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. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizabeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Brooke Smart

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizabeth Friedman Changed 
the Course of Two World Wars
by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Brooke Smart
Harry N. Abrams, 2021, 48 pages

This picture book for older readers tells the story of a remarkable woman who developed new code- making and breaking techniques, helped capture bootleggers, and even managed to catch a few Nazi spies. 

When she was a child, Elizabeth Smith loved poetry and Shakespeare was her favorite author. She appreciated the structure and patterns she noticed in his poetry. Not surprisingly, Elizabeth graduated college in 1915 with a degree in English Lit, but she also studied Latin, Greek, and German. 

Looking for a job in Chicago, Elizabeth was introduced to George Fabyan, a wealthy eccentric Shakespeare fan who invited her to become part of a group of researchers on his estate, Riverbank, who were looking for proof that Francis Bacon was the real writer of Shakespeare's plays. Her job was to look for secret messages left by Bacon in the plays. Who knew this job would eventually lead to Elizabeth's helping to capture Nazi spies?  

Well, Elizabeth never found any coded messages but she did find friendship in the person of William Friedman, a scientist. The two friends spent part of their time together devising secret notes and challenging each other to decode them. Soon, they were in love and married. 

When the United States entered WWI in 1917, Riverbank was converted to a code-breaking unit called the Riverbank Department of Ciphers. Elizabeth, William, and their cipher staff set about decoding enemy communications and developing new code-breaking techniques. 

After the war, Elizabeth went on the work for the Coast Guard. They needed help with smugglers who were hiding bootleg liquor and communicating with each other using coded messages. Could Elizabeth crack the codes, so the bootleggers could be caught? She could and did, often testifying at the trials of the smugglers.

When the United States entered WWII, Elizabeth's code-breaking skills were once again needed. In 1942, she joined the newly formed Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and began setting up a code-breaking unit. Yet, when her decoding talents helped with the capture of some Nazi spies, the FBI director took all the credit for himself. Nevertheless, Elizabeth carried on and helped put American Velvalee Dickinson in prison for spying for the Japanese by decoding her letters about buying "dolls." 

Then came Germany's Enigma code-making machine, which created seemingly unbreakable codes. Thanks to a lazy Enigma operator, Elizabeth and her staff were about to break the codes after months of hard work. They didn't know that in England, code-breaker Alan Turing had also broken the Enigma codes.  

I loved the way Elizabeth's own words were strategically worked into the stylized watercolor and gouache illustrations so readers can get a real sense of who Elizabeth was and what she thought about the groundbreaking work she did. I also loved the ribbons of coded messages the wrap around a number of pages like a lasso capturing secrets, including the Nazis that Elizabeth's decoded messages helped catch. And if you are interested in trying your hand at decoding. those ribbons are coded messages. Check out the back matter for help solving them.

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter is a fascinating biography about a woman who did so much and received so little credit for her hard work. It is packed with interesting information about Elizabeth's personal and professional life. 

Besides information about Codes and Ciphers, back matter includes a challenge to Crack The Code, information on Cryptography Today, a Timeline and a Selected Bibliography.   

You can also find some Activity Sheets to download courtesy of the publisher, Abrams Books HERE 

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was borrowed from the Queens Public Library

Monday, March 8, 2021

History Smashers: Pearl Harbor by Kate Messner, illustrated by Dylan Meconis

Reading History Smashers: Pearl Harbor, made me realize that I've read and reviewed a lot of books about the events of December 7, 1941, but most of them were novels - good novels but fiction nevertheless. Amazingly, I've never read a nonfiction book about Pearl Harbor for this blog, so I was pleased to read this new book by Kate Messner from her series History Smashers

Messner takes a look not only at the facts surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor, but also looks at some of the myths and legends that have circulated ever since. And she begins at the beginning, debunking the popular idea that the attack "happened completely out of the blue, with no warning and nothing to suggest there might be trouble." By carefully and succinctly looking at Japanese history from 1853, when Commodore Matthew Perry led an expedition to try to open up isolationist Japan to trade with other countries, Messner shows how opening this small island country led to its desire for more land and more natural resources, eventually leading to the invasion of Manchuria and China in the 1930s.

 Following Germany's lead, Japan also set her sites on islands in the Pacific already colonized by other nations, including the US. After Japan signed a agreement with Germany and Italy in which they promised that if one were attacked, the others would help defend them. Feeling protected and now quite militarized, Japan invaded French Indochina.

Next, Messner looks at the errors in judgement made by the United States that led to such devastation when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. She goes back to 1924, when an army officer named William Mitchell was sent to evaluate the preparedness of US forces in the Pacific and Far East. He warned that Japan was thinking about expanding its empire, had its sites sent on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines and that that would eventually lead to war. But by 1939, Americans didn't want to go to war and so President Roosevelt tried negotiating with Japan to maintain peace. While Japan readied itself for the attack, by training pilots, redesigning torpedoes for the shallow waters where the American fleet had been moved to, mistakes, miscommunications, and incomplete intelligence gathering all led to what ultimately felt like a surprise attack to Americans, all of which Messner carefully looks at.   

History Smashers: Pearl Harbor is a short but very informative, well researched look at the attack on Pearl Harbor. Not only does Messner lay out her facts and debunk the myths surrounding the attack that led America into WWII, but she takes this very complicated event and makes it accessible to young readers. Plus, she takes the narrative beyond Pearl Harbor and looks at the racist treatment and incarceration of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast of the US. 

Messner includes lots of informative sidebars introducing readers to people, places, and histories, as well as lots of photographs and maps. There is extensive back matter that includes A World War II and Pearl Harbor Timeline, an Author's Note, Books, Websites and Museums to Visit for further exploration, and an excellent Bibliography.

This is a book that should be read by anyone interested in WWII. How good is it? Well, I thought I knew a lot about Pearl Harbor, but even I learned a few new facts.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from NetGalley

Thursday, March 4, 2021

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus

First they lost their parents and were taken care of by their cold, distant grandmother. Now she's gone, too, it's June 1940 and there's war on. So it's decided that the orphaned but with an nice inheritance Pearce children - William, 12, Edmund, 11, Anna, 9 - would be evacuated from their home in London. The plan is that they will be sent to the countryside with a school they never attended, in the hope that they will find a proper family that wants them, but to not say anything about their inheritance to be sure that they are wanted and not their money. Naturally, the schoolmistress, Miss Carr, resents the three additions to her responsibilities and isn't exactly welcoming, especially when William insists the siblings not be separated and Edmund gets into trouble right off the bat.

Arriving at their destination, the Pearce siblings are passed over until finally the Forresters, a family with two boys William's age, decides to pick them. At first, it seems like a good situation. Anna is given her own room and doted on by Mrs. Forrester, while William and Edmund share a room with Jack and Simon Forrester. But, it turns out that Jack and Simon resent the siblings, bullying William and Edmund at every chance and finally getting Edmund into serious trouble. Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Forrester are convinced their sons can do no wrong. 

Luckily, there's a nice library in the village and soon William, Edmund and Anna begin to go there afternoons after school. All three are big readers, and they find a real welcome when they meet the librarian, Mrs. Müller. Mrs. Müller has her own problems - she is married to a German who went home before the war and there's been no word about him since. Of course, it is assumed by the villagers that he is now a Nazi. Naturally, they ostracize Mrs. Müller and she is considered an unsuitable billet for evacuees. 

Though life is pretty comfortable at the Forrester's, it soon becomes apparent that the billet isn't going to work out for the Pearce sibs and they are placed in a different home. Mrs. Griffith, whose husband of away fighting, is considerably poorer than the Forrester family and is the stressed out mother of four children. The Pearce siblings share an unheated room upstairs with one bed and a chamber pot, so they don't have to use the outhouse in the night. They are also expected to help out with the housework, help care for the children and surrender their ration cards and in return they get to be hungry and cold and get lice.

Luckily, William, Edmund, and Anna still have the warm, cozy library to which they can escape. and the always welcoming Mrs. Müller. Plus, she always has the best book recommendations for them. But when they discover their books, including library books, being torn up to use in the outhouse, they storm out of the Griffith house, determined to not return, and head to the church for warmth and because they are to be in a Christmas pageant that night. Mrs. Müller, who has suspected things weren't going well for the Pearce siblings, takes them home with her that night.

You may think that is the end of the story, but, no, it isn't. 

I just love a good, cozy middle grade novel with just enough tension and frustration to me keep reading and this novel certainly meets that criteria. And the scenes in the library are described with such comfortable coziness, even on a cold day, that I wished I could have joined them. 

William, Edmund, Anna, and Mrs. Müller are fleshed out with their distinct personalities and shared similarities. All four love to read, and there feels like a comfortable quiet sense of companionship in the library scenes that throughout the novel I kept thinking how sad it was they the Pearce children couldn't be billeted with Mrs. Müller. It felt like such a perfect fit compared to the Forresters and Mrs. Griffith. Luckily, the kids are their own best friends, and support each other no matter what. 

I like the way Albus has really captured some of the hardships people faced during WWII. Many evacuees were not welcomed in the towns and villages of the English countryside, and the words "filthy Vakies" graffitied onto a wall in this story pretty much sums it up. Some were only taken in for their ration cards, but still went hungry all the time. And then there is the suspicion many people had at that time towards anything and anyone German, here it is aimed at Mrs. Müller. The only thing missing was the words "fifth column." 

A Place to Hang the Moon is a wonderful choice for readers who like books about the kids who are faced with seemingly impossible challenges of the WWII home front. If you loved The War That Saved My Life as much as I did, this is definitely a book you will enjoy. 

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was gratefully received from the publisher, Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House                                                                                                                             

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

It's February 1939, and Parisian Odile Souchet has just landed her dream job as a librarian at the American Library there. Odile has been visiting the library since she was a child and already knows many of the people who frequent it on a daily basis. Meanwhile at home, and much to the amusement of Odile and her twin Rémy, her father, a police captain, has been inviting protégés from various precincts to the house for Sunday dinner, in the hope she will be attracted to one. And finally, it happens - a blond policeman named Paul, who actually shows up at the library bearing daffodils and looking for reference books.

Odile also meets Bitsi, the friendly children's librarian who loves reading as much as she does, and wealthy, but unhappy Margaret, the wife of an attaché at the British embassy who can't adjust to living in Paris, missing her mum, England, and speaking English.

Odile brings Margaret into the library fold as a volunteer while teaching her French. Like Odile, Margaret blooms in the library, finding friends, confidence, and meaning in her life and the two women become fast friends. 

It feels like an idyllic life until France falls to the Nazis and everything changes. Libraries in Paris are now controlled by the Nazis, who have already closed some and banned certain books. When the day for the inspection of the American Library arrives, it turns out that Miss Reeder, the director of the American Library, knows the inspector, Dr. Fuchs, a librarian himself. He basically leaves the most of the library's books intact, but forbids some to circulate and says certain people, namely Jews, may no longer be allowed into the library. Miss Reeder is determined to keep things going, however, and everyone pitches in to secretly deliver books to the homes of the banned Jewish subscribers and to send books to soldiers to help keep up morale.  

Meanwhile, Rémy has fallen in love with Bitsi, has joined the army and is taken prisoner. Odile has fallen in love with Paul, and Margaret's husband has left Paris. But when Odile learns about some of the things Paul is doing, and begins to notice changes in Margaret, she starts to question her feelings towards both of them, and unwittingly betrays Margaret to Paul.

Juxtaposed to Odile's life and these events in wartime France, is the story of Lily, a bored, lonely teenager living in 1980s Froid, Montana, right next door to the elderly, mysterious and reclusive but worldly Mrs. Odile Gustafson, the town's only war bride. Wanting to know more about her and what makes her so different from the other ladies in Froid, Lily decides to make to do a school report on France, hoping to get help from Mrs. Gustafson. And surprisingly, Mrs. Gustafson does agree to help her. Over time, the two become friends, and when Lily's mother passes away, Mrs. Gustafson is there for her. 

I found the chapters with Lily's story to be somewhat of a relief from the tensions of WWII, even though she experiences her own tragedy. Lily is a wonderful character - nosy, curious, looking for a way out of Froid and into the wider world. And Odile is just the person to lead her there. But, it is through her friendship with Lily from 1983 to 1988 that we learn what happened to Odile after the war and how she ended up in Froid, Montana. 

I was first attracted to The Paris Library because it was about a library in Paris during WWII. What lifted it out of good book and put it into great book for me was the inclusion of real people who worked in the ALP at that time, like Americans Miss Reeder, the directress, and library trustee Clara de Chambrun, as well as the Russian born head librarian Boris Netchaeff. Even the German library inspector, Dr. Fuchs, was a real person and a professional acquaintance of Miss Reeder. All of this added such a sense of authenticity to the novel and allowed for some interesting history to be worked into the story without seeming forced.

And I loved being in the library with Odile, Miss Reeder, Boris, and everyone else. Even the subscribers who spent their days there, reading, talking, arguing were so realistic, perhaps because they reminded me of the habitués I used to know at the NYPL when I was doing research. Each one of Skeslien Charles' characters were brave, defiant and loyal, even through the darkest days of the war.

If you are looking for a book about books with themes of community, communication, friendship, betrayal and resistance, you can't go wrong with The Paris Library.

You can find a detailed Reading Group Guide courtesy of the publisher Simon & Schuster HERE.

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from the publisher.
Dorothy Reeder April 1939

Monday, February 22, 2021

Andrew Higgins and the Boats That Landed Victory in World War II by Nancy Rust and Carol Stubbs, illustrated by Brock Nicol

Andrew Higgins and the Boats That Landed Victory in World War II
written by Nancy Rust and Carol Stubbs,
illustrated by Brock Nicol
Pelican Publishing, 2020, 32 pages

How many times have we seen photos or film of that pivotal day, June 6, 1944 and the Normandy landings during WWII and focused only on the brave soldiers storming the beach, without giving a second thought to the odd looking boats that brought them there? Now you can get to know the man who delivered those soldiers and their equipment to the beaches of Normandy and who helped bring about the end of the war. 

Born in 1886 in Columbus, Nebraska, Andrew Higgins always loved boats, but and he loved a good challenge. When he was 12, Andrew built his first boat, a wrecked sailboat he found in the river by his house. Yet, after all his hard work, he found his rebuilt sailboat was too slow for his taste. So, he challenged himself to build a bigger, faster boat. Speed seems to have had a great deal of appeal to Andrew, but school didn't and so he quit and became solider, then a farmer, a truck driver, and later owned a lumberyard. But nothing satisfied him.

Andrew began designing boats when he opened a lumberyard in New Orleans, and needed something that could move his cut trees through the shallow waters there. Another challenge for Andrew, who designed a flat bottom boat to do the job. Naturally, as the lumber business slowed down, boat building became Andrew's main focus. In fact, he built such great boats for those shallow waters that his landing boats, a/k/a Higgins boats, could "crunch through driftwood, bounce over logs, climb a beach, ...wham up on a sloping concrete sea wall." They were so good that more and more people wanted them.

During WWII, Andrew made all kinds of boats for the military, including PT boats and Higgins boat with its drop down ramp that could be used for transporting soldiers and heavy equipment like tanks from large ships to beach shores. Andrew had to hire more workers to build his boats, and because he believed in a workforce that was diversified and treated people fairly, he hired women, people of color, then started a childcare center and a free clinic. Not only that, he paid equal pay for equal work. Andrew Higgins and his boats were a success story on the home front as well the as the fighting front lines.

Thanks to the Higgins Boat and their ability to move soldiers and large equipment even under the harshest circumstances, wars would be fought differently from then on. After the war, President Dwight Eisenhower said that Andrew Higgins was "the man who won the war" thanks to his Higgins Boat.

I had never heard of the Higgins Boat, even though pictures of it are so common. Yet, when I asked a friend whose father was in the Navy if she ever heard of a Higgins Boat, she knew exactly what it was and role it played in WWII, but she didn't know anything about the man who designed it. Hence, the need for a well done biography like this one. And in fact, I found Andrew Higgins and the Boats That Landed Victory in World War II not only informative, but really interesting. 

I loved this well-written, accessible picture book for older readers, but besides excellent writing, the text is extended and enhanced by the very detailed, very realistic painted illustrations by artist Brock Nicol. He chose a bright palette for the images of Andrew growing up and seeking his passion, and switched to a palette of army greens and browns for the WWII images. I think he really captured Andrew Higgins' life and his work as befits an American hero. 

Back Matter includes a Glossary, an Author's Note, and a list of Important Dates in the life of Andrew Higgins. You may also want to watch this interview from September 2020 with authors Nancy Rust and Carol Stubbs by curator Josh Schick at The National World War II Museum in New Orleans 

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was an F&G gratefully received from the authors. 
An iconic image of a Higgins Boat on D-Day

Monday, February 15, 2021

Mei Ling in China City/Mei Ling en la Ciudad China by Icy Smith, illustrated by Gayle Garner Roski

Mei Ling in China City/Mei Ling en la Ciudad China
written by Icy Smith, illustrated by Gayle Garner Roski
East West Discovery Press, 2020, 47 pages

An interesting story about the real life for one Chinese American girl in 1942.

It's September 1942, and Chinese American Mei Ling, 12, is missing her best friend Yayeko Akiyama. Because she is Japanese American Yayeko, her family and all west coast persons of Japanese ancestry have been sent to what the government calls relocation centers after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the United States entered World War II. The Akiyamas were sent to the Manzanar War Relocation Center at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, she writes to Mei Ling.

In their exchange of letters, Yayeko says she is bored in Manzanar, where there is no school yet, and she wakes up with dust all over her face every morning. No only that but she has not privacy - they live in a barracks, meals are in a mess hall, even the showers and latrines lacked privacy.  

Mei Ling Lee, who lives in China City in Los Angeles, is getting ready to celebrate the Moon Festival. Putting on her red silk dress, so that she can help out in the family restaurant Chung Dat Loo, Mei Ling is sent on some errands. 

First, she is to pick up more paper lanterns to decorate the restaurant, and then stop at the bakery for more moon cakes. On her way there, Mei Ling stops at the Kuan Yin Temple to say hi to her friend Johnny Yee. Johnny is selling fortune telling sticks and incense for seven cents to tourists. Later he will perform the traditional lion dance in the big Moon Festival parade. 

Mei Ling also runs into her friends Ruby, Francis and Doris selling American Flags and Chinese opera tickets for $1.00 to raise money for the United China Relief Fund to help the women and children refugees in China, suffering under Japanese occupation. Naturally, Mei Ling offers to sell some of both at the restaurant. The person who sells the most wins a new Chinese silk jacket and a $100. Chinese banquet gift certificate.

But when Ruby comes by the restaurant later, she tells Mei Ling that someone has already raised more than $70. and will probably win. Mei Ling decides to offer a free glass of orange juice with each flag and opera ticket. Setting up her stand outside the restaurant, she and Ruby are very surprised when Chinese actress Anna May Wong stops by for a flag and ticket, then pays with a $300. check making Mei Ling the winner. 

Mei Ling writes to Yayeko in Manzanar and tells her that she is giving her the new jacket and saving the gift certificate for when she returns home. 

That is the basic story about Mei Ling, her friend Yayeko, and the day of the Moon Festival (which was September 24, 1942), but there is so much more information packed into the bilingual picture book for older readers. China City, where Mei Ling lives, was a bustling area before it was destroyed by fire in 1949. And you can practically draw a map of her day as she does her errands, but you don't have to because you will find one on the endpapers.  

Many of the Asian Americans who lived in China City also worked as extras in movies, including Mei Ling and her friend Johnny Yee, and an  actors' agent, Mr. Gubbins, has his office there. So it may be why it is not surprising that Anna May Wong was at the Moon Festival.

There is so much more Chinese culture and tradition packed into Mei Ling's story. Much of it can be found in the phenomenal illustrations by Gayle Garner Roski (1941-2020). Though she wasn't of Chinese ancestry, her boldly colored watercolor illustrations and realistic settings throughout this book really capture what China City looked and felt like in 1943. 

There is also extensive back matter that includes many photographs and additional information. Mei Ling and Yayeko lost touch over the years, but were reunited in their 90s thanks to the original publication of Mei Ling in China City in 2008
A 1940s photo of the restaurant owned by Mei Ling's family

Besides this new bilingual English/Spanish edition of Mei Ling in China City, it is also available in English/Chinese and English/Japanese editions.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from a friend


Monday, February 8, 2021

We Must Not Forget: Holocaust Stories of Survival and Resistance by Deborah Hopkinson

Exactly one year ago, I reviewed We Had To Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport by Deborah Hopkinson. In that book, Hopkinson used the Kindertransport stories of real children to show today's readers what life was like under Nazi oppression and the difficult choices parents had to make to keep their children safe. 

Hopkinson's newest book, We Must Not Forget, looks at the ways in which Jewish children and teens survived the Holocaust despite the Nazis best efforts to rid Europe of its Jewish population. The book is divided into three parts, each part covering a country that the Nazis invaded and occupied. Part One: "Fleeing from Evil, Hiding from Horror" includes stories from Germany and the Netherlands; Part Two: "Families Torn Apart" looks at stories from France; and Part Three: "Desperation and Defiance" are stories from Poland. Within each part is a short introduction to each person, followed by pertinent key dates and a photo album relating to each individual country. 

Using personal testimonies, letters, oral histories, memoirs and archival photographs, Hopkinson has provided a wide variety of experiences and perspectives on what each person profiled lived through. Hopkinson skillfully weaves these personal stories of each Jewish family with information about the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany, and their invasion and occupation in the Netherlands, France, and Poland needed to understand the desperate fight to survive that Jews in those countries were in.

And fight they did. German teenager Fred Angress, living in the Netherlands with his family, was able to get a position with the Jewish Council after his father was arrested, never to be seen again. His job not only delayed Fred's own deportation, but Fred found ways to help as many Jews as he could, including smuggling them out of the gathering place where deportation began.

In France, Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants or OSE homes where set up for Jewish children and teens where Alfred and Ernest Moritz went after a stranger told their mother to get them away from the registration line they were on where names and addresses of all Jews in their area were recorded and get them to safety. At the OSE home they went to, Alfred and Ernest were give false ID papers and ration cards. Ultimately, the brothers ended up living with a French peasant woman and passing for Christian until France was liberated.

Other children, like Ruth Oppenheimer and her older sister Hannah were sent to England on the Kindertransport. One brother was already living in South America, the other in the United States. Younger sibling Michael was rescued by a Quaker organization, and finally, younger sister Feo was taken to live in an OSE home. All six Oppenheimer siblings survived the Holocaust, but sadly their parents perished in Auschwitz.

Sisters Gertrud and Herta Michelsohn were deported from Germany to the Riga Ghetto in Latvia in 1941 with their parents. After their parents were sent to a death camp, the sisters found strength to go on with each other, even surviving a winter death march in 1944. Eventually, they ended up in Sweden, survivors of the Holocaust.

After her family was forced to move into the Nowogródek ghetto in what was then Poland, Paula Burger's mother made her promise to look after her little brother Isaac if anything happened to her parents. After they disappeared, Paula learned that her father had made arrangements to have his children smuggled out of the ghetto. One night, in the fall of 1942, that's exactly what happened. Paula and Isaac were taken to their father, where he was in hiding in the forest after joining the Bielski partisans. The Bielski's were a large family with 12 children. The partisan unit was formed after their parents and two brothers were killed by the Nazis. Led by eldest brother Tuvia Bielski, the partisans sabotaged the Nazis, blowing up trains and bridges, as well as going after collaborators and informers. Paula, Isaac, and their father remained in hiding with the Bielski partisans until July 1944 when the area was liberated by the Soviet army.   

These are just some of the survivors readers will meet in this fascinating, well-researched book. Each of the 12 people profiled have their own unique story of survival to tell, though each lost loved one, killed by the Nazis. It's sometimes hard to grasp the magnitude of the Holocaust and its victims, but reading these eyewitness personal accounts helps to bring what happened closer to us now that so many survivors are no longer living. And thanks to Hopkinson's in-depth knowledge of the Holocaust, she is able to make what can feel like a very complicated subject much more comprehensible. 

There are copious  photographs throughout each part, as well an invitation to "Look, Listen, Remember" at the end of each profile, where readers can listen to survivors tell their story. Extensive back matter includes a Glossary, a Timeline of WWII, a list of Museum Websites and Online Resources to explore, Oral Histories, Articles, and Interviews by and about the people in this book, an extensive Bibliography and of course, source notes (because Deborah is a truly consummate researcher).

And if you think these stories are just in the past, I would suggest you reconsider. After all, the past is never past. Nationalistic right wing extremism is on the rise in Europe and the United States and once again, Jews are being singled out. Let these stories serve an a reminder and a warning.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was gratefully received from the author 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Out of Hiding: A Holocaust Survivor's Journey to America by Ruth Gruener with Rachel Klein

Anyone who has already read Alan Gratz's Prisoner B-3087 , the fictionalized Holocaust account of Jack Gruener, who survived 1 ghetto, 10 concentration camps, and 2 death marches, will also want to read Ruth Gruener's Holocaust survival story. Ruth was Jack's wife, but that came years after the Holocaust. And though Ruth never found herself in a concentration camp, her story is definitely harrowing, considering she was only five-years-old when the Nazis marched into her life.  

Ruth was originally named Aurelia Gamzer and called Luncia for short. She was a happy chid living in Lvov, Poland with her parents, Barbara and Isaac Gamzer, who owned a chocolate shop. Restrictions on Jews were imposed, and soon Luncia couldn't go to school, Jewish people had to wear a white armband with a blue Star of David, former friends and neighbors turned their backs on Jews, and they were forced to turn over businesses, including the Gamzer's chocolate shop, and any personal property of value to the Nazis. Soon, Jews were put into a ghetto, followed by roundups and deportations and certain death.

When a former customer offered to hide Luncia. her parents decided to do that to save her life. After sneaking her out of the ghetto, Luncia found herself in a situation where she had to sit quietly without getting up or looking out the window, all day long. When a neighbor did see her through the window one day, the family first put Luncia in a burlap bag in the basement during the day to hide her, and late insisted she climb into a trunk and hide in there.

Eventually, it was discovered that her parents were in hiding with a former employee of their shop, and Luncia was reunited with them. But imagine what it must have been like to be a child and overhear your mother talking about ways to kill herself and her family. Fortunately, the person who was supposed to do this backed out at the last minute, saying he didn't have stomach for killing. Finally, in July 1944, Lvov was liberated by the Russians and the Gamzer family could come out of hiding.

But surviving the Holocaust and finally being able to come out of hiding and restart their lives presented a whole new set of problems. Since Gamzers had lost their extended family, their home, and their possessions, they decided to emigrate to America, where they did have some relatives. But the immigration process was slow and the Gamzers were displaced persons. Eventually, they made their way first to Krakow, and later to to the apartment of other Holocaust survivors in Munich. And it was there that Luncia first met Jack Gruener, who finally immigrated in 1947.

By 1948, the Gamzers were also still trying to immigrated and finally received their visas in 1948, sailing for America on January 7, 1949. Arriving in America, Luncia became Ruth. She begins attending high school in Brooklyn, NY and making new friends. But suddenly she is plagued with vivid memories of her life in hiding. But Ruth is determined not to let these memories control her life and reconnecting with with Jack Gruner helps. They eventually married and had two children.

Ruth Gruener's story about surviving the Holocaust, about spending her childhood living in a ghetto, than in hiding, living with constant starvation, even with a bout of severe frostbite, separated from her parents and knowing that the people she loved had been killed is one more story that helps us understand just what happened. She describes her experience in a very detailed, matter of fact manner, but underneath you can still feel the horror and pain she lived through. 

I found it interesting that her father had the idea of hiding family photos in a jar and burying it was brilliant. After the war, before they left Lvov, he dug them up, untouched by war and nature. Those family photos must have felt like such a great gift after losing everything else. And thankfully, Ruth shares them in her book.  

Pair this book with Prisoner-B3087 for two very different but connected Holocaust survival stories. 

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

Monday, January 18, 2021

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued by Peter Sís

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and 
the Children He Rescued
written and illustrated by Peter Sís
Norton Young Readers, 2021, 64 pages
Available January 26, 2021

I remember reading about Nicholas "Nicky" Winton (1909-2015) while I was doing some dissertation research on Czechoslovakia. Nicholas is credited with saving 669 children in 1938, separate and apart from those children saved through the Kindertransport program. Now, Nicholas's act of heroism has been made accessible to today's young readers, thanks by the very talented Czech-born American artist Peter Sís.

Sís begins Nicky's story with a brief biography of Nicky's early life. Then, in  December 1938, a friend of Nicky's told him to come to Prague, Czechoslovakia. Earlier, in October 1938, Adolf Hitler's army had marched into the Sudetenland on the Czechoslovakian border. As soon as he arrived in Prague, Nicky realized that something had to be done. The world would soon be at war, but he knew that England would accept children under 17 if sponsors could be found for them and travel could be arranged, and so he set to work.

In a town outside of Prague, 10-year-old Vera Diamantova's mother heard about an Englishman who was trying to get Jewish children out of harm's way, and her parents decided to see if Vera could be one of those children.

Nicky spent most of 1939 in Prague and London preparing everything that was needed to get the children out of Czechoslovakia - making lists and getting photographs of the children, finding train connections, getting visas and advertising for families to take them in. Nicky paid for all of this himself. 

Meanwhile, in March, 1939, Germany invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia, and Vera's family were told they must give up their home to the occupying German army. Finally, though, the day came for Vera to leave, and her father gave her a diary to record memories so they could read them after the war. Three days later, Vera arrived safely in London, one of the 669 children Nicky rescued.

After the war, Nicky lived a quiet life and no one would have learned about his act of heroism if his wife had not found his old records. Now, the world knows what this quiet, kind, unassuming man managed to accomplish against all odds. Sadly, when Vera returned to Czechoslovakia, she learned her parents and most of her family had perished in the Holocaust. 

Although I knew Nicky's story, there are lots of details I hadn't known before in this beautifully render picture book biography for older readers. And I loved the way Peter Sís intertwined Nicky's story with Vera's making it more personal and emotional, sensitive without being sentimental. 

Sís tells Nicky and Vera's stories using spare text and simple declarative sentences. Using stylized maps (see illustration above), cutaways, and color, the illustrations really moves the story along, providing a multitude of images to pour over and discuss. I'm sure you will notice immediately that blue is the dominant color for Vera, while a light green is used for Nicky, and gray for the Nazis. Two of my favorite illustrations show the readers the internal memories that are carried by Nicky after the war (above) and Vera arriving in London. I found this to be exceptionally moving and poignant.

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued in a compelling look at these to lives. If you read the Author's Note, you will learn how and what motivated Peter Sís to write Nicky and Vera's stories. 

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was gratefully received from Edelweiss+