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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: World War I, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 34
1. A publisher before wartime

This year marks the centenary of the start of the First World War. This cataclysmic event in world history has been examined by many scholars with different angles over the intervening years, but the academic community hopes to gain fresh insight into the struggles of war on this anniversary. From newly digitized diaries to never-before-seen artifacts, new stories of the war are taking shape.

Oxford University Press has its own war story. With publishing dating back to the fifteenth century, the Press also felt the effects of the war: the rupture of a strong community and culture in the Jericho neighborhood of Oxford, the broken lives of the men and women of the Press who enlisted, the shadow of the Press still operating on the homefront in Oxford, and the disastrous return home — for those who did. We present the first in a series of videos with Oxford University Press Archivist Martin Maw, examining how life at the Press irrevocably changed between 1914-1919. Here he sets the stage for life in Jericho before the outbreak of war.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Martin Maw is an Archivist at Oxford University Press. The Archive Department also manages the Press Museum at OUP in Oxford. Read his previous blog posts: “Jericho: The community at the heart of Oxford University Press” and “Sir Robert Dudley, midwife of Oxford University Press.”

In the centenary of World War I, Oxford University Press has gathered together resources to offer depth, detail, perspective, and insight. There are specially commissioned contributions from historians and writers, free resources from OUP’s world-class research projects, and exclusive archival materials. Visit the First World War Centenary Hub each month for fresh updates.

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2. The American Red Cross in World War I

By Julia F. Irwin


President Barack Obama has proclaimed March 2014 as “American Red Cross Month,” following a tradition started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943. 2014 also marks the 100-year anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in Europe. Although the United States would not officially enter the war until 1917, the American Red Cross (ARC) became deeply involved in the conflict from its earliest days. Throughout World War I and its aftermath, the ARC and its volunteers carried out a wide array of humanitarian activities, intended to alleviate the suffering of soldiers and civilians alike.

Help the Red CrossIn honor of American Red Cross Month, and in commemoration of the First World War’s centennial, here’s a list of things you might not have known about the World War I era history of the American Red Cross:

(1)   On 12 September 1914, just over a month after the First World War erupted in Europe, the American Red Cross sent its first relief ship to the continent. Christened the Red Cross, the ship carried units of physicians and nurses, surgical equipment, and hospital supplies to seven warring European nations. This medical aid reached soldiers on both sides of the conflict.

(2)   After the United States entered World War I in April 1917, the ARC’s intervention in Europe expanded enormously. Over the next several years, the ARC’s leaders established humanitarian activities in roughly two-dozen countries in Europe and the Near East. The organization provided emergency food and medical relief on the battlefields and on the European home front, but ARC staff and volunteers also took on more constructive projects. They built hospitals, health clinics and dispensaries, libraries, playgrounds, and orphanages. They organized public health campaigns against diseases like typhus and tuberculosis. They took steps to reform sanitation in many countries and introduced nursing schools in several major cities. The ARC’s efforts for Europe, in other words, went well beyond immediate material relief to include long-term, comprehensive social welfare projects.

(3)   During World War I, the American Red Cross experienced astronomical growth. On the eve of war, ARC membership hovered around 10,000 US citizens. By 1918, the last year of the war, roughly 22 million adults and 11 million children – approximately 1/3 of the total US population at that time – had joined the American Red Cross and contributed at least $1.00 to the organization.

American Red Cross image(4)   In 1917, the wartime leaders of the American Red Cross established an auxiliary body for US children—the Junior Red Cross (JRC). During the war, American Juniors put on plays and organized bazaars to raise money for the war effort, collected scrap metal and other essential war supplies, and helped produce over 371,500,000 relief articles for US and Allied soldiers and refugees, valued at nearly $94,000,000. After the war ended, postwar leaders transformed the JRC’s mission, moving away from relief efforts and towards international education initiatives. They established pen-pal programs for between US and European schoolchildren and published monthly magazines to teach US students about the culture, geography, and histories of other nations.

(5)   As President of the United States, President Woodrow Wilson was also the President of the American Red Cross. Wilson proved to be a tireless promoter of the ARC. Through many speeches and press releases, he urged all US citizens to join the ARC, defining this as nothing less than a patriotic duty. Wilson also lent his face to ARC posters, magazine covers, and other forms of fundraising publicity. It was on 18 May 1918, perhaps, that Wilson made his commitment to the ARC most visible: on that day, he led a 70,000-person American Red Cross parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City. The visible support of Wilson and his administration played a critical role in defining the ARC as the United States’ leading humanitarian organization—a status that it continues to hold 100 years later.

Julia F. Irwin is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of South Florida. She specializes in the history of US relations with the 20th century world, with a particular focus on the role of humanitarianism in US foreign affairs. She is the author of Making the World Safe: The American Red Cross and a Nation’s Humanitarian Awakening. Her current research focuses on the history of US responses to global natural disasters.

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Image credits: (1) “Help the Red Cross.” Public domain via U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (2) “In the Name of Mercy – Give.” Albert Herter. Public domain via Library of Congress.

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3. Book Review: Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story, by Deborah Hopkinson (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2013)

I am delighted to welcome award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson to my blog today, to discuss her newest historical fiction picture book, Knit Your Bit:  A World War I Story.


     Q:  How were you inspired to write a story about this little piece of history--the Knit Your Bit campaign for soldiers during WWI?

A:  I am fascinated by stories of ordinary people in history, and also intrigued by historical photographs.  Years ago I worked at the American Red Cross in Honolulu and learned about the home front efforts to knit for soldiers. That drew me to learn more about the social history of knitting in America and the result is Knit Your Bit!


        Q:  Are you a knitter yourself? Or perhaps a family member? If so, did that play a role in your inspiration for this story?

A:  I actually do love to knit and I love yarn stores.  But there is a big caveat to this – I am, quite honestly, not very good.  I knit for relaxation only and I’m a bit like Mikey  in the book – I keep dropping stitches!  So I am content to knit scarves for myself – or for friends who can’t knit at all and so are a bit more forgiving of mistakes.  I have a number of friends who are wonderfully accomplished knitters and the book is dedicated to them.

Q:   Knit Your Bit tells the story of those at the home front during war. Do you hope that this book will be read by those children with moms and dads in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere? Will you be doing any special outreach to military families?

A:  One of the wonderful things about the “Knit Your Bit” tradition is that it continues today.  The book is already featured on a blog called “Deployment Diatribes,”  http://deploymentdiatribes.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/knit-your-bit/

For more information about current Knit Your Bit projects check out:


Q:  Please tell us a little bit about your research process for this book.

A:  I consulted a couple of books that detail the history of knitting; No Idle Hands, The Social History of American Knitting by Anne Macdonald (Ballantine Books 1988) was especially helpful.  You can also read the actual New York Times report on the Central Park Knitting Bee (“Many Enter Knitting Bee”) at http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F30915F73F5A11738DDDA90B94DF405B888DF1D3

And there is a great article on HistoyLink.org at: http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&File_Id=5721

Q:   I loved the illustrations by Steven Guarnaccia, which gave the story a real period feel. In fact, the illustrations reminded me of the TinTin comics. Can you comment about how the illustrations contribute to your text?

A:  I absolutely agree!  I love how Steven’s artwork complements the wonderful graphic style of the period.  The Red Cross posters of the time were part of what drew me to the story, so when you add the historical photos on the endpapers along with the art and the poster in the note, it all seems to come together to give young readers both a sense that this did happen in a different time, but that some things remain the same.

Q:  Please give us a brief preview of your upcoming book, The Great Trouble. And can you share with us some of the projects you have coming up?

A:  The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, is middle grade historical fiction about the 1854 cholera epidemic in London.  I tried to give the story a Dickensian feel, while at the same time celebrate the pioneering public health work of Dr. John Snow, who was born 200 years ago, in 1813.  I think kids will enjoy it.  I am also working on projects about Beatrix Potter and World War II. 

To find out more about my books I hope readers will visit me on the web at: www.deborahhopkinson.com or look at my Pinterest boards at:


Thanks again to Deborah Hopkinson for appearing at The Fourth Musketeer.  For other stops on her Knit Your Bit Blog Tour please check www.deborahhopkinson.com.


4 Comments on Book Review: Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story, by Deborah Hopkinson (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2013), last added: 2/28/2013
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4. Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia

When I was 10 years old, I was diligently knitting away at a mitten when I realized I had made a mistake.  Imagine my surprise when my dad sat down beside me, took my knitting and fixed my mistake.  Turns out, my dad knew how to knit rather well.*

So, I knew I wanted to read Knit Your Bit the moment I first heard about it.  The United States had entered World War I in April 1917, and lots of men rushed to enlist, leaving their families behind.  This is true for young Mikey, whose Pop is also a soldier and who has just shipped off to fight overseas in Europe.  Mikey is very frustrated that he has to stay home and can't do something big and important to help the war effort, too.  Nevertheless, he turns up his nose when his mother asks if he would like to learn to knit for the soldiers along with his sister.  Mikey turns the offer down, because, well, boys don't knit!

But when his teacher announces that there will be a three-day Knitting Bee in Central Park to make hats, socks and scarves for US servicemen overseas, Mikey is challenged by a girl to learn to knit and participate - boys against the girls.  And so it is settled - the Boys' Knitting Brigade vs. the Purl Girls.

The only problem is - knitting isn't quite as easy as the boys thought it would be.  Yet, they soon master knit, and then it is on to purl.  Mikey works on socks, friend Nick on a muffler and Dan works mostly on tangling and untangling his yarn.

The first day of the Knitting Bee finally arrives and there are lots of people participating - men, women, girls and, yes, even other boys.  And there's also lots of food, a band and before they all know it, it is time to cast on.

As Mikey does his best trying to knit a pair socks, he learns a mighty important lesson from a disabled soldier about what it really means to do something big and important to help the war effort and the brave soldiers overseas.  But who wins the challenge? The Boys' Knitting Brigade or the Purl Girls?

Knit Your Bit  is based on a three-day knitting bee held in Central Park in August 1918 and sponsored by the Navy League Comforts Committee.  It is a heartwarming story that might even bring a tear or two to your eyes.  Hopkinson has seamlessly woven in Mikey's story with this event to produce a wonderful story that shows that sometimes what counts it isn't how well you do something, rather what counts is doing something out of your comfort zone, doing your best and doing it in the right spirit.  Wonderfully humorous pen, ink and watercolor illustrations by Steven Guarnaccia add much to the enjoyment of Knit Your Bit.  The lines are clean and simple, yet delightfully expressive, and I really liked how they reflect the clothing of the period.

Hopeinson has provided lots of back matter including a Red Cross knitting poster from WWI, an Author's Note which you should be sure to read all about the real Knitting Bee and sources for more information.

Though this is a story that all will enjoy, sending gifts to loved ones fighting in a war is long held tradition and for that reason, I think Mikey's story will particularly  resonate for readers in today's world, especially those who have or know someone who has a relative deployed overseas.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was sent to me by the publisher as part of a Knit Your Bit Blog Tour.
For other stops on the blog tour, be sure to visit Deborah Hopkinson's blog.

And guess what?  You can still Knit Your Bit.
All you have to do is visit The National WWII Museum to download patterns and learn how to participate.  Your knitted scarves will be sent to veterans all over the country.

Want to know more?  HistoryLink.org has a wonderfully detailed essay on Knitting for Victory - World War I, complete with photographs, posters and even an ad.

I always like to look up these kinds of historical events in the New York Times and sure enough, here is the article announcing the results after three days of knitting:



*Oh, and my dad the knitter - poor guy was in his fifties when I was born, so yes, he knitted as a young boy for WWI.

4 Comments on Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia, last added: 2/26/2013
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5. Sunday Salon: Reading Rilla of Ingleside (1921)

Rilla of Ingleside. L.M. Montgomery. 1921. 280 pages.

IT was a warm, golden-cloudy, lovable afternoon. In the big living-room at Ingleside Susan Baker sat down with a certain grim satisfaction hovering about her like an aura; it was four o'clock and Susan, who had been working incessantly since six that morning, felt that she had fairly earned an hour of repose and gossip. 

 I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Rilla of Ingleside. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, wonderful, memorable, and compelling. It is everything it should be. It closely follows World War I--from the Canadian home front; and at times it shows just how ugly and frightening war can be. It's a patriotic novel, however. Rilla of Ingleside is also an unforgettable coming of age story. Readers watch Rilla mature from a laughter-loving fourteen year old girl into a strong, resilient young woman ready for life and love. This is Rilla's story from cover to cover. Rilla is forced to say goodbye to three brothers (Jem, Walter, Shirley), two childhood friends (Jerry, Carl), and her young love (Kenneth Ford) as they go off to war and uncertain futures. And she has to do with a smile on her face and no tears. Will she ever see any of them again? Will they return whole? Will life ever be the same for any of them again?

But Rilla is ever-busy. Not only is she doing work for the Red-Cross, she's adopted a war orphan! Though she's just fourteen, this young baby boy will be HER responsibility. For Rilla who has never really "liked" babies or found them cute and adorable, this is a challenge...at least at first. But as he starts to grow and change...her heart melts.  

My favorite characters were Rilla, Susan Baker, Walter, Miss Oliver, and Dog Monday. If you've read this one, don't you agree that the Dog Monday parts are incredibly moving?

From chapter one:
There was a big, black headline on the front page of the Enterprise, stating that some Archduke Ferdinand or other had been assassinated at a place bearing the weird name of Sarajevo, but Susan tarried not over uninteresting, immaterial stuff like that; she was in quest of something really vital.
Well, that is all the notes and there is not much else in the paper of any importance. I never take much interest in foreign parts. Who is this Archduke man who has been murdered?" "What does it matter to us?" asked Miss Cornelia, unaware of the hideous answer to her question which destiny was even then preparing. "Somebody is always murdering or being murdered in those Balkan States. It's their normal condition and I don't really think that our papers ought to print such shocking things. 
Wherever Rilla Blythe was, there was laughter.  
There was another occupant of the living-room, curled up on a couch, who must not be overlooked, since he was a creature of marked individuality, and, moreover, had the distinction of being the only living thing whom Susan really hated. All cats are mysterious but Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde–"Doc" for short–were trebly so. He was a cat of double personality–or else, as Susan vowed, he was possessed by the devil. To begin with, there had been something uncanny about the very dawn of his existence. Four years previously Rilla Blythe had had a treasured darling of a kitten, white as snow, with a saucy black tip to its tail, which she called Jack Frost. Susan disliked Jack Frost, though she could not or would not give any valid reason therefor.
"Take my word for it, Mrs. Dr. dear," she was wont to say ominously, "that cat will come to no good."
"But why do you think so?" Mrs. Blythe would ask.
"I do not think–I know," was all the answer Susan would vouchsafe.
"The only thing I envy a cat is its purr," remarked Dr. Blythe once, listening to Doc's resonant melody. "It is the most contented sound in the world."
Rilla is the only one of my flock who isn't ambitious. I really wish she had a little more ambition. She has no serious ideals at all–her sole aspiration seems to be to have a good time.
 From chapter two,
Rilla was the "baby" of the Blythe family and was in a chronic state of secret indignation because nobody believed she was grown up. She was so nearly fifteen that she called herself that, and she was quite as tall as Di and Nan; also, she was nearly as pretty as Susan believed her to be. She had great, dreamy, hazel eyes, a milky skin dappled with little golden freckles, and delicately arched eyebrows, giving her a demure, questioning look which made people, especially lads in their teens, want to answer it. Her hair was ripely, ruddily brown and a little dent in her upper lip looked as if some good fairy had pressed it in with her finger at Rilla's christening. Rilla, whose best friends could not deny her share of vanity, thought her face would do very well, but worried over her figure, and wished her mother could be prevailed upon to let her wear longer dresses. She, who had been so plump and roly-poly in the old Rainbow Valley days, was incredibly slim now, in the arms-and-legs period. Jem and Shirley harrowed her soul by calling her "Spider." Yet she somehow escaped awkwardness. There was something in her movements that made you think she never walked but always danced. She had been much petted and was a wee bit spoiled, but still the general opinion was that Rilla Blythe was a very sweet girl, even if she were not so clever as Nan and Di.
Rilla loved Walter with all her heart. He never teased her as Jem and Shirley did. He never called her "Spider." His pet name for her was "Rilla-my-Rilla"a little pun on her real name, Marilla...
 Dog Monday was the Ingleside dog, so called because he had come into the family on a Monday when Walter had been reading Robinson Crusoe. He really belonged to Jem but was much attached to Walter also. He was lying beside Walter now with nose snuggled against his arm, thumping his tail rapturously whenever Walter gave him a pat. Monday was not a collie or a setter or a hound or a Newfoundland. He was just, as Jem said, "plain dog"very plain dog, uncharitable people added. Certainly, Monday's looks were not his strong point. Black spots were scattered at random over his yellow carcass, one of them blotting out an eye. His ears were in tatters, for Monday was never successful in affairs of honour. But he possessed one talisman. He knew that not all dogs could be handsome or eloquent or victorious, but that every dog could love. Inside his homely hide beat the most affectionate, loyal, faithful heart of any dog since dogs were; and something looked out of his brown eyes that was nearer akin to a soul than any theologian would allow. Everybody at Ingleside was fond of him, even Susan.
"There's plenty of time for you to be grown up, Rilla. Don't wish your youth away. It goes too quickly. You'll begin to taste life soon enough."
"Taste life! I want to eat it," cried Rilla, laughing. "I want everything–everything a girl can have. I'll be fifteen in another month, and then nobody can say I'm a child any longer. I heard someone say once that the years from fifteen to nineteen are the best years in a girl's life. I'm going to make them perfectly splendid–just fill them with fun."
"There's no use thinking about what you're going to do–you are tolerably sure not to do it."
"Oh, but you do get a lot of fun out of the thinking," cried Rilla.
"You think of nothing but fun, you monkey," said Miss Oliver indulgently, reflecting that Rilla's chin was really the last word in chins. "Well, what else is fifteen for?"
From chapter three,
"The new day is knocking at the window. What will it bring us, I wonder.... "I think the nicest thing about days is their unexpectedness," went on Rilla. "It's jolly to wake up like this on a golden-fine morning and day-dream for ten minutes before I get up, imagining the heaps of splendid things that may happen before night."


© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Stay Where You Are & Then Leave by John Boyne

For Alfie Summerfield, the first five years of his life had been grand.  He was a happy little boy, and his dad and mum were happy with each other and with him.  His father, Georgie Summerfield, delivered milk and drove a milk float every morning pulled by a horse name Mr. Asquith.  It was Alfie's dream to some day be big enough to ride along side his dad and help.  Alfie's Granny Summerfield, who lived right across the street, always liked to come around for a bit of a gossip.  And Alfie had a best friend, Kalena Janáček, whose father came from Prague and ran the sweet shop.

But all this changed on Alfie's fifth birthday, because on July 29, 1914, World War I officially began and a few days later England joined in.   And even though he promised he wouldn't, Alfie's father immediately enlisted anyway.  Then, Mr. Janáček's store windows were broken and someone wrote on the shop door "No Spies Here!"  Soon enough, the government came and took father and daughter away to an internment camp on the Isle of Man.

At first, letters from Alfie's father arrive regularly, but then they begin to dwindle down and down and after two years, no more letters arrive.  Alfie's mum tells her son it is because his dad is on a secret mission for the government.  But times get hard and Mrs. Summerfield, who already takes in laundry, becomes a Queen's Nurse, which means most of the time Alfie is on his own.  And so, he decides it is time to do his bit.  He steals Mr. Janáček's prized shoe shine box, walks over to King's Cross Station and begins shining shoes three days a week (Alfie still attends school two days a week).

Then one day, almost four years after the war began, something amazing happens.  While shining the shoes of a doctor, the papers he is reading get blown out of his hands.   As he and Alfie scurry around King's Cross to retrieval the papers, Alfie discovers on one of them that his dad is alive and is in a hospital, the same one the doctor works at.  From that point on, Alfie decides that he is going to go get his dad and bring him home.  He is convinced that all that his dad really needs is to come home to recuperate and soon things will be happy again, just like they were before the war.  But on his first trip to the hospital, Alfie is not prepared for what he discovers.

Alfie is one of those quirky characters that Boyne seemed to write so well.  He reminded me a little bit of Barnaby Brocket (The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket) and he was certainly a more realistic 9 year old than was Bruno in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.  It felt as though Boyne's third boy protagonist has more depth and is a more well developed character than the other two.

Georgie Summerfield is not a well developed as Alfie, but he in interesting nevertheless.   Georgie has the same blind enthusiasm for the war that so many young men had when it first began. The war, the government told them, would be over by Christmas, but by jingo, they didn't say which Christmas and four years later, the reader sees how Georgie's enthusiasm has spiraled down as he lives the realities of the trenches and then suffers the consequences of the enthusiasm.

I did think that the first three quarters of the novel did a really good job of presenting life during World War I on the home front, rather than the trenches, although there is some of that in Georgie's letters home.  The last quarter became a little preposterous, and the end a little predictable, but I thought other things made up for that.

Boyne addresses two issues in Stay Where You Are & Then Leave.  The first is that of conscientious objectors.  As enthusiastic as Georgie was to get into the war, his best friend Joe Patience feels just as strongly about not wanting to fight.  Joe is a compassionate person, who strongly believed that he was not put on earth to kill anyone cost him dearly - loss of lifetime friends, jail time, and beatings.  Boyne delicately presents it all at the same time as making the reader understand Joe's position.

The other issue is that of shell shock or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as it is called nowadays.  In the novel, the reader sees how skeptical people were about shell shock, believing it to be more cowardice than illness, until it hit home personally for them.  On Alfie's two visits to the hospital his dad is in, as he goes through the wards looking for him, Boyne gives us a very clear picture of what shell shock can do the a person's mind.  I think this part of the story will resonate with many of today's children whose loved one returned from Iraq or Afghanistan suffering from PTSD.

Though somewhat flawed, this is a nice book for anyone who is interested in historical fiction, and especially the impact of WWI on the people left at home.  And yes, you will discover the meaning of the title if you read the book.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an eARC received from Net Galley

Stay Where You Are & Then Leave will be available on March 25, 2014

A person who drives a milk float delivers milk to customers and in 1914 would be delivering it is something that looks like this:


This is my World War I book for my 2014 War Challenge with a Twist hosted by War Through the Generations.
This is book 6 of my 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry

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7. Book Review: The Angel Makers, by Jessica Gregson (Soho, 2011)

Recommended for ages 14 and up.


Set in a small Hungarian village around World War I, this "can't put it down" adult historical fiction novel centers around a teenaged girl, Sari, who's orphaned and left in the care of the elderly village midwife and herbalist.  Sari is "different," and that's enough to make her disliked and feared by almost everyone in the village, except her fiance, Ferenc.  But when World War I breaks out and most of the young men in the village leave for the front, Sari becomes closer to the other women in the village, who begin to include her in their gossip and rituals.  Most of the women seem content to be temporarily rid of their brutish boyfriends and husbands, and when a prisoner-of-war camp for Italian officers is set up nearby, they are only too happy to find excuses to work at the camp, leading inevitably to flirting and affairs between the local women and the officers, despite the language gap.

Even Sari is not immune to the Italians' charms, and soon is involved in a passionate affair with an Italian professor who stimulates her mind as well as her senses.    When the local men begin to return at the end of the war, including Sari's fiance, Ferenc, the Hungarian men's suspicions are aroused, and violence ensues.  Sari fears for her life, but ever resourceful, she comes up with a clever and devious plan to get rid of Ferenc.  It's not long before other women in the village want her help to rid themselves of their own husbands.  Will the village women get away with their sinister plans?

Amazingly, this novel is based on a true story the author discovered in a "true crime" book.  I found the story riveting, as did my teenage daughter.  I think teenage girls will be drawn to the teenaged protagonist, as well as to the love, passion, and crime central to the story.  It's a tale that's hard to forget, somehow mixing elements of fairy tale (the witch-like girl in the small village) and a more contemporary-feeling revenge story in a satisfying blend that will keep you up at night thinking about it.  I'm wondering if it's been optioned for the movies--I could definitely see it as a great thriller!

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8. Book Review: Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Hattie at age 16 is an orphan living in Iowa with a distant relative. The year is 1917 and America is at war with Germany. Hattie's dear friend Charlie is at war. Throughout Hattie Big Sky she and Charlie write letters to each other. Hattie's letters are full of her current daily life and the hope of his safe return. Shortly after the book begins she receives an unexpected and surprising letter. Her uncle has died and left her a home-stead claim in Montana. If she agrees to take over his claim and continue to make improvements over the course of 1 year, she may keep the land. Hattie gladly accepts the terms of agreement on her deceased uncle's claim. She travels by train to Wolf Point, Montana and is greeted by a family that will be her closest and heartiest neighbor. The book describes her daily duties of a back-breaking hard life, of trying to make a desolate claim a profitable farm. Hattie is a gutsy, independent, brave gal. She has a positive outlook, teachable, humble, and has a sense of humor.
She and her house mate, a mouser cat named Mr. Whiskers make a go of this laborious goal.

I loved this story and really wished it could go on and on, sorta like Little House on the Prairie.
Hattie is a genuine and likable character. A gal that anyone would be proud to call a friend.
Her story is inspiring, engaging, uplifting, and gives the reader a sound sense of what it is like to live with the bare basics in a remote shanty in the middle of no-where. Also, giving the reader the ability to understand the Pioneer spirit; that feisty independent brave and just a bit crazy gusto, to head west and conquer something!

This book was a 2007 Newbery Honor Award

Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books 2006
304 pages/For ages 12 and up

Authors website:
http://www.kirbylarson.com/books/hattie-big-sky/
The book has a website:
http://www.hattiebigsky.com/

Link @ Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Hattie-Big-Sky-Kirby-Larson/dp/0385733135
Library Binding $13.42
Paperback $6.99
Kindle $6.99

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9. Day of the Assassins (YA)

 Day of the Assassins. (Jack Christie #1) Johnny O'Brien. 2009. Candlewick. 224 pages.

The shock wave from an air burst lifted Jack up and threw him backward twenty feet, his body twisting in midair as he flew.

I wanted to like this one more. In fact, I was hoping to love it. I love history and love the premise of time travel in my fiction. Jack and his friend Angus are somewhat unlikely time travelers. Though, in a way, they've been preparing for it to a certain degree. Jack has a decided interest in a video game, "Point of Departure" about World War I. The game has levels, of course as you'd expect, and players can try to change history, etc. Angus enjoys the game, too. And one day while they are playing they discover a secret lab of sorts that they guess belonged to Jack's absent-father. They tell one of their teachers about it, and, of course, he just happens to be in the now. Turns out the teacher and Jack's father both know about the oh-so-secret invention of a time travel machine. Anyway, the two boys happen to be in the right place, right time to go back to 1914...and there are good guys and bad guys from the present and past after them. I liked the premise of this one better than the actual story. I'm not sure if it was just my mood, or, if it is a weak story. I liked it well enough, I definitely wanted to know what happened. But, I was hoping to like it more, I was wanting to be wowed. 

Read Day of the Assassins
  • If you enjoy science fiction and time travel
  • If you want to read more about World War I, the events leading up to the war 
  • If you enjoy adventure stories with a historical focus

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 Comments on Day of the Assassins (YA), last added: 9/29/2012
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10. Yesterday's Dead (MG)

Yesterday's Dead. Pat Bourke. 2012. Second Story Press. 232 pages.

I enjoyed this historical children's book set during the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic. It is set in Canada, in Toronto. The narrator, Meredith, is thirteen pretending to be fifteen or sixteen. Her family needs the money, so she has dropped out of school and taken a job as a maid in a wealthier family, a doctor's family. She's just learning her place when the flu reaches the household, soon her 'simple' job as a maid has become much, much more. People are depending on her, and, of course, all she can do is her best, but Meredith is forced to grow up quickly in a way. The book just covers a brief span of time, but it is still an intense read. I definitely would recommend this one!

 Read Yesterday's Dead
  • If you enjoy historical fiction
  • If you enjoy children's books
  • If you are interested in books set during this time period (World War I)

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 Comments on Yesterday's Dead (MG), last added: 10/13/2012
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11. Otto Dix and The War

By Reinhold Heller


The German artist Otto Dix — born this day in 1891 — drew a remarkable image of himself in 1924 (the tenth anniversary of the beginning of World War I), simply rendered in bold lines of India ink, caricature-like in its exaggerated simplicity. In the drawing we see Dix as he gazes directly out at us through squinting eyes, sporting a small curving mustache, a cigarette dangling from his lips, wearing a battered steel helmet and tattered uniform while carrying a heavy machine gun. Directly above his self-portrait, he scrawled as an explanatory inscription: “This is how I looked as a soldier.” The drawing echoes in its conception innumerable propaganda images from all nations involved in the First World War, depicting wounded or exhausted soldiers who nonetheless stand tall and proud, resilient and strong as they gaze into an unknown distance. They are idealized heroic warriors, Greek gods in modern uniforms. Their images on posters and postcards were meant to inspire and reassure those at home that, despite all, their nation would triumph.

Dix’s self-portrait, however, is divested of these inspirational formulations and transforms them into an image of a bedraggled soldier in torn uniform and damaged helmet, unshaven and scarred. While the machine gun he holds serves as his identifying attribute, its massive, pristinely geometric and precisely drawn form also seems overwhelming; it is in contrast to the rumpled, disrupted contour of his uniform jacket and its burden causes him to list slightly, unsteadily. There are no heroics, no noble endurance in Dix’s self-portrait. Disheveled and dirty, supporting or supported by his massive weapon, Dix instead makes a simple statement: “Here I am.” Or, more correctly, as his 1924 inscription notes: “This is how I was.” At the same time, the very existence of the drawing also proclaims his survival of the war and his continuing life, not as the soldier depicted but as the artist who made the drawing.

Buried Alive by Otto Dix. Source: Wikipaintings.

Dix made this self-portrait drawing to serve as the dedicatory image of Der Krieg (The War) – a sequence of 50 etchings, engravings, and aquatints in five portfolios – that he gave to his Berlin dealer Karl Nierendorf, who had commissioned the series. Der Krieg was published in an edition of 70 by Nierendorf, who also published accompanying pamphlets with depictions from the print series to publicize it among newspapers, labor unions and pacifist organizations. The prints offered a somber contrast to the numerous monuments honoring the fallen heroes of the conflict — often depicted in full uniform, sleeping peacefully, their noble bodies displaying no signs of wounds — being unveiled in numerous German cities in 1924, while German victories at the war’s beginning were being remembered and celebrated with elaborate military ceremonies. In contrast to these public displays, replete with fluttering flags and martial music, Dix’s Der Krieg offered a private recollection, silent but insistent in its focus on the everyday experience of the war and its multitude of horrors. With no sense of a sequential narrative, the 50 prints shift from scenes of a bomb- and artillery-shattered landscape (Crater Field near Dontrien Lit by Flares) to close-ups of wounded soldiers in the trenches (Wounded Man [Baupaume, Autumn 1916]), from soldiers in the company of prostitutes (Visit to Madame Germaine’s in Méricourt) to gas-masked, charging troops (Shock Troops Advance under Gas) and mud-covered soldiers eating, the decomposing bodies of their former comrades nearby (Mealtime in the Trench [Loretto Heights]). The series is a seemingly unending catalogue of terror, misery, horror, and death, inflicted on human beings, animals, and nature equally — one that not infrequently employs a sense of macabre, satirical humor. “I depicted primarily the horrible consequences of war,” Dix later stated. “I believe no one else has seen the reality of that war as I have: the privations, the wounds, the suffering. I chose a truthful reportage of war; I wanted to show the destroyed land, the corpses, the wounds.”

Dix’s war portfolio, its link to Nierendorf’s publicity campaign among unions and left-leaning groups, and his monumental painting The Trench (1920–3, destroyed), which was vehemently attacked for undermining the nobility of the German soldier and returned to Nierendorf by the museum that had purchased it, all tied Dix immediately and irrevocably to pacifist and leftist political attitudes in Germany in 1924. Although he insisted — perhaps somewhat ingeniously — that his war imagery was fundamentally apolitical and no more than an honest report of his memories of the war, the cacophony of nationalist criticism and military celebration drowned out his objections. Nierendorf sold only one complete Der Krieg portfolio.

Reinhold Heller is Professor emeritus of Art History and Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago. He has published extensively on modern German and Scandinavian art, including the entries on Otto Dix and Edvard Munch in Grove Art Online. He curated the exhibition The Birth of German Expressionism: ‘Brücke’ in Dresden and Berlin, 1905–1913 at the Neue Galerie, New York, in 2009, the first major American museum exhibition devoted to this group that initiated Expressionism in Germany.

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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12. Truce: the Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting by Jim Murphy

Truce is a wonderful book that not only tells the story of the unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914 during World War I, but also gives a coherent, thorough history of the events leading up to the hostilities and just what those terrible first months of war was like in the trenches.

The fact is that most of us don't really remember World War I from our high school history days.  And I know I never learned that World War I could have and almost was prevented.  So I can honestly say that I (re)learned a lot reading Truce.  Jim Murphy has a real gift for explaining history in his well-researched, totally accessible book about how the enemy soldiers stopped fighting in the middle of a war and celebrated Christmas together.  And as he points out, the truce wasn't quite as spontaneous as we have been led to believe.

Murphy explains that there are two sides to trench warfare - the fighting side and the boring side.  The fighting side was basically barbaric, with soldiers charging across a No Man's Land towards the enemy and the enemy mowing them down with all kinds of artillery, including machine guns.  The boring side was waiting in the trenches for the next charge or counter charge.  But, although carnage was taking place on the battlefield, newspapers were publishing stories about victory, causing enlistment offices to be packed with men want to enlist.

The fighting was horrible as were the conditions in the trenches.  The soldiers were plagued not only by bullets and grenades, but also by  "nonmiliitary dangers," like swarms of hungry rats, lice and fleas in their clothing, bedding and food.  And sometimes these can be just a bad.

But sometimes, Murphy writes, when it was quite the soldiers of one side could hear the soldiers on the other side talking, singing, playing music.  Then they began to contact each other from across No Man's Land, exchanging greetings, remarks, even food.

And so, when Christmas came and the men received cards and parcels from home, on both sides of No Man's Land, they were feeling mellow and friendly.  The rest is history...

While the main focus of Truce is on the events leading up to war and the truce of Christmas 1914, Murphy also includes a brief history of the rest of the war and the subsequent conditions Germany was subjected to when they surrendered.  Murphy has written a nicely detailed, well-rounded history, just graphic enough for the intended middle grade reader.  It will hold their interest without turning them off.  Truce is very well documented, and includes maps, photographs, a timeline, notes and sources - in other words, all those things that make an informational text really creditable and user-friendly.    I particularly liked the list of books, poetry, movies and websites where the reader can go to learn more about World War I.

One of the things I have always wondered about was why the unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914 during World War II has become the subject for lots of fiction.  Well, I found my answer in this well-researched, well-written book.  The Western Front was a lot longer than I had ever imagined - two parallel trenches ran 475 miles from the North Sea to the Swiss border, separated by a No Man's Land tangled up with barbed wire.  On the eastern side of the front was the German trench, on the western side were the Allied troops from Britain, France and Belgium.  475 miles means that not everyone could have experienced the truce in the same way, leaving it wide open to the imagination.

What a great book!

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library

This is book 4 of my World War I Reading Challenge hosted by War Through the Generations.






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13. War Horse (MG/YA)

War Horse. Michael Morpurgo. 1982/2010. Scholastic. 176 pages.

This one surprised me. I didn't expect it to be so good, so compelling. After all, I don't "like" horse books. But. This little book is narrated by a horse named Joey. We get a glimpse of his life before--before he became a war horse, sent to Europe as part of a cavalry unit of British soldiers. We meet the son of his first owner, Albert, a boy who LOVES him oh-so-much, a boy who would do just about anything and everything for "his" horse. Joey is sold to the army because of the family's need for money. Albert is distressed, and Joey has to adapt for better or worse. But life does go on...readers get a glimpse of World War I as seen through the eyes of a horse. And it is an ugly, ugly mess. But the book, as a whole, is not as depressing as it might have been. That's not to say it's a cheerful book, but, it has many redeeming qualities. I love Joey's resilience; I love Albert's determination. There are some sad, brutal moments, but, it felt genuine and authentic--not manipulative.

Read War Horse
  • If you like horse books
  • If you don't like horse books
  • If you like historical fiction set around World War I


© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 Comments on War Horse (MG/YA), last added: 12/27/2012
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14. Rilla of Ingleside

Rilla of Ingleside. L.M. Montgomery. 1921. 280 pages.

Though Rilla of Ingleside is technically part of the Anne series by L.M. Montgomery, I am not sure it would have to be read as part of the whole series. Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside make a great pair all on their own. The only book that would truly be helpful in 'appreciating' Rilla of Ingleside is Rainbow Valley.   

Characters carried over from Rainbow Valley:

Anne and Gilbert have a fine family together: Jem, Walter, Nan and Di (twin sisters), Shirley (a boy), and Rilla. Helping them out around the house (and kitchen) Susan Baker.

Anne's current best friend and good neighbor: Cornelia Elliott who--along with her husband Marshall--are raising an orphan girl, Mary Vance.

Rev. John Meredith and his new wife, Rosemary, are proud parents of: Jerry, Faith, Una, Carl, and Bruce.

Rilla of Ingleside is one of the BEST books I've ever read set during World War I. It is bittersweet and heartbreaking and WONDERFUL from cover to cover. You might think that since it is part of the Anne series that it would be narrated by Anne, or closely follow Anne, but, that is not the case at all. This is Rilla's coming-of-age story. It is HER story from cover to cover, and while her mom is important to her, this isn't Anne's story to tell.

When readers first meet Rilla she is just fourteen. She wants to be considered all grown up, but, in most ways she's still a "silly" girl with big dreams and fancies. (Always laughing, never serious, wanting dozens of beaus, wanting to have a great romance). But her life changes one August evening when war is declared. Jem and Jerry are the first men in her life to go away to war. Eventually she'll have to say goodbye to others: Walter, Ken Ford (the man who makes her lisp out of pure joy), Shirley and Carl. One might expect her to pick up new responsibilities during the war, such as working for the Red Cross or junior Red Cross, etc. But Rilla has an adventure all her own...

For just weeks into the war, Rilla happens upon a tragic scene. She is going visiting or collecting, and discovers a newly dead woman with a newborn son! She brings him home with her even though she doesn't like babies at all. And her father tells her that the baby probably wouldn't survive in an orphan asylum, and, if she wants to keep it at Ingleside, she'll have to be its primary caregiver. Can a young teen girl who previously gloried in new hats, new shoes, and dancing become a responsible parent? Rilla is determined and resourceful!

The book is about waiting, hoping, and praying... Men and women who desperately want their loved ones to be safe, but, who also believe wholeheartedly in the cause...that some things are worth fighting for and protecting. The book chronicles the entire war.

The scene that changes everything:
"England declared war on Germany today," said Jack Elliott slowly. "The news came by wire just as I left town."
"God help us," whispered Gertrude Oliver under her breath. "My dream–my dream! The first wave has broken." She looked at Allan Daly and tried to smile.
"Is this Armageddon?" she asked.
"I am afraid so," he said gravely.
A chorus of exclamations had arisen round them–light surprise and idle interest for the most part. Few there realized the import of the message–fewer still realized that it meant anything to them. Before long the dancing was on again and the hum of pleasure was as loud as ever. Gertrude and Allan Daly talked the news over in low, troubled tones. Walter Blythe had turned pale and left the room. Outside he met Jem, hurrying up the rock steps.
"Have you heard the news, Jem?"
"Yes. The Piper has come. Hurrah! I knew England wouldn't leave France in the lurch. I've been trying to get Captain Josiah to hoist the flag but he says it isn't the proper caper till sunrise. Jack says they'll be calling for volunteers tomorrow."
"What a fuss to make over nothing," said Mary Vance disdainfully as Jem dashed off. She was sitting out with Miller Douglas on a lobster–trap which was not only an unromantic but an uncomfortable seat. But Mary and Miller were both supremely happy on it. Miller Douglas was a big, strapping, uncouth lad, who thought Mary Vance's tongue uncommonly gifted and Mary Vance's white eyes stars of the first magnitude; and neither of them had the least inkling why Jem Blythe wanted to hoist the lighthouse flag. "What does it matter if there's going to be a war over there in Europe? I'm sure it doesn't concern us."
Walter looked at her and had one of his odd visitations of prophecy.
"Before this war is over," he said–or something said through his lips–"every man and woman and child in Canada will feel it–you, Mary, will feel it–feel it to your heart's core. You will weep tears of blood over it. The Piper has come–and he will pipe until every corner of the world has heard his awful and irresistible music. It will be years before the dance of death is over–years, Mary. And in those years millions of hearts will break."
"Fancy now!" said Mary who always said that when she couldn't think of anything else to say. She didn't know what Walter meant but she felt uncomfortable. Walter Blythe was always saying odd things.
"Aren't you painting it rather strong, Walter?" asked Harvey Crawford, coming up just then. "This war won't last for years–it'll be over in a month or two. England will just wipe Germany off the map in no time."
"Do you think a war for which Germany has been preparing for twenty years will be over in a few weeks?" said Walter passionately. "This isn't a paltry struggle in a Balkan corner, Harvey. It is a death grapple. Germany comes to conquer or to die. And do you know what will happen if she conquers? Canada will be a German colony."
"Well, I guess a few things will happen before that," said Harvey shrugging his shoulders. "The British navy would have to be licked for one; and for another, Miller here, now, and I, we'd raise a dust, wouldn't we, Miller? No Germans need apply for this old country, eh?"
Harvey ran down the steps laughing.
"I declare, I think all you boys talk the craziest stuff," said Mary Vance in disgust. She got up and dragged Miller off to the rock-shore. It didn't happen often that they had a chance for a talk together; Mary was determined that this one shouldn't be spoiled by Walter Blythe's silly blather about Pipers and Germans and such like absurd things. They left Walter standing alone on the rock steps, looking out over the beauty of Four Winds with brooding eyes that saw it not.
Since I read this one specifically for the War Through the Generations challenge, I thought I'd share a few quotes about the war:
“Our sacrifice is greater than his," cried Rilla passionately. "Our boys give only themselves. We give them.” 
“Nobody whom this war has touched will ever be happy again in quite the same way. But it will be a better happiness, I think, little sister - a happiness we've earned.” 
“Without shedding of blood there is no anything… Everything, it seems to me, has to be purchased by self-sacrifice. Our race has marked every step of its painful ascent with blood. And now torrents of it must flow again… I don’t think the war has been sent as a punishment for sin. I think it is the price humanity must pay for some blessing - some advance great enough to be worth the price which we may not live to see but which our children’s children will inherit.”

 Read Rilla of Ingleside
  • If you enjoy coming of age stories
  • If you enjoy war stories
  • If you enjoy historical fiction--though this was a very contemporary account when it was first published
  • If you love L.M. Montgomery
  • If you enjoy beautiful, bittersweet oh-so-memorable novels

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Wings of A Dream

Wings of a Dream. Anne Mateer. 2011. Bethany House. 319 pages.

"Rebekah Grace, if you don't hurry we'll be late for the lecture."

 I had my doubts about Wings of a Dream after reading the first chapter. But. I kept reading. And it didn't take me long to realize that I had judged it much, much too soon. This one hooked me. I ended up loving this sweet historical romance. Was it predictable? Yes. I won't lie. If you demand that your romance, your historical romance, be absolutely original and unpredictable...then you may be disappointed with this one. But if what you're looking for is a feel-good story, a satisfying read that is oh-so-cozy, then Wings of a Dream may just be for you.

This historical romance is set in Texas in 1918 during the last months of World War I. Our heroine, Rebekah Grace, travels to a small Texas town to care for her sick aunt. She arrives just in time--to meet the woman she barely knew, to make a difficult promise, to care for the children in her aunt's care. Rebekah is forced to grow up as she becomes the caregiver of four young children--one just a baby. (Their father is in the army, their mother is dead.)

There is plenty of drama in Wings of a Dream, and I must say that I liked it much more than I thought I would. I wouldn't say it is the best, best book I've ever read. But it was certainly enjoyable!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Book Review: My Brother's Shadow, by Monika Schroder (Frances Foster Books, 2011)

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Set in Berlin in 1918, in the final days of World War I, this new novel tells the story of sixteen-year old Moritz, whose family's existence, like that of everyone else in Germany, has been ravaged by the effects of the seemingly endless war.  His father was killed on the battlefield, his older brother, Hans, is serving in the trenches on the Western front, his little sister has died of illness, and his mother spends all her time either working at an ammunition factory or attending socialist party meetings.  There's little to eat, with food rationed, and everything tasting of turnips, and people butchering horses who fall dead in the streets.  Moritz, who works as an apprentice printer, tries his best to make sense of it all, wondering who is right--his brother, who says it's an honor to serve the Kaiser, or his mother, who bemoans the fact that her husband "died for our foolish Kaiser, who loves his uniforms and his yachts."  Soon Moritz is given a chance to work as a journalist for one of Berlin's daily papers, covering the very socialist rallies where his mother and others are speaking out against the Kaiser and capitalist injustice. 

When Moritz's brother Hans returns from the front with horrible injuries, missing half his arm and blind in one eye, Hans is plagued by nightmares about the war, and sees the Jews as scapegoats for all of Germany's problems.  Morris, on the other hand, is having his first romance--with a Jewish girl.   The book's ominous conclusion foreshadows the increasing persecution of the Jews that what happen in Germany during the 1930's.

Author Monika Schroeder, who grew up in Berlin,provides an author's note discussing how the fall of 1918 was a pivotal time in German history, with the end of the "Great War," the Kaiser's abdication, and the establishment of a democratic government in the beginning of 1919.  With the Germans' humiliating defeat, conservatives and military leaders began blaming the Jews, the socialists, and the communists for all of Germany's woes, laying the groundwork for Hitler's rise to power.

My Brother's Shadow is a very thought-provoking and well-written book about a period ignored in most young adult fiction, which more typically focuses either on World War I or World War II and the few years immediately preceding that conflict.  We can easily identify with Moritz, whose story is told in the first person, and his divided family loyalties.  While the book covers some weighty issues, Moritz is also a typical teenage boy, interested in his first kiss with a girl.  We can sympathize with Moritz's mother as well, a strong character who is very involved in politics, and even his brother Hans, whose bitter experiences and injuries at the front have transformed his personality.  This novel would be a good choice to read along with Russell Freedman's outstanding nonfiction book on World War I published last year, The War to End All Wars:  World War I. 

Below is the book trailer for My Brother's Shadow:



<p><br>O</p>

On Friday, November 11, The Fourth Musketeer is pleased to have a guest post from author Monika Schroeder and a special giveaway of this excellent novel (U.S. and Canadian addresses only). Please see Friday's post to enter.<

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17. Our words remember them: the language of the First World War

By Charlotte Buxton

In July 1917, after three years of bloody war, anti-German feeling in Britain was reaching a feverish peak. Xenophobic mutterings about the suitability of having a German on the throne had been heard since 1914. The fact that the Royal family shared part of its name, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, with the Gotha bombers responsible for the devastating recent raids on London turned these whispers into open cries.

In response, King George V – resenting any aspersions on his patriotism – changed the name of the British Royal family to the impeccably English-sounding Windsor. This act signalled the power of names in a society heavy with newly coined, derogatory labels for the enemy: from Jerry to Fritz, through the Krauts, the Boche, and the Hun, you needed to know who you were fighting, and why, it was felt.

But jingoism was not the only source of linguistic creativity in the period. The circumstances of the First World War were so horrific, so extraordinary, and involving so many millions of people that a new language was almost essential. Many words which emerged at the time have clear associations with the conflict, such as camouflage, blimp, aerobatics, demob, and shell shock. Others have a more complex history, emerging from soldiers’ slang; itself a product of the increased cosmopolitanism ushered in by the war.

Take me back to dear old Blighty

Before the war, many of the young Tommies (a term deriving from ‘Thomas Atkins’, which was used on specimen army documents from 1815 as the name of a typical private soldier) who were shipped abroad to fight had probably never ventured far beyond the villages in which they were born. Suddenly immersed in exotic, unfamiliar cultures, both their longing for home and their assimilation of their new surroundings are summed up in one word: Blighty.

Meaning Britain or England, but especially ‘home’, Blighty originated in the Indian army, as an anglicization of the Hindustani bilāyatī, wilāyatī meaning ‘foreign, European’. First recorded in print in 1915, Blighty was an ideal place of comfort, love, and security, sharply contrasting with the hideous discomfort, harsh discipline, and constant danger of the front, and remains a popular term amongst Brits for their homeland to this day. Less familiar is the word’s extended use, which popped up on the television programme Downton Abbey recently, when the conniving footman Thomas Barrow deliberately injures his hand in order to escape the trenches. In the programme, this war wound is referred to as a ‘Blighty’ – a popular term at the time for any injury serious enough to get its victim sent back home, hopefully for good.

Less extreme than a Blighty was a cushy wound – one which was not serious enough to get you sent home permanently, but which would usually buy some time away from the trenches. Deriving from the Hindu for ‘pleasure’, ḵushī, the word’s more familiar sense of ‘undemanding, easy, or secure’ developed at the same time. This has stuck in the language to this day, with ‘cushy job’ a particularly popular phrase in the Oxford English Corpus. In North America cushy is now also used to refer to a particularly comfy sofa or other piece of furniture – far removed, one might think, from its starting point in the mud and gore of battle.

From the trenches to the street

British soldiers adopted the language of their enemies just

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18. Good Old Anna

Marie Belloc Lowndes’ Good Old Anna is a hard book to describe. It’s not exactly a wartime romance, except then it is, and it’s sort of a portrait of growing xenophobia in a cathedral town at the beginning of World War I, except then it’s not. And I don’t know that it ever really becomes a full-fledged spy novel. Basically, there are a lot of different threads, and Lowndes is only mostly successful at deploying them. And I’m okay with that, I think, because all those threads are pretty interesting. Good Old Anna was published in 1915, and it’s very much part of a moment.

Maybe it’s like this: most novels have plots. Some other books have themes. Good Old Anna looks like it has a plot, but really it has a theme, and the theme is Things That Happen to People When World War I Starts.

The person that the most of these things happen to is Mary Otway a widow living in the cathedral town of Witanbury with her barely-grown daughter Rose and her servant Anna, and the first thing that happens to her when war is declared is that her friend and neighbor Miss Forsyth calls her attention the the fact that, in spite of her twenty years in England, Anna is very German, and that maybe Mrs. Otway ought to think about sending her back to the Fatherland. But Mrs. Otway is pretty dependent on Anna, and, being a Germanophile, she’s unconvinced when Miss Forsyth says that xenophobia will soon be on the rise.

Miss Forsyth is right, of course. That’s why naturalized German grocer Manfred Hegner immediately changes his name to Alfred Head. Not that anyone ever forgets that he’s German, or that he bears a strong resemblance to the Kaiser, but perhaps it’s helpful to him when he’s spying on England for Germany. Meanwhile, we get to know Anna a little better and learn that, yeah, she’s very German, and considerably less attached to England than Mrs. Otway believes. Not so much that she’d spy for Germany on purpose, but enough that she’ll happily spy for Germany by accident.

And then there’s the romance. Or rather, romances. The two Otway women have eerily similar ones with friends-turned-lovers who are among the first soldiers to go to Belgium, both of whom are wounded within the first few weeks of the war. The romances also show up the looseness of the plot — what there is of it. The same things are happening to both the mother and the daughter and yet somehow those things seem entirely unrelated. We keep being told how devoted Anna is to Rose, but mostly it hardly feels like they know each other, and that goes double for Rose and her mother. I think Rose and Mrs. Otway having more page time together would have made the entire book a lot more solid. On the other hand, it might also have made it clear that they’re having the exact same romance with different people, so. There’s that.

In a way, though, the scattered feeling works out well, because we get to see how the war affects a bunch of different people, and it makes sense that the war is the only thing they have in common besides living in the same town — or the same book. Usually the characters make or break a book for me,  but here they were forgettable, and it was the play by play of the early days of the war as seen in England that wasn’t. In the end, I think this is a really good book, but not for any of the usual reasons.


Tagged: 1910s, england, marie belloc lowndes, world war I 0 Comments on Good Old Anna as of 1/1/1900
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19. All Our Worldly Goods

All Our Worldly Goods. Irene Nemirovsky. 1947/2008. Vintage Books. Translated from the French by Sandra Smith. (French title: Les Biens de ce Monde.) 265 pages.

They were together, so they were happy.  

What All Our Worldly Goods lacks in characterization, it more than makes up for in beautiful writing. Nemirovsky's novel has great atmosphere: a rich, detailed setting. The characters are more simple than complex human beings, but, I think there are enough presented to get a flavor of what life was like across the generations in the troubled decades between the start of World War I and the beginning of World War II. They're more sketched than developed.

The novel begins with the love story of Agnes and Pierre. These two aren't exactly from the same class. And his mother has arranged his marriage with someone else, a young, rich woman named Simone. But Pierre and Agnes are deeply in love, and Pierre chooses to go against his family's wishes and marry for love not money.

A few years later--after their new family has grown to include a baby boy, Guy--war is declared. Pierre becomes a soldier, and Agnes along with his family must learn to deal with the new reality. The first third of the novel, at least, deals with the first world war. We get to see the war from multiple viewpoints. There were many great scenes--including scenes from Pierre's parents' perspectives--about the war. Pierre does survive the war. Though like many soldiers, many people touched by the war, he's not quite the same innocent as before.

The rest of the novel takes us from the end of the first world war through the beginning of the second world war. When the novel ends, part of France is occupied. These chapters are sketches. Good sketches, for the most part, of how families change, villages change, how life goes on. Readers see Pierre and Agnes' children all grown up. (They also have a daughter, Colette). Part of the novel focuses on the late 1930s and captures the uncertainty of it all. Will there be another war? Can peace be maintained? Can diplomacy stop a war before it begins? Is the war inevitable?

Pierre may be too old to go to war a second time, but his son, Guy, is not. And war once again is changing everything.

My favorite quotes:

It was the very beginning of the war, when the heart bleeds for everyone who dies, when tears are shed for each man sent to fight. Sadly as time goes on, people get used to it all. They think only of one soldier, theirs. But at the start of a war the heart is still tender; it hasn't hardened yet. (55)

The other one...the other war...People said these words in a stunned tone of voice: it was a new phrase. Another war...Twice in one lifetime, it was too much. But everyone was bowed beneath the same destiny, and courage was born out of their communal ordeal. (202)
The war was already trying to create its own legend. It was understood that the women had to prove themselves worthy of the soldiers through their calmness, their courage, their blind confidence that fate would smile on them. For Agnes it was easier; she had played the role before. For four years she had lowered her head, waited, fought back her tears in silence, smiled at young and old; she had hoped. But for the younger women it was all much harder. Stubborn, anxious, passionate, they had believed until now that it was easy to control their destiny. (206) 
The author's story is interesting--though tragic. Irene Nemirovsky was a French nove

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20. The First Hundred Thousand

The First Hundred Thousand, by Ian Hay, is another of those slightly fictionalized, early-days-of-the-war books. And obviously it’s a bit depressing some of the time, but mostly it’s pretty funny.

This is an account of the training — and, later, the deployment — of a regiment of Scottish soldiers, and basically it does everything right. The humor works without Hay having to sacrifice detail, and I ended up with a much clearer idea than I’d had before about how the British Army was trained, and especially about how things worked once the troops got to the trenches.

My favorite bit, though, is “Olympus,” the chapter on the military bureaucracy, which I’m struggling to figure out how to describe without just pasting in a bunch of text. For one thing, it includes the concept of “losing a life” in a game long before video games were thought of. Mostly, though, it’s just funny — a complicated kind of funny that can’t be condensed into one-liners.

Basically, The First Hundred Thousand is humorous without being flippant, sad but not intrusively so, and very frequently clever. Several thumbs up.


Tagged: 1910s, france, ian hay, scotland, world war I

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21. The Amazing Interlude

The Amazing Interlude is my new favorite World War I romance. I’m not sure I had one before, but whatever. Mary Roberts Rinehart is, as usual, great, and she has the added advantage of having made a trip over to Europe to check out the trenches and stuff, so she knows what she’s talking about. Not that The Amazing Interlude is as gruesome, serious and propagand-filled as Kings, Queens and Pawns, her account of what she saw at the front, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s light fiction with a high moral purpose, and as such it functions perfectly.

Sara Lee Kennedy, the heroine, lives in Pennsylvania with her aunt and her uncle. It’s the early days of the war, and most Americans are only vaguely concerned with it, but the more Sara Lee thinks about it, the more she feels that she needs to go over to Europe and do something to help, except that she’s not a nurse and she doesn’t know how she can be useful. After her uncle dies, Sara Lee’s fiancé, Harvey, wants to get married immediately — her aunt is moving in with a cousin, and Sara Lee needs to live somewhere. Harvey thinks that the war isn’t their concern, and that her interest in it is silly. The members of the Methodist Ladies’ Aid Society, on the other hand, are more like Sara Lee — they all feel a bit guilty that they’re not doing more to help. And that’s how Sara Lee convinces them to allow her a hundred dollars a month to go to Belgium and run a soup kitchen for soldiers at the front.

Harvey tells her she can’t go, but she replies that she was telling him what she was going to do, not asking for his input. It’s pretty awesome.

Once she’s in London, Sara Lee realizes that getting to the front is going to be a lot more complicated than she expected, and that every person in a position to give her an appropriate visa is also obligated to suspect her of being a spy. But she makes friends, first with an Englishman whose son is a soldier, and then with Henri, a Belgian spy. Henri is great. I mean, he’s got all the expected things covered: he’s massively brave, he falls in love with Sara Lee at the drop of a hat (or, more precisely, a donkey), he’s involved in a deeply homoromantic relationship with his chauffeur, etc. But he’s also kind of a nervous wreck. It’s very endearing.

Henri sneaks Sara Lee into France, and then he and his best friend/chauffeur Jean install her in a partially bombed-out house a quarter of a mile behind the Belgian front line. They find her a maid, Marie, and a guard, Rene, and the three of them set up their soup kitchen. Henri and Jean secretly subsidize it, and Henri teaches Sara Lee how to deal with the soldiers’ more minor injuries, and the house becomes very popular and even a little famous, to the point that Sara Lee receives a medal from the King of Belgium. Meanwhile, she keeps writing letters to the Methodist Ladies, who are satisfied with the results of their investment, and to Harvey, who is less happy. His letters a) belittle her efforts, b) try to make her feel guilty about leaving him, and c) show him to be a selfish, small-minded person. And while Sara Lee is being faithful to him and trying to convince herself that she’s still in love with him, he’s going to the Methodist Ladies behind her back to try and get them to cut off her allowance.

And eventually he succeeds, and Sara Lee’s “amazing interlude” is over.

Harvey is really a piece of work. Every time he appeared, he raised another red flag. My personal favorite bit of Harvey-behavior was when, after Sara Lee’s return, some reporters asked him if it was true that she’d been decorated by the King of Belgium, to which he responds that he doesn’t know, doesn’t care, and what did they think she was doing, fighting? Also, Sar

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22. The Oxford Companion to Downton Abbey

Now that Series One and Two, plus the Christmas Special, of Downton Abbey have aired in the US and Canada, we’ve decided to compile a reading list for those serious-minded viewers who’d like to learn more about Edwardian England, World War I, life in an aristocratic household, and what lies ahead for the Crawleys and their servants. Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Photograph: ITV.

The first domino to fall in the lives of those at Downton Abbey is the sinking of the Titanic. James Crawley, Lord Grantham’s heir, and his son Patrick Crawley, Lady Mary’s fiancé, perished in the disaster (or did Patrick Crawley survive as Peter Gordon?). Who else was aboard?

Titanic: The Last Night of a Small Town by John Welshman (UK, US)
Also read John Welshman’s blog post on the cross-section of society who was aboard the Titanic.

What was the aristocratic lifestyle of the Earl and Countess Grantham; their three daughters, Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Sybil; and Lord Grantham’s mother the Dowager Countess?

Making Aristocracy Work: The Peerage and the Political System in Britain 1884-1914 by Andrew Adonis (UK, US)

What was life like for Mr Carson, Mrs Hughes, O’Brien, William, Mrs Patmore, and others downstairs?

Knowing Their Place: Domestic Service in Twentieth Century Britain by Lucy Delap (UK, US)

Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). Photo by Richard Munckton.

Mr Bates was Lord Grantham’s batman and is now his valet. What was life in the Edwardian army like for both men?

The Edwardian Army: Manning, Training, and Deploying the British Army, 1902-1914 by Timothy Bowman (UK, 0 Comments on The Oxford Companion to Downton Abbey as of 1/1/1900

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23. Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgp


It is the middle of World War I and on the battlefield, Private Thomas ‘Tommo’ Peaceful, 17. is sitting watch, keeping track of the time on an important newly acquired watch, afraid of falling asleep and missing precious moments of this particular night.  As he sits there, Tommo recalls his life, beginning with his family in the village of Iddesleigh and, later, in the trenches of France.

The Peaceful family live in a house on the estate grounds of the Colonel, a mean local squire  Life wasn’t too bad for the Peaceful family until Mr. Peaceful, an estate forester, is killed by a falling tree, which the young Tommo believes is his fault.  After that, Mrs. Peaceful must go to work in the Colonel’s house in order to be allowed to remain in the cottage they are living in.  Great Aunt Wolf moves in to look after the children - older brothers Charlie and Big Joe, who is disabled, and Tommo.  She is a mean spirited woman runs the house with an iron hand and takes every opportunity to belittle the boys.
Things aren’t much better in school.  Mr. Munnings, one of two teachers, has it out for Charlie, and starts in on Tommo his first day of school.  Big Joe doesn’t go to school but wanders singing Oranges and Lemons, a children’s nursery song, everywhere he goes.  At school, Tommo meets Molly and it is love at first sight for him.
Soon Charlie, Tommo and Molly are inseparable friends, doing everything together, including poaching fish and game from the estate grounds.  Throughout everything, having fun or getting into trouble, Charlie has been there for Tommo, so when he realizes that Charlie and Molly are secretly meeting without him, he feels betrayed, but keeps it to himself.  
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24. Adolf Hitler’s treason trial begins in Munich

This Day in World History

February 26, 1924

Adolf Hitler’s Treason Trial Begins in Munich


On February 26, 1924, Adolf Hitler and nine associates stood trial in a Munich courtroom. The charge was treason — they were accused of trying to overthrow the German republic. That day, Hitler turned the tables to accuse the German leaders who had surrendered in 1918, ending World War I, and created the republican government he so despised: “There is no such thing as high treason against the traitors of 1918,” he proclaimed.

Germany in the early 1920s was deeply divided. Right-wing nationalists like Hitler bitterly opposed both the republican government and the leftists and Communists who struggled with them for power. These nationalists were also inspired by the example of fascist Benito Mussolini, who had seized power in Italy. Perhaps, they thought, they too could gain power with forceful action.

Hitler’s hopes to launch a national revolt were buttressed by the apparent support of three Bavarian officials. Hoping to force them to join his cause, he staged a putsch, or coup, at a political meeting in a Munich beer garden. Declaring “The revolution has begun,” he had armed thugs from his National Socialist (Nazi) party use the threat of force to convince the three to join him. The next day, however, the three had police fire on a Nazi march, and had Hitler and others arrested.

The trial received coverage across Germany, which Hitler used to his advantage. He denounced the republican government. He denounced the three Bavarian leaders for cowardice. He remained defiant down to the guilty verdict. In his closing speech, Hitler offered a prophetic call: “The man who is born to be a dictator is not compelled: he wills it.”

Sympathetic judges gave Hitler a sentence of only five years. He served only eight months of it. He spent his time in prison writing the first half of Mein Kampf¸ his political manifesto, which detailed his anger at “the traitors of 1918” and set forth his extreme racial views. He also used his time in prison to plan a second — and more successful — takeover of Germany’s government.

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25. Rereading Hattie Big Sky

Hattie Big Sky. Kirby Larson. 2006. Random House. 290 pages.

December 19, 1917
Arlington, Iowa

Dear Charlie,
Miss Simpson starts every day with a reminder to pray for you--and all the other boys who enlisted. Well, I say we should pray for the Kaiser--he's going to need those prayers once he meets you!

Oh, how I LOVE Hattie Big Sky. I just love and adore this historical YA novel set, for the most part, in 1918. The heroine, Hattie, has inherited her uncle's claim in Montana. If the claim is to become truly hers, she'll need to prove the claim. She'll need to plant/harvest a certain number of acres, and lay a certain number of fence/fence-posts. Intimidating work to be sure--physically and emotionally demanding work. True, she'll have almost all winter to prepare herself mentally and emotionally for the challenge--time well spent reading up on farming and such--but once spring comes, the work is neverending. Unfortunately, some people do have more time on their hands. Time to spend being too patriotic. Time to spend bullying your German neighbors. And believe me, it gets cruel and ugly and brutal. But Hattie is different from the rest--not that every single person is a hater. She knows that she wouldn't stand a chance of making it on her own without the friendship--deep friendship--with her closest neighbors. Yes, her neighbors are German. But never for a second has she felt they were her enemies, that they should be her enemies.

Read Hattie Big Sky
  • If you like or love historical fiction; this one is a must in my opinion!
  • If you love pioneer-type stories; yes, this one is set in 1918, but proving a claim and homesteading hadn't changed all that much
  • If you like or love coming of age novels; Hattie is a great heroine, and she learns so much about herself during these tough months!
  • If you like novels set during World War I

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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