Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Greatest Skating Race by Louise Borden, illustrated by Niki Daly

When I was a girl, I used to love ice skating in Central Park, either on the pond if it were frozen enough or the skating rink.  There was nothing like the feeling of gliding across the ice on a cold winter's day.  So when I saw The Greatest Skating Race by Louise Borden sitting on a bookshelf, I knew I just had to read it.

Written in free verse, the story is set in the Netherlands in December 1941.  Ten-year-old Piet Janssen was born to ice skate.  His father's family had made and repaired ice skates for many generations, and Piet is looking forward to the time he is old enough to skate in the Elfstedentoct just like his hero , Pim Mulier.  Mulier has skated the 200 kilometer/124 miles race in record-breaking time in a bitter cold December, much like Holland was experiencing in 1941.

But Holland is under German occupation and although there is no restriction on skating, there just are much of the need supplies left for Piet's grandfather to make or repair skates.  In fact, there isn't much of anything left after the Germans took what needed.   But for Christmas, Piet receives a little red notebook.  In it, he begins to plan and train for his entry in the Elfstedentoct...someday.

The Janssens are kind people and help others whenever they can, especially during the bitter cold winters that Europe has been experiencing since the war began.  One Friday, when Piet comes home from school, excited to show his mother his perfect spelling test, he learns that the father of a school mate has been arrested for possessing a radio and sending messages to the Allies.  It is decided that his children, Johanna and her little brother Joop Winkelman, need to get away to safety.

Which means that Piet, Johanna and Joop would skate the frozen canals to Brugge, Belgium, a distance of 16 kilometers/10 miles past German checkpoints all along the way, a long distance for two 10 year olds and one 7 year old after a day at school.

And so the three skaters begin their journey.  They don't get far before they run into their first German sentries, who stop them and become very suspicious when they see the Elfstedentoct map Piet had drawn in his red notebook for training purposes.  A nice border map, one guard says.  Finally the other guard recognizes the name of the race.  The children are allowed to go on, but can they fool every sentry at every guard house they will have to pass and arrive safely in Brugge or be caught and arrested?  And even if they get by the guards, can little Joop complete the arduous journey?

The Greatest Skating Race was such an exciting story and so well told that I had to keep checking the spine of the library book I was reading to remind myself that it is fiction.  And although this is technically a picture book, it is really designed for middle grade readers.  It is an engaging and beautifully written story that demonstrates the bravery and courage of children caught up in a war and their understanding of just how serious things were.  An exciting story, it really captures the fear and tension that people experienced living under Nazi occupation continually felt.

The illustrations by Niki Daly, which are done in colored pencil, ballpoint pen and watercolor with digital enhancement, beautifully convey the freezing winter weather, the beauty of the country and the fear, the determination and even the innocence of the children in cold wintry tones.

The Elfstedenstoct is a real race that can only be done if the ice in the canals along the 11 city route are all frozen to 15cm.  Unfortunately, it doesn't look like a race will be held in 2013 and in fact there hasn't been one since 1997.

Pim Mulier (1865-1954), Piet's skating hero, did indeed complete the Elfstedentoct just as it is described in The Greatest Skating Race.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from The Bank Street College of Education library

Monday, February 25, 2013

Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 23, 2013

2013 Children's Book Week Poster and Bookmark with a Puzzle

The poster and bookmark for this year's Children's Book Week (May 12-19, 2013) has been released and they are, as always, wonderful.  The poster was done by Brian Selznick, author/illustrator of  The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck.

The poster very cleverly pays homage to two of Selznick's fellow author/illustrators and legends in their own right - Remy Charlip and Maurice Sendak - both of whom we lost in 2012.  The little parachuting boy reminds us of the cover of Charlip's classic book Fortunately, a story about the good and bad things that happen on a young boy's trip to a surprise party in Florida.

And of course, if you look closely, you can see that the boy is holding a copy of Sendak's Where the Wild Thing Are.

The accompanying bookmark this year was done by fellow author/illustrator Grace Lin, whose wonderful work Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was a 2010 Newbery Honor book.  The bookmark has the same sense of Chinese tradition that pervades Lin's work and makes it so awesome.  What is really special about this bookmark is that it comes with instructions for drawing a dragon's face using letters of the alphabet.  AND along the same line, the face of the bookmark contains a puzzle - finding the hidden letters in the image.

Can you find the letters?  Click to enlarge

You can download and print Grace's lovely bookmark (and the answer to the puzzle) here 

I used to love Hidden Object Puzzles when I was a kid.  They always came in some comic books, or kid's magazines like Highlights, Jack and Jill, or Children's Playmate, and in our Weekly Reader.  Thinking about this, I remembered I have a few issues of Child Life that were published during the war and sure enough, they all contained the Hidden Object Puzzle.  Here, then, are three puzzles for your solving enjoyment (click each one to enlarge it).

This one is pretty easy - from February 1943

This was a little harder - from January 1943
I found this one more difficult - from July 1943 (OK, I confess
this had me stumped for a long time)
To see posters Children's Book Week from1939 to 1945 see my previous post here

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles by Tanya Lee Stone

I first heard about the Triple Nickles when I read the book Jump into the Sky by Shelly Pearsall, the story of a young African American boy whose father was a paratrooper in 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, or the Triple Nickles.

Now, Tanya Lee Stone's Courage Has No Color tells the true story of the Triple Nickels, America's first and only all black unit of paratroopers in World War II.  She begins their story by describing in graphic detail what it feels like to jump out of an airplane and parachute back to earth, to give you an idea of the level of courage it takes to be a paratrooper.  It is not something I think I would want to ever do.    

From there she writes about the kind of treatment black soldiers received in the military: segregated and relegated to service work and treated like servants.  It was demeaning and demoralizing to the men who joined the military to fight for their country and freedom.  One man, Walter Morris, a first sergeant in charge of Service Company of The Parachute School, saw how being treated like servants was affecting the men serving under him.  Morris devised a plan to teach his men how to feel like soldiers again.  It was his plan to teach them what they needed to know to become paratroopers.  And so after the white serviceman were finished practicing for the day, and the black servicemen arrived to start cleaning up after them, they also began their training.  And someone noticed how well they learned what was needed to become a successful paratrooper.  Pretty soon, the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, long a proponent of equality, got into the act.

In 1941, The 99th Pursuit Squadron, or the Tuskegee Airmen, was formed and the men trained to be the country's first African American aviators.  And in 1943, these airmen were finally sent into combat overseas.   But the 555th Paratrooper Infantry Battalion was finally formed in February 1943.  Though trained as paratroopers, the Triple Nickles would never be used in combat, instead they were sent to Oregon to fight fires.  Turns out those fires were started by balloons sent over by Japan for that very purpose.

All of this and much more about the people and history of the 555th is detailed in Courage Has No Color, including an in-depth explanation of how they got their name - yes, there more to it than just 555.  It is a fascinating book covering this little known aspect of the United States military and World War II and an exceptional contribute to the history of African Americans in this country.

Stone has done an exemplary job of gathering primary source material, including interviews with some the of members of the 555th and lots of archival photographs, to bring to life the courage and heroism of these men and their accomplishments even against all odds.  Included is a very eyeopening timeline of the desegregation and the Triple Nickles,

Sadly, the United States Military was not desegregated until 1950.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was obtained from the publisher

Oh yes, remember that description of jumping out of an airplane I mentioned, well, you too can experience what it is like to be a paratrooper by reading it here.

A very useful teaching guide including Common Core connections, can be downloaded here.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

WOW! An Award and...

I would like to give a big Thank You to Barbara over at March House Books Blog for giving my blog this Very Inspiring Blogger Award.  Barbara, as you may or may not know, has one of the loveliest blogs on the block and I love visiting it and seeing all the wonderful images she post there from old books and postcards. 

Thank you so much, Barbara, I am delighted to accept this award.  

Of course, there are some conditions:

✔ Display the award logo on your blog.
✔ Link back to the person who nominated you.
✔ State 7 things about yourself.
✔ Nominate other bloggers for this award and link to them.
✔ Notify those bloggers of the nomination.

I have listed 7 things about myself so often, I have nothing to add, so here is a compilation from the past with updates:

1- I am ashamed to say that I have lived in New York City all my life and have never visited the UN, 
    the Statue of Liberty or taken the Circle Line, but I pass by them a lot.  This is sadly still true.
2- I love cats, but prefer black cats.  Alas, I no longer can have cats because of severe allegories.
3- I always wear my socks inside out because the seam at the toe annoys me so much.  Still true.
4- I collect snow globes.  I added two new ones this past year.
5- Snoopy has been my muse since I was 10 and I still have the first Snoopy that started it all (see
    photo below)
6- My favorite comfort food is still a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a bowl of Campbell’s 
    chicken noodle soup.  Still true and something I eat a lot since Newtown.
7- I never eat dessert if it doesn’t have chocolate in or on it.  Still true.

My nominations:

Perogies & Gyoza

We Sat Down

Secrets & Sharing Soda

Original Snoopy 

Now for the bad news: not long ago I had an extensive email exchange with Joyce over at The 3 R's - Reading, 'Riting & Research about comment verification and I said I didn't use it because I didn't get much spam.  Well, the spammer gods must have heard me say that and wham! more comments from our old enemy Anonymous than ever.  Sooo...I am going to use word verification for a while, which means until it annoys me as much as the line in my socks (see above #3)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Passing through Havana: A Novel of a Wartime Girlhood in the Caribbean by Felicia Rosshandler

It is December 1939.  In a lavish apartment in Antwerp, Belgium,  9-year-old Claudia Rossin, along with her parents, relatives and others, are listening to a Polish refugee taking about the Nazi invasion of Poland and the horrors that they brought with them.  But Claudia doesn't fully understand the implications of Anton's story.  She is far too wrapped up in her unhappiness at being under the thumb of a detested French governess whose job it was to turn a very head-strong girl into a perfect social being.

And then in May 1940, despite Belgium's declarations of neutrality, the Nazis march in and before Claudia knows it, they are living under German occupation.  But Claudia's parents, Max, an insecure Polish businessman despite his success in business. and Suze, a socialite who knows and likes to entertain all the right people in her salons, remind blind to what is happening, despite being Jewish.

In October, racial standards and registration of all Jewish are imposed.  Suze goes to the Kommandant and manages to charm an extra two months out of him before they must register - two months to plot the family's escape.  And she does - charming the Salvadorian consul into signing questionable visas.

Armed with these questionable visas to El Salvador, the family travels in a first-class compartment of the Brussels-Paris Express.  But Paris that winter isn't wonderful and then, in June 1940, the Nazis arrive.  The family is ordered to leave France within 24 hours.  They head for Spain and board a boat heading to Havana, Cuba.  They have escaped in the nick of time - soon roundup and deportations of Jews would start in Belgium along with the rest of the Europe's Nazi occupied countries.

For Claudia, the two best things about Cuba are the warmth and no more French governess.  She is enrolled in a private Catholic school and, because of her blond hair and fair skin, accepted and welcomed by the other girls, never letting on that she is Jewish.

Away from the stresses of the war and the Nazis, life becomes more routine - school, parties, friends, fighting with her mother, trying to become a grown-up.  And after a few years, Claudia meets and finds herself attracted to a boy at a party.  Dieter Müller was born in Havana to German parents.  Claudia lets him believe she is also an Aryan German, born in Berlin: We are the perfect pair," he whispers to her.  Dieter is awed by the Hitler Youth, and Claudia tells him she used to dream about being picked to present flowers to the Führer.

On the surface, it does appear that Claudia and Dieter are the perfect pair, or are they?

Passing through Havana is an interesting look at the Jews who managed to escape to Cuba.  The novel is based on the author's real experiences as a young girl.  Claudia is a bit of a spoiled brat and Rosshandler's depiction of her conflicts with her mother and how they impact some of her youthful, rather defiant decisions are spot on.  But this is a coming of age novel, so it is a bit of a roller coaster ride towards maturity, as Claudia discovers who she is and begins to see reality without the romantically tinged rose-colored glasses of her pre-adolesence.

I really enjpyed reading about Cuba in the early 1940s and the experience of the Jewish community that formed among the refugees.  I don't know of many books about European Jews who fled to Cuba.  In 1939, only those with landing permits were allowed to disenbark in Cuba when the St. Louis arrived there.  The Rossins disembarked with the landing passes for El Salvador, with the intention of remaining in Cuba only until they could get to the United States - which finally happened after the war, hence the somewhat ironic title Passing through Havana.  Rosshandler also paints a very interesting picture of pre-Castro Havana among the upper class in her book.  Most of us don't remember that Cuba once had a striated society and there were some very wealthy, educated people as well as very poor.

Originally published in 1984, Passing through Havana is now being reissued as a Kindle book.

Passing through Havana should probably be read by more mature teens due to some sexual content.

This book is recommended for readers age 15+
This book was sent to me by the author

And in the spirit of Valentine's Day:
This book is autobiographical fiction - based on real life experiences.  Recently The Guardian ran an article about Felicia and a real teenage sweetheart - read how their story worked out over the years here

Teenage sweethearts Felicia and Edmundo Desnoes age 16
in Havana, Cuba

This is book 5 of my 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

His Name was Raoul Wallenberg - an interview with Louise Borden

Louise Borden author of His Name
was Raoul Wallenberg
Today I am very pleased and honored to welcome Louise Borden to Randomly Reading and The Children's War.  Louise and her book His Name was Raoul Wallenberg have been named winner of the 2013 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers by the Association of Jewish Libraries.  The Sydney Taylor Book Awards are given annually to those outstanding works that authentically portray the Jewish experience.

First, may I say congratulations on being given this award for writing such a fine biography of a real World War II hero.

Louise, can you tell us what being awarded the 2013 Sydney Taylor Book Award means to you?

It's quite an honor and was totally unexpected.  But I'm thrilled to think that other felt that my research and writing about Raoul was worthy of this wonderful award.  Awards are not my focus when I'm alone at my desk typing away but I think this one means that those on the committee believe in me and in the importance of Raoul Wallenberg's life story.  It is quite affirming and something I will carry into the future on the touch days when I'm staring down at a blank page.  Winning this award will not make writing easier but I'll think of my encouragers, and of Sydney Taylor, cheering me on.

First, may I say congratulations on being given this award for writing such a fine biography of a real World War II hero.

You have written on a variety of subjects, but you keep returning to stories about World War II in both fiction and non-fiction - The Little ShipsAcross the Blue Pacific, The Greatest Skating RaceThe Journey that Saved Curious George, and now His Name was Raoul Wallenberg.  Can you tell us what inspired you to write about Raoul Wallenberg?

I'd never heard of Raoul Wallenberg even though I studied history in college.  It wasn't until the 1980s that I read about him, and the mystery of his disappearance.  I was drawn to his character, his moral compass, his Swedish background, and his American education in architecture.  I'm not Jewish but I've read about the Holocaust and care deeply that we must always remember those who were lost and educate future generations.  I didn't know much about the events in Hungary until I started on my long path of research.  I hope that young readers will find Raoul Wallenberg's story and his actions (and those of other brave diplomats in Budapest) as compelling as I did.  Raoul and his colleagues are my life heroes.  What if they had stood by and done nothing during those dark days?

I know you have written books in free verse before, and it seems to be a form that is becoming more and more popular in both fiction and non-fiction.  Yet, when I read Raoul Wallenberg's story I was amazed at how much information you were able to convey without resorting to prose.  Can you tell us what prompted you to chose this form over prose?

All of my books are written in this style.  Sea Clocks and The Journey that Saved Curious George were subjects that also involved gathering a lot of complicated information and then making events and places and people accessible to today's young readers.  It took me two years to write the text about Raoul Wallenberg, shaping the structure and doing constant revision.  I wanted the power of his story to shine through and not have my readers get lost in dense paragraphs of dry writing.

I know historical fiction and non-fiction require a lot of research.  Could you tell us a little about the research process you used and any challenges you faced while writing His Name was Raoul Wallenberg?

His life is a complex story with an unknown ending, clouded by contradictions.  First I had to immerse myself in reading deeply and widely, sifting through inaccuracies that have been stated in various books  over the years.  I tried to use primary sources whenever possible.  Meeting with his family was very important, hearing their voices and recollections.  I went to Stockholm three times and Budapest twice - on my own nickel and perseverance.  That was a financial challenge!  The Wallenberg story was my "beautiful obsession".   You have to have a deep commitment to last through years of research.  I had three the book's structure changed and evolved.  I began these steps before Google was such a helpful presence to researchers.  Attending a Raoul Wallenberg Symposium in Budapest was also very helpful.  Andy Nagy helped me translate sections of some Hungarian books.  Gathering the photos was a challenge.  I think that this book contains more photos than any other book about Raoul Wallenberg.  I wanted kids to know that the players in the story looked like, and what the places looked like.  To them, World War II was lived in black and white...I want them to know that it was lived in color.

After reading His Name was Raoul Wallenberg, the thing that struck me the most was how you presented him as a real person and not just another distant historical figure.  For example, I love that you included information about Raoul's childhood and teen years.  The class picture you open with is priceless, as is the invitation to readers to also become a storyteller of his life.  As storytellers, what do you hope your young readers will take away from this book?

When I saw the school photo (that had never before appeared in a book). I knew that it was the key to finding the right place to begin such a complicated story.  Finding the right voice is always my quest.  I hoped that this photo )and that signature) would bring kinds immediately into Raoul's life.   I try to choose the most essential details - the ones that will connect with kids.  I gathered these from interviews regarding his childhood and teen years.  I'm 63 years old.  Young readers have much longer lives ahead of them.  I want them to be inspired by this man and by his character and actions.  I want kids to know that they too can make a positive difference in the world.  I want them to find their own heroes.  And I want readers to remember Raoul Wallenberg and to carry his story into their own futures.  We are all storytellers - kids will remember a great story and I hope they will tell others and use its power for good in their own lives.

Raoul Wallenberg's Class Picture @1921

One of the topics of WW2 that I have always hoped to see a kids book about are the Jewish Partisans, like the Bielski Partisans.  That being said, what particular ideas set the writing process in motion for you?  Do you have a current writing project and is there any future project of a historical nature that you would like to write about?

I've had about 26 books published.  More are fiction than nonfiction.  But in most I tend to focus on ordinary characters who do extraordinary things.  Courage, friendship, helping others, heroes, changing the world in a wonderful way - you will find these in the pages of my books.  I write about people who inspire me.

The Greatest Skating Race was entirely fictional but rooted in an authentic setting.  I wanted to write about that part of the world in wartime.  I wrote the fictional The Little Ships because I found the event of the Dunkirk rescue so dramatic.  When a person or place or event calls to me in a deep way, that is when I embark on writing about it - either fictionally or via nonfiction.  Along the way, I have met amazing people, and through my books I have made lifelong friends in other countries.  I've just finished a fictional book set in Italy during WW2.  And I went to France last September to see some places I've been researching for two years - another WW2 story.  Both of these books are, again, about the courage of ordinary people.  Long ago in college my senior research project focused on the European Response to Hitler/Resistance movements in WW2 in France, Holland, Denmark and Germany.  I'm sure your interest in the Bielski Partisans is founded in part on their extraordinary courage.  World War 2 affected millions upon millions.  Each had their own individual story.  Perhaps that is why you and I both find this tragic time so compelling.
When I finish my work-in-progress French story, I have yet another idea I am pursuing via research.  I gather books, etc and they sit on the back of my writing stove.  Then when I'm ready, I start a project.  I intersperse my WW2 books with books for younger kids.  Kindergarten Luck is such a book, that will be published by Chronicle.  Baseball is...will be published by S&S next year.

Thank you so much, Louise, for taking the time to visit Randomly Reading and for all the insights you have given us into your writing process.  I wish you all the best in the future.

This interview also appears on my other blog Randomly Reading

Please be sure to visit these other stops on the 2013 Sydney Taylor Book Award blog tour:


Ann Redisch Stampler, author of The Wooden Sword
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Shelf-Employed 

Carol Liddiment, illustrator of The Wooden Sword
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Ann Koffsky’s Blog 

Doreen Rappaport, author of Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Teen Readers Category
At Bildungsroman


Linda Glaser, author of Hannah’s Way
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
At This Messy Life 

Adam Gustavson, illustrator of Hannah’s Way
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger ReadersCategory
At Here in HP 

Louise Borden, author of His Name was Raoul Wallenberg
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Randomly Reading 

Deborah Heiligman, author of Intentions
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
At The Fourth Musketeer 


Sheri Sinykin, author of Zayde Comes to Live
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Read, Write, Repeat 

Kristina Swarner, illustrator of Zayde Comes to Live
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Reading and Writing


Linda Leopold Strauss, author of The Elijah Door
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Pen and Pros 

Alexi Natchev, illustrator of The Elijah Door
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Madelyn Rosenberg’s Virtual Living Room 


Blog Tour Wrap-Up at The Whole Megillah 

Visit The Association of Jewish Libraries blog and the official Sydney Taylor site

Monday, February 11, 2013

His Name was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, Rescue and Mystery During World War II by Louise Borden

In January, I was very pleased to learn that Louise Borden and her book His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg had been named winner of the 2013 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers by the Association of Jewish Libraries.  The Sydney Taylor Book Awards are given annually to those outstanding works that authentically portray the Jewish experience.

Born into a relatively well-to-do family of bankers in Stockholm, Sweden in 1912, Raoul Wallenberg was always excited and curious about everything and his endeavors were encouraged and supported by his family.  At age 11, he traveled alone from Sweden to Turkey on the Orient Express to visit his grandfather, Gustaf Wallenberg, Sweden's minister to Turkey.  And at age 19, he left Sweden to attend college at the University of Michigan, majoring in Engineering.  When he returned to Europe, Raoul spent time travelling and as he did, he began to hear stories from Jews who has escaped Hitler's Germany, stories about new laws, beatings and even murder inflicted on Jews by the Nazi government.

Raoul had taken a job and was an excellent salesman, helped by his ability to speak different languages.   But pretty soon the world was at war.  As he watched country after country fall to Nazi occupation, he worried about Sweden's neutrality.  Denmark and Norway, close neighbor, had already fallen to the Nazis.  When roundups and deportations were announced in Denmark in 1943, Sweden gave permission for Danish Jews to enter the country, saved by the many Danish fisherman willing to sail them there.  Swedish freedom and neutrality remained intact.

Hungary was also a country with a large Jewish population, but it was not a neutral and in 1944, it, too, became a Nazi occupied country.  Roundups and deportations of Hungarian Jews began and many went to the Swedish embassy seeking visas to Sweden.  But the War Refugee Board in America wanted a neutral Swede to organize some relief for the Jews in Hungary.  Raoul Wallenberg, with his  many languages and skill as a salesman, was just the person they needed.

Wallenberg devised a legal looking Protection Pass or Schutzpass that were like Swedish passports and protected the bearer from deportation.   Wallenberg even created a single Schutzpass that protected whole families.  But the Schutzpass, which probably saved around 20,000 people, was only one way Wallenberg worked to help Hungarian Jews.

Ironically, the man who worked tirelessly to save Jews, was picked up by the Soviet military in Hungary and on January 17, 1945, he was last seen being driven away in a Soviet car, and was never to be heard from again.

The details of Wallenberg's life and the work he did saving Jews in Hungary are all nicely detailed in-depth in Borden's free verse biography of this incredible man.  His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg is beautifully put together, divided into 15 sections, each one chronicling a period of Wallenberg's life with a wealth of supporting photographs and other documents that give a comprehensive picture of his life as he grows and changes and even goes beyond his disappearance up to the present.   As you will discover when you read the Author's Note at the back, Borden had the privilege of working closely with his family over many years and so had much more personal insight into the real child and man that was Raoul Wallenberg than biographers are generally privy to.  And that shows throughout the book.

But His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg is more than just a biography, it is a shining example of one man who rose to the challenge at a very bleak time in history and who made a difference in the world, saving so many Hungarian Jews from certain death.  Borden has written a book that is a fine addition to the whole body of Holocaust literature and anyone interested in the Jewish experience at that time.

Raoul Wallenberg was named Righteous Among The Nations by Yad Vashem in 1963 in Israel.

Come back tomorrow for an interview with Louise Borden.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was purchased for my personal library

You can find more information about Raoul Wallenberg at his alma mater, the University of Michigan, here

You can find more on Raoul Wallenberg and the plight of Hungarian Jews at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum here

Be sure to visit Louise Borden's website here

This review also appears on my other blog Randomly Reading

Nonfiction Monday is hosted this week byAbby the Librarian

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Double Victory: How African American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II by Cheryl Mullenbach

February is Black History Month and way back in 2011, I looked at a book about African American soldiers in World War II called The Double V Campaign: African Americans and World War II by Michael L. Cooper.  The Double V Campaign demanded that African Americans who were risking their lives fighting for freedom and democracy abroad should be given full civil rights at home - Victory at home AND abroad.   Cooper's book is an interesting, well-researched book, but it doesn't tell the whole story of the Double Victory Campaign.  The Double V campaign was also waged on the home front, and women played a very important part.

In her book, Double Victory: How African American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II, Cheryl Mullenbach brings together the lives and work of a number of strong, brave women in four areas: women who worked in the war industry,  women who became political activists, women in the military, volunteers and of course, women in entertainment.

Here are only a few of the many stories covered in Mullenbach's book:
High school teacher Layle Lane was asked by A. Philip Randolph, a Civil Righs leader, to help organize a March on Washington in 1941 to end discrimination in employment, since most defense plants would not hire African Americans.  The march never happened, but Lane was in on the talks with President Roosevelt that led to the issuance of Executive Order Number 8802, which meant if you discriminate, the Fair Employment Practices Committee can investigate you.  It wasn't perfect, but it was a start.

Pauli Murray, a female law student, let students from Howard University in peaceful direct action sit-in at a restaurant that refused to serve African Americans.  Three by three the students entered, sat and asked for service.  When that was refused, they stayed seated and began to quietly study.  Police couldn't arrest them because by not being served, they weren't breaking the law.  The owner closed for the day, but when he reopened the next day, the students held a peaceful picket outside and after a few days of lost business, the Whites Only sign came down.

The women who joined the WAAC (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps) once it was opened to African Americans discovered the racism and segregation followed them into the military, just as it had followed men of color.  Nevertheless, the women soldered on and succeeded.  And eventually, Charity Adams even became the first African American woman officer in the WAACs and commanded the 6888th Central Postal Battalion (see Mare's War by Tanita Davis for an interesting and accurate fictional account of one women's experience in the 6888th).

Star power carries a lot of weight and in WWII it was not different.  When the Hollywood Victory Campaign was formed, actress Hattie McDaniel was asked to be in charge of "Negro talent" section.  Hattie, who had won an Academy Award in 1940 for playing Mammy in Gone with the Wind, helped to organize black entertainers to perform in the segregated all black units of the armed forces.  This work required the entertainers would need to meet frequently, usually at Hattie's house.  But she lived in a restricted area, meaning no blacks allowed.  So when the white homeowners filed a legal complaint, Hattie fought back and won.

Lena Horne, one of my favorite singers, was a favorite during the 1930s and 1940s and she was also part of the Hollywood Victory Campaign.  Mullenbach tells about the time on a southern USO tour, Lena performed one night to a white only audience, and the next morning in the mess hall, she was to perform for the black soldiers.  But in the front row were German POWs.   She left the stage, stood in front of the black soldiers, back to the Germans and sang.  She ended up quitting the USO tour over this, but continued entertaining soldiers throughout the war.

These are just a few of the many interesting women included in Double Victory: How African American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II.  It is a well-researched, nicely presented book with lots of supporting photographs and detailed back matter.   It is intelligently written, yet very accessible for young readers.  The fact that she introduces us to ordinary women doing extraordinary things in wartime makes it all the more valuable.  And while it is good to know that anyone can make a difference, not just famous people, it is also nice to read about the contributions of so many African American women, which are often overlooked.

Kathryn Atwood started a narrative about women and their courageous acts in WWII in her work Women Heroes of World War II and Cheryl Mullenbach has extended that narrative to include African American women in Double Victory: How African American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an E-ARC from Net Galley

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

Monday, February 4, 2013

26 Fairmount Avenue: The War Years by Tomie dePaola

Last year, Tomie dePaola won The Society of Illustrators Lifetime Achievement Award and his extensive interview with Lee Wind on the SCBWI blog reminded me that I still haven't read Tomie's books about his home front experiences during World War II.  He wrote about them in the last four of the eight books that make up his 26 Fairmount Avenue series, subtitled The War Years.

This post probably contains spoilers

In Book 5, Things Will Never Be the Same, begins in January 1941, first-grader Tomie had just received his two best Christmas presents - a Junior Flexible Flyer sled and a diary with a lock and key, and so Book 5 begins with his very first diary entry.  With all the charm, honesty and bluntness of a very precocious and artistic 6 year old, Tomie takes us through the year 1941, diary entry by diary entry.  Each chapter begins with a short diary entry and the rest of the chapter goes into more depth everything that was going on at the time.  And 1941 is an exciting year for Tomie.  Through his diary, Tomie presents a wonderful picture of what life was life in that year preceding America's entry into the war.  Things he writes about include the day to day family life of the dePaola family, and the world of a first grader, for example, learning about President Roosevelt and the March of Dimes, and not being able to swim in the summer because of a Polio scare; the excitement over seeing Disney's Fantasia in the theater, his disappointment over who is second grade teacher is, about his tap dancing lessons which he loves, and of course all the holidays over the course of the year.  But all this changes on December 7, 1941.  Tomie writes in his diary:

As the dePaola's listen, along with the whole country, to the radio announcer talking about the attack on Pearl Harbor, Tomie's mother says to her family, "Things will never be the same."

Unlike Things Will Never Be the Same, which covers a whole yearBook 6, I'm Still Scared, diary entries only cover one month, December 7, 1941 to December 31, 1941, but is is a powerful month for second grader Tomie.  Not quite understanding what has happened and the implications of war, Tomie is a scared little boy and to make matters worse, no one really wants to explain what's going on to him.  Luckily for him, after listening to Roosevelt's speech on the radio, the family go to visit Tomie's grandparents and his grandfather, Tom, takes some time he talk to him about his fears.  But life had indeed changed.  At school, there were air raid drills, and at home, an air raid shelter had to be created in the basement just in case.  And Tomie had to contend with being called the ENEMY because of his Italian heritage.  War was everywhere.  Even at the movies showing a children's feature, the newsreels showed London in the Blitz, and Tomie realized it was the first time he had seen what war was like.  At the end of December, young Tomie is still scared.

Book 7, Why?, begins on January 1, 1942 and runs until April 29, 1942.  In his new diary, Tomie gives more details of his day to day life.  He writes about his excitement about being able to stay up late for New Year's Eve, of going to help in his grandfather's grocery store, and of his first surprise air raid drill at school.  But his real trouble comes when his teacher starts teaching the kids to write in cursive and refused to allow Tomie, a lefty, to hold the pen in a way that worked for him.  And Tomie talks more about his older brother Buddy and how angry/annoyed Buddy gets with him.  But perhaps saddest of all are the entries about his cousin Anthony A/K/A Blackie.  Blackie was a favorite cousin who had joined the Army Air Corps.  Tomie seemed able to adjust to everything involving the war - like rationing and air raid drills - but the news of Blackie's death is just incomprehensible to him.  In the end, he is left asking himself Why?

Book 8, For the Duration, is the final book in the 26 Fairmount Avenue series and begins on May 1, 1942 and runs through... Well, that's hard to say.  It seems that early on, Tomie's diary key disappeared.  While there are not more diary entries, Tomie still talks about his life and in 1942, patriotism is in full swing.  At school, Tomie gets very sad and runs out of the room when the class starts singing the Army Air Corps anthem.  At dancing school. there is a lot so rehearsing for a wonderful recital, but there are also bullies in the schoolyard who take his new tap shoes and start tossing them around.  And there are victory gardens and ration books and helping again in his grandfather's grocery.  Things between Tomie and his brother Buddy get worse and in the end, it is Buddy who has taken the diary key.  But one thing Tomie learns to understand completely is that some things disappear (chewing gum, fireworks) and other thing come into being (war bonds, war stamps), all "for the duration."

The 26 Fairmount Avenue series is an extraordinary group of chapter books recalling Tomie dePaola's early life living in Meridan, Connecticut.  For the most part, they are a series of vignettes told in great detail and include whimsical illustrations by Tomie thoughout the books.   Much of what Tomie writes is funny, charming, sad and so typical of kids that age.  Though I haven't reviewed for first four books here, I would really recommend the whole series to anyone who is a Tomie dePaola fan.  My only gripe is that we are left hanging about Buddy and the diary key.

And if you are a Tomie dePaola fan, be sure to read Lee Wind's interview with him:
Part 1 can be found here
Part 2 can be found here
Part 3 can be found here

These books are recommended for readers age 7+
Things Will Never Be the Same was borrowed from the Children's Center of the NYPL
I'm Still Scared was borrowed from the Yorkville Branch of the NYPL
Why? was borrowed from the Morningside Heights Branch of the NYPL
For the Duration was borrowed from the Bank Street College of Education Library

Nonfiction Monday is hosted this week by Tammy at Apples With Many Seeds

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The 2013 Bank Street Children's Book Committee Awards

Well, this is award season and now that the Newbery's have been selected, I would like to announce the next most important awards (ahem! ahem!).  They are the 2013 Bank Street Children's Book Committee Awards.  Each year the committee awards three awards: one for outstanding fiction, one for outstanding poetry and one for outstanding non-fiction.

And the 2013 winners are:

2013 Josette Frank Award (Fiction) 
Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Ten-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with extreme facial abnormalities and was not expected to survive,  goes from being home-schooled to entering fifth grade at a private middle school in Manhattan, which entails enduring the taunting and fear of his classmates as he struggles to be seen as just another student.

2013 Flora Stieglizt Straus Award (Non-Fiction)
Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport

Twenty-one brilliantly detailed accounts illuminates the defiance of tens of thousands of Jews across eleven Nazi-occupied countries during Word War II. In answer to genocidal madness that was Hitler's Holocaust, the only response they could abide was resistance, and their greatest weapons were courage, ingenuity, the will to survive and the resolve to save others or to die trying.

2013 Claudia Lewis Award (Poetry)
National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs that Speak, Soar, and Roar! Edited by J. Patrick Lewis

Beautiful photography compliments and extends the 200 enchanting poems about animals written by some of your favorite poets, such as Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, our old favorite Anonymous, even Vita Sackville West (who knew!) and of course, our Children's Poet Laureate and editor of this lovely volume, J Patrick Lewis.

Congratulations to the winners!

This post was originally published on my other blog Randomly Reading so if you receive this twice, my apologies.