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Cartoon women are inherently difficult subjects for the animator for the reason that animation demands caricature and comedy, which are concepts inconsistent with femininity, grace and sensuality. The result is that when animators create female leads, they tend to de-emphasize cartoon qualities and accentuate realistic mannerisms and behaviors.
There was a brief moment in animation history when funny and sexy female characters were encouraged though, and that era coincided roughly with World War II. Some historians, like John Costello, have argued that the war represented the true beginnings of the sexual revolution in the United States. During the early-1940s, sexual imagery gained new visibility and cultural acceptance. Young soldiers lusted after Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth pin-ups, while reading Milton Caniff’s comic Male Call and decorating their bombers with provocative nose art. Within this liberal environment, Hollywood directors and animators took advantage of the opportunity to explore creative new ways of portraying the female character in animation.
A handful of animators, notably Pat Matthews, Preston Blair, Rod Scribner, Fred Moore, and Milt Kahl, became known for their ability to handle women characters that were true cartoon creations. Still, there were limited opportunities to animate such characters, and it wasn’t uncommon for animators to use male characters in drag as a substitute for the female, such as Daffy Duck’s striptease in The Wise Quacking Duck (1943), animated by Art Babbitt.
The sexy cartoon female occasionally appeared in animation after the war, but by and large, the industry began to favor a blander and less cartoon-influenced style. By the early-1960s, the average cartoon female in Hollywood animation had become so unappealing that Rocky and Bullwinkle co-creator Bill Scott quipped, “The way women are drawn in our business today, one would assume all the artists are fags.”
The following selection of animated films illustrate some of the various approaches to the animated female character during the World War II period:
“Eatin’ on the Cuff” or The Moth who Came to Dinner (Warner Bros, Bob Clampett, 1942)
Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (Warner Bros, Bob Clampett 1943)
Red Hot Riding Hood (MGM, Tex Avery, 1943)
Abou Ben Boogie (Walter Lantz Prod, Shamus Culhane, 1944)
Recommended for ages 8-12. Award-winning author Kimberly Newton Fusco really knows how to create strong female characters that stay with you long after you've finished her book. In her most recent book, Beholding Bee, she weaves an especially magical and moving story that's perfect for middle-grade readers.
As the novel opens, we meet 11-year old Bee, who lives with a traveling carnival. It's 1942, and Bee's parents, carnival workers, were killed when she was four and she's been raised by a kindly young woman, Pauline. Bee fills her days chopping onions and helping at the carnival's hot dog cart. She has to deal with teasing about a prominent birthmark on her face, although her guardian Pauline suggests it's a precious diamond. In fact, the carnival owner only seems to be keeping Bee so that he can use her in his "freak show" when she's a little older. But when Bee's two best friends leave the carnival, Bee decides it's time to find a real home, and takes to the road with a stray dog as unwanted as she is and a small piglet.
Bee is taken in by two mysterious but kindly old women, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter, who live in an old home that seems straight out of a fairy tale. Their clothes seem to come from another era, and curiously only Bee is able to see these women she calls her "aunts." For the first time, Bee goes to school, where she must cope with cruel bullying. Although she's put in a special education class where she clearly does not belong, at school she makes her first friend her own age. Gradually, Bee learns that there are people who care about her, and she learns to accept herself for who she is.
This is a lovely, lyrical, story filled with what Bookpage called "real magic"--"created by love and conjured up by need." Kimberly Newton Fusco manages to fuse magic and realism, love and cruelty, loneliness and hope into another novel that's a treasure for middle-grade readers (and adults who love to share books with children!) Display CommentsAdd a Comment
I noticed a common feature in the comics I was reading this week, a feature that made them all compelling as stories: the role of the underdog pitted against overwhelming odds. Seeing the psychological reactions of the characters was an important part of the ride, but excellent artwork, particularly in executing fight scenes, left me more than impressed with each one. HELHEIM #1 (out March 6th), TRIGGER GIRL 6 (out March 13th), and SLEDGE-HAMMER 44 (out March 13th) strike a fluid balance between characterization and action, always a kind of brass ring for comics creation, though sometimes a little difficult for readers to come by.
[Spoilers for HELHEIM #1, TRIGGER GIRL #6, and SLEDGE-HAMMER 44 #1 below]
HELHEIM, from Oni Press, kicks off a new series, and so has a great deal of storytelling to accomplish in a single issue. It does this with axes, axes, and more axes. Though it’s true there are plenty of axes, there’s also a lot more to HELHEIM, a tale “of the North” featuring what I’ll assume from the title are Vikings. Joelle Jones (FABLES) illustrates the issue, and her style is not only eye-catching but moody. Her characters in profile resemble figures from Viking-age artifacts but also have an angularity to their movement that really establishes the world of HELHEIM. I mentioned fight-scenes. These are equally unique and captivating. Though pseudo-medieval fight scenes are common enough in comics to keep you from really paying attention to the detail of their rendering, Jones breaks down that familiarity through unique panel layouts, occasionally rounded to depict landscape or full-page with overlaid panels to create emphasis. If she impresses with her Vikings, she’s even more at home with her artwork conjuring the undead, which sets up the forthcoming themes of the series well. There’s a kind of epic weight to some of her panels that simply stays with you, a sign of excellent art.
Writer Cullen Bunn keeps up the pace of the story with driving action, and combines many of the tropes from medieval sagas without slowing things down. He establishes the role of kin relationships straight off the bat as central hero Rikard tries to save his wounded son, but ultimately has to leave the corpse behind, and then engages with both his father and other relatives at their timber fort under siege. Family relationships make for good drama, particularly in 580 AD. This forms a large part of the psychology of Rikard in his role as protector, but also as father and son. But it’s the supernatural elements Bunn includes that I particularly applaud, from Rikard seeing a vision of his own bleeding ghost predicting his imminent death (this happens in Irish Sagas of the period, and perhaps Viking too), to the rising corpses of his recently slain grotesque foes pursuing him. These are some of the elements that make Viking sagas great in their own right, including blue-faced undead who haunt houses and pound on the roof, calling the cowering inhabitants by name. Bunn brings the most evocative moments of Viking tales to new life, but isn’t afraid to introduce his own developments, like the series premise set up in #1, that Rikard can be resurrected by witchcraft to act as a vengeful Franken-Viking. If the rest of the series shows such careful consideration as this issue, the combination of powerful artwork and strong storytelling will be well worth the read.
[TRIGGER GIRL 6]
TRIGGER GIRL 6, the compilation volume of the series that appeared in the too soon cancelled magazine CREATOR OWNED HEROES, but thankfully presented as a whole by Image, already took fans by storm in 2012, but seeing the series in one unit was entirely worth the wait. Phil Noto’sartwork on the series is simply dazzling, from sleek line-work to color themes. Noto has the uncanny ability to present moments of stillness in the midst of action that creates a sense of vertigo for the reader. Since about two thirds of the story-line involves clone Trigger Girl 6’s attempt to assassinate the president of the USA, hang on tight. The plot calls for handling animals in a majestic, impressive role and Noto proves up to the challenge, too, making you wonder if there’s anything that’s not his forte when it comes to comic art. The pastel hues of the early stages of the story also merge into ethereal jungle settings within any jarring sense of transition. From near-future technology to talking animals, Noto knows the score.
[TRIGGER GIRL 6]
Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray bring us a story in TRIGGER GIRL 6 that defies you to doubt its central truths. In an included interview, the collected volume expresses Palmiotti and Gray’s concern about big corporations, and the increasingly “overpopulation and greed” in modern society that gives weight to the whole TRIGGER GIRL concept. It’s not just a beautifully drawn assassin story (though that would probably be enough to sell the book), but it’s also a commentary on social conscience. The character of Trigger Girl 6 also develops and expands for the reader, drawing us into her psychology. While TG 6 is silent and therefore mysterious in the early stages of the story, after her escape from government interrogation, Palmiotti and Gray also include inner monologue text boxes that emphasize her own internal questions and search for identity. Though this is often a common feature of sci-fi clone stories, it’s always compelling when it’s handled well, and Palmiotti and Gray manage to convey a great deal about her personality in such a brief story arc. What’s most impressive about the story, though, is that the writers bring out their big themes in what’s effectively a single-issue finale as TG 6 discovers the biological haven where she was born and the scientifically enabled talking animals who have created her. It’s a wild idea, but it doesn’t feel forced in the least, and engages with a long history of social commentary and sci-fi literature that reflects on human behavior and finds it lacking. To say the story has heart would be an understatement; it has compassion and concern. The fact that Palmiotti and Gray feel that they can reach comics readers with such a weighty message elevates the medium in all the right ways.
SLEDGE-HAMMER 44 #1, from Dark Horse, introduces a character from Mike Mignolaand John Arcudi who has his own mysterious origins and motivations. Like a lot of intriguing Dark Horse comics set in the HELLBOY universe, WWII and the Nazi legacy feature, but this story focuses on the role of fighting men and establishes a skillful balance between the fantastic and the historically grounded. Jason Latour’s artwork has a lot to do with the success of this balance. His blend of stylized linework with military detail suggests 1940’s comic art dealing with war, and the fairly unusual (from Dark Horse) sepia and muted tones of Dave Stewart’s color palette set the comic apart as something a little different. It hints that the war, and its own epic aspects, are as important as the heroic figure that the comic introduces: Sledge-Hammer. But for steam-punk and technology fans, there’s also plenty to love in Latour’s artwork. Mike Mignola’s cover art set up the design of Sledge-Hammer’s mechanoid appearance in his characteristic wood-block imprint style, but Latour also brings a sense of the human to Sledgehammer’s anatomy and appearance, from the first panel where he’s introduced, looming large in his army jacket, to his explosive one-man operation fight scenes where he takes a beating from a Nazi robot. The comic has got atmosphere in spades thanks to the artistic team work involved.
Mignola and Arcudi also craft a story with universal appeal through grounding the reader in the perspective of soldiers watching the mysterious Sledge-Hammer operation in action, as well as through giving Sledge-Hammer a speaking role even this early in the story-line. He may be a being of few words, but urging the soldiers to leave him behind and save themselves sets Sledge-Hammer up as a classic heroic being, capable of miscalculation (he seems not to have seen the Nazi robot coming), but also of personal sacrifice. It’s also a wise move that Mignola and Arcudi don’t give too much away about Sledge-Hammer’s mentality, leaving the reader to make assumptions and hang on for the next installment to learn more about whether this metal soldier has any other human characteristics, and what exactly motivates his driven actions against the Nazis. It’s a comic staged for a grand entrance of a unique character, and all the better for picking out the details of wartime experience in Europe through secondary characters. Like many projects that Mignola works on, the storytelling feels decompressed to allow the images to tell their own tale, often with only a few panels per page. The comic calls for more dialogue, actually, than many of Mignola’s works, to create a sense of experiencing conflict on the ground during WWII. The story feels particularly unencumbered by having to fit into any specific moment in a wider mythology, and for that reason it has an overpowering sense of being something new, brisk, and somewhat unpredictable. If you read issue #1, it’ll be almost impossible not to follow SLEDGE-HAMMER into its second issue whether due to its lavish homage artwork or its fresh storytelling, but most likely a combination thereof.
These three comics display a strikingly high standard for comic artwork, really setting their artists loose to develop an aesthetic appropriate to the worlds they’re creating. It helps that the reader is following central characters into conflict and watching them battle it out against the odds within their own stories. This gives action scenes even more of an edge and also leads the reader deeper into the psychological layers of the storytelling involved. All three comics celebrate the role of the hero, taking traditional elements and redefining them according to the personal vision of their respective creative teams. HELHEIM #1, TRIGGER GIRL 6, and SLEDGE-HAMMER 44 #1 prove that you don’t have to choose between spectacular art or strong storytelling in comics: you can actually find them both in one package if you’re lucky.
Title: HELHEIM #1/Publisher: Oni Press/Creative Team: Cullen Bunn, Writer, Joelle Jones, Illustration, Nick Filardi, Colors, Ed Brisson, Letters
Title: TRIGGER GIRL 6/Publisher: Image Comics/Creative Team: Jimmy Palimiotti, Justin Gray, Writers, Phil Noto, Artwork, Bill Tortolini, Letters, Design
Title: SLEDGE HAMMER 44 #1/Publisher: Dark Horse Comics/ Creative Team: Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Writers, Jason Latour, Artwork, Dave Stewart, Colors, Clem Robins, Letters
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.
Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - The World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, Flash Point, 2012, 272 pp, ISBN: 1596434872
Recap: In December of 1938, a German chemist named Otto Hahn made a discovery that stunned scientists around the world: he discovered that atoms could, in fact, be split in half. And while that may not have meant much at the time to most of the world's population, Hahn's discovery eventually became the foundation for the deadliest weapon that our world has ever known. Bomb is the story of three countries in a race against time - a race to solve the mysteries of physics, a race to make history, a race to kill or be killed.
Review: Whew, I feel like I just ran a race myself! Book lovers, I am telling you, that Steve Sheinkin had me on the edge of my seat from page 1! Am I a history buff? No. A science scholar? Oh, no. On any given day I'm more likely to be reading People.com than really anything history related. But I could not put this book down. Thanks to Sheinkin's narrative style and the heaps of (true!) dialogue, Bomb reads very much like a novel. There are pages and pages of photographs, and my favorites were the scrapbook style photos at the beginning of each new section, highlighting the "major players" that the reader was about to meet. The sheer amount of different names could have proven daunting for a reader, but Bomb is written so skillfully that I never once felt overwhelmed or confused. Rather, I couldn't wait to see what the next chapter would hold. I think one of the marks of a truly great read is when you frequently find yourself talking about it with others. In the past few days, I've managed to turn a number of conversations around toward Soviet spies, particle physics, secret science labs in the desert, and weapons of mass destruction. Seriously, can you tell I'm hooked on this book? Recommendation: If you are at all interested in World War II or in Science, Bomb is a must-read. And for the record, I'm not particularly interested in either of those subjects, but I still found Bomb completely fascinating. In the mood to expand your reading horizons? Pick up Bomb today. (PS: Did I mention that Bomb won the Sibert Medal for nonfiction + was selected as a Newbery Honor and National Book Award Finalist??) BOB Prediction: Honestly book lovers, this one is just too close for me to call. I have a sincere love for Wonder. It's one of the best books I've read this year. BUT... Bomb is one of the best, most engaging pieces of nonfiction that I've ever had the pleasure of reading. I do not envy judge Kenneth Oppel in this round! Quotable Quotes: - "When do we get as scared as we ought to?" - Leona Woods - (on site at the Trinity test)"We were told to lie down on the sand, turn our faces away from the blast, and bury our heads in our arms. No one complied. We were determined to look the beast in the eye." - Edward Teller - (in reference to the chill that settled over the jubilant crowd of physicists, following the successful test at Trinity)"It was the chill of knowing they had used something they loved - the study of physics - to build the deadliest weapon in human history." - Steve Sheinkin
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Hyperion Book CH, 2012, 352 pp, ISBN: 1423152190
Recap: Imagine yourself a prisoner of war. Your plane was shot down in Nazi occupied France. All of your clothes have been taken away. An iron rod has been tied to your back. You are tortured on a daily basis. How long would it take you to break? And when you started talking, what story would you tell?
Review: It took me two attempts to read Code Name Verity. Not because I couldn't get into the first time - quite the opposite in fact. My first attempt was the audiobook, read by the immensely talented Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell (although I didn't quite make it to Gaskell's portion). Christie was the voice of "Verity" and her gorgeous Scottish brogue made the book for me. I can still hear her spitting out "mein Hauptsturmführer von Linden," and goodness knows I would have completely muddled up that pronunciation had I been reading all on my own. Christie did an absolutely brilliant job of nailing down each nuance and innuendo of Verity's story, all through the power of her voice.
Now, when I started reading/listening to Code Name Verity, I didn't know a single thing about the story except that it was generating a ton of positive buzz in the book world. **Possible spoiler alert: When Verity's section abruptly ended and Maddie's began, I was so upset that I immediately ejected the CD and took it straight back to the library. Why was Elizabeth Wein taking Verity away??? Bring her back!!!
Well, about a week later, I was burning up to know how the book ended. So I checked out the print version from the library - hence, my second attempt. And I actually just started fresh from the very beginning. Seriously, this story does not get old. And I picked up on so many more things on the second read-through! So, I would consider the second attempt a big success. When I got to Maddie's story again, I was ready. And then Maddie had to go and blow my mind. Verity wasn't gone by a long shot, and her story just took a very dramatic twist when it picked up with her best friend. Elizabeth Wein, I take back what I said before. You are a genius.
Recommendation: If you love a mystery, if you appreciate historical fiction, if you get into a girl power story, if you are simply a human being who loves to read... do not pass up Code Name Verity. BOB Prediction: Code Name Verity is going straight to the Big Kahuna Round. I will be pretty shocked if it doesn't win the whole thing.
Quotable Quotes: "I have told the truth." - Verity (If you've read it, doesn't this line still just give you the chills??)
After many requests, I've finished compiling an annotated list of Holocaust books. I resisted the urge to categorize them by grade level, as I feel they can be used effectively in both upper elementary and middle grades.
First, however, I wanted to make special mention of one of the newer Holocaust picture books available. Irena's Jars of Secrets by Marcia Vaughan, illustrated by Ron Mazellan, is a wonderful and important addition to the canon of children's literature on the Holocaust (see the full list below), and certainly one worth adding to your own library.
In Irena's Jars of Secrets, Irena Sendler learns compassion at an early age from her father, a Catholic physician who treated Jewish patients at a time when most Christian doctors would not.When her father contracts typhus treating these same patients, he tells Irena on his death bed to "help someone who is drowning, even if you cannot swim."
Irena takes this advice to heart, and begins administering to the Jews imprisoned within the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto by occupying Nazi forces. Beginning in 1940 and continuing for the next two years, Irena smuggles in food, clothing, and medicine. She realizes, however, that this isn't enough. As the Nazis begin transporting the Ghetto inhabitants to concentration camps, Irena joins a secret organization called Zegota, and makes plans to smuggle Jewish children to safety.
But what parent will give up their child? Only after Irena swears to provide new identities and preserve the real names of their children do the Jewish parents reluctantly release them to her. The book chronicles the close calls of the smuggling operation, as well as the capture and near execution of Irena.
After the war's end, Irena unearths her buried jars which contain the real identities of the children that were saved. Most of the children's parents have been killed in the camps, but the lists allow the Jewish National Committee to locate living relatives for many of the children. An afterword provides additional information about Irena Sendler, who never considered herself a hero. Instead, she said this in a letter to the Polish Senate in 2007:
Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this earth, and not a title to glory.
Rich, wonderful paintings by Ron Mazellan (who also illustrated the Holocaust title The Harmonica) help to capture both the tragic and triumphant moments of this book. His subjects and scenes are dramatically lit, and in his own words "moody and mysterious," putting the absolute perfect finishing touches on this title.
Why are names so important? Ask students to interview their parents and find out how their names came to be.
For this particular picture book, as well as any that mentions the Warsaw Ghetto, I'd recommend Children in the Ghetto, an interactive site which describes itself as
"...A website about children, written for children. It portrays life during the Holocaust from the viewpoint of children who lived in the ghetto, while attempting to make the complex experience of life in the ghetto as accessible as possible to today’s children.
Along with the description of the hardships of ghetto life, it also presents the courage, steadfastness and creativity involved in the children’s lives. One of the most important messages to be learned is that despite the hardships, there were those who struggled to maintain humanitarian and philanthropic values, care for one another, and continue a cultural and spiritual life."
By examining artifacts, writings, and first hand interviews, students gain an understanding of the "anything-to-survive" mentality which the ghetto created and demanded of its inhabitants. Students can either explore freely, taking advantage of the interactive elements, or additionally respond in writing using the printable handouts. I chose to download the handouts, available in Word format, and tweaked them according to my students' strengths and needs..
Once they've completed this exercise, students will have a mental bank of sites, sounds, stories, and symbols from which to draw upon, greatly increasing their understanding of this period in history.
Annotated List of Holocaust Picture Books
Embedded below you'll find an annotated list of Holocaust Picture Books.Using the provided controls, you can share, download, print, or enlarge this pdf. I hope you'll find this useful when searching out the best books for your own studies. Feel free to leave a comment to let me know which books I missed!
There is no shortage of stories about the Holocaust for young people, whether fiction or nonfiction. Greenhorn, by author and children's book editor Anna Oswanger, strikes a different chord than most of these works by focusing on the aftermath of the war, through the story of one of its young survivors.
Although published as a free-standing book, Greenhorn, at 43 pages, is really more of an illustrated short story. Set in an Orthodox yeshiva in Brooklyn in 1946, the story tells of the arrival at the yeshiva of twenty orphaned Polish boys, including young Daniel, who won't let go of a little tin box he carries with him everywhere. Daniel rarely speaks, but Aaron, whose father is a rabbi, considers him his friend. Aaron stutters and is made fun of by the other boys, and feels some connection with the nearly silent refugee when the yeshiva boys start teasing Daniel about his box that he carries with him and even sleeps with. What's in the box, everyone wonders? The horrifying reality of what Daniel is carrying around contrasts with the innocence of the children at the yeshiva, who are concerned with baseball, basketball, candy, and other normal kid pursuits. We learn that inside the box is a greasy piece of soap, made with fat from the bodies of Jewish prisoners. Daniel clutches to it believing it could contain a piece of his mother, of whom he has not even a photograph.
An afterword explains that this story is based on a real incident in the life of Rabbi Rafael Grossman. A glossary provides explanations of Yiddish names, words and phrases used in the text.
Although this looks by the cover, the slight size of the story, and the abundant illustrations like a book for young children, I would not recommend this book for children younger than twelve. Also, some background knowledge of the Holocaust is useful for understanding the implications of the story. The story would make a good addition to a unit on the Holocaust, and could easily be read aloud in a classroom or read by individual students and used for classroom or home discussion. The Holocaust is such a vast tragedy that sometimes it is difficult to imagine the scope; this small book brings one element of a survivor's story vividly to life for young people.
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Winston Churchill was known during his lifetime as the British Bulldog, due to his famous tenacity. In addition to being a great statesman, writer, and orator, Churchill was an animal lover, but it was not bulldogs who lived alongside the famous man, but miniature poodles.
This new picture book by debut author/illustrator Kathryn Selbert tells the story of the British home front by highlighting Churchill's relationship with his poodle, Rufus. The author opens with the following:
"Rufus's best friend, Winston Churchill, is a busy man, but most days Rufus and Winston share a walk."
It's 1940, and Winston is managing a nation at war. Through the eyes of Rufus, Churchill's faithful brown miniature poodle, we see Churchill at work, visiting his secret underground bunker, the room from which he directs the war, going to the House of Commons, walking through streets filled with rubble from buildings destroyed by Nazi bombers. Rufus is not always invited along however; when Winston meets with his allies, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, to plan D-Day, Rufus sits by the door, patiently guarding the bunker. Rufus is once again by Churchill's side as the war ends, barking and howling with happiness. In the end, Rufus and Winston retire to the country, resting..."two war dogs." In the final lovely two-page spread dominated by the greens of the English countryside, Winston and Rufus gaze out to the horizon, with the country finally at peace.
Back matter includes a timeline of World War II, a look at Churchill and his affection for poodles (he owned two during his lifetime, both named Rufus), and a brief biography of Winston Churchill himself. The author also includes books for young Churchill fans, Churchill and World War II-related websites, a bibliography, and quotation sources.
Acrylic and collage illustrations have an nostalgic yet realistic look, with plenty of sepia tones suggesting a time long ago. Each two-page spread features a quotation by Churchill on a yellowed piece of paper, in an old-fashioned typewriter-style font, designed to look like it has been pinned to the rest of the picture. An interview on the Charlesbridge website indicates that this book grew out of an undergraduate school project, but that the book originally focused more on the relationship between dog and owner, and less on the historical details. The book now provides more of an introduction to World War II, one that would be a good classroom read-aloud while studying that time period. The book will, of course, capture the heart of dog lovers as well as history lover, with its illustrations that depict Rufus in all his poodle splendor.
Disclaimer: I am a poodle owner and a poodle lover. Review copy provided by publisher.
Recommended for ages 9-14. Few foreign books for children wind up translated into English, perhaps not surprisingly given the plethora of titles published each year by American and English-speaking authors from Canada, England, Australia, and other countries. Often the ones that do make it for release in the U.S. are special titles, and that's the case with the new historical novel Mister Orange by Dutch author Truus Matti. This title is especially unusual because, although written originally in Dutch and first published in the Netherlands, the book takes place in New York City during World War II and the protagonist is a young American boy, Linus, whose brother has shipped off to fight on the European front.
Mr. Orange, as adults might guess who see the American cover (the Dutch cover looks completely different, as is often the case), is none other than the famous Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, who has moved to New York to escape the repressive political environment in Europe. With Linus' older brother off at the war, Linus inherits his grocery delivery route, and, unable to remember his customer's foreign name, dubs him Mr. Orange because of his twice monthly delivery of a box of oranges. The two strike up an unusual friendship, as Mr. Orange shares with Linus his unusual perspective on life. We learn, for example, how he attempted to capture in his work the raw energy of both boogie-woogie music and New York.
At home, Linus' family anxiously awaits word from Linus' brother Alfie, and each letter is eagerly devoured. At first, the war seems like something out of his brother's beloved super-hero comic books, with his brother the hero, until Linus reads part of a despairing letter that his parents tried to keep from him. As the real horrors of war hit home, Linus grows and changes as well. Can imaginary heroes like Mister Superspeed do any good in a world filled with so much uncertainty and horrors? Perhaps Mr. Orange can help Linus make sense of it all.
Back matter includes information on Piet Mondrian and his life in New York City in the 1940's. Also included are additional resources for reading, watching on the Internet, and where to find Mondrian's paintings in museums around the United States.
This is an top-notch historical novel that should appeal to boys as well as girls. It's filled with characters that young people can easily identify with, and also provides interdisciplinary content on World War II, the home front, and art. It can be effectively paired with a book on Mondrian or further exploration of the artist's works on the Internet in order to fully appreciate the mental images of his apartment and working style described in the book.
Dutch edition of Mister Orange
Truss' first novel, Departure Time, was a 2011 Batchelder Honor Book and I won't be surprised if this book is also recognized by that committee which awards honors to the most outstanding books originally published in a language other than English and then translated and published in the U.S.
Author Randi Barrow's debut novel, Saving Zasha, was one of my favorite historical fiction titles of 2011, and was recognized with many honors. Not only was it terrific historical fiction, it was a great dog story, one that could appeal equally to both boys and girls. I was therefore excited to read her newest novel, Finding Zasha, a prequel to Saving Zasha.
Set in the middle of World War II Russia, Finding Zasha is another page-turner, filled with adventure, danger, and yes, adorable German shepherd puppies being raised by the Nazis for nefarious purposes. As the novel opens, we meet our hero, twelve-year old Ivan, who lives in Leningrad with his mother and loves to play his concertina. When Leningrad is besieged by the Germans and its citizenry begin to starve, Ivan's mother sends him on a dangerous journey across a frozen lake to stay with an uncle in the countryside. But as the Germans march across Russia, this seemingly safe town, too, is occupied by the Germans, and Ivan is determined to help the war effort by joining the Partisans, who work secretly to undermine the Nazis however possible.
When a Nazi officer, the sadistic Major Recht, discovers Ivan's musical talents, he brings him to stay in the German camp, a valuable opportunity for Ivan to discover information which he can feed to the partisans. At Nazi headquarters, Ivan also befriends two adorable German shepherd puppies, Thor and Zasha. The Nazi commander plans to train the puppies to hunt Russians, and then breed them to create a corps of Russian-hating dogs. Ivan can't imagine a worse fate for the innocent puppies, and dreams of somehow rescuing the prized dogs from their Nazi handlers.
When a turn of events in the war provides an opportunity for Ivan and the puppies to escape the Nazi's clutches, he's separated from Zasha, and is torn between trying to rescue her and possibly put the partisans in danger or saving himself and the other puppy Thor. And he lives with the knowledge that the vindictive Recht will stop at nothing to get his prized dogs back. Will he ever find safety for himself and the dogs?
Once again, Randi Barrow has penned an outstanding title with appeal for boys and girls alike, a "historical thriller" (a phrase I borrow from author Laurie Halse Anderson) that will especially capture the imagination of animal lovers, students interested in history and World War II, and anyone who enjoys a good adventure novel. I had a hard time putting the book down, as I followed Ivan's nail-biting story of the hardships of life in Leningrad during the Nazi siege, his harrowing journey out of Leningrad, his life with the partisans and under the nose of the Nazis, and his eventual escape. This book can be read with or without having read its companion novel, Saving Zasha, although undoubtedly those who have read one of the books will be eager to read the other. The author includes a helpful afterword on Russia and World War II, which gives some historical context to the story, particularly to Hitler's campaign against Russia, the siege of Leningrad, during which one and a half million civilians starved, and the role of the partisans in Russia's war effort.
Hello everyone, first I want to wish you all a very Happy New Year. It has been a hard year for many of us and lots had happened. Now is the time to start a fresh in 2013. I want to welcome Scholastic Inc. to my every growing publisher list. I am very happy to have them aboard. Last update I reviewed three Young Adult Novels. In this update I will be reviewing three picture books.
1) "The Never- Ending Greenness. We made Israel Bloom."- The book was written and illustrated by Neil Waldman. Published by Boyds Mills Press Inc. 1997. Originally published by: NY Morrow Junior Books 1997. Summary: "When his family comes to live in Israel after the end of World War II, a young boy begins planting and caring for trees, a practice that spreads across the whole Country." The author tells us the story of one Jewish family who escaped the horrors of the Holocaust and settled in Israel. After witnessing the terror of World War II and the bareness of his town of Vilna, a boy decides to plant trees to bring the spark of life to his new home. The amazing Illustratrations add vividness to the story.
2) "Has a Donkey Ever Brought you breakfast in bed"- This book was written by Pat Brannon and illustrated by Karen Deming. Published by Freedom of Speech Publishing Inc., Leawood KS 2012. This author creates a funny world of "mighty" animals who can: "juggle lemons," "wear red go-go boots", or "tap dance all day long." It is a funny book with very simple illustrations that catch the eye. Even though it does not focus on one character, it is still a good story. Your child will be laughing and pointing out the wacky animal events in the book. If you want your child to have a good time get a copy.
3) "Dawn"- This book was written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz. Published by Sunburst Books an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1974. This is the second edition 1987. It is a great book to read to your children before they go to sleep. Simple words and simple illustrations make them live and feel in the moment. We usually do not take a moment to observe our own surroundings: the star shining in the sky above, the bird singing, or the blooming flower below our feet. This book will encourage your children to live in the moment. I highly recommend this book for everyone. It is amazing how one picture and a few words can tell a story. Go out there and get your child a copy of this wonderful book.
Thank you everyone for following me on my blog. I will be celebrating two years in February, and I will try my best to make an update twice a month. Happy 2013 let your life shine life. Next time I will review Middle Grade books.
The Book Thief. Markus Zusak. 2006. Random House. 560 pages.
First the colors. Then the humans. That's usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. Here is a small fact: you are going to die. I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's. Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.
The Book Thief leaves me speechless. If humans leave Death, the narrator, feeling haunted, I can say the same of the narrator. Could a book have a better narrator? I doubt it. There is something so perfectly-perfectly-perfect about The Book Thief. It is beautiful and brilliant; absorbing and compelling. It goes ugly places, to be sure, but the language, the style, just can't be beat. I mean this is a novel that wows and amazes. The characters are so real, so vivid. I mean these characters are ve...moreThe Book Thief leaves me speechless. If humans leave Death, the narrator, feeling haunted, I can say the same of the narrator. Could a book have a better narrator? I doubt it. There is something so perfectly-perfectly-perfect about The Book Thief. It is beautiful and brilliant; absorbing and compelling. It goes ugly places, to be sure, but the language, the style, just can't be beat. I mean this is a novel that wows and amazes. The characters are so real, so vivid. I mean these characters are very real, very human, very flawed, but the connection is so intense. I mean how can you read Liesel Meminger's story and not be moved? How can you not care for Liesel, for her new Papa and Mama, for Rudy, for Max? It would probably be hard to pick a favorite character in this one. Would it be Death who tells the story so beautifully, so achingly, so straight-forwardly? Would it be Liesel, the girl-turned-woman, whom you just can't help loving? Her story is so heartbreaking. She is weak-and-strong. She's vulnerable and spunky. I mean she's got fight to her, fight in her. And there's something about her that you just can't ignore. But she's been hurt, she's carrying pain and loss. There's so much about her that I couldn't even begin to put into words. Would it be Hans Hubermann? It may just be. The way he tenderly loves Liesel, the way he's strong and gentle with her. So very, very understanding. How she becomes his world. How he does everything possible to be a true father to her, to heal her hurts, to piece her heart back together. There is something so very practical and down-to-earth about him, yet something so sensitive too. I mean Hans Hubermann and his accordion won't soon be forgotten by anyone who reads this novel. And then there's Max, the hidden Jew in the basement. I love Max for himself, it's true, but I love Max for what he brings out in Hans and Liesel. I love Max's role in the novel because of how he is able to connect with Liesel, how he is able to connect with this family. His story is powerful, the "books" he writes for Liesel are incredibly compelling, but, this isn't his story. He's a big part of the story, to be sure, because of the way Liesel takes him into her heart. But. This story is all about Liesel. As it perhaps should be.
Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front, 1939-1942. Joyce Dennys. 1985/2010. Bloomsbury. 176 pages.
October 18, 1939 My dear Robert, It was good to get your letter and hear that you are in a 'perfectly safe place,' though I wonder how much of that is true and how much intended to allay the alarms of your Childhood's Friend. And why, when I and everybody else know that you are in France, must I address my letters to Berkshire? Well, well, I suppose They Know Best, and Ours Not to Reason Why, but I seem to remember that when I wrote to you in the last war I used to put "B.E.F., France," quite boldly on the envelope, thereby no doubt endangering the safety of the British Empire.
I have been wanting to read this book for a year or so now. And in many ways it did not disappoint. It's set in the country, in a small country village. The main character is Henrietta Brown, a doctor's wife. The book is told through a series of letters to her childhood-friend-now-a-soldier, Robert. The first book covers October 1939 through December 1941. (Yes, the cover says 1939-1942, but the truth is the last entry is dated December 31, 1941.) Many letters (or sketches, depending on how you want to view them) are accompanied by small black-and-white drawings. What does Henrietta write about? Well, life in the village, in the country. Everything from tea parties, church rumble sales, various "concerts," and other events--big and small--that concern everyday folk. Simple things like gardening, shopping, rationing, knitting, gossiping, etc.
The setting is definitely enjoyable. I was reminded of Agatha Christie, in a way, especially the Miss Marple series. Because these are set in a small country village, because the characters presented are so quirky. But there are no murders, no mysteries to solve. So the comparison isn't quite fair. I was also reminded, in a way, of Erma Bombeck. Though I admit it that is a bit of a stretch. It's just that Dennys' sketches of what it is like to live in a small country village, in a small community where everyone knows everyone's business, her focus on being a housewife, a mother, a 'good' neighbor and friend, well, it is the finding humor in the common, everyday dealings of life that made me think of Bombeck. True, the humor is sometimes more understated and subtle than Bombeck, but, there are many funny scenes in this one. Is the humor for everyone? Probably not. Some might fight it too quiet.
So I definitely liked it. I'm not exactly, exactly sure I loved it. I am very, very glad I read it. And I'd definitely recommend it to some of my friends. But if you're looking for action, action, more action...it's not going to be for you.
Read Henrietta's War
If you like books set in England, especially if you like the period in which this is set, World War II
Henrietta Sees It Through. Joyce Dennys. 1987/2011. Bloomsbury. 208 pages.
February 11, 1942 My dear Robert Is there anything more fascinating than cutting the edges of a lawn?
I definitely liked this one! I'm trying to decide if I like it more than the first book, Henrietta's War, or if I just feel more comfortable liking it since most of the characters are familiar friends by this point. It definitely covers more than the first book. It speeds through the rest of the war. (Perhaps because this book doesn't publish every single letter originally published for the magazine these were originally written for during the war years.) Once again the setting is a small country village, the narrator is a doctor's wife, Henrietta Brown. The book deals not only with rations and war-worries but with everyday life like gossip, weddings, baby showers, dog shows, squabbles between "friends."
Read Henrietta Sees It Through
If you enjoyed Henrietta's War
If you enjoy books set in England, especially those set during World War II
If you enjoy books with a small, country village setting
Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood. Mark Kurzem. 2007. Penguin. 432 pages.
If I'm ever asked, "What's your father like?" a simple answer always escapes me. Even though I can look back on a lifetime spent in his company, I have never been able to take his measure. One part of him is a shy, brooding Russian peasant who shows a certain air of naivete, if not gullibility, with strangers. Then there is another side: alert, highly gregarious, and astonishingly worldly. His unexpected appearance on my doorstep in Oxford one May afternoon in 1997 left me more mystified than ever.
The Mascot is such a powerful and compelling biography. It is not your traditional biography--Holocaust or not. It is the story of how one man's past is revealed, how a father chooses to share his memories--some quite vivid, others very vague or fuzzy--with his adult son. The father's life is revealed to his son in a series of conversations and through the son's research to validate his father's story.
Mark, our narrator, always knew his father had his secrets. His father had a brown bag he carried with him everywhere. No one was allowed to see this bag's contents. But. Occasionally, the father would share with his family--his wife and sons--stories from the past. On these occasions, he'd pull out a photograph, an article, an item from the bag. Mark suspected that these stories were just that--stories, being part fact, part embellishment.
But one day his father tries to tell him the truth, the whole truth, the whole UGLY truth about his past. Pieces and fragments. A memory here and there. What is certainly understandable is just how much is missing, how much he doesn't know about who he is and where he comes from.
He was told by his rescuers (Latvian police men or Latvian soldiers?) that he was found in the woods or forest. Alone. Wandering. Obviously struggling to survive. He was taken in by the soldiers and "adopted" into their company. They gave him a name. They gave him a birthday. They gave him a small uniform--from 1941 to 1945 he was given three uniforms. Though he was taken into one man's home--"adopted" (though not legally) by a husband and wife--he stayed connected or associated with a unit of soldiers. He witnessed things NO CHILD of five, six, seven, eight, or nine should EVER witness. He saw men, women, children, babies being killed--in one instance herded together into a building which was then set on fire.
Though he doesn't remember his name--his family name, the names of his brother and sister, father and mother--or the name of his village, the name of his country--he does remember one thing: he witnessed the slaughter of his mother, his younger brother, his baby sister. He witnessed the slaughter of an entire neighborhood or village. At the time, he didn't realize this violence, this bloody slaughter, was because they were Jewish. In fact, his very "Jewishness" was buried deep inside him. At times he seemed aware that he too was Jewish, that his life was at risk if his Jewishness was revealed. But at the same time, the only way he could cope with his present--with his new reality, his new identity, the company he was keeping--was forced to keep in a way--was to bury his 'true' Jewish identity and become the boy others wanted/needed him to be. To survive, he had to deny so very very much.
So the story Mark hears from his father is fragmented, in a way, with very few clues. But it is emotional and intense. Almost too much for him to handle. In fact, it is almost too much for him--the father--to handle. And at one point, he asks h
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‘Verity’ is a young Scottish woman, who, shot down over Occupied France, winds up in the hands of the Gestapo. Trapped in the basement of a once-luxurious hotel, her fate is bleak – she knows they will shoot her after extracting every possible scrap of information from her, by dint of torture and deprivation. And if she does escape, it is more than likely she will be shot for collaboration. But who is she?
At first, she delays the inevitable, bargaining for pen and paper to write down what she knows. As days go by, the story unfolds of her friendship with Maddie, a pilot, and the events that bring them to work for the British Government’s Special Operations Executive. Verity’s true identity is revealed to the reader in piecemeal fashion, plausibly building up a picture of an exceptional character, whose talents for language and coolness under pressure are perfect for the job.
As the days go on, Verity learns more about the nature of her captors, the coldly Orwellian Hauptsturmfuhrer von Linden, and his assistant, Anna Engels. Anna develops some sympathy for her prisoner, but is helpless to stop the systematic brutality inflicted on her. Von Linden is an entirely more disturbing entity: in truly chilling fashion, Verity likens his attempts to get the truth from her to the same impersonal interest he might take in dismantling a radio set. He, on the other hand, thinks she is broken and compliant. Is she?
When Maddie eventually tracks Verity down with the help of members of the local Resistance, a daring raid on the prison is planned. But before it’s carried out, a devastating event takes place, altering their friendship irrevocably.
I read this book in one sitting. At its heart is a small cast of complex characters involved in a ripper of an old-fashioned spy story where no-one really speaks the truth to anyone else. Despite the at times exhaustive technical detail, it is a total page turner.
Given some of the content, this book could just as easily be a book for adults as for young adult readers. There are scenes of torture, told in a matter-of-fact way quite horrifying in its simplicity, that may take this out of the realm of younger readers, although some may not grasp the extent of the pain inferred in the description. There are also some complicated relationships – between prisoner and captors, between supposed allies, between leaders and their subordinates – which aren’t always easily explained.
At the heart of the book is an enduring friendship between two young women whose ages are slightly obscure – my best estimate would be early twenties at the oldest – who are prepared to sacrifice anything for each other. Unlike many books aimed at teenage readers, there is no external romance to dilute the intensity of this friendship – it’s mentioned that Maddie ‘doesn’t like men’, although this is not elaborated on.
The other central mystery surrounds the information that Verity has produced. What effect will it have? Can she be trusted? Again, there is vague information, and much for the careful reader to grasp between the lines.
Just as in Michelle Cooper’s Montmaray trilogy, there’s a thoroughly researched background of wartime existence. Whether it’s the SOE operations barracks in England or the Resistance cell in France, it’s all so ‘real’ that the author has added a slightly tongue-in-cheek note at the end stating that she hasn’t broken the Official Secrets Act – the book is fiction.
There’s special delight for aircraft enthusiasts in the wealth of research behind the hugely exciting scenes of flight and combat. The reader can visualise the cramped and uncomfortable interiors of t
When Nazi Germany during World War II invaded Denmark. King Christian X defied the order to fly the Nazi flag. This was resistance against a frightening and powerful Germany. King Christian X was the rallying point for his country. He was a wise and brave king.
I'd never heard this story before. I'd heard little about the country of Denmark during World War II. It made me wonder if more of the European nations had stood up to Hitler and Nazi Germany, what difference it could have made? This is a book where more teaching would be needed to the child, explaining about World War II, Holocaust. It is a large hardcover book. Every page has watercolor drawings of Danish people on the street, business people, shop owners, children, and animals. There are also war images---this would definitely spark discussion. At the end of the book is further explanation about Denmark and its stand they took for the Jew's.
BEYOND COURAGE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF JEWISH RESISTANCE DURING THE HOLOCAUST, by Doreen Rappaport (Candlewick 2012)(ages 12+). In this exceptional work, Doreen Rappaport weaves together accounts of Jewish resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe. Fascinating and horrifying, based on extensive research including personal interviews, each "untold story" is a triumph of the individual and the human spirit, to "not go gentle..."
No Easy Day, the new book by a member of the SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden on 30 April 2011, has attracted widespread comment, most of it focused on whether bin Laden posed a threat at the time he was gunned down. Another theme in the account by Mark Owen (a pseudonym) is how the team members openly weighed the political ramifications of their actions. As the Huffington Post reports:
Though he praises the president for green-lighting the risky assault, Owen says the SEALS joked that Obama would take credit for their success…. one SEAL joked, “And we’ll get Obama reelected for sure. I can see him now, talking about how he killed bin Laden.”
Owen goes on to comment that he and his peers understood that they were “tools in the toolbox, and when things go well [political leaders] promote it.” It is an observation that invites only one response: Duh.
Of course, a president will bask in the glow of a national security success. The more interesting question, though, is whether it translates into gains for him and/or his party in the next election. The direct political impact of a military victory, a peace agreement, or (as in this case) the elimination of a high-profile adversary tends to be short-lived. That said, events may not be isolated; they also figure in the narratives politicians and parties tell. For Barack Obama and the Democrats in 2012, this secondary effect is the more important one.
Wartime presidents have always been sensitive to the ticking of the political clock. In the summer of 1864, Abraham Lincoln famously fretted that he would lose his reelection bid. Grant’s army stalled at Petersburg after staggering casualties in his Overland campaign; Sherman’s army seemed just as frustrated in the siege of Atlanta; and a small Confederate army led by Jubal Early advanced through the Shenandoah Valley to the very outskirts of Washington. So bleak were the president’s political fortunes that Republicans spoke openly of holding a second convention to choose a different nominee. Only the string of Union victories — at Atlanta, in the Shenandoah Valley, and at Mobile Bay — before the election turned the political tide.
Election timing may tempt a president to shape national security decisions for political advantage. In the Second World War, Franklin Roosevelt was eager to see US troops invade North Africa before November 1942. Partly he was motivated by a desire to see American forces engage the German army to forestall popular demands to redirect resources to the war against Japan, the more hated enemy. But Roosevelt also wanted a major American offensive before the mid-term elections to deflect attention from wartime shortages and labor disputes that fed Republican attacks on his party’s management of the war effort. To his credit, he didn’t insist on a specific pre-election date for Operation Torch, and the invasion finally came a week after the voters had gone to the polls (and inflicted significant losses on his party).
The Vietnam War illustrates the intimate tie between what happens on the battlefield and elections back home. In the wake of the Tet Offensive in early 1968, Lyndon Johnson came within a whisker of losing the New Hampshire Democratic primary, an outcome widely interpreted as a defeat. He soon announced his withdrawal from the presidential race. Four years later, on the eve of the 1972 election, Richard Nixon delivered the ultimate “October surprise”: Secretary of State Henry Kissinger announced that “peace is at hand,” following conclusion of a preliminary agreement with Hanoi’s lead negotiator Le Duc Tho. In fact, however, Kissinger left out a key detail. South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu balked at the terms and refused to sign. Only after weeks of pressure, threats, and secret promises from Nixon, plus renewed heavy bombing of Hanoi, did Thieu grudgingly accept a new agreement that didn’t differ in its significant provisions from the October version.
But national security success yields ephemeral political gains. After the smashing coalition triumph in the 1991 Gulf War, George H. W. Bush enjoyed strikingly high public approval ratings. Indeed, he was so popular that a number of leading Democrats concluded he was unbeatable and decided not to seek their party’s presidential nomination the following year. But by fall 1992 the victory glow had worn off, and the public focused instead on domestic matters, especially a sluggish economy. Bill Clinton’s notable ability to project empathy played much better than Bush’s detachment.
And so it has been with Osama and Obama. Following the former’s death, the president received the expected bump in the polls. Predictably, though, the gain didn’t persist amid disappointing economic results and showdowns with Congress over the debt ceiling. From the poll results, we might conclude that Owen and his Seal buddies were mistaken about the political impact of their operation.
But there is more to it. Republicans have long enjoyed a political edge on national security, but not this year. The death of Osama bin Laden, coupled with a limited military intervention in Libya that brought down an unpopular dictator and ongoing drone attacks against suspected terrorist groups, has inoculated Barack Obama from charges of being soft on America’s enemies. Add the end of the Iraq War and the gradual withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan and the narrative takes shape: here is a president who understands how to use force efficiently and with minimal risk to American lives. Thus far Mitt Romney’s efforts to sound “tougher” on foreign policy have fallen flat with the voters. That he so rarely brings up national security issues demonstrates how little traction his message has.
None of this guarantees that the president will win a second term. The election, like the one in 1992, will be much more about the economy. But the Seal team operation reminds us that war and politics are never separated.
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Two years ago, I agreed to serve as the head of an international team of nine scholars from the US, UK, Poland, and Israel who are attempting to write a history of Hasidism, the eighteenth-century Eastern European pietistic movement that remains an important force in the Orthodox Jewish world today. I was perhaps not the obvious choice for this role. Although I’ve written several articles and book chapters on Hasidism, it has not been my main area of research. But Arthur Green, one of the foremost historians of Hasidism and the person who was supposed to head the team, was unable to take on the role and I had had some success as the editor of a large compendium on Jewish and Israeli culture (Cultures of the Jews: A New History). And so, my colleagues convinced me to take on the organizational and editorial work on the project.
Surprisingly, given its long history and influence, no general history of Hasidism exists. The first attempt at such a history was published in 1931 by Simon Dubnow, the doyen of Jewish history in Russia. Dubnow had begun collecting materials for a history of Hasidism in the 1890s. However, his history covered only the first half century of the movement, ending in 1815, which is when he believed the creative period of Hasidism came to an end.
If I was going to direct this ambitious project, I needed to come up to speed on the bibliography of research over the last half century. I was familiar with the major works of the older generation of scholars such as Gershom Scholem, Joseph Weiss, Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer, and Mendel Piekarz (to name some of the most important) as well as the younger generation, some of whom are members of our team (Ada Rapoport-Albert, Moshe Rosman, and David Assaf). Although the research community working on Hasidism is relatively small, there is still an impressive body of scholarly literature that has emerged over the last few decades.
Fortunately, at about the time I accepted the invitation to direct the Hasidism project, I was also approached by Oxford University Press to serve as Editor-in-Chief of Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies. My first task was to prepare a sample bibliography. So, instead of taking on a subject whose sources were at my fingertips, I decided to put together a bibliography of Hasidism, killing the proverbial “two birds with one stone” (or, as the Jewish saying has it, “to dance at two weddings”).
What emerged from this immersion in the sources was the growing sense that our new history could significantly revise the earlier scholarship. In most of the earlier studies, as well as in Hasidism’s own self-conception, the movement was founded by the Baal Shem Tov, who died in 1760. But like the historical Jesus of Nazareth, the Baal Shem Tov (also known as the Besht) wrote little and probably had no intention of founding a movement. It was only later in the eighteenth century that scattered charismatic leaders (known as rebbes in Yiddish, or zaddikim in Hebrew) began to be seen (and to see themselves) as a coherent movement. But since the Hasidim organized themselves as devoted followers of specific individuals, the movement had no central core. Each of these rebbes had his own philosophy and style of leadership, so that one should speak of Hasidism in the plural.
The nineteenth century, far from a time of stagnation, as Dubnow thought, now appears to have been the golden age of Hasidism. While it is questionable whether the majority of Eastern Jews were Hasidim, the movement spread rapidly and became even more active in areas of Poland and Galicia than in the provinces of Ukraine where it originated. In the twentieth century, Hasidism underwent a sharp decline as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution, the rise of secular Jewish politics in Poland, and the devastation of the Holocaust (see The Holocaust in Poland). Following World War II, the movement rose from the ashes in North America and Israel, in exile, as it were, from its Eastern European homeland. Today, there may be as many as three-quarters of a million Hasidim (out of 13 million Jews worldwide). But a movement that presents itself and is often seen by others as devout guardians of tradition is, in reality, something new, a product of modernity no less than Jewish secularism.
David Biale, Editor in Chief of Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies, is the Emanuel Ringelblum Professor of Jewish History in the department of history of University of California Davis. He is the editor of Cultures of the Jews: A New History (Schocken Books, 2002) and the author of Blood and Belief: The Circulating of a Symbol Between Jews and Christians (University of California Press, 2008).
Developed cooperatively with scholars and librarians worldwide, Oxford Bibliographies offers exclusive, authoritative research guides. Combining the best features of an annotated bibliography and a high-level encyclopedia, this cutting-edge resource guides researchers to the best available scholarship across a wide variety of subjects.
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Recommended for ages 10-14. In her new historical novel Jump into the Sky, award-winning historical fiction author Shelley Pearsall explores a little known footnote in World War II history--the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the first black paratrooper unit in the U.S. Army.
The story of the 555th unfolds through the eyes of thirteen-year old Levi, who's been living with his aunt in Chicago while his father serves in a secret Army mission. It's May, 1945, and the war is drawing to close. Levi's aunt decides to send him off by train to stay with his father at his dad's last known address, an army post in North Carolina. Not only does his father not know he's coming, Levi arrives in the Jim Crow South without a clue as to the behavior expected of a "colored boy" and almost gets himself killed for trying to buy a Coke at the wrong store. And to make things more difficult, his father's unit has been sent all the way to Oregon. Will Levi have to go back to his aunt, who doesn't want him any more, or will he be able to find his father in Oregon? And will his father survive the dangerous mission assigned to the 555?
This novel is a powerful story of racism and courage in the not-too-distant days of the Jim Crow South and a segregated American military. Although the main characters of Levi and his father are fictitious, the novel is carefully researched and many of the incidents described really happened, including the scene at the country store with the Coca Cola. Moreover, the novel is peppered with colorful real soldiers from the 555th, including "Tiger Ted" Lowry, who once fought Joe Louis in an exhibition match. An author's note describes how she first learned of this battalion, which was part of a secret operation to protect the U.S. from Japanese balloon bombs. This balloon bombing strategy of the Japanese is certainly a "truth is stranger than fiction" story. Pearsall was fortunate to interview a veteran of the unit, Walter Morris. Further details on the 555th can be found at the unit's website, triplenickle.com.
I would highly recommend this book to middle schoolers looking for a good adventure story that brings a little known part of World War II history to life.
Recommended for ages 12 through adult. In a stunning work of nonfiction for young people, award-winning author Doreen Rappaport has just published an ambitious new work profiling little-known true stories of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, a book that took her six years to research and write. Her extensive research for this project included interviews with some of the survivors whose stories are told in this volume.
This is a massive topic for a book for young people, but Rappaport manages to make it comprehensible by dividing her story into discrete sections and concentrating on a selection of individual stories. The first section, titled Realization, deals with the years up until the beginning of the war, when Hitler came to power. The second, Saving the Future, discusses brave Jews who smuggled Jewish children to safety in Holland, Belgium, France, and the forests of the Soviet Union. In part three, Rappaport examines resistance stories from the ghettos, not only the famed Warsaw ghetto uprising, in which a few thousand Jewish fighters held off the might of the Nazi army for nearly a month, but organized escapes from the Vilna ghetto and secret magazines penned by children in Theresienstadt. Other chapters discuss resistance in the concentration camps and partisan warfare conducted by Jewish resistance fighters against the Nazis.
As Rappaport notes in her introduction, few of these remarkable and heroic stories are known to the general public. Even in Jewish families, we generally learn that Jews went to the gas chambers like "lambs to the slaughter." In this volume, she takes pride in showing that stereotype is untrue, and that there were many Jews who defied and resisted the Nazis in a variety of ways.
These many amazing stories include that of 14-year old Idel, who escaped not once but twice from a labor camp in Belorussia, finally succeeding in tunneling out of the camp with the help of other inmates, after which he reaches the partisan Jewish group governed by the Bielskis, who were hiding out in the forest. Rappaport even includes an incredible story of a revolt of the Sonderkommandos, the Jewish prisoners who were forced to work in the gas chambers and the crematoriums. Although their elaborately planned revolt ultimately failed, they did succeed in blowing up one crematorium.
Handsomely designed and abundantly illustrated with dozens of archival photographs and maps, both from the war years and after, the book is supplemented with extra material on Rappaport's website, including conversations between the author and some of the survivors she profiles and links to other resources for studying the Holocaust.
Extensive back matter includes: a pronunciation guide for the many foreign names and words in the text; a timeline of important dates from 1933 when Hitler takes power until the end of the war in 1945; source notes; a selected bibliography of books and websites, organized both as an overview and also chapter by chapter; photography and art credits; and an index. A study guide for Beyond Courage will soon be available on Rappaport's website.
This book is highly informative and readable for adults as well as students, and definitely belongs in all public and school libraries (at least high school and middle school). I will be incredibly surprised if we don't see this book--a model of outstanding nonfiction writing for young people--recognized during book award season.
5 Stars Soldier Bear Bibi Dumon Tak Laura Watkinson Philip Hopman Eerdmans Books for Young Readers .................... When a group of Polish soldiers stationed in Iran during World War II trade a penknife, a tin of beef, and some money for an orphaned bears cub, it’s the start of a very special friendship—and a remarkable [...]
I have the very distinct impression I may be coming a little late to the Code Name Verity fan club, it's that good. Nonetheless, I can't not write about this story either. It's that riveting. It's historical fiction solidly based in history. It's storyline is so genuine, the reader is left wondering, "did it really happen"? Yet its characters are so relatable to today's young adults, there is no disconnect due to time period. Plus, the author put together an amazing author's note that explains what's real and what's not.
Basic plot line - two young British women, one a pilot, the other nobility, become friends while working in the British war effort. Queenie, the Scottish noble, becomes a spy whom Maddie, the pilot, flies her - as well as broken and repaired planes, other spies, soldiers, etc - around England and ultimately, over the Channel to France, where Queenie is caught and interrogated - first half of the book. The second half is about how Maddie, who had to crash land in France, tries to escape back to England.
The book is brimming over with fast-paced plotting and harrowing, edge of your seat, reading.
The format is interesting in that it is essentially a journal novel written from Queenie's and Maddie's POV. By alternating POV, the reader gets a more well-rounded, yet intimate viewpoint of what is going on both behind enemy lines and allied ones.
One of the aspects of the writing that most appealed to me is that Wein made each character human. That is, each has wants and desires, both abominable and universal. It's an interesting aspect to this particular novel. It wasn't easy to hate anyone flat out, except one secondary, but high-ranking Nazi official. Wein did a great job of character development, and in so doing, in bringing to life the intricacies of war and how enemy and ally aren't as one-dimensional as the history books of my young adult years painted them. The effect is something akin to that of The Reader, remaining long after the story itself is finished and begging for further discussion.
Three words to sum up Alan Turing? Humour. He had an impish, irreverent and infectious sense of humour. Courage. Isolation. He loved to work alone. Reading his scientific papers, it is almost as though the rest of the world — the busy community of human minds working away on the same or related problems — simply did not exist. Turing was determined to do it his way. Three more words? A patriot. Unconventional — he was uncompromisingly unconventional, and he didn’t much care what other people thought about his unusual methods. A genius. Turing’s brilliant mind was sparsely furnished, though. He was a Spartan in all things, inner and outer, and had no time for pleasing décor, soft furnishings, superfluous embellishment, or unnecessary words. To him what mattered was the truth. Everything else was mere froth. He succeeded where a better furnished, wordier, more ornate mind might have failed. Alan Turing changed the world.
What would it have been like to meet him? Turing was tallish (5 feet 10 inches) and broadly built. He looked strong and fit. You might have mistaken his age, as he always seemed younger than he was. He was good looking, but strange. If you came across him at a party you would notice him all right. In fact you might turn round and say “Who on earth is that?” It wasn’t just his shabby clothes or dirty fingernails. It was the whole package. Part of it was the unusual noise he made. This has often been described as a stammer, but it wasn’t. It was his way of preventing people from interrupting him, while he thought out what he was trying to say. Ah – Ah – Ah – Ah – Ah. He did it loudly.
If you crossed the room to talk to him, you’d probably find him gauche and rather reserved. He was decidedly lah-di-dah, but the reserve wasn’t standoffishness. He was a man of few words, shy. Polite small talk did not come easily to him. He might if you were lucky smile engagingly, his blue eyes twinkling, and come out with something quirky that would make you laugh. If conversation developed you’d probably find him vivid and funny. He might ask you, in his rather high-pitched voice, whether you think a computer could ever enjoy strawberries and cream, or could make you fall in love with it. Or he might ask if you can say why a face is reversed left to right in a mirror but not top to bottom.
Once you got to know him Turing was fun — cheerful, lively, stimulating, comic, brimming with boyish enthusiasm. His raucous crow-like laugh pealed out boisterously. But he was also a loner. “Turing was always by himself,” said codebreaker Jerry Roberts: “He didn’t seem to talk to people a lot, although with his own circle he was sociable enough.” Like everyone else Turing craved affection and company, but he never seemed to quite fit in anywhere. He was bothered by his own social strangeness — although, like his hair, it was a force of nature he could do little about. Occasionally he could be very rude. If he thought that someone wasn’t listening to him with sufficient attention he would simply walk away. Turing was the sort of man who, usually unintentionally, ruffled people’s feathers — especially pompous people, people in authority, and scientific poseurs. He was moody too. His assistant at the National Physical Laboratory, Jim Wilkinson, recalled with amusement that there were days when it was best just to keep out of Turing’s way. Beneath the cranky, craggy, irreverent exterior there was an unworldly innocence though, as well as sensitivity and modesty.
Turing died at the age of only 41. His ideas lived on, however, and at the turn of the millennium Time magazine listed him among the twentieth century’s 100 greatest minds, alongside the Wright brothers, Albert Einstein, DNA busters Crick and Watson, and the discoverer of penicillin, Alexander Fleming. Turing’s achievements during his short life were legion. Best known as the man who broke some of Germany’s most secret codes during the war of 1939-45, Turing was also the father of the modern computer. Today, all who click, tap or touch to open are familiar with the impact of his ideas. To Turing we owe the brilliant innovation of storing applications, and all the other programs necessary for computers to do our bidding, inside the computer’s memory, ready to be opened when we wish. We take for granted that we use the same slab of hardware to shop, manage our finances, type our memoirs, play our favourite music and videos, and send instant messages across the street or around the world. Like many great ideas this one now seems as obvious as the wheel and the arch, but with this single invention — the stored-program universal computer — Turing changed the way we live. His universal machine caught on like wildfire; today personal computer sales hover around the million a day mark. In less than four decades, Turing’s ideas transported us from an era where ‘computer’ was the term for a human clerk who did the sums in the back office of an insurance company or science lab, into a world where many young people have never known life without the Internet.