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Essentially, a journal about books written for children and young adults about World War II.
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1. The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2. Whistling in the Dark by Shirley Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4. Tucky Jo and Little Heart by Patricia Polacco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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9. My Brother's Secret by Dan Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10. The Safest Lie by Angela Cerrito

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Times Square, New York City August 14, 1945:

and somewhere in the crowd:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopefully, this is not a kiss of death decision!

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14. The time has come...

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

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

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

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15. Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1- Mare's War by Tanita Davis

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

2- Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

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

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

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

4- When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park

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

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

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

6- No Surrender Soldier by Christine Kohler

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

7- Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

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

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

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

9- Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Salisbury

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

9a- Dash by Kirby Larson

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

10- T4 by Anne Clare LaZotte

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

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

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17. Battle of the Bulge by Rick Atkinson

Judging from my stats, there are still a lot of readers interested in books about WWII.  Like me, most are interested in fiction and stories of courage and survival, whether they take place in countries under Nazi occupation/siege, near the front lines, or are stories about the home front.  Not many really seem want to read the details of military strategy or battles fought.  But sometimes a book like that comes along and the author has made it so interesting, it appeals to everyone.  Pulitzer Prize winning author Rick Atkinson is one of those writers who can bring major WWII battles to life, and adapting his adult books for young readers.  He did it in D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy, 1944 and he has done it again in Battle of the Bulge.

By December 1944, it was looking pretty certain that Germany was going to lose WWII.  Refusing to accept defeat, Hitler came up with a plan he called Herbstnebel (autumn mist).  It was to be a surprise attack against Allied Forces in the forest of the Ardennes in Belgium, and Hitler ordered that nothing in the plan was to be altered, even though his advisers had grave doubts about the success of Herbstnebel.

And the surprise element of Hitler's last ditch Western Front offensive hit was indeed a surprise attack for the Allies.  Unlike the D-Day invasion, the Allies did not have time for planning, so the surprise element of the attack resulted in one of the worst battles of World War II for them.  How bad?  According to Atkinson, in just one day of the fighting, December 19, 1944, 9,000 American soldiers were captured by the Germans.

The Battle of the Bulge began on December 16, 1944 and ended in German defeat on January 25, 1945.  Much needed American reinforcements arrived on December 26, 1944 with General Patton, and proved to be a great boon for the Allies.  It must have felt like a Christmas present to the soldiers already at the front.

Atkinson used the same format for Battle of the Bulge that he used in his D-Day book for young readers.  There is plenty of informative front matter to help readers understand the main part of the book.  This consists of maps, who the key players were, Allied and Axis Commands, and a timeline of the war.  Atkinson's Back Matter is even more extensive and consists of many interesting topics, especially the kind that young readers might want to know about after reading the book and seeing the copious photographs he includes.  Topics like what U.S. soldiers wore in a battle that happened during such a bitter cold, snowy winter (as you can see below), or what weapons were used, and even what happened after the Battle of the Bulge ended, even the use of dogs on the battlefield.

The book is divided into four sections, each section covering both Allies and Axis sides.  The first section covering the Western Front form the beginning of the war to November 1944, for readers whose knowledge may need to be refreshed or for readers who know nothing about the war.  Atkinson's second section focuses on Hitler's Plan; section three follows the events as they unfolded on the actual day of the German offensive; and finally the days following that.

In war, planning and fighting a battle are very complex parts of war, consequently, writing about a battle cannot possible be done as a linear narrative.  For that reason, it sometimes feels as though Atkinson has simply cut and pasted parts of his adult book to make this a book for young readers.  But this is meant to be an introduction to this important, pivotal battle and in that respect, I think Atkinson does a very good job.  As always, his research in impeccable, and his writing clear and, while taking into account he is not writing for an adult, he does not condescend to his readers, either.

The Battle of the Bulge was never something I was particularly interested in after watching a old movie about it on TV when I was a tween.  It was cold, and bloody and, not knowing anything about it before  I watched the move, I didn't really understand it.  Natuarlly, I never felt inclined to read anything about the battle of the bulge t before this book.  I feel like I have a much better handle on the events of this offensive now and hope it will help kids understand its importance in the overall WWII events, too.

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

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18. Mischief and Malice by Berthe Amoss

It's 1941 and in New Orleans, Addie Agnew, 14, is a girl with a vivid imagination and some big growing pains.  Addie had been living with her Aunt Eveline in a house that she loved and that contained all her memories.  But when Aunt Eveline passed away, Addie was forced to move next door and live with her Aunt Toosie, Uncle Henry and her cousin/rival Sandra Lee.  But luckily for Addie, her strong Catholic faith and the communion of saints allows her to keep a running conversation with Aunt Eveline, who was and still is her moral compass.

Addie has always been best friends with Tom, a next door neighbor, but when his father Louis suddenly shows up, she falls head over heels in love with the older man, despite the fact that he had deserted Tom and his mother ten years ago.  And after Louise asks Addie to go to the train to pick up Tom, she is sure he feels the same way about her.  Tom, however, refuses to speak to his father and friction flares between him and Addie over it.

Meanwhile, a family has rented out the house that Addie lived in with Aunt Eveline.  Addie discovers their real home is a plantation called Oakwood, just north of New Orleans, so they are not planning on remaining in the house for long.  And they have a daughter, Norma Jean Valerie, who is rather thin and sickly.  She's Addie's age, and soon the two girls are friends.

Addie's life revolves around her family, her friends, her school, an upcoming dance that she doesn't want to go to and a Christmas play she is helping the nuns at her Catholic school put together, and of course, boys, crushes, and being in love with an older man and with always trying to best Sandra Lee and never succeeding.  It all sounds like pretty normal stuff, until Addie overhears a strange conversation between Louis and Mrs. Valerie.  Realizing they are up to something, their conversation leads her to do some investigating on her own, and pretty soon she has a real mystery on her hands to try and solve.  And, it turns out, the mystery involves her directly and the house she loves so dearly.  How could she possible have any connection to Louis and Mrs. Valerie's connivances?  She never met the Valeries before and Louis has been gone since she was four years old, much too young to get involved with anyone's schemes. Or is it?

And to top all that, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and the US enters World War II.

Mischief and Malice is a sequel to a book called Secret Lives, written 30 years ago.  I hadn't read Secret Lives, so when I first started reading Mischief and Malice I was a little lost among all the names and Addie's relatives and their back story, but it didn't take long to catch on.  I think that is because it is written in the voice of a very chatty, lively 14 year old with lots of thoughts that are really explanations for the benefit of the reader.

Addie Agnew is the first person narrator and her thoughts and observations contain a certain honesty not often found in many coming-of-age characters but very well defined here.  Her confusions, her crushes, and conscience all make up a nice well rounded character.  Addie is a typical teenaged Catholic girl and her religion is a real part of her life.  She reminded me so much of some of my friends at that age who were Catholic.  

I did love the competition between Addie and her cousin Sandra Lee.  That reminded me of my sister and me when we were growing up.  But I also loved how they could pull together when the situation called for a united front.

The mystery isn't really a big deal and comes towards the end of the novel, but Mischief and Malice is a wonderful work of historical fiction giving us a window into life just before the US entered the war.  War was certainly on people's minds, in reality and in this story, but took a backseat to everyday life before Pearl Harbor.

I had a lot of fun reading Mischief and Malice and kudos to Berthe Amoss for taking up Addie's story again.  Will there be a third Addie story?  I hope so.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Ig Publishing

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19. National Donut Day

Today is National Donut Day, a day that recognizes the role that donuts played in WWI and WWII, so I thought I would repost my Victory through Donuts post frin 2012;  You can also read a short history of Donut Day HERE.

REPOST: Victory through Doughnuts

I read this 1944 book called Kitty Carter, Canteen Girl last week.  It's a novel about a young woman who joins the Red Cross Canteen Corps in World War II in her hometown.  It wasn't the best book I've ever read, but it did get me to thinking about how the Red Cross is always there for people whenever and wherever they are needed.

And they were certainly there in World War II providing the men and women in the Armed Forces with so many of the things they needed.  For example...

No sooner had the US entered the war and American soldiers were unfortunately sometimes taken prisoner.  In 1942, the Red Cross vowed to send one care package per week to every American POW.  In the first year of the war, they actually shipped out more that 1,000,000 care packages to the POWs.

That same year, the Red Cross collected over 1,000,000pints of blood and were asked if they could collect at least 4,000,000 in 1943.  I have no doubt they succeeded.

in the US, and later in Britain, the Red Cross opened and maintained clubs where soldiers could go to relax, have some refreshments, play some games, dance a little and chat with other soldiers and the volunteers.  These same volunteers would faithfully meet troop trains with coffee, sandwiches and doughnuts whenever they stopped at a railway station.

Clubs were so successful, that in 1942, the Red Cross introduced the clubmobile, a mobile canteen, for the servicemen and women stationed in Britain and coffee and doughnuts were always available.

Clubmobiles were important and very welcome throughout the war, especially at the front.  In fact, by July 1944, shortly after the Normandy Invasion, there were already 16 clubmobiles right on the beachhead serving coffee and doughnuts to tired, weary servicemen and plans for more.

Not surprisingly, by October 1944, there were a total of 84 clubmibiles close to the front lines, serving an average of 100,000 cups of coffee and 150,000 doughnuts every day.  The women volunteers who ran these clubs had to sleep in bedrolls underneath their vehicles at night.   

So, were the doughnuts really so good or was it the company that made them taste that way?  Now you can be the judge...

Red Cross Doughnuts 

1 1/2 cups sifted flour
1/4    tsp    baking soda
1/4    tsp    salt
1/4    tsp    butter or substitute, melted
1/4    tsp    ginger
1/4    cup   molasses
1/4/   cup   sour milk (buttermilk)
1       egg   well beaten

Combine half of the flour with the soda, salt and ginger.
Combine the egg, molasses, sour milk and melted butter or substitute.
Blend with flour mixture and stir until thoroughly mixed and smooth.
Add remaining flour to make dough of sufficient to be rolled.
Roll, on floured board, to thickness of 1/4 inch.
Cut with a donut cutter.
Fry in deep hot fat (360 degrees) until lightly browned, about 2 03 three minutes.
Drain on brown paper.

This recipe came from the online American Red Cross Museum, which you may want to visit to learn more about what the Red Cross did in WWII.  And just in case these doughnuts put you in a party mood, there are also detailed instructions for having a Red Cross Canteen Party.

And Better Late Than Never...
On May 23, 2012, the Senate passed Resolution 471 "commending the efforts of the women of the American Red Cross Clubmobiles for exemplary service during the Second World War."

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20. Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee

Hiroki Sugihara, the son of a Japanese diplomat posted to Lithuania in 1940, tells how his father suddenly found himself confronted with a terrible dilemma.

Hundreds of Jewish refugees, driven out of Poland by the Nazis after they had invaded and then occupied that country, began to show up at the gates of the Sugihara home, which doubled as the Japanese embassy.  The Sugihara's, Hiroki, his younger brothers Chiaki and Haruki, his Auntie Setsuko, and his parents lived upstairs, and his father, Chiune Sugihara, worked downstairs.

Men, women and children, dressed in layers of clothing despite the July heat, were seeking visas that would enable them to travel through Russia to find asylum in Japan.  Sugihara knew he had to do something, so he asked the crowd to choose five people to come inside and talk with him.

The next day, Sugihara cabled the Japanese government asking if he might be allowed to issue visas to the desperate refugees.  His country refused his request, leaving Sugihara with a tough moral decision - turn away the people outside his gate and leave them to certain death at the hands of the Nazis or disobey his government.

Sugihara chose to issue visas to each and every person outside his gates, disregarding Japan's order.  Day after day, from early morning to late in the evening, Sugihara hand wrote about 300 visas per day.  Even after the Nazis and Soviets began to close in on Lithuania, visas were written, right up until the family was ordered by Japan to leave when Sugihara was reassigned to Berlin.

In telling his father's story, Hiroki writes in the Afterward that it is a story that he believes "will inspire [readers] to care for all people and to respect life. It is a story that proves that one person can make a difference."  His father remained a diplomat for many years after the war, eventually leaving the Foreign Service.  In the 1960s, Chiune Sugihara began to hear from some of the people to whom he had given visas, and who referred to themselves a Sugihara survivors.  He ultimately received the Righteous Among Nations award from Yad Vashem in Israel.

Dom Lee's sepia-toned illustrations provide close detail and give a feeling of dimension and authenticity to the story being told, seemingly based on old photographs of the July 1940 events.  They are done by an very unusual method.  Lee applied encaustic beeswax to paper, scratched out the image he wanted and then added oil paint and colored pencil.

Passage to Freedom is indeed an inspiring story and one that should be shared with young readers.  Sugihara was a real hero, a man who put human life above politics,  even at a time when Japan was at war with China and relations were already contentious with Great Britain and the United States.  One thing that did amaze me was that his government didn't call him back to Japan to censure him.

An extensive PDF Classroom Guide for Passage to Freedom is available from the publisher, Lee & Low books.

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

This 11 minute video recounts the life of Chiune Sugihara at the time he was writing so many visas, it includes Sugihara survivors and his wife's recollections.

Today is Nonfiction Monday:

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21. Weekend Cooking #27: Remembering Marguerite Patten

Marguerite Patten 1915-2015

I haven't written a Weekend Cooking post in a while, but this week, while I was reading the NY Times the other day, I came across a familiar face in the Obituary section.  It was a photo of Marguerite Patten, the lady who taught Britain how to cook despite rationing in WWII (and you may recall, rationing lasted there until 1954).  Marguerite passed away on June 4, 2015, at age 99 years.  I discovered Marguerite long before I started blogging, and during my first year of blogging, I did a post about her and some of her recipes.  I thought I would repost it today in homage to all that she accomplished with food when there was very little of it to be had.

From March 6, 2011:

Weekend Cooking #5: We’ll Eat Again: A Collection of Recipes from the War Years by Marguerite Patten – Dropped Scones

Talk about celebrity chefs - Marguerite Patten was a celebrity chef as early as World War II, long before the term was even coined.  During the war, Marguerite worked for the British Ministry of Food, where her job was to teach housewives how to making good meals despite rationing. In 1944, she began working on a radio program for the BBC called Kitchen Front. To date, Marguerite has written over 170 cookbooks, has been honored by the Queen and, at 95 years of age, she is still (relatively) going strong.

Next to Welsh Cakes, scones were my favorite tea food, much better than the bread and butter tea we usually had. My dad worked in the Museum of Natural History and he came home around 4 every afternoon. As kids, we were required to be home than for tea, unless we has something related to school to do. It was my favorite time of day, and a ritual I never gave up. So today I have drop scone recipes. These come from Marguerite’s book We’ll East Again, published in association with the Imperial War Museum and can be found on page 84 of that book.

Drop Scones aka Scottish Pancakes (as it was written)

Sift 4 oz. plain flour with 2 level teaspoons of baking powder and a pinch of salt. Add 1 tbsp dried egg powder then beat in 1 pint milk and 2 tbsp water.

Grease and heat a heavy frying pan, electric solid hotplate or griddle. To test if the right heat, drop on a teaspoon of batter, this should turn a golden brown on the bottom in 1 minute. Put the mixture in tablespoons on to the plate and leave until the top surface is covered with bubbles then turn and cook on the second side. The scones are cooked when quite firm.

Potato Drop Scones (this one sounds like something my dad may with leftover mashed potatoes on Mondays)

Rub 2 oz mashed potato into 4 oz flour and ¼ teaspoon salt. Make into a stiff batter with half a beaten egg and ¼ pint milk. Allow to stand for a time. Sift in the small teaspoon of cream of tartar and a small level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and ½ oz sugar just before cooking. Cook in spoonfuls – as for Drop Scones – on a greased griddle or in a heavy frying pan. Serve with a little hot jam.

Coffee Potato Scones (this one sounds intriguing)

Sift 6 oz plain flour, 2 level teaspoon baking powder and ½ tsp salt into a basin. Mix thoroughly with 4 oz mashed potato. Rub in 2 oz fat with the tips of the fingers. Blend to a soft dough with ½ teacup strong, milky, sweetened coffee. Roll out to ½ inch thickness on a floured board and cut into rounds. Glaze the tips with a little milk. Bake on greased baking sheets in a hot over for 15 minutes.

I still make drop scones for tea, but I have to confess, I use Bisquick for them. Apparently the Queen likes them too. I found this bit in a 1965 book review from the New York Times. The review was for a book by Dwight D. Eisenhower called Waging Peace: 1956-1961.

For more on Marguerite Patten see
The Sunday Times
Celebrity Chefs

In 2007, Marguerite received a Lifetime Achievement Award and you can was it here:

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. As always Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads

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22. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom with Elizabeth & John Sherrill

This biography of Corrie ten Boom's work in the Dutch Resistance during World War II has been around since 1971 for adult readers.  Now, the story of this brave woman and her family is available for younger readers.  It is a story that is compelling, inspiring and proves once again that anyone can make a difference in dangerous times.

The ten Boom family had been watchmakers in the Dutch town of Haarlem since 1837, which also served as the family home.  And it was at the 100 year celebration of the family business that Corrie, her sister Betsie and father Casper, already 77 years old, became truly aware to what what happening in Germany.  On this happy occasion, they met a Jewish man who had just escaped Germany after some kids had set fire to his beard, burning his face.

Three years later, in 1940, Holland was invaded by the Nazis. A curfew was put in place, newspapers were taken over and radios were confiscated - well, maybe not all the radios in the ten Boom household.  Jews began to be harrassed and rounded up for deportation.  While a neighbor's shop was being searched by the Nazis, Corrie managed to get the owner, Mr. Weil, into her home without being noticed. It was decided that Mr. Weil needed to go into hiding and Corrie knew just the person who could help - her brother Willem.

After that, it didn't take long and Corrie, along with Betsie and their father, found themselves playing an active part of the Dutch underground.  Soon, a secret room was build into Corrie's bedroom wall and a constant procession of Jews on the run found themselves in this welcoming home and hidden room.  By now, Corrie and her sister Betsie were in their 50s, and their father was in his 80s and with no thought of giving up their underground activities.  

Though many in the town of Haarlem knew of the ten Boom's activities, they turned a blind eye.  But in February 1944, someone talked and the family was arrested, but although they searched the house, the seven people in the hidden room were not found by the Nazis (they were rescued later).  Corrie, Betsie and Casper were taken first to Scheveningen prison, Sadly, Casper ten Boom passed away 10 days later, on March 9, 1944.  Corrie and Betsie were sent to a concentration camp in Holland called Camp Vught, which was mainly for political prisoners, but from there, they went to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp in Germany.  It was there that Betsie passed away, but eventually Corrie was released.

Corrie ten Boom's story is so powerful and this shortened version for young readers is ideal for introducing them to this extraordinary woman and her family.  Sometimes an abridged book just doesn't work, but in this case, nothing important is left out and it still reads smoothly.  It is written as though Corrie were right there telling her story, and I may say, quite modestly and with all the surprise that she ended up as part of the Dutch underground as the reader might feel.  You don't expect older people to be the stuff of such heroism, but, as Corrie, Betsie and Casper show us, why not?

Corrie and her family were very religious Christians, members of the Dutch Reformed Church, and their religion was very much a part of their daily lives.  This comes up in the book, especially towards the end and it may put off some fo today's young readers.  However, it should be remembered that the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people was a racial and a religious issue.  It only stands to reason that the deeply religious would be exactly the people who most understand the need to help another deeply religious group.

In 1975, a movie was made about the ten Boom family in World War II, starring Julie Harris as Betsie and Jeanette Cliff as Corrie.  I haven't seen it yet, but hope to soon.  If it is any good, and it seems to be well liked, I will be back here to tell you what I think.

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

The ten Boom home and watch shop, now a museum:

 The inside of the ten Boom home showing where the secret room was built into Corrie's bedroom wall:

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23. The Sound of Life and Everything by Krista Van Dolzer

It's 1953 and WWII has been over for 7 years.  In fact, for most of 12-year-old Ella Mae Higbee's life.  Her older brother Daniel had been killed in the war in Europe and her cousin Robby Clausen died in the Pacific at Iwo Jima.  And while Ella Mae's mother has accepted the death of her son, her Auntie Mildred hadn't accepted that her Robby was gone for good.  In fact, she still holds on tightly to Robby's bloody dog-tags.

So when Auntie Mildred heard about a scientist who could re-create a person with just a few drops of their blood in his laboratory, she was ready to welcome Robby back from the dead.  There was just one problem - the person who was resurrected using Robby's bloody dog-tags was a young Japanese man.  How had a Japanese boy's blood ended up on Robby Clausen's dog-tags?  Hysterical, Auntie Mildred, along with Ella Mae and her mother leave the laboratory.

But the lab wants someone to take custody of the Japanese man, whose name is Takuma Sato, and since Auntie Mildred didn't get the son she wanted, it was up to Ella Mae and her mother to bring him home with them, much to the chagrin of Mr. Higbee.  By now, Auntie Mildred is convinced that it was Takuma who killed Robby and refuses to speak to her sister for taking care of him.

Indeed, Takuma becomes the unwitting catalyst for long held resentments and hatred in Ella Mae's small California town.  While he doesn't remember much about his life before he died, for some who are still coming to terms with family members lost in the war,  he brings up their hostile feeling towards the Japanese in general.  For others, like the Reverend, the fact that Takuma was created in a lab makes him an abomination on the eyes of God.

Even as tempers flare, even as they are ostracized by family, friends and neighbors for taking in Takuma, Ella Mae and her mother stand firm in their belief that they did the right thing.  At school, Ella Mae's cousin and best friend Theo turns his back on her, though when she and Takuma are gone after by the class bully, Theo does get help.

Little by little, Takuma begins to remember his former life, but after a few months, he also begins to physically fail.  As he grows weaker and weaker, he starts to draw pictures from the war.  Soon the truth about how his blood got on Robby's dog-tags become evident in his drawings.  But will Auntie Mildred and everyone else in town be able to accept that what happened on Iwo Jima just didn't happen exactly the way they had thought it had?

The Sound of Life and Everything was an interesting book.  It's not often that I get to read speculative fiction that has anything to do with WWII with the exception of time travel books, so this was a welcomed addition.  The early 1950s was a time when people were becoming aware of DNA thanks to people like Linus Pauling, Francis Crick and James Watson, all mentioned in the novel.  But the science isn't the real focus of the story, merely the means to a way of opening up questions of racism, of forgiveness and of replacing ignorance with knowledge.

I thought Ella Mae was a feisty protagonist in this coming of age story, which is told in the first person by her.  Sometimes, though, she is a little too quick with her fists, and yet, she is also a thoughtful young girl willing to admit when she is confused by events and attitudes.  She willingly takes Takuma under her wing, teaching him English and showing him her favorite spots to hang out.  And when her older cousin Gracie takes over the teaching job, there are some pangs of jealousy.

Ella Mae's mother is wonderful.  A deeply religious woman, yet she doesn't hesitate to take on the minister when he refuses to let the Higbees into church with Takuma.  And though she acknowledges science, her faith will always be in God, even when it comes to Takuma.  But, best of all is how she treats Ella Mae.  It's nice to read about a mother who isn't crazy or distant or mean.  She is right there in Ella Mae's life, and it's clear she loves and respects her daughter, even when she is mad at her.

The Sound of Life and Everything reads so much like realistic historical fiction, I had to keep reminding myself that it is speculative historical fiction - and while that is the best kind of sic-fi, this is a novel that should appeal to almost anyone.

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

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24. Nim and the War Effort by Milly Lee, pictures by Yangsook Choi

It's 1943 in San Francisco's Chinatown and young Nim and her classmates are all competing to see who can collect the most newspapers for the war effort.  So far, Nim and Garland Stephenson are in the lead.

One morning, Nim takes her wagon to her aunt's house to pick up some papers tied with a red string, but when she gets there, the papers are gone.  Disappointed, Nim decides to look around the neighborhood to see if she can find other papers to add to her pile at school.  Along the way, she runs into Garland, who not only has a pile of papers tied with a red string, but he is taking the new ones that were just delivered to the newspaper stand that morning.  When Nim confronts Garland about both piles of papers, he tells her they are his now and Mr. Wong shouldn't have left his lying on the sidewalk.

Garland's wagon is so overloaded, that the papers spill all over the sidewalk when he tries to turn a corner.  While he is picking them up, he tells Nim she can't win the contest, that they are in an American war and that only an American should win the newspaper competition and "not some Chinese smarty-pants."

Undaunted by Garland, Nim decides she has some time after school to search for more papers before she has to go to Chinese school, which her Grandfather has always been adamant she not be late for or miss.  But when she approaches the doorman of a big building in Nob Hill and asks if there are any newspapers she can have for the war effort, he is more than obliging.  To Nim's amazement he opens the door to a room full of newspapers, stacks and stacks of them.  Surely, Nim would win the competition with all those papers.  After all, Garland said it should be won by an American and Nim is as American as he is.  But how can she get all those papers to the school and still get to Chinese school on time so she doesn't anger her Grandfather?

Nim's solution will surprise readers but her reasoning is sound and she is only doing what she was taught to do - call the police and ask for help.  But, she comes home late, greeted by an very angry Grandfather who says she has disgraced the family by being seen riding in a police paddy wagon.  Can she win back her Grandfather's respect and trust when he learns the truth about what happened?

Nim and the War Effort is one of those picture books for older readers that packs in a lot of information about kids and WWII.  Kids did a lot to help the war effort, and really throw themselves into it, just a Nim and Garland do for the scrap paper contest.

Garland's cheating is a sad note about needing to win the contest.  There was nothing at stake for him, except to show her up.  Garland's behavior reminded me of the saying I was taught as a girl:
"Winners never cheat, and cheaters never win" and that's just what happened.

Cheating is one issue, but Garland also enables Milly Lee to quietly but effectively take on issues of racism and misplaced patriotism in her debut children's book.  Garland only sees Nim as Chinese, his attitude towards her, that she isn't a real American, was common after the US entered the war.  A lot of Chinese people were ostracized during WWII by those who lumped all Asians together and felt it gave them the right to mistreat them.  Lee adds a nice touch of reality when she shows grandfather wearing a pin with the American and the Chinese flag, something many Chinese people did to differentiate themselves.

Lee also takes the reader inside Nim's home, where Chinese American family life is thoughtfully depicted.   Young readers may find the relationship between Nim and her grandfather a little stiff and formal, and probably more realistic for the 1940s than in today's world.  He is a real patriarch, with Nim's mother and grandmother firmly in the background.  I thought it interesting that there is no mention of Nim's father.  Was he away fighting the war?  Another interesting note is that her grandmother has bound feet, something that most of today's young readers might not know about.

The muted realistic illustrations give the readers a true feeling of the past by using a palette of yellows and browns, making Nim's white shirt and red wagon really standout.  Like Lee, this is a debut children's book for Yangsook Choi and the two really seem to have been on the same thought-wave, producing a thoughtful, thought-provoking picture book that no doubt generates all kinds of questions and observations among young readers.

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

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25. Movie Matinee #7: Yankee Doodle Dandy


Yankee Doodle Dandy is a historically not terribly accurate bio-film about the life of George M. Cohan (James Cagney).  It begins when he is summoned to the White House by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. There, he begins to tell the President the story of his life, beginning with his birth on July 4, 1878 in Providence, RI, where his father was performing in vaudeville.  The scene then leaves the Oval Office and flashes back to that date.

From there on, in voice overs, Cohan narrates each scene change as time go by, and he and his sister Josie grow older and join in their parents vaudeville act, becoming The Four Cohans.  We seea very talented though somewhat arrogant George as a boy starring in Peck's Bad Boy, and blowing the family's chance to play Broadway with his demands.

Later, George meets Mary, the girl he will marry, and for whom he wrote the song "Mary is a Grand Old Name."  The whole time the family is performing, George is writing musical theater scores, but no one is interested.  Finally, he meets Sam H. Harris, also not succeeding in selling his material, and the two become partners and successes with their production of Little Johnny Jones, most noted for the songs "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Give My Regards to Broadway."

When the US enters World War I in 1917, George tries to enlist, but is told he is too old at 38.  Leaving the recruiting station, he runs into soldiers and an Army marching band, and as he listens to them,  the song "Over There" begins to formulate in his head.  

But Cohan's professional successes and failures isn't the only storyline.  The movie also follows his family life, though only when it suits Cohan's story.  For instance, his sister get engaged and we never find out what happened to her until later we learn that both his mother and sister have already died.  And after Cohan marries Mary, there is no mention of their three children, or his first marriage, for that matter.  The whole movie I thought they were childless because of his career.

Eventually, Cohan retires and travels the world, but when he is offered a part on Broadway playing the President, he jumps at the chance to go back to the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd.  And that's when he is called to the White House.  Thinking he is in trouble, instead he is give the Congressional Medal of Honor for his two songs,  "You're a Grand old Flag," written in 1906 for Cohan's musical play George Washington, Jr and "Over There" written in 1917.

Original Sheet Music courtesy of the Library of Congress
The finale is priceless, even if anachronistic.  As Cohan leaves the White House he joins a parade of soldiers singing "Over There" and obviously heading off to fight in WWII.  Cohan received his Medal of Honor in 1940, a year and a half before the US entered the war.  But, so what, it is still an ending that is sure to bring a tear to the eye.  

Besides James Cagney Yankee Doodle Dandy has a wonderful cast.  There is Walter Huston as his father Jerry, and Rosemary de Camp as his mother Nellie, Cagney's real sister Jeanne ss his Cohan sister Josie, and Joan Leslie as his wife, Mary.  Richard Whorf played Sam Harris, Cohan's partner and one of my favorites, S.Z. Sakall, has a small but pivotal part in the film (Sakall played Uncle Felix, the chef in Christmas in Connecticut).

Yankee Doodle Dandy is a little corny, a whole lot energetic and off the charts flag waving patriotic propaganda now that the US had entered WWII.  Still, the dancing numbers are wonderful, and although James Cagney is not Fred Astaire, I loved the tap dancing scenes.

Movie premiere May 29, 1942 in New York City, as a war bonds benefit
(Public Domain)
Yankee Doodle Dandy has been named as one of the American Film Institutes 100 Greatest American Films; James Cagney won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role; and the Library of Congress chose it to be preserved in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historicaily or aesthetically significant."  And while it is certaainly historically significant, there is one scene that bears this out in a rather offensive way when The Four Cohans are seen performing in blackface.  Historically accurate, sadly yes, but no less odious to the modern viewer.

Here is the offical movie trailer from 1942:

As long as this is a Yankee Doodle day, I thought I would also include a copy of the Uncle Sam movable paper puppet you can put together.  It's been circulating around the Internet for a while and we actually made one yesterday, but it went home with one of the kids and I didn't have time to make another.  I printed it out on 8 1/2" by 11"white card stock, cut it out and just followed the directions.  As far as I know, it was from an old postcard, printed in London, from around 1914 (I couldn't find a recent copyright, so I assume this is in the public domain now).

Oh, this modern world!  I actually rented Yankee Doodle Dandy from iTunes and watched in on my iPad with headphones.  A weird, yet rather pleasant experience  

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