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Essentially, a journal about books written for children and young adults about World War II.
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1. Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm by Karen Deans, illustrated by Joe Cepeda

It's Women's History Month and this year's theme is Weaving the Stories of Women's Lives, so I thought I would begin the month with a new picture book for older readers that introduces them to the remarkable International Sweethearts of Rhythm.

Shortly after I began this blog, I reviewed a wonderful middle grade book by Marilyn Nelson called  Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World.   But where Nelson's book covers the kind of music and the places where the Sweethearts played, Swing Sisters begins at the beginning.

In 1909, near Jackson, Mississippi a school/orphanage called Piney Woods Country Life School was started by Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones for African American girls.

The girls were educated, housed, clothed and fed and in return they all did chores to help keep things running smoothly and well.  In 1939, Dr. Jones started a band that he called the Sweethearts with some musically talented girls to help raise money for the school.  The music they played was called swing or big band music, by either name it was Jazz and people couldn't get enough of it.

Dean describes how the girls stayed together after leaving Piney Woods, hoping to make a living as musicians.  They would live, sleep, eat and play music, traveling around from gig to gig in a bus they called Big Bertha.  Band members came and went, and before long the band was no longer made up of only African American women, but included many races and nationalities.  As a result, they decided to call themselves the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.

But while the band hit the big time, they still didn't get paid as much as their male counterparts nor were they taken as seriously, no matter how good they were.  Not only that, Dean points out, but in the Jim Crow south, because they were interracial now, traveling and performing became risky and she includes some of those scary, dangerous incidents they faced.

In 1945, as World War II was winding down, the Sweethearts found themselves on a USO tour thanks to a letter writing campaign by African American soldiers.  But sadly, the Sweethearts disbanded after the war and the members went their separate ways.

Dean does an excellent job of introducing the Sweethearts to her young readers and the difficulties an all-women's interracial band faced back in the 1940s balancing it with positive events and the strong bonds of friendship among all the members.

Cepeda's colorful acrylic and oil painted illustrations match the energy of the music the Sweethearts played with a bright rainbow palette of greens, pinks, purples, yellows, blues and orange.

So many wonderful books are coming out now introducing young readers to some of the greatest artists and musicians of the 20th century and this book is such a welcome addition.

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

You can see for yourself just how good the Sweethearts were in their heyday:

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2. Harlem Hellfighters by J. Patrick Lewis and Gary Kelly

February is Black History Month and this year's theme is A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture.  It is a good time to look back and reflect on the changes and contributions of African Americans to the fabric of American life in the last century.  

For example, more and more we are learning about the achievements of African American soldiers in World War II.  Books like The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin,  Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles by Tanya Lee Stone, Double Victory: How African American Women Broke the Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II by Cheryl Mullenbach, and The Double V Campaign: African Americans and World War II by Michael L. Cooper all highlight the contributions these courageous Americans made in the fight for democracy even as they were being denied their basic civil rights.

Now, J. Patrick Lewis and Gary Kelly, the same duo who produced the lovely book And the Soldiers Sang, about the Christmas Truce in 1914 during World War I, have written a book introducing us to the brave and talented unsung heroes of the 15thNew York National Guard, which was later federalized as the 369th Infantry Regiment, soldier that the Germans dubbed the Harlem Hellfighters. "because of their tenacity."

In beautifully lyrical prose, Lewis tells how bandleader James "Big Jim" Reese Europe was recruited to organize a new black regiment in New York.  Traveling around in an open air double-decker bus, his band played on the upper level, while the new recruits lined up below.  Willing to fight like any American, enthusiastic patriotism may have motivated these young men, but racism at home, and in the army resulted in segregation while training and doing the kind of grunt work not given to white soldiers in Europe, even as they entertained tired soldiers with [Jim] Europe's big band jazz sounds.

Each page tells small stories of the 369th: their heroics, homesickness, the bitter cold, the lynchings back home, the fighting on the French front lines.  Extending the narrative are Gary Kelly's dark pastel illustrations.  Kelly's visual representations of the men of the 369th Infantry are both haunting and beautiful.   He has used a palette of earth tones and grays, so appropriate for the battlefields and uniforms of war, but with color in the images of patriotism, such as flags and recruiting posters, and highlighting the reasons we go to war.   Some of Kelly's image may take your breath away with their stark depiction of, for example, the hanging figures, victims of a lynching, or the irony of the shadowy faces of people in a slave ship hull, shackles around their necks, on their voyage to America and slavery next to a soldier heading to Europe to fight for freedom and democracy.

Harlem Hellfighters is an exquisitely rendered labor of love, but readers may find it a little disjointed in places.  Lewis's fact are right, though, and he also includes a Bibliography for readers who might want to know more or those who just want more straightforward nonfiction books about the 369th Regiment.

As a picture book for older readers, Harlem Hellfighters would pair very nicely with Walter Dean Myer's impeccable researched and detailed book The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage written with Bill Miles.  Myer's gives a broader, more historical view of these valiant men.  These would extend and compliment each other adding to our understanding and appreciation of what life was like for African American soldiers in World War I.

Both books is recommended for readers age 10+
Harlem Hellfighters was bought for my personal library


February is Black History Month

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3. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (A Flavia de Luce Mystery) by Alan Bradley

I knew I was probably pushing the WWII connection with the 7th Flavia de Luce mystery, but, well, I read it and loved it anyway.  And after all, #6, The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, did leave us with a cliffhanger - with Flavia, now 12, banished to Canada and boarding school.  How could I resist?

It is 1951, and very much against her will, Flavia sets sail from her beloved Buckshaw and Bishop's Lacy to Canada in the company of the rather disagreeable Dr. Ryerson Rainsmith, Chairman of the Board of Guardians at Miss Bodycote's Female Academy and his equally disagreeable second wife, Dorsey (hmm. what happened to wife number 1?, Flavia wonders)

But finally, after a long, rough voyage followed by a long train ride, Flavia arrives late one night at Miss Bodycote's in Toronto.  Taken to her room and glad to be out of the Rainsmith's clutches, Flavia no sooner falls asleep when she is pummeled awake by a girl calling her a dirty, rotten traitor.  Determining that it is a case of mistaken identity, her attacker, Patricia Anne Collingwood, tells Flavia that she has noticed three girls in the school have gone missing and she was trying to get to the bottom of it all.

But when the headmistress, Miss Fawlthorne, shows up, Collingwood scurries up the chimney to hide, leaving Flavia to deal with explaining so much noise.  But just as Flavia convinces the headmistress that she was just disoriented and talking to herself, Collingwood crashes out of the chimney, followed by a charred body wrapped in a Union Jack, and with a detached head.  But who does the body belong to? And why was it stuffed up the chimney and for how long?  Could it be one of the three missing girls?  How will Flavia possibly solve this case without the cooperation of her great friend from Bishop Lacy Inspector Hewitt?  After all, Toronto's Inspector Greenhurst doesn't know her, doesn't know her reputation, and things are done differently in Canada, so no help there for Flavia.

Now, you knew that even though Flavia is away from her friends, family and chemistry lab at Buckshaw that murder and mayhem would follow her across the ocean.  Still, I didn't really know what to expect when Bradley decided to take Flavia out of her comfort zone and drop her half way across the world - in a boarding school, no less.  But I was definitely not disappointed with what I read.

Each book gives a little more information about Flavia and her mother.  Miss Bodycote's is the school her mother attended, and it seems that Flavia is destined to follow in her footsteps.  But even though we've learned a lot about Harriet de Luce, she is still something of an enigma to both the reader and to Flavia.  And the mysterious Miss Bodycote's is part of the mystery of Harriet de Luce.  All I can say is that nothing is as it seems in this 7th mystery.

Flavia, thankfully, hasn't changed a bit - she's still too smart, too feisty, too incorrigible in the best of ways.  Is the purpose of Miss Bodycote's to test Flavia's mettle, dropped into a difficult situation, away from things loved and familiar?  To initiate her into Nide and the enjoyment of pheasant sandwiches (don't remember what these mean?  Go back and reread the end of The Dead in their Vaulted Arches).

One word of caution.  Normally, each book gives you enough information about Flavia's past adventures in mystery-solving, but I'm sorry to say that this volume just doesn't stand alone.  Don't get me wrong, it's wonderful fun, but you need a little more background.

It is my understanding there there will be three more Flavia de Luce mysteries still to come and perhaps by the end of book 10, all will be revealed about her life.

If you love mystery series, this is one of the best.

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

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4. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Born with a severely clubbed foot, Ada Smith, 10, has been kept imprisoned and abused by her Mam in a one room flat her whole life.  Mam sees her foot as a mark of shame and humiliation, and so Ada never learned to walk, scooting around on her bum as she waits on Mam and younger brother Jamie, 6.  Then one day, Ada decides to learn to walk, keeping at it despite the pain and blood.

Then, when war comes to England, Ada is told that Jamie will be evacuated, and she will remain in the flat - bombs or no.  But Mam doesn't know Ada's secret and when evacuation day arrives, she and Jamie take off for the train station together.  Eventually arriving at a small countryside village, all the children are selected by residents except Ada and Jamie, who are taken to the home of Susan Smith (no relation) and left in her care.

But Susan is depressed, mourning the death of her friend (though clearly more than friend), Becky.  The two women had lived there together for years and Susan had inherited the property.  The last thing she wanted now were two children to take care of.  And yet, she does.  She feeds Ada and Jamie, buys them new clothes and shoes to replace the dirty, raggy things they arrived in, and allows them to find their own way through a certain amount of benign neglect.

And Susan has a pony named Butter that Ada determines to learn how to ride and care for.  Soon, she is riding all over the village and surrounding area.  Susan has also taken Ada to a doctor about her foot, and she has been given crutches to help her walk.  But when Jamie begins school, Ada refuses to go not wanting to admit she can't read or do simple math.  Eventually Susan figures it out and offers to teach her at home - an offer not very welcomed by Ada.  But why not?

Ada and Susan are two people carrying around a lot of physical and emotional baggage, thrown together by a war they don't really feel connected to and which at first doesn't feel quite as real as the personal war they are waging with themselves.  But gradually, they forge relationships with each other and begin to feel like a family.  And then Mam shows up and takes the Ada and Jamie back to London, despite the bombing and Ada is forced to scoot around on her bum once again.

Now that they have seen another side of life, is it over for Ada, Jamie and even Susan?

What a powerful story The War That Saved My Life is.  It is everything that makes historical fiction so wonderfully satisfying.  There is lots of historical detail about London and the countryside in those early war days, including the rescue of British soldiers from Dunkirk (Susan's house is on coastal Kent, the closest point in England to Dunkirk).

I thought that Susan and Ada were drawn well, with lots of depth to their personalities, but not Jamie so much.  He really felt like just a secondary character, mostly there for contrast and to move the story along in a believable way.  The shame Mam felt over Ada's foot is quite palpable, but also seemed to empower her with the ability to abuse her daughter, making her plain scary, though a rather one dimensional character at the same time.

One of the things I found interesting is that in the beginning Ada, the child, is such a strong, determined character, while Susan, the adult, was kind of weak and irresolute.  And yet, they have things to teach each other.  And to her credit, Bradley doesn't actually come out and directly let the reader know that Susan and Becky were partners, but its clearly there.

If your young readers loved Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian, they are sure to love The War That Saved My Life.  If they haven't discovered Good Night, Mr. Tom yet, perhaps it's time to introduce them to both of these fine books.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC eceived from the publisher

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5. Two Books about Peace

February 13, 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the firebombing of the German city of Dresden by British and American forces.  The attack lasted for 37 hours and leveled countless building and killed more than 25,000 people.  Happening within months of the war ending, this bombing has remained shrouded in controversy from the beginning.   For more information on this, see History Learning Site: The Bombing of Dresden

You may also recall that author Kurt Vonnegut was a 23 year old prisoner of war in Dresden during the firebombing.  In his introduction to Slaughterhouse Five Or The Children's Crusade, he recalls the difficulty he had trying to write this novel about the Dresden bombing, unable to find the words needed.  As he says in his introduction "there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre." (pg 19)

While thinking about these things on Friday, I recalled two picture books that I think both remind us of the destructive power of war and reinforce why it is such a terrible thing.


Why War is Never a Good Idea by Alice Walker, illustrated by Stefano Vitale
Harper Collins, 2007, 32 pages

In Alice Walker's poetic work Why War Is Never A Good Idea, she explores what war is all about using incredibly simple words and examples of how it wantonly crashes into and changes the lives of everyday people and creatures, completely disregarding the landscape and natural resources and leaving a trail of destruction behind it:


Stefano Vitale's folk art painted illustrations take you around the world, showing how different places and people are impacted the same way by war and, as you can see, he nicely juxtaposes what the lush green world of peace looks like compared to what the destroyed gray world of war looks like:


The rhythmic text isn't always the best I've read by Walker, but certainly she gets her pacifistic ideas across, ideas I can completely agree with.  What really makes this a moving, effective work is the combination of text and illustrations.  Each stands better with the other than they would alone.

And, in the end, seeing faces looking down a poisoned water well, Walker poses the question to her reader - What if you become war?  Certainly, food for thought.


The Enemy: a book about peace by Davide Cali, illustrated by Serge Bloch
Schwartz & Wade, 2009, 40 pages

The second book I pulled off my shelves when thinking about Dresden this week is a book written by Davide Cali and illustrated by Serge Bloch called The Enemy: a book about peace.  I love this book.  It says so much using so little.  Two soldiers, sitting opposite each other in their separate foxholes, are enemies because their manuals told them they were enemies.

One solider claims his enemy isn't human, he's a beast, knows no mercy, will kill families, pets, burn down forests, poison water.  Well, that's what the manual says, anyway.  But sitting in a foxhole isn't easy - one gets hungry, it rains and becomes uncomfortable.

One day, the soldier disguises himself as a bush and leaves his hole, crawling towards his enemy so he can kill him and end the war.  But when he gets there, what a surprise.  His enemy is gone, but has left his things behind - family pictures and a manual that says his enemy isn't human - hmm, wait a minute! Where has he seen that before?  Then, realizing his enemy has crawled over to his hole, the soldier sends outs a peace message to him at the same time the enemy sends one to him.  Doesn't take much to figure out how this ends.

Bloch used simple, almost cartoonish pen and ink illustrations for The Enemy.  The only colors are the khaki of the soldier's uniforms, red blood and the red cover of the manuals they used, though real photos were used for the enemy's family, bring the story close to home, so to speak.  Such spare illustrations really forces the reader to focus on the words of the text, written in the first person by one soldier, which isn't favoritism for one side or the other because you know the other soldier is thinking the same thoughts.

These are definitely picture books for older readers.  They are excellent and complimentary books about war and peace, each extending the other's message.  Both of these books will or should generate conversations and questions by kids and it is advisable to judge the age and child's ability to tolerate these messages, however peaceful they may be meant.

And if you haven't already read Slaughterhouse Five, I highly recommend it.  And have a peaceful day!

Both of these books are recommended for readers age 8+
Both of these books were purchased for my personal library

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6. Sunday Funnies #20: Gasoline Alley - 1921 to 1942

It's Super Bowl Sunday - a good day for blogging, making my Super Bowl Sunday chili and watching…Downton Abbey.  But this morning has also been a good time to straighten up my book shelves, which hasn't been done in a long, long time.  As I was working, I came across two little books published by Whitman - they really are little, only 3 5/8" X 4 1/2".  One is called Skeezix Goes to War (1943) and it's based on daily comic strips that ran in the newspapers in 1942-1943.

I probably bought it because Gasoline Alley has been one of my favorite comic strips ever since I first started reading them, but it has been around for a lot longer than my lifetime.  It officially began November 24, 1918 in the Sunday funnies of the Chicago Tribune, in a feature called The Rectangle, written and drawn by Frank King:

Chicago Tribune November 24, 1918 - Gasoline Alley int he bottom panel
But almost a year later, as it became more popular, Gasoline Alley became it's own a daily strip on August 25, 1919.  It was was originally about a group of friends interested in cars, and appeared in the Automobile section of the Chicago Tribune.  Beginning on December 22, 1919, however, Gasoline Alley started to focus on a character named Walt Wallet, a rather rotund bachelor who had served in World War I but the center of interest of the strip was still tinkering with cars.

It was an appealing comic strip, and began to gain in popularity, but not with women.  The Chicago Tribune wasn't happy about that and told King to do something that would make Gasoline Alley appeal to women. So, on February 14, 1921, Walt Wallet is awakened by his doorbell ringing in the middle of the night:
Gasoline Alley February 14, 1921
Walt discovers a week old abandoned baby on his doorstep, who he eventually calls Skeezix and adopts, though Skeezix always refers to him as Uncle Walt.  Now that Skeezix was introduced into the strip, Gasoline Alley began to focus less on things automotive and more on things domestic, becoming a really family-orientd comic strip appealing to everyone now, not just men.

What set Gasoline Alley apart from most comic strips from the beginning is that the characters not only develop unique personalities, but they also grow up and grow old, giving it a real-to-life feeling.  In 1926, when Skeezix is 5 years old, Walt marries his girlfriend Phyliss Blossom.  Later, in 1928, they have a child nicknamed named Corky, and 1935, they adopt another orphan, Judy.  Meanwhile, readers are watching Skeezix grow up:

Gasoline Alley November 4, 1928 Skeezix around age 7
After graduating from high school in 1939, Skeezix gets a job, and continues going out with high school girlfriend Nina Clock.  But on December 7, 1941, the United States is attacked and enters World War II.  The now 20 year old Skeezix knows it only a matter of time until he is drafted, so on January 16, 1942, he enlists in the army, but not before asking Nina to marry him:  

Gasoline Alley December 24, 1941
Gasoline Alley January 16, 1942

To be continued: Skeezix Goes to War

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7. Magic Tree House Super Edition #1: Danger in the Darkest Hour by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca

One warm June day, Jack and Annie, siblings living in Frog Creek, PA, receive a message via carrier pigeon.  The message is from their friend Teddy, asking them to come to Glastonbury, England immediately, their help is needed.

When Jack and Annie arrive in Glastonbury, they are met by Teddy who tells them they have arrived on June 4, 1944, two days before the D-Day invasion at Normandy, France by the Allies forces and the beginning of the end for the Nazis.

Teddy and Kathleen, who iare really young enchanters from Camelot, have been made agents in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) by Winston Churchill to do undercover work in countries occupied by the Nazis.  But now, Kathleen is still in Normandy, France and needs to be rescued, but they only clues to her whereabouts is a coded riddle she sent Teddy by carrier pigeon.

Jack and Annie's job is to parachute into France and find Kathleen within 24 hours - they need to be gone by the time the invasion begins.  Jack and Annie are told to try to find members of the French Resistance to help them, but to avoid the Nazis, who are everywhere.  But when they land in a French field, they are spotted and chased by Nazis using a dog.  Jack and Annie hide in a barn, calm the dog down and are found by a man and his wife, whose sons were members of the Resistance.

The couple feeds them, and help to figure out the riddle from Kathleen, then they give Jack and Annie two bikes and some money, and send them on their way.  The road to Kathleen is fraught with both friend and foe, but eventually the two find her and now, they must figure out how to get her back to England. It seems Teddy forgot to give them the magic wand Kathleen needs, since her innate magic seems to have disappeared.  Not only that, but Kathleen has acquired some fellow travelers she is determined to get out of France, a group of very young Jewish orphans, which means a bigger, more noticeable plane will be needed for the rescue.  Oh yes, and a large vehicle to get all of them to the pickup point.  And there is only a few hours left before the invasion begins, with all its bombing and shooting.

Can everyone be rescued in time and will Jack and Annie find their way back to Frog Creek?

This is an interesting chapter book.  It is longer than the previous Magic Tree House books and the subject matter is much darker.  And since the magic wand was forgotten, Jack, Annie and Kathleen have to rely on their own skills to solve problems and figure out how to escape France before the invasion.

Osborne gently introduces the reader to Hitler and the Nazis, and though she never uses the word Holocaust, Teddy does tell Jack and Annie that "[the Nazis] have killed countless innocent civilians, including millions of Jewish people." (pg 25)  This may sound a little watered down, but consider the age of the reader and that for many this may very well be an introduction to that "darkest hour" of modern history.

i didn't expect to really like this book, but I did.  With a willing suspension of disbelief, I found the story compelling and exciting, and I felt it was very clear that Osborne is comfortable with her characters and knows her audience.  Things do work out nicely in the end, which is OK when you have magic on your side (and yes, there was some surprising magic used in the end).

At the back of the book, there is a "Track the Facts Behind Jack and Annie's Mission" that includes lots of information ranging from the use of pigeons in war, the German Enigma machine, and other interesting facts, all age appropriately described.

Besides the colorful cover illustration, showing Jack, in all his fear, and sister Annie parachuting into France, there are some wonderful black and white double page illustrations throughout the book, all done by Magic Tree House illustrator Sal Murdocca.

I have to confess, I have never read a Magic Tree House book before this.  Sure, my Kiddo and all her cousins read and loved them when they were in elementary school.  So did the kids in my classes, which made me happy since most of them were not yet reading at grade level.  But I did hear Mary Pope Osborne speak at a BEA Children's Author Breakfast one year, so I knew that author Mary Pope Obsorne is a very generous donor of her books to kids who might not otherwise get copies of them.  And I could help but wonder how many kids have become readers thanks to the Magic Tree House books?

You can read a two chapter sample of Danger in the Darkest Hour HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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8. Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway by Steve Watkins

When Anderson, 12, and his friend Greg decided to start a band, they were given permission to practice in a basement room at his Uncle Dex's junkshop, provided they clear it out themselves.  Alone in the room, Anderson notices an old military trunk with a strange glow to it.  He finds an old Navy peacoat in it that he decides to keep.  Inside the coat pocket, is an old letter and when he pulls it out, he hears a voice saying "that's mine."

Later that night, the voice materializes in Anderson's bedroom.  It belongs to a young World War II sailor who doesn't seem to remember who he is or what happened to him and has been living in a kind of limbo since the war. Anderson is understandably freaked.

The next day, while discussing with Greg the possibility of adding keyboard player Julie Kobayashi to the band, Anderson's ghost appears in the cafeteria.  And it seems that Greg and Julie can both see him.  Pretty soon, the trio decides to help their ghost find out about himself.  Anderson tracks down the recipient of the old letter he found in the peacoat.  It turns out to be an old girlfriend, Betty Corbett,  who tells them their ghost is named William Foxwell, that he went missing in action on a ship in the Pacific Ocean and presumed dead.  Later, she married William's friend and they named their son after him.

One helpful clue about William is the mention of the Battle of the Coral Sea in his letter.  Anderson and his Uncle Dex both are history buffs, and Uncle Dex knows all about this battle.  Little by little, Anderson, Greg and Julie begin to piece together that particulars of William's life in the Navy, and as they do, William begins to remember things as well.

All of this is taking time and it seems that William is having a harder and harder time materializing and is, in fact, beginning to fade away again.  Then, matters get more complicated when a Japanese sailor who has been keeping a secret about William and the Battle of Midway for 70 years refuses to tell them what really happened.

Will Anderson, Greg and Julie be able to solve the mystery surrounding William's death in time for him to find eternal peace?

Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway is a short but exciting mystery, one that will definitely appeal to boys as well as girls.  The mystery is historically based, so there is lots of information about the two battles mentioned and what being caught in the middle of war is really like.  But we also see how the war impacted everyone, including those like Betty Corbett on the home front.

Besides William's story, we also learn about Anderson and Greg's life, but not so much about Julie's yet.  Anderson's mother suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and is often in pain and tired.  His dad works long hours and Anderson frequently comes home and makes his mom some dinner.  Greg's dad is a binge alcoholic with a short temper.  When things get bad, Greg sneaks out of the house and stays with Anderson.

And, of course, because they are sixth-graders in a junior high school, there are bullies to contend with. All of this makes for a well rounded story and gives depth to the characters, who, I assume, we will get to know better and better.  Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway is the first in a series of books, and yes, you guessed it, they all begin with the mysterious glowing military trunk.

This is a great book for kids who like history, especially military history, but even if history isn't their thing, it's still an exciting read.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic

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9. Winter 2015 Mini-Bloggiesta Wrap-Up



I'm a little late with my Bloggiesta wrap-up, partly because I lost a whole day on Sunday.  I went to the theater to see On The Town.  This is an old musical comedy about three sailors with a 24 hour leave in New York City.  It was fun, the dancing was wonderful as was the singing, and I loved the sets:


Of course, now I am going to have to watch the 1949 movie version of On The Town with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly.

I did spend a lot of time yesterday finishing up the Bloggiesta tasks and challenges I set for myself.

1- I did backup this blog and my other blog, Randomly Reading.  I'm always afraid I'm going to do something and lose both blogs, so I like to have up-to-date backups and I've been neglecting that lately.

2- My pages are all up-to-date now, but I am thinking about adding an author index.

3- I made a new banner for my Randomly Reading twitter page (@randomlyreading) using PicMonkey, but I don't think I like it, so for now, I'll keep the one I have.

4- I still need to work on the blog folders on my hard drive.  I have one for each blog, and though it sounds like I'm organized, they are still a mess with lots of photos, ideas and stuff.  I have a gazillion comic strips that need to be ordered.  I am a minimalist in my real time life, but something close to a hoarder in my virtual life (easy enough to understand, I have 128 GB available, not to mention 1 TB on my backup drive.  If I have that much space in real time, I would be my own small country).

5- I spent time learning how to make an inforgraphic, thanks to Valeria at A Touch of Book Madness and using Piktochart.  Good to know for future use.

6- I checked the loading time of my blog using Pingdom Tools (thank you again, Joy at Joy's Book Blog, for sharing this tool).  This blog was faster than 64% of blogs tested and there is an analysis for making your blog load faster, but I will have to spend some time with that to figure it all out.

I feel pretty good about getting all this done.  Now, back to reading….

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10. Winter 2015 Mini Bloggiesta



I haven't done a #Bloggiesta in a while and there are some things on this blog that could use some tuning-up and straightening up, and in the spirit of Spring Cleaning (because spring is only 61 days away as of today!)  And, while I may be a little late to the sign-up Linky, it isn't too late to participate.


Here is what I plan on doing:
1- Backup blogs, this one and Randomly Reading
2- Update all my Pages
3- Make new banners for Twitter
4- Clean up labels (again)
5- Organize my blog folders on my hard drive where I keep ideas, information, photos, etc for future use.
5- Learn how to make an infographic with Valeria at A Touch of Book Madness, which is something I've been meaning to do.
6- Joy at Joy's Book Blog has a really good idea on her #Bloggiesta To-Do List to check the loading time of her blog using Pingdom Tools recommended by The Redhead Riter.  Thank you, Joy, for that great idea and the links.

This is a busy reading time of the year for me, so I thought I would keep things manageable.

Here goes...

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11. Billy's Blitz by Barbara Mitchelhill

For his 11th birthday, Billy Wilson's dad surprised him a German Shepherd puppy.  A lot of people were anti-German Sheherds because it was considered a Nazi dog, but Billy loved his, naming her Sheeba.  By Billy's 12th birthday, England is at war with Germany, his dad is away in the Army, and his friends have been evacuated to the country, along with most of London's other schoolchildren. But his mum decides to keep Billy and sister Rose, 6, home with her.  Still, his dad manages to get leave and find a shiny almost new bike for Billy's birthday.

But soon dad returns to the army, and mum, Billy and Rose spend uncomfortable nights in the Anderson shelter in the backyard in Balham, South London, but no bombs are falling in London yet.  But that all changes on September 7, 1940.  Now, bombs are falling and the three Wilson's decide go to the nearest Underground station when the air raid sirens go off.  That way, they don't hear the sirens, the planes, and the bombs as much.

Night after night they carry blankets to the station, thinking they will be safe.  And they are, until Balham Station takes a direct hit.  Billy and Rose are separated from their mum, but thanks to the help of a new friend, they make it out of the station.  But where is mum?  It's hard to see anything in all the chaos, dust and debris, but Billy and Rose insist on waiting for her to come out of the station, until a WVS lady, Mrs. Bartley, makes them leave.  After all, bombs are still falling.

Once in a shelter, it is decided by the authorities that Billy and Rose will be sent to Wales for safety - against their will, and with the Major in charge insisting, rather coldly, that they are now orphans.  Luckily, at breakfast, they meet a boy about Billy's age called All-Off (because he cut all his hair off), who advises them not to go to Wales.  But, although, All-Off gets out of the shelter in time, Billy and Rose are put on a transport truck to Paddington Station and Wales.

Determined to find his mum and to get back home to finally let Sheeba out of the Anderson shelter where she was put for safety, Billy waits for the right opportunity for escape the transport truck.  By the time that happens, they are far from home and Billy has no idea how to get back to Balham.

As Billy and Rose make their way home, they meet with even more adventures, setbacks, and disappointments, but Billy finds a best mate in All-Off.  Billy also discovers a courage within himself he probably never thought he possessed, as well as a strong sense of responsibility for Rose and Sheeba and it doesn't hurt that his new best mate has some pretty good street smarts.

I loved Barbara Mitchelhill's first WWII novel, Run Rabbit Run, based on real events, it's about a sister and younger brother who must deal with some harsh fallout because their dad is a conscientious objector.  Billy's Blitz is also based on a real event.  On October 14, 1940, Balham Station was being  used as a bomb shelter and really did take a direct bomb hit, killing 64 people.  Mitchelhill imagines the aftermath of a terrible disaster for two kids who don't know if their mum made it out alive or not.  Her realistic description of the station, in fact of bombed London generally, are really spot on.

What Billy saw when he came out of Balham Station
So is her characterization.  Billy is at times afraid, brave, wanting everything back to normal, or wishing someone else could deal with their problems.  Rose can be a whiny brat, not realizing the seriousness of their situation, yet she can also be brave and helpful when asked to be.  All-Off is a real favorite - definitely his own boy, yet faithful to Billy and Rose.  The authorities, concerned only with evacuating orphans, made my toes curl with anger at their lack of empathy.  Luckily, there is the WVS (Women's Volunteer Service) lady to counterbalance that.

Billy's Blitz is a compelling realistic novel that gives the reader a true to life picture of London during the Second World War.  We tend to think that all of London's children were safely evacuated but many remained in London with their family and often, family members became separated or worse and kids were left to survive by themselves even while dealing with loss and grief.  Mitchelhill's novel demonstrates how easy it is for this to happen in the midst of chaos, and how easily the best laid plans can go awry, yet she manages to do this without scaring her young readers.  

This is a novel that is sure to please young readers, especially those interested in WWII and/or historical fiction.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was received from the author

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12. Liesl's Ocean Rescue by Barbara Krasner, illustrated by Avi Katz

I've read two books about European Jews escaping to Cuba in the late 1930s, and both were works of fiction based on true events.  Passing through Havanna by Felicia Rosshandler is an interesting YA/Adult novel based on the author's experiences.  The Other Half of Life by Kim Ablon Whitney is a  middle grade/YA fictionalize version of the trip 938 Jews made on a ship sailing to Cuba and the US and Canada and not being allowed to enter one of these countries and based on the actual trip the MS St. Louis made in 1939.

Liesl's Ocean Rescue is also a fictionalized version of the fated ship, the St. Louis and based on one girl's true experience of her disappointing trip to safety from the Nazis in Germany.  Liesl's trip began on the night of her father's 56th birthday, November 9, 1938.   While celebrating, the gestapo shows up and arrests her father simply because he was Jewish.  Later that night, more Nazis showed up, but luckily Liesl's mother gets her out of the house in time.  The following day they discover that their house was ransacked and everything is broken and ruin.  The same destruction happened all over Germany, but only to Jewish homes and businesses.

Liesl is sent to the country for safety, but a month later, after her father was released, her parents come to get her.  It is time for the Joseph family to leave Germany.  On May 13, 1939, they board the ship MS St. Louis and head for Cuba.

On board, young Liesl experiences a freedom she has never known before.  She is able to go wherever she wants, to sit wherever she pleases and even go to see the movies that are played on board, all things that Jews were forbidden to do in Nazi Germany.  And Liesl enjoys her trip, exploring the ship, make friends with the crew and playing checkers with other new friends.

But Cuba refuses to let the passengers enter Havana when the ship arrives, so does the US and Canada. Negotiations take place, with the Captain and Mr. Joseph heading a committee, hoping to find a country that would accept the fleeing Jews so they wouldn't have to return to Germany.   In the end, countries are finally found that would accept the passengers.

Barbara Krasner's Liesl's Ocean Rescue is the only book for younger readers that I have found that covers the ill-fated rescue voyage of the Jews on board the MS St. Louis.  It is well written and sticks to Liesl's story, ending just as the passengers find places to go to, but I;m afraid the end is a little too abrupt.  What happens to the Joseph family?  It is included but it is in the Author's Note: the real Liesl and her family first went to London, England, and in 1940, they emigrated to the United States.

I found this to be an excellent introduction to the Holocaust for young readers.  It doesn't cover the Holocaust per se, but the ordeal of being Jewish and trying to get away from the Nazis even before the war started.  Putting it into a story about a very confident, very friendly, and very happy 10 year old I think makes the story all that much more poignant.

Along with and complimenting the story are black and white pencil illustrations by Avi Katz.

Besides her Author's Note, Krasner has also included a Selected Bibliography and other sources for finding out more about the MS St. Louise and her passengers.

Liesl's Ocean Rescue is an ideal picture book for older readers who want to learn more about the Holocaust and have an interest in realistic historical fiction.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was sent to me by the author





You can read an interview with Liesl Joseph Loeb done in 2009 for the Prescott News HERE

Liesl on board the St. Louis
Liesl passed away in 2013 and you can read her obituary in the Jewish Exponent HERE

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13. Vietnam Book Five: Walking Wounded by Chris Lynch

Morris, Beck, Ivan and Rudi have been friends since forever, so when Rudi was drafted, Morris convinced the others join up and go to Vietnam together, thinking they could watch out for each other by joining a different branch of the Armed Forces.  Each of the previous four books in the series focuses on one of the friends.

Now, in Walking Wounded, Rudi has been killed by friendly fire, apparently, the friendliest fire of all, and this novel follows each man's reaction to their friend's death.

Morris, whose idea it was for them to all join up, is feeling terrible guilt about having convinced them to do that.  He immediately requests and is granted the job of escorting Rudi's body home.  There is a lot of introspection during the trip.  But once home, Morris has some difficulty being there, in part because he knows the truth about Rudi's death and in part because the adjustment to suddenly being in a civilian setting is difficult for combat soldiers.  This was especially true for Vietnam soldiers, who had to face protesters, as Morris does while home, who held them responsible for the war that they were against.  Morris is still in the Navy and, though he is now stateside for his remaining tour of duty, his request for how he would like to spend that time may surprise readers, but when I think about it, I realized it would be a healing process for him.

Beck, the smartest one of the bunch, joined the Air Force, flying a C-123 aircraft, defoliating the forests of Vietnam with Agent Orange.  Beck is struggling to keep things together for himself, even as he is almost overwhelmed by the loss of his friend and by the realization that he is fighting a senseless war.

Ivan is an Army trained sharpshooter, who seems to just appear on different missions in this book, until he finally is shot in the face.  Sent stateside, on a first class plane, Ivan decides to take off once he reaches the states and hitchhikes the rest of the way home.  Despite winning medals, Ivan is having a great deal of difficulty with his Vietnam experience and with Rudi's death and takes off for the family's hunting cabin to be alone.

I have only read one other book by Chris Lynch, a WWII novel, but I will say that he does know how to write a war book for middle grade readers.  There is enough fighting with the enemy and among the American soldiers themselves to make it feel realistic with being too graphic.  The language is a little cleaner than I would have imagined it was in reality, but that's OK.

I don't usually read the fifth book in a series if I haven't read the previous four, but I did this time.  I found I didn't have much problem figuring things out.  The novel is narrated in the first person by all four of the friends in alternating chapters, so we get the full effect of their reaction to Rudi's death and to the war in general.  I was a little taken aback by Lynch still giving Rudi a voice, but in the end, it worked.

I thought Lynch really captured the disorientation, confusion, and anger that accompanied so many Vietnam soldiers as they fought a war they didn't fully understand and returned to a hostile homeland. Morris and Ivan are clearly beginning to experience the emotion toll of the Vietnam war and the disenfranchised feeling so many felt after the war.

As war books go, that is books that actually take place in the midst of the fighting, this is an excellent novel.  I remember feeling the same way about the first Chris Lynch book I read, The Right Fight.

Everyone thought that Book 4: Casualties of War was the last book in the series, but then Walking Wounded appeared.  Is this the last book?  Don't count on it.  There are still too many lose ends, beginning with what happened to Beck.

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

This is my Vietnam War book for my 2014 War Challenge with a Twist hosted by War Through the Generations.

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14. Happy New Year 2015

 Wishing Everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Nancy (written and drawn by Ernie Bushmiller
December 31, 1943
New Year day is a day when we are standing on the cusp between 2014 and 2015 -  it's a good time to look back over the past year and forward to the new year.

I realized recently that I haven't been as attentive to The Children's War as I had been in the past.  I actually considered ending it last summer, but decided I wasn't done with it yet.  I still have lots more books, Sunday Funnies, Weekend Cooking, movies, songs and other popular culture items that I want to do posts on.

And, as I wrote on my other blog, Randomly Reading, I also realized that I am a terribly Reading Challengee.  Sure, I like Reading Challenges, but I keep forgetting to list the books that I read for them.  For example, of the 15 books I pledged to read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, I only have 12 listed.  Really?  On a blog that is all about history?  Sadly, yes.

What to do?

This year, I am cutting back on Reading Challenges.  Last year, I participated in four.  Of those, I read 2 books for my Crusin' Thru the Cozies challenge.  As I said, I read 12 out of 15 for the 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, and I read 7 books for my 2014 European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader, 2 more than I pledged.  And finally, for my 2014 War Challenge with a Twist, hosted by War Through the Generations, I read and posted about 3 out of 5 books, though I am still reading my Vietnam entry, so I hope they keep the Linky open a little longer for latecomers like me.

The only reading challenge I will be participating in will be the 2015 War Through the Generations Reading Challenge in which you can read about any war.


Of course, participation in other reading challenges is still subject to change.

I completely indexed all my posts in 2014, and I'm not too bad about keeping them updated, but hope to be better in 2015.  It is my wish that these will be of some use to teachers, home schoolers and others with an interest in WWII.  I know my focus is mostly on home front books and how the war impacted young people, although I do occasionally look at other types of books.

2014 was the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.  I read and posted some wonderful books about WWI, and felt that since it is so directly related to the causes of WWII, I would keep posting about it for a while longer.

2014 saw an interesting happening in the way we read literature for young people.  As I wrote on Randomly Reading, many of us have been introduced to experiences different from our own and we are all the better for it.  Thank you to the late Walter Dean Myers for asking the question Where are the People of Color in Children's Book? in his Opinion essay in the March 15, 2014 New York Times.  Sadly, WDM passed away shortly after this was published, but WOW, what he started…


This is a good time to say thank you to Ellen Oh, Malinda Lo and Aisha Saeed for taking up WDM"S challenge and starting the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and setting all of us in the children's book
world on our toes and changing the way we think about books for young readers.

I can't wait to see what 2015 will bring.


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15. John Bloom and the Victory Garden by Leigh Shearin

When John Bloom, 10, woke up on Monday, December 8, 1941, he woke up to the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor the day before.  America was now at war and John feels he needs to do something to support his country.

John thinks that forming a club with his friends Chewie and Joe so that they can do good-works projects is a good idea. His frineds agree and they name it The American Boys Club, or the ABC, for short.  They decide their first project should be chopping firewood for a neighbor, 98 year old Mr. Hutchins who has been ill and unable to do it himself.  But when Mr. Hutchins greets them at his front door with a pitchfork, they decide to prank him instead, by filling up his outhouse with snow.

John knows it is wrong to do but goes along with Chewie and Joe to save face.  The next day, looking for something to do after their club meeting, the boys decide to go back to Mr. Hutchins's place to see if the outhouse was still full of snow.  But when they get there, there is no sign of Mr. Hutchins anywhere, until John notices a hand on the floor.  Breaking into the house, he discovers Mr. Hutchins unconscious on the floor.  Chewie runs for the doctor while John and Joe stay at the house.

It turns out that Mr. Hutchins had fallen and is now required to stay in bed until he recovers, first in the hospital and then at home.  But when John goes over to see how the old man is doing, he discovers that there is no food in the house and Mr. Hutchins hasn't eaten for a while.   Perhaps John has not only found the perfect good-works project for The American Boys Club, but has also made a new friend who can help him do something else good for the war effort as well.

John Bloom and the Victory Garden is a real home front novel.  Not only does it address the fears that most Americans felt at the outbreak of World War II, but it shows how quickly people responded to being at war.  For example, John's father immediately goes to the Army recruiting office to try to join up; John deals with concerns that his friend Joe, who is Italian, will be sent to an internment camp with his parents and grandmother; America's first demoralizing defeats are acutely felt by the residents of John's town, Appleside, NJ.

There are other nice touches like how people really depended on their radios for entertainment and news; and that boys still wanted shiny new bikes for Christmas despite the war; and of course, there is talk about rationing, and expectations of food, rubber and metal shortages.

The characters are well realized, even the secondary characters have a feeling of depth to them.  The community that John lives in is easy to picture and there is a helpful map at the front of the book to situate the reader in Appleside and the boys adventures all over the town.

There is a lot of talk about food in the novel, dishes made by John's mother and Joe's grandmother, so to satisfy the cravings that will no doubt result from the food descriptions, there are some recipes at the back of the book, including Nonna's Buttered Noodles, which I am going to make this week.

This is a book that any middle grade reader will enjoy, whether or not they are history buffs, mainly because the themes of friendship, loyalty and helpfulness are timeless.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book is part of a blog tour and was obtained from Mother Daughter & Son Book Promotion Services


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16. Merry Christmas 2014


Wishing you a very Merry Christmas,

Little Orphan Annie Christmas 1942

Peace on earth, and
Goodwill towards all people

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17. The Shepherd by Frederick Forsyth

It's Christmas Eve, 1957, and a 20 year old pilot has just climbed into the cockpit of his Vampire jet fighter, taking off from an RAF air base in Germany to return to England and home in time for Christmas day.

But ten minutes after taking off, over the North Sea, the pilot runs into his first bit of trouble - the jet's compass is not longer working.  Before long, the jet suffers a complete electrical failure and the young pilot needs to call up every bit of emergency information he had received while still in training.

Before long, the pilot is completely lost in the fog over the North Sea and beginning to run out of fuel.   Bailing out isn't an option - the fighter jet just isn't made for that and it would most likely mean instant death.  Not far from the Norfolk coast, he decides to use a last resort technique - flying triangles in the hope that the odd behavior would be noticed and bring out a rescue plane that could bring the Vampire down safely.

The triangular pattern works, and suddenly, a pilot in an old World War II de Havilland Mosquito fighter with the initials JK on the side is signaling that he understands the problem and will shepherd the Vampire to safety.  Shepherding is when the rescue aircraft flies wing-tip to wing-tip with the disabled plane.

The Mosquito shepherds the Vampire slowly into the descent.  By now, the Vampire had pretty much run out of fuel.  Suddenly, "without warning, the shepherd pointed a single forefinger at me, then forward through the windscreen.  It meant, 'There you are, fly on and land.'"  At first, the pilot sees nothing.  Then, the blur of two parallel lines of lights become visible in the fog.  The pilot is able to safely land his Vampire.

After being rescued and brought back to RAF Station Minton, now just a supply depot run by the elderly WWII Flight Lieutenant Marks, things begin to get odd.  To begin with, Marks can't imagine how the young pilot found his way to the runway on this now preactically deserted base that had been a thriving hub of RAF pilots and planes during WWII.  And, the young pilot doesn't seem to be able to find anyone who knows anything about the pilot in the mosquito who had shepherded him to safety.  The whole story begins to become more and more sinister until the young pilot notices an old WWII picture in a room and recognizes the pilot in it standing by his Mosquito with the same JK initials.


But, who is the mysterious shepherd who brought a young pilot to safety on Christmas Eve 1957?

All through the novella, the young pilot provides himself with the rational explanations of how and why everything he experiences happens.  And most of the explanations are fine. That is, until he comes to the part about the shepherd, where all rational explanation fails, giving the story its surprise ending.

The Shepherd is a short, 144 page novella written in 1975 by Frederick Forsyth, author of novels like The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File.  It is said he wrote The Shepherd for Christmas as a present for his wife.

This tightly written illustrated story is perfect for Christmas Eve, with its message of hope.

Every year, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation broadcasts a reading of The Shepherd by Alan Maitland on CBC Radio One.  Maitland passed away in 1999, but recordings of him reading The Shepherd are available, like this wonderful 32 minute reading.


This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was purchased for my personal library

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18. Hit Parade #5: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas



The not terribly Christmasy
original 1944 sheet music
On November 28, 1944, MGM released a movie starring Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor and Tom Drake, among others.  The movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, takes place in 1903, a year before the St. Louis World's Fair.  The Smith family has just learned that they will be moving from St. Louis to New York City.  Esther, 17 and played by Judy Garland, have fallen for the boy next door and is very unhappy about the move.  During Christmas, Tootie, her much younger sister played by Margaret O'Brien, is also upset about leaving family behind and is also afraid Santa won't be able to find her because of the move.  Esther sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to try and comfort her sister as much as herself.

When the song was first written in 1944 by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine for the movie, some of the lyrics were very not quite as heartwarming as the ones that we are most familiar with now, so they were rewritten.  As you can see, there is quite a difference in meaning and sentiment:


Why the change?  Well, the world was still at war and, according to *Ace Collins, Judy Garland had spent a lot of time entertaining the troops during the past three years as well as visiting, talking and reading their fan mail.  She had a pretty good idea that a depressing song wasn't what was wanted or needed by these courageous soldiers and so, with support from the movie's director (and her future husband), Vincent Minnelli, she sent the song back to Martin and Blaine and asked for a rewrite.  The new version was certainly more hopeful than the original.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"was released as a single in time for Christmas 1944, and Collins writes, when Judy Garland "sang in to soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen, there wasn't a dry eye in the place."

The song only spent one week on Billboard's charts in 1944.  With its message of hope for a future, it was extremely popular with troops, particularly those still serving overseas.  It seems that it wasn't until later that "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" became a big hit with the general public.

In 1957, Frank Sinatra recorded it for an album called A Jolly Christmas.  Thinking the line "Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow" wasn't very jolly, he asked Martin to revise that lyric and so it became "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough," which may the the lyric you are most familiar with, although both are still recorded by singers today.



Of the approximately 150 different versions that have been recorded since 1944, all by different recording artists, I think my favorites are the ones by Rosemary Clooney (1976) and Diana Krall (2001).  

Do you have a favorite version of this beloved Christmas song?

*Collins, Ace.  Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

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19. The Tattered Prayer Book by Ellen Bari, illustrated by Avi Katz

When young Ruthie finds a tattered prayer book in a box of old photographs marked Germany in her grandmother's house, she gets quite a surprise.  The prayer book in written in Hebrew and German and had apparently been burned.  Even more surprising - her grandmother tells Ruthie that the book came from Germany and it belongs to her father.

When Ruthie asks her dad about it, he tells her that he was born and lived a happy life in Hamburg with his family, and with lots of cousins and friends.  But, when the Nazis took over the government in 1933, all that changed.  Soon, Jews weren't allowed in restaurants, movie theaters, libraries, schools.  Old friends became instant bullies.

Then, in November 1938, Nazis began a night of destruction, Kristallnacht, destroying Jewish business and synagogues, setting them on fire.  When Ruthie's dad saw what was left of his synagogue, he also saw burnt prayer books all over.  He reached for one and hid it in his coat - a reminder of the place where he had once been so happy.

One day, while he and his father were in a shop, Nazis came down the road probably to arrest the men.  Ruthie's Grandpa slipped out the back door, while her dad ran home to tell his mother what happened.  Days later, Grandpa came back home and told his family he had to leave, sailing for America with his son Fred.

Every night, her dad opened his burnt, tattered prayer book and prayed.  Finally, in June 1939, visas arrived for Ruthie's dad, mother and brother Sid.  Other friends and family members were leaving Germany, too, for Argentina and Israel.  Others, sadly, had to remain in Germany.

On board the ship, after the Sabbath candles were lit, Ruthie's dad showed the prayer book to his mother, expecting her to be angry, but she wanted it to be a reminder of the good life they had had in Germany and a source of strength for the future.

Recalling what happened so long ago in his life in Germany, after making such an effort to forget it all, Ruthie's father realizes how important that burnt, tattered prayer book had been to him and how much what it symbolized is an important part of himself.

The burnt prayer book is a symbol of both the happy, good life Ruthie's dad and his family shared before the Nazis came to power, and at the same time, the terrible years that followed.

Often, when we talk about the Holocaust, it is about the mass roundups of Jews, the death camps they were sent to, and the attempt to systematically destroy an entire race of people.  But nothing happens in a vacuum and neither did the Holocaust.  Between the years 1933 and 1938, Jews were subject to all kinds of degrading treatment by Hitler's henchman in the SA and the SS, and by ordinary citizens who turned their backs on friends overnight.

In The Tattered Prayer Book, Ellen Bari has written an informative, but gentle picture book for older readers (age 7+) about those deplorable years in a way that kids will definitely understand.  It is an ideal book for parents who wish to introduce their children about the Holocaust themselves before they learn about it in school.  Teachers, however, will also find it to be an excellent book for teaching the Holocaust, as well.

The illustrations by Avi Katz are done in sepia-tones that are reminiscent of old photographs and burnt paper, again reflecting that balance of good and bad times that the prayer book represents.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was sent to me by the publisher

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20. Sunday Funnies #19: Thanksgiving Day Edition



I have a lot to be thankful for this year.  First, my Kiddo is happy and healthy and living in California with her new husband and I will be seeing them at Christmas when they come to visit.

I'm thankful for my friends and family, even if I don't get to see them very often.  And I am thankful for my online friends, even though I haven't met many of them.  One of the things I love about blogging is getting to know so many people all over the world, an opportunity that can be found in few other ways.   Thank you to all my followers and readers.  Your presence on my blog is much appreciated.

Thanksgiving was hit hard in WWII because of rationing and it wasn't lost on the people who drew comic strips for the newspapers, as you can see:

November 25, 1943 Rationing on the Home Front:


November 25, 1943 Rations on the Front Lines:



I wish everyone a happy and bountiful Thanksgiving



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21. Hitler in Paris: How a Photograph Shocked a World at War by Don Nardo

Even before he seized power and became the chancellor of Germany in 1933, Hitler had done two things that most people seeking political office rarely did at that time - first was that he used a private plane with his own pilot to campaign quickly all over Germany.  The plane was so much faster than a train or car, and much less tiring.  The second thing he did was to have a personal photographer to record his every move.  That photographer was Heinrich Hoffmann.

You probably know, if only from reading The Extra by Kathryn Lasky, that Leni Riefenstahl made several propaganda films, but her most famous film of all was Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens) documenting the 1934 Nuremberg Rally and showcasing Hitler.  She was a talented and innovative filmmaker, and a good friend of Hitler's (despite later denials of not knowing anything about was was happening in Nazi Germany and the occupied countries), but for still photography, it was Heinrich Hoffmann that Hitler wanted.

Hoffman was a very talented photographer, who loved to take pictures of people in moments when their guard was down, and recording their spontaneous actions/reactions.  But he was also gifted at the posed photograph and the iconic June 1940 photograph he took of Hitler standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, flanked on one side by Albert Speer and on the other by Arno Breker, is the one that Don Nardo has chosen to focus on in his book Hitler in Paris.  It is this photograph that best represents Hitler's dominance in Europe.  Standing at the Eiffel Tower, in a now defeated France, and with conquered countries to the North, South and East of France, Hitler's sights are now to the West and Britain.  One can only imagine how people must have felt when they saw this photo.  But what brought Hitler and Hoffmann to this point?

Nardo gives the reader a parallel history of each man early life - both middle class, but with very different family circumstances.  Events in Hitler's early life, a cruel father with whom he often fought, held feed his anger and hate at those more fortunate, and was later spurred on and fueled by Germany's defeat in World War I, for which he desperately wanted to seek revenge.

Hoffmann, by contrast, was taken under his father's wing and taught the art of photography.  Nardo describes Hoffmann as a very likable man, who claimed (like Riefenstahl) that he was not political, his relationship with Hitler was strictly personal and he had no knowledge of what was happening around him.  Eva Braun worked in his photography studio and it was Hoffmann who introduced her to Hitler (you may recall that from reading Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman).

Taken on the same trip to Paris by
Hoffmann
This is a short, 64 page book that is filled with information and photographs, all taken by Hoffmann.
 Nardo has done a pretty good job at presenting these two men with objectivity and allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions about them and the circumstances depicted in the book.

Nardo also used lots of primary and secondary sources to write Hitler in Paris, giving the book a real sense of time an place, as well bringing these two controversial figures to life.  Additionally, he has included a useful timeline, a glossary, a list of additional resources, source notes and a selected bibliography.  There are also copious photographs of Hoffmann's, which are all now in the public domain.

Hitler in Paris: How a Photograph Shocked a Word at War will probably have great appeal to history buffs interested in the 20th century, WWII, and/or Nazi Germany.  But it will also appeal to serious serious budding photographers and even to those who are more experienced as a study in how one emblematic photograph can convey so much.

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


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22. Your Hit Parade #4: Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)

In honor of the return of my very favorite variety of apple, the *Honey Crisp, returning to produce shelves now, I have had the song "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" running through my head now for the past two weeks and I thought it would be interesting to explore the song's WWII roots.

In the spring of 1942, things were not going well for the United States, now at war in Europe and the Pacific.  In fact, things were really looking bad in the Pacific, where the US was losing in the Philippines and would end up surrendering in Bataan and in Corregidor to the Japanese.  Yet, even as the US was losing the war in those early days, Americans were still wanting and listening to war-related  music, but mostly of the novelty or sentimental variety and if only to boost morale.

"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" proved to be a real favorite during those dark days, but it was not originally a war-relate song.  It was written in 1939, with music and the lyrics by Sam H. Stept, Lew Brown and Charles Tobias and was called "Anywhere the Bluebird Goes," but the name was changed when it was used in a play called Yokel Boy starring Judy Canova.  According the Playbill, Yokel Boy opened  July 6, 1939 and closed January 6, 1940, after only 208 performances.

But the song's popularity increased after the US entered the war.  In early 1942, it had been recorded by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, and with vocals by Beneke, Marion Hutton (older sister of Betty Hutton), and the Modernaires.  Miller's version of "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" was very popular and stayed on Billboard's charts for 13 weeks in 1942.

Billboard January 2, 1943 pg 27
In May 1943, the movie Private Buckaroo, a musical comedy about army recruits after they are finished with basic training, was released.  In it, the Andrews Sisters travel around the US, performing at USO dances in uniform  accompanied by Henry James and his Orchestra.  One of their most popular songs in the film was "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree."  The song was a perfect fit, since it is about a young soldier who is off to war and is basically asking his sweetheart to stay true to him while he is off fighting, something that was happening every day in real life.


"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" proved to be a very big hit for the Andrews Sister, and though not as big as "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", it does have that distinctive swing style Maxine, LaVerne and Patty Andrews were so well known for, as you can see in this clip from the movie:



In his 1985 Pulitzer Prize winning oral history of World War II, The Good War, author Studs Turkel interviewed Maxine Andrews about the wartime experiences of Andrews Sisters. This is what she said about "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree":
"I remember we sang it up in Seattle when a whole shipload of troops went out.  We stood there on the deck and all the young men up there waving and yelling and screaming.  As we sang "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," all the mothers and sisters and sweethearts sang with us as the ship went off.  It was wonderful.  The songs were romantic.  It was a feeling of - not futility,  It was like everybody in the United States held on to each other's hands."

"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" was so popular that during 1942, three different versions were recorded and all ended up on the pop charts - Glenn Miller's The Andrews Sisters, and Kay Kyser and his band.


*The Honey Crisp is the only apple that should be refrigerated other it gets mealy real quick.

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23. Bear on the Homefront by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat, illustrated by Brian Deines

In A Bear in War, a young girl named Aileen Rogers sends her beloved teddy bear to her father, a medic in Europe with the Fifth Canadian Mounted Rifles during World War I, in the hope that it would keep him safe from harm.  Unfortunately, Aileen's father didn't return home, dying on the battlefield, but Teddy did.

Now, it is 1940, the world is at war again and England has decided to send as many children as possible to Canada to keep them safe.  Aileen Rogers is all grown up, working as a homefront nurse, whose present job is excorting the English children to their wartime foster homes.  And yes, she still has Teddy, carrying him in her pocket in hope that seeing him will help the children feel less afraid.

As a ship arrives, Teddy notices that two small children, Grace and younger brother William, 5, look particularly lost and afraid.  With a long ocean voyage behind them and now facing a long train ride across Canada, Aileen and Teddy take them under their wing.  William is allowed to keep Teddy when they arrive at their destination.  And so, for the rest of the war, Grace, Teddy and Wiliam live on a farm, helping their host family and keeping in touch with the parents by post.

The war lasted five years, and by the end, William was 10 years old.  Grace and William return to England and their parents, and Teddy is returned to Aileen.

This lovely, gentle story about separation is narrated by Teddy, an old hand at being away from Aileen, and so someone who really understands the feelings of loneliness and anxiety that William feels at being so far away from his mom and dad.  Sometimes, just having a warm and furry toy is enough to provide just the right amount of reassurance needed to get through something difficult.

Along with and complimenting Teddy's narration are beautiful, realistic oil paintings by Brian Deines.  These illustrations are the same softness to them that Teddy's words offer.

Author Stephanie Innes created A Bear in War and Bear on the Homefront used family memorabilia, including letters, photographs, Aileen's journal and, of course, Teddy.  Teddy was donated to the Canadian War Museum.  You can hear about it in the short video below (after the annoying ad).


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

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24. Hunt for the Bamboo Rat by Graham Salsibury

Zenji Watanabe is 17 years old in the summer of 1941, a Nesei born on Honolulu to Japanese parents.  Naturally, he is fluent in both Japanese and English.  He has also just graduated from high school and is thinking about studying Buddhism in Japan, Meanwhile, he was working to help support his family - mother, older brother Henry, younger sister Aiko, father deceased.

All that changes when Zenji's JROTC commanding officer Colonel Blake shows up at his house one day.  He wants Zenji to be interviewed and tested, but for what?  To travel to the Philippines to translate some documents from Japanese to English.

But when Zenji arrives in Manila, he is instructed to stay at the Momo, a hotel where Japanese businessmen like staying, to befriend them and keep his ears and eyes open.  He is given the key to a mail box that he is required to check twice a day to be use for leaving and receiving information and instructions.  Zenji is also given  a contact person, Colonel Jake Olsten, head of G2, the Military Intelligence Service, and even a code name - the Bamboo Rat.

In December 1941, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and the war in the Pacific begins.  It isn't long before the Americans are forced to withdraw from Manila.  Zenji chooses to remain, giving his seat on the last plane out to another Japanese American with a family.  Not long after that, he is taken prisoner by the Japanese, who torture and threaten him trying to make him admit he is the Bamboo Rat, and considering him a traitor to his county - Japan.

Eventually, the Japanese give up and Zenji is sent to work as a houseboy/translator for the more humane Colonel Fujimoto.  Fujimoto seems to forget that Zenji is a prisoner of war, and begins to trust him more and more.

By late 1944, it's clear the Japanese are losing the war in the Pacific.  They decide to evacuate Manila and go to Baguio.  Even though food is in short supply, Zenji starts to put some aside for the day he may be able to escape into the jungle and wait for the war to end.

But of course, the best laid plans don't always work out the way we would like them to and that is true for Zenji.  Will he ever make it back to Honolulu and his family?

WOW! Graham Salisbury can really write an action-packed, exciting and suspenseful novel.  Salisbury was born and raised in Hawaii, so he gives his books a sense of place that pulsating with life.  Not many authors explore the Japanese American in Hawaii experience during World War II and not many people realize that they were never, for the most part, interned in camps the way the Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians on the west coast of the US and Canada were.  And although Hawaii was only an American territory until it became a state in 1959, if you were born there, you had American citizenship, just like Zenji continuously tells his Japanese captors throughout Hunt for the Bamboo Rat.

At first, I thought Zenji was too gentle, too innocent and too trusting for the kind of work he was recruited to do, which amounted to the dangerous job of spying.  But he proved to be a strong, tough character even while he retained those his aspects of his nature.  Ironically, part of his survival as a spy and a POW is based in what his Japanese Buddhist priests had taught him before the war.

One of the nice elements that Salisbury included are the little poems Zenji's mother wrote.  Devising a form of her own, and written in Kanji, it is her way of expressing her feelings.  They are scattered throughout the book.  Zenji receives one in the mail just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and keeps it with him as long as he can, deriving comfort from it.

Like the first novel I read by Salisbury, Eyes of the Emperor, one kept me reading straight through until I finished it.  It is the fourth novel in his Prisoners of the Empire series, and it is a well-crafted, well-researched story, but it is a stand alone novel.  Zenji's story is based on the real wartime experiences of Richard Motoso Sakakida.

True to form, Salisbury brings in a lot of history, along with real people and events, but be careful, fact and fiction are seamlessly woven together.  He also includes the tension between the Filipino people and the Japanese after the Philippines are occupied by the Japanese and the cruel treatment of the Filipino people.   And included is the tension between Chinese and Japanese in Hawaii because of the Nanjing massacre of Chinese civilians in 1937/38.

All of this gives Hunt for the Bamboo Rat a feeling of authenticity.  There is some violence and reading the about Zenji's torture isn't easy, so it may not appeal to the faint at heart.

Hunt for the Bamboo Rat is historical fiction that will definetely appeal to readers, whether or not they particularly enjoy WWII fiction. And be sure to look at the Author's Note, the Glossary and additional Resources at the end of the novel.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was purchased for my personal library

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25. Top Ten Tuesday #16 - Top Ten Books I Read in 2014


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

Picking the top ten books I've read in 2014 was no easy task, so I've decided to list the top ten books I've read here on The Children's War and list the top ten books I've read on my other blog Randomly Reading.

(I liked these books all equally well, so the list isn't from favorite to least favorite)

1- Dash by Kirby Larson
Mitsi and her family lose everything when they are forced to live in an internment camp, including her beloved dog Dash.  Luckily, a kind neighbor agrees to care for Dash.

When a cruel German captain orders the killing of the last of a small herd of Przewalski's horses, a young Jewish girl tries to save the mare and stallion that survive, even if it means putting herself in danger.  

I love a good mystery and I love historical fiction, so this mystery series is perfect.  Maggie Hope is a great main character, an American who found herself in England at the start of World War II and remained there.

This graphic novel, illustrated in a palette of wonderful colors, tells the story of a Japanese American teen and his American mom forced to go into an internment camp and the nightmares he has about his dad, stuck in Japan when Pearl Harbor was bombed while caring for his elderly parents.

With his signature collage illustrations, Sis writes about the life of Antoine de Saint Exupéry, his love of flying and its connection to writing The Little Prince.  A beautiful picture book for older readers. 

This was a fun novel to read.  It's a great New York story, but also a nice introduction to monuments men who saved works of art in Europe during WWII.

This is a poignant World War I story about a boy, his dad and PTSD.  When his dad's letters stop coming from the front lines, his young son wonders why.  Then an overheard comment in King's Cross  Station results in discovery and surprise for the son.

This is a two for one because I read both this year and couldn't decide which to list.  Besides, I'm really hooked on these post war mysteries.  Young Flavia de Luce is quite the amateur detective, complete with her own lab.  These are fun mysteries and I can't wait to read the next one.

I loved Hartnett's The Midnight Garden and this is just as wonderful.  Two children, evacuated to the country during WWII, meet two boys who seem to be from another time.  And they are, but it is all connected as only Hartnett can do. 

My mom was a nurse and so I have a real soft spot for them.  This nonfiction book about nurses caught in the Pacific war, their dedication to their patients, even under harsh circumstances as POWs, is an excellent addition to women's history, especially during wartime.  

11- The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin
Another favorite nonfiction book, I learned so much about this almost completely unheard of event that happened in WWII, perhaps because it involved African American sailors.  This is really one of the best books I've read this year.






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