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Essentially, a journal about books written for children and young adults about World War II.
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1. Waiting on Wednesday #3: The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that highlights
upcoming releases we can't wait to read.

My Waiting on Wednesday pick this week is:

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne
Henry Holt & Co.
June 7, 2016; 272 pages

From Goodreads:

When Pierrot becomes an orphan, he must leave his home in Paris for a new life with his aunt Beatrix, a servant in a wealthy Austrian household. But this is no ordinary time, for it is 1935 and the Second World War is fast approaching; and this is no ordinary house, for this is the Berghof, the home of Adolf Hitler.

Pierrot is quickly taken under Hitler's wing and thrown into an increasingly dangerous new world: a world of terror, secrets, and betrayal from which he may never be able to escape.


I'm always curious to read books by John Boyne.  I've reviewed a few of his novels in the past, but after the controversy of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (which I have not reviewed) I always feel hesitant on the one hand, excited on the other.  

What are you looking forward to reading?

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2. The Seagoing Cowboy by Peggy Reiff Miller, illustrated by Claire Ewart

You know how on television you sometimes see ads for an organization called Heifer International?  If you have ever wondered how it all began, your curiosity will find the answer in this charming picture book about one of the first "seagoing cowboys" at the end of World War II.  These are the cowboys who delivered livestock to countries in desperate need to being rebuilding after the war's devastation.

By 1945, Poland had been ravaged.  Its cities and farmland had been bombed badly, the people who had survived were starving and help is desperately needed.  In the United States, a young man who is looking for adventure decides to sign up to become a "seagoing cowboy" along with his friend John.

Their adventure begins with a train ride to the city, where they will board their ship, the Woodstock Victory.  They arrive just as the horses and heifers are being loaded onto the ship.  John is one of the young men assigned to caring  for the horses on their week-long journey to Poland, while our un-named narrator cares for the heifers they were bringing over, heifers that will provide milk, cheese and butter to the hungry Polish people.

Sailing to Poland isn't an easy journey what with seasickness and a bad storm, but at last they arrive at their destination.  The cowboys and their livestock are welcomed with smiles and open arms, especially by the children who want the gum and chocolate the Americans carry (and who can blame them for wanting to things after years of having nothing).  And the cowboys are happy to give, but what really leaves a strong impression and saddens them most is the devastation they witness everywhere they go.

I have to be honest and say that although I have heard of Heifer International, I had never heard of seagoing cowboys, and of sending livestock to Poland and other European countries hard hit by war, so this picture book was a real eye-opener for me.

And I found The Seagoing Cowboy to be a fascinating, reader friendly account of such a little-known part of WWII history.  Although it is a work of fiction, it is made compelling because it is based on some photos that were given to Peggy Reiff Miller by her father.  The photos belonged to her grandfather who had been a seagoing cowboy and they sparked her curiosity about what it was like for the men who volunteered to do this work.  After lots of research and talking to some former seagoing cowboys, Peggy took their stories and wrote about the trip of a composite un-named young man and his adventures in The Seagoing Cowboy.

Claire Ewart's full-color watercolor illustrations are bright, light and airy, reflecting the optimism of the seagoing mission while also capturing the full range of emotions felt by humans and animals alike on this voyage.  I love the little smile on Queenie, the horse that John's father had donated to the program without telling his son and John and Queenie see each other on the ship for the first time.

The Seagoing Cowboy is a wonderful, uplifting story about the men who delivered more than just livestock to those in need, they delivered hope for the future, too. You can discover more about this program in Peggy's Author's Note, along with some photographs she has chosen to share.

Be sure to download the extensive Curriculum Guide proved by the author.

You can also discover much more information and history about the seagoing cowboys on Peggy Reiff Miller's website HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Brethren Press

Please, enjoy the book trailer:

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3. Trapped Behind Nazi Lines: The Story of the U.S. Army Air Force Medical Evacuation Squadron by Eric Braun

Here is a little known harrowing story of courage and survival that could rival any novel written about WWII.

On November 8, 1943, a group of 13 Army medics, 13 Army nurses and a flight crew of 4, most in their late teens and early twenties, set off from Sicily on a plane bound for Bari, Italy to pick up some wounded British soldiers.  Almost immediately, the plane ran into trouble as they flew into a cold, harsh winter storm.  As the plane bucked and dove over the sea below, one of the nurses realized there were only 10 life vests for 30 people.  Then the radio went out and communication was no longer possible with anyone anywhere on the ground.  The plane flew in circles and began to run out of fuel.  As they attempted a landing in a valley, the plane was greeted with antiaircraft artillery.  When they finally crash landed, it was cold and rainy, no one was dressed for the weather or even  knew where they were, and on top of that, men with rifles were running towards them shouting in a language they did not understand.

One of the men spoke a little English and told the Americans they were in Albania.  Luckily for them, the Albanians were anti-Nazi guerrilla fighters, unluckily for them, the area was surrounded by German soldiers.  Not knowing if they could trust these partisans, the Americans nevertheless decided to follow them through the woods, and after hiking for hours in the pouring rain, arrived at the village of Gjolen.  There, they were feed some dry cornbread and sour white cheese.

Thus began the harrowing 63 day journey to reach their destination at Bari, Italy.  In-between, the meds and nurses had to hike between 600 and 1,000 miles in bitter cold, snowy weather to reach the Albania coast only 60 miles away.  Along the way, they were at the mercy of the partisans, some who were honest and treated them as kindly as possible under the circumstances. some not terribly trustworthy and others just scared villagers who would put them up for a night, but wanted them gone the next day.  Everyone knew that If anyone in Albania was caught helping the Allies, they would be immediately killed by the Nazis and their villages burned down - and there was proof all around them that this threat was real.

Trapped Behind Nazi Lines is an exciting account of this rescue of the flight crew and the 26 medical personnel of the 807th.  I have to be honest and say that given the obstacles these men and woman encountered, drawbacks like starvation, inadequate clothing, worm out shoes, I am in awe that every single one of the survived their ordeal.

Eric Braun used various sources, including books written by one of the medics and one of the nurses, to recreate a vivid, detailed account of what life was like for the two months these soldiers were caught behind enemy lines.  One of the things that surprised me was that for a country occupied by Nazi soldiers, there were some British SOE agents there who were able to help the Americans escape. The other surprise was the age of the medics and nurses.  I kept having to remind myself that these were really collage-age kids and not seasoned soldiers, yet they acted and reacted like more mature adults given the dangerous situations they found themselves in.

Trapped Behind Nazi Lines is a work of nonfiction that is sure to appeal to middle grade reader, and even YA readers who like history, but will also please kids looking for an action-packed story, all the more  exciting because it really happened.

Back matter included lots of photographs of the Americans, a map, a timeline, select bibliography, internet sites and more.

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

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4. Waiting on Wednesday #2: Skating with the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that highlights
upcoming releases we can wait to read.

I haven't participated in Waiting on Wednesday in a long time, but hope to be more regular from now on.  This week, my pre-publication selection is:

Skating with the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer
Publication date: April 12, 2016
Random House

From Goodreads:

In this gripping and poignant companion to Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner Black Radishes (my review), Gustave faces racism and anti-Semitism in New York City during World War II, but ultimately finds friendship and hope.

It is January 1942, and Gustave, a twelve-year-old Jewish boy, has made it to America at last. After escaping with his family from Nazi-occupied France, after traveling through Spain and Portugal and across the Atlantic Ocean, he no longer has to worry about being captured by the Germans. But life is not easy in America, either.

Gustave feels out of place in New York. His clothes are all wrong, he can barely speak English, and he is worried about his best friend, Marcel, who is in grave danger back in France. Then there is September Rose, the most interesting girl in school, who for some reason doesn’t seem to want to be friends with him. Gustave is starting to notice that not everyone in America is treated equally, and his new country isn’t everything he’d expected. But he isn’t giving up.

Skating with the Statue of Liberty, the brilliant companion to Susan Lynn Meyer’s debut novel, Black Radishes, was inspired by her father’s stories about his first months in America. It is a gripping look at one boy’s life that is at once honest and hopeful.
 


I knew there was going to be a companion to Black Radishes, and I am excited to read Skating with the Statue of Liberty to see how Gustave and his family are getting on in America.

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5. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

It's 1940 and it's time for the three Bateson children, Katherine, 12, Robbie and Amelie to be evacuated to Rookskill Castle in Scotland.  Their father had already left for Europe, on a secret mission for MI6,  but not before he makes arrangements for a new school to be set up for them and other evacuees at the castle.

Before they leave, Kat's Great-Aunt Margaret takes her aside and gives her a gift - a silver chatelaine with its three hanging charms, a scissor, a thimble and a pen.  This chatelaine was a precious family heirloom that Great-Aunt Margaret always wore pinned to her belt.  But with the gift came a warming - the chatelaine can keep them safe because it is magical, but there is always a price to pay for the use of magic.  Logical Kat is skeptical about magic, but reluctantly accepts the chatelaine anyway.

Arriving at the castle, the children meet Lady Eleanor., who Kat notices also wears a chatelaine laden with charms and hidden from view.  She tells them that Gregor, Lord Craig, who is distantly related to the Batesons, is quite ill and must be left completely along. The children are forbidden to wander the castle and the castle grounds and are to stay either in the hallway where their rooms are located or in their rooms, which will be locked every night.   Eventually, they also meet the other students - Peter, an American slightly older than Kat, Isabella, Colin and Jorry.

It doesn't take long for Kat to begin to think the castle and the cold, aloof Lady Eleanor are very strange, as are the maid Marie, Cook, Hugo the driver who also helps around the castle, and Mr. Storm, their history instructor.  Storm is way overly interested in historical artifacts, especially chatelaines.  But when Kat begins to notices some strange goings on about the castle, and discovers a wireless in the cellar, she begins to suspect that the castle is harboring a German spy.  And who are the children that seem to mysteriously come and go, and then there's Jorry's sudden disappearance, even after his parents come looking for him.

The novel occasionally flashes back to 1745 and the story of Leonora, a young girl who was married to the lord of Rookskill Castle, for the purpose producing a child.  When she fails to do that, she goes to a person only referred to as the magister, who magically helps her get a child, but, of course, there is always a price to pay for using magic and she must pay the magister, a payment that brings us right back to 1940s Scotland.

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle is a dark and sinister tale about the forces of good and evil, and I have to confess I  really loved reading it.  Their are the typical tropes of creepy fantasy - weird nighttime noises, ghostlike children appearing and disappearing, a creepy, evil woman, secret passages and spells cast to confuse.  To me, it felt very Gaimanesque and I mean that as compliment.

Kat is a wonderful character whose logical mind has a hard time accepting that magic might just be real.  On the other hand, her logical mind also mean that she has a real talent for decoding encrypted messages, something that really comes in handy in this novel.

All the ends relating to this story are tied up by the end of the novel, but there is the hint of a possible sequel because the denouement just isn't a neat and clean as it could be and leaves room for a lot of speculation about Kat's future.

Let me just mention here, for those who may not know this, but Adolf Hitler and the men he surrounded himself with had a serious interest in the occult.

I found this to be an original, spine tingly story, even though at times, I know I figured out things before a young readers might.  Readers who have already zipped through the Harry Potter books and want more will probably also enjoy The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle.  I know I did.   

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher

OK, I really loved this novel and it's great fantasy, so I have no problem with willingly suspending any disbelief to enjoy a good story.  But when I read that Kat's father told her to keep calm and carry on, I did feel I needed to remind readers that that was a slogan that was never used in WWII.  The slogan was designed for a very special purpose, which you can read all about in my post Keep Calm and (fill in the blank)  The fact that Kat's father used the slogan - I chalk up to coincidence.  Keep calm became a kind of mantra for Kat and one she often needed.


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6. Happy Easter


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7. A Tiny Piece of Sky by Shawn K. Stout

It's only June, but the summer of 1939 does not look very promising as far as Frankie Baum, 11, is concerned.  Her sister and best friend Joan, "the just-barely-older of the two," is getting to spend the summer at Aunt Dottie's farm in New Jersey, where Frankie is sure she will be having the best summer ever, while she's stuck at home in Hagerstown, MD with older sister Elizabeth, called Princess by their parents.

And ever worse, Frankie is expected to work in her father's newly purchased restaurant, a long neglected Alpine-style relict of years ago, now with only weeks to get it cleaned up and running again to become his dream of "An Eating Place of Wide Renown."  Opening day is planned for July 5th.  Sure enough, at the restaurant, Frankie is sent to the kitchen to work, a dirty, messy job, while Princess gets to work the cash register.

Frankie is vaguely aware of war talk among the townspeople, of anti-German feelings that are beginning to brew, but she has never really considered her family to be German, even though her father's parents immigrated from Germany.  But when Hermann Baum is approached by the cigar smoking president of the Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Sullen Waterford Price, and refuses to let himself be bullied into becoming at paid member of the chamber, he makes a formidable enemy, one all too aware of his German roots.

Price is also running for mayor of Hagerstown, so when Hermann also refuses to put his election poster in his front window, Price begins looking for just the dirty information he needs to start spreading rumors that Hermann Baum is quite possibly a spy and Nazi sympathizer.

To make matters even more complicated, Hermann decides to throw his own  pre-opening day Fourth of July party for friends, family and even his African American staff and their families.  Hermann has always treated his kitchen staff fairly, despite living in a state where Jim Crow is in effect.  That, coupled with the German flyer that has mysteriously fallen into the hands of Mr. Price, are all that is needed for a boycott of Hermann's party.

Frankie has overheard quite a bit while working in the kitchen, and decides to do some investigating of her own about what is going on.  But she also finds herself doubting her father's innocence.  When no one shows up at her father's party, she goes to the town's celebration to try and find out what is going on.  When Hermann shows up looking for her, he collapses.  And the Baum family's life is changed forever.

A Tiny Piece of Sky is a wonderful coming of age story.  Frankie's character develops slowly over the course of the novel as she encounters different people and situations.  The story is told in the third person by an omniscient narrator in a rather conversational style, and who seems to be right in the thick of things, more aware of what is going on in the world than Frankie is.  To get some of Frankie and even Joan's mindset, there are also first person letters they write to each other, which tend to create more mystery about Hermann Baum's heritage than information.

The story takes place over June, July and August 1939.  There aren't many pre-World War II home front stories for young readers, making this all that much more interesting.  Stout looks at both racism and xenophobia through the lens of Frankie's summer.  Frankie hasn't really paid attention to the racism and discrimination towards the African American community in Hagerstown, until she starts working in the restaurant.  But the character of Mr. Stannum, the restaurant's new manager, opens her eyes when she witnesses the way he treats the black kitchen staff with such cruelty and contempt, even refusing to allow them to use the bathroom he uses.  

You  also don't find many books for young readers that are about the kind of treatment that German Americans experienced in the 1930s and 1940s as the possibility of war with Germany became more of a possibility.  Most people don't realize they were also discriminated against. though to a far lesser extent than Japanese Americans.  What makes this an interesting theme here is that Stout shows how easily people can change their attitudes towards of friends and even fathers when doubt begins to take hold.  For that reason,  A Tiny Piece of Sky is not just good historical fiction, but also resonates so loudly in today's world. 

The other part of what makes A Tiny Piece of Sky such an interesting, realistic novel is that much of the material comes from Shawn Stout's own family and the restaurant they owned in Hagerstown, which she writes about in her Author's Note at the end of the novel.  Be sure to read it when you read this excellent novel.

Teachers can find an extensive Teaching Guide for A Tiny Piece of Sky HERE

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

Used with permission: the original menu from Shawn Stout's grandparent's restaurant.
Click to enlarge and check out the prices listed.


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8. The Tortoise and the Soldier : A Story of Courage and Friendship in World War I written and illustrated by Michael Foreman

It's the early 1950s and office boy Trevor Roberts just wants to be a full-fledged reporter for his hometown paper, the Lowestoft Journal, but so far, he only get reporting jobs once in a blue moon, and usually not very interesting.  One March morning, Trevor is sent out to see if Mr. Friston's tortoise has woken up from his winter hibernation.  Little did Trevor know that that would be the beginning of a long friendship and a wonderful article for the newspaper.

Slowly, over a series of weekends, Trevor peddles out to the two converted railroad cars that Henry Frisson's lives in and hears the story of how he acquired his tortoise, whom he named Ali Pasha, during World War I.  Told in a series of flashbacks and using his saved wartime memorabilia, including his diary, Henry recalls wanting to see the world as a boy, and joining the Royal Navy hoping to realize his dreams.  But shortly after, WWI breaks out and Henry's ship, HMS Implacable, heads straight for Gallipoli.  There, Henry finds himself on shore and in the trenches, charged with the duty of removing wounded and dead soldiers from the battlefield, ironically in the company of the Turkish soldiers they were fighting with.

It is in the midst of fighting one day that Henry is knocked down into a shallow crater by a shell blast, followed by a hard object hitting his head.  It turned out to be a tortoise whom Henry befriends while waiting for the fighting to end.  Henry decides to rescue the tortoise and sneaks it on to the HMS Implacable, hiding it in his battleship station, the Number Two Gun turret.  Because Henry found his tortoise on the Gallipoli Peninsula, which was part of the Ottoman Empire then, he decides to name it Ali Pasha, after one of its rulers.

From Gallipoli, the HMS Implacable heads to the Suez Canal, and eventually back to England.  And Ali Pasha go home with Henry, where the two lived out their days together.

I always know that when I pick up a Micheal Foreman book, I am going to like the story and the artwork equally and The Tortoise and the Soldier is no exception.  Here is a wonderful, lifelong story that begins on the battlefield of one of the worst campaigns in WWI and continues of over 70 years.

And though the center of the story is about Henry and Ali Pasha, there is a lot of story relating to Henry's family, his school days, his brothers fighting in Europe, and mostly centrally, his relationship with the other sailors assigned to Number Two Gun turret.  Foreman subtly shows the reader how important it is to be able to not just get along with those who live in such close proximity to one, but also how much better it is if you really like each other and work together.  As Henry tells Trevor, his shipmates would bring Ali Pasha treats from their own meals in the hope that he would bring them luck.

Perhaps the best message a young reader can take away from this story, is that the enemy, in this case the soldiers from Turkey, are really at bottom no different from Henry and his mates, a important discovery he makes during a short cease fire to collect the dead.

This is a very pleasant story, one told for the most part with a light touch, but make no mistake about it, Foreman doesn't sugar-coat what happens in war, on the sea and in the battle field.  Recognizing oneself in the enemy, and realizing how deadly war is are both good reasons for kids to read this book.  But so is the enduring friendship between man and tortoise.

The Tortoise and the Soldier is historical fiction based on the lives of the real Henry Friston and Ali Pasha.  Foreman includes information, photos and other artifacts about both man and tortoise, as well as his own personal story knowing Henry during WWII.   But it is Foreman's own watercolor illustrations that really enhance and give depth to the tale he is telling:
Henry meets Ali Pasha
This is a wonderful story that is sure to appeal to many middle grade readers.

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

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9. Franklin D. Roosevelt's Presidency by Linda Crotta Brennan

Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President in 1932 and served until his untimely death in 1945.   When he came into office, the country was in the throes of the worst depression the world had suffered to date; at his death the country was just coming to the end of World War II.  So much happened during Roosevelt's presidency and Linda Crotta Brennan has chronicled it all in this slim, but informative book.  

Brennan begins with some background information including a brief account of Roosevelt's childhood and education, his famous family (President Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin's future wife Eleanor were distance relatives) and his early rise into the political scene.  But in 1921, Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio and though most people thought that his career in politics was over, Roosevelt was determined to continue on his planned course in politics.

In 1929, the stock market crash sent the country into a depression, with people hungry and out of work everywhere.  President Hubert Hoover did little to help the country get on it feet again, and in 1932, Roosevelt was elected president, taking over the reigns from Hoover.

Elected to four terms in office, Brennan explains how Roosevelt led the country out of the depression with a variety of social programs for putting people back to work.  Not all of these programs were welcomed by Congress and he was forced to issue Executive Orders a total of 3,522 times.  Before the depression was completely over, however, the world was at war, and Roosevelt once again had to come up with some clever ways to help Britain, while keeping the United States out of the conflict.

But on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the US entered the war.  Roosevelt's time in office was often met with dissension in Congress and with the people, but his presidency was really marred by Executive Order 3066, forcing Japanese American to be removed to internment camps.

The book ends with Roosevelt's sudden death and the swearing in of Harry Truman as the next president and his first few months in office.  

Franklin D. Roosevelt's Presidency is chock full of information about our 32nd President, some of it already known, some of it a behind the scenes look at his life.  There are abundant archival photographs and insets that offer additional information, including on one polio, a disease many kids may not even know about anymore.  It is a very well researched work, ideal for upper level middle graders and high school kids studying American History.  The language and explanations are straightforward and easy to understand, including some complex concepts.

The back matter includes a timeline, source notes, a Glossary, and Selected Bibliography along with Further Information.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

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10. Lizzie and the Lost Baby by Cheryl Blackford

When 10 year-old Lizzie and her 7 year-old brother Peter are put on a train to be evacuated to Yorkshire at the beginning of World War II, neither are very happy about leaving the mum and Nana behind in Hull.  Both would rather risk the German's bombs than leave home.  In York, the children are chosen by Madge and Fred and then are placed in the home of Madge's very depressed sister Elsie, who has lost both her husband and her young baby Alice within a year of each other.

Young Elijah, part of a clan of Travelers, also called Gypsies, has a secret known only to the very mean-spirited Bill.  The Travelers are not very welcomes wherever they go, and the Yorkshire moors are no different.  As they prepare to leave and go the the big fair, Elijah's mother asks him to take baby Rose with him when he goes to check their snares to see if they caught anything.  But half way there, Elijah is confronted by Bill, who demands he leave Rose in order to go catch rabbits with him, or he will tell Elijah's secret.

Out walking, Lizzie and Peter hear Rose crying and not seeing anyone around, take the baby home with them.  Elsie, seeing the baby, believes that it is her Alice returned and immediately comes out of her depression and transforms into a relatively pleasant person.  But word is out that the Travelers are looking for a lost baby.  Elijah's mother, beside herself with worry and grief, wanders around looking for her when she comes upon Elsie pushing a baby carriage.  Elijah immediately realizes that Lissie knows something about the missing Rose, but can he get a gorgio or one of the settled or non-traveling people to help him get the baby back to her rightful mother, given how much the local people dislike the Gypsies?

First of all, this is not really a book about WWII.  The war is the way Lizzie and Peter end up in a place where she is faced with a mortal dilemma among strangers whose behavior is questionable. Lizzie has a much clearer, more defined sense of right and wrong than the adults around her, who have let prejudice blur the lines between the two. Had she been in a place where she knew with the people around her, it most likely would have been a very different story because of their possible influence over her, but distance and unfamiliarity put her on neutral, more objective footing as far as the locals and the Gypsies are concerned and make this a workable story.

Lizzie and the Lost Baby is a quiet story, without a lot of action, but it certainly asks questions about how people act in stressful times.  The dislike and mistrust the locals and Travelers have for each other is an interesting issue given the war that is being fought at the time.  Prejudice is evident on both sides, and you have to wonder it could ever be resolved, though the novel does end on a hopeful note regarding that.

This story reminded me of so many of the girls' novels I read that were written in the early 1940s in England, and in which the tension between locals and Gypsies were part of the main story.
Interestingly enough, the Gypsies (they were never called Travelers) were depicted in a much more sympathetic light than the locals, just as they are here.  Life and learn: because the name Travelers is used in Lizzie and the Lost Baby, I thought that perhaps they are English or Irish, although the use of the words like gorgio and kushti (meaning good, fine) would indicate that they were Romani.  Turns out that the names Gypsy, Traveller and Romani are interchangeable.

All in all, Lizzie and the Lost Baby is a interesting novel for readers who like historical fiction, but don't expect a real home front story.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from a friend.

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11. American Ace by Marilyn Nelson

For Connor Bianchini, 16, much of his life has always revolved around his family and the family's restaurant, Mama Lucia's Home Cooking.  And he has always known exactly who is - half Irish on his mother's side of the family, half Italian on his father's.  But just before Nonna Lucia passed away, she gave Connor's father Tony a ring, some pilot's wings, and a letter explaining the her Italian husband was not his father.  His father was an American pilot named Ace, with whom she had an great love affair.

After his father gives him the gold ring, Connor begins thinking about the man who loved his grandmother so much.  The ring becomes a reminder for Connor to wonder who he is and it doesn't take long for him to start researching it to try to find his real grandfather's identity.  Engraved on the ring are the words The Forcean 1940 and the initials MS, providing a good place to start.

The rest of the Bianchini rally around Tony, providing family support and acceptance of his new half-brother status, but Tony has been thrown quite a loop.  With the help of a librarian at the local college, a book called The Forcean, which he thought might be related to the ring, was borrowed through inter-library loan.  When the book arrives, it turns out to be a college yearbook from Wilberforce University - one of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCU).

Already depressed over losing his mother and the family's matriarch, Tony has a stroke after finding out that his real father was African American.  While he is in the hospital recovering, Connor continues his investigations into his mysterious African American grandfather, and his grandmother great love.

Connor, unlike his half-brother Carlo, immediately embraces his new heritage and decides to write his senior honors paper on the Tuskegee Airmen after discovering that his grandfather had most likely been one, stationed in Italy at one point.

Nonna Lucia left quite a legacy for her family and it is interesting to see how the rest of the family handled it.  How would you have handled news that you are not who you think you are?

I have always loved Marilyn Nelson's stories in verse, but this one just didn't do it for me.  I would have much preferred a novel about the grandfather, and his experiences both before and after his time as a Tuskegee Airman in Italy and his affair with Nonna Lucia, how he might have dealt with issues around race and prejudice.  And while books about biracial families are so needed right now, the Bianchini's just felt too unreal for me, even Connor.

Much of the story revolves around Connor's driving lessons, first with his father and later his mother. Driving is, of course, a nice coming-of-age-entering-adulthood trope.  It is Connor who now becomes the caretaker, caring for his father much of the time after his stroke, helping him heal both physically and emotionally and enabling him to come to terms with his new identity with the information he has learned about Tuskegee Airmen for his honors paper.

The part of the book I really did like was the last sections in which we get to read Connor's paper, complete with photographs of actual Tuskegee Airmen, and the only indication of what Connor and his dad are doing in in the chapter heading and yet, it all worked.

Despite my objections, I still think this is a book that should be read by all.  And do read the Author's Note at the back of the novel, where Nelson explains how she came to write a novel from the perspective of a white teenage boy.  

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

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12. Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban

It's March 1942 and for 10 year-old Manami Tanaka, walking on the beach near her home on Bainbridge Island, Washington with her grandfather and their dog Yujiin before they walk together to school is always a treat.  Except now, there is war and there are warships carrying soldiers passing by.

At school, Manami is told it is her last day, the last day for all the Japanese students.  Instead of school, Manami, her mother, father and grandfather must register in order to be sent away to an unknown place taking only what they can carry.  Grandfather has made arrangement for Yujiin to be picked up by their minister, since not pets are allowed to go with them.  Unable to leave him behind, Manami hides the little dog inside her coat and no one notices until they are far from home.  A soldier puts Yujiin in a crate and he is left behind.

Traumatized by all that she has just experienced, unable to bear the pain of losing Yujiin and the hurt it has caused her grandfather, Yujiin finds herself unable to speak.  Eventually, the Tanaka's arrive at a half built Manzanar internment camp, where they must share one small room with a women and her many children.  Mr. Tanaka joins the building team responsible for constructing new barracks as more and more Japanese family arrive.  Mrs. Tanaka takes a job working in the kitchens.  Both parents are thankful that their older children, Ron and Keiko, are still away at college, but Manami writes and asks them to come to Manzanar.  The letters get lost, but soon Ron arrives.

Eventually, a school opens and Ron takes a teaching job there, which makes Manami very happy.  She begins to believe that Ron got her letter to him because it was caught by the wind which blows all the time.  Still unable to find her voice, and living with unbearable guilt over what happened to their dog, Manami begins to think she sees Yujiin looking for her around the camp.  Realizing he isn't really there, Manami begins to write letters to Yujiin to come to her in the camp and releases them into the wind.

Anyone who has ever lost a pet tragically will understand Manami's heartbreak - but she is dealing not just her own feelings, but also having to see her grandfather's heartbreak as well.   And this heartbreak is compounded by the sudden loss of everything she ever knew, and removal to a hostile, unfriendly crowded place surrounded by barbed wire and guards with guns, and all because of her Japanese heritage.  I can't even imagine how a 10 year old could cope with all that even with a strong, understanding family like the Tanakas.

Lois Sepahban has drawn realistic, believable characters, who even under these terrible circumstances show a level of courage, dignity, and resiliency that is admirable, and who despite the worst circumstances, manage to thrive, like Mrs. Tanaka's garden.  It's a short novel, told entirely on the first person from Manani's point of view, which accounts for the lack of many things that went on around her but she which has no knowledge of.  In fact, Paper Wishes almost feels like a novella, and yet, the writing is so expressive, so emotional, it almost reads like poetry.

Paper Wishes is Sepahban's debut middle grade novel, though she has a number of nonfiction works to her credit.  It is an excellent work of historical fiction, though it is not a history book about Manzanar, but rather about the traumatizing effects displacement, discrimination and loss have on one young girl and her family.  And it is a novel that will certainly resonate with today's readers.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the end of the novel.

You find more information about the Japanese people from Bainbridge Island who were deported to internment camps HERE

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

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13. Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante (a Maggie Hope Mystery #5) by Susan Elia MacNeal

It's Christmastime1941 and the United States has been at war for just a few weeks.  Elated that they will finally have an alley in their fight against the Nazi war machine, Winston Churchill and his entourage, including John Sterling and David Greene, has just arrived in Washington DC after a long, harrowing Atlantic Ocean crossing dodging Nazi submarines and rough seas.

Naturally, because Churchill needs hope, he has also brought along Maggie Hope, one of his Special Operations Executives cum typist.  And it doesn't take long for Maggie to get involved in a murder mystery.

Eleanor Roosevelt's temporary secretary Blanche Balfour hasn't shown up for work, didn't even call in, and now, the President's wife is worried about her.  Churchill volunteers Maggie to help Mrs. Roosevelt because "she's an excellent secretary and helpful in all sorts of...situations."  Which is good, since the two women discover Blanche's body in her bathtub with her wrists slashed when they arrive at her apartment.   Quick thinking Maggie anonymously telephones the police, and noticing a notepad, wisely takes it with her.  Back at the White House, Maggie softly rubs the notepad with a pencil, revealing what looks to be a suicide note from Blanche, except that it isn't her handwriting.

The note claims that Mrs. Roosevelt made unwanted advances at Blanche, trying to kiss her, which, of course, the First Lady denies vehemently.  But the suicide note is only a ruse designed to turn people against the Roosevelts and discredit them., thereby jeopardizing their wartime support.  There are those who are also very unhappy with Mrs. Roosevelt's interfering in the upcoming execution of a young black Virginia sharecropper, Wendel Cotton, for killing a white sharecropper.  The First Lady and Wendel's lawyer, Andrea Martin, believe his trial was a sham, consisting of 12 white men who could pay the $1.50 poll tax.

But why would anyone want to besmirch the Roosevelt's using the Wendel Cotton execution as their fodder?  Trust me, it isn't for the obvious reasons.

Mrs. Roosevelt's problem is the central Maggie Hope mystery, but there are other story lines making this a busy novel and these will be, I assume, expanded upon in future books.  There is the increasing/decreasing/increasing sexual tension between Maggie and John Sterling, who despite having adjoining hotel rooms, never seem to be able to get together.  And there is a storyline about Clara Hess, Maggie's mother and Nazi spy, and one about the effort the Germans put into building a rocket (a precursor to the eventual V-bombs the Nazis lobed at England in 1944-45?).  And now that the US is in the war, there is the more intense relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt.

There is also a nice bit about Walt Disney and his wartime propaganda.   No longer able to fly with the RAF, John Sterling has been developing a gremlin story, those pesky little creatures that plague the pilots on the RAF by sabotaging their planes and Disney is very interested in it (The Gremlins was Roald Dahl's first children's book.  Dahl was also an RAF pilot, and later posted in Washington DC.  His story was published in 1943 by Disney).

Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante is every bit as well-written and well-researched as the four other Maggie Hope mysteries, but I have to admit I didn't enjoy reading it as much.  I think it is because there was too much going on and not enough mystery.  On the other hand, I really enjoyed all the interesting people and pop culture bits that MacNeal included, maybe because the story takes place in Washington DC, a place near and dear to my heart and because I know American pop culture so well.  But, I will be glad when Maggie returns to Britain, where they seem to have better mysteries.

Oh, yes, in Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante readers get to finally meet the infamous Aunt Edith and, let me say, she is a trip.

MacNeal has touched on several themes that will definitely resonate with today's readers and, even though it isn't my favorite Maggie Hope, I still highly recommend reading this fifth book in the series.

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

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14. Stones on a Grave by Kathy Kacer

It's June 1964 and Sara Barry, 18, has been living at the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls ever since she was a baby.  But now, after a fire completely destroys the building, it is time for Sara to strike out on her own.  Before she does that, Mrs. Hazelton, the home's matron, decides it is time for Sara to discover who she is.  All she has to give Sara is a certificate from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, a doctor's note written in a foreign language and a small Star of David on a chain.

It seems that Sara's mother, whose name was Karen Frankel,  had been in Auschwitz, had actually survived until the camp was liberated, but then succumbed to TB in a DP or displaced persons camp shortly afterwards.  Sara was born in Germany soon after the war ended, and sent to the home in Canada.  Her Jewish background is a complete surprise to her.

Now, armed with the $138.00 gift from Mrs. Hazelton and her own savings from her waitress job, Sara decides to go to Germany and try to find the doctor who signed the certificate that sent her to Canada.  Perhaps he has some information about her mother and father.

Arriving in Germany, Sara immediately heads to Föhrenwald, site of the former DP camp and easily locates Dr. Gunther Pearlman, the doctor who had certified her healthy to travel, even though she actually had TB as well.  But as soon as the doctor sees the papers she has with her, he turns on her and tells Sara to get out and go back to Canada, he has no information that would help her.  Dr. Pearlman does make a one night reservation at a small inn run by an older lady named Frau Klein, and asks his helper, Peter, a boy around the same age as Sara, to escort her there.

Dr. Pearlman may want Sara to leave the next day, but Sara has other plans and with Peter's help, and Frau Klein's kindness, she decides to stay for the rest of the week.  Luckily, Peter speaks perfect English (as does Dr. Pearlman), so he can translate for her.  Sara quickly discovers that Föhrenwald is still home to many Jewish survivors and their children, including Frau Klein, the doctor and Peter's parents.

But uncovering information about her parents isn't easy in the country that just wants to forget about what had happened there.  Yet, perseverance does pay off and while all the loose ends are neatly tied up by the end of the novel, some of what Sara discovers is difficult for her to accept, and I have to admit, I wasn't expecting the ending to twist the way it did.

I found this is a very interesting example of a post-war historical fiction novel.  By setting it in the 1960s, Kathy Kacer shows the reader a world that wants to forget what happened, others who, like Sara, really don't know about what happened under Hitler's tyranny, even as racial prejudice is still openly practiced.  Mrs. Hazelton didn't keep Sara's Jewish identity secret because she didn't like Jews, but because she wanted to protect her from any lingering anti-Semetism.  And Luke, Sara's loser boyfriend in Canada, proves the point, with his hatred of Jews and blacks, seen in the way he goes after Sara's friend Malou.

Stone on a Grave is an emotional, insightful novel about a young woman trying to discover who she really is.  It was named a 2016 Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Reader category and I am happy to say that I will be interviewing Kathy Kacer as part of the Sydney Taylor Blog Tour  February 11, 2016 on my blog Randomly Reading.  You can find a complete list of winners and the blog tour schedule HERE

Be sure to read the Author's Note for more information about the aftermath of the Holocaust.

In the Benevolent Home, Sara was one of a group of girls Mrs. Hazelton considered to be her "special seven."  Like Sara, each girl is given whatever information Mrs. Hazelton has about who they really are, plus $138.00 she had put aside for them to start them on their way.   Sara's story is part of a seven book YA series called Secrets that follows each girl on their journey towards self-discovery. Each novel is written by a different author, providing a variety of stories and insights.


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


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15. Anne Frank in the Secret Annex: Who Was Who? by The Anne Frank House

In 2005, the United Nations issued a declaration stating that January 27th would be designated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It only seems fitting to remember the victims of the Holocaust with a new book
about the secret annex where Anne Frank, her family and four other people hid from the Nazis in the annex of her father's business at Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam for more than two years.

Anne is a young girl whose short life has resonated in the lives of so many young people since her diary was first published.  The Diary of a Young Girl.  It is a moving account of Anne's life in the Annex, in which readers discover Anne's humorous side, her mischievous side, her budding sexuality, her hopes and dreams.

But Anne wasn't alone and although she mentions names and incidents in her diary, what do we really know about the other people in the Annex?  Or the helpers on the outside?  What did the people in the annex do all day?  What did they eat? Where did their food and other needed items come from?

The decision to hide from the Nazis, to live in such close quarters for more than 2 years, from July 1942 to August 1944, couldn't have been an easy one to make and definitely requited a plan, detailed organization, and the help of trusted people who could provide them with food and other necessities.  

Anne Frank in the Secret Annex: Who Was Who is a comprehensive book that brings it all together so that we may understand the risks and dangers everyone connected to Prinsengracht 263 faced on a daily basis.

The book begins with a very brief history of post WWI Germany, Adolf Hitler's rise to becoming the German chancellor in 1933, blaming the Jews for all of the country's problems.  Otto Frank immediately decided to leave Germany and settle in the Netherlands.  There he set up his business at Prinsengracht 263.  But in 1940, after Germany invaded the Netherlands, they immediately put anti-Jewish regulations in place, making life harder and harder for all Jews living there, until, in 1942, Otto Frank moved his family once again - directly into hiding.

The book continues with description of the daily routine of the hiders, food and it distribution, and other daily discomforts, how holidays and birthdays were celebrated.  Even a detailed description of the building they were hiding in.

This is followed with detailed biographies of all the people in hiding, those that helped them, other people who worked in or around Prinsengracht 263, even the cats are included.  Any one of those peripheral people could have (and may have) turned in the people in the annex to the Nazis if they became aware of their presence.

Anne Frank and her diary have held the attention of readers, young and old, since it was first published, but the publication of Anne Frank in the Secret Annex: Who Was Who? gives readers a more detailed, more rounded out picture of who each individual was, making them more human and less the shadowy people we know from the diary.  

It's hard to imagine what it must have been like to be cut off from everyone and everything for more than two years, never going outside, never even breathing fresh air from an open window, and living in silence day by day.  This is an ideal book to be used in conjunction with Anne's diary as a way of introducing the Holocaust to young readers.

The book also contains an abundance of photographs, some never before published of everyone and everything related to the secret annex, including photos of all the helpers.  There are also maps, including one of the concentration camps that the hiders were sent to after being discovered, a Concise Timeline along with the Lifeline of helpers and hiders, and a useful Glossary, a list of Sources, and suggestions for further reading.

Anne Frank in the Secret Annex: Who Was Who? is available only as an ebook.

And on this 2016 International Holocaust Remembrance Day,  please take a moment today to think about all those who were victims of this tragedy, those who didn't survive as well as those who did.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Open Road Media

Curious about Anne Frank in the Secret Annex: Who Was Who?  Here's an excerpt you can read:

Excerpt
“Daily Life in the Secret Annex”

                  “At a quarter to seven, the alarm clock went off in the Secret Annex. The eight occupants would get up and wash before the warehouse workers arrived at half past eight. After that, they had to keep noise to a minimum. They walked in slippers, avoided the creaking stairs, and didn’t use any running water. Coughing, sneezing, laughing, talking, or quarreling was absolutely forbidden. To kill time, the eight would spend the morning reading and studying. Some did needlework, while others prepared the next meal. Miep, working in the office on the first floor, along with Johannes, Victor, and Bep, would go upstairs to the Secret Annex to pick up the shopping list.

“It’s twelve thirty. The whole gang breathes a sigh of relief,” Anne wrote. At noon, the warehouse workers went home for lunch and the annex occupants could relax a little. The helpers from the office usually dropped in, and Jan Gies sometimes joined them. At one o’clock, they all listened to the BBC on the illegal “little baby radio” before having lunch. After the lunch break, the helpers went back downstairs and most of the occupants took naps. Anne often “used this time to write in her diary. Silence prevailed for the rest of the afternoon: Potatoes were peeled, quiet chores done for the office, and reading and studying continued, while below, the helpers worked in the office. Miep and Bep would slip out during the afternoon or after office hours to work their way through the shopping list, which usually included food, clothing, soap, and even birthday presents.

When the warehouse workers left at around half past five, Bep gave the occupants a sign. As the helpers returned to their own spouses or families, the Secret Annex came to life: Someone would grab the warehouse key and fetch the bread, typewriters were carried upstairs, potatoes were set to boil, and the cat door in the coal storage bin was opened for Peter’s cat, Mouschi. Everyone had his or her own task. After dinner, they sometimes played a game. At around nine o’clock, the occupants prepared for bed, with much shuffling of chairs and “the folding open of beds. They took turns going to the bathroom. Anne, being the youngest, went first. Fritz stayed up late studying Spanish in the office downstairs. By about midnight, all of the people in the Secret Annex would be fast asleep.

On Saturday mornings, the warehouse workers would put in half a day’s work, but in the afternoons and on Sundays, the Secret Annex occupants took time for a full sponge baths in a tub, each in his or her own favorite spot in the building. The laundry was done then, too, and the Secret Annex was scrubbed and tidied. There were businesses located in the two adjacent buildings, so during the weekends, the occupants didn’t have to be quite so cautious. But the curtains always remained closed.”


More Curious about Who Was Who?
Five anecdotes behind the faces of the Secret Annex

• While everyone was assigned chores, Peter was instructed to haul the heavy bags from the greengrocer up to the attic. On one occasion, “one of them suddenly split open and a torrent of brown beans went cascading down the stairs. It was weeks before the last beans were found, they had been wedged into every nook and cranny of the stairwell.”

• The Annex’s Romeo and Juliet: Anne Frank’s roommate and the eldest occupant of the Secret Annex, Fritz Pfeffer - the only one without family or loved one at his side - was gripped with loneliness. His evenings were filled with writing letters to his “Lotte,” his great love Charlotte Kaletta, a Catholic woman whom he was forbidden to marry due to the Nuremberg Race Laws. He relied on Miep to serve as messenger to deliver the letters where he professed that Charlotte’s love will strengthen him.

• Miep was deemed the pack mule and carrier pigeon for the eight inhabitants of the Secret Annex. “Every Saturday, she also brought along five library books, which the Secret Annex occupants eagerly looked forward to. ‘Ordinary people don’t know how much books can mean to someone who’s cooped up,’ Anne wrote.”

• After the betrayal that led to the Secret Annex’s exposure and the inhabitants’ arrest, the ladies were sent to Westerbork transit camp where they “were forced to dismantle batteries, a dirty and dangerous business. The workday began at five o’clock in the morning. Seated at long tables, the women broke open batteries in order to remove the carbon rods. Then they picked out the sticky brown mass, which contained poisonous ammonium chloride. Finally, all the components were separated for use in the arms industry.”

• When Frank Otto, Anne’s father and lone survivor, returned to the Secret Annex, he “found the rooms practically empty and abandoned. For him, that emptiness symbolized the loss of his fellow sufferers who had not returned from the camps. For this reason, Otto later decided that the Secret Annex should remain this state.” 

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16. War in My Town by E. Graziani

Even as late as March 1940,  life in her small mountain village of Eglio, in northern Tuscany was still relatively pleasant for 11 year-old Bruna Pucci Guazzelli , despite the war in Europe and not having ever met her father, living in Brazil.  Bruno is the youngest of her siblings - two brothers - Cesar, 25; Alcide, 17;  and four sisters - Aurelia, 27; Eleonora, 23;  Pina, 21; Mery, 15.  Eglio is a village where everyone knows everyone else, and whenever hard times hit, the villagers rally to help one another.

But when Mussolini declared war on Britain that France on June 10, 1940, things all over Italy begin to change.  First, all the Italian men and eldest sons were drafted into the army.  For the Guazzelli family, that meant Cesar, followed by Alcide, who is sent to the Russian Front; meanwhile, for the eldest girls, it meant working away from home, either as cooks for other people, or for Eleonora, working in an orphanage.

At first, Bruna says, most Italians supported Mussolini and his alliance with Adolf Hitler, but as rationing, separation and hardship begin to take their toll on the home front, and after learning that even the Italian army fighting for Mussolini is so poorly supplied as the war escalates, people begin to turn against him.  In September, 1943, Mussolini is removed from power and Italy forms a new alliance with the Allies.

These are major events, but Bruna and the rest of the people of Eglio still remain relatively isolated from the fighting in Italy and the rest of Europe, mainly because Eglio is a far removed mountain village, so no one really expects anything to happen there.

Elio, Northern Tuscany, Italy
That is until the spring of 1944, when the Nazis arrive and life for the villagers changes drastically.  Elgio lay in a direct path of what was called the Gothic Line, one of the last fronts in WWII.  First, all food and blankets and even houses are taken by the German soldiers, and because they know where the Germans are, it doesn't take long for Allied bombing to begin.  But, when the villagers of Eglio are used as human shields in a last ditch effort by the Nazis, not everyone is lucky enough to survive the arrival of the Allies.

War in My Town is a fictionalized version of author E. Graziani's mother Bruna's true story.  It is told in the first person by the young Bruna, as she recounts the events that impacted her family and her neighbors between 1940 and 1945.

Bruna's personal story is emotional and compelling, but as the title indicates, it is really more about her town and the people who lived there.  That being said, I am sorry to say I found the writing style to be very dry and it was hard to stay focused.   I also found the  chronology of historical events to be confusing at times and found myself having  to backtrack a lot.

Despite that, I would still recommend this book simply because there aren't many narratives about life in Italy during WWII and since War in My Town is based on actual experience, it gives a more realistic picture of what life was like then.

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

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17. Top Ten Tuesday #18: Top Ten Books I've recently added to my TBR


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

Today's Top Ten Topic is the Top Ten Books I've recently added to my TBR.  Since I haven't read any of these yet, I am including the Goodreads description for each.


1) American Ace by Marilyn Nelson

Connor’s grandmother leaves his dad a letter when she dies, and the letter’s confession shakes their tight-knit Italian-American family: The man who raised Dad is not his birth father.
 
But the only clues to this birth father’s identity are a class ring and a pair of pilot’s wings. And so Connor takes it upon himself to investigate—a pursuit that becomes even more pressing when Dad is hospitalized after a stroke. What Connor discovers will lead him and his father to a new, richer understanding of race, identity, and each other.





2) Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia, and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are  Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.




3) Anne Frank in the Secret Annex: Who was who? by the Anne Frank House

For two years during the Second World War, young, Jewish Anne Frank lived in hiding from the Nazis. Everything she experienced, thought, and felt, she confided in her diary. She was just as frank in her descriptions of the seven other people in the Annex and of the five helpers who endangered their own lives to look after them. Years later, Anne Frank’s diary became world famous. The Secret Annex was so well set up that the hiders survived there for over two years. Who were these people, how did they meet, and what happened to them?
 
This book shows the background and organization of the Annex and the personal stories of all involved, as well as their relationships and their fates. It also offers many never-before-published photographs. The result is an extraordinary group portrait that stays with the reader long after the last page is turned.




4) Journey to Munich (Maisie Dobbs #12) by Jacqueline Winspear

Working with the British Secret Service on an undercover mission, Maisie Dobbs is sent to Hitler’s Germany in this thrilling tale of danger and intrigue—the twelfth novel in Jacqueline Winspear’s New York Times bestselling “series that seems to get better with each entry” (Wall Street Journal).

It’s early 1938, and Maisie Dobbs is back in England. On a fine yet chilly morning, as she walks towards Fitzroy Square—a place of many memories—she is intercepted by Brian Huntley and Robert MacFarlane of the Secret Service. The German government has agreed to release a British subject from prison, but only if he is handed over to a family member. Because the man’s wife is bedridden and his daughter has been killed in an accident, the Secret Service wants Maisie—who bears a striking resemblance to the daughter—to retrieve the man from Dachau, on the outskirts of Munich.

The British government is not alone in its interest in Maisie’s travel plans. Her nemesis—the man she holds responsible for her husband’s death—has learned of her journey, and is also desperate for her help.

Traveling into the heart of Nazi Germany, Maisie encounters unexpected dangers—and finds herself questioning whether it’s time to return to the work she loved. But the Secret Service may have other ideas.





5) The Bettanys on the Home Front by Helen Barber

1914, and the Bettany family—fourteen-year-old twins Madge and Dick and their little sister Joey—are enjoying a seaside holiday with their guardian. But the news is disturbing and their happy time is cut short by the announcement that war has been declared.

Back home in Taverton, Madge is faced with a rapidly changing world. With Guardian away on war business and Aunt Josie preoccupied with her own family, it falls to Madge to hold the household together without neglecting the all-important world of school and the challenge of a new form which seems to have no place for her. But what is Nanny’s mysterious secret, and is she a proper person to care for Joey?




6) My Name is not Friday by Jon Walter

Well-mannered Samuel and his mischievous younger brother Joshua are free black boys living in an orphanage during the end of the Civil War. Samuel takes the blame for Joshua's latest prank, and the consequence is worse than he could ever imagine. He's taken from the orphanage to the South, given a new name -- Friday -- and sold into slavery. What follows is a heartbreaking but hopeful account of Samuel's journey from freedom, to captivity, and back again.


7) Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein

Welcome, boys and girls, readers of all ages, to the first-ever Library Olympiad! Kyle and his teammates are back, and the world-famous game maker, Luigi Lemoncello, is at it again! 
 
This time Mr. Lemoncello has invited teams from all across America to compete in the first ever LIBRARY OLYMPICS. Will it be fun? Like the commercials say. . . HELLO? It’s a Lemoncello! But something suspicious is going on . . . books are missing from Mr. Lemoncello’s library. Is someone trying to CENSOR what the kids are reading?! In between figuring out mind-boggling challenges, the kids will have to band together to get to the bottom of this mystery.
 
Now it’s not just a game—can Mr. Lemoncello find the real defenders of books and champions of libraries? Packed with puzzles, clues, and thrilling surprises, this is a deliciously fun, action-packed sequel to the New York Times bestselling Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Let the games begin!





8) The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother's village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take an interest in Saki and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family's ancestral shrine on a malicious dare.

But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked... and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth - or say good-bye to the world of the living forever.



9) Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

Things are only impossible if you stop to think about them. . . .

While her friends are spending their summers having pool parties and sleepovers, twelve-year-old Carolina — Carol — is spending hers in the middle of the New Mexico desert, helping her parents move the grandfather she’s never met into a home for people with dementia. At first, Carol avoids prickly Grandpa Serge. But as the summer wears on and the heat bears down, Carol finds herself drawn to him, fascinated by the crazy stories he tells her about a healing tree, a green-glass lake, and the bees that will bring back the rain and end a hundred years of drought. As the thin line between magic and reality starts to blur, Carol must decide for herself what is possible — and what it means to be true to her roots. Readers who dream that there’s something more out there will be enchanted by this captivating novel of family, renewal, and discovering the wonder of the world.
 





10) Women in Black History: Stories of Courage, Faith, and Resilience by Tricia Williams Jackson

Within the pages of American history are the stories of remarkable African American women who have defied the odds, taken a stand for justice, and made incredible strides despite opposition from the culture around them. Now young readers can discover their exciting true stories in this eye-opening collection. 
From well-known figures like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks to women rarely found in any history book, "Women in Black History" explores the lives of writers, athletes, singers, activists, and educators who have made an indelible mark on our country and our culture. Perfect for kids, but also for adults who like to read about important figures and unsung heroes, this collection will delight, surprise, and challenge readers.


What's are your Top Ten TBR books?

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18. Quiet Hero: The Ira Hayes Story written and illustrated by S. D. Nelson

The last book I reviewed here, The Liberators,  was a novel about two friends who joined the Marines and serves in the Pacific theater.  Our Hero, the Ira Hayes Story is about a man who really did serve in those sames places - Vella LaVella, Bourgainville, and who ultimately became one of the heroes who raised the flag at Iwo Jima.

Ira Hayes was a Pima Indian, born on the Gila River Indian Reservation in a remote part of the northern Sonoran Desert in Arizona in 1923.  His family were poor farmer, working the land, but living without electricity or running water.  They had four sons, and Ira was the oldest.  He was quiet and shy, but always felt lonely and seemed to fit in with the other kids on the reservation or in the Phoenix Indian School when he was sent there.

But, while still in his teens, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States went to war.  Ira felt it was his patriotic duty as an American to fight for his country and he joined the Marine Corps in August 1942 at age 19.  Sent to basic training in San Diego, Ira didn't experience the kind of segregation and low level jobs reserved for the African American soldiers because many believed that Native Americans were fierce warriors and so they trained with the white soldiers.

After basic training, Ira volunteered to train as a Paramarine.  Joining the military and going through such rigorous training seems for forge strong bonds of friendship among the soldiers, and it was in the Marines that Ira finally felt like he belonged.  Ira and his fellow Marines arrived in the Pacific theater in March 1943 and fought there for two years.  After the month long battle at Iwo Jima, Ira was one of six Marines who raised the flag over Mount Surabachi, a moment captured in a photograph by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal:

Iwo Jima - Ira Hayes is the last man on the left
Ira came home a true Native American hero, but civilian life wasn't easy for him.  Most of his buddies didn't survive the war and Ira found it difficult to be celebrated knowing the terrible price his buddies had paid.  And once again, Ira felt like an outside, not fitting in anywhere.  Ira became severely depressed, and started drinking heavily.  In 1955, at the age of 32, Ira Hayes passed away.  He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

S. D. Nelson has written a very moving and insightful picture book for older readers about a real hero, showing us that even heroes aren't perfect.  He could have easily written the Ira Hayes story up to the flag raising at Iwo Jima, and left it at that, but instead he chose to continue and let his readers see that heroes are human and sometimes flawed.  Ira Hayes may have officially died of alcoholism, but I would say the loneliness, despair and depression were the real causes of his death.

Hayes' wartime experiences make up the majority of this book, but Nelson doesn't ignore his youth on the reservation and his time at the Indian School, giving us a clear picture of this very sensitive, isolated Pima Indian growing up in poverty, but surrounded by a loving family:
  

As you can see from the illustration above, Nelson's text is accompanied and complimented by his beautifully detailed acrylic illustrations using a widely varied palette of colors.  And be sure to read the Author's Note at the back of the book, where he includes a more detailed account of the life of Ira Hayes, as well as very useful Bibliography for further investigation.

You can find an extensive Quiet Hero Teacher's Guide provided by the publisher, Lee & Low.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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19. Reading Challenges

Tempus fugit!
Well, time really does fly!  It's already he end of the year and time to think about reading challenges.  When I first started blogging, I loved reading challenges.  I saw them as a chance to read books I might never have read otherwise, a chance to get out of my comfort zone and explore different ways of looking at things.

So...it turns out that I'm not as good at reading challenges as I might like to be.  And I think the main reason for that is that I never plan ahead.  I never commit to reading X number of books per challenge, or listing what I plan to read, I just let things happens serendipitously.  Apparently, however, serendipity doesn't work for me.  I like a plan and my most successful endeavors have always had a plan of action.

This year, instead of giving up a good reading challenge, which I still find fun to do, I've decided to approach it with a plan.  And I found just the right challenge for this blog, thanks to Becky at Becky's Book Reviews, a blog I have been reading for years now.  Becky is hosting the 2016 World at War Reading Challenge and to help participants like me get the most out of her challenge, she has provided a bingo-type card :

And I have actually made a list of books that I would like to read and my plan is:

1- Any Book published 1914 - 1918: Before the Chalet School: The Bethany’s on the Home 
    Front by Helen Barber
  
2- A Nonfiction Book about the 1910s and 1920s - Harlem Stomp! A Cultural History of the Harlem 
    Renaissance by Laban Carrick Hill

3- A Fiction Book Set in the 1920s - Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin   

4- A Book Set in Asia or the Middle East - Empire of the Sun by JG Ballard

5- Any Movie About Either War - TBD


1- A Fiction Book Set in WWI - All Quiet on the Western Front

2- A Fiction Book Set in 1918 - 1924 - Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

3- A Fiction Book Set in the 1920s - The School at the Chalet by Elinor Brent-Dyer

4- A Fiction Book Set in the 1930s - Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers

5- A Fiction Book Set During WWII - TBD



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20. Top Ten Tuesday #18: Top Ten Books Read in 2015


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

This week's top ten topic is the top ten books read in 2015.  I've read more than I've blogged about this year, but I did review my favorite books, although picking a top ten was really difficult.  Anyway, here are my picks, in no particular order:


The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley 

I loved Ada spirit and determination to save herself and her younger brother from the blitz and their mother despite her severely clubbed foot and never having walked before.  Some people thought the ending was too pat, but if you really think about it, it is plausible.


Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

I loved the way three different stories from three different time periods are tied together by one harmonica and how that harmonica influenced the destinies of the young protagonists in each story.


The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: 
Knud Pederson and the Churchill Club by Philip Hoose 

Can a few people make a difference in the face of ruthless tyranny?  You bet they can, as these young Danish boys prove in their efforts to sabotage the Nazis that occupied their country in any way possible during WWII.  

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba
by Margarita Engle

There aren't books for young readers about the Jewish refugees from Europe finding refuge in Cuba.  Engle lyrically tells the story of Daniel, 13, a refugee, who befriends Paloma, a Cuban whose father has the power to grant or deny visas to those wishing to enter Cuba, and David, a Yiddish speaking Russian and the events that surrounded Cuba from 1939 to 1942.


Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

This is a sequel to a book by E. Nesbit written in 1902 about the adventures of five children and a Psammead.  It begins in 1914, WWI has begone and the children rediscover the Psammead.  And while the Psammead provides some humor, the novel is really more about how the war impacts the each family member.


A Prince Without a Kingdom by Timothée de Fombelle

A sequel to Vango: Between Sky and Earth, it brings the mystery about who Vango is to a satisfying conclusion, but not before lots of adventure, intrigue, suspense and a little romance.  It is a big book, as was the first volume, but oh, so worth the read.


The Tiger Who Would Be Kind by James Thurber,
illustrated by Joohee Yoon

This is an old James Thurber fable about the pointless of war that I remember reading in high school. What put it on my top ten list is the incredible illustrations by Joohee Yoon, using only a palette of green, orange, black and white to create some wonderful boldly expressive images, giving new life to this old tale.


Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott

This is a story of friendship between two girls in Auschwitz, and how they helped each other and the other girls in their barracks survive.  Told in verse and in alternating voices, readers learn about their families, their lives in Auschwitz and the one risk one girl makes for the other.


The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne Jones

This is the book that surprised me the most.  I'm not a fan of zombie tales, but Wynne Jones created a story that was so compelling and so different, I ended up loving it and gushing like a schoolgirl when I met Wynne Jones.  It is really the story of a Japanese soldier, and American soldier and what happened on a south Pacific island.


Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and 
Tanya Simon

Before leaving Germany shortly after Kristalnacht, Oskar's father told him to always look for the blessings.  After arriving in NYC on the seventh night of Hanukkah, Oskar must walk up Broadway to 103rd Street and the aunt he's never met and who doesn't even know he is coming.  Along the way, Oskar discovers eight wonderful blessings.  

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21. Home and Away: A World War II Christmas Story by Dean Hughes

It's Thanksgiving 1944 in Ogden, Utah, and for the Hayes family, it's a tough one.  Oldest son Glen is a paratrooper  somewhere in Holland, and Dennis, his 16 year old brother. can't wait to enlist as soon as he turns 17.  Meanwhile, Dennis is trying to keep peace at home,  His dad, who has a drinking problem, also has a quick temper and sometimes a very cruel mouth, aimed at Dennis and his mother.  Younger sisters Sharon and Linda are still too young to be the brunt of their dad's anger. though he doesn't pay much attention to them anyway.

Dennis has decided he would like to make Christmas a special one for his mom this year.  He's working extra hours at the Walgreen's to save money to buy her a new dress for church, her first in a very long time.  Dennis even manages to get his car mechanic dad to contribute $5.00.  Dennis is aware that his father favors his brother, because Glen accepts his dad for who he is, and the two of them go hunting and fishing together, whereas Dennis is somewhat ashamed of his father.  Besides that, his dad thinks Dennis is a momma's boy - meaning he's not half the man his brother is.

And it turns out that Dennis realizes he is somewhat ashamed of his dad.  When a wealthy girl in his class, Judy Kay, lets him know, she would like to go to the Christmas dance at school, Dennis allows himself to be talked into buying an expensive suit and shoes by his wealthy best friend Gordon.  He knows he has spent way too much, but can't stop himself.

In alternating chapters, the reader learns about Glen Hayes and his friend Dibbs have survived the Normandy landing  and now they are living in a cold, muddy trench in the rain in Holland.  Their Thanksgiving meal, a wet, splashy version of someones idea of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, only serves to make Glen want to be home and to discourage his brother from joining up.

On December 17, Glen and the other men of the 101st Airborne Division are loaded up on trucks and sent to Belgium as infantry reinforcements despite not being trained for that and not having enough ammunition, or winter clothing to protect against the bitter cold there.  By Christmas, there is snow to compound the discomfort of their new trench.

Back in Ogden, Dennis manages to purchase the dress he has his heart set on for his mom, thanks to a kind sales lady who gets it discounted for him.  Christmas is a success, the dress is a success, the younger girls love their presents.  But more importantly, Dennis and his dad finally have a difficult conversation about how they both feel towards each other.

Not long after Christmas day, a telegram arrives that Glen has been seriously wounded in action.  Will this be the thing that finally pulls the Hayes family together or pulls them completely apart?

Dean Hughes has written a lot of WWII books and I thought this one would be an interesting Christmas story.  Christmas had to be a tense time with family members away fighting in Europe and the Pacific.  Worry about them could easily lead to tensions within the home and it's understandable that suppressed feelings could bubble up to the surface.  And that is exactly what Hughes has depicted in Home and Away.  With the exception of father Henry Hayes, the rest of the Hayes family is very religious and rely on that to help them through these tough times.  I should say that some of what Hughes writes is LDS fiction, but there is not particular religion mentioned in Home and Away.

Home and Away is a novella, but I can't say I found it very satisfying.  Although Hughes did a great job depicting Dennis' dilemma about signing up to be a paratrooper like his brother, I never felt like he was a coward because he had reservations.  Still, I did feel  that there were events that didn't quite come to a satisfying conclusion and that bothered me.  There was all that talk about money for a new dress, but nothing was said when Dennis spent so much on a suit, shoes and the dance.  Sure it came out of his pocket, but would that stop his dad from commenting on the waste of money it was.  And the girl Dennis took to the dance, Judy Kay, was so gun-ho war but why?  And what happened to Glen's friend Dibbs?  Was he hurt? or killed?

Hughes has captured life during the war at home and abroad so well, so realistically, I wish he had written this as a novel instead of a novella.  I think it would have been so much more satisfying.  Still, I would recommend it to anyone interested in historical fiction and/or WWII fiction.

This book is recommended for readers age 15+
This was an EARC received from Edelweiss/Above the Treeline 

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22. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows ( a Flavia de Luce Mystery #4) by Alan Bradley

It's Christmastime and Flavia de Luce, 11, is anticipating the arrival and capture of Father Christmas, using a concoction whipped up in her fully equipped laboratory, her Sanctum Sanctorum, designed to hold him fast to the rooftop chimney till she can get there.   Once and for all the question of Father Christmas's existence will be answered for Flavia, and what older sisters Daffy (Daphne) and Feely (Ophelia) told her will either be right or wrong.

But before that can happen on Christmas eve, the ancestor home, Buckshaw, is going to be used as a movie set in order to make some money to keep Her Majesty's taxman at bay.  After the movie crew gets itself settled in at Buckshaw, the vicar, Rev. Richardson, asks the movie's leading lady, Phyllis Wyvern, if she would put on a performance with her leading man, Desmond Duncan, to raise money to help pay for roof repairs at St. Tankred's.  The plan is that they will do a scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

Because the roof is already caving in, it is decided that the performance would be done at Buckshaw and, since there is already considerable snowing falling, the good folks of Bishop's Lacy will be brought in by sleigh and tractor.  

As the performance begins, the falling snow increases to blizzard proportions, and by the end of the performance, the snow has stranded  everyone at Buckshaw.   As everyone settles in for the night, sleeping on the floor scattered all around, upstairs Flavia decides to go have a midnight chat with Phyllis Wyvern.  Approaching her bedroom door, Flavia can hear a confusing slap-slap sound coming from the actress's bedroom.  Pushing the door open, she discovers a film projector going round and round and then she sees that Phyllis Wyvern is wearing the peasant blouse and skirt of one of her old movies - Dressed for Dying - and has been murdered, strangled with a piece of film from the movie and then tied in a big bow around her neck.

Naturally, Flavia manages to insinuate herself into the investigation once Inspector Hewit of the Hinley Constabulary is brought in,(and after doing her own initial investigations), yet this novel isn't about Flavia's sleuthing skills so much as it is about the de Luce family, past and present.  We are given more background information about the de Luce's, about Flavia's mother Harriet and how much her parents loved each other before Harriet's accidental death.  And, even sisters Daffy and Feely aren't as mean to Flavia as they normally are, especially when she almost becomes the victim of her own plan to discover the truth about Father Christmas.

Bradley has created a very Agatha Christie-like situation involving an isolated country house full of suspects that can't easily get away from the scene of the crime.  And there are suspects galore, but why would any of them want Phyllis Wyvern dead?  Flavia naturally discovers, Phyllis Wyvern has secrets, lots of them.  Some involve the war, some involve her family and others involve professional jealousies, and Flavia is determined to get to the bottom of them all.

I've loved the four Flavia de Luce mysteries I read so far, and, even though I haven't read them in order, it hasn't been a problem.  Bradley gives enough information in each book to inform without over doing it.  And I like that Bradley has included a Christmas book in his Flavia novels, it gives it a more rounded feeling.  This isn't one of the best Flavia book but it is a nice holiday mystery.

And I am anxiously awaiting Flavia #8 - Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd.

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


 

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23. Adam & Thomas by Aharon Appelfeld, illustrated by Philippe Dumas, translated by Jeffrey Green

Early one morning, towards the end of WWII, a mother and son leave the ghetto and head towards the nearby forest.  There, she leaves her son Adam, 9, telling him not to be afraid, he knows the forest well from all the times he had visited it with his parents before the war came, and promising to come for him if she can that evening.  He is left with a blanket, a knapsack with food, a book and some jacks, 

Adam spends the day walking around the forest, thinking about it and his life with his parents and his dog Miro before the war and the ghetto.  His mother doesn’t return that evening.  

The next day, Adam meets Thomas, also 9, and also left in the forest by his mother with the same promise to return for him in the evening.  Adam and Thomas know each other from school, though they had not been friends there.  They spend the day in the forest, and that evening, their mothers again fail to return.

By day, Adam and Thomas forage in the forest for food, and talk to each other about their situation.  Their talks begin to take on a philosophical nature, about faith, God. and intellect.  Positive thinker Adam believes God will help get them through, negative thinker Thomas relies of study and education, which isn’t happening for him now.

Adam and Thomas decide to build a nest in a high tree for safety, partly because of the fugitives  running through the forest, pursued by Nazis shooting at them.  They both understand they will also be shot if found since they are Jewish.  Every day. the two boys wait for their mothers, who never come for them.  One day, however, while trying to help a wounded man attempting to escape the Nazis, they learn that the ghetto has been liquidated and everyone sent to Poland.  

Luckily, they also discover a cow in a meadow and begin to get some milk from her every day.  One day, a young girl their age comes to milk the cow.  It is also a girl from their class named Mina.  Mina is hiding from the Nazis in a peasant’s home.  After the boys try to make contact with her, Mina begins to leave food for them whenever she can. 

Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months, and soon a kind peasant tells them the Red Army is not far away, the war could be ending, and, meanwhile, he also begins to leave food for the boys.  Then, one day, out of the blue, Adam’s dog shows up with a note from his mother attached to the underside of his collar.  

The weather begins to get colder and colder and soon, snow starts falling.  One day, the boys see a figure wading through the ever deepening snow, and realize it is Mina, who has been very badly beaten by the peasant she lived with and thrown out into the cold and snow.

How will the children survive the cold harsh winter, with only small amounts of food and no real shelter, and not even a fire to warm themselves by.  And can two young boys really nurse Mina back to health, or will it take a miracle to make that happen? 

I have to admit that I found Adam & Thomas to be a bit of a strange story.  It was originally written in Hebrew and loosely based on author Aharon Appelfeld's real life experiences.  It is also his first book for children.  The philosophical conversations between Adam and Thomas aren't so deep or adult that middle grade readers won't understand them, but they may be a bit disconcerting, since it isn't something young readers may be used to.  But there are not explanations for some things (like why was Mina beaten? And there is no closure to anything, including the ending).


That aside, Adam & Thomas is a compelling story about suffering, survival, optimism, friendship, and especially acts of kindness during some very dark, difficult days.  Appelfeld's writing is clear and simple, with short declarative sentences and few adjectives for the most part.  


The story of the two boys, including the animals and people they encounter, has a unrealistic quality to it.  Appelfeld says he writes from a dreamlike or artificial/imitative-like world in the kind of style used in the Bible, all of which, I think, is what gives Adam & Thomas its fable-like feeling.  But make no doubt about it, this is a story based on truth, on horrific circumstances and you never forget that while reading.


Adults and young readers interested in the Holocaust shouldn't miss this small but totally accessible and powerful book, which, I think, will also make an big impact on readers not particularly interested in WWII or the Holocaust.


This book is recommended for readers age 8+

This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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24. 2016 - Happy New Year



Wishing Everyone a Happy and Peaceful New Year!


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25. The Liberators (World War II Book 4) by Chris Lynch

As much as he loved playing baseball, when the Eastern Shore League suspended operations in 1941 for the duration of the war, player Nick Nardini could understand why: "I guess it just seemed suddenly really dumb to have the fittest guys in America playin' ballgames when the rest of the world was out there killing each other in a war that was without a doubt gonna eventually include the USA."

Nick convinces his best friend and teammate Zachary Kleko to join the marines with him, despite the fact that Kleko has a girlfriend and the promise of a job at a plant in Ypsilanti, MI manufacturing B-24 Liberators (heavy bombers) for when the US enters the war.  Nick's idea is that they will go through basic training and the war on the buddy system.

Nick and Zach are first sent to Parris Island, SC for seven weeks of basic training, and then paramarine training at Camp Lejeune, NC, where they learn to how to parachute jump within 16 weeks.  Finally, after all those gruelling weeks and weeks of training, the two friends and the rest of their 650 troop Second Parachute Battalion set sail for the Pacific on an LST (Landing Ship, Tank) carrying supplies, including vehicles and ammunition.  They arrive at the pacific island of Vella Levella, recently won back from the Japanese with the help of New Zealand soldiers, but the enemy isn't finished there.  As the men and supplies are disembarking, Nick and Zach get their first taste of real fighting, attacked from above by enemy dive bombers,  who finally drop a 500 pound bomb on the LST.  Their job on Vella Lavella is to protect the airstrip there, strategically important for the Allies (the battle was fought in 1943, to give you a sense of time).

From Vella, they are sent to Choiseul Island, where they encounter 5,000 Japanese soldiers to their 650 troops.  The mission is to divert enemy attention (and men), so that the Third Marine Division can land at Bourgainville. It's a dangerous mission, code named Operation Blissful, especially because the Second Parachute Battalion will truly be on their own, without any backup.  Naturally, after making their slow, wet way through the jungle, they again encounter the enemy.  After that, there is a lot more fighting in store for Nick and his fellow Marines on different islands.  Eventually, though, Nick finds himself in a hospital with dengue fever, malaria and early stage jungle rot.  After six weeks, he is reunited with his battalion, heading for Okinawa, and another brutal battle, cut short by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war in the Pacific theater.

Their next job is to enter Japan on a POW recovery mission.  Lynch brings his WWII series full circle when Nick and Zach find Hank McCallum, who recognizes Nick from past ballgames.  Hank, you may remember from Dead in the Water Book 2, was on the USS Yorktown when it took a direct hit and sank at Midway.  Now, with the war over, these three baseball players are ready to return to civilian life and the game they all love so much.  

After reading and reviewing all the books in this series, there isn't much new I can say about them.  The Liberators is every bit as well written and researched as the other three books.  The main characters are all minor league baseball players on teams that make up the Eastern Shore Division, but they are all so different from each other that they really stand out as individuals.

Lynch's writing is sharp, and has the kind of snappy way of speaking that you find in many movies made between 1939 and 1945, whether or not they were war movies (I've often wondered if real people ever spoke like that).  His books are powerful and exciting, but some of the details he include, while realistic, will not make many young readers yearn to be part of a war.  The Liberators is narrated in the first person by Nick, following the same format used in all of Lynch's war books, including his Vietnam series, so the reader gets first hand experience of the action.

As much as I dislike looking at books through a gender lens, I really think that this World War II series (and the Vietnam series) will appeal more to boys than most girls, especially since there are very few females in them, and none with a major role (I don't think Lynch is a chauvinist, I think that the male perspective is simply what he knows best).

If you are looking for good realistic historical fiction about WWII, this is a series that is sure to appeal to you.

This book is recommended for readers 11+
This was an EARC received from Edelweiss/Above the Treeline

This should give you an idea of just where Nick and Zach were sent:



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