Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Blitz Next Door by Cathy Forde

For Pete Smeaton, age 10 going on 11, moving from London to Clydebank, Scotland had its good points and its bad ones.  He was sorry to leave a place he knew so well, and his two best mates Simon and Alfie.  On the other hand, in Scotland, Pete has a big bedroom to himself, away from the rest of his family, including baby sister Jenny and her incessant crying.  Not only that, but there's that old WWII Anderson shelter at the end of the garden, just past the bomb crater, perfect to use as his personal den. Now, if only the girl next door would stop crying - except there is no next door, not since WWII when it took a direct hit from a bomb.

But no sooner do Pete and his football-figure collection get to the shelter, then he is confronted by Dunny, who claims the shelter is his.  After a brief showdown, the two boys bond over the football figures and in no time, Pete had a new best mate.  Everything seems to be going well - the house comes with his dad's new job, his dad's boss, Jamie Milligan, loves old rock and rock music as much as Pete does, and he doesn't have to start a new school until after the Easter holiday.  If only the girl next door would stop crying and who is the creepy old lady that is always standing at the bomb crater and doesn't seem to see or hear anyone?

Little by little, with the help of Dunny, Mr. Milligan and his mum, Pete begins to unravel the mystery of the crying girl next door.  No one who has lived in this area in Clydebank seems surprised when they discover that Pete can hear her.  He learns from them that her name is Beth and she lived next door during the war.  On the night of the Clydebank Blitz, Beth was in the Anderson shelter when the bomb hit her side of the house and destroyed it.  A box of treasured items, including her mother's wedding photo got lost in the rubble. Beth's mother was killed in the blitz and she and her father migrated to New Zealand in the 1950s.

Beth is an old woman now, and all she wants is to see the photo of her mother once more, the one in her lost box.  On the anniversary of the Clydebank Blitz, the Anderson shelter becomes a portal that takes Pete back to that terrifying night.  Can he help Beth find her treasure box in the past, so she can die in peace in the present?

The Blitz Next Door is a nice blending of real events with realistic fiction and fantasy.  The story is told in the third person, from Pete's perspective.  He is a clever, sensitive boy, good to both his sister and the girl next door, for all their crying, and brave enough to take risks to help Beth.  The other characters, especially Dunny and Mr. Milligan are also well developed with definite personalities, even Jamie Milligan and Dunny's younger brother Wee Stookie are solid and believable, though Pete's mum and dad as minor characters never really evolve.

The Clydebank Blitz was, indeed, a real event, and happened over the course of two nights, March 13 and 14, 1941.  A total of 560 Luftwaffe bombed the city because of its munitions factories and shipyards, 578 people were killed and many, like Beth, lost their homes.  The Blitz Next Door is a basically a contemporary story and you may wonder, as I did, if there would still be a bomb crater from WWII.  I didn't find one specific to Clydebank, but there actually are still some craters in the area.

This is a story set in Scotland and there is some amount of British slang used.  It won't take long to figure out that footy is soccer, that a stookie is a plaster cast, and that bally doesn't what it sounds like it should mean.  It is actually a substitute for saying ?bloody" which at one time was considered to be an expletive, but isn't really, anymore.

The Blitz Next Door is a compelling story that should appeal to readers who like a mystery and time travel stirred into their contemporary adventure stories, and that explores themes about friendship, family, courage.  This would pair nicely with A Shirtful of Frogs by Shalini Boland.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

It's 1943 and the world is in the throes of WWII.  In the small rural Pennsylvania community where Annabelle, 12, and her family live, things haven't changed that much with the exception of the gold stars in people's windows indicating that they have lost a loved one in the war. 

Years earlier, Toby, a gentle unkempt shell-shocked veteran from WWI, had arrived in Wolf Hallow after returning from the war, taking up residence in an old abandoned smokehouse and isolating himself from society, content to wander the woods surrounding the area to wrestle with his wartime demons.  Occasionally he would gratefully accept food from Annabelle's mother.

Into this mix, comes Betty Glengarry, a 14 year old girl who is sent to her grandparents in the country because she is considered to be "incorrigible," capable of doing harm to whomever she decides is her prey.  She immediately begins bullying Annabelle, and threatening to hurt her if she doesn't give Betty what she wants.  And she carries out her threat, hitting Annabelle on the thigh with a tree branch, when she is only given a penny.  Toby intervenes to help Annabelle and becomes Betty's next victim.  

Betty insists later that she saw Toby throw the rock that hit Annabelle's best friend Ruthie causing her to lose an eye, claiming the rock's real target appeared to be an older German man who had lived in Wolf Hollow for years. But Betty knew she could capitalize on people's renewed anti-German feelings, and Toby's eccentric behavior.  Annabelle knows the truth, but everyone believes Betty. After all, Betty looks like a sweet innocent girl with long blond braids and plaid dresses, while Toby looks like a “crazy” person wearing a long coat, a hat the covers most of his face, long straggly hair and always carrying three guns across his back.  

Betty continues her reign of terror directed at Annabelle, her two younger brothers and Toby, until one day, she goes missing.  And it doesn't take long for the community to point its collective finger at Toby, blaming him for what happens. 

Wolf Hollow is a beautiful and sensitively written, multilayered novel that tackles some really weighty themes.  It is narrated by a now adult Annabelle, looking back over the events of 1943, the distance giving her some understanding of what happened, yet letting the reader see how limited she was in some of her choices and her 12 year-old understanding of what was happening around her.  

I liked the way the author juxtaposed Betty and Toby, both characters suffering from some form of mental illness, she from what appears to be sociopathic behavior, he from PTSD, and challenging the reader to try to understand the moral dilemma that Annabelle faces.    

Lauren Wolk bravely allows the level of cruelty that Betty is capable of, without regret or guilty conscience, to evolve just as she allows Toby's odd dress and behavior to unfold in order to make a very important point about preconceived notions of who is guilty or who is innocent by how they appear.  Wolf Hollow, Annabelle's grandfather explains, is named that because in the old days when everyone was farming, the men would dig a deep hole and once it was full of wolves, they would shot them to keep their community and farms safe. And the question here is just who is the wolf that is threatening Wolf Hollow now?  Toby or Betty?  

This is a novel that becomes darker as the tension builds and there is plenty of tension. Though this is basically a middle grade novel, I would have to caution readers that it is not for all of kids.  There is some violence that just may be too disturbing to more sensitive readers.

Wolf Hollow is a morally complex novel that deals with themes of mental illness, courage, cowardice, and war, and yes, I highly recommend it.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This novel was an EARC, part of which was received from NetGalley

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday - The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero by Patricia McCormick

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that highlights
upcoming releases we can't wait to read.

The Plot to Kill  Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero by Patricia McCormick
HarperCollins, September 13, 2016, 192 pages, age 9+

From Goodreads:

It was April 5, 1943, and the Gestapo would arrive any minute. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had been expecting this day for a long time. He had put his papers in order—and left a few notes specifically for Hitler’s men to see. Two SS agents climbed the stairs and told the boyish-looking Bonhoeffer to come with them. He calmly said good-bye to his parents, put his Bible under his arm, and left. Upstairs there was proof, in his own handwriting, that this quiet young minister was part of a conspiracy to kill Adolf Hitler.

This compelling, brilliantly researched account includes the remarkable discovery that Bonhoeffer was one of the first people to provide evidence to the Allies that Jews were being deported to death camps. It takes readers from his privileged early childhood to the studies and travel that would introduce him to peace activists around the world—eventually putting this gentle, scholarly pacifist on a deadly course to assassinate one of the most ruthless dictators in history. The Plot to Kill Hitler provides fascinating insights into what makes someone stand up for what’s right when no one else is standing with you. It is a question that every generation must answer again and again.

With black-and-white photographs, fascinating sidebars, and thoroughly researched details, this book should be essential reading.

What are you waiting for this week?

Monday, June 13, 2016

We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman

Russell Freedman has written a wonderfully succinct history of the short-lived White Rose resistance movement the formed in Nazi Germany after some friends became disillusioned with the whole National Socialist government and its leader Adolf Hitler.

Freedman highlights the White Rose's history through the lives of siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl.   Hans, once a willing participant in the Hitler Youth and a natural born leader, quickly began to realize that within the youth organization and Germany as a whole, there was no place for anything other than what had been decided by those in power.  Even singing folksongs from other countries around a campfire was met with severe reprimand.

Sophie, three years younger than her brother Hans, was a member of the League of German Girls, a part of the Hitler Youth.  She was also enthusiastic at first, but just like Hans, became disillusioned, especially after seeing some of the treatment the Nazis imposed on people who were not party members, or on Jews.

Disillusionment led to action and soon Hans, now a student at the University of Munich, Sophie and a small group of like-minded student friends were writing and mailing their Leaflets of the White Rose, exposing what they felt was the truth about the Nazi Regime and Adolf Hitler and asking the citizens of Germany to take responsibility and fight them.

The White Rose began distributing their first leaflet in June 1942.  Altogether, six different leaflets were printed and distributed all over Germany by the thousands, so many that the Gestapo began to diligently search for the members of the White Rose.  On February 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie were arrested carrying a suitcase full of leaflets to be distributed and after a short trial, executed on February 23, 1943.

The story of Han and Sophie Scholl and the White Rose is an inspiring one and Freedman has presented it in a sensitive, thought-provoking manner.  I think its real strength lies in the simplicity with which Freedman tells the story of the White Rose, all the while quietly letting the courage, honor, and principles of these valiant dissenters shine through.  He makes clear that opposing Hitler was a dangerous business and that these young idealists were well aware of the danger they faced and died still believing they had done the right thing.

This is an excellent introduction to resistance in the Third Reich and would pair very nicely with Deborah Hopkinson's Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark and/or The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Petersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose for an interesting unit on Resistance vs. Acceptance (remembering the silence is acceptance).

We Will Not Be Silent includes copious photographs, including copies of the Leaflets of the White Rose, with some translation of their content.  Back matter also includes Source Notes, a Select Bibliography of books and films.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss/Above the Treeline

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Wall by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ronald Himler

I was going through my picture books this morning trying to get them a little organized, and I came across The Wall, which I had completely forgotten that I owned.  I wish I remembered it so for Memorial Day, but I didn't so I thought I would write about it today.

On a cool, breezy day, a young boy and his father visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC.  The boys notices that the wall long long, shiny and shaped like a V.  The names on the wall are in straight lines, the "letters march side by side, like rows of soldier."

But this isn't just a sightseeing visit.  The boy and his father are looking for the boy's grandfather.  As they search for his name, the boy sees different people approach the way - a wounded veteran, an elderly couple, a group of school girls - and the different mementos left by friends and family members who are still mourning the loss of the sons, brother, fathers, grandfathers  Meanwhile, the boys father searches for the name of the father he lost when he was the age his son is now.

Finally, there it is - George Munoz.  Son and father make a rubbing of his names, then quietly stand in front of it together, no doubt thinking about what a loss they have suffered.

Because, besides honoring the veterans who lost their lives in the Vietnam War, the wall also reminds us of what a profound loss to family and friends even a single life can be.  And I think Eve Bunting has really captured that so well in this book, as well as what a truly emotional experience visiting the Wall can be, regardless of your feelings about the Vietnam War.

Ronald Himler's quiet impressionistic styled watercolor illustrations and his palette of background grays and semi-colorful foreground figures of visitors and mementos really reflect the somber mood of visiting such a meaningful visit.

I created this blog because I was interested in the impact war has on children effected by it and I think the little boy's last words really epitomize that impact:

"But I'd rather my grandpa here, taking me to the river, telling me to button my jacket because it's cold.
I'd rather have him here."

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was purchased for my personal library


A few years ago, I wrote that when I was too young to understand, I wore a MIA bracelet even though I was too young to understand what it was about.  The name on the bracelet was James W. Grace.  James was born in 1939 in Louisiana and shot down on June 14, 1969, which is, incidentally, flag day, and has been MIA since then.  Eventually, my bracelet fell apart, but with the advent of the Internet, I periodically did a search for James to see if maybe he had made it home.  Sadly, he is still MIA and his name has been listed on the Vietnam Memorial.  Years ago, when I visited it, I did a rubbing just like the father and son in the story:

So it was time to do another search, and I was please to find a photo of James on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall of Faces
James William Grace 1939-1969
And just in case you are wondering what happens to all those mementos left at the wall, it is all explained in this 11 minute video, and trust me, it is well worth the tie it takes to watch.

And as always, 
In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001