Monday, February 28, 2011

Traitor by Gudrun Pausewang, translated by Rachel Ward

Traitor begins in the winter of 1944. Anna Brünner, 16, lives in Stiegnitz, a small village, with her mother and grandmother, not exactly Nazi supporters, and her younger brother Felix, member of the Hitler Youth and completely indoctrinated in National Socialist dogma. Older brother Seff is fighting at the Eastern front. Anna's father, Felix Brünner, had been a conjuror with a traveling circus before marrying her mother, and had committed suicide when Anna was still a baby.

During the week, Anna goes to school in Schonberg, living in an attic room rented from a widow, and coming home every Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon.

While walking home from the train station, Anna notices some odd footprints in the snow. Becoming curious, she follows them all the way to her family’s barn. Climbing up into the hay loft, Anna finds a sleeping man lying there, wet and emaciated.  Anna assumes that he is an escaped patient from the nearby mental asylum, but at home, her grandmother tells her about eight Russian POWs who had escaped in the area. Seven of them were found and shot on the spot. Anna naturally assumes that the man in the barn is the last missing Russian, but still feels sorry for him.  She tells her grandmother that she thinks she is getting a cold and is given a jug of steaming milk and told to go to bed. Naturally, Anna sneaks it out to the hay loft and gives the milk to the man.

Anna continues to think about this man and before returning to school on Sunday, she givess him clean, dry clothes, some food and takes him to the Moserwald Bunker, a large complex that had been used for defense at one time, but has long since been abandoned. Using hand motions, she explains that he must stay there or he will be caught. With the help of a calendar, Anna indicates that she will return the following weekend.

Although Anna knows it is treasonous to help the enemy, she continues to bring the Russian, whose name is Maxim, more clothing and food. After giving him her older brother’s clothes, Anna becomes afraid that they can be traced back to her if Maxim if found. As Anna becomes increasingly stressed by this, her landlady, Mrs. Beraneck, notices and, knowing she is not a supporter of the NS regime, Anna finally confides in her that she is hiding Maxim. Just before Christmas vacation, Anna find clothing, toiletries and some kitchen utensils in her room for Maxim, left there by Mrs. Beranek.

The police have by now basically given up their search for Maxim. By now, the war is not going well for the Germans and the Russian Army has been pushing westward, getting closer and closer to Stieglitz. Anna’s brother Felix, however, has been watching her closely and following her when she goes to visit the bunker. He finally confronts Anna, telling her that he thinks she is hiding the prisoner and reminding her that that is treason, punishable by death. She explains that she goes to the bunker to be alone and write poetry. He accepts this explanation with skepticism.

Traitor is a taut, psychological novel, full of the kind of suspense that grips the reader, making it impossible to put the book down. It relies, for the most part, on Anna’s thoughts to move the narrative forward, so the reader can see the interesting play of what she thinks and what she does. It had me on the edge of my seat the whole time I was reading. There seemed no possibility that this story of Anna and Maxim could have any kind of good resolution. But as the Red Army gets closer, a good outcome seems to become a possibility. Still, the ending was not what I was expecting at all. Not one of the possibilities for a positive or negative ending that occurred to me prepared me for what does happen. But I leave it at that.

Traitor is so well worth reading and I highly recommend it. I think Anna dilemma and her actions, coupled with the way the author builds up the tension, would be very appealing to teen readers. Often translations are not as good as the original because, as they say, something gets lost. But Rachel Ward has done a great job capturing the deveolping warm relationship between Anna and Maxim in an otherwise cold and impersonal landscape that reflects the militaristic society the Nazis were so good at creating. They say you should write what you know and the Sudetenland under Nazi domination is something that Gudrun Pausewand would know about firsthand. Pausewang was born there in 1928 and spent her youth living under Nazi rule until fleeing with her family from the advancing Russian army in 1945.

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

Another review of Traitor may be found at Bites

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Weekend Cooking #4: A War-time Welsh Rabbit in honor of St. David’s Day

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. As always Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads

Tuesday, March 1st is St. David’s Day and if you are Welsh, it is a day you celebrate. St. David is the patron saint of Wales. Of course, Welsh Rabbit has nothing whatsoever to do with St. David’s Day, other than that it is Welsh. According to Wikipedia, the origin of Welsh Rabbit, or Rarebit as it is sometimes called, comes from the days when the Welsh were very poor and cheese was used extensively in lieu of meat.

When we were young kids, my dad, who was born in South Wales, was told to make us grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch because my mom had to work (she was a nurse.) When he served us a version of the recipe below, our eyes almost popped out. This WAS NOT the grilled cheese we knew and loved. But he talked up into eating it and it became the new grilled cheese we knew and loved. Of course, there was no war on by this time, so our lunch was made with sharp cheddar cheese, which I would highly recommend over the American cheese this recipe calls for.

Welsh Rabbit (serves 6)
2 tbsp butter or margarine
1 lb American cheese, diced
½ tsp salt
½ tsp dry mustard
Few grains cayenne pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ cup milk, beer or ale
2 eggs
Bread for toasting

1. Melt butter and diced cheese and cook over hot water until melted, stirring constantly.
2. Add salt, mustard, cayenne and Worcestershire sauce; mix well.
3. Add liquid slowly. Add eggs and stir until mixture thickens.
4. Serve at once on hot toast.

(Halve this recipe and use as a sauce)
From: Cooling on a ration; food is still fun by Marjorie Mills 1943

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf

Joan Wolf has written novel based on truth. The first part of Someone Named Eva is based on the famous massacre of the residents of Lidice, Czechoslovakia. The second part is based on a little known practice of the Nazis in which children who looked Aryan were forcibly taken from their families, placed in a Kinderheim (children’s home) and Germanized. After their Germanization was completed, they were adopted by German families.

The novel begins in the middle of the night on June 10, 1942, a few weeks after Milada Kralicek’s 11th birthday. There is a knock on the Kralicek’s front door and armed Nazis order the family to pack a few things and go with them. In the yard, Milada, her mother, grandmother and baby sister are separated from her father and older brother. Before they leave the yard, Milada’s grandmother surreptitiously gives her a star shaped garnet pin and tells her she must always keep it to remember who she is. The stars had always held special meaning for them; growing up, her grandmother had taught Milada all about the constellations and how the North Star can always help you find you way home.

On the road, they are joined by the other women and children of Lidice. These are all people who had believed that they were safe from the Nazis because they were not Jewish, but Hitler was enraged about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich* in Prague by two Czechs. He gave an order that all adult men over 16 were to be executed, all women were to be sent to a work camp, the village of Lidice was to be burned to the ground and all children suitable for Germanization were to be removed. Wolf does not go into all the grime details of this terrible event, but the reader does slowly learn something about it as the story goes along.

From Lidice, the women and children are driven to Kladmo, where they are held in a large gymnasium. The floor is covered with hay and each family quickly claims a space for themselves on the floor. On the second day, two men go through the gym, looking over the children and picking a few to go with them, including Milada. These children have one thing in common - blond hair and blue eyes. They are lined up and examined, including measurements of their noses and heads. Even the color of their eyes is compared to an eye color chart. Late on the third day, Milada is taken away from her mother, who is later sent to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. Milada and one other girl are put on a bus by themselves. In reality, it is estimated that around 100,000 children were stolen from their families for Germanization just as Milada is.

The girls are taken to Puschkau, Poland, a village surrounded by barbed wire. It is filled with Nazi women and girls who look just like Milada – blond hair, blue eyes. She is at a Lebensborn center, where she is about to be Germanized. Here, Milada ceases to exist as she is turned into Eva, an Aryan girl.

Milada/Eva spends two years at the center in Puschkau being Germanized, better known as brainwashing – learning how to speak German and how to be a proper Nazi wife and mother. There are no shortages here, none of the hunger she had felt at home, and there are always new warm clothes and shoes whenever they are needed. Though she tries hard to hang on to her original identity, Milada begins to slip away and Eva takes over.

After two years, Eva is adopted by a German family, and her new father is the commandant of Ravensbrück. At first, life is good there, with the exception of the terrible smell that permeates the air, and she begins to forget her past life in Czechoslovakia. One day, she wraps her grandmother’s star shaped pin in a handkerchief, puts it away in a draw and forgets about it. Then one scary day, Eva realizes she can no longer remember what her real name was. But by now, it is 1945 and Germany’s fortunes have started their downward turn. Eva is about to experience yet another major upheaval in her young life.

Someone named Eva is narrated in the first person by Milada, enabling Wolf to take two otherwise complicated and horrific subjects and present them in a very simple straightforward way, ideal for younger readers. There is also a long Author’s Note at the end of the book explaining the events that took place in Lidice and afterwards. Lebensborn centers were not originally intended for Germanization and indoctrination, but for reproducing racially correct babies. Nevertheless, during the war they took on this second task. I highly recommend Someone named Eva.

Someone named Eva has won a number of well deserved awards:
2007 Junior Library Guild Spring Selection
2007 VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers
2008 CCBC Choices
2008 Society of Midland Authors Children’s Fiction Finalist
And to date, this novel is on 11 Children’s Choice Lists

More information about Someone named Eva may be found on Joan M. Wolf ‘s website at Joan M. Wolf 
Joan M. Wolf, who wrote Someone named Eva, is not to be confused with Joan Wolf, author of Christian fiction. They are two different people.

This book is recommended for readers aged 9-12.
This book was borrowed from the Yorkville Branch of the New York Public Library.

*Reinhard Heydrich, nicknamed “the Hangman” was a particularly hateful, cruel man and one of the architects of the Final Solution. He was named Reich Protector of Bohemia-Moravia in 1941. His job in Czechoslovakia was to organize and coordinate the deportation of Jews and other enemies of the state to death camps.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Orphans of Normandy, a true story of World War II told through drawings by children by Nancy Amis

Allons, enfants, vite, vite!

La Maison du Clos in St Andre sur Orne in France was both a home and school to 100 orphaned girls aged 3 to 19.  However, just as the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces was beginning, on June 5-6, 1944, the girls were forced to leave their school in the middle of the night for their own safety. Accompanied by their teachers, the girls, some with no shoes, left with nothing more than the little plaid dress they were all wearing and each carrying a blanket, some bread and a little white flag.

The story of their school and journey is told through the drawing of some of the girls. One page has the drawing, with the name and age of the girl, and a brief description of what the drawing represents written by her; the page opposite that is the English translation.

At first, the girls and their teachers were able to hide from the bombing in an iron mine, but the Germans soon found them and on July 14, forced them to leave. The school took to the road, along with other refugees who also had no place else to go, despite the bombing and machine-gunning going on all around them. The story continues, each drawing dated by the girl who did it, and relating where they were and what they witnessed along the road. Whenever a plane spotted them, usually an Allied plane, and started to descend for an attack, the girls would wave their little white flags and be left alone. Sometimes, the school managed to get a ride in carts, and they were often allowed to sleep in haystacks or haylofts along the way, sometimes they were even given milk to drink by kind farmers.

Altogether, the school spent 38 days in the old mine before being forced to evacuate, followed by 29 days of walking until they were finally safe behind the Allied line

I wish I had this picture in color but this will have to suffice to give you an idea of the drawings.

Translation: August 11. A few days after their arrival at Beaufort, the little girls of the Clos were happy to see American tanks. That consoled them for all that they had lost”

Eventually the school settled in an old chateau just north of Paris, but they were pretty destitute. In her Afterword, Nancy Amis explains that her aunt, a French teacher named Agnes Amis was friends with the school’s directress, Yvonne Lesure. In 1946, Agnes Amis received a package from Mme. Lesure containing an explanation of the school's situation, a child’s dress and the illustrated journal of the journey the school had undertaken because of the invasion. It was the beginning of an exchange of letters and care packages to help the school get on it feet again and re-establish itself.

Cover of the French edition
This is one of those amazing stories of survival that came out of the war – a tribute to the human spirit. It is especially poignant because it was written and illustrated by the girls themselves. I thought this book would be perfect for teaching since it could be used in language classes as well as social studies classes, but with the exception of this 9th grade lesson plan, Teacher,  from The University of North Carolina, Charlotte, I found nothing.
Nevertheless, I would highly recommend this book.

The Orphans of Normandy is recommended for readers age 8-11
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted this week by Three Turtles and Their Pet Librarian

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Weekend Cooking #3: Apple Dumplings in WW II

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.  As always Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads

When I read the book Who was that Masked Man, Anyway? by Avi, the young protagonist, Frankie Wattleson, often mentioned his mother’s Apple Dumplings. And, in fact, his mother even uses the prospect of an apple dumpling to bribe her renter, Mr. Swerdlow, after Frankie gets into trouble with him. I had never had apple dumpling, and imagined them to look like my mother’s dumpling, only with chunks of apple in them. Well, I was wrong, and below are some recipes that show just how wrong I was.

Apple Dumplings (6 sevings)
To make Flaky Pastry:
2 ¼ cups unsifted all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
½ cup lard or vegetable shortening
4 to 5 tbsp ice water
1. Combine flour and salt in a medium bowl.
2. Cut in lard or shortening until crumbs are the size of a small pea.
3. Gradually add water, stirring with a fork just until mixture will form a ball. The less water used the better.

1 Flaky Pastry (as above)
½ cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
6 medium apples, peeled and cored
2 tbsp butter, cut into 6 equal chunks
½ cup maple syrup
Cream or sweetened whipped cream (optional)

1- Preheat oven to 325° and grease a 13 X 9 inch baking pan or dish.
2- Roll out dough to make an 18 X 12 inch rectangle. Cut dough into 6 inch squares.
3- Combine sugar and cinnamon in a pie plate. Roll apples, one at a time, in sugar mixture, then tuck a chunk of butter into center of each apple, and wrap apple completely in one of the pastry squares, pinching edges together. Do this with each apple.
4- Place in greased pan, pinched edges down. Pierce a hole in the top of each wrapped apple and drizzle maple syrup over them.
5- Bake dumplings 30 to 35 minutes or until juices start to bubble out of pastry at the bottom.
6- Place each apple on a separate dish and serve hot with cream or whipped cream.

From: Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen: World War II and the Way We Cooked by Joanne Lamb Hayes (I don’t know where each recipe originally came from, but wish that had been included.)

Two Variations:

Peach Surprise Dumplings (serves 4)
8 squares of pastry Sauce (see below)
8 halves of canned peaches
Orange marmalade

1. Preheat oven to 400°
2. Place 1 half peach on each square of pastry
3. Put 1 spoonful of marmalade in each half; cover with other half of peach.
4. Bring corner of pastry up over each peach.
5. Set in English muffin rings in a pan and bake 40 minutes or until crust is done.
6. Serve with the following sauce, cooked until clear:

1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp sugar
¼ to ½ cup milk
1 cup canned peach juice
½ tsp vanilla
Sprinkling of coconut

From: Cooking on a ration: food is still fun by Marjorie Mills (1943)

This is another variation from the New York Times
on November 17, 1942 by Jane Holt.
During the war, apples not rationed and were abundant.

Poster from 1943 US Department of Agriculture

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

From the Archives #7: Listen Hitler! The Gremlins are Coming by Inez Hogan

At one time, Inez Hogan was a prolific writer with 63 children’s books to her credit and often illustrated her own stories, as well as those of others. One story she wrote was an odd picture book about gremlins. I usually don’t like books about gremlins because they remind me of that itch that never gets satisfied, no matter how much you scratch.

But gremlins have a place in the history of World War II aviation and Miss Hogan’s book, Listen Hitler! The Gremlins are Coming is an amusing addition to gremlin mythology. The gremlin-aviation myth began in 1923, when they were discovered by the RAF. It seems, gremlins like fooling around with gadgets and planes are full of these. air

Miss Hogan opens here story with a little explanation of who gremlins are by one named Snoopy (no relation to Charles Schultz's Snoopy).  Snoopy explains that gremlins have always caused all manner of problems for people, particularly pilots, but no one was bothered by them until World War II.

Snoopy, so called because he has big ears and like to eavesdrop on conversations, is quite indignant after overhearing an RAF pilot telling an American pilot to “watch out for [gremlins.] They are hindering the war for freedom.” Gremlins, he tells us, love freedom; freedom gives Gremlins more opportunities to create chaos.

Snoopy can't get anyone to listen to him because he simply can’t get the other gremlins to stop what they are doing and pay attention to what he is telling them.  Instead, they start to reminisce about past accomplishments, providing an opportunity for the author to introduce the different specialties of each gremlin:

Subby specializes in submarines, causing subs to submerge when they shouldn’t, or blocking the periscopes;
Waacy causes havoc for WAACs, running their stockings or ruining their makeup just before inspection;
female gremlins or Fifinellas might untie the shoe laces of soldiers while they are marching;
and young gremlins, called widgets, go after children, doing things like mixing up the scrap they have collected for the war effort.

My favorite was the gremlin named Foggy, who likes to fog up the windshield of fighter pilots so they couldn’t see anything. Foggy was foiled when the pilots started eating more carrots so they could see better.  Apparently, being outwitted is not something Gremlins are accustomed to having to deal with.

Snoopy finally does manage to get the attention of the other gremlins and Subby tells them that since they can’t stop hindering people and gadgets, they must now start hindering the people who are threatening the gremlins freedom. Another gremlin tells them that he overheard to pilots talking about the Germans, Japanese and Italians and they are the ones who are threatening Gremlin freedom. The gremlins all agree that they must change their ways and that there is plenty of hindering among these enemies.  The story ends a untied shot from the gremlins:

Look Out!
The Gremlins are coming!

As I said, this is an amusing story, but it is really a picture book for older kids, teens and even adults. The material may be too sophisticated for younger readers.  It is an old out of print book but still available in libraries, through ILL or even secondhand and antiquarian bookshops. If you like this type mythology or, like me, the popular or social culture of World War II, this would be a good book to look at.

I also found it very interesting that the Library of Congress has this cataloged using a history call number instead of fiction.

In 1942, Roald Dahl wrote the first book about gremlins in World War II called The Gremlins, which Walt Disney wanted to make into a film, but it never happened. It has been reissued, but the new version lacks something the old version had.  It was first serialized in Hearst International - Cosmopolitan in 1942.  A version of the Fifinella was created for this film by Disney, which became the mascot of WASPs, or Women’s Airforce Service Pilots during the war.

Listen Hitler! The Gremlins are Coming is recommended for readers 10 and up.
This book was read in the Main Reading Room of the Schwartzman Building, the research branch of the NYPL.

In the 1980s, there was a movie called The Gremlins, rated PG13, which has nothing to do with these gremlins. And there is a 1943 Merrie Melodies cartoon with Bugs Bunny and a gremlin, which I personally found too violent and not amusing at all.

More information about gremlins and may be found at Don Markstein's Toonopedia: Gremlins
An article at Time Magazine from 1942 called "World Battlefronts: Battle of Europe: It's Them" at

Monday, February 14, 2011

Music for the End of Time by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Beth Peck

Music for the End of Time is the story about the time that French composer Olivier Messiaen spent as a prisoner of war in *Stalag VIIIA, in Görlitz, Germany. It begins with his arrival at the camp, clutching a knapsack. After the prisoners are settled into their barracks, cold, tired and hungry, one of the other prisoners wants to know if there is food in Olivier’s knapsack. Grabbing the bag, the other prisoners discover there is only sheet music in it. Disappointed, they go back to their bunks.

Not long after his arrival, while Olivier is listening to the morning birdsong, a prison guard comes over and tells the composer to follow him. He takes in to a small, cold room off a lavatory, and tells Messiaen that he may come here for a while every day and compose his music.

At first, nothing comes to Messiaen. He feels discouraged, believing no one will hear anything he creates. One day, a new truckload of prisoners arrive, two of whom are carrying instruments. Inspired by the sight of these musicians, Messiaen soon begins a composition based on the birdsong he can hear, even in prison.

Late in the winter, Messiaen finishes his composition, and on January 14, 1941, along with three other prisoner musicians, performs his newly written composition, Quartet for the End of Time, for all the 5,000 prisoners in the camp, as well as the German guards.

This was a lovely story accompanied by the beautiful pastel illustrations done by Beth Peck and I highly recommend it, despite some criticism. The author focuses only on the story of Messiaen’s musical creation, which is fine. I think, however, she leaves out some biographical information that might be interesting to know. Messiaen was a prisoner of war; he was not in the same kind of camp that Jews and other enemies of the Reich were put into. She says he survived the war, but he really spent one year as a prisoner of war, from May 1940 to May 1941. In her Author’s Note, Bryant does explain that the piece Messiaen wrote was called “Quartet for the End of Time" and it is based on a passage from the Books of Revelations, when an angel announces “There will be no more time.”

This book is recommended for readers age 9-12.
This book was borrowed from the Yorkville Branch of the NYPL.

Music for the End of Time received the following well-deserved honors:
2006 Bank Street College Best Children's Books of the Year
2006 Cooperative Children's Book Center, CCBC Choices List
2006 Society of Illustrators "The Original Art" Annual Exhibition

More information about Music for the End of Time, including a link to a very useful discussion guide may be found Jen Bryant Books

More information about Olivier Messiaen may be found at The Olivier Messiaen Page

An a short sample of Quartet for the End of Time may be seen and heard at YouTube
*Stalag is an acronym for Stammlager, which is a prisoner of war camp for soldiers not including any officers.

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted this week by Wrapped in Foil 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Weekend Cooking #2 - Strawberry Shortcake

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

I have always associated strawberry shortcake with Valentine’s Day because, when I was growing up, we always had it on February 14th for dessert. We actually had it because strawberry shortcake was my father’s favorite dessert and his birthday just happened to fall on Valentine’s Day.

My parents didn’t often talk about war shortages, with few exceptions, but my dad did occasionally speak about missing his annual birthday treat during the Second World War (my mom, on the other hand, never got tired of telling us that she would never, ever eat Spam again, and she stuck to her guns on that.) Heavy cream has been ration in 1942 and, well, it was one of the essential parts making good strawberry shortcake, among it other uses. So, imagine the joy people must have felt when it was announced that heavy cream would no longer be rationed and that as of September 5, 1945, it would be available again.
New York Times, September 6, 1945

And, as if that wasn’t reason enough to be happy, on September 7, 1945, Jane Holt, the Food Editor for the New York Times began her food column with this:

Apparently, Jane Holt and my dad thought along the same lines.  However, for those who didn't care for strawberries, perhaps they were glad to find that Brussels sprouts were also beginning to make an appearance.
Happy Birthday/Valentine’s Day Strawberry Shortcake

Baking Powder Biscuits (makes about 12 biscuits)
2 cups sifted flour
2 tsp. baking powder
4 tablespoons shortening (like Crisco)
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk

Heat oven to 400°

1- Sift flour once, measure out 2 cups, add baking powder and salt and sift again.
2- Cut in shortening, either with a pastry cutter or a fork.
3- Add milk gradually, stirring until a soft dough is formed.
4- On a floured board, lightly knead for about 30 seconds. Don’t do this too long or the biscuits with be like lead.
5- Roll out dough till it is about ½ inch thick, flour the edge of a biscuit cutter (my mom always used a glass for this) and cut 2 in circles in the dough.
6- Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet in hot oven 12-15 minutes.

Whipped Cream
1 pint heavy cream
¼ cup sugar (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla

1- Whip cream until somewhat stiff.
2- Add sugar and vanilla
3- Beat until cream is stiff and peaks can be forms.

When biscuits are cooled, split in half, spoon strawberries on bottom half, cover, add more strawberry and finished with whipped cream.

Happy Valentine's Day


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Don’t Say a Word by Barbara Gehrts, translated by Elizabeth D, Crawford

When I was young and naïve, I used to think that if people were German during the Third Reich then they must also be Nazis. This, I later learned, was not actually true.   Even though most people did support the regime, there were some who did not. But we will never really know how many silent dissenters there were, because they had to keep their mouths shut, which explains the title of Barbara Gehrts book. If they didn’t, they could meet the same fate a people like Sophie Scholl – a mock trial and a death sentence.
Don’t Say a Word, a translation of Nie wieder ein Wort davon, is the story of the Singlemann family living in a middle class suburb of Berlin. It is narrated by 13 year old daughter Anna Singlemann. Anna’s father, Franz, is an high ranking officer in the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (German Air Ministry); her older brother Hannes is in the Hitler Youth and will soon be in the Hitler Youth Flying Corps; Anna is in the League of German Girls and Mrs. Singlemann is a stay at home mom. To the outside world, they look like the perfect Nazi family, as do their close relatives, the Rolands: Uncle Oskar, Aunt Lore and their children Erik, Wolfgang, Ursula and Lisabeth. Yet, neither family supports the Nazi government.

The story begins in 1940. The English have just begun bombing Berlin and rationing is beginning to really be felt. To deal with the food shortages, the Singlemann’s and the Roland’s share a large plot of land, where they plant potatoes and do the work themselves. To deal with the bombs, they build bomb shelters in their homes. In the beginning of the book, Anna spends a great deal of time describing their everyday life, including the effect some of the new laws against Jews are having on her friends and neighbors. For example, one elderly couple tells Anna that they found their little terrier dead in his basket; but Anna thinks they got rid of the dog when Jews were forbidden to own pets. Later, just before Christmas, Anna learns that her best friend, Ruth, who was half-Jewish, had committed suicide along with the rest of her family because the situation for Jews had become so much worse..

Soon, the war also begins to intrude on their lives. First, Erik Roland is drafted and sent to fight at the eastern front in Russia. Not long after, news of his death arrives. But the biggest and most distressing surprise for Anna and Hannes comes when their father is arrested by the Gestapo. Anna description of the Gestapo’s search of their house is chilling. To explain his absence, they are ordered to tell people that their father is away on a business trip for an unspecified amount of time, even though everyone knows that is a euphemism for “arrested.” And while the details of why Herr Singlemann is arrested are not clear, the impression the reader is given is that her father, using his high position in the air ministry, is involved in some kind of underground or anti-government activity.

As events unfold, Singlemann’s arrest, imprisonment and trial begin take on a very Kafkaque quality. At every turn, the family is reminded that their lives are controlled by the government and they are never given reasons for decisions. Frau Singlemann is only allowed to visit her husband occasionally, but must show up everyday and ask for permission after waiting hours to speak to an official. Eventually they receive notice that their father has been executed and disposed of. Traitors were not permitted to be buried by their family under the Nazis They do, however, receive a bill for the cost of Herr Singlemann’s imprisonment, trial and execution, a common practice of the Nazis for those arrested for crimes against the state.

Shortly after his father’s execution, Hannes is sent to a work camp, where, because of his father, he is treated quite harshly despite being a hard worker. Even after he becomes seriously ill, he is treated with distain or simply ignored until things go too far. Back home, Anna and her mother find it increasing difficult to get by. The bombing of Berlin is getting more intense and coming closer to the area where they live. Eventually, the house is hit, rendering it unlivable.

When the book ends, rather abruptly, the reader is given some sense of closure in terms of the other characters, but not Anna, other than that she survives. The author, Barbara Gehrts, has included an Afterword explaining that she and her mother survived, but that is all. It was a very unsatisfying end to an otherwise interesting book. It is a novel that is based on the author’s real experiences during the war, including the part about her father.

Don’t Say a Word was originally written in German and translated into English, so something may have been lost in translation, as often happens. In the German edition, Anna is called Hanna and Singlemann is spelled Singelmann. Small points, but I always wonder why it is done. Despite the ending, it is worth one’s while to read this book, if only for the realistic portrayal of the way the Gestapo felt so entitled to treated people whose loyalty is suspect.

This book is recommended for readers age 12 and up.
This book was borrowed from the Hunter College Library Juvenile Literature collection.

This is book 2 of my YA of the 80s and 90s Challenge hosted by The Book Vixen
This is book 4 of my YA Historical Fiction Challange hosted by YA Bliss

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Black History Month - More information on the Double V Campaign

 The National World War II Museum is presenting two webinars for Black History Month on the Double V Campaign for teachers.  I have never participated in a webinar, so I am including their description of this one:

The National WWII Museum celebrates Black History Month with a FREE teacher training webinar, titled Double Victory: African Americans in WWII. Explore the triumphs and challenges experienced by African Americans on the battle fronts and on the Home Front. Meet Pearl Harbor hero Dorie Miller, the Montford Point Marines, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the seven African American Medal of Honor recipients. Learn about A. Philip Randolph’s push for racial equality in war factories and in the barracks and trace the historic path from Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802 (establishing the Fair Employment Practices Committee in 1940) to President Truman’s Executive Order 9981 (desegregating the military in 1948). FREE classroom-ready lesson plans available to download at the end of the webinar.
The webinar in being offered twice, once on Febuary 8th and again on February 10th at 7:30 CST.  More information and sign up can be found at Black History Month

Yesterday afternoon, I was in the research branch of the NYPL and decided to look at their database for The Pittsburgh Courier and read the original letter that started the whole campaign.  One of the things I like about this blog is the opportunity to learn new things and the Double V Campaign was one of those opportunities.  I thought I would share the original letter that started it all, as well as one of the articles about the wide spread support the campaign received. 


This is from The Pittsburgh Courier, January 31, 1942, on page 3.

This is a follow up article on the wide support the campaign received.  It was published in The Pittsbursh Courier on February 14, 1942 on page 1.

I found the Double V Campaign to be particularly interesting because it was basically a grassroots movement, much like what is happening in Egypt today. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Black History Month – The Double V Campaign: African Americans and World War II by Michael L. Cooper

February is Black History Month and I thought I would take another look at the African American heroes in World War II. These were men and women who fought for victory for their country and for their own equality in the Armed Services.

In January, 1942, the editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, a leading, well-respected African American newspaper, posed the question “Why should I sacrifice my life to live half American?” Beginning in February, the Courier ran the Double V Campaign, demanding equality for all. The campaign received overwhelming support from black leaders and readers all over the country.

Racial discrimination had always been practiced in all branches of the Armed Forces in this country even after World War II had been declared. But African Americans began to question why they should fight in a war for a country that treated them like second class citizens. Black soldiers were housed in substance conditions, often far from base conveniences, such as churches, movies and even the Post Exchange or PX. They were given menial jobs working as janitors or in the mess halls, and not really trained for any kind combat duty.

And yet, right from the beginning of the US entrance into the war, in 1941, African Americans began to distinguish themselves in battle. For example, Dorie Miller was a messman on the USS West Virginia when it was bombed by the Japanese in Pearl Harbor. Dorie ran up on deck, found his wounded commander and carried him to safety. He returned to the deck, picked up an antiaircraft weapon he had never been trained to use and managed to shoot down four enemy aircraft. When the Courier tracked down the identity of the “Negro messman,” as he was called in all the newspaper articles, and printed his name, Dorie was finally awarded his well deserved Navy Cross for heroism. But if the Courier hadn’t printed his name, Dorie’s brave actions and quick thinking would have gone into obscurity, but now his heroic legacy lives on.

Michael L. Cooper traces the history of the campaign from it beginnings to the end of the war and beyond. Change first began with the construction of Fort Huachuca in Arizona, an all black base that was at least built on the same standard as the white bases. There, the Ninety-third Division was first formed and trained for combat in the Pacific against the Japanese. He tells about other heroes who performed so gallantly on both the Western and the Pacific fronts. Cooper ends with the awarding of the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest honor, to seven African American soldiers from World War II. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen until 1997, when President Clinton had the honor of recognizing their contributions. It was a long time coming!

The Double V Campaign shows one way that the power of the people and press began the long road to change the climate of racial prejudice that has gripped this country right from the beginning. This is an excellent book for introducing this topic, as well as an interesting, but again little taught aspect of African American history.

This book is recommended for readers age 11 and up.
This book was borrowed the Yorkville Branch of the NYPL.

For more information on The Double V Campaign, see Newspapers - The Pittsburgh Courier and
Fighting For Democracy - African Americans

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted this week by Wild About Nature


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Weekend Cooking #1 - Wartime Chop Suey

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.

Since my blog is focused on books about World War II, I thought it would be fun to look at some recipes from that time, when rationing was in full swing.  It is also Chinese New Year, the Year of the Rabbit, so my first contribution to Weekend Cooking is two recipes for Chop Suey. 

Pork Chop Suey
Serves 4

2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ lb. boned pork, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 c. thinly sliced celery
1 c. thinly sliced green bell pepper
1 c. sliced fresh mushrooms
1 c. thinly sliced onions
2 c. water
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp cornstarch
3 c. hot cooked rice
Canned fried noodles, optional

1- Heat oil in a 5 quart Dutch oven. Add pork and sauté over medium heat until lightly browned on all sides. Stir in celery, bell peppers, mushrooms, and onion; sauté stirring constantly until vegetables are lightly browned.

2- Add 1 ¾ cups of the water and bring mixture to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook 15 minutes. Combine remaining ¼ cup water, the soy sauce and cornstarch. Stir into port mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened.
3- Serve chop suey over rice. Top with fried noodles, if desired.

Source: Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen: World War II and the Way We Cooked by Joanne Lamb Hayes.

Variation: Heart Chop Suey
Serves 5-6

1 veal or 2 pork or lamb hearts (hearts weren’t rationed)
½ tsp salt
¼ c flour
¼ c dripping
1 c thinly sliced onion
1 c diced celery
1 c canned tomatoes
1 bouillon cube
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 cup shredded cabbage
¼ lb mushrooms, sliced
1 c bean sprouts, fresh or canned
3 c cooked rice

1- Wash hearts well, cover with water, add salt and simmer till tender, about 2 hours. Drain, reserve broth and shred hearts.
2- Dredge meat in flour and brown in drippings with onions and celery.
3- Add tomatoes and bouillon cube, which has been dissolved in 1 cup of reserved broth, and soy sauce and simmer for 15 minutes.
4- Add cabbage, mushrooms and bean sprouts and cook five minutes longer.
5- Serve on hot rice.

Source: The New York Times, January 8, 1945.

I don’t eat organ meat, but this works well with cubed beef and even cubed chicken They aren’t very authentic Chinese recipes, but did remind me of junior high when I occasionally had to buy my lunch. And my daughter said the same thing.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Civil War Saturday - Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi

One of the reading challenges I am participating in this year is the Civil War Challenge hosted by Anna and Serena at War Through the Generations.War Through the Generations.  Since this blog focuses of World War II, I thought I would post my Civil War books on Saturdays.  My first Civil War book is Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi.

This is the story of Sarah Wheelock, age 16, living on her family’s farm in southern Michigan, with her mother, younger sister, older brother and an extremely abusive father who had betrothed her to an equally abusive older widower with small children.  Her mother has arranged to send her to Flint, Michigan to apprentice with an aunt who owns a millinery shop. But Sarah has other ideas.

It is 1861 and Sarah decides to pass herself of as a boy, named Neddy Compton, so she can join the Union Army and fight in the Civil War. She passes the cursory physical and travels, for the first time in her life, by train to Washington DC with her regiment. There, she is assigned to work for a doctor in an Army hospital until they are sent into battle. After the first Battle of Bull Run, the doctor discovers she is really a girl and refuses to let her continue her charade as a boy. He likes her, and finds her a job working for the Pinkerton Agency as a detective. She is placed as a maid in the house of a southern woman, Rose Greenhow, suspected of being a spy for the Confederates. Sarah’s assignment is to discover how the woman is sneaking information about the Union Army to Jefferson Davis.

This was a very interesting story, a little preposterous at times, but still well done. Rinaldi clearly did her research to write this novel. The character of Sarah was modeled on the life of Sarah Emma Edmonds, one of many women who passed themselves off as men and fought in the Civil War. Sarah Edmonds enlisted with the 2nd Michigan Infantry under the name Franklin Thompson, the same regiment Sarah Wheelock joined.

Rose Greenhow was indeed a Confederate spy, with a young daughter, little Rose. The fictional Sarah worked for Rose during her house arrest, from August 1861 through late fall 1861. Little Rose was allowed to stay with her mother during that time.

Allan Pinkerton had already established his famous detective agency before the Civil War began. During the war, he headed up the Union Intelligence Service, which later became the U.S. Secret Service.

History certainly provided Rinaldi with lots of material for a realistic novel. The fictional story of Sarah Wheelock adds to the excitement and, by using the first person, allowing Rinaldi to not only give some very realistic, graphic descriptions of Bull Run and her surroundings, but also Sarah’s reactions to them. Washington DC is a city I know my way around, with a history I have always been interested in, and only deepened my enjoyment of this novel. But then, I always enjoy Rinaldi’s historical fiction and Girl in Blue was no exception.

This book is recommended for readers 11-14.
This book was borrowed from the 67th Street branch of the NYPL.

For more information on Rose Greenhow as well as other women in the Civil War, see
Rose O'Neal Greenhow
For a short biography on Allan Pinkerton see Allan J. Pinkerton

The Real Sarah Emma Edmonds as herself and as Franklin Thompson

Allan Pinkerton (left) with President Lincoln and Major General McClernand in 1861

Rose Greenhow with daughter little Rose

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

From the Archives #6: Worrals of the W.A.A.F by Captain W. E. Johns

Spoiler Alert!

W. E. Johns was an extraordinarily prolific British writer with a career that spanned five decades. Altogether he wrote 169 books for boys, girls and adults, as well as editing several magazines about flying. His most famous female character is Flight Officer Joan “Worrals” Worralson. He wrote 11 Worrals novels, beginning in 1941 with Worrals of the W.A.A.F., which I found to be a fun book about flying and spying.

Worrals, 18, and her best friend Betty “Frecks” (because of her freckles) Lovell, 17, are in service with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, part of the RAF. The story begins with Worrals and Frecks complaining about how boring their job is simply ferrying aircraft to and from their makers for reconditioning. Worrals had tried flying a fighter plane against rules, but when one needs to be delivered to an RAF outpost, the only person on base who can fly it happens to be Worrals. During this 15 minute flight, a message comes over the plane’s radio that an unknown aircraft had been spotted and was to be stopped at all costs. Naturally, Worrals spots and follows it, sees the plane flying low over a golf course, sees a man running out of the surrounding trees and witnesses something tossed from the plane to the man. She continues to follow the plane as it flies off. Finally, she gets the unknown plane in her sights, presses the button on her plane’s gun control and fires. End of unknown, presumed enemy plane.

Suspecting that something is not right, Worrals and Frecks decide to return to the golf course that weekend. Sure enough, they discover a ring of spies who have created the golf course for the purpose of disguising a hidden runway that small enemy aircraft could use for landing and taking off. Worrals gets caught spying on the spies, but Frecks manages to get away. Worrals is taken to a nearby rectory and locked in a 3rd floor room with one barred window.

Frecks manages to find Worrals and they figure out how to free her and get her back on the ground. Before they get away, the spies come out of the house and the two girls hide on the floor in the back of a car. The spies take off in the car, and the girls overhear their plan to blow up a munitions dump. They arrive at a farmhouse and the girls sneak in to find a phone to warn the RAF of the plan. While there, they discover a map showing future bombing targets. Worrals makes her call, put the map in an envelope and puts it in her pocket just before they are caught by the spies. Worrals finds a gun by the phone and holds the spies off while she and Frecks escape. They take a car in the yard, complete with keys, and a car chase ensues. Worrals manages to mail the map to the air force base, but they are soon stopped by what appears to be a home guard roadblock. Unfortunately, it turns out to be part of the spy ring, set up to stop the girls. They are taken to the vicarage and locked in a room in the cellar. Tired from their escapades, the girls decide to get some sleep.

When they wake up, they are brought upstairs and told that the bombing of the munitions dump was foiled by the RAF. They are taken back to the cellar and given some food. Worrals tells Frecks that she took some matches and a nail file while they were upstairs. They immediately begin filing the lock on the door. After a few hours, they get the door open, but discover there is no way out. Rather, they find a trap door, open it and follow the tunnel behind the door. This leads to back the rectory. They climb up the bell tower just as an air raid begins. They realize the top of the tower has a set of colored lights that apparently are used to signal the German bombers. Worrals quickly covers the lights with her jacket and watches as the bomber tries to find his signal and finally gives up.

Of course, the girls are discovered by the spies on the ground, but manage to evade them, get back to the vicarage and hide in a large chest in the library.

The spies, knowing the jig is up, prepare for their escape. Their leader, who had gotten away with so much because he disguised himself as a vicar and lived in the vicarage, tells his compatriots that he is going to blow up the house and with it the real vicar, who is locked away upstairs. His plan is to use a timer on the bomb, so that they can get away in their plane hidden on the golf course. The plane’s nationality markings can be changed. He explains that they will use the German markings to begin with, change to the British until the get over the English Channel and then change it to German again. This way people will think it was their plane that bombed the vicarage.

Worrals overhears the plan, and as soon as the spies leave, she finds the real vicar and frees him just in the nick of time. He goes off to the village to inform the police about the doings of the spies, and Worrals and Frecks head for the golf course. Needless to say, the ending is very, very exciting. The girls manage to get into the plane’s cockpit and start flying it. Worrals gets it in the air, but flies low so she can crash in necessary, without killing them all. Meantime, the plane and the spies are hit by machine gun fire, but Worrals and Frecks are not. Worrals lands the plane, and one of the RAF’s aircraft land immediately after. Out come Worral’s Commanding Officer, McNavish, and her friend Flying Officer Bill Ashton. Spies are taken into custody and everything goes back to normal, until the next adventure.

Worrals of the W.A.A.F. is a fast, exciting book. It must have been highly entertaining to girls during the war, a female flyer in a world dominated by men and having amazing adventures. Girls would have been familiar with women like Amy Johnson, Pauline Gower and Amelia Earhart. And they may have even harbored dreams of flying like Petrova in Noel Streatfeild’s 1936 novel Ballet Shoes.

Worrals’ creator, W. E. Johns, had actually been a bomber pilot towards the end of World War I and had been shot down over Germany and held prisoner. He was supposed to be executed by firing squad, but the war ended first. During World War II, he was a lecturer for the Air Training Corps. He had already been writing flying adventures for boys with his books about pilot James Bigglesworth called Biggles, beginning in 1932. During the war, Johns was asked to create a female counterpart to Biggles in an effort to recruit young women into the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and Worrals of the W.A.A..F. was the result. And I have often wondered how many women chose to enlist because of the adventures of Worrals. Of the 11 published, six take place during the war. While the stories may be a bit preposterous, the sense of war is very much present.

It originally was published in serial form in a popular girls’ magazine in England called the Girls’ Own Paper. It was reproduced in the Girls’ Own Annual, Vol. 62 (1941), where I first read Worrals of the W.A.A.F. Later I bought an inexpensive Canadian copy of the book. Copies of this book are still relatively easy and inexpensive to find.

This book is recommended for readers aged 12 and over.
This book was purchased for my personal library.

More information on W.E. Johns may be found at

There is an interesting and informative article about Worrals by Jim MacKenzie, an extradinarily knowledgeable person, at Captain W E Johns and Worrals

This is book 2 of my British Books Challenge hosted by The Bookette
This is book 3 of my YA Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by YA Bliss
This is book 2 of my Forgotten Treasures Challenge hosted by Retroreduxs Reviews

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday #3: Top Ten Best Debut Books

The Broke and the Bookish has a weekly meme called Top Ten Tuesday, in which participants list their top ten answers to the weekly theme.  This week the theme is the Top Ten Best Debut Books. 

These are my choices, listed in no particular order:
1- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
I bought this book in England and it is the copy I read, not the American copy It was, simply, magical at a time when I needed a little magic in my life, so I have a soft spot for Harry and always will..

2- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
What can be said about a perfect novel other than that it is perfect.

3- Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg
There is something about the theme of loyalty in this novel that just resonates with me.  It is also an interesting look the power of narrative as one woman discovers who she really is through the story of the lives of other women.

4- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
I read this in the 8th grade for school. My social studies teacher caught me reading a novel called A Summer Place which I had bought in a used bookstore somewhere for a quarter. She took it away from me, called my mother up to school and they decided I should read Gone with the Wind instead since we were studying the Civil War. She never should have given back A Summer Place to my mother…

5- Carrie by Stephen King
Carrie revealed a dark side to my nature I never knew I had, but appears at times when I find myself saying “O, to be Carrie for a day!”  Fortunately, it doesn't happen often.

6- The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
My Latin teacher used to call this the least read best selling novel, in part because of the Latin. I read it and found it to be an excellent example of postmodern fiction in which form and content are seamlessly woven together. (Shameless Plug: Professor White wrote, with his wife and a friend The Key to the Name of the Rose including an English translation of the Latin, which I only mention should you be thinking of reading a little Eco.)

7- Whose Body? (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery) by Dorothy Sayers
Lord Peter is one of my absolute favorite fictional characters and this is an excellent debut book, but of course, the crème de la crème of Wimsey books are those with Harriet Vane.

8- The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Not a book that seemed to catch on, it was a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers choice. I read it and found it a fascinating look at how a person becomes a home grown terrorist - scary in light of today's world.

9- Year of Wonder: a Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks
A story about the plague of 1666 in England, Brooks creates a microcosm of the wider world at a time when it had one foot in superstition and the other in science, using the isolation the town of Eyam chose in order to contain the plague outbreak there and the personal development of the female narrator. It was riveting.

10- The English Patient by Michael Ondaatie
I loved this book and not just because Ralph Fiennes starred in the movie, although that didn’t hurt. I liked the way Ondaatie played with the postmodern idea of the fluidity of identity and nationality mixed with deception.

There are so many debut books that I could include, but the list is limited to ten.  Nevertheless, I include some runner ups:
1st Runner Up - Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
2nd Runner Up - The Help by Kathryn Stockett
3rd Runner Up – The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini