Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

I haven’t read this small novel since I was in the 10th grade, so it was interesting to reread it now, with oh so many more years of experience behind me, much like the narrator, Gene Forrester.

Gene has returned to his private prep school, The Devon School, 15 years after graduation and begins to recall his friendship with his roommate, Finny, beginning in the summer of 1942. On the surface, they present a facade of being best friends, getting along so well, no one would suspect anything could ever be wrong. Yet, they couldn’t have been more different. Gene is quiet, serious, intellectual, and not terribly athletic. Finny is boisterous, impulsive, not a good student, but a great athlete. Finny believes that people are innately good; Gene believes people have ulterior motives. That summer, their differences cause cracks in their facade of friendship.

At school for an unprecedented summer term, due to the war, all school rules seem to fall by the wayside. One afternoon, after jumping out of a tree into the Devon River, Finny pushes the unwilling Gene into doing it also. The jumping becomes a ritual of the summer for Finny, Gene and a few other friends. But when Finny forms the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session with nightly mandatory meetings, Gene begins to suspect that Finny’s motives are to take him away from his studies and he begins to resent his roommate.

Gene and Finny continue in this pattern behavior, with Finny proving his athletic ability and pulling Gene away from his studies, and Gene always giving in to Finny's demands and resenting it. Even after Gene explains that he is aiming to be the best student of their year, Finny still manages to persuade him to come to the river for the ritual jump. This time, though, Finny wants them to jump together. Out on the tree limb, Gene bounces it ever so slightly, but enough to cause Finny to fall and shatter his leg on the river bank.

Gene’s feelings of guilt cause him to confess to Finny that the fall was his fault, but Finny refuses to believe him. It is only later that Finny does become convinced of Gene’s culpability and the idea that this is so proves to be too much for him.

The underlying theme of war is present throughout this novel, but the main theme is the idea of a separate peace, a peace that is made separate and apart from the world at large. Devon provides it by keeping the war at bay, out of the lives of the students, despite on campus training of senior for combat. Finny’s separate peace is the state of denial he lives in, refusing to admit that the world can be full of hostility. Gene’s is more complicated, but he too makes a separate peace. The question is with whom- Finny or himself?

Knowles wrote A Separate Peace in 1959 and it didn’t take long for it to find its way on to high school and college reading lists. It is, after all, a classic coming of age story that stills stands up in today’s world.  But it is also a challenged novel. In 1980, the Vernon-Verona-Sherill, NY School District deemed it a "filthy, trashy sex novel." In 1985, the Fannett-Metal High School in Shippensburg, PA challenged it because of its allegedly offensive language. In 1989, the Shelby County, TN school system thought it was inappropriate for high school reading lists because the novel contains "offensive language." In 1991, A Separate Peace was challenged, but retained in the Champaign, IL high school English classes despite claims that “unsuitable language” makes it inappropriate. That year it was also challenged by the parent of a high school student in Troy, IL citing profanity and negative attitudes. Students were offered alternative assignments while the school board took the matter under advisement, but no further action was taken on the complaint. And in 1996, it was challenged at the McDowell County, NC schools because of "graphic language.

Oh dear! I forgot to notice this stuff when I reread A Separate Peace, especially the filthy, trashy sex parts. But I did notice Knowles’ lovely writing style, the way he structured the story to create a wonderful unreliable narrators in Gene. After all, he is presenting only his version of the story, which is the nature of first-person narration and should always be suspect. (Oskar Matzerath from Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum still remains my favorite unreliable narrator.)

Apparently the people who awarded John Knowles these well deserved honors also forgot to notice what an unsuitable book it is:
1961 The Rosenthal Award
         The William Faulkner Award
1961 National Book Award nominee

If you liked Lord of the Flies and Catcher in the Rye, it is a pretty safe bet you will also enjoy A Separate Peace.

This book is recommend for readers 14 and up.
This book was purchased for my personal library.

The Glencoe Literature Library has an excellent online study guide for A Separate Peace

A Separate Peace
John Knowles
1959, 2003
208 Pages

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

It is Banned Books Week and I thought I would start things off with a look at The Book Thief. This is not because it is a banned book, quite the contrary, it has been on the New York Times Best Seller Children’s Paperback List for 209 weeks now, often bouncing in and out of 1st place(See Below.)  I begin with The Book Thief because it is about a young girl who loves books but living in a country and at a time when books were not only banned but they were also burned.

In this story narrated by Death, 9 year old Liesel Meminger is traveling to Molching, a fictional town near Munich, with her mother and 8 year old brother. The children are going to live with foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. On the way, Liesel’s brother dies and at his graveside, she steals her first book, The Grave Digger’s Handbook.

Liesel doesn’t adjust to her new home very quickly, and she is haunted by nightmares about her brother. Hans Hubermann, a kind painter/accordion player, sits up with her after the nightmares and eventually begins to teach Liesel how to read. She also makes friends with the neighborhood kids, especially Rudy Steiner, who is quite in love with her.

Liesel eventually adjusts to life in Moching, attending school, and helping Rosa Hubermann pick up and deliver the washing she does for wealthy customers. Unfortunately, she continues to experience nightmares, but her reading also improves with the help of Hans.

At a fire fueled mainly by books to honor the Hitler’s birthday, Liesel realizes for the first time that she is in foster care because her parents were communists. And it is from the bonfire that Liesel steals her second book, The Shoulder Shrug. But this time she is recognized by the mayor’s wife, Ilsa Hermann, one of Rosa Hubermann’s customers. The theft results in an invitation come over to the mayor’s home and read in his vast collection of books. This library is the scene of Liesel’s third act of book thievery, carried out in anger after the mayor claims they should no long have their washing and ironing done by Rosa when so many other people are suffering.

As Jews are being sent to concentration camps in greater and greater numbers, Hans agrees to hide 24 year old Max Vandenburg, son of an old Jewish Army friend from World War I, who saved his life. Max and Liesel become good friends, but when Hans offers a piece of bread to a Jew being marched to Dachau, Max is forced to leave because of fear the Gestapo with come search the Hubermann house. Much later, Liesel sees Max being marched with other Jews to Dachau. Liesel is whipped by a Nazi guard for approaching Max in the crowd of Jews.

In despair, Liesel breaks into the mayor’s library and destroys a book: Soon, there is nothing but scraps of words littered all around her. Words, she realizes, have been used so wrongly to empower the Führer:
The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Führer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make up feel better. What good were the words? (pg 521)
Ironically, it is the mayor’s depressed wife who convinces Liesel to begin writing, to change the words and make them right again. In the basement where she learned to read, Liesel begins to write a story called The Book Thief.

The novel follows Liesel from a 9 year old who can’t read a single word to a 14 year old who realizes the true power of words. It is a cleverly constructed book in so many ways. For example, in the beginning, Death introduces the reader to Liesel Meminger through the use of color – representing the three times he saw her “in the flesh.” White for the snow on the ground the day her brother was buried. Then, black for the smoke from an allied plane that has crashed near Molching, and the death of the pilot witnessed by Rudy and Liesel. Lastly, red for the burning sky resulting from the bombing of Munich and surrounding areas, including Molching. Association through color - White, Black and Red – the colors of the Nazi flag place her squarely in Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

The Book Thief is a well-written book with well-developed characters. Death as the narrator is neither omniscient nor grim, and though he can often be both cynical and compassionate, he sums up mankind’s contradictory behavior quite simply: "So much good, so much evil," Death says of human nature. "Just add water." (pg 160)

I liked that the novel ultimately became its own irony. It is divided into 10 chapters, plus a prologue and an epilogue. Each chapter is named after a book that Liesel owned. When Liesel wrote her own version of The Book Thief, it was given the same form. Incidentally, the content of each of the chapter is also listed under its title. I think this is done so that we focus on why things are happening, not on what is happening. 

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

The Book Thief has been given the following well deserved honors:
2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (South East Asia & South Pacific)
2006 Horn Book Fanfare
2006 Kirkus Reviews Editor Choice Award
2006 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
2006 Daniel Elliott Peace Award
2006 Publishers Weekly Best Children Book of the Year
2006 Booklist ChildrenEditors' Choice
2006 Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book
2007 Boeke Prize
2007 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
2007 Michael L. Printz Honor Book]
2007 Book Sense Book of the Year
2009 Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Master List

The Australian publisher Picador offers a very useful note for reading groups for The Book Thief
Scholastic also offers a teacher resource for The Book Thief

The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
Alfred A. Knopf
552 Pages

NYT Children's Best Seller Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Banned Books 2011

Saturday begins Banned Books Week 2011, a subject that is near and dear to my heart. It is a good time to think about censorship and the implications that has on our reading lives.  To help folks along, I have listed the 110 most frequently banned or challenged books of all time.  It has been circulating around the internet for a while and no one seems to know where it came from.  I traced the list back to the OCLC website in 2005.  Somewhere along the line, someone came up with the idea to 1- Bold the ones you’ve read. 2- Italicize the ones you’ve read part of. 3- Color the ones you specifically want to read.   

1- The Bible
2- Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
3- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
4- The Koran
5- Arabian Nights
6- Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
7- Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
8- Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
9- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
10- Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
11- The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
12- Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
13- Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
14- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
15- Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
16- Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
17- Dracula by Bram Stoker
18- Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
19- Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
20- Essays by Michel de Montaigne
21- Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
22- History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
23- Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
24- Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
25- Ulysses by James Joyce
26- Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
27- Animal Farm by George Orwell
28- Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
29- Candide by Voltaire
30- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
31- Analects by Confucius
32- Dubliners by James Joyce
33- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
34- Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
35- Red and the Black by Stendhal
36- Das Capital by Karl Marx
37- Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
38- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
39- Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
40- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
41- Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
42- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
43- The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
44- All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
45- Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
46- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
47- The Diary of Samuel Pepys by Samuel Pepys
48- Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
49- Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
50- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
51- Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
52- Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
53- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
54- Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus
55- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
56- Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
57- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
59- Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
60- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
61- Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
62- One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
63- East of Eden by John Steinbeck
64- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
65- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
66- Confessions by Jean Jacques Rousseau
67- Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais
68- Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
69- The Talmud
70- Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau
71- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
72- Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
73- American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
74- Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
75- A Separate Peace by John Knowles
76- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
77- The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
78- Popol Vuh
79- Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith
80- Satyricon by Petronius
81- James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
82- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
83- Black Boy by Richard Wright
84- Spirit of the Laws by Charles de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu
85- Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
86- Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
87- Metaphysics by Aristotle
88- Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
89- Institutes of the Christian Religion by Jean Calvin
90- Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
91- The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
92- Sanctuary by William Faulkner
93- As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
94- Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
95- Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
96- Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
97- General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
98- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
99- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brown
100- Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
101- Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines
102- Emile Jean by Jacques Rousseau
103- Nana by Emile Zola
104- The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
105- Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
106- Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
107- Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
108- The Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
109- Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
110- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

This is an interesting list, but the fact is that a lot of these books are the kinds that are assigned in school. I know I would never have read #52 The Critique of Pure Reason otherwise. So here is a more up to date video from Thomas University for Banned Books Week 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance and Rescue by Kathryn J. Atwood

In Women Heroes of World War II, Kathryn Atwood has written a very moving account of 26 strong, courageous women who stood up to the Nazi scourge at great risk to their own lives. Some joined underground resistance movements in Nazi-occupied countries, others rescued Jews and Allied soldiers caught behind enemy lines or worked as spies, mingling with the enemy to gather useful information. And all of their stories are amazing.

In Poland, 19-year-old Irene Gut worked for a high ranking German officer in his villa. She was able to hide 12 Jews in the basement of the house, right under his nose. When he found out, he offered to keep quiet, but at a high price. Irene realized that the fate of 12 human beings rested on whether or not she would accept the offer.

Sophie Scholl, a college student in Munich, Germany wasn’t much older than Irene when she began her Resistance activities. Along with 10 others including her brother Hans, Sophie belonged to the White Rose (die Weiße Rose.) The group wrote and distributed six extensive anti-Nazi leaflets urging people to denounce Hitler’s government in word and deed. Anti-Nazi behavior was considered treason, punishable by death. Sophie and the other members of the White Rose knew the consequences of their actions, but continued their activities.

Other women in Women Heroes of World War II were surprises to me, for example, Josephine Baker and Marlene Dietrich. Josephine Baker, an African-American, had lived in Paris for many years after leaving the US in part because of the racism she encountered here. As an entertainer, Josephine had the perfect cover for a spying. Before France fell to the Nazis, Josephine did some espionage working for the Deuxième Bureau, a French intelligence agency. Her celebrity status allowed her to mingle at parties where she would listen in on conversations and acquire much need information

Marlene Dietrich, though German born, was an American citizen who worked against the Nazis and volunteered to entertain troops for the USO, often at great risk to herself. Sometimes, she was so close to the front lines, she could hear gunfire and bombs going off. When she started to use her signature song, Lilie Marlene, in English for the troops, the Nazis were livid, that had been their World War I song.

These are just a few examples of the lives of the extraordinary women who risked everything to help others in very dangerous situations that are included in this book. Though every story is different, the women were motivated by the same thing: when the time came, they did what they felt was right.

Women Heroes of World War II is a well written, well researched book. Ms. Atwood profiles the resistance activities of women from eight countries: Germany, Poland, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain and the United States. There is also a brief summary of the way in which each country entered World War II. This information really helps the reader appreciate the dangers and obstacles these woman faced. Each woman’s story is also supplemented with additional material, for example, passages from the leaflets written by Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, or the edict issued when Denmark was forced to surrender to the Germans. At the end of every woman’s story is a list of resources where the reader can go to find more information about her. The beauty of the organization of this book is that it can be read from cover to cover, as I did, or in parts. Each narrative stands on it own. This makes it ideal as a teaching tool and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Women Heroes of World War II is recommended for readers age 12 and up.
This book was purchased for my personal library.

Women Heroes of World War II
Kathryn J. Atwood
Chicago Review Press, 2011
266 pages

See Goodreads for an interesting story about how Kathryn Atwood touched history while writing Women Heroes of World War II.

A longer version of this review can be found at Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month 2011

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted this week by Tales from the Rushmore Kid

Friday, September 16, 2011

BBAW Day 5: Blogging

Today is the last day of Book Blogger Appreciate Week 2011 and congratulations to all the winners.  You should be very proud of your accomplishment.  And congratulations to all the wonderful blogs that were nominated. 
I could participate much this week due to work commitments (though I did participate as a judge,) but I have enjoyed reading everyone contributions to the daily blogging topics. 

So, on to the last daily blogging topic:

The world of blogging is continually changing. Share 3 things you think are essential tried and true practices for every blogger and 1-3 new trends or tools you’ve adapted recently or would like to in the future.

On the practical side of things, I would suggest

1- Learn a little HTML – it can go a long way when Blogger or Wordpress or whatever blog service you use is being temperamental. I use Quackit HTML Tags

2- Maintain a separate email account for all things bloggy, using something that access from any computer. This has been a god-send.

3- Visit and comment other blogs – kindly and courtesy. My mother always told me that if you can’t find something nice to say, say nothing at all. That is my personal policy.

4- Keep it fun and keep it genuine. When blogging ceases to be fun, it is time to walk away. Write what you feel and feel what you write. And don’t use your blog as an ego trip, collecting followers to make yourself feel popular.


1- I am not a very trending kind of person but I do use Google reader for blogs I follow and am interested in. And I use Twitter and Facebook for getting the word out about my posts.

2- Try some memes and/or reading challenges. My blog is about kidlit set in WW II, so sometimes participate in Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads with food related posts about that time. Because of rationing, food was always on the minds of people and I think it adds a little spice to my blog.

3- Try out any ideas you have for making your blog interesting, even if no one else is doing it. I enjoy things like Timeslip Tuesday at Charlotte’s Library or Guy Friday at Ms. Yingling Reads, even though they aren’t official memes. I also have a few of my own features like That’s The Way It Was Wednesday, where I post about kid’s books actually written during WW II, and Sunday Funnies, which covers comics, jokes, cartoons from that time period. So be creative with your blog!

Have a great year blogging, everyone, and see you at the next Book Blogger Appreciation Week in 2011!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Gremlins: a Royal Air Force Story by Flight Lieutenant Roald Dahl


Today is Roald Dahl Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of this prolific writer. Dahl would have been 95 years old today. And to celebrate, I thought I would take a look at The Gremlins, the first children's book Dahl in 1943 while he was still in the Royal Air Force.

Gremlins are, of course, those pesky little creatures that only fliers can see and which wreck havoc on their planes. In Dahl’s version of the story, the Gremlins were living happily in a lush northern England wood when one day, some humans showed up with the big trucks and machinery. First, the humans cut down all the trees and rolled over the dirt until it was hard-packed.  Then, they built a factory that produced airplanes. In the process, they destroyed all of the homes belonging to the Gremlins.

Now homeless and angry, the Gremlins vowed revenge and set about sabotaging pilots and their planes. This was proving to be a problem during World War II whenever the RAF pilots came up against the German pilots.  The Gremlins seemed to be as much their enemy as the Germans.

One pilot named Jamface told another named Gus that he had his plane's Gremlin almost reformed by feeding him transatlantic postage stamps, a rare delicacy in the Gremlin world. Gus tried that method, but with no success and on his next flight, he and his Gremlin were forced to bail out of their plane, because of the Gremlins antics. They ended up in the English Channel and for three hours, Gus tried arguing and reasoning with his Gremlin and finally won him over.

But while Gus may have won his Gremlin over, that was not so for all of them. The next time he went up in his plane, with a 102° fever, Gus didn’t count on a large group of Gremlins working against him as well as a German Heinkel, whose pilot proceeded to shoot his plane up.  Gus took two bullets in the leg and crash landed.

Gus spent a long time in hospital, thinking about Gremlins. He came up with a plan for reforming them by opening the first Gremlin Training School. The school had two courses – Initial Training and Advanced Training. The school flourished and grew as more and more Gremlins discovered they liked being good.

When Gus finally left the hospital, he was no longer fit for flying.  But what good is an RAF pilot if he can't fly? Yet, try as he might, he continued to fail the medical test for flying. Seeing his distress, the Gremlins decided to help Gus. Word went out to all Gremlins that on the day and time of the next medical exam, they were to show up and help Gus pass the exam. And so they did and Gus was able to return to doing what he loved - flying.

Gremlins were well known among RAF pilots, who talked about them all the time. After all, it was very convenient to blame them for everything that went wrong.  Capitalizing on this superstition, Dahl wrote The Gremlins, after he has been invalided out of active duty in 1942.  After Dahl finished his story, Walt Disney considered making it into a movie, even bringing Dahl out to Hollywood to discuss the matter. But the movie was never made, though no one really knows why.

The text of The Gremlins was written by Dahl but the illustrations were done by artists working for Disney, who own the copyright on them. Only 50,000 copies were originally printed in 1943, so copies were scarce. But in 2006 the book was finally reproduced in volume and is still relatively easy to come by.

Dahl had joined the Royal Air Force in November 1938. He later wrote about his early flying experiences in a children’s book called Going Solo. After many flying mission that resulted in being honored with the title flying ace, Dahl was invalided out of active duty due to severe headaches. He spent the rest of the war in Washington DC doing intelligence work. Dahl was invalided out of the RAF in 1946.

Though Dahl wrote for both adults and children, it is mainly his children’s book for which he is most known.
This book is recommended for readers age 10 and up.
This book was read at the NYPL.
There is a lot more information about Roald Dahl on his official website, including a downloadable poster showing 50 ways to celebrate Roald Dahl Day, today or any day.

Gremlin homes before humans came and destroyed them.

This is book 15 of my Forgotten Treasures Challenge hosted by Retroreduxs Reviews

Saturday, September 10, 2011

UPDATE: Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Left is the original cover for Blue.  Right is the new Blue cover.
 Last December 4th, I wrote about a book called Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter.  As you can see above, Blue has been given a new cover AND now it has a new book trailer. 

And I thought I would rerun the original post, for anyone who may not have seen it.

'If you ask folks around here what they remember about the year 1944,
A child might say, "That was the year my daddy went off to fight Hitler."
A mother might look off towards Bakers Mountain and whisper that
polio snatched up one of her young'uns.
And the Hickory Daily Record will say that my hometown gave
birth to a miracle.' (pg9)
It is January 1944. Everyone in Hickory, NC is focused on the war, including Ann Fay Honeycutt’s family, especially now that her father is off to war to fight Hitler. But even though he is the one going away, 13 year old Ann Fay feels like this moment is the beginning of a journey for her too. Her journey begins when her father gives Ann Fay a pair of overalls and tells her that while he is gone, she needs to be the man of the house. This means planting the victory garden with the help of Junior Bledsoe, a neighbor’s son. It also means looking after her 6 year old twin sisters, Ida and Ellie and her brother Bobby, 4. He tells Bobby to help out, but to make sure he plays everyday.

Things go well until the middle of June 1944. Suddenly, everybody’s focus in Hickory, NC is no longer on the war, but has shifted to their own small county – 12 cases of polio have been diagnosed in Catawba County and the number is steadily climbing. Because Hickory was hardest hit by this polio epidemic, a makeshift hospital was constructed in three days on the site of a health camp that had closed due to polio. This became famously known as the Hickory Emergency Infantile Paralysis Hospital. Not long after the epidemic is announced, Bobby is also diagnosed with polio. He is rushed to the hospital in a hearse because there were no ambulances available due to the war and the epidemic. A few days later, Ann Fay and the girls are visited by the public health nurse and an epidemiologist from Yale who inspect their home, put them under quarantine and tell Ann Fay that she must burn all of Bobby’s belongings, including his toys and drawings, a task that requires all the courage she can muster.

Bobby remains at the hospital, breathing with the help of an iron lung. His mother works in the kitchen so she can stay near him. But in August 1944, Bobby succumbs to the disease. He is brought home and buried on the family farm. Care of the house, the twins, and the garden had rested on Ann Fay’s shoulders the whole time Bobby was hospitalized. Now she must continue to do this and, in addition, take care of her mother who has slipped into a serious depression.

In September 1944, Ann Fay is stricken with polio too. She is taken to the same hospital that her brother went to. There she meets Imogene Wilfong, a black girl in the bed next to her. Ann Fay, despite everything that has happened, is shocked when Imogene tries to be friendly:

“I reckon she thought we was going to be friends. But I hadn’t ever been that close to a colored before. I sure hadn’t thought about making friends with one. Instead of telling her my name, I looked away.” (pg. 122)
Over the course of their treatments, the girls finally do become close friends. The hospital has accepted polio victims regardless of race or economic circumstances, and even though it was in the Jim Crow south, they were not segregated. But that changes when the emergency hospital closes in March 1945 and the girls are moved to Charlotte Memorial Hospital. Because they were together in Hickory, they assume that they will be in Charlotte too. But when they arrive, Ann Fay goes in one direction into a building; Imogene goes in another into the tents set up for “colored.”

Ann Fay’s journey makes this is truly a coming of age story. It seems that Ann Fay’s life consists of one struggle after another, but like the hickory tree that Hickory NC is named after, she is also strong and doesn’t break easily, even after polio strikes. She meets these struggles with a determined practicality unusual for such a young person, but adversity has a way of maturing a person and so that makes her a very believable character.

What I really liked about this book in the factual information about polio that is so nicely woven into the story of Ann Fay Honeycutt. Polio had taken a backseat to the war. And even though President Roosevelt had been stricken with the disease, it was largely hidden from public view in his photographs. Since the epidemic changes the lives of all the characters, it is an opportunity to inform the reader. I asked my 22 year old what she knew about polio, Sister Kenny, iron lungs. The answer was “not much.” Kids don’t learn this in school anymore and certainly don’t have any real life experience of polio. I love well researched historical fiction and this is about as good as that gets.

Secondary to that, I liked that Hostetter also brought out the fact that there were other problems to deal with on the American home front besides the war and the difficulties related to it.

I enjoyed Blue so much that as soon as I finished it, and I read it in one day because I couldn’t put it down, I went to the library and checked out the sequel Comfort. I am looking forward to reading the continuing story of Ann Fay Honeycutt and her family and neighbors this week.

This book is recommended for readers aged 9-12 years old, though it is perfectly suitable for older readers.
This book was borrowed from the 67th Street Branch of the New York Public Library.
Blue has received the following well deserved honors:
2007 International Reading Association Children’s Book Award.
2006 North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award.
2006 Parent’s Choice Silver Honor
Best Books of 2006 for Young Readers (Post Dispatch, St. Louis, MO)
Pennsylvania School Library Association Top Ten
The Best Children’s Books of the Year (Bank Street College of Education)

More information about Blue and other good things may be found on the author’s website at The 3 R's - READING, 'RITING, & RESEARCH

The Catawba County Historical Association has an exhibition called “The Miracle of Hickory: the 1944 Emergency Polio Hospital” until July 2011. In you will be in the area, information may be found at Catawba County Historical Association

Below are two photos of the Hickory Emergency Infantile Paralysis Hospital with links to their websites for more information on polio:

“They took me to a tent with a screen door and a sign on the outside that said Admission Tent.” (Pg 119)

“I started looking around and seen that the tent was mostly just the roof of that place I was in.  There was a wood floor and wood going about four feet up the walls...” (Pg 121) 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sky: a True Story of Courage during World War II by Hanneke Ippisch

It isn’t uncommon for soldiers to return home from combat and never speak about their experiences. It is apparently also uncommon for people who work in resistance movements during a war to wait a long time before speaking about their experiences, if ever. Hanneke Ippisch was a young girl when World War II began, but she waited until she was 70 years old before telling her story about working for the Dutch Resistance. Hanneke was the younger daughter of a minister and his wife. She and her sister had a very comfortable life before Holland was forcibly occupied by the National Socialists in May 1940.

Everybody’s life immediately changed. Anything the Nazis needed/wanted was confiscated – they began with food and bicycles, which the Dutch were very dependent on. Later, they demanded anything, including long cherished family heirlooms, made of copper, brass and pewter be handed over, to be melted for bullets. And then, a curfew was established to curb any illegal activities. Life became harder and more unpleasant for everyone.

One night in 1943, Hanneke overheard her father speaking with a woman. Realizing what the conversation was about, she followed the woman home and told her she also wanted to work for the resistance. The woman told her to think about it for a few months.

Three months later, with the situation in Holland growing worse day by day, Hanneke went back to the woman and said she still wanted to work for the resistance. She was told to meet a certain man the next day, who gave her her first assignment - to bring false identity papers and food coupons to a Jewish family in hiding.

From then on, Hanneke’s job was to provide assistance to Jews. This included finding and escorting them to safe houses and even, sometimes, helping them escape Holland, getting food stamps and other necessities to them when they are in hiding and once resorting to hiding a group of Jews in the floor boards of her parent’s home. She was also responsible for taking Jewish children to the homes of Gentiles willing to take care of them as their own until after the war.

There were nine separate resistance organization in Holland during the war and Ms. Ippish gives some interesting details about they how worked together to accomplish things. Each group specialized in one area, for example, sabotage; falsifying documents, ID cards, food coupons etc; obtaining money to run things and cover expenses; assisting Jews,; communication specialists; printing specialists; and coding and decoding, where her father worked.

During the last year of the war, Hanneke, by now a very trusted member of the resistance, was given a new job. Every Friday, she was to find a place for the heads of the nine organizations for meet. One Friday in January 1945, she arrived at the meeting and was immediately arrested by the Nazis, along with five of the leaders.

She was put in prison, where conditions were deplorable. Prisoners were given little to eat, and often the rats got to it first, and everyone was covered with lice. Hanneke spent the rest of the war in a small, wet cell with five other women, except for the five days she spent alone in a dungeon room too small to even lie down in. But despite all this, she managed to not give any information to the Nazis when she was interrogated. Hanneke was still in prison when the war ended. All of the leaders of the resistance who had been arrested with her had been executed as traitors.

After the war, Hanneke worked in a variety of post war related jobs, before migrating to Montana in 1956, where she apparently still lives.

Sky is an interesting, exciting introduction to the Dutch Resistance told through one person’s personal involvement. It is a well-written book; the language used is clear and concise, making it an excellent introduction to this subject for young readers. Aside from detailing her own fascinating part in the resistance, Ms. Ippisch gives a comprehensive picture of what life was like for the people of Dutch under the Nazis. She also includes a selection of supporting photographs, many from her family’s collection; other photos were taken on a trip to Holland she made with her husband in the 1980s.

Also included are also copies of both real and counterfeit documents relating to the resistance. All information in occupied Holland was censured by the Nazis, but, at great risk, a copy from part of a newspaper that the allies dropped to let people know how the war was going outside the Netherlands, was saved by Hanneke’s family and is reproduced in Shy. A copy of the newspaper, “Haarlemsche Courant,” that was produced by the printing organization of the resistance, is also included though it is written in Dutch.

I think young readers might also be fascinated to see the incredibly small letters that she was able to sneak out to her family while in prison, especially when they read about how they were written and the translation of one letter and see how much information Hanneke was able to include on it.

This book is recommended for readers aged 9 and up.
This book was borrowed from the Soundview Branch of the NYPL.

More information may be found at the Dutch Resistance Museum, including an article on Wally van Hall, who was the head of the finance organization of the resistance, and one of the leaders with whom Hanneke worked and was arrested.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Weekend Cooking #13: Victory through Canning

Government posters promoting home canning

Victory gardens were great ways to supplement food rationing during World War II and the gardens weren’t limited to rural areas only. In cities, allotments of public land were often divvied up to those who did not live in houses that already had a garden, so everyone could benefit from fresh fruits and vegetables. Even rooftops were converted into gardens.

But what did you do when you found yourself with more tomatoes that you knew what to do with, and your neighbors had their own payload, so you couldn’t give them away? The answer was as far away as the nearest Mason jar.

Home canning was very popular during the war (in fact, it was before and after the war and still is, judging by the amount of canning equipment I see in the stores in my neighborhood.) Articles in magazines and pamphlets published by the government and colleges were always available to teach the safe way to home can. In 1942, 64% of women were canned food for their family. This increased to 75% in 1943 and grew exponentially until the end of the war.

My mother learned how to home can from her mother and she taught me how to preserved and make jam when I was growing up. Now, for the last 10 years or so, I have gotten together with a friend to can tomatoes and make bread and butter pickles. This year we added peaches to our repertoire.

Bread and Butter Pickles, Tomatoes
and Peaches

There is nothing quite like opening one of these jars on a cold, cold January day, when summer seems like it will never come again, to really appreciate the concept of preserving - they smell and taste exactly like they did in August.
This is my absolutely favorite recipe for the canned tomatoes, though you can also do it with fresh ones now.

Marinated Tomatoes

6 large rip tomatoes, peeled
¼ cup thinly sliced scallions (including some of the green parts)
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, or ½ tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup vegetable oil
¼ cup red or white wine vinegar

1- Cut the tomatoes into think slices and put them on a shallow plate.
2- In a small bowl, combine the scallions, parsley, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Sprinkle the mixture over the tomatoes.
3- In a jar, mix together the oil and vinegar and pour over the tomatoes. Cover and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight, spooning the dressing over the tomatoes from time to time.
4- Drain off the dressing just before serving

Makes 6 servings
From: Mary Emmerling’s American Country Cooking: Recipes and menus from Family and Friends Across America.

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