Executive for readers unfamiliar with this organization created by Winston Churchill in 1940. 

Rescue is an exiting book that should appeal to anyone who likes historical fiction about WWII that includes plenty of adventure and danger.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from Edelweiss+

*I'm pretty sure my fascination with codes and coding is how I ended up in Information Technology, creating programs and teaching kids and adults about computers.  

Friday, March 19, 2021

Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by Jeff Gottesfeld, illustrated by Matt Tavares

 
Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
by Jeff Gottesfeld, illustrated by Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press, 2021, 32 pages

How many times have we watched an American president or a visiting foreign dignitary laying a wrath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery and not really thought much about either the unknown soldier or the soldier guarding him? Maybe you've visited even the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on a school trip to Washington, DC and have a photo you took somewhere on your phone. We may all think differently after reading this excellent picture book for older readers that focuses on this important monument honoring America's unknown fallen heroes and the select few who guard them.
             "I am an Unknown. I am one of many."

Told in the first person voice of one unknown soldier standing in place for all, he tells the reader about the many soldiers who were once the living and loved sons, fathers, husbands, brothers who fell in battle during WWI. When the war was over, most of them went home to families who would mourn them, burying them in graves that would remember and honor them. But for others, those were could not be identified, there was not place to honor the sacrifice they had made.

In 1921, our narrator was given a hero's funeral, laying in state in the Capital in Washington, DC, where mourners who had lost loved ones that never came home could grieve and find some sense of closure. Then, on November 11th, at 11 o'clock, our narrator's symbolic coffin was taken to Arlington National Cemetery for burial. From then on, the narrator says he was always alone. Over the years, people began to visit the hillcrest where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is, but, he says, it was mostly "for the view and not the meaning."


Then, at the stroke of midnight on July 2,1937, our unknown soldier was suddenly not longer alone. From then on, every day and night, in all kinds of weather, the sentinel guards were there, to honor the unknown fallen. Men and women from every race, religion and creed are part of the Tomb Guard. Marching back and forth in their vigil, each guard takes 21 steps in one direction, followed by 21 seconds of silence, then 21 steps back and 21 seconds of silence over and over on his watch and each step with its own click. To understand just how dedicated the Tomb Guard's are to their watch, readers are first introduced to The Sentinel's Creed.

Eventually, the remains of an unknown soldier from WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War were also laid to rest in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Just like our WWI narrator, these fallen soldiers first lay in state at the Capital, and once again, mourners could make them their owe, because "[t]heir stories were different and the same." Interestingly, thanks to DNA, the soldier from the Vietnam War was identified and returned to his family. 


People still come to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but now it is to pay honor and not to picnic and marvel at the view. 

Placing this history of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Tomb Guards in the voice of an nameless, faceless fallen soldier, Gottesfeld's text gives this book a personal measure of poignancy and melancholy that is rare in the picture book, even one for older readers. But at the same time, he brings a level of honor and reverence to it, as well. Readers will probably never watch a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier the same way again. 

Matt Tavares illustrations, done with pencil and digitally painted, are both realistic and visceral at the same time, completely matching Gottesfeld's poetic text. Have some tissues handy as you read this beautifully done work. The dust jacket shows the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and his guard in daytime, this is what you will find underneath:

This year will mark the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. If you are looking for a picture book to share with your young readers this coming Memorial Day, this is definitely one of the better choices for that solemn day.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
I received this book for free from Candlewick Press in exchange review.