Saturday, December 18, 2021

🎄Sunday Funnies #39: Batman: "The Loneliest Man in the World"

Batman Vol. 1, No. 15 March 1943

It's Christmas Eve, and realizing how fortunate they are, Batman and Robin have decided to spread some Christmas joy to those less fortunate, particularly the loneliest man in the the world.

Before long, the Batplane is outfitted up to look just like Santa's sleigh. Their first stop is police headquaters, where Commissioner Gordon is reluctantly having to let the chief of an underworld gang, Dirk Dagner, go free for lack of evidence in some holdups. Unfortunately, Dirk is still there when Batman and Robin explain their plan to the Commissioner, a plan that gives Dirk a great idea. Meanwhile, Batman and Robin head over to the exclusive Crane Club, where doorman Ben Botts, feeling unappreciated, is convinced he's the loneliest man in the world. But, it turns out that a party has been planned to thank Ben for his 25 years of loyal service.     

It's a wonderful party until Dirk Dagner and his gang show up to rob all the wealthy people of their money and jewelry. Their plan is thwarted by Batman and Robin, of course, with some help from Ben Botts and although the would-be thieves get away, the party continues.

Batman and Robin's next stop is Link Chesney, a radio host who has made millions making people laugh, but who feels like people forget him the minute he is off the air. Alone, Link feels like the loneliest man in the world that Christmas Eve. That is until Batman and Robin show up.
But when Dirk and his gang show up, too, and steal Link's valuable gag file containing all the jokes he's bought or written, then tie him up in such a way that if he moves he will hurt or even kill Batman and Robin. Quick thinking on Batman's part saves the day, and not a moment too soon - Dirk and his gang are headed over to Batman's third stop. When they leave Link, he's on a phone hookup arranged by Batman, and talking to all his fans, no longer feeling forgotten and lonely.
Hoping into the Batplane, Batman and Robin head over to Pirate Reef, where lighthouse keeper Tom Wick watches out for American ships and sailors bringing needed materials to far-flung battlefields. But on this Christmas Eve the seas are rough and Tom is nowhere to be found. Instead, Dirk and friends are waiting to loot an approaching ship once it hits the rocks around the lighthouse. 
Luckily, Dirk's plan goes awry again and the ship and sailors are saved. And Tom Wicks? Well, it's a pretty happy Yuletide for him, thanks to Batman and Robin. Who was the loneliest man in the world? Robin asks. Dirk Dagner, Batman tells him, a man with no friends, who's all greed and hatred. At least on Christmas Eve, 1943, good won out over evil.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Linked by Gordon Korman

Just as he did in War Stories, Gordon Korman has brought WWII and the Holocaust into the present because, well, as William Faulkner reminds us the past is never past. The residents of Chokecherry, Colorado are reminded of that when a student, Michael Amorosa, discovers a large swastika painted on the atrium wall at Chokecherry Middle School. But who would do such a thing in this quiet very small town?

Chokecherry does have one thing happening that could put it on the map. After some dinosaur poop is discovered there, a group of paleontologists are sent to work on a dig hoping to find more dinosaur evidence. Among them is the Levinson family - the only Jewish family in town and daughter Dana Levinson is a student at the middle school, and who is very disturbed by the appearance of a swastika. 

Meanwhile, prankster Lincoln Rowley, 13 and called Link, and his friends are caught trying to dump 80 pounds of smelly dinosaur poop through the mail slot at the paleontologist's office in town. When Link is caught in the act, his father bans him playing any school sports. Link's father has a dream of turning Chokecherry into the next great tourist attraction, complete with a Disney-like amusement park. But no sooner is the first swastika washed away, but more of them begin showing up in various places around the school.

The school's answer to this is to hold a three week course in tolerance education, but the swastika's keep showing up and so does some surprising history. It seems Chokecherry was the scene of an incident in 1978 that involved KKK groups surrounding the town's foothills with burning crosses, referred to as the Night of a Thousand Flames. It's a subject Link's father does not want brought up, but talking to his parents about it reveals a surprising history in Link's family. His mother's mother, who is Catholic, is really Jewish, given to some French nuns for safety as a baby in 1941 when the Nazi's were occupying France and her parents were about to be arrested and sent to a concentration camp. Link, who up until now hadn't taken the swastikas seriously, is stunned by this news. If his great grandmother was Jewish, his grandmother is Jewish, that means he and his mother are technically Jewish, too. When Link begins to annoy Dana with question about Judaism, she suggests he get bar mitzvahed. Which he decides is a great idea and arranges lessons with the closest rabbi 100 miles away.

Meanwhile, it doesn't take long for a TikTok vlogger named ReelTok to latch on to the events in Chokecherry and start broadcasting right in the middle of town, hoping to stir things up. When ist becomes clear that the students are getting nothing out of the tolerance education they are being given, it's clear they need to do something else to counter the swastikas that are still showing up. Following the lead by the real school that collected 6 million paper clips, one for each Jewish person who perished in the Holocaust, the students at Chokecherry Middle School decide to make a paper chain with 6 million loops. It's an ambitious project and soon the whole school is behind it, gluing paper links together. But when they run out of construction paper in Chokecherry and the principal cancels the whole project, it feels like the person drawing the swastika's has won. But have they?

This is a Gordon Korman book so you know it is told from the perspective of different characters, with Link being at the center. It's not a format that always works, but Korman is a master at it and it work in his hands. It provides insight about each character, what they are thinking and how they are reacting to the events as they unfold, so it's very in-the-moment. 

Linked is told with a lot of Korman humor despite the seriousness of the Holocaust. The fact that the students are bored and turned off to the tolerance education but enthusiastic about the paper chain points to the fact that participatory learning might be better. At least, as a teacher, I think so, especially as the Holocaust recedes and students see it as just another topic in history. To his credit, Korman includes a lot of Holocaust history in this novel in such a way that the students really get they idea of what it was like. 

I loved how the theme of linking used. When you think about the novel, so many links come to mind. For example, Link's grandmother, who is still living, links past and present, while the fact that most people in Chokecherry think the racist Night of a Thousand Flames never happened links it to the importance of remembering those who perished in the Holocaust, signified by the loops of the paper chain. Other themes explored are identity, racism, redemption, community. Oh, yes, there is also a big surprise towards the end of the book. 

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

Monday, December 6, 2021

The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee by Julie Leung, illustrated by Julie Kwon


The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee
written by Julie Leung, illustrated by Julie Kwon
Little, Brown BFYR, 2021, 48 pages

Picture books biographies are such a wonderful way to introduce young readers to heroes they might otherwise never hear about, particularly America's diverse heroes. I recently introduced some young readers to this excellent picture book biography about Chinese American pilot Hazel Ying Lee, who found her story interesting and inspiring, sparking a conversation about finding and following one's passion.

Hazel was fearless as a young girl, and loved speed. She would run so fast it was like her feet never touched the ground, and she would always leave her brothers in the dust. Airplanes were a relatively new thing when Hazel was growing up, but whenever she saw a plane in the sky, she wondered what it would be like to be so fast and high off the ground.  

When she got older, Hazel finally got a chance to fly in an airplane, and knew she had found her passion. Although her family wasn't too happy about Hazel's decision to become a pilot, they ultimately accepted it. Unfortunately, people who were Chinese were discriminated against and weren't allowed to go anywhere they wanted, nor were they allowed to hold good paying jobs. Undaunted, Hazel worked as an elevator operator to pay for flying lessons.

And learn to fly is exactly what Hazel did. But no matter how good she was as a pilot, who would hire a Chinese girl? No one until 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. 

Now that all the country's male pilots were needed to fight, creating a home front pilot shortage, the military developed a program to train women called the Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs for short. And Hazel signed up immediately. Here she would test planes right off the assembly line to discover any defects in them, a dangerous task at best, but nothing mattered to Hazel except flying high in the sky and pushing her plane to go faster.

Sadly, in November 1944, a miscommunication caused Hazel's plane to collide with another plane. She died two days later. And when her family and fellow pilots wanted to honor her, they discovered that WASPs were considered to be civilians and Hazel received no military recognition. And despite being a hero, Hazel wasn't allowed to be buried in the whites-only cemetery her family chose in Portland, Oregon.

Writing a protest letter to Franklin Roosevelt about the treatment of heroes like Hazel, the Lee family ultimately won the right to bury her and her brother Victor, who died in combat around the same time Hazel died, in the cemetery, choosing the perfect place for her to be laid to rest - on the hillside with a clear view of the sky.

In this well written, well researched picture book biography, Leung highlights Hazel's passion for speed and flying without watering down the racial discrimination that Chinese people faced everyday and Hazel's determination to not let these things stop her. Julie Kwon's digitally created illustrations are, as you can see, clear, colorful and detailed. Back matter includes an Author's Note about Hazel's life and how she discovered Hazel's story. There are also resources for learning more about Hazel, including book, documentaries, websites, and museums. 

After I read Hazel's story to  a group of diverse 7-year-olds, it really generated some eye-opening conversation, all agreeing, in the end, that Hazel is an inspiration for all Americans. I think this really points to the importance of all people learning their histories in America and how they contributed to making this country what it is today.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was purchased for my personal library