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Essentially, a journal about books written for children and young adults about World War II.
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1. The Magician of Auschwitz by Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland

Werner Reich is just a young boy when he arrives alone at Auschwitz.  His father had died a few years before, he was separated from his mother when the Nazis took her and his older sister was supposedly hiding in plain sight with a Christian family.

Werner may be young but he quickly assesses that the best chance to survive Auschwitz is to appear not to be weak.  So, climbing up to the third rung of  the triple decker bunks in his barracks, scared and lonely, Werner meets his bunk mate, Herr Herbert Levin.

By day, Werner and the other men and boys stand hours for roll call, then move heavy rocks from one place to another, eat the watery soup and stale bread, then try to sleep so they can do this all over again the next day.

One night, however, the guards come in and wake Herr Levin up, demanding magic.  Giving him a deck of cards, Herr Levin performs all kinds of magic tricks for the guards entertainment.  His magic also delights Werner, who thinks Herr Levin might be favored with an extra piece of bread, but his thinking is quickly straightened out by his bunk mate.  "This is not a game and it is not a show…if I displease the guards, if I fail in my magic, if I run out of tricks, if they tire of me…my life will be over."  Werner quickly grasps the capriciousness of life in a concentration camp.

Then one night, Herr Levin teaches Werner how to do a card trick, one just for Werner only.  Magic helped keep Herr Levin alive in Auschwitz so far, maybe it will help Werner, too, he tells the boy.

Eventually the two are separated, and towards the end of the war, Werner is forced to walk on a Death March from Auschwitz to Germany, a walk he survives.  Herr Levin also survives, but the two have no idea what happened to the other.

Werner remained interested in magic throughout his adult life, performing tricks for his family and friends after marrying and migrating to the United States.  But he never found out what happened to Herr Levin until one day he was reading a trade magazine about magic…

and discovered that his Auschwitz bunk mate Herr Levin was none other that the renowned Nivelli the Magician, eminent pre-war magician known all over Europe and who, after the war ended, had been performing in the United States.

It must be so difficult to write books for young readers about the Holocaust that aren't too scary, too grime, too graphic, but istis doable and many parents and teachers find that they are a sensitive way to introduce the heinous circumstances of the Holocaust to their kids.  Canadian author Kathy Kacer, who has written many books for young readers about the Holocaust, seems to instinctively know how to make a Holocaust book accessible and informative without frightening young readers.  And she has done just that in The Magician of Auschwitz, a picture book for older readers.

What makes The Magician of Auschwitz such a fascinating story it that it shows so clearly how one small act of kindness can make such a difference in a person's life - in this case, maybe even helping to save it.   The themes of hope and friendship forbidden in a place where often it really was (understandably) every man for himself are reflected in the muted, subdued illustrations, almost as though they are being hidden from the Nazi captors.

The watercolor illustrations by Gillian Newland are indeed dark and foreboding grays, blacks, browns and gray-green, reflecting life in a concentration camp, with only small touches of red on the playing cards and the swastika on the guards armbands.

Though based on the experiences of the real Werner Reich and Herbert Levin or Nivelli the Magician, however, this is a fictional retelling of their story, told from Werner's point of view.  As a biographical picture book for older readers, there should have been more souces in the back matter than just the author's one extensive "How it Happened" explanation.  However, readers will still enjoy reading this and seeing the accompanying photographs of Werner as a youth and as an older man.  Sadly there is only one photographs of Herr Levin and his wife.

You might find the trailer for The Magician of Auschwitz by the author of interest:


This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was obtained from the publisher

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2. A Horse Called Hero by Sam Angus

It's 1940, and British soldiers have just been evacuated from Dunkirk, but Dodo (Dorothy) Revel and her younger brother Wolfie, 8, still haven't heard from their Pa, Captain Revel.  When a telegram arrives, Spud, the children's housekeeper, tells them the sad news that their Pa is missing.  Later that night, however, the children overhear Spud talking to someone that seems to indicate something else about Pa.

Next thing Dodo and Wolfie know, they are being evacuated to Dulverton, North Devon.  Billeted with a reluctant woman whose son is off fighting, their only relief is at school with their kind teacher Miss Lamb.  One day, on their way home from school, Dodo and Wolfie find a newborn foal.  For Wolfie, it's a miracle.  Pa had loved horses and knew a lot about them, much of which he had already taught Wolfie.  Dodo and Wolfie decide to hide the foal, now named Hero for Captain Revel, with the help of a local boy named Ned.

When word breaks that Captain Revel is being charged with desertion and disobedience at Dunkirk, Mrs. Sprig decides she can't have his children living with her.  Luckily, they end up with Miss Lamb and her elderly father, Rev. Lamb.  There is even a place for the growing Hero there.

Life is better with the Lambs, though not at school.  The whole nation is following Captain Revel's court-martial and his children are bearing the brunt of people's anger.  It is a slow process and as time goes by life gets harder, with increasing shortages and rationing.  Hettie Lamb has been watching over a small herd of Exmoor ponies, which are slowly disappearing.  During a particularly cold snowy winter, the ponies are rounded up, and, along with Hero, put into a pen where they can be fed.  But one night, the ponies and Hero disappear.  Wolfie is devestated.

When Rev. Lamb dies, Hettie is told she must move and so the three of them go to live in County Durham, a coal mining area in Northeast England.  There, Dodo gives art lessons to the children of a coal mine owner, while Hettie teaches school.  The war has now ended and Captain Revel is serving a two year sentence and still hoping to have his name cleared.  He had always worked to improve condition for coal miners, and now, even in prison is continuing that work.

But when the truth about Ned, the boy who had helped Wolfie with Hero back in Dulverton, and the shady activities he had been bullied into doing by his father come to light, things begin to change.  Is it possible the Ned holds the key to what happened to Hero?

I really enjoyed reading Sam Angus's novel Soldier Dog when it first came out, so I was excited to read A Horse Called Hero.  And I wasn't disappointed,  it is a very compelling, though somewhat predictable, story with lots of coincidences.  What is nice about this story are the glimpses the reader gets into so many aspects of life during the war.

There are the pacifist demonstrations in Knightsbridge the children witness while out shopping with Spud.  Sometimes we forget that not everyone supports war.  The crowds of children and parents on Praed Street heading to Paddington Station was palpable.  And although evacuation was difficult under the best of circumstances, Dodo and Wolfie's story show how absolutely capricious the whole process was.  Mrs. Sprig was a horrible, narrow-minded woman with friends just like herself and wasn't able to really welcome these two scared, displaced children into her home.  It makes one wonder how often that or worst happened in real life.  

However, Angus draws a lovely picture of the relationship between Wolfie and Captain Revel in the letters exchanged throughout the war, much of which was advice on caring for a horse.  Wolfie's hero worship of his father is touching, never flailing even when the circumstances surrounding Captain Revel's arrest are revealed.  Captain Revel was clearly a very compassionate character and it is one of the best fiction father/son relationships I've ever read.

The reader also learns so much about what life was life for coal miners and the pit ponies, as they were called.  These horses pulled tons of coal out of the mine each day, never seeing daylight once they were  deep in the mine.  The men and horses labored under dangerous conditions and that was what Captain Revel was working to change.

Two things did bother me - we never find out how old Dodo is, only that she is older than Wolfie.  And a map showing the relationship of London, North Devon and County Durham would have been nice (maps are almost always nice in historical fiction).

But, in the end, the novel really asks the readers to consider what makes a hero.  For that, it is a novel  well worth reading.

This book is recommended for readers 9+, but proably better for 11+
This book was purchased for my personal library

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3. The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond

Have you ever imagined what the world would be like if the Axis powers, Germany, Japan and Italy, had won World War II.  Well,  author Caroline Tung Richmond has done just that in her debut novel The Only Thing to Fear.  

It's been 80 years since the Allied Forces lost the war and surrendered after being defeated by Hitler's genetically-engineered super soldiers.  The United States has been divided into three territories, the Western American Territory ruled by Japan, the Italian Dakotas, and the Eastern American Territories ruled by the Nazis.

For Zara St. James, 16, living in the Shenandoah Valley in the Eastern American Territory, life has been hard.   She has lived with her Kleinbauer (peasant) Uncle Red since her mother was killed by the Nazis in a Resistance mission when Zara was 8.  Since then, Uncle Red has wanted nothing more to do with Resistance matters, but Zara can't wait to join Revolutionary Alliance, and with good reason.
English on her mother's side, Japanese on her father's, Zara is considered a Mischling by the Germans and there has never been a place for mixed-race children in Nazi society. But Zara is also hiding a secret, one that would mean instant death - she is an Anomaly, able control the air around her.  Anomalies are the result of genetic testing by the Nazis in their concentration camps in the 1930s and, as super soldiers, they helped them win the war.  But only full-blooded Aryans can be Anomalies, everyone else is put to death instantly.

Into all this comes Bastian Eckhartt, son of the formidable Colonel Eckhart, commanding officer of Fort Goering.  Bastian attends the elite military academy where Zara is assigned cleaning duties and lately she has noticed he has been looking her way more and more frequently.  But what could the son of a powerful Nazi leader possibly want with a Kleinbauer who garners no respect whatsoever?  The answer may just surprise you.

I was really looking forward to reading The Only Thing to Fear when I first heard of it.  There aren't many alternative histories for teen readers about the allied Forces losing the war to the Axis powers and what that would have meant for the future.  Unfortunately, this doesn't come across as an alternative history so much as it really just another dystopian novel.   What seems to be missing is a strong sense of ideology - on both the Nazi and the peasant side.  The Resistance was there to overthrow the cruel Nazis, but there is not sense of how or why they will make the world better if or when they succeed.

Richmond's world building was pretty spot on, though not terribly in-depth.  I really like the idea of generically engineered Anomalies, which added an interesting touch.

Zara is quite headstrong and can be a bit whinny and annoyingly brave in that she takes chances without thinking through the consequences.  Zara has a lot to learn, and a lot of growing up to do, even by the end of the novel (or maybe it is going to be a series and she can mature at a later date).

One of the things that always amazes me in books about people fighting for their lives is that there is always time for romance.  Yes, Bastian is originally interested in Zara for reasons that have nothing to do with romance, yet even as things take a dangerous turn, they both find they are attracted to each other.

The Only Thing to Fear is definitely a flawed novel, but still it is one worth reading.  As I said, it is Richmond's debut novel, and though you might find it a bit predictable, it is still a satisfying read.

The Only Thing to Fear will be available in bookstores on September 30, 2014.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an E-ARC obtained from NetGalley

Sophisticated readers might also want to take a look at Philip K. Dick's 1962 Hugo Award winning alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle.

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4. Enemy of the Reich - The Noor Inayat Khan Story

Back in September 2011, I reviewed a book called Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance and Rescue by Kathryn J. Atwood.  This is a truly wonderful book about such brave women and ideal for young readers interested in history.   One of the women that Kathryn wrote about was Noor Inayat Khan.

Noor was the daughter of an Indian father and an American mother.  She was born in Moscow, but lived and was educated in France.  She was raised in the Muslim faith.  After college, Noor began to write and illustrate children's stories, but then, World War II began.

Noor went to England and joined WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force), ferrying planes for the RAF.  She learned how to operate a radio in the WAAF and was eventually noticed by the SOE (Special Operations Executive).  Because Noor spoke French with native fluency, she was an ideal candidate for their overseas operations.

After training as an SOE agent, Noor arrived in France, using the code name Madeleine, during the night of June 16, 1943.  She successfully evaded the Nazis and sent hundreds of radio messages, including some about the upcoming D-Day invasion, until she was arrested by the Gestapo around October 13, 1943.  Eventually, after being repeatedly beaten and tortured, she was sent to Dachau, where she was executed on September 13, 1944.

Last night, local PBS stations aired a one hour program called Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story.  This excellently produced program really brings Noor's life and her activities fighting the Nazis to life in this docudrama starring Grace Srinivasan as Noor and narrated by Helen Mirren.  Noor's story is one you won't want to miss and luckily, since it is on PBS, it will probably be repeated.



Or, you can watch the entire program HERE until September 30, 2014.

And you might want to check out Kathryn's book to see who else she have included in her book of women heroes during WWII.

Oh, I said that Noor wrote children's stories after college.  Well, her stories have been translated into English and are still available:

This program is recommended for viewers age 13+

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5. My Friend The Enemy by Dan Smith

One summer day in 1941, while Peter Dixon, 12, is in the woods checking his snares to see if he's caught a rabbit to supplement the meager amount of food her and his mam get with their ration coupons, the air raid siren goes off.  Not knowing what to do, Peter starts running for home and the safety of their Anderson shelter, but before he gets there, a German plane crashes so close to him, Peter is knocked out.

It doesn't take long for the whole village to come out to see what happened, including all the children who want to try to get souvenirs from the wreckage.  And that's how Peter meets Kim, a girl about his age, with short hair and dressed like a boy.  The two become instant friends.

Peter and Kim decide to go back to the wreckage that night to look for their own souvenirs, even sneaking inside the plane.  After almost getting caught by the soldiers guarding the plane, the two end up with a gun belonging to one of the dead Germans in it.  Running off towards the woods to hide, they stumble upon a third German from the plane, who had parachuted out but was badly hurt.

Seeing the gun, the German begs them not to hurt him and they decide to take him to Peter's hiding place in the woods.  They clean him up and over the next few days, they learn that his name is Erik, and the three become friends, as much as that can happen when you can't speak each others language. Hiding and feeding Erik is difficult but Kim is afraid the army will shoot him on the spot and she is convinced that if they take care of Erik, than the same kindness will be shown to her brother Josh, in the RAF, or Peter's father in the army if they shot or injured and found by the enemy.

Peter, however, just wants his dad to come home.  Than maybe Mr. Bennett, who owns most of the land surrounding the village, who stop coming around to see his mother so much.  And maybe the older boys in the village will stop bullying him so much about his mother and Mr. Bennett.

Things get more complicated, but in the end, all the elements of this story come together in an exciting, maybe a little predictable, but definitely satisfying denouement.

I found myself immediately pulled into My Friend the Enemy.  It is a compelling story right from the start.  Peter is a sensitive boy, a bit of a loner and rather timid who seems to have spent much of his time with his dad, the gameskeeper for Mr. Bennett's land.  Kim, on the other hand, is a confident girl. a bit of a tomboy, and not the least bit afraid of standing up to bullies older and much bigger than she is.

It is also an exciting story, with plenty of action and historical detail.  Times were tough during the war, food was in short supply and people lived their lives in fear of bombing raids.  Smith incorporates all that into his story, giving the dilemmas Peter wrestles with - to help a German soldier, to steal food from his mother to feed Erik, to accept Mr. Bennett's help even as he begins to suspect the bullies are right about him and his mother - a very realistic quality so  necessary in good historical fiction.

I did like that it takes place in the same north-eastern area of England as Robert Westall's book and, in fact, My Friend The Enemy did remind me somewhat of books by this favorite author.  Unlike the Blitz in London, the north eastern coast was one of the places that was bombed only because German planes were dumping them to lighten their load as they returned home from a bombing raid, a fact Dan Smith includes in his novel, but not a place you read about much in WWII books for young readers.  My Friend The Enemy gives readers another perspective on the war as it happened in England.

Young readers will definitely find this a book to their liking, especially readers interested in WWII and what like was like on the home front for kids around their age.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an E-ARC obtained from NetGalley

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6. Sunday Funnies #18: Little Lulu


Back to School

From: The Saturday Evening Post September 22, 1943

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7. The End of the Line by Sharon E. McKay

It is Fall 1942 and the Nazis have been occupying Holland since Spring 1940.  Beatrix, 6, and her mother are Jews who have been running and hiding from the Nazis for that long.  But now it is time to hid Beatrix in a safer more stable place.

Sitting on the tram, on their way to meet the woman who would take Beatrix to safety, her mother is suddenly taken away by the Nazis who regularly board and search the trams looking for Jews.  Beatrix is left sitting on the tram by herself.

Brothers Lars, 63,  and Hans Gorter, 65, both life-long bachelors, work together on a tram - Hans driving it while Lars collects tickets.  When it looked like the Nazis were also going to take Beatrix away, Lars suddenly told them that she was his niece.  The war and all the rumors they had heard about Nazi treatment of Jews suddenly became real for the brothers.

Now, these kind, well-meaning though naive brothers must learn how to care for a little girl, who has been traumatized by the loss of her mother and who must become someone different than who she really is - if only for the duration of the Nazi occupation.  Luckily, Hans and Lars have help from their elderly neighbor Mrs. Vos, 80, and from a new, younger neighbor, Lieve van der Meer, 30, who husband is rumored to have escaped Holland and is flying for the RAF.

Why would two older men who have made it a point to always live quietly and keep a low profile, suddenly risk everything, including their lives, for a little girl they know nothing about?  That is the question at the heart of The End of the Line and Canadian author Sharon McKay answers it eloquently as the story of Beatrix and her new uncles unfolds.

There are lots of books about Jewish children who were rescued by people during the Holocaust and who did what they did simply because they believed it was the right thing to do.  But these stories are generally written from the point of view of the child.  What makes The End of the Line stand out is that it is written from the point of view of the two brothers. and yet it is a thoroughly appealing, totally engaging book for young readers accustomed to reading about protagonists their own age.

Living under Nazi occupation meant living under a daily shroud of fear and anxiety, never knowing if you were going to be singled out at any given moment.  There are plenty of these moments portrayed in the story of Hans, Lars and Beatrix, like the time Beatrix whispers Geb Achting, Yiddish for be careful, to a young Nazi soldier.  However, the story offers more insight into what it was like for the brothers in order to survive the war and the occupation of Holland, from dressing Beatrix as she grows, managing to find food when there is almost none to be had, even to buying her a doll to cuddle and comfort herself with may be new experiences for Hans and Lars, but keeping her safe from the Nazis turns out to be instinctual for these kind brothers.

The End of the Line is an interesting supplement to Holocaust literature written for young readers by an author who is part of the Canadian War Artist Program and has already written books about child soldiers in Uganda, young girls caught in the war in Afghanistan and short stories dealing with the Holocaust with Kathy Kacer, another Canadian artist who also writes books for young readers about the Holocaust.  This should be a welcome addition to any library.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was received as an E-ARC from NetGalley

You can find more information and a very useful lesson plan for The End of the Line from the publisher HERE

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8. Dash by Kirby Larson

Last year, Kirby Larson introduced us to Hobie Hanson and his dog Duke.  Hobie somewhat reluctantly volunteered Duke to be part of the country's Dogs for Defense program.  This year, Larson introduces us to Mitsi Kashino and her dog Dash.

It's January 1942, one month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  So far, things haven't been very different for Mitsi, 11, and her family, Japanese Americans living in Seattle, Washington.  But on the first day back to school, after the Christmas holidays, all that suddenly changes.  First, Mitsi's two best friends aren't at their usual meeting place, and at school they give her a cold shoulder.  Other classmates also ignore her in class and at recess.  On the way home from school in the rain, she is surrounded by a group of high school boys, who trip her causing her to fall and who tear up and kick everything in her school bag into puddles.  Luckily, a new neighbor, Mrs. Bowker comes along and breaks it up.

Change becomes even more apparent.  Cameras and radios had to be turned into the government, some of the Japanese men are being taken away by the FBI and even Mitsi's grandmother, Obaachan, must register as an alien because she was born in Japan.  Getting to know Mrs. Bowker seems to be one part of Mitsi's life that is pleasant, that and the comfort of her beloved little dog Dash.

But then April comes and with it the news that the Kashino family, along with all the other Japanese American families living in Seattle are to be sent to an internment camp for the duration of the war.  Each family member can being just one suitcase.  Naturally, Mitsi assumes she can bring Dash with her, but when she finds out that no pets are allowed in the camp, she is devastated.  What can she do with Dash to keep him safe?  Knowing that Mrs. Bowker lives alone, and might want some company, Mitsi asks her if she would be willing to take care of Dash temporarily.  Luckily, kind-hearted Mrs. Bowker agrees.

Losing everything, including her dog and her two best friends was a hard blow for Mitsi.  Now, Mitsi and her family must adjust to their new life behind a barbed-wire fence, surrounded by soldiers with rifles watching their every move.  One bright spot for Mitsi are the wonderful letters she receives from Dash, telling her about life with Mrs. Bowker.  But even that isn't quite enough to pull Mitsi out of the depression she falls into.  But a new best friend just might do the trick.

I have always believed that every persons experience of World War II is similar but different from everyone else.  And each novel I read reflects that.  Dash is based on a true story and much of what Mitsi does is taken from that story, giving the novel its sense of reality.

Dash spends a lot of time what life was like between the bombing of Pearl Harbor and life in an internment camp.  It would seem that it took a while after the initial shock of the bombing on December 7, 1941 for people began to be aware of such anti-Japanese feelings that they could turn on old friends and neighbors so vehemently, as it did with Mitsi and the kids she went to school with.  In that respect, Larson gives the reader a good picture of what it was like.

Larson also gives a good depiction of the internment camps, which were really fit only for the horses many of them were meant to house, and life was always dirty and unpleasant.  She really conveys the sense of betrayal, loneliness and the fear of the family coming apart that Mitsi experiences on top of losing everything she has known her whole life.

I like the way Larson shows the reader that even in times of great distress and hardship, good things can happen and in the end this is a story about the strength of family, the value of true friendship and learning to appreciate what is really important.

Dash will be of special interest to anyone who is a dog lover, or has an interest in WWII history on the home front.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was obtained from the publisher

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9. Where I am and why I can't go to the (sniff-choke-sob) KidLitCon 2014)

When I first started this blog way back in 2010, I wrote a post about my Kiddo graduating from college and going off to China to teach English.  Well, Kiddo had a great time in China, learned all kinds of new and interesting things and after two years, she came home in July 2012 - very changed.

Seems while Kiddo was in China, she met her soul mate, and it just happened that he was coming to America to study for a Master's Degree in August 2010 in San Francisco.  Naturally, August came and Kiddo was off to California.

In September 2012, Kiddo called and said "Guess what?  We are getting married - the day after Christmas.  Can we do it at home?"

I have never seen Kiddo so in love, so what could I say?  I called my cousin in NJ, an ordained minister, a few other relatives and friends, and the day after Christmas, Kiddo became Mrs. Kiddo and here is the happy couple:


What does all this have to do with KidLitCon 2014?  Well, I am in San Francisco visiting the Kiddos and we have been have lots of fun, but I finally had to take a morning to catch up with life.  Unfortunately, my travel budget only allowed for one trans-continental trip and I already had this reservation before the KidLitCon 2014 announcement.  So, sadly, I will not be going to Sacramento.  Had I known earlier, I would have come here in October, but I hope everyone has fun and that those who are going will share their experience with the rest of us.


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10. Christmas Truce by Aaron Shepard, illustrated by Wendy Edelson

There have been lots of stories and books written about the Christmas truce of 1914 that spontaneously occurred between the Allied troops and German troops.  Now, Aaron Shepard has written another version of this astounding event.

In a fictional letter to his sister Janet back home in London, Tom, a soldier at the Western Front, tells her the extraordinary story of how the truce came about.  Soldiers on both sides of No Man's Land, a space of only 50 yards, were relatively quiet on Christmas Eve day, waiting for replacements after heavy fighting and many deaths.  It was cold and had snowed, so everything, including the soldiers, was frozen.

Suddenly as night fell and even the sporadic gunfire stopped, the British heard the Germans singing "Stille nacht, heilige nacht…" and saw that they had placed Christmas trees, complete with burning candles, all along their trenches.

Soon, the soldiers on both sides began to trade favorite Christmas carols back and forth across No Man's Land.  Finally, the Germans invited the Allied soldiers to come out of their trenches and meet in the middle: "You no shoot, we no shoot" they said.

As Christmas Eve wore on, soldiers on both sides discovered they had lots in common.  After exchanging gifts - badges and uniform buttons, cigars and cigarettes, coffee and tea, and even newspapers - the soldiers parted and went back to their trenches.

As Tom ends his letter to his sister, he writes: "All nations say they want peace.  Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough."

The Christmas truce of 1914 was quite remarkable in the annals of military history and some people even believed it never happened.  But as Shepard points out in his afterward, the truce was reported in the British newspapers, photos included (and I found reports about it in the New York Times dated December 31, 1914).  In this fictional letter from Tom, Shepard tries to clear up some false beliefs and misconceptions, all explained in the afterward.

Christmas Truce is beautifully and realistically illustrated in watercolor by Wendy Edelson, who has really captured the idea of the Christmas truce.  The cold browns of the trenches gives way to color, first in the line of brightly lit Christmas trees across No Man's Land, with warmer and brighter colors added as the men get closer and closer to each other.  Christmas Truce may be a picture book, but it is definitely meant for older readers.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI and this Christmas will be the 100th anniversary of that history-making truce.  It is nice to know that for at least a short time, it really was all quiet on the Western Front.

My two favorite illustrations from Christmas Truce
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an E-ARC from NetGalley

GOOD NEWS:  If Christmas Truce is a book you think you might like to read, and you have an ereader, you can download this book for free at
iTunes (this is not a direct link)

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11. The LIght in the Cellar (A Molly Mystery) by Sarah Masters Buckey

Everyone at school needs to sign up to do volunteer work for the war effort of some kind and Molly McIntire really wants to join the Junior Red Cross with her friends Susan and Linda.  But Emily Bennett, an evacuee from the London Blitz who has been staying with the McIntire's since she arrived in the U.S., wants to volunteer to be a magazine delivery girl at the Oak Knoll Convalescent Hospital.  That way, she can visit her Aunt Prim, recovering from pneumonia.  Emily was supposed to live with Aunt Prim for the duration of the war, but is living with the McIntire's instead until she recovers.

But before any magazines can be delivered, Emily needs to learn how to ride a bike, since that is their only means of transportation to Oak Knoll.  One evening, Molly, Susan and Linda take Emily to a deserted road by the old (haunted?) Greystone Manor.  While there, they notice a light in the cellar is on.

Shortly after this, Molly's mother discovers seven 10 pound bags of sugar are missing from the Red Cross office, where they are kept.  The supplies are used to bake cookies for the soldiers on the troop trains passing through.  Sugar is rationed and can't be replaced.  Oddly, Molly overhears a conversation at Oak Knoll that supplies there are missing as well.  Could someone be stealing these valuable supplies to sell on the black market?

Surprised, Molly finds she enjoys being a magazine delivery girl and meeting the different patients at Oak Knoll, especially Mrs. Currier, who lives in Greystone Manor.  When Mrs. Currier asks Molly to go get her reading glasses from the house, Molly agrees despite being more than a little creeped out.  While there with Emily the next day, a black truck pulls up to the house and two men start carrying in packages and putting them in the basement.  Trouble is, they forget to put the spare key to the Manor back where it belongs and must return again.

Bringing Linda and Susan with them, Molly and Emily return to the Manor with the key.  While there, they decide to look in the basement window and, sure enough, there are the missing bags of sugar from the Red Cross and Oak Knoll.

But who could be doing something like this?  Mr. Laurence, who delivers Oak Knoll's laundry, tells Molly to be careful are Marta, a Polish refuge with a young daughter, hinting that the missing items are because of her, but Molly refuses to believe that, especially not after what Auntie Prim says about her.

What to do?  Can Molly and her friends actually set a trap to catch the thief before all those supplies disappear on the black market?

The Light in the Cellar is a middle grade novel that is full of adventure and excitement, but of a kinder, gentler nature than many of the WWII books I've reviewed for young readers.  For today's readers, though, the amount of freedom 9 year old Molly enjoys to ride her bike and just hang out with her friends may surprise them.  I know it did my Kiddo when she read them.

However, there are a few plot holes.  How long has Mrs. Currier been at Oak Knoll if Molly and her friends have always thought of Greystone Manor as haunted and falling into disrepair and why didn't Mrs. Currier have her reading glasses already if it has been so long?

Still, the historical facts in the novel are well-researched story by an author who is very familiar with American Girl values and has written a number of books about the historical figures that were the original purpose of the Pleasant Company before it was sold to Mattel.

And my Kiddo learned a lot because American Girl books involving historical figures like Molly McIntire are always written so that they give young readers a good idea of what life might have been like for girls their age, and the mysteries are not different.  The Light in the Cellar introduces kids to rationing and ration books, and the black market, to the work of Red Cross volunteers, to plane spotting by kids like Molly's older brother Ricky, and, of course, to scrap collecting - all so much a part of life during WWII.

However, I did like that Molly and Emily got a little testy with each other, showing that sometimes friendships can be strained no matter what the circumstances and letting readers know that Molly, like themselves, isn't perfect.  Then again, sometimes the McIntires forgot that Emily wasn't one of them and treated her like another sister, which proved to please her very much.

All of the American Girl historical figures have a series of mystery stories like Molly's, so if your young reader is showing an interest in mysteries and/or history, these are great starter book (and a nice prelude to novels like Nancy Drew and Harriet the Spy among others).

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


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12. The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr

In the Summer of 1941, the manager of the large animal reserve in the Ukraine, Askaniya-Nova, told his senior caretaker Maxim Borisovich Melnik to kill all the animals before the Germans arrived and did it themselves to replenish their dwindling food supplies.

But Max can't bring himself to do it, and when the Nazis arrive and take over the reserve, he is sure that the Well-educated, well-bred, well-spoken Captain Grenzman will spare the animals, especially his beloved untamable Przewalski's horses.  But soon it is winter and the soldiers have to eat and little by little, the animals on the reserve are killed until only the small herd of Przewalski's horses are left.

Until the day Grenzman tells Max that he has received his orders from Berlin to "remove from the animal population of the Greater German Reich what is, after all, a biologically unfit species, in order to protect the line of decent domesticated horses…from possible contamination by your wandering pit ponies." (pg 25) Besides, the Nazis have run out of food again.

Meanwhile, Kalinka, 15, the only Jewish survivor of a Nazi mass shooting that included her entire family, has found her way to Askaniya-Nova, where she befriends and is befriended by the lead stallion and mare of the Przewalski's herd there, a most unusual thing for these horses to do.

Like Max, Kalinka witnesses and is horrified by the killing of the herd of Przewalski's horses and when it was over, she goes looking for the mare and stallion who had helped save her life to see if there is anything she can do for them.  Not finding them, Kalinka returns to her hiding place, only to discover that the two horses have made their way back there, too.  But the mare has a bullet lodged in her shoulder and Kalinka knows she needs to seek help from Max.

Max is overjoyed to see the two Przewalski's and welcomes Kalinka with open arms.  He removes the bullet and puts the two horses and Kalinka in the abandoned waterworks buildings not far from his cottage.  But soon, that becomes a dangerous place for them, as well, and the two hatch a plan to get both the horses and Kalinka to where they can find safety with the Red Army.

It's a dangerous plan, but if it doesn't work, it will be the end of the Przewalski's horses.

The Winter Horses is based somewhat on the real shooting of Przewalski's horses by the Nazis during WWII, but the rest of the story should not be seen as a history but as a legend, which contains only an element of historic fact, but also has a rather mythical quality.  Or at least, that is how Philip Kerr introduces this story of an unlikely hero, heroine and the two horses they want to save, and which accounts for the very understated element of fantasy in the novel.

I though that because of this legend quality Kerr gave his story, that writing the novel with an omniscient third person point of view really worked well.  It provided just the kind of distancing that a novel like this needs.  In fact, it reminded me of the original Kinder- und Hausmärchen by the Brothers Grimm, which all had that same dichotomy of cruelty and kindness to them (unlike their prettified, disneyfied fairy tales counterparts of today) found  in The Winter Horses.

Even so, I suspect that this is may be as difficult a story to read for others as it was for me.  The calm cruelty of Captain Grenzman and his obsessive need to eradicate the all horses was almost unbearable, mainly because it was so analogous to what was being done to the entire Jewish population.

Still, I highly recommend The Winter Horses to anyone with an interest in WWII, and given what is going on in the Ukraine at the moment, readers may find this even more of an interesting read, asking themselves, as I did, will history be repeating itself here?  After all, the Askaniya-Nova reserve still exists in the southern Ukraine.

Philip Kerr is a favorite author of mine, having written a wonderful mystery series about a detective named Bernie Gunther set in pre-war Berlin for adult readers.  The Winter Horses is his first historical fiction for young readers (but not his first work for kids - as Ms. Yingling points out in her review, Philip Kerr also wrote a fantasy series, Children of the Lamp,  under the name P.B.Kerr).

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

Random House has an educator's guide to The Winter Horses complete with CCSS tie-ins that can be downloaded HERE

If you would like to know more about Przewalski's horses, you might this article in Scientific American  interesting, or this entry on Wikipedia giving the history of Przewalski's horses or the history of Askaniya-Nova

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13. Eyewitness World War I by Simon Adams, photography by Andy Crawford

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.  I have to be honest and say this I don't really know much about this war except what I learned in school, or from a few books I have read.  And I have always felt that when your knowledge is lacking on a particular topic, begin learning about it by looking at a good overview, then you can look more closely at particular areas that might be interesting to you.

So, when I realized this anniversary was coming up, I decided to begin with one of DK's Eyewitness books.  Eyewitness World War I begins with an introduction to Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, explains who the major powers were and well as the major conflicts that created alliances that would prove to be important in 1914 and the beginning of World War I.

The war was a result of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.  He was shot in Sarajevo, Bosnia.  Bosnia was claimed by Serbia, so naturally Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the assignation and declared war on them on July 28, 1014.  Immediately, countries began to chose side - Germany supported Austria-Hungary, Russia supported Serbia, France supported Russia, then Britain declared war on Germany for invading Belgium.  The US didn't enter the war until April 6, 1917.

Each important aspect of the war is cover, usually in two page spreads, with lots of photographs supporting the text.  Readers will learn about how people signed up to fight, the most important battles, the role of women, the use of air power for the first time in a war:

Source: DK Eyewitness 

Other topics included are Life in the Trenches, the War at Sea, and the use of one the worst weapons of this war - the Gas Attack.  I have always been interested in spying and code breaking, so I was happy to see pages devoted to Espionage:

Source: DK Eyewitness

World War I made good use of carrier pigeons, using up to 500,000 of them according to this page of the book, for espionage and often for sending messages from behind enemy lines.

Back matter to Eyewitness World War I includes more facts, a Q&A, a list of important people and places, where to go to find out more, places and websites to visit, a Glossary and in Index.

If you have a young reader developing an interest in war books, Eyewitness World War I would be a good introduction for them.  And if you are a classroom or home schooling teacher, this is one you will definitely want as a resource for students.  I use my Eyewitness World War II book all the time, and kids really like all the photographs of what people and things looked like.  I'll be placing Eyewitness World War I with it for their use, since WWI is on the agenda for the next next year.

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

It's Nonfiction Monday, be sure to visit today's Round Up of other nonfiction books for kids and teens


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14. A Time to be Brave by Joan Betty Stuchner

Ever since the Nazis invaded Denmark, David Nathan, 10, and his best friend Elsa Jensen have been hungry, despite the fact that his dad is the best baker in all of Copenhagen.  But the Nazis have been helping themselves to whatever they want since 1940, and that includes anything that they fancy in Nathan's Patisserie

Now, it is September, 1943 and David is looking forward to Rosh Hashanah and his mother's special honey cake all month long.  The Jewish New Year is always a family celebration shared with Elsa's family.   If only he thought his sister might be there, but university studies keep her at school more and more.

Or so David's mother tells him whenever he asks about Rachel.  But on their way home from school one afternoon, Elsa tells David her secret - Rachel and Elsa's cousin Arne are in the Resistance, doing whatever they can to sabotage the Nazis.

That very afternoon, when he arrives at his father's bakery, David is asked to deliver 6 éclairs to Arne's house and to make sure all 6 get there.  But no sooner does David leave the shop, when he is stopped by two Nazi soldiers who insist on seeing what he has in his bakery box.  Seeing the éclairs, each soldier helps himself to one.

Finally, David is able to deliver the remaining four éclairs to Arne, who immediately dips his finger into each, finally pulling out a piece of paper from the last one.  All David can make out is the word train.  A few days later, David's father tells him that a train has been sabotaged by the Resistance, and David proudly realizes he had actually played a role in that.

And at last Rosh Hashanah arrives.  The longed for honey cake has been made, but when David and his father are sitting in the synagogue, the Rabbi announces that the Nazis are planning to round up Denmark's Jews that very night and advises everyone to go home and prepare for their escape.

Well, we know the end of this story because we know that Denmark's citizens did not allow the Nazis to capture most of that nation's Jewish citizens, and so we know that David and his parents escape to Sweden with the help of their friends the Jensens.  But, of course, young readers may not know this.

A Time to be Brave is a nice easy reader chapter book that provides a good introduction to what happened in Denmark in World War II.  It is the perfect book for a young reader who is not quite ready for Number the Stars.

The writing is simple. never condescending, the story is straightforward and the characters well-drawn. There is nice back matter, too, including a map of Denmark and Sweden, a World War II timeline, explanations of who Victor Borge is (yes, he in mentioned in the novel), the Resistance, King Christian X (an important figure to the Danish people during the war), and a recipe for honey cake (that I may have to try making).

If A Time to be Brave sounds vaguely familiar, it is because it was originally published in 2008 under the title Honey Cake.  I suspect it has been reissued under the new title because it now has "updated content that emphasizes Common Core and renewed interest in nonfiction" even though the story is fiction.  It is, however, based on a true story.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was provided by the publisher


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15. Sunday Funnies #17: What the heck are Canadian Whites?

I learned something new this week when I read Jacqueline Guest's novel The Comic Book War.  Canada, as you probably know, entered WWII two years before the United States did.  But wars cost money and in order to conserve Canada's balance of trade with the United States, Parliament passed War Exchange Conservation Act on December 6, 1940.

What this meant for fans of American comic book living north of the 49th Parallel was that there would be no more importation of such comic favorites as Superman, Batman or relative newcomer Captain Marvel.

To make up for this deficit, Canadian publishers scrambled to start producing their own superhero comic books.  In March 1941, Maple Leaf Publishing introduced the first issue of Better Comics and the first Canadian-created superhero Iron Man, created by Vernon Miller, formerly of the Disney Studios.  Iron Man was indestructible, having super strenght and was amphibious to boot.  He had originally lived on an island in the South Pacific, but an earthquake had obliterated all the inhabitants save him.  When the war started, Iron Man decided to throw his lot in with the Allies.  Like Iron Man, all the content in Better Comics was original and the stories were often serialized to keep customers coming back for more, but it seems to have been relatively successful, continuing to publish through the war.

August 1941 saw the publication of Triumph Adventure Comics by Hillborough Studio.  Founded by three artists, Triumph Adventure Comics introduced Canada's first Canadian-created, true Canadian superhero: Nevlana of the Northern Lights.  She was the child of a mortal mother and the King of the Northern Lights, Koliak the Mighty.  Nelvana could fly and travel at the speed of light by riding on a light beam from the Aurora Boralis.  Over time, more powers were written into the stories as they were needed.  It should also be noted that Nelvana arrived on the comic book scene a full four months before her American counterpart Wonder Woman.
Triumph Adventure Comics #1 August 1941; Triumph Comics March 1942
Nelvana continued to appear in Triumph-Adventure Comics until February 1941, for a total of 7 issues.  When her creator, Adrian Dingle, left Hillborough, he went to Bell Features taking Nelvana with him.

Bell Features was a very successful comic book publisher.  They were very Canadian focused and that was what readers really wanted during the war.  Besides Nelvana in Triumph, there was the Penguin in WOW Comics.  Unlike Batman's nemesis by the same name, WOW's Penguin spent his time fighting evil, especially the evil that was the Axis powers.  He was a master spy, a detective, an expert marksman, excellent at hand to hand combat and once you saw his face, you knew you didn't have long for this world.  And his identity was often speculated about but never revealed.

Bell also published Dime Comics and in February 1942, another true Canadian hero made his appearance.  Johnny Canuck was the creation of a 16 year old boy name Leo Bachle.  Johnny Canuck, a captain in the allied Air Force was also endowed with super strength.
Dime Comics February 1942 introducing Johnny Canuck
Last, but not least, we come to Educational Projects of Montreal.  Educational Projects introduced Canadian Heroes into the mixed of superheroes, focusing on real people who were real heroes.  Needless to say, this kind of comic books didn't really go over well with kids who were used to much more daring, dangerous and exciting fare for their heroes.
Canadian Heroes #1 November 1942 and #5, March 1943 introducing Canada Jack
And so Education Projects decided to forgo the real, focus on the fictional and so Canada Jack was created for the March 1943 issue of Canadian Heroes.  Canada Jack was just an ordinary guy without superpowers but he was an expert gymnast at the top of his form.  He actually became popular enough with kids that The Canada Jack Club was formed and kids were encouraged not only to join the club, but to do work to help the war effort.  Then, each month a different member and their war activities were spotlighted in the comic book.

Members spotlighted in Canadian Heroes V. 4 #6 December 1944 
But alas, this golden age of Canadian comic books was not to last beyond the end of the war, when the War Exchange Conservation Act was not longer needed and once again, American comic books flooded the Canadian markets with the kind of glitzy comics that the Canadian publishers just couldn't compete with.

So, what are they called Canadian Whites?  The covers may have looked just like the kind of four color covers you would find on American comics, but that is where the similarity ends.  The stories inside were all done in black and white, as you can see from some of the examples used here.

In 1995, the Canadian Post Office issued a set of 5 stamps commorating comic book heroes.  These included WWII superheroes Superman, Johnny Canuck and Nelvana, as well as Captain Canuck and Fleur de Lys from the 1970s and 1980s.


Source:
Bell, John. Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe.  Toronto: Dundum, 2006.

Most images used are public domain.

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16. I Survived #4: I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941 by Lauren Tarshis

Living in New York City, Danny Crane, 11, and his best friend Finn were always in trouble.  Danny's father had skipped out before he was born, so his mother worked as a nurse by day and cleaned offices at night to support them and was often not home.  There are just too many kids in Finn's family for anyone to keep an eye on him  The two boys skip school, sneak into the movies, and pretty soon, they were hanging out with gangster Earl Gasky.

So, in late1941, Danny's mother takes a nursing job at the hospital at Hickam Air Force base on Oahu, Hawaii.  Danny hasn't been living in Hawaii for very long before he hatches a plan to stowaway on a ship bound for San Francisco on December 7th, and from there, he plans to cross the country riding the rails back to Finn and the life he loves and wants.

On the morning of December 6th, Danny meets his new neighbors when toddler Aki Sudo wanders into the Cranes backyard.  The Sudos are a family of Japanese descent that had been born in Hawaii.  And Aki Sudo may only have been 3 years old, but he knew every plane the Americans had in their Air Force, thanks to the detailed drawings his fisherman father drew for him.

Danny likes the Sudos, but he is still determined to get back to Finn and NYC.  Yet, on the morning of December 7th, Danny is having a hard time getting out of bed and setting his plan in motion.  Thinking about his mother and how she will feel when she discovers him gone, Danny is jolted out of bed by little Aki's cries.  Planes, swarms of them, are coming and they aren't American.  Suddenly, as the two boys are heading to the Sudo home, they hear loud explosions followed by fire and smoke.  Pearl Harbor is under attack.

Returning Aki to his mother, Danny decides he needs to get the Hickam, to find his own mother.  But along the way, there is another round of bombing, and shooting.  Then, Danny meets Mack, a  lieutenant and pilot of a B-17.  Mack likes Mrs. Crane, but Danny was resentful of that.  Now, though, with a bullet wound to his arm, he and Danny try to make their way to Hickam together.

But, will the two be able to survive the rain of bullets and bombs the Japanese pilots are unleashing on all of Pearl Harbor?

I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor is the 4th book in this popular, action packed I Survived series for boys about boys living in different time periods and facing different historical disasters and making them real coming of age stories.  And, like the others, it won't let the reader down.  There is plenty of real historical information couched in the fictional story of Danny and since Danny more or less sees the attack on Pearl Harbor from a distance, the descriptions of it are realistic, but not so graphic they will upset the age appropriate reader.

One of the side issues that Lauren Tarshis addresses in this particular story is how easy it was for boys like Danny to fall into the wrong kind of life.  Danny is at an age when friends can be all important, so the reader sees how he is torn between staying with his mother and his loyalty to his friend and partner in crime Finn.  These two friends were on their way to being in real trouble when Mrs. Crane moved Danny to Hawaii.  Juvenile delinquency was a problem back then because so many parents, like Mrs. Crane, had to work long hours, often at two jobs.  Doing little things for someone like Earl Gasky was just the beginning.  Both boys are at an age when they could have gone either way and I wondered what happened to Finn, left in NYC.  

Since I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor is a work of historical fiction, the author has included lots of back matter for further exploration.  There is a lengthy Q&A about the actual attack, a Pearl Harbor Time Line, Pearl Harbor facts and resources for reading other books about kids caught in the bombing of December 7, 1941.

In addition, the publisher of the I Survived series, Scholastic, has put a Teacher's Guide online that is compatible with Common Core State Standards and it can be downloaded HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was purchased for my personal library

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17. The Comic Book War by Jacqueline Guest

It's 1943 and Robert Tourand, 15, misses and worries about his three older brothers who are off fighting in Europe with the Canadian armed forces.   So when he finds a small piece of a meteorite, it becomes a kind of magical charm for him.  Thanks to it, Robert soon, he begins to see and believe a cosmic connection between what his brother write about from the front line in their letters, and the heroes in the comic books he obsessed with.

And so, he pairs brother to comic according the their parallel experiences: favorite brother Patrick is assigned The Maple Leaf Kid, brother James and Sedna of the Sea go together because James could use her wisdom, brother George, a pilot, is paired with flying ace Captain Ice.  Their assignment: to keep his brother's safe.

It all works nicely until his mother finds a pair of torn pants and decides Robert need to be taught a lesson.  Now, she decides, his weekly allowance, his only means of buying the newest editions of the comic book that contain secret messages about his brothers, would be better spent on war stamps.  Now, Robert needs to figure out a new way to make sure he can buy his three favorite comics every month.

And it seems that ever since his found his magical piece of the universe, luck has been with him.  When his teacher announces that the student who collects the most fat for the war effort will win four completely filled books of war stamps, valued at $4.00, Robert thinks he's found the answer to funding his comic addiction.  But despite his best efforts, he didn't expect such stiff competition from Crazy Charlie (Charlene) Donnelly, a girl as much on a mission as Robert.

So, when fat collection doesn't yield the needed money, Robert decides to take a job as a telegram delivery boy.  Trouble is, Crazy Charlie has the same idea.  They are both hired, and as more and more telegrams need to be delivered, Charlie seems to be able to get around Calgary some much faster than Robert on her dilipated second hand bike compared to his sleek newish Raleigh.  Robert is so busy thinking about his comic books, he never bothers to ask Charlie about herself.  Nor does he think about what is in the telegrams he is delivering, until one arrives at his house in Charlie's hands.

At first, I didn't much care for The Comic Book War.  I found Robert to be a very unappealing character, too focused on himself and completely lacking in empathy for anyone else.  Ironically, Robert and Charlie are both loners, outsiders that could have been friends from the start, if Robert had been able to see beyond himself.  But as I continued to read, I began to see Robert in a different light, as a person who could actually have some compassion for the recipients of the telegrams he was delivering.

I also thought that Robert was a little too old to be so obsessed with comic books, even for the WWII time frame.  But this is, after all, a coming of age novel.  I began to think about how kids will use all kinds of ways to cope with fear, loss and trauma.  Robert keeps his fear about his brothers (and about growing up) from overwhelming him using magical thinking (always a good defense mechanism) that his comic book heroes will keep his brothers (and him) safe.

Charlie, who was much more in touch with reality, was a good contrast to Robert, despite her own problems in life.  I would have actually liked to have read more about Charlie, who is a story in her own right.

It is always interesting to find a Canadian story about kids in WWII because they have such a distinct perspective.  Canada was still part of the British Commonwealth in 1939, and even though it declared war on the Axis powers independently of Britain, it sent troops overseas to fight with the British Expeditionary Forces and the RAF.

Two nit-picky things did bother me.  Kids did not carry their school books to school in backpacks back them.  They used school bags or carried them in their arms.  And I did wonder about why lights were left on so freely at night.  I thought all of Canada had blackout precautions during the war.  But I could be wrong on these.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was received from the publisher

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18. My Top Blogs Posts (are not what I would have expected)

I was reading Cecelia's Top Ten Blogging Confessions over at her blog The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia when something she wrote made me stop and wonder.  I know Cecelia participates in the  meme Weekly Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads and one of her blogging confessions is that 4 recipe posts are among her top posts.  I enjoy reading Cecelia's book reviews, but I have to confess, she has posted some pretty good recipes and I know because I have tried some of them.  So thank you for both, Cecelia.

But all this did make me wonder what my most popular posts are.  It's not something I usually pay much attention to when I look at my stats.  So this morning I looked and, boy, was I surprised.  Here they are:

1- Going Solo by Roald Dahl, posted September 13, 2010
Roald Dahl recounts his life in Africa as an RAF pilot during the early years of the Second World War.   I was still a novice blogger when I posted this, and it shows.

2- Black History Month - The Double V Campaign: African Americans and World War II by Michael L. Cooper, posted February 7, 2011
This is a very interesting, excellently written book about the Double V Campaign, in which African American men and women were fighting for victory for their country and for equality in the Armed Services.

3- My Brother's Shadow by Monika Schroder, posted January 3, 2012
This is a story about a family at the end of World War I living in Berlin, Germany and their struggles, hardships and their participation in the charged political events of the time.

4- The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, posted July 18, 2011
The story of three children trying to survive while hiding from the Nazis in the rubble of war torn Warsaw, Poland after their parents are arrested and the strange boy with a silver sword connected to their missing parents.

5- I Survived #9: I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944 by Lauren Tarshis, posted January 31, 2014
When they accidentally leave the Jewish ghetto Esties, Poland, to pick some raspberries, brother and sister Max and Zena are caught, but manage to escape their Nazi capture and decide to keep running.

6- The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall, posted June 15, 2011
When Chas and his friends find a wounded German airman, they befriend him, then force him to repair the machine gun that was attached to his plane.  

7- The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo, posted April 6, 2011
A young boy learns about his grandmother's life in England during WWII when British and American soldiers took over her town to practice for D-Day and about the cat she loved named Tips.

8- Parallel Journeys by Eleanor Ayer with Helen Waterford and Alfons Heck, posted December 13, 2010
Follows the lives of two Germans in WWII and afterwards.  One is an Aryan member of the Hitler Youth who completely believed in Hitler, the other a Jewish woman who escapes to Holland, only to be sent to Auschwitz.  This is a fascinating nonfiction book.

9- Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr, posted August 6, 2013
This most famous book recounts the life of Sadako Sasaki as she struggles with A-Bomb disease ten years after the bombing of Hiroshima.  Believing that if she folded 1,000 origami cranes, she thought she would be granted her wish to live.  Unfortunately that didn't happen, but Sadako sparked a peace movement among the children of the world, who still send thousands of paper cranes to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park every year to honor Sakako and the others who perished as a result of the atomic bomb.

10- Weekend Cooking #10: Victory through Carrots, posted May 14, 2011
This was one of my favorite posts to do.  Who knew there was such a thing as a World Carrot Museum?  Well there is and you can visit it online.  This is the museum that inspired my Favorite Funky Museums board on Pinterest.

What are your top ten posts?  

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19. Movie Matinee #5: The Diary of Anne Frank (2009)

"I want to go on living even after my death"
 4 April 1944

Yesterday was Anne Frank's 85th birthday and so I thought I would take a look at the 2009 BBC/Masterpiece Theatre production of The Diary of Anne Frank.

There have been a number of film and stage adaptations of Anne Frank's famous diary, chronicling the over two years spent in hiding from the Nazis.  I have seen the 1959 adaptation starring Millie Perkins, whose portrayal of Anne as a wide-eyed waifish looking girl was, a little to flat and unrealistic.  I think the movie reviewer said it best in his 1959 NY Times review: "there does not surge out of her [Perkins] frail person a sense of indestructible life, of innocence and trust that show no shadows, of a spirit that will not die.  She does not rise  in the drama as a pillar of perceptible faith in man.  She is reedy..."

Year later, in 1997, I saw Natalie Portman in a stage production of The Diary of Anne Frank, which I liked very much.  I thought Portman did a very creditable job of portraying Anne and Linda Lavin was a truly wonderful Mrs. Van Daan.  But the play closed early because it had been struggling to fill seats at every performance and when it didn't win any Tony awards, the produced decided to cut their losses.

L. Millie Perkins as Anne R. Natalie Portman as Anne
In 2010, a new production of The Diary of Anne Frank aired on television in England and the United States.  I had watched it when it first aired on Masterpiece Theatre and watched it again last night.  I realized that the thing that I found to be so powerful in this production was that it captured exactly was was missing from the 1959 movie.  Anne was played by Ellie Kendrick, a young English actress who you may recognize from her role as Meera Reed in the Game of Thrones TV series.  Ellie was actually 17 years old at the time she was playing 13 year old Anne, but I thought she brought Anne to life in a way that hasn't been done before.

Here, at last, is a robust Anne that resembles a real 13 year old girl.  She is self-absorbed, moody, impulsive, kind, fresh, loving, angry, flirty and curious.  And she is fearful, as are all the occupants of that very cramped Secret Annex, their hiding place above her father Otto Frank's place of business, a pectin and spice company.   Kendrick's portrayal of Anne is almost perfection as she brings all these mixed emotions and feelings out with perfect timing, and a wonderful flounce when she is obviously angry but silent.  And we never lose the sense of "a spirit that will not die."

FYI: Kendrick's version of Anne also finally talks about more intimate things like getting her period, her painful, messy, but sweet secret, and being curious about her changing body and budding sexuality - passages that were edited out of the her diary by her father when it was originally published.  Anne's burgeoning sexuality was finally put back into the diary when the definitive edition was published in 1995.  I think this makes Anne more of a person that a symbol and I am rather glad that when she adapted the diary for this production, Deborah Moggach included it in her well done screenplay.

Kendrick with Iain Glen as Otto Frank and Tamsin Greig as Edith Frank
The film is done with a lot of voice over using the content of the diary, and just enough dialogue to move time along.  Additionally, the tension among the residents of the attic as time went by, as food shortages increased and the abject fear they felt each time there were noises near the attic door that they were about to be discovered by armed Nazis is simply payable and will set your heart racing.

But knowing the ultimate outcome of all the lives in the attic makes this beautifully done film so very difficult to watch.  But do watch it, nevertheless, especially if you haven't seen it yet.

You can watch an OK version of the entire film on YouTube, but the film is also available at the library, or you can purchase a copy, and PBS occasionally reruns it.

You can download an excellent, extensive Teacher's Guide for this version of The Diary of Anne Frank from PBS Masterpiece Classic

Did you know that on March 28, 1944, Anne was inspired to rewrite her diary after hearing a radio speech by Dutch Cabinet Minister Gerritt Bolkestein who said:
"History cannot be written on the basis of official decisions and documents alone.  If out descendants are to understand fully what we as a nation have had to endure and overcome during these years, then what we really need are ordinary documents - a diary, letters from a worker in Germany, a collection of sermons given by a parson or priest.  Not until we succeed in bringing together vast quantities of this simple, everyday material will the picture of out struggle for freedom be painted in its full depth and glory."
Anne had almost finished revising her diary when the Nazis arrived on August 4, 1944.  Anne wanted to make a difference with her writing and on 1 April 1944, she wrote:
"I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am grateful to G-d for this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me.  I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.  But, and that is the great question, will I ever be able to write anything great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?"
Poignant words from a writer whose diary has touched so many people.

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20. Best Friends Fovever: A World War II Scrapbook by Beverly Patt

I love to look at scrapbooks.  They tell so much in the words and pictures the person keeping the scrapbook chooses to use.  I always had scrapbooks for school, camp, and family when I was growing up.  The 1940s was also a time when scrapbooks were a  popular way of remembering important people, events and other things.

Louise Krueger, 14, begins her scrapbook on April 24, 1942, the day her best friend Dottie Masuaka has just left their Seattle neighborhood with her family to be ?relocated" along with everyone else who is Japanese or Japanese American until the world war is over.   But no one knows what relocation mean and where it is.

Through pictures, journal entries, newspaper clippings, and various mementos that Louise pastes into her scrapbook, the reader learns about how the Japanese were forced to sell homes, furniture, businesses and cars they had worked so hard to get for a fraction of their worth on very short notice;  the kinds of appalling living conditions in slapped together huts or horse stalls they were put into and the attitude of many Americans towards anyone who was Japanese.

But the reader also gets a picture of what life was like for kids during those first few months of war.  New wartime restrictions quickly go into effect: rationing gas and a rubber shortage (tires were impossible to get) means trips are only taken when absolutely necessary; mixing yellow coloring into the white oleo to make it look like butter, the flyer from a Japanese Exclusion meeting about "keeping America for Americans."

Louise also keeps all of Dottie's letters which talk about camp life, her grandfather's difficulty with what has happened, and many of them contain drawing she makes of camp life.  Louise also keeps the program from the May Day Performance and her confirmation, two events she and Dottie had been looking for.  And there's lots of realia - ribbons, notes from friends, flowers, movie stubs.

And, of course, there is talk of boys.  Louise meet a young man who lied about his age to join the Army and ended up in a hospital; Dottie is surprised that a boy they had thought annoying has matured in the camp and the possibility of a camp romance is hinted at.

But then suddenly in September 1942 the letters stop.  And no one is more surprised than Louise and Dottie when they discover why.

This is an interesting way to look at the war.  Anyone of Japanese ancestry was sent to an internment camp aftg\er the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan on December 7, 1941.  Though the story is fiction, Beverly Patt got her idea for Best Friends Forever from a story her mother told her as a child and got the details of what it was like for Japanese Americans sent to the internment camps from a couple name Dave and Margaret Masuoka.  The Masuokas gave Patt lots of details that helped her create and give depth and a sense of authenticity to the character of Dottie.  You can read more about how Patt researched and created the scrapbook Louise keeps in an interview at Discover Nikkei.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the back of the book where Patt gives more background information for writing Best Friends Forever.  And she includes an interesting Bibliography for anyone who might want more information about the internment of the Japanese during WWII.

This is a wonderful book for introducing this aspect of WWII history to young readers and to help that, you will find a very useful Teacher's Guide HERE.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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21. Seeds of Rebellion: The First French and Indian War by Teresa Irvin

It's 1755 and life is difficult enough living on a farm, but for Josh Bedford, 13, life is made even more difficult with an older brother, Matt, who tortures him and a father he never seems to be able to please.  But then, Matt lets him take the blame for forgetting to lock the barn door and letting the cow get loose.  The cow ends up butchered and Josh ends up getting lashes from his father.

Still in the throes of anger, it's not surprisingly that when his adventuresome hero, Uncle Harry, shows up shortly afterwards, Josh decides to run away.  Josh stows away on the wagon his uncle is driving and eventually ends of at Fort Cumberland, where British Redcoats, rag-tag colonists and Native Americans have gathered as they prepare for war against French and other Native Americans.

Sneaking away from his uncle who is still unaware that he has run away, Josh changes his name to Jed and ends up finding work with Daniel Boone after almost getting them both killed by a bear.  But Josh/Jed also makes a friend in Oliver Cunningham, a 15 year old from Cork, Ireland who's a fifer for the British.

After Daniel Boone is sent to Winchester, VA to get supplies, Josh/Jed finds himself working as a groom for Captain George Washington until Boone returns.  All the while he must watch out for his uncle, knowing Harry would be forced to take him back home.

Hanging around camp is good, but eventually they must pull out and while on the move, war catches up with them when they are attacked by the French and Native American soldiers.  From his vantage point, Josh/Jed witnesses the massacre that follows.  Suddenly Uncle Harry's adventurous life doesn't look so appealing to this young boy.

Josh learns some valuable lessons in the 2 1/2 months he lives with the men involved in what came to be known as the first French and Indian War.  His father had always accused Josh of being unreliable at a time when it was often of life and death importance, but from Boone and Washington, he learns the valuable of being reliable and the satisfaction of a job well done.  From Oliver, Josh learns the true meaning of friendship and the importance of forgiveness.

But the war, the slaughter of people he knew and walked among, leaves Josh a very different young man than the child who ran away.

Teresa Irvin's Seed of Rebellion has its roots in a letter written by her 4X great grandmother describing some of the hardships she was facing on the family farm while her husband was away at Fort Cumberland with Captain Washington.  As a result, she  has written an historical coming of age novel that for all its quiet narrative style really packs a wallop.  She pulls no punches in her detailed descriptions, so be prepared.  

But that authenticity makes this a very interesting book to read because, let's face it, the French and Indian Wars a/k/a the Seven Years War, is a unit that is really brushed over in social studies classes and most of us don't remember much more than the name.  Given that, Seeds of Rebellion makes a wonderful supplement for any history class that is studying this period of American history.

Josh is a great coming of age protagonist.  Full of anger and self-pity that he isn't the favored son, he has lots to learn when he ventures out into a wartime world.  Yet despite the time and setting of the story, what Josh learns about the world is not so different than what all kids hopefully learn.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an E-Book bought for my personal library

This is my French and Indian War book for my 2014 War Challenge with a Twist hosted by War Through the Generations

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22. Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Ever since the 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch in which her father sacrificed his life to save Adolf Hitler from the bullet meant to kill him, Gretchen Müller and her family have enjoyed a special place in Hitler's world.  But now, in 1931, Gretchen, 17, has had the seeds of doubt about her father's sacrifice planted in her mind by none other than a Jewish reporter for the Munich Post, Daniel Cohen.  Handsome and not much older that Gretchen, Daniel claims that Herr Müller's death was intentional and not only that, but was done by a fellow Nazi Party member.

And it looks like Daniel Cohen may be right - the powder burns and bullet hole on the back of her father's shirt certainly seem to support the idea that Herr Müller was shot in the back.  But who and why would someone do such a thing to a man who was always so loyal to Hitler?

That's the mystery that Gretchen needs to solve and the only one who can help her is Daniel Cohen. Now Gretchen must overcome her ingrained aversion to Jews.  She had always believed Hitler when he said that Jews were subhuman, but Daniel seems to be anything but.

Solving the mystery of her father's death won't be easy for Gretchen.  First, there is her older brother Reinhard, a psychopath who has found an outlet for his sadistic behavior as one of Hitler's Brownshirts.   Reinhard loves nothing more than going out "Jew hunting" and delights in torturing his sister.  When Reinhard makes her pay for snooping in his room, Gretchen soon discovers that she has no one she can turn to.  Her mother is terrified of Reinhard, yet lives in a state of denial about what he is.  Then there are Gretchen's best friends, Eva Braun and Hitler's half niece Geli (Angela) Raubel,  both appearing to be as loyal to Hitler as everyone else that surrounds him and neither willing to interfere on Gretchen's behalf.  When even Uncle Dolf, as she has always called Hitler, also turns his back on her, Gretchen begins to question everything she has always believed.

As Gretchen comes to rely on and trust Daniel Cohen, and as Daniel begins to see the real young woman behind the Nazi facade that Gretchen must wear in public, they find themselves attracted more and more to each other.   But Gretchen and Daniel also discover just how ruthless Hitler's quest for power is and why solving the mystery of Herr Müller's death may become a question of life or death for  both of them.

I have been of two minds about Prisoner of Night and Fog ever since I finished it.  It is a tension filled novel, that at times had my heart pounding.  The last days of the Weimar Republic were filled with hunger, inflation, unemployment, and political violence as communists and SA clashes increased.  Anne Blankman spares not punches when it comes to describing this aspect of in the book.  Reinhard and the other Brownshirts who appear in this story are probably the most true to life characters in term of their actions and Blankman even throws in the real-life figure of Ernst Röhm, leader of the SA, and every bit as zealous in going after Hitler's enemies as Reinhard.  But…

I found the plot to be weak and unfocused at times, and too often I felt like I was reading a history book instead of a novel.  It was slow going a lot, followed by what should have been nail-biting tension if only I had cared more about Gretchen.

Gretchen has everything going for her as a character.  She is a strong young woman, somewhat independent, or as much as one could be as part of Hitler's inner circle of admirers, and open to changing her ideas about things even if reluctantly at times, but somehow she just is cut it.

So, maybe I didn't care about her or anyone else in the book because I felt the characters didn't have much dimension.  It was like I was told admirable or deplorable things about the characters, but I just never felt them to really be there.  Even Hitler spoke more in slogans that dialogue.  It was like a cardboard cutout was substituted for the real character.  Even that fact that he also came across as lusting for Gretchen, Eva Braun and Geli Raubel didn't feel real.  Maybe because most scholars believe he was asexual.  Reinhard was a good picture of a Brownshirts, but also completely lacks depth and personality.

Blankman introduces us to something called Cell G, a kind of early Nazi death squad.  I have never heard of Cell G before, but it was apparently the subject of an exposé that appeared in the real Munich Post in April 1932.  In fact, she seems to have relied heavily on a book by Ron Rosenbaum called Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil published in 1998, especially for information about Cell G.  In her Author's Note, Blankman refers her readers to this book, and even includes a pretty good bibliography.

But the thing that really annoyed me was the term night and fog.'  On pages 175-181, it seems to be equated with the idea of Jewish extermination.  But the term has nothing to do with the fate of German Jews and I thought this too misleading to ignore.  It came into use in 1941 with the passage of the Night and Fog Decree.  Its purpose was the disappearance without a trace of any resisters or saboteurs in the occupied countries.  Blankman is, however, correct in associating the term night and fog with the poem "Der Erlkönig" by Goethe.

Deapite all this, at the end of the day, I would still recommend this book to anyone who really likes historical fiction, if for no other reason than because there are not many books written about these last days of what was called the Kampfzeit, or the Nazi time of struggle to gain power.  You do get a sense of what it was like in 1931 and Blankman includes a number of figures like Rudolf Hess and Ernst Hanfstaengl who really were part of the Hitler entourage.  Nazi headquarters really was in the Braunes Haus, where Gretchen worked for Hanfstaengle.

Braunes Haus
This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was borrowed from a friend




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23. The Prime Minister's Secret Agent (A Maggie Hope Mystery #4) by Susan Elia MacNeal

Maggie Hope is back!  As you may recall, Maggie is a Brit who was raised by her aunt in the U.S. after her parents alleged death in a car accident.  After graduating from Wellesley with a degree in mathematics, Maggie went to England to sell the house she had inherited from a grandmother she didn't know existed.  While there, World War II started and Maggie stayed in England to do her bit for the war.  Oh yes, and she found out her parents were still alive.  Her father, Edmund Hope, is a codebreaker at Bletchley and her mother, Clara Hess, is a Nazi spy.

In this fourth book of the Maggie Hope Mystery series, it's autumn 1941 and Maggie is back from her mission in Berlin, Germany, living in Asisaig, Scotland, training SOE (Special Operations Executive) agents for spying operations in France and Germany, while she tries to heal herself own broken body and spirit.  Maggie Hope has serious PTSD.

Early one morning, after sending her trainees off on a rocky run along the shore, Maggie spots a dead sheep with open, oozing black sores.  Later, when she is in Edinburgh to see her friend Sarah Sanderson in a dance performance, the lead ballerina collapses and dies on the stage, with the same kind of black sores that the sheep had.  Soon, another dancer and her friend Sarah are also hospitalized, deathly ill and with the same sores.  Jolted out of her depression, Maggie determines to get to the bottom of what is causing this.  The case is solved quickly enough, but Maggie is none too happy when she discovers in the course of her investigation that the government is experimenting is some unusual secret weapons.

At the same time, Maggie's mother is a prisoner in the Tower of London and has been sentenced to execution on December 7th at 12 noon.  Clara possesses lots of knowledge about Nazi Germany that the British would like to have, but she will not give it up until Maggie or Maggie's father  agree to visit her, something both have refused to do.  And time is running out for Clara.

Meanwhile, Churchill is fervently hoping the Americans will enter the war before it's too late for Britain to survive.  Though Roosevelt is adamant about not wanting to get involved he is willing to send help to Britain in the shape of what Churchill calls "all of their oldest destroyers, held together with tape and taffy.  They're keeping their best at Pearl Harbor…" (pg 125).

And speaking of Pearl Harbor, the Americans seem to ignore every indication they have received that an attack by Japan is imminent, despite having already cracked the Japanese code.  This was perhaps the most exciting part of the novel, reading the build up to the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, knowing it was inevitable and reading about who knew what and what they did or didn't do with whatever knowledge they possessed.

Although I really enjoyed reading The Prime Minister's Secret Agent, it is a somewhat different novel than the previous three Maggie Hope mysteries.  As I said, the mystery was solved more easily and quickly than usual, but there is still more happening.  The focus switches from what is going on with Maggie, with Clara Hess, with Churchill, with important American officials, including J Edgar Hoover, and with important Japanese representatives and there is even a nice cameo appearance by Ian Fleming. It may sound a bit confusing, but it actually works quite well.

I have to admit that when I was reading the bits about Clara Hess, I did think to myself "oh dear, Susan has jumped the shark."  But no, I read on and it all made sense.  She is good at what she does.

While The Prime Minister's Secret Agent lacks some of the action of the previous novels, it does deal with some moral issues around fighting a clean or dirty war, particularly with regard to the idea of intelligence and whether to withhold it or share it, and the development and ethical use of chemical and biological weapons because of how they can impact innocent civilians.

MacNeal has, once again, done some great research for this novel and I urge you to read her Historical Notes at the back of the book.  There's lots of good stuff there that will enlarge on your appreciation of The Prime Minister's Secret Agent.

I think for fans of Maggie Hope, you won't be disappointed by this novel.  For those who aren't familiar with Maggie, this is a fine stand alone novel, enough background is provided so you won't feel lost or confused.  In fact, you may even be enticed to read the previous mysteries.

Here's a bit of good luck - there's another Maggie Hope Mystery in the works.

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was an E-ARC from NetGalley

This is book 3 of my 2014 Crusin' Thru the Cozies Reading Challenge hosted by Socrates' Book Review
This is book book 10 of my 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry
 

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24. War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus written and illustrated by Kathryn Selbert

It isn't surprising that Winston Churchill was an animal lover, but you would expect he would have a larger dog than a little poodle as one of his beloved pets.  But during the darkest days of World War II, one of his great comforts and his constant companion was his little dog named Rufus, a spunky brown poodle.

War Dogs is written from the point of view of Rufus and introduces readers  Churchill when he was Prime Minister of Britain during World War II from 1940 to 1945.

In this vividly imagines picture of their life together, at times Rufus accompanies his master through the rubble of the bombed out streets of London, or sits nearby as Churchill writes his famous speeches delivered in the House of Commons and over the radio to the British citizens.  Other times, they go out for quiet walks, or spend time in the underground bunker, where Rufus likes to inspect every nook and cranny while Churchill works.

Rufus is privy to all the secret plans for the D-Day landings at Normandy long before most people, and he is by Churchill's side when victory finally comes and the two companions could retire to the country.  As readers go along, they learn not only about the special relationship between this great man and his dog, but also some important preliminary facts about the war and they will be able to read some of the more famous lines of Churchill's speeches scattered along the pages:
Source:Charlesbridge Publishing
The detailed, realistic acrylic and collage illustrations for War Dogs are done in a palate of earth tones,  emphasizing the different moods of the war years and moving the narrative along nicely.  Two of the most effective illustrations are two page spreads of London at night during the blackout where only the faint outlines of buildings, including St. Paul's Cathedral, can be seen and the last two pages showing Churchill and Rufus from the back, the two war dogs, sitting side by side on a grassy knoll, looking over the  tranquil grounds of Churchill's home after the war and a job well done.

War Dogs is Kathryn Selbert's debut work and it is an excellent beginning for this talented artist.   In addition, Selbert has also included back matter which includes a timeline, information about Churchill and poodles and about Churchill himself.  There are also websites, books and a bibliography for more in-depth information.

This is also an excellent book to use as a teaching aid in the classroom or for home schooling.

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

The is a wonderful Discussion Guide available for use with War Dogs that can be downloaded HERE

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25. First Dog Fala by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illustrated by Michael G. Montgomery

On Wednesday, I wrote War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus by Kathryn Selbert, detailing the relationship between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his little pet poodle Rufus, his constant companion during WWII.  Well, Rufus wasn't the only dog to have a master who was also a world leader.  American President Franklin D. Roosevelt went through the war years with a little black dog named Fala.

In her dog biography, Elizabeth Van Steenwyk writes that Roosevelt spent much of his time during his first term as president alone at the end of the day.  His children were grown and away, his wife traveled to different parts of the country giving speeches   And so, one day, his cousin Margaret Suckley brought him a little Scottish terrier.  The two took an instant liking to each other.  Roosevelt promptly named his new puppy Murray the Outlaw of Fala Hill (Murray was an old Scottish relative of the Roosevelt's), shortened to Fala.

Once trained, it didn't take Fala long to settle in as the first dog, whether he was at the White House, the president's home in Hyde Park, NY or just riding around in the presidential car.  Because Roosevelt was confined to a wheelchair do to polio, Fala often has to rely on visitors and cabinet members to throw his toys for him to fetch.

Fala was apparently a somewhat adventurous dog and managed to escape the White House and wander the streets of DC before being brought home by the secret service.  Unfortunately, Steenwyk doesn't tell us how Fala managed to get or if his escape hole was ever discovered.

Not only is this a book about Fala, but it also introduces and gives insight in the kind of man Franklin D. Roosevelt was, and how he conducted a war in Europe and the Pacific without the same kind of mobility other world leaders had.

First Dog Fala proves itself to be a very engaging picture book for older readers.  Each two page spread has a page of text accompanied by a detailed corresponding illustration.  The illustrations, which have somewhat of an Edward Hopper quality to them, are done in oil on canvas and give a warm sense of companionship, but also the darker tones reflect the seriousness of the times.  

While this is a wonderful historical look at the times, it does lack any back matter, such as more information, a time line and sources Steenwyk used.  Still, I would definitely recommend First Dog Fala and I would also pair it with War Dog: Churchill and Rufus.  These are perfect books for dog lovers and/or budding history buffs.

If you ever are in Washington D.C., you might want to visit the relatively new Franklin Delano Memorial where you will find not only the President memorialized, but also his canine companion Fala.


This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was borrowed from the Bank Street School Library

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