Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weekend Cooking #14: Victory through Snap, Crackle and Pop

The story goes that in or around 1939, Mildred Day, an employee of the Kellogg’s company, and her friend Malitta Jensen, were asked to develop something using Campfire Marshmallows for a fundraiser for a group of Camp Fire Girls. They came up with the now iconic Rice Krispies Marshmallow Squares recipe.

Rice Krispie Squares turned out to be such a favorite that the Kellogg’s company decided to market them. The ad and recipe appeared in all kinds of magazines and journals. Life magazine ran the ad regularly, as did McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping. But it could also be found in The Locomotive Engineers Journal, The Girl’s Daily Life and The Journal of Home Economics, among others. 

Ads also ran promoting Rice Krispies Marshmallow Squares for holidays such a Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Once the US entered World War II, these treats became a favorite item of families sending packages to loved oned serving in the Armed Forces and these sweet, gooey confections are often remembered in war time memories. To wit:

“Mail call always brought the men back to sanity, and he [Elvin Crandell] looked forward to the rice-crispy treats Marjorie frequently mailed to him.” in From the Battle Front to the Home Front by Kay B. Hall, page 167.

“A baby in the house also meant extra powdered eggs. They were delicious. Along with powdered chocolate, all kinds of good things could be made with them, such as chocolate Rice Krispie squares.” in On the Home Front: Growing up in Wartime England by Ann Stalcup, page 54.

“Families frequently…packed nonperishable items, such as Kellogg’s Rich Krispies Marshmallow Treats, first advertised in 1940, to send to family members not able to attend [family festivities] in World War II and the Postwar Yeats in America by William H. Young and Nancy K. Young, page 343.

Rice Krispies Marshmallow Squares were an ideal treat during the war, since eating cereal was always encouraged for its nutritional value, an advertising ploy aimed at making mothers happy. But, more importantly, there was always that nifty prize you could send for with enough box tops and a little money, an advertising ploy aimed at kids. And, best of all, marshmallows were never rationed and you could make these rice treats with butter substitutes.

Naturally, when I discovered that these treats were and are still being sent to loved one serving in the Armed Forces, I thought This is great. It meant I could whip up a batch and send them to my daughter in China, who was thrilled when I told her about this plan.

Here, then, is the original recipe for anyone who may not have

3 Tablespoons butter or margarine
1 10oz package (about 40) marshmallows or 4 cups of miniature marshmallows
6 cups of Rice Krispies


1- In a large saucepan melt the butter over low heat. Add the marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat.

2- Add the Rice Krispies and stir until well coated.

3- Using a buttered spatula or wax paper evenly press mixture into a 13X9X2 inch pan coated with cooking spray. Cool. Cut into 2 inch squares.

Microwave Directions:

In a microwave-safe bowl heat the butter and marshmallows on HIGH of r3 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes. Stir until smooth.

Follow steps 2 and 3 above.

This basic recipe can be varied almost any way you can think of. You can add peanut butter, Nutella, chocolate chips or nuts to name just a few variations.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post at Beth Fish Reads

Friday, October 28, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: What’s the hardest/most challenging book you’ve ever read?

I know this is a day late, but I liked the question this week and decided to answer it. This week Booking Through Thursday asked the following:

What’s the hardest/most challenging book you’ve ever read? Was it worth the effort? Did you read it by choice or was it an assignment/obligation?

The most challenging book I have ever read is Anna Karenina.  In 2004, it was an Oprah selection for summer reading and I thought I would give it a go.  But there is a section in this book about mowing that I just could not get through.  I read four other novels while I plowed through the mowing chapter.  But in the end, it was totally worth the effort and I was glad I had actually read every single word of Anna Karenina

And if anyone one wants to read it, Oprah still has a lot of value information up on Oprah's Book Club for understanding this book.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

At the Firefly Gate by Linda Newbery

At the Firefly Gate is a simple romantic ghost story that seamlessly connects past and present, and age and youth together.

Henry, 11, is not happy when his parents move from London to the village of Crickford St. Thomas. His first night there, he sees a man standing at the garden gate, smoking a cigarette and with a cloud of fireflies flying around him, appearing to look straight at Henry.

The next day Henry and his parents are invited to tea by their neighbor Pat, whose daughter Grace is a little older than Henry. Also living there is Dottie, Pat’s elderly aunt. Henry and Dottie immediately feel the strangest connection to each other, despite their age difference.

That night, Henry dreams that he is at a mobile café, buying doughnuts and coffee, helped by a pretty girl who was flirting with him. And he knew the guy with him was his best friend, Rusty Dobbs. Yet, nothing about the dream made sense to him and, despite its vividness it slips away from him when he wakes up.

Henry begins to settle into his new surroundings. He is often invited to Pat’s home for tea and becomes friendlier with Dottie, bonding with her over games of Scrabble. All that spoils this is Grace telling him that Dottie is dying.

Meanwhile, Henry meets and becomes friends with Simon, who he will be going to school with. One hot Sunday, Henry and Simon go over the stream to cool off. They get lost along the way and discover an old, long abandoned airfield, which Simon recognizes as the one where his great-granddad was a pilot during World War II. He tells Henry the story about how his great granddad was in sick bay the night his entire crew went on a mission over Germany and never came back. Henry is stunned to learn that Simon’s great granddad’s name is Rusty Dobbs.

The past and present continue to overlap in Henry’s life, even as carves out a spot for himself in Crickford, making new friends and adjusting to life there. Dottie finally clarifies the identity of the man, explaining that he was also named Henry, a navigator in the RAF and best friends with Rusty Dobbs. He was also the love of her life and, after he didn’t return from the mission that saved Rusty’s life, she never was interested in marrying anyone else.

Newbery’s well developed Henry is a sweet, sensitive character, a rather ordinary boy who suddenly has this extraordinary experience. As pieces to the puzzle of the past present themselves, Henry increasingly becomes more determined to figure it all out. Dottie’s mind is still that of a feisty girl, even as she is physically limited simply by her age. She seems to bring out a confidence in Henry that wasn’t apparent before, acting as a catalyst for Henry’s ‘coming of age.’ Even sullen, angry Grace is well-drawn in her desire to become an RAF pilot against all the odds.

Though I thought the story started out rather slowly and with just a touch of confusion, in the end I enjoyed it very much. I think Linda Newbery has written a very nice refreshing book about friendship between generations that is unusual in books for young readers, where so often these age groups are at odds with each other instead.

The Book Cover: The cover of a book matters and can often influence a reader's decision about reading it.  In this case I think the cover is quite lovely.  The trouble is that on the book I read the details are so dark are hard to make out.  I made the picture of the cover a little brighter with some finagling so that the details are somewhat clearer.  Illustrators work hard on covers and they should be appreciated.  The artwork for At the Firefly Gate was done by Jess Meserve. 

This book is recommended for readers age 9-12.
This book was borrowed from the Children’s Center at 42nd Street of the NYPL

At the Firefly Gate
Linda Newbery
David Pickling imprint of Random House Children’s Books
152 Pages

Monday, October 24, 2011

Irena’s Jars of Secrets by Marcia Vaughan

Marcia Vaughan's book, Irena's Jars of Secrets, is an informative look at the life of a brave, young resistance worker in the face of great danger.

Irena Sendler was a pretty young girl living in Warsaw, Poland when the Nazis invaded her country. Late in 1940, they forced Warsaw’s more than 400,000 Jews into some crowded, run down buildings, separated from the rest of that city by a 7 foot brick wall the Nazis had built, where they began their fight for survival in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Irena Sendler, a young social worker, and the daughter of a physician who had been willing to treat poor Jews during a Typhus outbreak years earlier, decided to follow in her father's footsteps and try to help ease the suffering of the Jews behind the wall.

Against this background, Vaughan tells the story of this remarkable young woman who risked her own life over and over to try to save others. By now, most of us know about Irena smuggling activities – bringing clothing, food and medical supplies into the ghetto, and sneaking children out and to safety. To keep track of the children, whose names had to be changed so they could pass as Christians, she wrote down their real name and their false identity and buried them in jars in the hope that they could some day be reunited with their families.

Irena’s smuggling activities came to an end when she was betrayed to the Gestapo in 1943. She was sentenced to death but, despite being tortured, never betrayed any her secrets, including the location of the jars that had the potential to destroy so many lives in the hands of the Nazis.

Irena Sendler as a young girl
Vaughan’s biography about Irena Sendler is presented in very accessible language, detailing how she began her work on her own, and later joining Zegota, a secret organization for helping Jews. She also includes some personalized narratives of Jews deciding to send their child into the unknown with Irena, rather than face deportation. Vaughan gives a real sense of the despair, desperation and even the ambivalence these parents must have felt about turning their children over to Irena without a real guarantee of their safety.

The narrative is enhanced by the excellent oil paintings of illustrator Ron Mazellan throughout the book. Mazellan paintings reflect the dark uncertain times that people experienced under the Nazis. Yet, for all their emotional content, the paintings are done in a kind of soft focus, powerful without being frightening and detracting from the narrative.

Irena’s Jars of Secrets is an excellent addition to the ever growing body of Holocaust literature for younger readers. I think it is important that children know there were some people acting unselfishly and courageously amid so much cruelty. This important story is a must read for anyone teaching or just interested in the Holocaust.

This book is recommended for readers age 6-11
This book was a received as an E-ARC from

Yad Vashem named Irena as one of The Righteous Among The Nations in 1965

Irena Sendler's obituary from the New York Times
(I had a teacher in junior high who told us to always read the obits in the newspaper because you can learn so much about a person there and it has really been true, which is why I sometimes include them)

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted this week by Apple with Many Seeds

Irena's Jars of Secrets
Marcia Vaughan
Lee & Low
Available 11/1/2011
40 Pages

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Library Loot – OWSLibrary

I went to the library on Thursday. Not usually a very remarkable adventure, except this week I took my new ‘library card’ and boarded a No 5 Subway to go down to Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan to see the newest library in town. I had heard so much about it that my curiosity was really peaked.

The library is located on the north-east corner of the park, along Liberty Street. It is fairly organized, utilizing a vast array of plastic containers instead of shelves and, as you can see, there are lots of people browsing about, looking for books.

My library loot consisted of only one book:

I also kind of wanted that copy of Twilight you can see in the photo, but passed it up. Now, I am rather sorry. The weirdest part was just taking Where the Wild Things Are, walking away and no one running after me yelling stop thief at the top of there lungs. I had this momentary channeling of Liesel from The Book Thief until I reminded myself I wasn’t stealing.

Besides the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protesters, there are also lots of tourists, cops, World Trade Center workers on lunch break, and others milling about the park in general. But among the protesters’ there is some pretty impressive organization. I include a few photos for your consideration:

The People’s Library

My Photos
The People’s Kitchen

Photo from The Christian Post (because theirs was better than mine)

The People’s Media Center

Photo from New York Review of Books (because theirs was better than mine)

The People’s First Aid Center

My Photo

Coconut Bubble Tea
I did get hungry while I was in Zuccotti Park. How could you not? The delicious smells of food within the park and smells of the vendors surrounding the park were overpowering. So, I admit I spent $4.00 on a delicious Coconut Bubble Tea from a vendor after deciding the free food in the park should be left for the protesters.

Whether you agree with the protesters or not, you have to admit this was perhaps a one of a kind visit to the library.

You can find out more about the Occupy Wall Street Library at these websites:
The Peoples Library Blog


The People's Library Catalogue at

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Beales Corner by Andy Frazier

Beales Corner is a real place in the town of Bewdley, Worcestershire, England and Andy Frazier, author of Beales Corner, grew up in this area and is quite familiar with it. So did his father and many of the stories in the book come from the stories Andy heard growing up about his dad’s adventures in the Home Guard during the war.

So it is not surprising that Beales Corner is told through the eyes of two characters in alternating chapters. The present is seen through fourteen year old Tom Mason; the past is seen through the wartime stories of Tom’s grandfather, James Randall, when he was an adolescent. Alternating chapters can often be problematic, but in this book where there is a clear delineation: the past is told in the first person, the present in the third person. And it works very well.

Tom likes visiting his granddad on his summer vacation because it gets him away from all the pressures of home and school and, at least for a little while, his annoyingly enthusiastic 9 year old sister Lizzie. On the other hand, it means listening to his granddad’s old war stores – again and again and again. And yet when his granddad confesses that his is beginning to have memory problems, Tom agrees to help him write down his war stories. And pretty soon it becomes clear that for these two, the past is not past yet – and Tom has the visions to prove it.

During the mornings, while Tom typed frantically away on his new laptop, his granddad relays stories about how he got his first dog named Boots, and how he and Boots were both in the Home Guard, Jim at the young age of 13, taking on the responsibilities of a much older person. And about meeting his best friend, Jean-Francois, a French Cadet, after the French convoy he was in ran over Boots, and then, later presenting young Jim with a new puppy, the second Boots. Jim and Jean-Francois did all kinds the things together, including getting caught in a snow storm on the way to a dance and having to take refuge in a top secret military depot. The two boys even take up rowing, a favorite sport of the people in Bewdley, which sits along the banks of the Severn River, making for great rowing. Eventually Jim gets to the story of the German pilots who crash landed on his grandfather’s farm and the trouble that ensues.

Meanwhile, Tom also meets a mate, Robert Watson, a member of the Bewdley rowing club. Robert teaches Tom about rowing and the two spend a lot of time on the river. Robert also becomes a favorite of Lizzie, after she arrives at Beales Corner with her mother. Tom is really enjoying his summer this year, helping his grandfather and hanging out with a good mate, except for the visions. Who is that foreign looking boy on a bicycle he keeps seeing? And were those World War II soldiers he sees on the Severn Valley Railroad really just actors? They were all there and then gone, just that quickly.

Without getting too spoilery, I can say that the past and present, the visions and the living coalesce in a very satisfying ending.

Frazier has written a very entertaining YA book, moderate ghost story with Beales Corner. Following the writer’s creed “write what you know” he gives a very realistic sense of place – I felt that I knew Bewdley and Beales Corner as more than just a tourist when I finished. His characters are multi-dimensional, effective and realistic. Tom is an introspective young teen, Lizzie is a really annoying kid, but not without redeeming qualities. But Jim steals the show. He is a a compelling figure, a man who seems to be trying to come to terms with something in his past even as he has loyally and nobly carried a secret and a promise for way too long to protect a friend.

In fact, the only complaint I have about Beales Corner is that sometimes there is a little too much exposition and I would have like more action. But other than that, I definitely recommend this book.

Beales Corner was not printed by a large publishing house though it is available online at most book websites, such as Amazon, B&N and Lulu.   I think it is a great example of why we should also look beyond the conventional to find other top notch authors and their books.

This book is recommended for readers age 11 and up
This book was provided to me by the author

Present day Bewdley, Worcestershire, England
No 3 is the lovely timbered white house on the left.

Thursday Tea is a weekly meme hosted by Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed)

The tea: I drank while writing about Beales Corner Stash's Licorice Spice, a very nice herbal tea that is combined with cinnamon, orange and anise, all favorite flavors. 

Did they go together:  Absolutely. Licorice always makes me think of that totally English delectable Licorice Allsorts, a small bag of which I also devoured while writing. 

Beales Corner
Andy Frazier
Chauffour Books
143 Pages

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An Award - WOW!

I have been tagged for this lovely Versatile Blogger Award by Nancy at Simple Clockwork and I would like to thank her very much for thinking of The Children’s War.

These are the rules for accepting this award:

1- Thank and link the blogger who nominated you (please click on his or her name above to check out his or her blog.

2- Share seven random facts about yourself.

3- Spread the love! Pass the award on to five other bloggers.

Seven random facts about myself:

1- I only eat pistachio ice cream when I am at Coney Island, because I have always believed that the close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean gives it a nice salty taste. Who knows? It could be true.

2- I am ashamed to say that I have lived in New York City all my life and have never visited the UN, the Statue of Liberty or taken the Circle Line, but I pass by them a lot.

3- My favorite color has always been blue.

4- My favorite time of the day is afternoon tea.

5- Speaking of tea, I recently sent a box of American tea bags to my daughter in China – I still can’t believe I sent tea to China, the land of tea.

6- I love cats, but prefer black cats.

7- I am very shy in person

The five deserving bloggers I have chosen for the Versatile Blogger Award are:

1 A Bookish Libraria: The Dame Reviews


3- Kids of the Homefront Army

4- Books Kids Like

5- A Book A Day
Thank you again, Nancy, for nominating me for this award.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Queen of Hearts by Martha Brooks

Queen of Hearts is an engaging YA novel set, for the most part, inside a tuberculosis sanatorium in Manitoba, Canada during the years 1940-1941.

Marie-Claire Côté, 15, lives on a small farm across a valley from the Pembina Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium. The close proximity of the San makes everyone in the community very aware of this highly contagious disease. But so far, the Côté family have all been lucky enough not to have had TB touch their world.

Their luck changes, however, one cold spring evening in 1940 when Oncle Gérard returns to the farm. Gérard, only 25, has been riding the railroads for years, a happy go lucky vagabond. Then, in the fall of 1940, Gérard is diagnosed with TB. At first, he remains at home, but when a place opens at the San, he is taken there, where he dies in February, 1941.

But it doesn’t take long for symptoms of TB to start appear in the Côté children. First, in 11 year old Luc, then in Marie-Claire and finally in the youngest, Josée, 5. In December 1941, all three of the children are diagnosed and immediately admitted to the San. Angry and resentful, Marie-Claire doesn’t adjust well to San life – the food, the routines, even the constant cheerful friendliness of her very sick roommate, Signy.

Though not a willing patient, Marie-Claire does begin to adjust to the idea that she must change her attitude in order to help herself.  This attitude change is bolster by the loss of her brother and the recovery of little Josée. After a while, she even begins to slowly accept Signy’s offer of friendship and manages finds a boyfriend in the San.

The relationship between Marie-Claire and Signy is always strained and through it Brooks brings out an interesting phenomenon that often occurs when someone is faced with the possibility of a friend’s illness being terminal – avoiding them despite their genuinely good intentions. This happens a couple times in Queen of Hearts. Signy’s former roommate, Louise, is a good example. Louise had been moved to a cottage as she improved, but with promises of coming back to visit. The visit doesn’t happen until the day the now healthy Louise is leaving that San: “I always meant to come back and see you. It’s hard, you know to…see people. I mean, after you’re getting better and they’re…” (pg 104) Who knows why this happens – survivor guilt? Fear of getting sick again? Fear of death? It could be anything. It is just not something that is addressed in YA novels about illness very often, but maybe it should be.

I was very interested in this book, since my dear friend and neighbor, George Cassa, who passed away suddenly this spring, once told me about his own personal experience as a teenage TB patient in an upstate New York sanatorium, also during World War II. His experience mirrors much of was is described in Queen of Hearts, adding to the realistic feeling in the novel.

Brooks, who grew up living in a Canadian sanatorium where her father was the medical superintendent, is very familiar with the confined, often boring, lonely life of a TB patient. Her descriptions of the tedious daily routines that Marie-Claire experiences as she “chases the cure,” a rather ironic image given that TB patients are confined to a bed for a good part of their treatment, imparts a true sense of authenticity in the novel.

Queen of Hearts is a poignant, compelling coming of age story which will captivate the reader from beginning to end as Marie-Claire wages her own personal life and death war against TB in the isolated world of the San, far from the battlefields of WW II.

This book is recommended for readers age 12 and up.
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL

Queen of Hearts
Martha Brooks
Farrar, Straus Giroux
214 Pages

Sunday, October 16, 2011

In My Mailbox

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren

Well, there is a first time for everything and this is my first In My Mailbox post. I received the following this week and have already read some and will be reading the others.


Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume
Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw
Edith’s War by Andrew Smith
Beales Corner by Andy Frazier

What did you get in your mailbox?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Time to Go Back by Mabel Esther Allan

I haven’t read a time travel story for a while, so I was really looking forward to reading Time to Go Back. Londoner Sarah Farrant, 16, is home recuperating from pneumonia after spending a night in jail, arrested in Trafalgar Square for demonstrating against what I assume is the Vietnam war.

Bored with staying home, she wanders into the family’s junk room and discovers a book of poetry written by her mother’s older sister, Larke Ellesmore. There were some love poems in the book, but also some poems about the destruction caused by World War II. Entranced, Sarah wants to know more about this long-ago-would-have-been aunt who died in the war, yet seems to understand exactly how Sarah feels. And Sarah gets her chance when her mother takes her to see her grandmother in Wallasey, the town where she and Larke had grown up, across the Mersey River from Liverpool.

On the evening of March 11th, while walking home to her grandmother's, Sarah suddenly finds herself back in 1941, where she meets a young man named Hilary who warns her to get to safety before the German bombers arrive. Sarah is stunned to discover her grandmother’s house is all boarded up and looking abandoned, but as soon as she puts her key in the lock, she is returned to the present.

Sarah finds herself inexplicably returning to the past a number to times between March 1941 and May 1941, dates that are crucial to the story. She is able to meet and get to know not only Larke, but also her 14 year old mother, Clem, and her much younger grandmother trying to cope with the war and two headstrong daughters while he husband is away at war. Sarah also finds herself very attracted to Hilary, a real dilemma since this young Hilary exists only in the past.

But Allan manages to pull this coming of age story together, even if it is in avery predictable ending.

Allan very nicely captures the flavor of the early 1970s in Time to Go Back, when young people involved in the peace movement were demonstrating against the war in Vietnam. But she also shows, through Sarah's friends, that many were not a committed to peace as much as they were to simply venting their youthful rebellious feelings and causing a scene.

Her depictions of the bombing of Liverpool and Wallasey are really very vivid, since they are also autobiographical. The destruction, the loss, the struggle to cope that faced people day after day are all very realistically portrayed by Allan.

And yet, despite the good points, this novel is a bit weak. I think it is the predictability that is the culprit, since Allan was a fine and very prolific writer. I did like her method for effecting time travel – one minute Sarah was in the present, the next in the past – that simple. But, sadly, despite witnessing the devastating power of war first hand, Sarah’s well meaning activism seems to get lost and I found that very disappointing. 

Oh well, Time to Go Back is still worth a read, but I would only give it a weakish recommendation. Which I hate to do because of the poems.

The poems that first caught Sarah’s attention are scattered throughout the novel and, in the novel, they are attributed to her aunt, Larke. In fact, these are poems written by the author herself during the war. And they are quite lovely. Consider this poem about the night of March 12/13, 1941 when Allan witnessed the first heavy bombing of Wallasey:

I saw a broken town beside the grey March sea,
Spray flung in the air and no larks singing,
And houses lurching, twisted, where the chestnut trees
Stood ripped and stark; the fierce wind bringing
The choking dust in clouds along deserted streets,
Shaking the gaping rooms, the jagged raw white stone.
Seeking for what in this quiet, stricken town? It beats
About each fallen wall, each beam, leaving no livid,
Aching place alone.

This book is recommended for readers age 12 and up
This book was purchased for my personal library
Be sure to visit the Mabel Esther Allan page at Collecting Books and Magazines for a complete list of her books.

Thursday Tea is a weekly meme hosted by Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog

Since I only gave Time to Go Back a weakish recommendation, it seems fitting to pair it up with Twining’s Enlish Afternoon Tea, which tastes nice, but is rather weak. If you like a nice strong cuppa, and I do, this is not the tea for you.

Time to Go Back
Mabel Esther Allan
134 Pages

And last but not least a nod to the war protesters of the of the 1960s and early 1970s

This is book number 16 of my Forgotten Treasures Challenge hosted by Retroreduxs Reviews

Monday, October 10, 2011

Drawing from Memory by Allen Say

I met Allen Say at a “Meet the Artist” event at the Eric Carle Museum in 2007 when they were running an exhibit of his work called Allen Say: a Sense of Place. It was very nice to meet him, since he is a really charming, friendly person and one of my favorite author/illustrators.

While all of his books stem from his lifetime experiences, Drawing from Memory is Say’s first autobiographical work focused on how he became an artist. Born in Yokohama, Japan in 1937, he was taught by his mother to read at a very young age. Soon he was reading lots of comics and copying the pictures from them. He decided that he wanted to be an artist, and luckily, he had talent, but, unfortunately, not his parents blessing.

But then the war came and his life drastically changed. He and his mother left their home in Yokohama to live in relative safety with a mean uncle. Later, this mean uncle shows up in Once Under a Cherry Blossom Tree (one wonders how many of these kinds of people end up playing a dastardly role in future books.) Say’s father remained in Yokohama.

After the war, however, Say’s parents never got back together. His mother was forced to work financially and Say went to live with his grandmother, who also often and vocally disapproved of his artistic aspirations. But luckily Say got accepted into a school and was allowed to have his own apartment – at 12 years old. There he read about a great cartoonist, Noro Shinpei, and a young boy who had sought this man out and had become his apprentice. Say know at that moment what he needed to do.

Drawing from Memory gives readers an inside look at Allen Say’s development as an artist from childhood on, in both text and drawings. Many of the drawings are done from memory (hence the title of the book) with the exception of one sketch-book he didn’t burn before leaving Japan. The artwork is done in watercolor, pen and ink and various other mediums, all very effectively reflecting the emotions of the artist at the time. The drawings are punctuated with old photos giving credence to the drawings.

The book only covers Says life in Japan, before he came to America. But this was the period of his formation as an artist and was a very important time in his life. I did have a hard time believing he could leave his mentor, Noro Shinpei, with whom he was so happy, even though I know these things need to be done in order for an artist to come into his/her own.

Like all of Allen Say’s works, this is a wonderful book for both kids and adults. Kids, regardless of their future aspirations, if any, will find inspiration in Say’s journey to become an artist in the face of so many obstacles. Adults will learn, as Say’s mother did, to “Let you dear child journey.” (Pg 35)

Though Say doesn’t write much about his life during the war, I found the insider’s picture of post war Japan that he depicts in this book particularly interesting, since it is something we often don’t hear about. The unhappiness and discontent of the people that took place are depicted in the drawings demonstrations and clashes with the police. The people wanted jobs, money to live on, better education, a better government – in general a better world.

Drawing from Memory is a definite must for anyone who likes Allen Say’s previous work and for anyone not familiar with him.

This book is recommended for readers age 9 and up
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL
Non-Fiction Monday is hosted today by Practically Paradise
Drawing from Memory
Allen Say
63 Pages

Thursday, October 6, 2011

And now for something completely different…..

One of the things I always find fascinating about many of the books I read regarding the various home fronts created by World War II is that they are so often based on actual events. But not necessarily the big events – most have their foundations in smaller, more local incidents. And that is what makes they so fascinating – at least to me, since my interest is always the impact of the war on the lives of people on the home front. This is also why I like to read and write about books that were written during the war – no one knew the outcome so they have a whole different perspective.

And life on the home front naturally involved the popular culture of the time – radio programs, popular songs, food under rationing conditions, advertisements and, of course, comic strips of the time. Recently, I was at the library researching Superman and called up a book called Boys of Steel: the Creators of Superman, a fascinating 40 page book for young people interested in Superman, illustrated by Ross MacDonald and written by Marc Tyler Nobleman.

Now Marc Tyler Nobleman has written a book called 30 Minutes over Oregon. It is a World War II story about a very real, little known event. So I was pretty psyched to read and review this book when I heard about it, but it turned into a ‘not gonna happen’ situation. Why? Well, according to Marc, and, despite the fact that various children’s book editors had very positive things to say about the book, “no publisher has acquired this picture book manuscript. The most recurring reason I’m told is because nonfiction—especially nonfiction about someone who is not a household name—doesn’t sell.”

Apparently, they don’t know about Non-Fiction Monday

So, what’s a writer to do? Appeal to the book blogging world, of course. Here’s the deal:

Marc would like you to cruise on over to his website, Noblemania: the stories behind the stories I write and read the story behind 30 Minutes over Oregon in his post called Picture Book for Sale and please, please when you are done, leave a comment – but be honest. If you don’t think the book would work, say so.

And while you are reading, be sure to check out all eleven of the book covers designed by various people, from professional illustrators to kids with an interest.  They are all fabulous.

Left cover by Brad Sneed
Right cover by Alex, age 9
You might want to swing by The Happy Accident and see what Greg Pincus has to say about all this.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Elephant Run by Roland Smith

Elephant Run is an exciting action-packed story, set in 1941/2 in Burma (now Myanmar) just as Japan is turning its sites on it for military purposes.

Nick Freestone, 14, has been living with his mother and step dad in London, but now it is 1941, the Blitz is in full swing and one night, the building they are living in is destroyed by a bomb. His parents have become increasingly involved in wartime activities and Nick’s mother decides to send him to Burma, to live on his father’s timber plantation, Hawk’s Nest, and, she believes, in relative safety.

But safety really did prove to be only relative, since there is some tension in Burma because many of the Burmese want their independence from Britain. This sentiment is also shared by some of the mahouts, the men who work and care for the timber elephants on the Freestone plantation. After the Japanese have successfully invaded Rangoon, Burma’s capital, with the help of some of the mahouts, they also take over Hawk’s Nest, turning it into a military center of operations. Nick’s father is arrested and sent to a POW camp; Nick is held prisoner at the plantation and forced to work in what is now the garden of the cruel Colonel Nagayoshi. Nick’s work is supervised by the kinder Captain Sonji, but he is also at the mercy with the pitiless, vengeful Bukong, a former mahout who seems to enjoy beating Nick and others with his cane.

The one person who has real freedom of movement is Hilltop, a Buddhist monk who seems to be able to speak with the elephants and who is said to be over 100 years old. Hilltop knows the Burmese jungles better that anyone and offers Nick his one hope of escaping and rescuing his father.

Elephants are one of my favorite animals and I was very interested in that part of this book. Smith’s mahouts are very kind to their animals and seem to genuinely appreciate what they are capable of doing. One elephant in particular stands out in this book, a character in his own right, a example of the old adage that elephants never forget. Hannibal is a very large elephant who was once savagely attacked by a tiger while tied up. Not longer able to be used as a timber elephant, he roams the jungle. But as the story unfolds, the reader learns the role various people played in Hannibal’s life that demonstrates the truth in that adage.

Elephant Run is an ideal book for anyone who likes a well written, well researched book of historical fiction. It seamlessly incorporates the cultural history of mahouts and their elephants with the factual history of the Japanese invasion of Burma. In this story, the invasion centers on building a fictional airfield at Hawk’s Nest and using POWs, both foreign and Burmese, to build the very real Burma Railroad.  This was an undertaking that resulted in a very high death rate among the workers, a fact Smith continuously points out. Because Nick is not familiar with life on his father’s plantation, Smith uses it as an opportunity to talk about the work of the mahouts, how the elephants are trained and other aspects of plantation life in Burma to inform the reader without straying from the story.  Some might find this pedantic, I found it interesting.

This book is recommended for readers age 12 and up.
This book was purchased for my personal library.

There are excellent curriculum aides for Elephant Run are available at the author’s website.

Elephant Run has received the following well-deserved honors:
2007/2008 Winter Children’s Book Sense Pick
2008 Anserson’s Bookshop Mock Newbery Award List
2009 American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults nomination
2008/2009 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Mast List nomination
2008/2009 Great Stone Face Children’s Book Award
2011 Oregon Reader’s Choice Award (ORCA) Intermediate Division
2011/2012 Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award nomination
2012 Grand Canyon Reader Award nomination Tween Book Catagory

This is book 4 of my East and SouthEast Asia Challenge hosted by Violet Crush

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ghosts in the Fog: the Untold Story of Alaska’s WWII Invasion by Samantha Seiple

Ghosts in the Fog is the story of the Japanese invasion of the two of the Aleutian Islands, Attu and Kiska. The Japanese occupied these islands from June 3, 1942 to August 24, 1943. And, I have to be honest and confess that I did not know anything about this invasion of the Aleutians, and by extension the US, since these islands were US territory at the time, so I was really looking forward to reading Seiple's account of it and I was not disappointed.

Seiple begins the history of the Aleutian invasion by introducing the team of US Navy cryptographers who deciphered the messages from Admiral Yamamoto, commander of Japan’s Imperial Fleet, detailing his plan to simultaneously attack the Aleutian and Midway Islands, thereby opening the way for complete Japanese dominance in the Pacific. Unfortunately, Rear Admiral Robert Theobald of the US Navy decided Yamamoto’s messages were a trick and ignored them. Instead, he planned his counterattack 1,000 miles away from the Aleutians. This was a deadly decision for the residents who lived on the Aleutians.

On June 3, 1942, the Japanese began their attack at Dutch Harbor, the home of the Naval Operating Base and Fort Mears Military Base. Not finding what they wanted there, they moved on to the island of Kiska, invading it on June 6, 1942. The only occupants of the island at the time were a weather team of 10 men. Their job was top secret, since weather plays such a crucial role in war, often determining when an attack on the enemy would take place.

On June 7th, they invaded the island of Attu, rounding up the residents, all 44 of them, and forcing them all into the schoolhouse. Not allowed to speak to each other, they were given a sheet of rules of occupation. After being held all day with nothing to eat, the Attuans were allowed to return to their now looted and shot up homes. Attuans were held prisoners in their homes until September, when they were sent to labor camps in Japan.

It took 15 months for the United States military to regain the islands of Kiska and Attu.

Ghosts in the Fog is a nice, comprehensive accounting of the Aleutian invasion. Seiple has clearly researched her topic thoroughly and utilizes it well. Included in the book are lots of photos and a map to help the reader situate where things happened, important since not many people know about this event of World War II.

I found the book informative, but I also found myself looking up things that were not made clear enough in the book. Each chapter starts of focused on an individual who was there, giving it a more personal touch. All their experiences are then pulled together in the final chapter, leaving no loose ends.  Most salient in Seiple’s descriptions, and not very different from each other in their levels of harshness, are the somewhat graphically presented cruelty of the Japanese soldiers and the very graphic depiction of Aleutian weather. And much of this story is about surviving these two enemies.

On the whole, I found this to be a compelling book, in part because of the personal stories, and would definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in non-fiction works about the Second World War.

This book is recommended for readers age 14 and up.
This book is an ARC that was sent to me by the publisher.

The National Park Service has a website dedicated to the Aleutian Islands in World War II

To read an except from Ghosts in the Fog, view the government documentary of the Aleutian Invasion or to see a senior editor talk about the book, please visit Samantha Seiple

Because I read an ARC, I did  not have the map included in the book to refer to (and I did refer to a map often.)  I am including a copy of the map I used here:
Ghosts in the Fog: the Untold Story of Alaska's WW II Invasion
Samantha Seiple
182 Pages

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted this week by 100 Scope Notes

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Last Word - and so it goes

This is the last day of Banned Books Week and I hope everyone had a chance to either read a banned book or will in the future.  And I would like to dedicate the following animated clip to the Republic Missouri professor who tried to have Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler removed from the high school's library.  Students can now read these and other challenged books but only if their parents come to the library and checks them out for their teen.

The Joplin Globe wrote in an editorial “Instead of making it harder for books to be removed from library shelves, it will make it easier.”
The Christian Science Monitor stated "At the very least, we’re sure Vonnegut would appreciate the irony. The “Slaughterhouse Five” of the book's title refers to barracks at a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. Now the book itself will be imprisoned in a “secure section” of school libraries."

Vonnegut certainly would have appreciated the irony.

And so it goes.