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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: world war II, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Book Review: Hero on a Bicycle, by Shirley Hughes (Candlewick, 2013)

Recommended for ages 8-12.

Beloved British author Shirley Hughes is best known for her delightful picture books about preschooler Alfie and his toddler sister Annie Rose.  In 2012, at the ripe age of 84, she published in Great Britain her first children's novel, Hero on a Bicycle, which was published in 2013 by Candlewick here in the U.S.

Set in Florence in 1944, this novel centers around thirteen-year old Paolo.  He hates the Nazis but feels powerless--he's stuck between being a child and being old enough to be useful.  Paolo lives with his mother, Rosemary, an English woman who married an Italian, and his teenaged sister Constanza, a pretty girl who catches the attention of the Nazi officers stationed in town. Seeking a few thrills, Paolo rides his bicycle around town in the dark--past curfew.  But when he runs into a group of partisans--Italian resistance fighters--he becomes their messenger.  Soon his family is intimately involved, taking in downed Allied pilots, whom the resistance is trying to get to safety at the Allied lines.  Soon Paolo and his family are literally on the front lines of the conflict, and Paolo will get his chance to play the hero--sooner than he may have expected.

This is a slim novel (at 213 pages) that is a good choice for younger readers who are interested in World War II.  While providing plenty of suspense and a sense of danger, Hughes does not include any graphic violence in the novel that would be unsuitable for younger middle-grade readers.  Most of the novels for young people about World War II seem to involve the Holocaust or Jewish issues in some way; this novel provides a different perspective, as it focuses on the partisans and the Allied soldiers to fought to free Italy from the Nazi occupiers.


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2. Monuments Men and the Frick

By Stephen Bury

At rare moments in time a library can have a singular impact on history. The recent release of George Clooney’s film Monuments Men (2014) has triggered an interest in the role that the Frick Art Reference Library played in the preparation of maps identifying works of art at risk in Nazi-occupied Europe. For the first time in history a belligerent was taking care of cultural treasures in a war zone.

Bill Burke and Jane Mull, members of the Committee of the American Council of Learned Societies on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas, working with Gladys Hamlin, draftswoman, at the Frick Art Reference Library on a map of Paris. circa 1943-44. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Photographs. [National Archives photograph]

Bill Burke and Jane Mull, members of the Committee of the American Council of Learned Societies on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas, working with Gladys Hamlin, draftswoman, at the Frick Art Reference Library on a map of Paris. circa 1943-44. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Photographs. (National Archives photograph)

Initially, the concern was that Allied bombing might damage or even destroy irreplaceable cultural treasures. This was articulated first by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) who in June 1943 accepted Helen Clay Frick’s offer of the use of the Frick Art Reference Library, 10 East 71st Street, New York, which Helen had founded in 1920, in their endeavors. This was the only time in its history that the Library was closed to the public (15 July 1943- 4 January 1944).

Under the auspices of William B. Dinsmoor (1886-1973), Chair of ACLS Committee on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas, which predated the Roberts Commission, lists of cultural treasures were drawn up at the Library using its guidebooks — Baedeker, Touring Club Italiano, Guide Bleu etc. — and other resources, supplemented by what could be seen as an early form of crowd-sourcing, i.e. questionnaires sent out to academics and others who had recently visited Europe. Lists of monuments and art objects were compiled and marked on maps of the relevant area — the maps supplied by the Library of Congress, the Army Map Service, or the American Geographical Society. Some of the monuments were rated higher in importance than others: it is interesting to speculate what the criteria might have been. The monuments were numbered and their locations marked on a gridded tracing paper overlay over the map. These were re-photographed by the Library photographers, Ira Martin and Thurman Rotan. The photographic studio where this was done is now the Library’s conservation facility.

Questionnaire image_Page_4

Sample questionnaire from the ACLS Committee on the Protection of Cultural Treasures, c.1943. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.

Used by bomber pilots and navigators, then by soldiers on the ground directing artillery after the invasion of mainland Italy in September 1943 and France in June 1944, the maps were also incorporated into the Army’s Civil Affairs handbooks, which were issued to all officers on the ground. Later the lists and maps of treasures were used in the continuing struggle to return looted and confiscated portable treasures the rightful owners and their heirs. The Library’s resources including its Photoarchive are still used today for this very purpose.

Some 700 “Frick” or “Treasure” maps were made, and in a letter, dated 12 October 1943, to Dinsmoor, Monuments Man, Theodore Sizer praised their usefulness in the field and the work of “those magnificent women in the Frick”.

Dr. Stephen Bury is the Andrew W. Mellon Chief Librarian of the Frick Art Reference Library, New York, and is the Advisory Editor of the Benezit Dictionary of Artists.

Oxford Art Online offers access to the most authoritative, inclusive, and easily searchable online art resources available today. Through a single, elegant gateway users can access — and simultaneously cross-search — an expanding range of Oxford’s acclaimed art reference works: Grove Art Online, the Benezit Dictionary of Artists, the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, The Oxford Companion to Western Art, and The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms, as well as many specially commissioned articles and bibliographies available exclusively online.

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3. Destruction, Disruption, and Defiance: Jewish Resistance in the Holocaust

In discussing the persecution of European Jews in the years before and during World War II, my students would often ask, "How could they let this happen?" Meaning, how could the rest of the world stand by and do nothing? For all the answers I can help students to find, I still can't answer this question myself.

The question asked nearly as often, however, is this: "Why didn't the Jews fight back?" But to that question I can readily answer, "They did. They did fight back. But realize that it wasn't just with guns; even children your age found ways to disrupt and defy the Nazis who tried to exterminate them."

In teaching the topic of Jewish resistance, I've found a great resource in an impressive series of six books from Enslow Publishing titled True Stories of Teens in the Holocaust. This series explores, through hundreds of primary documents and photographs, the diverse experiences of Jewish and non-Jewish youth caught up in the Holocaust.

Another terrific single-volume resource for any middle or high school classroom is Doreen Rapapport's Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust, published by Candlewick Press.

Check out the books below, and then read on for suggested sites for helping students learn history through analyzing primary sources.

Courageous Teen Resisters: Primary Sources from the Holocaust

The popular title Courageous Teen Resisters: Primary Sources from the Holocaust documents both violent and nonviolent defiance of Nazi terrorism, from the increasingly overt persecution of early 1930s Germany to resistance efforts in France to the twenty-seven days of the Warsaw uprising. Readers learn how subtle and secretive efforts by Jews and Gentile sympathizers disrupted and distracted occupying enemy troops in some circumstances, while outright armed resistance and acts of sabotage wreaked chaos and destruction in others.

From Courageous Teen Resisters:

Courageous Teen Resisters is recommended as a stand-alone volume for students seeking to learn more about Jewish Resistance, as well an informational text companion to Heroes of the Holocaust: True Stories of Rescues by Teens (available from Scholastic).

The remaining five titles in the Enslow series are described below with a short publisher's summary or excerpt as well as recommended companion titles. This series is especially useful in text pairings not only to meet demands of the Common Core emphasis on informational texts, but to provide students with the necessary historical and social contexts needed to truly appreciate biography and historical fiction rooted in the Holocaust. (If you're seeking Holocaust texts for lower-level readers, be sure to check out my Annotated List of Holocaust Picture Books).

Youth Destroyed - The Nazi Camps
"Alice Lok was deported to Auschwitz, a Nazi death camp, in 1944. Upon her arrival, she faced a "selection." Alice had to stand in line as a Nazi doctor examined the new camp inmates. If the doctor pointed one direction, it meant hard labor—but labor meant life. If the doctor pointed the other way, that meant immediate death. Alice was lucky. She survived Auschwitz and two other camps. However, millions of Jews were not so lucky."  ~ from the publisher
Youth Destroyed - The Nazi Camps is recommended as an informational text companion to The Devil's Arithmetic (gr. 6-8), Prisoner B-3087 (gr. 6-9; see my review here), Four Perfect Pebbles: A Holocaust Story (gr. 4-6), Hana's Suitcase (gr. 4-5), Elly: My True Story of the Holocaust (gr. 5-7), I am a Star: Child of the Holocaust (gr. 5-7), Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps (gr. 5-8), I Have Lived A Thousand Years: Growing Up In The Holocaust (gr. 8-12), and Night (grades 9-up).

Trapped - Youth in the Nazi Ghettos
"(M)any Jewish youth living in the ghettos in Europe... faced death, fear, hunger, hard labor, and disease everyday. Millions of Jews were forced into ghettos, where the Nazis kept them until they could be deported to the death camps."  ~ from the publisher

For this title 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 writings, artifacts, 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 explore freely, taking advantage of the interactive elements, or respond to prompts in writing using the printable handouts (I downloaded the handouts, available in Word format, and adapted them according to my lesson objectives).

Once students have interacted with this site, they will have a mental bank of sites, sounds, stories, and symbols from which to draw upon, greatly increasing their understanding and appreciation of this nonfiction text as well as any novel with which they're working.

Trapped - Youth in the Nazi Ghettos is recommended as an informational text companion to The Island on Bird Street (gr. 4-6), Milkweed (gr. 6-8), Yellow Star (gr. 5-8), and Daniel's Story (gr. 4-8).

Escape - Teens on the Run
"Thousands of Jews lived on the run during the Holocaust. Some were able to escape Germany before the war started. Others had to move throughout Europe to flee the Nazis. And many more could not escape at all."  ~ from the publisher

From Escape - Teens on the Run

Escape: Teens on the Run is recommended as an informational text companion to Number the Stars (gr. 4-5), The Night Spies (gr. 3-5), When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (gr. 4-6), Escape: Children of the Holocaust (gr. 5-7), Run, Boy, Run (gr. 5-8), Once (gr. 6-10), and Survivors: True Stories of Children of the Holocaust (grades 5-8).

Hidden Teens, Hidden Lives
"(T)housands of Jews went into hiding during the Holocaust. Barns, trapdoors, bunkers, secret attics, forged identity papers, and fake names became tools for survival."  ~ from the publisher
The fate of Jews who were hidden is of special interest to students. Even in a classroom that chooses not to embark upon a full Holocaust unit, time can certainly be devoted to learning about Jews who went into hiding rather than face extermination by the Nazis.

The uncertainty of such a choice is reflected in this diary entry from Anne Frank which appears in the book:

Hidden Teens, Hidden Lives is recommended as an informational text companion to Number the Stars (gr. 4-5), Jacob's Rescue (gr. 3-5), The Upstairs Room (gr. 4-5), Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 True Stories of Survival (gr. 4-6), Anne Frank (10 Days) (gr. 5-7), The Hidden Girl: A True Story of the Holocaust (gr. 4-6), Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (gr. 7-up), and The Book Thief (gr, 8-up).

Shattered Youth in Nazi Germany
"Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party's rise to power in the 1930s changed life dramatically for all people living in Germany. Hitler used propaganda, fear, and brutality as his main weapons. Jewish children faced strong antiSemitism in their schools and on the street, and saw their families ripped apart. Non-Jewish children deemed "undesirable" suffered a similar fate. "Aryan" children were forced to enter Hitler Youth groups or endure humiliation."  ~ from the publisher

This book is a real stand-out as it not only chronicles the experience of Jews in Nazi Germany, but also Gentiles who were reluctant to submit to Nazi ideologies.

Shattered Youth in Nazi Germany is recommended as an informational text companion to The Big Lie (gr. 3-5), The Boy Who Dared (gr. 6-8), The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible . . . on Schindler's List (gr. 5-9), Someone Named Eva (gr. 6-9), Parallel Journeys (gr. 6-8), The Book Thief (gr. 9-up), Hitler's Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow (gr. 6-12), and The Berlin Boxing Club (gr. 9-12).

Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust

If you're looking for a single-volume resource for any middle or high school classroom, I recommend Doreen Rappaport's multiple award winning Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust, published by Candlewick Press.

Like all of Candlewick's titles, this text is supported by a number of resources available from the publisher's site, including a full page spread, a teacher's guide, an interview with a survivor, and an audio excerpt. The book itself includes primary source excerpts, maps, a pronunciation guide, timeline, index, and sources.

In speaking of her accomplishment (which took five years to research and write), author Doreen Rappaport says,
"How Jews organized themselves in order to survive and defy their enemy is an important but still neglected piece of history. I present a sampling of actions, efforts, and heroism with the hope that I can play a role in helping to correct the damaging and persistent belief that Jews ‘went like sheep to the slaughter.’"
Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation

A key resource for teaching Jewish resistance, and for discovering a multitude of primary sources, is the web site of the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, whose key mission is "to develop and distribute effective educational materials about the Jewish partisans and their life lessons, bringing the celebration of heroic resistance against tyranny into educational and cultural organizations."

Over 30,000 Jewish partisans, or “members of an organized body of fighters who attack or harass an enemy, especially within occupied territory.” joined the hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish resistance fighters who fought the Nazis. Interestingly, however, their assistance was not always welcome, as antisemitism was often common in non-Jewish resistance groups.

This comprehensive and well constructed site offers teachers and students myriad free resources including:
  • Professional Development modules which can be completed for continuing education credits (CEUs)  (I highly recommend that prior to using this site you complete at least the first module, to better understand how to best access the site's videos, articles, lesson plans, student hand-outs, and more);
  • An extensive film collection, containing 3 to 20 minute films trhough which students can "witness the Jewish partisans' stories of endurance, victory, and struggle;"
  • Interactive maps of Jewish partisan activity;
  • A Virtual Underground Bunker;
  • An Image Gallery (captioned and sourced); 
  • Downloads for the classroom and a Resource Search option; and
  • A very unique tool called Someone Like Me, where a students enter a combination of characteristics which describe themselves, and the site presents a partisan who matches those characteristics. Students can then explore the life and work of that partisan through any of the resource links above.
Primary Sources

Because the impact of Holocaust education relies heavily upon students learning the true events of this tragedy, primary sources should play a role in every Holocaust unit. The JPEF site described above provides a wonderful collection of sources from which to choose, but below I have compiled a number of additional resources which educators may find useful in planning their instruction. As always, please reach out and let me know what other sites, books, and documents you've found useful.

Why Should I Use Primary Sources?

Reading Primary Sources: An Introduction for Students
From Learn NC, a step-by-step guide for students examining primary sources, with specific questions divided into five layers of questioning.

Primary Document Webinar
This hour long recorded webinar present teachers with not only reasons for using primary sources, but also ten really easy-to-implement ideas for starting with primary sources in the classroom.

Making Sense of Evidence
This is a highly recommended collection of articles written by experts in the field on how to make sense of films, oral histories, numbers, maps, advertisements, and more. While written by the experts, students will find the language they use to be accessible. From the site:
“Making Sense of Documents” provide strategies for analyzing online primary materials, with interactive exercises and a guide to traditional and online sources. “Scholars in Action” segments show how scholars puzzle out the meaning of different kinds of primary sources, allowing you to try to make sense of a document yourself then providing audio clips in which leading scholars interpret the document and discuss strategies for overall analysis.
Because of the career connections, this site is a valuable tool for achieving College and Workplace Readiness goals.

Engaging Students with Primary Sourcesfrom Smithsonian’s History Explorer site
A 64 page pdf that serves as an excellent introduction to using primary sources.

Primary Sources Fitting into CCSS
Brief article showing how instruction with primary docs helps fulfill CCSS.

Teaching the Holocaust with Primary Sources
From Eastern Illionis University, a Holocaust Unit utilizing resources provided by the Library of Congress.

Library of Congress: Why Use Primary Sources?
Very brief pdf discusses reasons in bullets; good for making your point when discussing unit plans with others.

Primary Sources Cautionary Tales (pdf article)
Considerations and concerns surrounding primary sources.

Where Can I Find Lesson Plans with Primary Sources?

I Witness
From the USC Shoah Foundation, this site contains over 1300 video testimonies and other digital resources, as well as assistance for educators seeking to use these tools in Holocaust education.

Response to the Holocaust: Resistance and Rescue(Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center)
A pdf format document filled with original writings and suggested student activities; you can also download the entire curriculum from the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center.

Jewish Resistance: A Curriculum from The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida
Lesson plans include original documents, along with suggested student questions to help analyze them.

The Power to Choose: Bystander or Rescuer?
Popular set of plans that has been online for some time; used by many educators as a good starting place for planning units.

Where Can I Find Additional Sites for Primary Sources?

PBS Learning Media - Interviews with Survivors and Rescuers
A good online source for interviews.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Offers an ever-changing variety of resources, as well as searchable pages for research. Educators can often request free teaching materials as well.

PBS Resources on the Holocaust 
The search page of PBS provides a vast number of resources, including excerpts from shows which have appeared on public television.

Oral History from Virginia Holocaust Museum
Oral History Project provides witness of survivors and rescuers.

Dr. Seuss Went to War
Theodore Geisel was a radical political cartoonist who urged America to join "Europe's war," in large part due to the oppressive policies of Hitler's Nazi. But are Geisel's cartoons themselves a type of propaganda? See an earlier post here on Propaganda and Persuasion.

What Strategies or Tools are Available to Assist Students in Analyzing Sources?

SOAPS Primary Document Strategy
This pdf provides information about the SOAPS acrostic, which students can easily recall for use in analyzing primary sources of information.

Primary Source Analysis Tools from the Library of Congress
Several different tools in pdf form for analyzing oral histories, manuscripts, maps, movies, and more.

Document Analysis Worksheets from National Archive
These pdfs allow for blank printing or for students to type directly on them and then print out or save; very handy for conducting analysis online.

Analyzing a Primary Source Rubric
A rubric for scoring student efforts in using primary sources.

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4. Book Review: Odette's Secrets, by Maryann Macdonald (Bloomsbury, 2013)

Recommended for ages 9-14.

World War II seems to supply authors, whether those for children or adults, with an inexhaustible supply of true stories for inspiration.  Author Maryann Macdonald turns to historical fiction in her new novel, Odette's Secrets, about a young Jewish girl in Paris during the Nazi Occupation.  Odette's story is told in spare free verse; we meet her Polish-Jewish parents who have immigrated to Paris with their only daughter Odette.  Odette is beloved by her gentile godmother, the concierge at her building, and has a comfortable existence until her father joins the French military, is taken prisoner by the Germans, and conditions began to worsen considerably for the Jewish population of Paris.  Soon the round-ups of foreign-born Jews begin, destined to be shipped off to the East.  Odette's mother, realizing the danger, makes a plan for her daughter and the daughters of other friends to go stay with family friends in the Vendee, outside of Nazi-occupied France, where she will be in safely in the countryside with plenty to eat.

There's one wrinkle--Odette must forget that she's a Jew.  She must blend in perfectly with the village children, learn how to cross herself, say Catholic prayers, attend mass, eat pork, in other words, do nothing that could distinguish her from other children in the village.  She becomes very good at keeping secrets--even from her closest friends.  But when her mother flees Paris to join her, suspicion follows them just the same.  Can they stay safe?  And what will happen after the war ends?  Will her father and other relatives find them back in Paris?

This is a moving, small novel that can be read quickly but delves into real issues of prejudice, bravery, and how ordinary children can survive in dangerous and extraordinary times  This novel is inspired by the life of the real Odette Myers, a story the author discovered while doing research in a Paris library; she was helped in this project by Odette's son, Daniel, who shared family photos and experiences.  Highly recommended.  

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5. Book Review: The Children of the King, by Sonya Hartnett (Candlewick, 2014)


Recommended for ages 9-12.
Release date:  March 25, 2014
Award-winning Australian author Sonya Hartnett returns to World War II in her latest historical novel for middle grade readers.  The Children of the King blends a paranormal ghost story with historical fiction;  it takes place in England at the beginning of the Second World War, and the novel begins with the young and somewhat spoiled Cecily and her older brother Jemmy moving from their comfortable upper-class existence in London to the equally comfortable country home of their uncle, to be safe from bombs that are expected to soon begin falling on London. Their father, who appears to be someone important to the war effort, is left behind in London.  Unlike other child evacuees, they are fortunate to be with their mother while other evacuees are taken in by total strangers. Cecily begs her mother for them to take in an evacuee too, and she chooses a young girl close to her own age named May.  Cecily expects the younger May to be her little pet, obeying her in everything.  
May, however, has a mind of her own, and soon is off exploring the countryside, where she discovers the ruins of an old castle. The castle is inhabited by two young brothers, dressed in fancy, old-fashioned clothes--are they evacuees who have run away from their new home? Or could they be something more amazing--and be somehow connected with the story that Uncle Peregrine tells them (and the reader) in bits and pieces?  This story is the history of Richard III and the nephews he imprisoned in the Tower of London.  The young princes' story is interwoven with that of the three modern children, all of whom are coping with the war in their own way.  Hartnett does not spare the reader from some very vivid descriptions of the London bombings, which are contrasted with the peaceful existence in the countryside.  
This is a beautiful and touching war story, with a ghost story woven in for good measure.  As you might expect, the two stories intersect in a magical way toward the end of the novel (no spoilers). An afterword with some more information about the young princes in the tower and the London Blitz might have been a good addition, to provide some historical facts and context to go with the uncle's tales.

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6. Britain, France, and their roads from empire

After the Second World War ended in 1945, Britain and France still controlled the world’s two largest colonial empires, even after the destruction of the war. Their imperial territories extended over four continents. And what’s more, both countries seemed to be absolutely determined to hold on their empires; the roll-call of British and French politicians, soldiers, settlers, and writers who promised to defend their colonial possessions at all costs is a long one. But despite that, within just twenty years, both empires had vanished.

In the two videos below Martin Thomas, author of Fight or Flight: Britain, France, and their Roads from Empire, discusses the disintegration of the British and French empires. He emphasizes the need to examine the process of decolonization from a global perspective, and discusses how the processes of decolonization dominated the 20th century. He also compares and contrasts the case of India and Vietnam as key territories of the British and French Empires.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Martin Thomas is Professor of Imperial History in the Department of History at the University of Exeter, where he has taught since 2003. He founded the University’s Centre for the Study of War, State and Society, which supports research into the impact of armed conflict on societies and communities. He is a past winner of a Philip Leverhulme prize for outstanding research and a holder of a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship. He has published widely on twentieth century French and imperial history, and his new book is Fight or Flight: Britain, France, and their Roads from Empire.

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7. Spies and the burning Reichstag

By Benjamin Carter Hett

It is well known that someone set fire to the Reichstag in Berlin on the evening of 27 February 1933 – eighty-one years ago. It is also well known that Hitler’s new government took this opportunity to pass the Reichstag Fire Decree, gutting the Weimar constitution and effectively initiating a 12-year dictatorship. Many readers will know that ever since 1933 controversy has raged about who actually set fire to the Reichstag: was it the first step in a Communist coup, was it a Nazi conspiracy to supply a justification for their Decree, or was the rather confused young Dutch stonemason Marinus van der Lubbe telling the truth when he claimed he had set the fire himself?


Firemen work on the burning Reichstag, February 1933. Item from Record Group 208: Records of the Office of War Information, 1926 – 1951. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

One matter that is less well known, however, is just how much, and for how long, various intelligence services have taken an interest in these questions.

Spies were a part of the story from the beginning. In March 1933, a senior officer of Britain’s MI5 named Guy Liddell traveled to Germany to make contact with the newly reorganized German Secret Police (soon to be christened the Gestapo) and its leader, the brilliant but sinister Rudolf Diels. At the time, one of the main tasks facing Diels and his officers was the investigation of the Reichstag fire. Liddell wrote a long report on his experiences in Germany, noting among other things that the weakness of the police evidence against Marinus van der Lubbe led him to the view that “previous con­clusions that this incident was a piece of Nazi provocation to provide a pretext for the wholesale suppression of the German Communist Party were amply confirmed.”

After the Second World War, Rudolf Diels and the small group of his former Gestapo subordinates who had investigated the fire in 1933 faced a difficult legal situation. To varying degrees they had been involved in Nazi crimes (including the thoroughly corrupt fire investigation itself) and they had to navigate the tricky waters of war crimes and “denazification” investigations and prosecutions. One of their real advantages, however, was their intelligence experience – coupled with their undeniable anti-Communism. This made them attractive to the Western Allies’ intelligence services. Rudolf Diels was, for many years, a key paid source on politics in Germany for the American CIC (military counter intelligence). His payment, as recorded in a written contract from 1948, was 12 cartons of cigarettes per month, supplemented now and then by ration cards and cans of Crisco – the real sources of value in Germany at the time. A few years later one of the leading figures in the West German Federal Criminal Police (BKA) complained to American intelligence officers that overly-zealous prosecutions of ex-Nazi police officers were a Cold War danger. They were weakening the BKA to the point that West Germany itself would become “a push-over for Eastern intelligence services” and thus “a weak link and danger point in the whole Western defense system.” The CIA officer who recorded these comments noted that they were “worth attention.”

One of the things that Diels and his former subordinates had to worry about was the testimony and the book of a man named Hans Bernd Gisevius, who accused them of covering up Nazi guilt for the Reichstag fire as well as involvement in a number of murders. Gisevius had himself been a Gestapo officer in 1933; from there he went on to serve in Germany’s military intelligence service, the Abwehr, during the war – and became active in the resistance that led to the famous Valkyrie plot. Diels and Gisevius hated each other. Around 1950 many well-informed people – no doubt including Diels and Gisevius – thought these men were both candidates to head the newly created West German domestic intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. When Diels and Gisevius argued about who set the Reichstag fire – which they did both publicly and vitriolically – it is hard to overlook the fact that they were competing for jobs and influence in the emerging West German intelligence sector.

The Cold War also explained why the infamous East German Stasi spent many years and considerable effort doing its own discreet research into the Reichstag fire and the people who had been involved in it. Above all the Stasi hoped to find information that would discredit prominent East German dissidents, along with ex-Nazi police and intelligence officials in West Germany. The Stasi also tried to recruit at least one well-known western Reichstag fire researcher to be, in Stasi-speak, an “unofficial employee.”

But the most important link between intelligence services and the Reichstag fire came in the form of a man named Fritz Tobias, who from the 1950s to the 1970s was a senior official of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in the West German federal state of Lower Saxony. Earlier, in the 1940s – by his own account at least – he had served as a “scout” for the British Secret Intelligence Service. This meant that, while working on a “denazification” tribunal, he was supposed to keep his eyes open for former Nazis who might be useful to the British.

In 1951 Tobias started devoting his spare time – by his account, only his spare time – to research on the Reichstag fire. By the late 1950s his work was already becoming known, and, to some German officials, somewhat troubling. Tobias could and did use the powers of his office to get information. He was able to get access to classified documents that were closed to the public, and on at least one occasion he brought a prosecutor along with him to question a retired judge who had evidence to give about the fire. Was this all really just a spare time project? In the early 1960s, when Tobias’s lengthy book on the Reichstag fire was published (lengthy in German anyway – the English translation cut it by about half), Tobias used agents from the Office for Constitutional Protection to threaten academic historians who disagreed with his arguments, and blackmailed the director of a prestigious institute with classified documents revealing that director’s Nazi past. There seems at least a possibility that Tobias’s work was really an official commission. When asked about this while testifying in court in 1961, Tobias declined to answer because of his duty to maintain official secrets.

Why would German security services in the 1960s care about who had burned the Reichstag? There are several possibilities, admittedly only speculative. Tobias’s book, like Rudolf Diels’s before him, was to a considerable extent an attack on Hans Bernd Gisevius. Gisevius had made himself very unpopular with the West German government through his advocacy of a policy of neutrality in the Cold War and his friendship with gadflies like Martin Niemöller. There are materials in the FBI’s file on Gisevius (and yes, the bureau had one) that seem likely to have come from a German security service. There is also the issue that all the state and the Federal West German governments were very much on the defensive in the early 1960s about the number of senior officials they employed who had bad records from the Nazi era. Tobias’s own state of Lower Saxony was one of the worst offenders in this regard. Tobias’s book was very much a defense, indeed a glorification, of those former Gestapo officers who had worked with Rudolf Diels – one of whom, Walter Zirpins, had an office just down the hall from Fritz Tobias at the Lower Saxon Interior Ministry.

These spies and their various schemes make up a fascinating, if murky, part of this murky historical mystery.

Benjamin Carter Hett, a former trial lawyer and professor of history at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, is the author of Burning the Reichstag, Death in the Tiergarten and Crossing Hitler, winner of the Fraenkel Prize.

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8. Friday: Courage

Filed under: Causes Tagged: courage; The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, World War II

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9. Ezra Pound and James Strachey Barnes

By David Bradshaw and James Smith

The extent of Ezra Pound‘s involvement with Italian fascism during the Second World War has been one of the most troubling and contentious issues in modernist literary studies. After broadcasting on the wartime propaganda services of the Italian Fascist state and its successor, the Republic of Salò, Pound was indicted for treason by the United States government and arrested at the end of the war, eventually being found unfit to stand trial and instead committed to a psychiatric hospital. These episodes have obviously led to a number of major questions for scholars. Was Pound really insane? Were his actions really treasonous? Or did these broadcasts reveal the extent of Pound’s true sympathies for fascism and anti-Semitism?

Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound

Our research has tried to shed new light on these questions by exploring Pound’s relationship with James Strachey Barnes (1890-1955), an Italophile Englishman who also broadcast propaganda for Mussolini during the Second World War. Barnes is a figure who occasionally pops up in the footnotes of modernism – he was a cousin to Lytton Strachey, acquainted with Virginia Woolf and T. S. Eliot, and the inspiration for one of the characters in D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. Barnes was also one of the major intellectual supporters of Italian fascism, writing a number of books in support of the fascist cause, running a pro-fascist think-tank, and meeting Mussolini on several occasions. This culminated in his propaganda work in Italy during the Second World War, where he compiled hundreds of broadcasts with titles such as “Thank God for the Blunders of our Enemies,” with the overall aim (as he stated) of “inciting the English people to revolt against their Government.”

Pound and Barnes are known to have been friends and work-associates during the war, but despite the obvious significance of this relationship Barnes has only been a peripheral figure in Pound scholarship, and indeed little-remembered at all in the history of the inter-war radical right. One of the major problems is that the war (particularly the latter stages) remains one of the least-documented periods in Pound’s life, and almost all of Barnes’s personal papers were destroyed by his family after his death. But importantly, our research for the article found that enough documents still exist to allow us to begin to reconstruct the relationship between Barnes and Pound. The most significant of these was Barnes’s unpublished diary covering the period of 1943-5 (which eventually surfaced in the possession of his daughter-in-law, who was then living in Lund, Sweden), but we also drew upon a sequence of letters between Pound and Barnes held in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale, as well as various government files held at the National Archives of the United Kingdom.

From these documents a picture emerges not just of Barnes’s extensive collaborations with the Italian propaganda apparatus, but also of how this was often conducted with Pound’s close advice and support. And vice-versa. We now know that Pound followed Barnes’s broadcasts and offered detailed advice about their tone and content, and that Pound would often stay with Barnes in Rome and engage in long discussions on economics. When the Allies invaded the Italian mainland in September 1943 Barnes and Pound made plans to flee Rome together, with Barnes even managing to get a fake Italian passport issued for Pound to aid his escape (Pound had fled north before Barnes could get it to him). It was Barnes who lured Pound back to broadcast for the newly-formed Salò Republic, where Barnes and Pound would collaborate on programs said to contain “Pound’s most virulent anti-Semitism.” Barnes’s diary even recorded a letter from Pound to Mussolini, in which Pound promised to “fight” the “infamous propaganda” of the Allies, but warned the Duce that “I don’t need a ministry, but without a microphone I can’t send.”

So what does this mean for our understanding of Pound? Perhaps most crucially, it gives us important new material to reassess the extent to which he was a willing part of the official Fascist propaganda apparatus. Interestingly, after Barnes’s death, Pound attempted to distance himself from his previous association with Barnes, drafting a letter for The Times which stressed “the difference of angle” between the two, emphatically stating that “Pound never WAS fascist…Not only was he not fascist, he was ANTI-socialist and against the socialist elements in the fascist program.” But as much as Pound tried to wash his hands, Barnes’s papers provide a rather different picture, suggesting that, throughout the war, Pound had served as the revered and trusted mentor for a man who dubbed himself “the Italian Lord Haw-Haw.”

David Bradshaw is Professor of English Literature at Oxford University and a Fellow of Worcester College. James Smith is a Lecturer in English at Durham University. They are the authors of the paper ‘Ezra Pound, James Strachey Barnes (‘The Italian Lord Haw-Haw’) and Italian Fascism‘, published in the Review of English Studies.

The Review of English Studies was founded in 1925 to publish literary-historical research in all areas of English literature and the English language from the earliest period to the present. From the outset, RES has welcomed scholarship and criticism arising from newly discovered sources or advancing fresh interpretation of known material. Successive editors have built on this tradition while responding to innovations in the discipline and reinforcing the journal’s role as a forum for the best new research.

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Image credit: Ezra Pound US passport photo (undated) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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10. The Rise and Fall of the Funny, Sexy Cartoon Woman

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)

Plane Daffy (Warner Bros, Frank Tashlin, 1944)

Duck Pimples (Disney, Jack Kinney, 1945)

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11. Book Review: Beholding Bee, by Kimberly Newton Fusco (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)

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!)

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12. REVIEW: When the Going Gets Tough in HELHEIM #1, TRIGGER GIRL 6, SLEDGE-HAMMER 44

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]

PG12 194x300 REVIEW: When the Going Gets Tough in HELHEIM #1, TRIGGER GIRL 6, SLEDGE HAMMER 44


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.

PG16 194x300 REVIEW: When the Going Gets Tough in HELHEIM #1, TRIGGER GIRL 6, SLEDGE HAMMER 44


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.


TriggerGirl6 3 390x600 195x300 REVIEW: When the Going Gets Tough in HELHEIM #1, TRIGGER GIRL 6, SLEDGE HAMMER 44


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’s artwork 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.

escapetrig6 181x300 REVIEW: When the Going Gets Tough in HELHEIM #1, TRIGGER GIRL 6, SLEDGE HAMMER 44


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.

images 12 REVIEW: When the Going Gets Tough in HELHEIM #1, TRIGGER GIRL 6, SLEDGE HAMMER 44


SLEDGE-HAMMER 44 #1, from Dark Horse, introduces a character from Mike Mignola and 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.

sledgehammer 44 6 197x300 REVIEW: When the Going Gets Tough in HELHEIM #1, TRIGGER GIRL 6, SLEDGE HAMMER 44


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.

images 21 REVIEW: When the Going Gets Tough in HELHEIM #1, TRIGGER GIRL 6, SLEDGE HAMMER 44


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.






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13. Book Review: Jump into the Sky, by Shelley Pearsall (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012)

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.

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14. Nonfiction Monday Book Review: Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust, by Doreen Rappaport (Candlewick, 2012)

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.

2 Comments on Nonfiction Monday Book Review: Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust, by Doreen Rappaport (Candlewick, 2012), last added: 9/26/2012
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15. Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak, translated by Laura Watkinson

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 [...]

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16. The Book Review Club - Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein

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.

For other great Fall diversions, stop by Barrie Summy's website!

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17. Summing up Alan Turing

By Jack Copeland

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.

B. Jack Copeland is the Director of the Turing Archive for the History of Computing, and author of Turing: Pioneer of the Information AgeAlan Turing’s Electronic Brain, and Colossus. He is the editor of The Essential Turing. Read the new revelations about Turing’s death after Copeland’s investigation into the inquest.

Visit the Turing hub on the Oxford University Press UK website for the latest news in theCentenary year. Read our previous posts on Alan Turing including: “Maurice Wilkes on Alan Turing” by Peter J. Bentley, “Turing : the irruption of Materialism into thought” by Paul Cockshott, “Alan Turing’s Cryptographic Legacy” by Keith M. Martin, and “Turing’s Grand Unification” by Cristopher Moore and Stephan Mertens, “Computers as authors and the Turing Test” by Kees van Deemter, and “Alan Turing, Code-Breaker” by Jack Copeland.

For more information about Turing’s codebreaking work, and to view digital facsimiles of declassified wartime ‘Ultra’ documents, visit The Turing Archive for the History of Computing. There is also an extensive photo gallery of Turing and his war at www.the-turing-web-book.com.

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18. New Year Read's 2013 (Picture Books)

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. 

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. 

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19. Book Review: Finding Zasha, by Randi Barrow (Scholastic, 2013)

Recommended for ages 9-14.

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.

2 Comments on Book Review: Finding Zasha, by Randi Barrow (Scholastic, 2013), last added: 1/11/2013
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20. Book Review: Mister Orange, by Truus Matti (Enchanted Lion Books, 2013)

American cover
Release date:  January 22, 2013

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.

2 Comments on Book Review: Mister Orange, by Truus Matti (Enchanted Lion Books, 2013), last added: 1/27/2013
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21. Book Review: War Dogs: Churchill & Rufus, by Kathryn Selbert (Charlesbridge, 2013)

Recommended for ages 7-12.  

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.

Churchill with the real Rufus 

2 Comments on Book Review: War Dogs: Churchill & Rufus, by Kathryn Selbert (Charlesbridge, 2013), last added: 2/13/2013
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22. Book Review: Greenhorn, by Anna Olswanger (New South Books, 2012)

Recommended for ages 12 - adult.

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.

1 Comments on Book Review: Greenhorn, by Anna Olswanger (New South Books, 2012), last added: 2/17/2013
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23. Holocaust Picture Books: An Annotated List

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. 
  • Pair Irena's Jars of Secrets with Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto. What information do both books share? What information is provided by one book but not the other? Why might we want to consult multiple sources when conducting research?
  • Check out Discussing Historical Fiction and the Definition of Courage with Marcia Vaughan and Ron Mazellan at Lee and Low's website. Both creators discuss how this topic relates to their own experiences, and the processes they underwent to bring this story to life.
  • At this same site you'll also find some wonderful discussion questions in Lee and Low's collection of Teacher's Guides
  • 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!


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24. Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Hyperion Book CH, 2012, 352 pp, ISBN: 1423152190

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?

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.

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??)

6 Comments on Code Name Verity, last added: 3/4/2013
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25. Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - The World's Most Dangerous Weapon

Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - The World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, Flash Point, 2012, 272 pp, ISBN: 1596434872

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.

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?


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

3 Comments on Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - The World's Most Dangerous Weapon, last added: 3/8/2013
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