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Essentially, a journal about books written for children and young adults about World War II.
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1. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving
and a very large helping of 
happiness, peace and plenty!

Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving Paintings from WWII

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2. Sunday Funnies #22: Superheroes in Gotham

Anyone who has read The Children's War knows that I have a soft spot for one of my favorite childhood pastimes - reading the Sunday funnies and comic books.  So naturally, I was pretty excited when I heard that the New York Historical Society was planning an exhibit called Superheroes in Gotham.  The exhibit is open now through February 21, 2016.  I was particularly interested in seeing it because, as you know, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were all WWII superheroes, doing their bit for the war.  But the exhibit goes way beyond that.

How many remember George Reeves as Superman?  I must have watched Superman rerums a million times each when I was growing up.  Well, one of the old Superman suits from this show is there and it looks more like thick, woolen underwear that the kind of slick suit you see today:

There's even one of Adam West's Batmobiles from the 1960's Batman show:

The exhibit also contains some original art pieces original comic books, TV, movie, cartoon and audio clips of favorite comic superheroes, as well as comic characters you may never have heard of.  For me, that was Will Eisner's Private Joe Dope, a character who is like a combination of Beetle Bailey and Sad Sack.  Eisner, a talented artist, joined the army in 1942.  Every post has a newspaper and Eisner became an artist on the paper his post in Maryland produced.  But, Eisner quickly realized that soldiers needed training in preventative maintenance and Joe Dope became the bumbling incompetent solider whose mess-ups were lessons in how to not do something.  Eisner's Joe Dope was so popular that he was soon appearing monthly in Army Motors, a maintenance magazine (and I was happy to discover that the NYPL has original copies of Army Motors to explore after the holidays).  

For more on Will Eisner and his comic characters, see the article Rare Eisner by Ken Quattro
at Comicartville
After the war, in 1951, Joe Dope was resurrected and began to appear in another publication called PS Magazine.

Of course, no visit to the New York Historical Society would be complete without a visit to the museum shop, and that's where I found two books that were exactly what I was looking for:

Both volumes contain complete comic book stories from the war years (more about these later).

If you would like to know more about Superheroes in Gotham, you can find a great article with extensive photos from the exhibit by Jen Carson at the Gothamist

If you are going to be in NYC this holiday season, after you've seen all the stores windows and the tree at Rockefeller Plaza, you might want to journey uptown a bit and see this exhibit, as well as the Historical Society's annual Holiday Express: Toys and Trains exhibit.  Both of these exhibits are totally kid-friendly and somewhat interactive, and not on that, but they even have a wonderful,very interactive Children's History Museum to visit. 

Where is the NY Historical Society?  It's the one with the statues of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass outside their doors, on Central Park West and West 77th Street, right across the street from the Museum of Natural History.  Go this coming Wednesday, and you can even see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons being blown up.

Available for selfies

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3. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

It's bedtime but young Cole still wants a story, a true story before going to sleep.  And so Cole's mother begins to tell him a story about Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian from Winnipeg who lived long before Cole was born.  When war begins far from Canada, Harry's veterinary services are needed to care for the army's war horses and so he joins the army.

When Harry's troop train makes a stop in White River, Canada, he sees a man with a baby bear and next thing he knows, Harry has bought the bear for $20.00 and names it Winnipeg - nickname Winnie.  Winnie is quite a hit among all the soldiers and proves herself to be a gentle, but rambunctious bear cub.  Eventually, Winnie travels with Harry all the way to England, where Harry and his fellow soldiers will train for war.

When Harry gets his orders and is about to be sent to the front lines in France, he realizes that a battlefield would be too dangerous for Winnie and decides to leave him at the London Zoo for the duration of the war.  It is, indeed, a sad parting between man and bear.

However, Winnie adjusts to life in the zoo and ever the gentle bear, he is popular with the kids who visit, and in particular, one boy named Christopher Robin Milne, who frequently comes to see Winnie with his father.  Christopher even names his teddy bear after Winnie, calling it Winnie- the-Pooh, and out of his love for the real bear comes the books by his dad about Winnie-the-Pooh's adventures with a young boy named Christopher Robin.

As for young Cole, well, he was named after his great-great grandfather - Harry Colebourn.

Finding Winnie is a nice all-in-the-family true story since Linsay Mattick is actually the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn.   Son Cole's request for a bedtime story, one he has clearly asked for and heard many times before, cleverly frames the real story about how the tales about Winnie-the-Pooh evolved and it is nicely connected to the present for young readers by Cole's relationship to Harry.  Mattick has even included a family tree so kids can trace the family's relationship.

In addition, Mattick has included photos and artifacts from the time that Harry and Winnie spent together, as well as a photo of herself and Cole at the back of the book.

Sophie Blackall's beautifully rendered watercolor and ink illustrations are bright, detailed and gently soothing, makinf for an excellent merger of story and picture that is sure to please even the youngest Winnie-the-Pooh fan.  She really has captured the affection between Harry and Winnie and Blackall's illustrations will elicit more than a few "ahhhs" for readers.  In fact, she has even made the illustration of the soldiers marching in the rain look not as dreadful as it probably was.

And I really liked that the story is always focused on Winnie and never strays into Harry's time on the western front, so there are no combat illustrations, even though this is technically a WWI story.

Finding Winnie is a lovely addition to any library, a terrific read-aloud (at bedtime, perhaps?), and the perfect introduction to the Winnie-the-Pooh stories for young readers.

And, yes, I know that Finding Winnie is the second book to come out this year about the true story of Winnie-the-Pooh.  Both are equally delightful, each one tells the story equally well, and the illustrations in each are every bit as good as the other.  What to do?  Read them both.  That what I did and even though they tell the same story, they are wonderfully different and I enjoyed both for different reasons.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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4. Veterans' Day 2015

How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate out heroes and she-roes!                 
Maya Angelou


It is the Veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the Veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the Veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Veteran, who saluted the Flag,
It is the Veteran, who serves under the Flag,
To be buried by the flag
So the protester can burn the flag.

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5. Soon (Book #5 in the Felix and Zelda family of books) by Morris Gleitzman

It's 1945 and the war is over but not the danger.  Felix, now 13, and Gabriek are hiding out in a relatively safe albeit rather wrecked building, and have one simple rule - Stay quiet and out of sight.  There are roving bands of men wearing badges that say Poland for the Poles and never hesitate to shoot anyone who is Polish, and that includes Felix, who is Polish, but he's also Jewish.

The war was hard on Gabriek and Felix who lost quite a few people they loved very much, and now Gabriek spends most of his time sleeping off the cabbage vodka he makes in his still, when not doing repair work to get food for the two of them.

Felix, who wants to become a doctor, goes how on the streets with his "medical bag" and the skills he learned from Doctor Zajak, when he and Gabriek joined the partisans before the war ended.  While out looking for people to help, Felix runs into two people - Anya, a mysterious girl wearing a filthy pink coat and carrying a gun, and Dimmi, who threatens the lives of Felix and Gabriek because the lock they fixed for him has broken.

Felix isn't out on the street long before he is kidnapped by the Poland for the Poles thugs who require his "medical services."  Luckily, Felix escapes and back on the street, a woman throws her baby to him just before she is shot to death.  Felix is immediately smitten by the baby and brings him home to an unhappy Gabriek.  

It turns out that Anya is living in an orphanage with other kids under the care of Dr. Lipzyk, who invites Felix to visit his medical library anytime he wants to.  But things happen that make Felix uncomfortable about the doctor.  First, nothing seems to be done about Anya constant vomiting, then, Felix makes a deal with Anya for an endless supply of powdered milk and other baby needs for Pavlo (yes, Felix and Gabriek name the baby a nice Ukrainian name, since his mother was from the Ukraine), and lastly, the doctor cold attitude toward him when he sees Felix without pants on.

In the post-war danger and chaos in Poland, where hate and bigotry still seem to rule the day, will Felix be able to retain his hopeful spirit that the world will someday be a safe and happy place?
I wasn't expecting a 5th book and I may have jumped the gun a little in my need to find out more about Felix's experiences during World War II when I ordered it from The Book Depository.  It's out in Australia, New Zealand and Britain, but I don't know when or if it will be published in the US.  But is is do worth reading, even though I didn't get any sense of closure when I finished it - but perhaps that is as it should.

Soon is an action packed novel, partly because Felix is able to go out among people in a way that he hasn't been about to for a long, long time.  And amazingly, Gleitzman has managed to keep Felix a consistent character in Once, Then, After, and now Soon even as he matures, and despite some of the horrific things he has witnessed (I don't count Now because it is about Felix at 80 year old and not told from his point of view).  Felix is a character who seems to understand human behavior instinctively even if he does still read some behaviors incorrectly at first, but that is just because he is an optimist.  And readers can't help but care about what happens to him.

Soon can be read as a stand alone book, but it would be a much richer experience if readers at least read the first three books.  And like all of the Felix and Zelda family of books there is violence, but not sex or bad language.

Once again, Gleitzman has explored themes of family and friendship in the worst of times and written a powerful, appealing novel and now I would really like to know what happens to Felix next, but I have a feeling it's not going to happen this time.

You can read an except of Soon on Morris Gleitzman's website HERE

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

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6. Listen to the Moon by Michael Morpurgo

It's May 1915 and World War I is in full swing.  On the Scilly Island of Bryher, Alfie Wheatcroft has just played hooky to go fishing with his dad.  One their way home with their catch, Alfie hears a moaning sound coming from the deserted St. Helen's island.  Checking it out, he and his dad discover a scared, starving, shivering young girl clutching a bedraggled teddy bear and wrapped in a blanket with the name Wilhelm embroidered on it.

They decide to take her home for Alfie's mother, Mary Wheatcroft, to nurse back to health.  The girl keep saying Lucy over and over, and when Dr. Crow is called to examine her, it's decided that Lucy must be her name.  Soon she is known all over the island as Lucy Lost.  At first, Lucy refuses to speak and eat, but gradually does take some of the food given her.  She also refuses to leave the room she is put into.  One day, the doctor suggests using music to see if that will help her, bringing over his gramophone and records.  Lucy is drawn to the music, particularly one piece by Mozart, and while the music gets Lucy out of her room, she still doesn't speak.

Flashback to New York City in March 1915.  Merry McIntyre and her mother have been missing her Canadiann father ever since he enlisted and left for the war in Europe.  When they receive a letter saying he has been wounded and is in an English hospital, Mrs. McIntyre decides they will sail to England on the S.S. Lusitania in May despite the danger of German submarines prowling the Atlantic Ocean.  It proves to be a voyage that confines Mrs. McIntyre to the bed with seasickness, while Merry takes the opportunity to get to know the ship and their cabin steward Brandon very well.

Forward flash again to Bryher.  Thanks to the music and Alfie's patience and kindness, Lucy begins to get better daily.  But when school begins again at the end of summer, the teacher, Mr. Beagley, a particularly cruel person, decides Lucy must attend or be reported to the authorities.  And eventually, when word gets out about the German blanket Lucy was found with, the island people turn on her and the Wheatcrofts, believing the are on the side of the Germans and shunning them to the point that life becomes difficult.  When someone paints "Remember the Lusitania" on the Wheatcrofts door, and Mary sees recognition in Lucy's eyes, even this kind, stalwart woman begins to wonder about her.

Astute readers will early on realize the Lucy and Merry McIntyre is the same person, but solving the mystery of her identity is not what is at the heart of this story.  What is at the heart is a wonderful story about home front life and survival during WWI, about love, hate and unusual kindnesses, and about what family really means.

Listen to the Moon is a rich multi-layered novel based on a confluence of actual events, framed by an unnamed future narrator (not future to the reader, however).  The story within the frame is told alternately in the third person from Alfie and Merry/Lucy's perspectives, with additional information from Dr. Crow's journal and Mr. Beagley's school log, all making this a very well-developed, thoroughly intense story.

There is so much history in the novel, so be sure to read the background information to Listen to the Moon for more understanding, especially the part about the S.S. Schiller and why Germans were not allowed to attack the Isles of Scilly in WWI.  The background material is every bit as compelling as Morpurgo's novel.

The Guardian has an interesting pictorial article on how the Lusitania inspired Listen to the Moon HERE

You can find very useful Teacher Resources on Michael Morpurgo's website HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

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7. Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman

Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke is the sequel to a book I read and reviewed last year called Prisoner of Night and Fog.  I wasn't too crazy about that book, but I am pleased to say that I liked the sequel much more.

Prisoner of Night and Fog takes place in 1931 Munich, Germany.  Gretchen Müller, part to the inner circle of young girls in the Hitler entourage, has discovered that her father, a strong Hitler supporter, had been deliberately killed in the 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch by a fellow Nazi.  Gretchen is determined to solve mystery of who would have done such a thing with the help of Daniel Cohen, handsome reporter for the Munich Post.  It also didn't take long for Aryan Gretchen and Jewish Daniel to find they were very attracted to each other despite their differences. And yes, they solve they mystery together.

Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke picks up their story in 1933 England.  Forced to flee Germany after solving her father's murder, Gretchen is living in London with a loving family and going to school, and Daniel is working for the Oxford Mail, writing the society column.  But when Daniel receives a telegram that his cousin Aaron has been attacked by Nazis and is in critical condition, he immediately returns to Germany to get justice to his cousin.

On January 30, 1933 Hitler is named Chancellor by President Hindenburg.  One month later, February 27, there is a fire in the Reichstag, the seat of government.  Hitler blames the Communists for it, even though it has most likely been done by the Nazis for the purpose giving Hitler a strong reason for forcing the passage of the Enabling Act, a piece of legislation that would give him complete power, turning Germany into a Nazi dictatorship.

Then, when Gretchen receives a mysterious telegram telling her that Daniel is in trouble, that he is wanted for murder, and possibly dead, she decides to risk capture by the Nazis and returns to Germany to find him.  There, an old newspaper friend of Daniel's tells Gretchen that the Nazis claim Daniel has killed a young women named Monika Junge and that he had also been beaten and robbed of his money and false identity papers a few days ago, but no one has seen Daniel since.  Next, she calls her old friend Eva Braun and asks her to find out if Daniel has been arrested. Eva tells her no, but that Gretchen must get out of Munich, Hitler is still after her for what she uncovered about him while trying to find out who murdered her father.  Ironically, the murder of Monika Junge leads Gretchen and Daniel right back to the Reichstag fire in an unexpected way.

Gretchen gets on a train to Berlin, and (perhaps a little too conveniently) runs into Daniel.  The two travel together to Berlin and what follows in a exciting journey through Berlin's underbelly and her higher echelons of government as Gretchen and Daniel try to clear his name of the murder charge the Nazis have leveled against him before the passage of the Enabling Act.  Once the Enabling Act is passed, it will be impossible to solve the mystery surrounding Monika Junge's murder because anyone who could help would immediately be arrested (the Enabling Act passed on March 23, 1933).

Blankman used the Reichstag fire and the Enabling Act to create a real nail-biting story.  She also effectively mixes real people from that time with her fictional characters, though there is a fine line between what really may be and what she includes, case in point: what Monika Junge knows and why it is dangerous for a certain important Nazi is pure fabrication.  But she does do a great job of showing why the events she includes are so important in understanding Germany at that time.

But as much as this is an historical fiction mystery utilizing time, place, people and events quite well , it is also a romance novel.  Gretchen and Daniel are very much in love, and that's great.  It doesn't overwhelm the overall story too much, but I have to be honest and say that this romance has gone on since 1931, Gretchen and Daniel have found themselves sleeping together many times when their lives have been in danger and nothing intimate has happened.  It's even mentioned in Chapter 16.  I had to ask myself if this is realistic and I don't think it is, not even for those times.

Blankman also brings in another interesting element of reality to the story - he organized crime syndicate, the Ringvereine, which is something you don't hear about very often.  I've heard of it, but don't know that much about it, only that they did exist and were very protective of their own - and Monika Junge was one of their own.

My only objection to the novel was the end, but I don't want to resort to spoilers, especially not at the end of a story, so you'll just have to read it know what I mean.

Do read the Author's Note at the end to fully appreciate all the history incorporated into this novel, and Blankman's Selected Bibliography for further information.

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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8. What's in a name?

Well, maybe not always.  Once I was watching an interview with Lady Gaga on 60 minutes who said that after she became Lady Gaga she felt a certain kind of creative freedom she didn’t feel under her real name - Stefani Germanotta.  That creative Freedom is what I felt when I started The Children’s War.

But then I changed the name to Alex’s Bookshelves and suddenly that creative freedom was gone and I felt like I was dealing with a stranger... What to do?  Return this blog to it’s original name but with a new look.

My apologies for any inconvenience or mix-up my flirtation with a new name caused and now, back to the business of reading and reviewing.

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9. Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott

When the Germans arrive in June 1941, life changed for the Jews living in Prużany, a small town in Belarus.  For 17 year-old Zlatka Sznaiderhauz and her family - mother, father, younger brothers Iser and Lázaro, younger sister Necha - life became more and more difficult.  Restrictions meant no freedoms, no school, no jobs, little food and eventually life in a Nazi-created ghetto.  Before long, daily lists began to be posted for transports to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  On the third day, the Sznaiderhauz family was on the list.

Separated from her father and brothers, when they arrive at Auschwitz, Zlatka and Necha are sent to the right of the selection, her mother and brother Lázaro to the left and immediate death.

As Zlaka's story unfolds, so does Fania's in alternate chapters.  Fania, 18, is sent away from her home in Bialystok by her family to Augustów in the hope of saving her life since she looked the most Aryan.  Fania is quickly  arrested for being Jewish and sent first to Lomża Prison, later to Stuffhof, where she learns that the Bialystok Ghetto has been liquidated.  Heartbroken, Fania realizes she has lost her entire family.  Eventually, Fania, and the three friends she made in Lomża are transported to Auschwitz.

Finding themselves in the same barracks, at first Zlatka shuns Fania's offer of friendship, but after Necha's death, it is Fania who pulls Zlaka out of what could have been a fatal depression.  The two become friends and family to each other, determined to survive the brutal treatment they are subjected to in Auschwitz.

For Fania's 20th birthday, Zlatka decides to make her an origami birthday heart, an act of defiance that could cost them their lives. Zlatka does whatever she needs to - stealing, bartering, swapping - to get the materials for the heart.  When it was done, it was passed to every girl at their work table, 15 in all, to sign and add their wishes for Fania.  Even those girls who didn't speak Polish understand the importance of signing the heart.

Fania, Zlatka and the birthday heart survived Auschwitz, survived the death marches they were sent on at the end of the war, and survived the war.

Fania's Heart
Paper Hearts is a novel based on a true story.  It is written in free verse and I feel that the
form and content of the story coalesce so beautifully that the reader can almost feel as though they are travelling side by side with Zlattka and Fania through everything.

Meg Wiviott got the idea for this novel after seeing a 2010 documentary film called A Heart in Auschwitz.  The film chronicles the filmmakers quest to find Zlatka and Fania and bring them together again.  Intrigued, Wiviott began her own research, which included hearing Zlatka and Fania's Shoah testimonies (Zlatka's in Spanish, Fania's in Yiddish( and a visit to the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre to see the actual heart, which is on display there.

This is a heartbreaking yet beautiful story of friendship, hope and love in the midst of so much brutality, death and hate.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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10. The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones

After his father suddenly dies, Evan Griffin, 16, discovers he had been reading a book written by a Japanese soldier named Isamu Ōshiro, who found himself stranded on a small island in the Pacific during World War II.  The book is a memoir of his life on the island, which he called Kokoro-Jima, and is addressed to his new bride, Hisako, back in Saipan.  But Evan also discovers a letter to his dad from a man named Leonardo Kraft that seems to connect his estranged grandfather, Griff, a career Marine, to the events that are in the book.

Curious, Evan begins to read the Ōshiro's memoir one night when he gets a phone call from his grandfather that he will be at the house in a little while - arriving a week earlier than Evan expected him.  But why?  Clearly it has something to do with Ōshiro's story.  But what?

Isamu's story, framed by Evan's story, is riveting.  He describes his arrival on Kokorro Jima, what he does to survive despite being severely injured, but he also writes about something else.  There are ghostly children on the island who hover close by him, and who Isamu calls his ghostly family.  Soon, however, he begins to notice that there are also zombie-like ghoulish creatures, which he calls jikininki and who feed off the dead.

It is the jikininki who lead Isamu to a crashed cargo plane and the two dead pilots.  Isamu realizes there is a missing person, the navigator, and eventually he finds Derwood Kraft on the beach, seriously injured and who seems to have his own ghost family of children. But along with this gaijin, Isamu also discovers Tengu, a monstrous black creature about to attack the American.

That pretty much sets the stage for this incredibly well-written, well-developed, wonderfully crafted novel.  At the heart of the novel is the mystery of what happened to Isamu and why this is connected to Evan's grandfather.  But Tim Wynne-Jones keeps the mystery going without even a hint of what happens until the very end, and getting there is never dull or boring.

As far as I'm concerned, The Emperor of Any Place is definitely top-drawer fantasy, and yes, it is also very graphically detailed.  The novel switches between the present and past seamlessly, and Wynne-Jones throws in some seemingly unimportant scenes that only serve to deliciously increase the mood and tension.  I'm not much of a zombie fan, but I was totally drawn into this novel and hated to put it down when I had to do something else.

But there is something else that Wynne-Jones wants us to take away beside a great story and that is how tenuously connected the lines between war and peace, friends and enemies, love and hate are and how they impact past to present, generation to generation.  As Griff explains to Evan, "[war] ends and then it starts again, and the end of one war inevitably grows out of the war that can before it."

The Emperor of Any Place is one of those novels that took me totally by surprise and my only regret is that I can't have the pleasure of reading it for the first time again, but I will be re-reading it soon.

The Emperor of Any Place will be available on October 13, 2015.

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

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11. Whistling in the Dark by Shirley Hughes

It's autumn 1940, and for Joan Armitage, 13, and her family - mom, older sister Audrey, brother Brian and 6 year old Judy - living in a suburb of Liverpool, getting by has been hard ever since her dad's Merchant Navy ship was torpoeded by a Nazi U-boat in the Atlantic.

Now, WW(( is in full swing and the house is always cold, curfews have been imposed, there are nighttime air raids and everyone is always hungry because of rationing.  On top of that, a new man, Captain Ronnie Harper Jones, part of the Army Catering Corps stationed near Liverpool, seems interested in mom.  Despite the occassional box of goodies he brings the Armitage family, Joan, her brother and her sister don't like him much,  though Judy does, or rather,  she like the sweets he brings her.

Ironically, though, life is pretty boring despite the war.  Luckily, Joan has a best friend, wealthy Doreen, and both girls love going to the Queensway Cinema to see American movies.  And of course, there is the Saturday morning salvage collection Joan does with friends Ross and Derek.  Best of all, there is her art - drawing and painting are her escape and her passion.

But as autumn passes, the air raids begin to intensify, as the Luftwaffe steps up their bombings over Liverpool.  Even the Queensway becomes too dangerous to go to.  And after hearing about an army deserter who is believed to be in the area, Joan wonders if it is the unknown man she saw staring into the house one night while closing the blackout curtains.  She is shaken, but decides not to say anything and when it doesn't happen again, it gets forgotten amidst rumors of food being stolen and sold on the black market.

At school, the class bully Angela and her gang seem to enjoy picking on Ania, a Polish refugee who arrived in England on the Kindertransport.  When Joan's mom tells her to invite Ania for tea, the normally quiet, shy girl opens up to Joan about what happened to her and her family in Poland.

When Joan is confronted by the mysterious man once again, on her way home one night, one mystery may be solved, but it only leads to the possiblity of more grief.  How is he connected to Ania and what does he want from her?  At the same time, the rumors of the stolen food and black market dealings prove to be true and the outcome is devasting for Joan's family, the communtiy and even her best friend Doreen.

This is the second WWII novel Shirley Hugnes has written.  Her first was Hero on a Bicycle, also a coming of age story that didn't grab my interest quite as much as this on did.  I found this one to be well plotted, with some nice foreshadowing but also some nice surprises.

"Wartime, when it was not frightening, could be very boring" writes Shirtley Hughes in her Author's Note.  And she has done an exceptional job of depicting the boredom of war without making it boring for the reader. The result is an eye-opening look at daily life on the English home front.  Of course, she knows what she is talking about, since much of the book is based on her own 13 year old experiences living in Merseyside during WWII.

One of the interesting aspects of Whistling in the Dark, is how much readers learn about the Merchant Navy, those men who sailed to the US and Canada to bring food and other supplies back to England on unarmed but very vulnerable ships.  Joan's father and Audrey's boyfriend Dai both are part of the Merchant Navy, the real heroes of this story, according to Hughes and the Liverpool docks play an important role in this novel.

When most of us think of the Blitz, we have a picture of hundrends of Luftwaffe planes flying over London, dropping their bombs, bringing death and the destruction of homes, churches, monuments, and institutions.  But the Nazis targeted more than London, including a terrible Blitz over Liverpool from August 28, 1940 to the end of December, the timeframe of Whistling in the Dark, doing incredible damage to the all important docks there.

Whistling in the Dark is a novel that will appeal to young readers interested in historical fiction, coming of age stories and mysteries, as well as fans of Carrie's War by Nina Bawden and Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian

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

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12. A Prince Without A Kingdom by Timothée de Fombelle, translated by Sarah Ardizzone

Back in May 2014, I review Vango: Between Sky and Earth, the story of a young man who is trying to solve the mystery of who he is and why there are people who want him arrested or dead.  Set in the early 1930s, I wrote that this was historical fiction at its best and I couldn't wait to read the sequel.

And I am happy to say, the sequel, A Prince Without a Kingdom, is every bit as good as Between Sky and Earth.  The story begins shortly after a brief recap of what happened in Book I, this novel opens in 1936, shortly after the first one left off.  Vango is still trying to solve the mystery of who he is, while he tracks the person he believes had killed his parents back in 1915.  Another question that hangs over this novel - what happened to Vamgo beloved Mademoiselle, who had raised him and cared for him after his parents death on the island of Salina off the coast of Sicily?

Now in New York Vango meets up with his old friend and mentor, Father Zefiro, founder of a hidden monastery located on the island of Arkudah.  Zefiro has been hunting for Voloy Viktor, a Soviet arms dealer and murder, and a master at disguise who also goes by the personas Madame Victoria and Vincent Valpa.  Believing he is now in New York, Zefiro sets up a stakeout in an unfinished building.

Vango is on his own hunt for Giovanni Cafarello, one of the three men who murdered Vango's parents, stealing thier fortune, and who knows the secret of Vango's identity.  But the man incarcerated in Sing Sing prison as Gio Cafarello claims right up to his execution that he is not Cafarello.  Is it possible that Vango came so close to knowing the truth and having his revenge, only to miss it by moments? Or not?

There is just so much to this novel, that it makes it hard to write a fair review without spoilers, and I hope I haven't included any by accident.  A lot of time a sequel doesn't live up to a reader's expectation based on the first book, but I can honestly say that this not only met my expectations, but even surpassed them.  And yet, it is also a stand alone novel.  There is also a helpful list of the cast of characters at the beginning, in case you forgot who is who and why from the first book, or if they are new to you.

And, like the first book, A Prince Without a Kingdom is full of adventure, intrigue, mystery, tension and suspense and coincidence, nail-biting coincidence most times.  The plotting is brilliant, the characters - and there are a lot of them - are well drawn, believable, diverse and global.  In fact, the whole story is global - New York, Moscow, Edinburgh, the Aeolian Island on the coast of Sicily, and New Jersey (yes, Lakehurst, NJ was the landing area for the zeppelins back then and zeppelins are an important part of both novels, including the Hindenburg).  And de Fombelle moves his characters and settings like the most perfect chess game ever.

A Prince Without a Kingdom isn't necessarily told in chronological order, because of its many flashbacks, but though it may sound confusing, isn't at all difficult to follow what is happening.  And the mix of historical figures and events with his fictional characters and events adds to the excitement and interest throughout the novel.  The time frame of the novel begins in 1936 and goes through WWII and the Holocaust.  

I can say that the writing is fast-paced, and beautifully lyrical, yet the story proceeds at a nicely tempered pace, never overwhelming the reader.  Once again, Sarah Ardizoone has given us a flawless translation from the original French and succeeding in carrying forward the flavor and feel of de Fombelle's storytelling.

My only regret is that the story of Vango isn't a trilogy and I have to say good-bye to him.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

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13. Tucky Jo and Little Heart by Patricia Polacco

In this picture book for older readers, Patricia Polacco tells the story of Johnnie Wallen, a Kentucky boy who manages to get his parents to say he is older than 15 years, allowing him to enlist in the army and fight in WWII.

After basic training, Johnnie is assigned to the Sixth Infantry, Company G, Twentieth Division and sent to the Pacific theater.  On the ship, Johnnie is called "the kid from Kentucky" by everyone because of his youth.  But the kid from Kentucky was an crack shooter by age 10, and now the army trains him as a marksman and for heavy ordnance (explosives).  In now time, Johnnie earns the nickname the Kentucky Kid after proving himself quite adapt at going into the jungle to seek and destroy machine gun nests.

The Kentucky Kid's unit soon finds themselves on Luzon, an island in the Philippines, where they need to level the land to bivouac and to build an airstrip.  It is a hot job in a jungle infested with biting insects, and after a while, Johnnie is covered with bug bites.  Looking for water to cool his bites, he discovers a small native village where women are trying to catch fish with their bare hands.

There, he meets a little girl who shows him how to treat his bug bites with the leaves of a local plant.  Grateful for the relief and the friendly gesture, Johnny repays the young girl's kindness with the chocolate bar from his K-rations, tells her his name was Kentucky Jon, which immediately becomes Tucky Jo when she repeats it, and he begins calling her Little Heart because of a heart shaped birthmark on her arm.

That night, Tucky Jo whittsd a little hinged doll to give to Little Heart, which delights her.  Then, one day when she didn't show up, Tucky Jo goes to find her in her village.  There, her grandfather, who does speak English,explains that she hasn't spoken since she saw the Japanese kill her mother and take away her father and brother.

And, he goes on to explain, the Japanese took all the young men, all the food and all the fishing lines and nets.  As a result, the people in the village are starving.  Well, Tucky Jo is a doer and in no time, the people in Little Heart's village have all the fish they could eat and preserve - how?  You'll have to read the story to find that out.

When Tucky Jo learns his unit is leaving and will be bombing the jungle, he convinces his sergeant to let him evacuate the village first, which  is very successful.  But when the truck with Little Heart pulls away, it is the late time Tucky Jo sees his little friend.  Or is it?

After the war, Johnnie goes home, a highly decorated soldier, marries his sweetheart and raises a family.  As he gets older, and his health fails, he needs to be hospitalized.  Johnnie's nurse is very kind, so kind that he begins to wonder, especially after he sees the small heart shaped birthmark on her arm.  Could it be...?

According to her Author's Note, Patricia Polacco writes that the story of Tucky Jo and Little Heart was inspired by listening to WWII veterans talking about their experiences in the Pacific Theater and is based on the story that Johnnie Wallen related to her.  Of course, there is some poetic license, but the reader will have to figure that out for themselves.

Palacco has created as story about friendship, kindness,and  ingenuity, while at the same time showing the terrible impact that war has on children.  Little Heart has clearly been traumatized by what she had witnessed, compounded by a state of starvation, but Polacco has portrayed these things in such a way that they won't traumatize the reader, but will evoke feelings of empathy for Little Heart.

And there are the signature Polacco illustrations done in color pencil and markers.  The illustrations capture Little Heart's vulneribility and her fragile state, and Tucky Jo's youth and enthusiasm, and his innate kindness that shines in his eyes.

Tucky Jo and Little Heart  is an ideal book for introducing young readers to the war in the Pacific, or for any one interested veteran stories that come out of WWII..

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

Johnny Wallen passed away on January 9, 2010.  If you would like to know more about decorated hero of WWII, you can read his daughter's tribute to her father HERE 

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14. The Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber, illustrated by Joohee Yoon

I always think of James Thurber as a humorist, but there is no real humor in his fable about the pointlessness of war.  The Tiger Who Would Be King was first published in The New Yorker on August 11, 1956.  He hadn't expected the story to be printed because it was considered too "savage" but Thurber himself felt that the violence in his story was OK since he believed that fables were not for children, anyway.  But, it was published and soon found it's way into school curriculum's.

The story is simple and the moral is clear, even before you read it at the end.  One morning, the tiger wakes up and announces to his wife that he is now the king of beasts. When his wife reminds him that the lion is the king of beasts, the tiger tells her that all the other creatures are crying out for change.

Later, when the tiger visits the lion to tell him about the change, a fight ensues between the two big cats.  Soon, all the other creatures are choosing sides and fighting with each other.  In the end, the tiger is the only survivor, but even his days are numbered now.  And the moral: you can't be king if there is no one to rule over.

The Tiger Who Would Be King is a picture book for older readers about the desire for absolute power, and the resulting war, and destruction.  Though Thurber's voice and intelligence can be discerned throughout the story, there is no real message of hope anywhere in his fable except perhaps in the mind of the reader who realizes that the choices we make can have serious consequences.

Artist/illustrator Joohee Yoon has taken Thurber's 60 year old story and given it a new stunningly expressive look.  Yoon's illustrations are hand and computer drawn with only two colors - green and orange which are boldly used on each page and leave much to the imagination.  At the center of the story, there is a 6 page climactic fold out that shows the fierceness of the fight that between the animals who supported the tiger and those who backed the lion.  In their boldness, the illustrations have captured not just the futility of war but also the brutality of it, making this an exceptionally effective picture book for older readers.

I think The Tiger Who Would Be King would pair very nicely with Dr. Seuss's Yertle the Turtle, another story about the desire for absolute power.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was borrowed from a friend

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15. Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War Ii Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson

On April 9, 1940, the Nazis invaded Denmark.  Caught off guard, the Danish military was no match for the invading Germans, and the government easily surrendered.  At first, daily life continued almost normally, except for the constant presence of armed soldiers and gestapo everywhere.  But soon, things changed and for the next five years, the peaceful Danish people lived under the yoke of military domination, the constant threat of starvation, and for Jewish citizens, the very real prospect of deportation and death.  But not all Danes were willing to accept their country's surrender and submit to life under occupation and it wasn't long before ordinary citizens became clandestine resisters to the Nazis.

In her newest book, Courage & Defiance, Deborah Hopkinson once again uses her considerable talent  as a writer and researcher to explore the Danish resistance.  Looking at the Nazi occupation of Denmark in chronological order from the first days to the last, Hopkinson introduces the reader to some remarkable people and events.

There is, for example, Niels Skov, a 20 year old apprentice toolmaker, who found himself so surprised, angry and ashamed that people went about their business after the invasion, that he resolved to fight back.  The invaders may haven been mostly apprehensive young men like himself, but they were destroying everything Niels loved about Denmark.  And so, much like the boys in the Churchill Club, Niels began his resistance activities by roaming the streets of Copenhagen seeking out Nazi vehicles he could sabotage- blowing them up and setting them on fire.

Another story Hopkinson explores in detail is that of Jørgen Kieler, a 20 year old medical student who was also outraged by the invasion and ashamed and saddened by Denmark's easy capitulation to the Nazis.  Knowing he needed to do something to resist them, it wasn't until 1943 that Jørgen, his siblings and friends decided to write an illegal anti-Nazi underground newsheet, Frit Danmark, aimed a fellow students.  But soon, writing wasn't enough, and Jørgen became a saboteur as part of the Holger Danske 2 resistance group.

And Jørgen wasn't the only Kieler to act against the Nazis.  Hopkinson introduces readers to his sister Elsebet, who wanted to protest the occupation of her country, but was a pacifist.  When the rumors spread that there was going to be a roundup of Danish Jews, Elsebet, along with the Kieler's friend Klaus Rønholt, traveled around the countryside asking for donations from farms and landowners to help fund a rescue of as many Jews as possible.

And then there is Tommy Sneum, a flight lieutenant in Denmark's air force.  After Denmark's defeat, Tommy left the military and became a one man resistance plan.  Realizing the German's had some kind of early warning system in place around Denmark to warm if any enemy planes are approaching,   Tommy made it his business to find out where these systems were and get the information to Great Britain ASAP.

These are just some of the brave Danes that Hopkinson writes about in this compelling new work.  The book is so well-written and organized, not to mention thought provoking, that it reads as though it were a spy novel, except the people are real and the events really did happen.

Good nonfiction about people, places and events is always so welcomed when it is done well.  And I have been very fortunate to have read some truly remarkable nonfiction for this blog.  Deborah Hopkinson's (Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story) new book becomes a most welcomed addition to those already available.

Books about the resistance activities always begs the question can one person make a difference especially against such a large, powerful, well armed often unscrupulous force that made up the Nazi regime?   I suspect that the resisters you will meet in Courage & Defiance as well as the 7, 220 Jews who were able to escape Denmark with their help just before the Nazis would have rounded them up for deportation would have to say that yes, one person can and did make a difference.

Be sure to visit the other participants on the Courage & Defiance Blog Tour

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was provided by the publisher through Edelweis Above The Treeline

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16. Alive and Kicking (World War Ii Book 3) by Chris Lynch

In Dead in the Water, the second book in Chris Lynch's WWII series, brothers Hank and Theo McCallum went off to enlist, Hank in the Navy and Theo in the Army Air Corps, but that novel focused on older brother Hank's experience in the Pacific, eventually finding himself on the USS Yorktown at Midway Island.  So I figured the next book would be about Theo's experience flying bombers.

And it is and it basically picks up where Dead in the Water leaves off.  The McCallum family has received notice the Hank has been declared MIA ever since the sinking of the Yorktown at Midway (I'm sorry if this is a spoiler for you), and Theo is on his way home on compassionate leave.  Though the family is sure that Hank is dead, Theo can't believe that and has convinced himself that because he is MIA, it's just a question of time before he is found alive somewhere.  It makes for a very awkward visit home, and Theo can't wait to get away.

Shortly after returning to his base in Oklahoma, Theo and his unit are sent to an RAF base in Shipham, Norfolk, England.  This will be their base of operations for flying raids over Eurpope.  Theo is a nose gunner on a B-24 Liberator, the youngest member of the crew and because of his interest in baseball and having played some minor league ball in Maryland, they name their plane, rather tongue in cheekish, the Batboy.

Even while holding out hope that his brother will be found alive, Theo and the crew of Batboy fly dangerous daytime bombing raids over occupied France, bombing Hitler's steelworks, engineering factories, and railroad manufacturing.  Theo also keeps Hank alive when he begins to keep a journal of what he experiences are, hoping that his brother is doing the same thing, with the intention that at wars end, they can read each other's journal.

Theo sees a lot of action, winning awards, citations and medals for his part in fighting the Nazis and has proven himself to the quite the soldier.  The book ends with a journal entry to Hank on June 6, 1944.

Alive and Kicking started off a little slowly for me.  It did pick up after Theo returned to his base, but no by much.  I thought that his strong attachment to his older brother acted as a distancing factor, so I never felt that Theo connected with the other men who were part of the Batboy's personnel for all his called them his brothers.

I also found that I couldn't situate myself timewise as I read the story.  I had no real sense of time passing, yet the novel covers almost two years -  the Yorktown was sunk June 7, 1942 and Theo's last entry in his journal is June 6, 1944, which happens to be D-Day.

So, I have to be honest and say that out of all the Chris Lynch books I've read so far, this is probably my least favorite.  I found it to be a bit short on plot and dialogue, and way too long on Theo's repetitive monotone inner dialogue.  A book like this needs to be action oriented and, while there was action, it was all filtered through Theo's thoughts.

There was a lot of good information about gunners and the B-24 Liberator (and I have to confess, since I'm not a military buff, that one bomber is basically the same as another to me), which I actually found interesting.  So much so, I actually looked up information on B-24 Liberators and found this:

A B-24 Liberator
A Cross Section of a B-24 Liberator from
Popular Mechanics, November 1943
There is one more book left in Lynch's World War II series, The Liberators, which I am still looking forward to reading, despite not caring much for Alive and Kicking.  

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press

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17. Pennies in a Jar by Dori Chaconas, illustrated by Ted Lewin

When a father is sent overseas to fight during WWII, he tells his young son to be brave.  This idea of war is scary for the boy, but so are some of the daily things in his life, like the air raid sirens, and thinking about bombs and guns.  The young boy is  especially afraid of the trade horses who come down his street.

First, there is the ragman's large horse Josephina.  When the ragman comes around to collect rags, paper and even metal for the war effort, the boy shies away from the horse.  Seeing that, the ragman asks if he would like to feed the horse a carrot and make friends with it, but the boy is too scared to do it.

He feels the same way about the milkman's horse Nell when they come down the street pulling the milk cart.  He has the same reaction to the garbage man's horse when they come to collect the trash.  But all the while, the young boy remembers the story his father told him about the time he had been bitten on the shoulder by one of the horses on his father's farm as a boy.  He, too, developed a fear of horses, but his father needed his help on the farm.  The boy's father told him that sometimes, if it's important enough, you just have to do things even if you are scared.

Meanwhile, the young boy is trying to think of a wonderful birthday present he could get his dad with his jar of saved pennies.  One day, the pony man shows up and asks the boy if he would like his picture taken on the pony.  But the boy, who has been remembering all the horse stories his dad had told him, declines the offer.

Suddenly, remembering his father's words about being brave, the boy knows just what would be the perfect gift to send his dad - a photo of him bravely sitting on the pony.  A gift for his father is important to the boy, but, can he, like his father, put aside he fear long enough to have the photo taken?

Pennies in a Jar is such an inspirational story for young readers.  All children have fears, some rational, some irrational, but finding the courage to overcome what they are afraid of is an important step, especially when they are separated from a parent fighting in a war and worried about them.  In that respect, even though this story takes place in WWII, and we know longer have trade horses coming down our streets on a regular basis, this is a book that will still resonate with many kids today.  After all, it's not about the horses, it's about being brave.

Ted Lewin's realistically detailed watercolor illustrations add depth and expressiveness to the story by creating the world of a small town during WWII.  They will remind you of the paintings done by Norman Rockwell in the 1940s, who also liked to capture life's small important moments in small town daily life.

There is a Note from the Author at the back of the book describing what life was like during the war -games kids played, how people passed the time, rationing and kids doing what they could for the war effort.  And, of course, being brave during difficult times.

This is an excellent book for starting many different kinds of conversations and would make a wonderful addition to any classroom or home school library.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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18. My Brother's Secret by Dan Smith

It's summer, 1941 and there is nothing 12 year old Karl Friedmann enjoys more than being part of the Deutsches Jungvolk, anticipating the day he'll be old enough to join the Hitler Youth.  But on the day he wins a badge for achievement during some war games, he is also forced to fight another boy, Johann Weber, whose has just received word that his father was killed in the war.  Suddenly, fighting feels more like bullying.

At home, Karl knows his older brother Stefan is the family rebel, always getting into trouble and was even sent away to a boot camp for a week, where the Gestapo had beaten him and shaved his head.  When Karl notices an embroidered flower sewn into Stefan's jacket, he wants to know what it means.  But before that happens, the Friedmann's receive a telegram that their father has been killed flying for the Luftwaffe.  Their mother falls into a terrible depression, not speaking and refusing to get out of bed, so it is decided that the family would go stay with their grandparents in a village near Cologne.

Once there, Karl is kept out of school to prevent him from participating in Jungvolk activities and it doesn't take Stefan long to hook up with some friends who are also rebellious troublemakers.  One day, Karl decides to go out for a ride on his bike, but he has an accident, colliding with the beloved car of Gestapo Commander Gerhard Wolff.  Luckily, Karl is wearing Jungvolk uniform, but Wolff still seems suspicious of the Friedmann family, anyway.  Karl also makes friends with Lisa, a girl who isn't afraid to let her hatred of Hitler and his whole Nazi regime be known.  And when he notices that the embroidered flower has been cut out of Stefan's jacket, he is more curious than ever about his brother's activities and friends, suspecting anti-Nazi undertakings.

Slowly, Nazi brutality forces Karl to rethink his own beliefs and patriotism.  He learns that Lisa's father was taken away one night because of his beliefs and she has no idea where he is or if he is alive.  Instead of feeling proud that his father sacrificed his life for the Fatherland like he is supposed to, Karl feels grief and sadness, and wonders what was it all for.

Karl's suspicions that Stefan is involved with a resistance group are conformed when his brother's finally confesses to him that he is a member of the Edelweiss Pirates, a loosely bound group of anti-Nazi young people who are trying to enlighten the German people to the truth of Hitler and his ideas.  Unfortunately, Commander Wolff also suspects Stefan of resistance activities and periodically shows up to search the house.  One night, he finds one of the anti-Nazi leaflet that had been dropped by RAF planes in Karl's copy of Hitler's book Mein Kampf.  Stefan is placed under arrest and taken away.

Now, Karl and Lisa decide to become their own Edelweiss Pirates and paint anti-Nazi messages around their village, and to find a way to free Stefan from Gestapo headquarters.  And although they are a resistance group of two, Karl is still wracked with guilt since it is because he chose to save the leaflet without telling anyone and feels it is his fault his brother has been arrested by the Gestapo - again.  

Like Dan Smith's last novel, My Friend the Enemy, My Brother's Secret is a thought-provoking story loaded with action, excitement, and nail-biting tension.  Karl's life felt so simple and straightforward before news of his father's death arrived.  But his hesitant feeling about having to fight Johann Weber at the beginning of the novel, clearly indicates that there exists a slight crack in his loyalty to Hitler and everything the Führer stands for.

There aren't too many books about young people in Nazi Germany who were involved in the Hitler Youth groups, so it was interesting to read this coming of age novel and to witness Karl's complete turnabout as he begins to see and experience the Nazis for the cruel people that they could be if you opposed them.  It is also interesting to see how easily the Nazi could sow an atmosphere of fear, mistrust and suspicion to keep people in line.

Dan Smith always includes nice historical information in his novels which give them such a sense of reality.  There weren't many youth resistance groups in Nazi Germany, besides the White Rose (Weiße Rose) in 1942 Munich, and the Edelweiss Pirates (Edelweißpiraten), who, as Smith demonstrates through Stefan, were not pro-Allies even though they were anti-Nazi.  Like Stefan, many young people who were part of the Edelweiss Pirates quit school in order to avoid having to join the Hitler Youth, which was mandatory.

My Brother's Secret is a well-written, well-researched, eye-opening, gripping novel with a lot of appeal.  Karl is a protagonist that goes from unsympathetic to sympathetic as the action unfolds and as he learns valuable lessons about courage, loyalty, friendship and brotherly love.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC sent to me by the publisher, Chicken House Books

(People tend to think of the Swing Kids (Swingjugend) as a resistance group but they were really a counter-culture group without a political agenda, with a common interest in jazz and dancing.)

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19. Top Ten Tuesday #17: Top Ten Books that Celebrate Diversity

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

This week's top ten topic is books that celebrate diversity.  I don't think my choices could be called  books that celebrate diversity, but they certainly put a spotlight on the way World War II impacted diverse people in different way.   I chosen 11 books that had a real impact on me as a reader when I read them.

1- Mare's War by Tanita Davis

This is one of the first books I read when I began this blog and I liked it so much I bought a copy for my niece.  Mare and her granddaughters are taking a trip to a family reunion during summer vacation.  The girls are bored and unhappy, wanting to stay home with their friends instead.  As they drive along, Mare begins to tell them about her time in the Women's Army Corp or WACS in WWII.  Because Davis wove in so many historical facts about Mare's, the 6888th Central Postal Battalion, the readers learns a lot about what like was like for the women in this African American, all-female unit, the only one to serve overseas. (YA)

2- Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

When I reviewed this book, I wrote that I knew almost nothing about the role India played in WWII.  In 1941, Vidya, 15, wants nothing more than to join Gandhi's Freedom Fighters.  Seeing a Freedom Fighters demonstration, Veda rushes to join it, but it results in her father being beaten by a British policeman, leaving him brain damages. Vidya keeps the details of what happened to herself, until her brother announces he is going to join the voluntary British India Army.  How could he fight for and defend the people who destroyed her beloved father's lie.  There is a lot of information in Vidya's story about Indian traditions and religion.  (YA)

3- The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescured Jews during the Holocaust by Karen Gray Ruelle

The Grand Mosque had been given to the Islamic community in Paris in gratitude to the Muslims who fought in WWI.  In 1940, after France was invaded by the Nazis and began rounding up Jews for deportation, the members of the Grand Mosque, many of whom were in the French Resistance already, realized they had the means to help the French Jews and began sneaking them in the mosque until they had what they needed to escape.   (Picture Book for older Readers)

4- When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park

Although Korea had been occupied by the Japanese since 1910, once World War II began, things began to get even harder for the Korean people.  In this story about the Kim family, the reader learns through the alternating narration of Sun-hee, 10, and her older brother, Tai-yul, 13, how much of their culture was sacrificed including their Korean names and forcing them to accept Japanese culture and language.  Outwardly, the family accepts the Japanese demands, but at home the hold tightly to their Korean culture.  As they begin to lose the war, the Japanese take it out on the Korean people, but despite everything, small acts of defiance abound as the Koreans desperately hold on to their real identity. (MG)

5- Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society by Adeline Yen Mah 

This speculative fiction novel about an unwanted daughter, Ye Xian, who is thrown out of her home by her father when she is disrespectful to her stepmother.  Ye Xian is taken in by Grandma Wu, and soon becomes an expert at kung fu and part of the Secret Dragon Society that helps the oppressed.  China has been under Japanese occupation since 1937 and now, in 1942, they have a different kind of mission.  Ye Xian and the other members of the society must try to save 5 downed American fliers before the Japanese find them.  This part of the story is actually based in reality, as is the cruel way the Chinese people were treated by the Japanese occupiers.  Though fantasy, there's lots of Chinese culture and tradition to be learned about.  (MG)

6- No Surrender Soldier by Christine Kohler

The main character in this novel is a 15 year old Charmorro boy, Kiko, living in Guam in 1972 and an elderly Japanese soldier, Seto, who has been living in hiding since WWII and doesn't know the war is over.  This is an odd coming of age story for both Kiki and Seto, who was only a young man when he went into hiding from the Americans on Guam.  There is quite a bit of information about Charmorro customs and traditions, and is it very interesting to see how Seto lived in his underground cave, concealing his presence for so many years. (YA)

7- Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Until the vaccine was discovered, there were outbreaks of polio all the time.  During WWII, even the President suffered with it.  In September1944, with her father in Europe fighting, Ann Fay Honeycutt, 13, is also diagnosed with polio. The novel follows her treatment and her friendship with an African American girl she meets in the hospital.  Catawba County, NC was particularly hard hit by polio and Ann Fay's story nicely documents what was done about it.  Since there are so few cases of polio these days, it is interesting to read about how clothes and favorite toys were burned, swimming wasn't allowed, and how a makeshift hospital was constructed to handle all the cases there.  (MG)

8- Code Talkers: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War II by Joseph Bruchac

This is a historical fiction novel that tells about how the Navajo language and the Navajos who spoke it were used to send unbreakable coded messages during WWII and helped with the war.  But more than that, it is the story of what life was life for Native Americans within their family and when they were sent to an "Indian School" to be educated and where practicing their native culture and traditions could result in severe punishments.  This is the kind of novel that can make your blood boil when you read about how Native Americans were treated.   And even though they became real American heroes, it wasn't until 2000 that what they contributed to the war was acknowledged. (MG?YA)

9- Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Salisbury

This is one of the most disturbing books I've read.  Eddy Okubo, a Japanese American living in Hawaii, is only 16, but lies about his age and joins the army,  Seven weeks later, Pearl Harbor is attacked and from then on Eddy and the other Japanese American soldiers are treated like grunts.  When a Swiss emigre convinces President Roosevelt that he can train dogs to sniff out the Japanese, Eddy and 24 other soldiers of Japanese descent, are sent to Cat Island, MS where they serve as "hate bait" in the dogs training sessions.  This is, sadly, based in reality.  This is an interesting look at the kind of xenophobia that resulted after Pearl Harbor. (YA)

9a- Dash by Kirby Larson

When it was decided that Japanese Americans were to be put into internment camps for the duration of the war, they all lost everything they had worked for - homes, businesses, cars, cherished mementos from family in Japan.  For Mitsi, 11, it meant losing her best friends and her dog.  Later, at the internment camp, families are forced to live in dusty, smelly horse stalls, and later to dusty barracks in the middle of nowhere.   It's hard to believe now that this country could treat its citizens and its legal immigrants in such an appalling manner (well, actually, and I'm ashamed to say this, but maybe it isn't, after all). (MG)

10- T4 by Anne Clare LaZotte

This novel-in-free-verse is about a deaf girl, Paula Becker, who is 13 and living in Nazi Germany when the Nazis pass a law that allows them the euthanize disabled people, including children, to help create a master race that is free of any disability and also eliminate the cost of caring for them.  T4 is the name give to the program.  In desperation, Paula is taken to a safe haven where she learns sign language, but when the Nazis come to search the house, Paula must be taken to another safe haven.  T4 killings stopped in 1941 but Paula's life and other's with disabilities weren't safe until the end of the war. (MG)

It was interesting to go back and see what books I've read that I applied the keyword Diversity to.  One thing I noticed is that I have no reviews of LGTBQ books.  Any recommendations, besides Postcards from No Man's Land by Aidan Chambers?  I would appreciate any suggestions.

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20. Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

Back in 1902, E. Nesbit wrote a book called Five Children and It about five brothers and sisters: Cyril, 10 and called Squirrel; Anthea, 8 and called Panther; Robert or Bobs, 6;  Jane, 4;  Hilary, the baby called the Lamb because his first word was Baa.

The family had just moved from London to the countryside in Kent and it is there that the children discover a Psammead (Sammy-ad) or sand fairy living in their gravel pit. The Psammead is a rather disagreeable, grumpy creature, centuries old, but who has the power to grant wishes.  The problem is that each wish only lasts until sunset.  The children wish for all kinds of adventures but when one goes terribly wrong, the Psammead agrees to fix it only if the children promise never to ask for another wish but the children decide instead they never want to see their sand fairy again.

Nesbit wrote two sequels to Five Children and It, one in 1904 called The Phoenix and the Carpet and one in 1906 called The Story of the Amulet.  Though they featured the brothers and sisters, it is only in the 1906 novel that the Psammead is again featured.

Fast forward to 2014.  Once again we meet the five children and their Psammead in Kate Saunder's novel Five Children on the Western Front, her novel inspired by Five Children and It.  The story opens with a Prologue in 1905.  The children are staying in London with Old Nurse while their parents are away with the Lamb.  The children have found the Psammead in a pet store and now he lives in Old Nurse's attic.  One afternoon, when the children are granted one more wish, they find themselves in the study of their old friend, the Professor named Jimmy in the year 1930.  While the children are happy to see him, he is in the position of knowing their future and his tears makes for a very poignant beginning.

The main part of the novel begins in October 1914.  Cyril (now 22), Anthea (is 20), and Bobs (18 years old) are now young adults, Jane is 16 and in high school, the Lamb is 11 and there is a new addition to the family, 9 year old Edith or Edie, as she is called.  To everyone's surprise, once again, the Psammead is found sleeping in the gravel pit of the house in Kent.  The Lamb and Edie have always been envious of all the adventures their older siblings had with the Psammead and are very excited to see him back.  That is, until they learn that he can no longer grant wishes.  It seems the Psammead is stuck in this world until he makes amends for his rather cruel wrongdoings centuries ago when he was the ruler of his kingdom, and the only wishes that are granted are some of his own and always have to do with his past behavior.

At the center of the novel, however, is the Great War and how it impacts everyone's life, even the Psammead.  With England at war with Germany, Cyril can't wait to enlist and do his part for England.  Bobs is still at Cambridge, postponinging his enlistment until he is finished; Anthea is in art college in London, and doing volunteer war work, where she meets and falls in love with a wounded soldier who just happens to be helping the Professor with his research which just happens to be related to the Psammead.  Anthea is forced to see her young man secretly because  she knows that her mother wouldn't approve of him since he is out of their class.  And poor Jane desperately wants to go to medical school, which her mother refuses to allow, afraid she won't ever get married if she does go.

Very often, when one author attempts to write a novel based on another author's characters, it just doesn't work.  No so with Five Children on the Western Front.  I thought Kate Saunders did an exceptional job capturing the personalities of each of the children and the curmudgeony Psammead originally created by Nesbit.  It is easy to believe that these are the people the children would have grown up to be.

Saudners has also done a good job depicting the impact of the war on both the home front and the Western Front.  Food shortages, lawns turned into potato fields, young girls driving ambulances in London and in France, life and deatth in the trenches are all there.  Saunders has also shown how the Great War was a dividing line between the traditions of the Edwardian era (represented by the children's mother) and modernity(represent by the children), especially in the ideas about class structure and the position of women in society.

There are lots of humorous bits mixed in with the more sober moments, and the scenes of war are not a so graphic that they will scare young readers.  The new addition of Edie is charming, especially her unconditional love for the Psammead, with whom she spends a lot of time just chatting and oddly, for such a grump, he seems to enjoy her company as well.

I have to confess that it has been a long time since I read Five Children and It and probably won't re-read it now that I've read this novel.  However if you want to read it, you can download it for free at Project Gutenberg.  Five Children on the Western Front was published in England and I had to buy a copy through the Book Depository (free shipping), but it can be bought at Amazon.  Hopefully, it will make its way across the pond soon, for everyone's enjoyment.

Five Children on the Western Front is highly recommended for anyone who like a well-done combination of speculative fiction and  historical fiction, and a novel with heart - bring tissues.

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

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21. The time has come...

Yes, the time has come and I have decided to redo The Children's War, it will, therefore, be on hiatus while that is being done.  I've been thinking about this for a long time and finally decided summer would be the perfect time to do it.

When it returns, it will have a new look and a new name, but I will continue to look at books for kids about World War II just as I have done for the last 5 years.

Meanwhile, I will continuing reviewing kids books over at Randomly Reading and hope to see you there.

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22. I'm back with a new look and a new name.

After five years, I decided that The Children’s War needed a bit of a makeover.  I talked to a few friends whose opinions I respect and told them my plans, and later showed them the new design.  

Two suggested that I think about changing the name.  When I first started The Children’s War the named felt logical to me, since I was focusing on children’s literature about World War Ii and so often I had read about how it was often referring to as the children’s or the people’s war because, for the first time, the front lines were the home front and it had a much more dramatic impact on the lives of children than any other war in history.  But it was also a war in which 1.5 million Jewish children lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis.  Calling my blog The Children’s War may have felt logical, but perhaps it was also a little too academic.  But when someone recently said to me "So you write a blog about kids fighting with each other?" I knew the time for change had come.

And since I was doing a makeover anyway, I decided to change the name as well.   Most of the books I read here come from my own bookshelves, and I’ve decided to rename The Children’s War and call it Alex’s Bookshelves.  My focus will remain the same, reviewing books for young readers about World War Ii.

I will be keeping the email address thechildrenswar@gmail.com active for a while longer, but from 
now on, I will also be using alexsbookshelves@gmail.com 

Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads will also reflect the new name change.  

These changes will be effective immediately, although there are a few kinks to still work out.

Hopefully, this is not a kiss of death decision!

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23. Jars of Hope: How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children During the Holocaust by Jennifer Roy, illustrated by Meg Owenson

In her book, Jars of Hope, Jennifer Roy takes the reader back to the childhood of Irena Sendler to understand why she would be willing to risk her own life years later to help the Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto after the Nazis so many people into such a small, unsanitary living space.

As a child, in her hometown of Otwock, Poland, Irena saw how the Jewish people were avoided, but her father taught her that nothing else matters about people except whether they are good or bad.

Irena grew up to become a social worker/nurse and as she watched events unfold in Warsaw after the Nazis took over, she was compelled to do something - but what could one person do, she asked herself.

The answer was to try and bring food and medicine to the people in the ghetto, but more importantly, Irena began to sneak the children out and to find safe homes for them until the Holocaust ended and they could be reunited with their families.  Irena began to organize friends and other trustworthy people in the Polish underground who could help her carry out her frequent trips to get babies and children.  Babies were taken out in carpenter's boxes, trash or coffins after being given a few drops of medicine to make them sleep.  Older children were smuggled out different ways, sometimes through sewer tunnels and other times right under the noses of the Nazi guards.

Teaching the children what they needed to know in order to pass as Catholics, Irena would write down each child's original name, new name and where each was sent.  Then she would put the names into jars and bury the jars under a tree.  Irena and her helpers would continue to make sure each rescued child was cared for, and the families or convents were given food and money in return for the risk they were taking.

In 1943, Irena was arrested, taken to prison and tortured, but never revealed the names of rescued children, where they were hidden or who had helped her.  A few months later, her freedom was bought with a large bribe and Irena continued her work with Zegota, the secret organization formed to help Jews in Poland.

It can't be easy to write a book about the Holocaust for young readers, especially for some who are just beginning to learn about it.  But Jennifer Roy has taken a real hero and used her to remind us that even in the darkest of times there are people who understand what the right thing to do is, who care and are willing to  help others.  Yet, Roy doesn't sugar-coat her story - when Irena tells parents the only guarantee she can give them about their children is that if they remain in the Warsaw Ghetto, they will die, or when people are forced to get into cattle cars, trains that are taking them to concentration camps and their death, young readers will easily grasp the magnitude and gravity of the Holocaust.

While Roy's words tell about those dark times, Meg Owenson's realistic dark, foreboding mixed media illustrations support and extend the text, expressing the wide variety of emotions that must have been felt by everyone at that time.  Be sure to read the Afterword and Author's Note at the back of the book. In addition, there is a glossary, an Index and Source Notes for further exploration.

Jars of Hope is an inspiring picture book for older readers about one very brave woman and reminds us all that one person can make a big difference in the world.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was a ARC received from the publisher, Capstone Press at BEA2015

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24. Times Square on V-J Day: Then and Now

Times Square, New York City August 14, 1945:

and somewhere in the crowd:

Times Square, New York City August 14, 2015 - 70 years after the end of World War II

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25. The Safest Lie by Angela Cerrito

On the day that Jolanta brings a little food, some used clothing and a few vaccinations against typhoid fever to 9 year old Anna Bauman's youth circle in the Warsaw Ghetto, she decides to go home with Anna.  Quietly talking to her parents, Anna knows something is up.

After Jolanta drops off a paper for Anna's mother one morning, she begins to stay home as her mother makes her memorize a new name and other information.  Soon, she is no longer Jewish Anna Bauman, rather she is Catholic Anna Karwolska.  A few days later, Anna and her parents go to a home in the ghetto, where Anna is washed clean of ghetto dirt, and soon the leader of her youth circle, Mrs. Rechtman, shows up to take her away.

Wearing a new school uniform, Anna and Mrs. Rechtman go to the administration building, a building that straddles the ghetto and the streets beyond it.  Swiftly, Anna is passed to a woman who takes her into an office, where she must hide under the desk and wait for someone to come and get her.  The wait is long, but finally a teenage girl carrying a large box arrives and tells Anna to follow her.  They walk out of the building to the streets beyond the ghetto.  From here, Anna travels with the girl to a farmhouse, where she is surprised to find out that the box she and the girl carried so carefully contains a baby that has also been smuggled out of the Ghetto.

At the farmhouse, Anna is taught the traditions, the prayers and the catechism every Catholic child would know, including when to stand or kneel in church.  She is drilled over and over, until she responds automatically to being Ann Karwolska.  Afraid she is going to forget who she is and who her family are, Anna only allows herself to be Anna Bauman at night when she is alone in bed.

Eventually, Anna is sent to a Catholic orphanage away from Warsaw.  Keeping her secret, Anna adjusts to like in the orphanage, even though one girl, named Klara, seems to be out to get her.  Does Klara know her secret?  Hopefully not, because one day, Nazis arrive at the orphanage, pillage it and steal all the food that the nuns used for feeding the children, but not before terrorizing everyone.

Eventually, Anna is fostered out to a family that really welcomes her, and where she feels somewhat safe and comfortable.  Yet, Anna still makes it a point to remember who she is and where she came from when she is alone at night, never telling anyone her secret.  But, as Anna discovers, Stephan, Sophia and their son Jerzy are harboring a secret of their own - a very dangerous secret.

If you have ever wondered what happened to the children that Irena Sendler smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto, this is the book for you.  Based on fact, Angela Cerrito has imagined the life of one young girl who survives the Holocaust thanks to the courageous efforts of Sendler and the network of people who were helping her.  It is clear from the start that the lady Anna knows as Jolanta is one of the code named used by Sendler.

And while The Safest Lie doesn't have a lot a action, it does have a lot of suspense, nail-biting tension and shows the reader just how careful and clandestine people in the resistance needed to be.  Anna's story is fictional, but Cerrito has certainly captured all the tension, fear, constant hunger, and suffering that the Jewish children experienced during the Holocaust.  But she also shows the difficulty and mixed emotions parents must have felt when their children were offered the possibility of safety if they were willing to temporarily give them up.

The Safest Lie is a work of historical fiction but it is based on the hundreds of transcripted interviews with children who survived the Holocaust that Cerrito read and which give the novel its sense of authenticity.  Be sure to read Cerrito's Author's Note at the end of the book about her meeting Irena Sendler

There is an extensive Educator's Guide for The Safest Lie available to download from the publisher, Holiday House

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

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