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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: world war II, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 186
1. The Battle of Britain and the Blitz

On 7 September 1940, German bombers raided the east London docks area in two waves of devastating attacks. The date has always been taken as the start of the so-called ‘Blitz’ (from the German ‘Blitzkrieg’ or lightning war) when for nine months German bombers raided Britain’s major cities. But the 7 September attack also came at the height of the Battle of Britain.

The post The Battle of Britain and the Blitz appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. Christmas in Nazi Germany

Christmas is the most widely celebrated festival in the world but in few countries is it valued as deeply as in Germany. The country has given the world a number of important elements of the season, including the Christmas tree, the Advent calendar and wreath, gingerbread cookies, and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, “Es ist ein Ros` entsprungen,” […]

The post Christmas in Nazi Germany appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. Wolf Hollow

Wolf Hollow. Lauren Wolk. 2016. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.

Premise/plot: Annabelle, the heroine, faces her hardest struggle yet in the year 1943 when a new girl at school, Betty, begins to bully her. Annabelle is reluctant to tell her parents--or her teacher--what is going on. Afraid that Betty won't stop bullying her and will start to bully her brothers as well. But one adult, a near-homeless war veteran named Toby, witnesses Betty in action. When one of Betty's pranks goes too far, Annabelle's world is turned upside down. Life will never be the same, could never be the same.

My thoughts: Wolf Hollow might suit other readers better than it suits me. The depiction of Annabelle's aunt, Lily, bothered me. "A tall, thin, ugly woman who might have been handsome as a man, Aunt Lily spent her days working as a postmistress and her nights praying and reading from her Bible...her big, square teeth and her feverish devotion to God frightened me." In every single scene with Lily, she's presented as a villain. And at least in Annabelle's eyes, part of the villainy, part of the "getting it wrong, being in the wrong" is connected with her aunt's Christian faith. If Lily was more than a one-dimensional character, if she was perhaps a complex creature with strengths and weaknesses, then perhaps I could forgive much. I don't mind characters with weaknesses. I really don't. In fact, give me a HUMAN character each and every time. But don't give me someone who is 100% wrong because she's 100% devoted to Christ and call it characterization.

That being said, Annabelle is a solid narrator. I really enjoyed getting to know her. She is a young girl in a difficult position forced to remain in a difficult position. There is plenty of drama and action and conflict in this one. I would say the drama almost overpowers the characterization, however. In particular, Betty and Andy were lacking in character development which is a pity. What motivates a person to act a certain way? What is going on in his or her life behind the scenes? I could think of half a dozen more WHY questions. And perhaps it's asking too much for an author to get inside the head of a bully or two. But I've read other novels--even for this audience--that go there better. I didn't "need" a redemption story where Annabelle and Betty become best friends over the course of a school year, and, all this misunderstanding is swept aside as both girls experience forgiveness and new beginnings. So I wasn't disappointed exactly with the turn of this story.

There are definitely things I like about Wolf Hollow--just not everything.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea. Ruta Sepetys. 2016. 391 pages. [Source: Library]

First Sentence: Guilt is a hunter.

Premise/plot: Salt to the Sea is a historical novel set during the last part of World War II alternately narrated by four teenagers: Joana, Emelia, Florian, and Alfred. Though the book may seem excessively mysterious and difficult to follow--at the beginning especially--I want to encourage readers to keep going, to keep reading. The BIG PICTURE story of this one is so worth it.

Joana's first sentence: Guilt is a hunter.
Florian's first sentence: Fate is a hunter.
Emilia's first sentence: Shame is a hunter.
Alfred's first sentence: Fear is a hunter.

So what might be nice to know: The end is fast coming. Danger is everywhere--depending on your nationality, your paperwork, your secrets. The 'liberation' coming from the Russian side is just as troubling and disturbing and good cause for fear as accidentally bumping into German Nazis. Three of our four narrators are slowly but surely making their ways to the Baltic Sea, to a port where they may luck into finding an escape aboard a ship. The fourth narrator is already there, a German already assigned to a ship. (That would be Alfred. He will actually be one of the people responsible for registering refugees to the ships and assigning who goes where, who gets on board and who is left behind.) All four seem destined to be aboard Wilhelm Gustloff.

My thoughts: If I had to pick just a handful of words to describe this one: compelling, mysterious, intense, bittersweet. It was a WONDERFUL read. One of those books that remind you WHY you like to read in the first place. I was swept into this story, and, though it took me days to make it through the first fifty or sixty pages, I soon found it impossible to put down. The key to this one, I think, is just going for it: reading it in big chunks. You'll probably still have a few questions here and there, but, just keep going. The more you read, the more will ultimately be revealed.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Paper Wishes

Paper Wishes. Lois Sepahban. 2016. FSG. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Grandfather says that a man should walk barefoot on the bare earth every day.

Premise/plot: Paper Wishes is a middle grade historical novel set during World War II. Manami, our heroine, soon finds herself ripped away from the life she knows and loves--along with her family, her friends, her neighbors--because she's Japanese-American. Manami's family includes her grandfather, her father, her mother, an older brother (Ron) and an older sister (Keiko). Manami and her grandfather are especially, especially close to their dog Yujiin. So close that Manami tries to sneak the dog onto the bus or train that is taking them away. It does not work. And the dog is taken from her. This traumatic event leaves her without a voice. She does not speak for months--almost the entire book. But just because she isn't speaking doesn't mean she doesn't have a way of expressing herself and finding a voice. She DRAWS. She paints. And she gives some of her drawings to the wind as PAPER WISHES. What does she wish for most of all? HER dog, of course. So she sends along dozens of drawings of Yujiin hoping that somehow these wishes will come true...

My thoughts: I really found this to be an emotionally compelling read. I loved Manami and her family. In particular, I love her, Ron, and the grandfather. (I don't honestly feel I got to know-know her parents. Though I liked them well enough). I really liked getting to know her teacher as well.

Anyone who enjoys character-driven historical novels with a lot of heart will enjoy this one.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. The life and work of H.G. Wells: a timeline

August 13th marks the 150th birth and the 70th death anniversary of legendary science fiction writer H.G. Wells. A prophet of modern progress, he accurately predicted several historical advancements, from the World War II, nuclear weapons, to Wikipedia.

The post The life and work of H.G. Wells: a timeline appeared first on OUPblog.

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7. The Journey That Saved Curious George

The Journey That Saved Curious George. Louise Borden. 2016. HMH. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: For many years, I was intrigued by the story of Margret and H.A. Rey's flight from Paris on bicycles in June 1940.

Premise/plot: This children's nonfiction book is just right for elementary readers. It begins by providing background and context for young readers. Hans Augusto Reyersbach and Margarete Waldstein grew up in Germany. Both were Jewish. At some point in the 1920s, he moves to Rio de Janeiro. She follows a little while after. They meet again there, and fall in love. Paris is one of the stops on their honeymoon--they are Brazilian citizens now--and Paris is where they decide to remain. They work many happy years together in Paris. But their work--and their lives--are threatened when World War II goes from being something you read about in the papers--to something happening a few miles outside the city limits.

As Jews, they are at great risk if they remain in Paris and Paris is captured by the Nazis. But. For better or worse. They waited a little too long to leave the city...in an easy way. The last rush sees them desperate to find two bicycles. I believe the book says he had to build the bicycles himself from parts. But it isn't just a story about saving the authors' lives, it's a book celebrating the manuscript that would become Curious George. That was one of the possessions that they took with them--on their bikes. Of course what you may not know is that "George" wasn't George just yet. The monkey was originally called Fifi. And publishers had already agreed to publish the book before they made their flight...

The book focuses on H.A. and Margret Rey, their work as writers, and how the war effected their lives.

My thoughts: This is a very enjoyable read. I loved how the author was able to reconstruct their lives and give readers a behind-the-scenes look into the writing and illustrating of books. The book felt personal, but, always appropriate.

I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray. Ruta Sepetys. 2011. Penguin. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: They took me in my nightgown. Thinking back, the signs were there--family photos burned in the fireplace, Mother sewing her best silver and jewelry into the lining of her coat late at night, and Papa not returning from work. My younger brother, Jonas, was asking questions. I asked questions, too, but perhaps I refused to acknowledge the signs. Only later did I realize that Mother and Father intended we escape. We did not escape. We were taken. 

Premise/plot: I'm tempted to not give any premise or plot at all. To just say: READ THIS BOOK. But I'm not sure that's exactly fair. While, I do think this book should be read WIDELY, I think it's only fair to tell you a little bit about what to expect. It's set in 1941 in Lithuania. Lina, the heroine, and her family are in a difficult position. They're trapped between two worst-case-scenarios: Stalin, on one side, and Hitler on the other. No matter which "wins" control over Lithuania, Lina and her family--and so many others--are in great danger.

The book opens with Lina's family being arrested. It doesn't get any cheerier from that point. Lina, her mother, and her brother, Jonas, take the reader on quite an emotional journey. It's an incredible read, partly set in Siberia as well, which is where these 'prisoners' end up.

My thoughts: This was a reread for me. There is a companion book newly released this year starring Lina's cousin Joana. The companion book is set at much closer to the end of World War II. I read Salt to the Sea not really realizing its connection with Between Shades of Gray. It worked. So if you do read the books out of order, that is okay. But definitely I think you'll want to read both books.

I love this one. I do. I love the characterization. I really, really, really love Lina. And I love Andrius as well. Just because there is a tiny bit of romance, don't mistake this one for a proper ROMANCE. It's so much more than that. It's a fight for survival, and, a fight for DIGNITY. It is very bittersweet. But if you're looking for a book you can't put down, this one is it.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. The Grand Mosque of Paris

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Saved Jews During the Holocaust. Karen Gray Ruelle. Illustrated by Deborah Durland DeSaix. 2009. Holiday House. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In 1940 war came to Paris, and life was turned upside down.

Premise/plot: Quite simply this is a picture book for older readers. Dare I say it's even a picture book primarily for adults?! This picture book is definitely text-heavy, and the subject is a heavy one. The book brings to light something you may not know: the North African Muslims of Paris rescued a lot of Jews during World War II. (Others were part of the French Resistance.)

This is not a well-documented, well-known part of history. Rescuing Jews (hiding Jews, creating new identity papers, forging documents, smuggling them out of France) was deadly dangerous. So it makes sense that it was not well-documented, that they did not leave a paper trail to show how many hundreds or thousands they rescued during the war. This is a story of what we do know--a handful of cases, examples, of men, women, and children rescued by Muslims.

My thoughts: This one is packed with information, most of it all new-to-me. Because I am interested in the subject, I found it fascinating. It isn't a storytelling narrative. The text doesn't thrill you with its beauty. But it is dense with information that you probably can't find elsewhere. I can guess why they went with a picture book format. The illustrations are LOVELY and truly complement the text.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Churchill: The Power of Words

Churchill: The Power of Words. Winston S. Churchill. Edited by Martin Gilbert. Da Capo Press. 536 pages. [Source: Library]

Churchill: The Power of Words is a compelling read for anyone interested in history, British history in particular. It isn't a biography exactly. Instead it's a chronological arrangement of (select) quotes taken from his writings and speeches that give you a sense of who he was. Each quote is introduced by Martin Gilbert. On the top left-hand corner, readers find the year, and, on the top right-hand corner, readers find Churchill's age. I found this layout to be wonderful. There are no chapters, no natural stopping places. I tried to use years as goal-setters. But once World War II started, I found it too compelling to read it just a year at a time. I read greedily.

I found it fascinating and thought-provoking.

Favorite quotes:
One must never forget when misfortunes come that it is quite possible they are saving one from something much worse; or that when you make some great mistake, it may very easily serve you better than the best-advised decision. (1896) p. 14
As I think Ruskin once said, 'It matters very little whether your judgments of people are true or untrue, and very much whether they are kind or unkind,'... (1899) p. 29
What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? (1908) p. 63
We did not enter upon the war with the hope of easy victory; we did not enter upon it in any desire to extend our territory, or to advance and increase our position in the world; or in any romantic desire to shed our blood and spend our money in Continental quarrels. We entered upon this war reluctantly after we had made every effort compatible with honour to avoid being drawn in, and we entered upon it with a full realization of the sufferings, losses, disappointments, vexations, and anxieties, and of the appalling and sustaining exertions which would be entailed upon us by our action. The war will be long and sombre. It will have many reverses of fortune and many hopes falsified by subsequent events, and we must derive from our cause and from the strength that is in us, and from the traditions and history of our race, and from the support and aid of our Empire all over the world the means to make this country overcome obstacles of all kinds and continue to the end of the furrow, whatever the toil and suffering may be. (1914) p. 88.
To fail is to be enslaved, or, at the very best, to be destroyed. Not to win decisively is to have all this misery over again after an uneasy truce, and to fight it over again, probably under less favourable circumstances, and perhaps alone. (1915) p. 108
Before a war begins one should always say, 'I am strong, but so is the enemy.' When a war is being fought one should say, 'I am exhausted, but the enemy is quite tired too.' It is almost impossible to say either of these two things at the time they matter. (1918) p. 138
'What shall I do with all my books?' was the question; and the answer, 'Read them,' sobered the questioner. But if you cannot read them, at any rate handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition. It is a mistake to read too many good books when quite young. A man once told me that he had read all the books that mattered. Cross-questioned, he appeared to have read a great many, but they seemed to have made only a slight impression. How many had he understood? How many had entered his mental composition? How many had been hammered on the anvils of his mind and afterwards ranged in an armoury of bright weapons ready to hand? Choose well, choose wisely, and choose one. Concentrate upon that one. Do not be content until you find yourself reading in it with real enjoyment. (1925) p. 178-9.
We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude which has befallen Great Britain and France. Do not let us blind ourselves to that. It must now be accepted that all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will make the best terms they can with the triumphant Nazi Power. The system of alliances in Central Europe upon which France has relied for her safety has been swept away, and I can see no means by which it can be reconstituted. (1938) p. 202
You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi Power, that Power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That Power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy. (1938) p. 203
Whenever we speak of 'bloodless war' it must not be supposed that it is not attended in every country in this anxious, melancholy time by strain, by loss, and, in some countries, by a very severe degree of privation and suffering among the mass of the population. Moreover, the bloodless war is becoming intensified. There is hardly a day when the papers do not show it is becoming intensified. The strains resulting from it will in this year, still more if it is prolonged, test not only the financial and economic strength of nations but the health of their institutions and the social structure of their civilization. (1939) p. 211-2
We must not underrate the gravity of the task which lies before us or the temerity of the ordeal, to which we shall not be found unequal. We must expect many disappointments, and many unpleasant surprises, but we may be sure that the task which we have freely accepted is one not beyond the compass and the strength of the British Empire and the French Republic... It is a war, viewed in its inherent quality, to establish, on impregnable rocks, the rights of the individual, and it is a war to establish and revive the stature of man. (1939) p. 224
Of all the wars that men have fought in their hard pilgrimage, none was more noble than the great Civil War in America nearly eighty years ago. Both sides fought with high conviction, and the war was long and hard. All the heroism of the South could not redeem their cause from the stain of slavery, just as all the courage and skill which the Germans always show in war will not free them from the reproach of Naziism, with its intolerance and its brutality. (1940) p. 233-4
Very few wars have been won by mere numbers alone. Quality, will-power, geographical advantages, natural and financial resources, the command of the sea, and, above all, a cause which rouses the spontaneous surgings of the human spirit in millions of hearts--these have proved to be the decisive factors in the human story. (1940) p. 236
You ask what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realized; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. (1940) p. 243
We are moving through a period of extreme danger and of splendid hope, when every virtue of our race will be tested, and all that we have and are will be freely staked. This is no time for doubt or weakness. It is the supreme hour to which we have been called. (1940) p. 259
Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. (1940) p. 264
We have but one aim and one single, irrevocable purpose. We are resolved to destroy Hitler and every vestige of the Nazi regime. From this nothing will turn us--nothing. (1941) p. 285
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. The history behind Ukraine’s 2016 Eurovision song

Most entries to the Eurovision song contest are frothy pop tunes, but this year’s contribution from Ukraine addresses Stalin’s deportation of the entire Tatar population of Crimea in May 1944. It may seem an odd choice, but is actually very timely if we dig a little into the history of mass repression and inter-ethnic tensions in the region. Almost a quarter of a million Tatars, an ethnically Turkic people indigenous to the Crimea, were moved en masse to Soviet Central Asia as a collective punishment for perceived collaboration with the Nazis.

The post The history behind Ukraine’s 2016 Eurovision song appeared first on OUPblog.

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12. War Dogs

War Dogs. Kathryn Selbert. 2016. [April 2016] Charlesbridge. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Rufus's best friend, Winston Churchill, is a busy man, but most days Rufus and Winston share a walk.

Premise/plot: Essentially, War Dogs is a picture book biography of Winston Churchill during the Second World War told from the point of view of his poodle, Rufus. The book has plenty of Churchill quotes throughout. These are set apart from the main text, and are easily identifiable. One of the quotes is:
The road to victory may not be so long as we we expect. But we have no right to count upon this. Be it long or short, rough or smooth, we mean to reach our journey's end. August 1940
My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved, LOVED this one. War Dogs would definitely be more of a picture book for older readers than a story you'd share aloud with preschoolers. But. I think picture books for older readers are important and necessary, and can be quite LOVELY. I do think that picture books can be for everyone--people for all ages. So I'd definitely recommend this one. It would be a great introduction--picture book introduction--to the Second World War, and to Winston Churchill in particular. So if you're a history lover or a dog lover, you should definitely consider picking this one up!!!

I love the text. I love the illustrations. I love how each quote is sourced. Not all picture book biographies show their work when it comes to research. This one does! (Can you tell that I tend to love research myself!)

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Hana's Suitcase

Hana's Suitcase. Karen Levine. 2002/2016. Crown Books. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Would I recommend Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. This would be a great introduction to the subject of the Holocaust for elementary students. (My first "Holocaust book" was The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. Do you remember your first Holocaust book?) One reason why I think it would be a good fit for young readers is the way the subject is approached. It is unusual and unique. It is a story about children learning about the Holocaust for the first time. It is about the learning process--the research process as well.

Chapters alternate between the present and the past. The "present" story begins with an empty suitcase, "Hana's" suitcase. This is an object found in a Japanese Holocaust museum. The children--and the director--are eager to know WHO IS HANA? They know her birth date, that she was Jewish, that she ended up in a Nazi concentration camp. But who was she? what did she look like? what was her family like? what was her childhood like? What happened to her? Did she survive? Did she die?

The present chapters narrate this learning-process, this investigation. I love that it illustrates history-coming-to-life, how fun and exciting history can be, even how relevant and important it can be to ask questions, to be persistent, to follow leads, etc.

There are also chapters set in the past that tell Hana's story, and tell it almost from her point of view. Readers ultimately learn that much of this information came from her brother who did survive the war. Because the chapters alternate, readers will get the answers to some questions before the people in the book.

I liked how these two stories come together. This one is worth reading.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Generations of asylum seekers

With this family history behind me, questions of immigration are never far from my mind. I owe my existence to the generosity of the UK in taking in generations of refugees, as well as the kindness shown by one wealthy unmarried Christian woman – who agreed to foster my father for a few months until his parents arrived, but as that never happened, becoming his guardian until adulthood.

The post Generations of asylum seekers appeared first on OUPblog.

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15. An ‘in-spite-of’ joy

The Armenian genocide and the Holocaust took place decades ago, but the novelist William Faulkner was right when he said that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” It had been hoped that “Never again!” might be more than a slogan, but in April 1994, the Rwandan genocide began and was soon in full cry.

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16. Somewhere There Is Still A Sun

Somewhere There Is Still A Sun. Michael Gruenbaum and Todd Hasak-Lowy. 2015. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

Looking to read a memoir of the holocaust? Michael Gruenbaum has teamed up with Todd Hasak-Lowry to write Somewhere There Is Still A Sun. This memoir is not reflective. In fact, it is actually written in present tense, first person present. I must admit that took a bit of getting used to on my part. In a way, it almost seems unnatural. But. It wasn't a distraction either. I did not stay focused on the mechanics of how it was written for long. I did get swept up in the narrative. And with good reason, it is compelling and intense.

There is an innocence to the narrator, to Misha, for he is as sheltered as he possibly can be as a Jew living in a Nazi-occupied country. That is, Misha hasn't really grasped how life-and-death the situation is. Misha is still focused on life, on things like playing soccer and going to the movies. His mother and older sister seem to be keeping some things from him, for better or worse. And these things don't come to the reader's attention until the author's note. (Do all readers read authors' notes? I do. But I'm not sure everyone does.) Because of Misha's innocence, many readers may know more than he does. (Though maybe not all readers. I don't want to presume that every single reader will have read five or six holocaust books by the time they come across Somewhere There Is Still A Sun.) It is an interesting position to be put in as a reader, to know more than a character.

Misha's memoir focuses on his time in a Jewish ghetto in Prague, and, in Terezin. Terezin is still relatively new to me to read about, so I found this one fascinating. For example, Misha takes part in one or two of the plays held in Terezin.

What I appreciated the most about Somewhere There Is Still A Sun is the focus on relationships--the bonds between characters. Misha is separated from his mother and sister for many years. He is one of many assigned to a room. (I want to say that forty young boys shared a room?) Relationships matter in books, and it really gives one a complete story.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Check out this trailer for new Garth Ennis series Johnny Red

We've got the lowdown on the new high-flying WWII series from Preacher scribe Garth Ennis out November 4th.

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18. ‘The Fallen of World War II’ by Neil Halloran

An animated data-driven documentary about war and peace.

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19. The Upstairs Room (1972)

The Upstairs Room. Johanna Reiss. 1972.  HarperCollins. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

I am so glad I decided to read Johanna Reiss' The Upstairs Room. This one has been on my list of books I needed to read for quite a while--over a decade at least. It is nonfiction--a biography--set during World War II. The author and her sister were Jews that hid for several years from the Nazis.

Readers meet Annie, the young heroine, and her family. She has several older sisters, a mother and father. The war changes everything for the family. The mother, who was close to death anyway--the Nazis invasion of Holland didn't really change the outcome. The family found hiding places, but, separate hiding places. Annie was placed in a hiding place with one of her sisters. Readers meet the two families that hid the two girls. One family became like a second family to her. I found the book to be a quick read, and quite intense.

The book itself was well-written: both compelling and well-paced. What surprised me a little bit, and what might surprise others as well, is the language. I wasn't expecting (strong) profanity in a Newbery Honor book! I really wasn't. That being said, it wasn't a huge issue for me--as an adult reader. But I could see how it might not work for certain families as a read-aloud choice.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. My Brother's Secret (2015)

My Brother's Secret. Dan Smith. 2015. Scholastic. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Karl Friedmann loves to play war games, and can't wait to join the Hitler Youth. But after his father's death, he begins to question the rightness of the war, and the rightness of the Nazi party. This change of heart isn't immediate, it's more of a journey as he observes what the war has done to his family, to his friends, to his neighborhood. Two people definitely make an impact on him: his older brother, who does have a secret, and his new best friend, a girl around his own age.

My Brother's Secret is an intense read with plenty of action and drama.

I definitely found it a compelling read--a quick one too! It was action-packed until the very end. I was almost sure there was no way they could resolve it with so few pages left, and, in a way, it did feel rushed. But still. Quite a read.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Phantoms in the Snow

Phantoms in the Snow. Kathleen Benner Duble. 2011. Scholastic. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Phantoms in the Snow was a great book set during World War II. Noah, the hero, is a young man who has just lost both parents to small pox. His only living relative is an uncle that he's never met, or can't remember meeting. He's a soldier in the army, a "Phantom" part of a skiing unit. Now Noah was raised by pacifists, and, until their death he's never really thought about how he personally feels about war, and if he should be a part of it or not. He's sent to live with his uncle at a mountain camp, army camp. Once there, his uncle signs him up and lies about his age. Noah begins his training. He first has to learn to ski. He already knows how to shoot. But there's so much about army life that he doesn't know at least not yet. Noah remains conflicted through much of the book. About who he is and what he believes and where he really belongs. He learns a lot about life and about how you should never make assumptions about where another person is coming from, and what life is like for others. Anyway, it's a very strong coming-of-age story. It's a story with a lot of heart, I might add. I cared about Noah. I cared about his uncle. And I cared about a character called Skeeter. Overall, this one is oh-so-easy to recommend.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Missing in Action

Missing in Action. Dean Hughes. 2010/2015. Random House. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I definitely enjoyed reading Dean Hughes' Missing in Action. I think anyone who enjoys stories set during World War II or anyone who enjoys baseball stories will be able to appreciate this coming-of-age story.

Jay Thacker has recently moved from Salt Lake City to Delta, Utah. Jay and his mom are staying with his grandparents--his maternal grandparents. It is a bit of an adjustment for him--not that his life was perfect before--but starting over isn't always easy no matter one's past. Jay's father--who was half-Navajo--is a soldier currently listed as "missing in action." Jay is confused by this. Is his dad alive or dead? Is he a prisoner of war? Should he feel guilty if he starts moving on in his life? of thinking of his father as dead? how long should he cling to hope that he's alive? He doesn't want his dad to be dead, but, he's been missing-in-action for two or three years--a LONG time not to have heard. Still. There's always a chance that he is still alive...and Jay isn't one to rule that out. (Is his mom?)

So. Jay is new in town, and, he starts playing baseball with the other kids--the other boys. He loves playing with the others, he does, but, he doesn't like that he's called "Chief" because he's Indian. He feels that there is some stigma attached to being Indian, and, he doesn't want to 'be' anything...other than himself. Are these friendships real?

Complicating things in a wonderful way, Jay begins working with Ken, a Japanese-American teen, one of many being held at an Internment Camp in the desert. If his Dad happens to be alive, chances are, he is in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Wouldn't be friendly with Ken be a betrayal to his Dad? Then again, Ken isn't like Jay thought he "ought" to be. Ken is great at baseball, great at dancing, and so very American. Ken is easily one of the best characters in the novel. It's hard not to love him. Jay learns a lot about friendship from his time working side-by-side with Ken on his grandfather's farm.

Missing in Action is a great coming-of-age story focusing on identity and friendship. It's easy to recommend this one.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Terezin: Voices From the Holocaust

Terezin: Voices From the Holocaust. Ruth Thomson. 2011. Candlewick. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Terezin is a small fortress town in the Czech Republic. It was built in 1780 by the Austrian emperor Joseph II and named after his mother Maria Theresa. The town might forever have remained largely unknown to the rest of the world. Instead it attained notoriety. During the Second World War, the Nazis turned Terezin into a ghetto and renamed it Theresienstadt. Here, they imprisoned thousands of Jewish people--first Czechs, then Germans, and, later Danish and Dutch. Many were then sent to their deaths at Auschwitz.

Ruth Thomson provides readers with a short and concise history of Terezin (Theresienstadt) during World War II. Her narration does an excellent job piecing things together. The book is RICH in primary sources. You might be thinking that means diaries, journals, memoirs, interviews, and the like. And you'd be partly right. But it is also rich in artwork. There were talented--very, very talented--artists at work in the ghetto or camp. They drew--or painted--what the Nazis wanted or demanded. But they also worked secretly on their own pieces--pieces that document what life was really like there, the atrocities they faced daily. Through words and art--readers truly do get "voices from the Holocaust." The book provides a summary of what was going on in Europe starting with when Hitler first came to power in the early 1930s. The focus is on this one particular camp/ghetto, but, Thomson provides enough context to give readers a fuller picture of what was happening.

I have read many books about the Holocaust, about World War II. I haven't read as many about Theresienstadt, so this was a great introduction for me. I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Misty Copeland dances On the Town

Misty Copeland captured the world’s attention this summer when she became the first black female principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. In late August, Copeland will once again be in the headlines when she stars in Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town for a limited engagement at New York’s Lyric Theatre, where she will bring the show’s nearly year-long run to a close.

The post Misty Copeland dances On the Town appeared first on OUPblog.

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25. When Books Went to War

When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II. Molly Guptill Manning. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

Love to read? Love to read about reading, about books? Or perhaps you love to read about war, especially World War II? Or even perhaps you have an interest in the how-and-why of book publishing? of the history of book publishing? When Books Went To War may be the perfect--oh-so-perfect--book for you.

When Books Went to War is about two things really: a) the need and desire to supply American soldiers (troops) with reading material to keep up their morale b) the effect that the books--and the act of reading--had on soldiers. Both elements of the story are fascinating.

The opening chapters focus on a national book donation drive to supply soldiers with books. After a year--or perhaps two--it became apparent this wasn't the answer, or the best answer at any rate. Hardbacks are NOT practical for soldiers to carry. And you never know what you're going to get with book donations. The types of books--the genres or subgenres--and the condition of books. Sending soldiers books that are decades old, that are cast-offs to begin with. The books are probably unwanted for a reason. Not that every single book would have been disqualified, mind you. But all the donated books had to be gone through, evaluated and sorted. Many books were just not a good match. 

The remaining chapters focus on their new solution: the production of special paperback editions--ASE, Armed Services Edition--of selected titles. Paperbacks, at the time, weren't all that common in the field of publishing. Mass paperbacks hadn't really evolved quite yet in the market. The committee picked titles each month--28 to 40, I believe--in a wide range of genres, fiction and nonfiction. These editions were shipped all over the world wherever troops were stationed. And to say they were appreciated would be an understatement! Each book could fit in a pocket. And they could be taken anywhere--read anywhere. (The book does include a list of each title published from September 1943 through June 1947.)

Probably my favorite aspect of the book was reading about how these books impacted soldiers. Individual stories by soldiers on what these books meant to them, on what certain authors meant to them, on how reading helped them, kept them sane, meant so much to them. The book is full of WOW moments. Like soldiers writing to authors and corresponding with them.   

Quotes:
Librarians felt duty-bound to try to stop Hitler from succeeding in his war of ideas against the United States.They had no intention of purging their shelves or watching their books burn, and they were not going to wait until war was declared to take action. As an ALA publication observed in January 1941, Hitler's aim was "the destruction of ideas...even in those countries not engaged in military combat." Throughout late 1940 and early 1941, librarians debated how to protect American minds against Germany's amorphous attacks on ideas. The "bibliocaust" in Europe had struck a nerve. America's librarians concluded that the best weapon and armor was the book itself. By encouraging Americans to read, Germany's radio propaganda would be diluted and its book burnings would stand in marked contrast. As Hitler attempted to strengthen fascism by destroying the written word, librarians would urge Americans to read more. In the words of one librarian: if Hitler's Mein Kampf was capable of "stirring millions to fight for intolerance and oppression of hate, cannot other books be found to stir other millions to fight against them?" (15)
What the Army needed was some form of recreation that was small, popular, and affordable. It needed books. World War II would not be the first time the Army and Navy welcomed books into their ranks. Yet no other war--before or since--has approached the rate at which books were distributed to American forces in World War II. (24)
Charles Bolte, who was wounded in Africa, hospitalized, and distressed over his future as he faced the amputation of his leg, remembered a momentous day. A friend (who was being treated for a bullet wound) walked up to Bolte's bed, triumphantly waved a copy of Ernest Hemingway's The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories, which he had found in the hospital library. Bolte found comfort in a story about a hero who discovered that crying relieved the pain in his broken leg. Until then, Bolte had never dared cry. The story convinced him to cover his head with his blankets and give it a try. "It helped me, too." Bolte said. Although he endured multiple amputation surgeries, Bolte turned to reading throughout his hospitalization and credited books with helping him mend and move forward. "What happens during convalescence from a serious wound can sour or sweeten a man for life," Bolte remarked. For him, the latter occurred. "It was the first time since grammar school that I'd had enough time to read as much as I wanted to," he said. While there were many things that helped him heal, Bolte placed the dozens of books he read as among the most important. Tens of thousands of men would share Bolte's experience over the course of the war, finding in books the strength they needed to endure the physical wounds inflicted on the battlefield, and the power to heal their emotional and psychological scars as well. (46)

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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