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
Sunday, May 23, 2021
Sunday, May 16, 2021
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.
Sunday, May 9, 2021
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.
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
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 (BTW, 10% 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).