Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, illustrated by Chris Connor

It’s 1963, and 10 year-old Charlotte Makepeace has just arrived at boarding school for the first time. After meeting her roommates, and setting up her bed by the window, Charlotte falls asleep that first night, apprehensive about what boarding school will be like. 

The next morning, when she awakens, Charlotte is aware that things are different. Even though the dormitory and bed are the same, the view out the window isn’t. Charlotte has woken up more than 40 years earlier, in 1918, the last year of WWI. Not only that, but she is now called Clare by the other girls, including Clare's younger sister named Emily. No seems to notice that Charlotte isn’t Clare.

That night, Charlotte falls asleep in 1918 and wakes up in 1963, in her original room with her original dorm mates. This nightly switching places with Clare goes on every night for a while. Eventually, Charlotte and Clare start leaving notes for each other to help each other navigate their constantly changing situation. 

Emily knows that Charlotte isn’t Clare and demands to know what is going on. Charlotte can’t explain it, but she does realize it has something to do with the particular bed she and Clare sleep in each night. Then, Charlotte finds out that Clare and Emily will be moving to new lodgings soon and will be walking to school each day. And though Charlotte and Clare make sure they are in their right time for the move, things don’t work out exactly as planned and Charlotte finds herself far from the magic bed that can return her to 1963, where she belongs. 

There were a few things that I really liked about this book. First, the means of time-travel. It is simply a magic bed and occurs while sleeping during the night. To her credit, Farmer never even tries to provide an explanation about how or why it happens, it just does. Sleep and dreams can make anything feel possible, even time-travel. And night is, of course, a time when sleepers dream dreams occur that often make no sense even when they relate to the dreamer’s waking life. 

I also like that Charlotte is so cool and calm on the outside, but on the inside she was a bundle of questions and concerns. And remarkably those questions aren’t necessarily about how and why she keeps waking up in different times so much as they were about her identity. Farmer has written that her intent was to question how… people identify you as you, and how they could accept one person as quite another (assuming the two people look reasonably similar to start with as Charlotte and her 1918 equivalent did)? Boarding school seems to have unsettled Charlotte's sense of who she is on the very first day, causing her ho write her full name on everything, as if to prove she is still really Charlotte Mary Makepeace. Right from the start “she had felt herself to be so many different people, and half of them she did not recognize.” Charlotte, already in an identity flux is an ideal candidate for a little time travel adventure and is easily being perceived as Clare by everyone except Clare’s sister, who naturally would know her better than most.

Interestingly also, the story is related only from Charlotte’s point of view. The reader only knows about Clare from the notes she leaves and from what Emily says about her, leaving me to wonder what the state of her identity was.

A word about WWI. This isn’t a war book per se, but the war does play a part. There is, of course, rationing, blackout curtains are in use, there's an army training camp nearby, and many of the girls are in boarding school because their fathers are fighting in the war, including Clare and Emily’s father.    

I can’t believe that I haven’t read Charlotte Sometimes before now, but somehow it slipped under the radar. It is the kind of book I would have loved as a girl. The style is a bit on the dreamy side, with no big drama anywhere even though major things do happen - like getting stuck in the wrong time period. I’m actually glad I read it after having read lots of Angela Brazil’s book from the same time period, and which the style actually reminded me of. 

Charlotte Sometimes definitely goes on my list of favorite time travel novels and I can honestly give it a high recommend.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book is an EARC of a newly released paperback received from Edelweiss Plus

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Merry Month of May

Well, the merry month of May hasn't been going exactly the way I thought it would.  If you read my other blog, Randomly Reading, then you know why. If not, allow me to explain.

On Thursday, May 4, 2017, at around 12:30 AM, I noticed fire balls dropping from the sky. Not really from the sky, but from the 6th Floor apartment, 4 floors above me. Next thing I knew, there was a fireman in my apartment, who promptly knocked out two of my windows and sent my window air conditioner to the street below. Apparently, fire balls had landed in it and he was afraid of an electrical fire starting in my apartment (which couldn't have happened since it wasn't plugged in).

I've often wondered what I would try to save in the event of a fire and now I know. I tried to save my computer, forgetting that all I had to do was grab the external drive that everything is backed up to. When I couldn't detach the computer from the WiFi router, I had to put in on the floor and leave it to the water that was now pouring from the ceiling. In the end, I rescued my sunglasses, my phone, and purse, oh yes, and myself.

We were allowed back in the building at around 3:00 AM, the Sanitation Department showed up and immediately cleaned the street up, and one fire truck remained for a few more hours to make sure the fire was completely out. The couple in the apartment where the fire began had minor injuries, as did two firemen.
My Workspace on May 5, 2017
In the end, I had water damage in my bedroom/workspace and in my bathroom. I was lucky and I know it. The people on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floor are really in bad shape, as is the 1st floor and of course, the 6th floor apartment is totaled.

My Workspace and Bathroom Ceiling Now
I have to say, I was totally impressed by the speed and efficiency with which the FDNY worked. They've been in the building before to do inspections and a few false alarms, and they have always been so courteous and friendly and that night was no different. The firehouse that serves my neighborhood, FDNY Engine 22, Ladder 13, Battalion 10, is called the Pride of Yorkville and they certainly are.

And the computer I tried to save? Putting it on the floor turned out to be the best thing I could have done. It works just fine, though I can't say the same about the keyboard, which did get pretty wet and is a little on the wonky side right now. If I had left the computer on the desk, it would have been ruined by the water coming down from the ceiling. Last week, I used my cell phone to connect it to the Internet, using the Personal Hotspot, but that eats up your data fast and I don't have that much to begin with, so ultimately, I detached the router, and reattached to the living room cable and got my WiFi up and running again.

Why was my computer so important to me, you might ask? I work at home and have everything on it (which is why I have the external drive and I highly recommend using on of them and then, remembering that you are using it if you find yourself needing to evacuate your home in a hurry.

My temporary workspace, not terribly comfortable, but I'm grateful to have it
It's been an interesting week and a half, but hopefully, I'll be back with new reviews this week. Meanwhile,

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What the Raven Brings (Book 2 of the Ravenmaster Trilogy) by John Owen Theobald

These Dark Wings (Book 1 of the Ravenmaster Trilogy) ended in September 1941. The blitz had been over for a while, but daily life was still hard. Anna Cooper, whose mother was supposedly killed in an air raid, was still living in the Tower of London with her Uncle Henry. Uncle Henry was on the mend after a serious illness. The mystery of the disappearing ravens had been solved, Anna and Timothy Squire became friends, though she can’t forget his forages into bombed homes to see what he could find there. Much to her happiness, Anna received a letter from her best friend Flo that she is returning to England from Canada, where she had been evacuated to during the Blitz. And Anna’s father, a German and a Nazi, was in London and knows where she is.

And so, in May 1942, Book 2 begins. As the war continues, Uncle Henry, Anna’s guardian, has passed away and left Anna in the care of Yeoman Oakes, much to her chagrin. Uncle Henry’s dying wish was that Anna, who is now 15, be the new Ravenmaster, but the Tower of London authorities refused to let a female do a traditionally male job, no matter how good she is at it, and so it is given to Yeoman Stackhouse, who has absolutely not interest in the ravens, or in the legend that there must always be six ravens in the Tower of London or the monarchy and Britain will fall. Instead, it is recommended that Anna work at as a canteen girl (with NAAFI or Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes). 

Meanwhile, Timothy Squire is up in Scotland learning how to be a sapper, a soldier who builds and repairs roads and bridges, lays mines, and who sometimes defuses bombs. Unfortunately, Timothy and his partner Arthur Lightfoot are not very good sappers and find themselves back in London, working on the docks. 

With Timothy home and helping out with the ravens, it’s time for Anna to leave the Tower and do something useful. With forged papers, Anna joins the WAAF or Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. But her career in the WAAF is short-lived when she proves herself to be pretty incompetent at everything. But luckily, a RAF pilot takes her for a ride in a plane, and next thing Anna knows, she’s being sent to the ATA, or Air Transport Auxiliary. There, Anna learns to fly and begins ferrying planes around Britain wherever they are needed.

But while Anna is finding her place in the war, she is also growing up and finding herself attracted to the opposite sex, and trying to cope with new feelings of jealousy. And the truth about what really happened to her father, and her mother’s death, still continues haunts her, coming up in her thoughts and memories until the realization of what really happened suddenly hits Anna. But it is Timothy, given a second chance at becoming a sapper, who may have the answer to what Anna’s father wants from her and why he hasn't returned to Germany.. But is Timothy willing to risk everything, including losing Anna, to stop him? And what does her father have to do with Hitler’s newest weapon the V1 bomb, his Vengeance bomb?

We all know that sometimes a second book just doesn't live up the promise of the first book, but that is really not the case with What the Raven Brings. Less focused on life in London and in particular, the Tower of London, Anna life has really broadened out, even if she did have for get Yeoman Oakes to forge some papers for her.  

Consequently, Theobald has given us a very interesting, exciting coming of age novel, one that takes Anna into young adulthood and he has captured all the mixed emotions that a girl her age might experience. For example, Anna is jealous when she thinks that Timothy is interested in Flo, but finds herself somewhat attracted to an RAF pilot. And although she loves flying, Anna is afraid to take control of a plane alone, at least until she does it.  I actually liked this book better than the first one, which I also enjoyed. I just feel that Anna and Timothy have much more depth to them as characters.

But Theobald has also given us a window into what the war was like on the home front. The hardships people faced and how they dealt with life under seize. I thought the part where Timothy gets caught up in a mad crush of people trying to get into a tube station during an air raid was particularly poignant, demonstrating how really desperate people can get under stress. It is sadly based on a true event, the wartime disaster at Bethnal Green Tube Station in which 173 people were crushed to death. Timothy, needless to say, clearly suffers from PTSD afterward.

Another nice touch is the way Theobald included American women pilots who were in the ATA with Anna. Joy, the African American pilot who teaches Anna how to fly and becomes her friend, points to the fact the women of color could not fly for the US now that America has entered the war, but were welcomed in the ATA, along with other Americans. 

If you are looking for an exciting, honest multi-faceted wartime MG/YA book, What the Raven Brings may be just the ticket. It thoughtfully explores themes of friendship, loyalty, courage and fear during times of great difficulty and danger. 

Now, I am really looking forward to reading the last book in the Ravenmaster trilogy when it comes out.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Head of Zeus

I have included links to Wikipedia articles in this review about things that young readers may not be familiar with.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Among the Red Stars, a Novel by Gwen C. Katz

Waiting on Wednesday was a meme begun by Jill at Breaking the Spine that highlights
upcoming releases we can't wait to read, and although she no longer hosts this meme, many continue
to post Waiting on Wednesdays

My Waiting on Wednesday pick this week is:

Among the Red Stars, a Novel by Gwen C. Katz
Harper Teen, October 3, 2017, 384 pages

From Goodreads:
World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines. 

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.

Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.

What are you looking forward to reading?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Across the Blue Pacific by Louise Borden, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker

It's the winter of 1943, when Molly Crenshaw is in second grade and her next door neighbor, Ted Walker, finishes submarine training and comes home on leave. Molly and her younger brother Sam just want to hang around all day with their real-life hero, after all, who else could help them build a naval snowman or show them how to spit shine their Sunday-best shoes.

Then, in March Ted receives his orders and learns he is heading to the war in the Pacific on a submarine called the USS Albacore. Molly and Sam begin to write weekly letters to Ted, letters that always include a drawing of the Walker's dog, Buttons. During the summer, they hang around Mrs. Walker's porch, listening to the radio. When school begins again, Molly's third grade year just flies by.

In September, 1944, Molly's fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Linsay and a few students paint a world map on one the walls of the school, including every country and all the islands in the Pacific. The map helped Molly imagine where and what Ted might be up to on that small submarine in the so, so large Pacific Ocean.

Then, two days before Christmas, Molly and Sam notice a lot of black cars parked in Mrs. Walker's driveway. Ted's Uncle Will tells them the sad news that the USS Albacore never returned from its last patrol and now, Ted is MIA- Missing in Action.

The days immediately after receiving this news drag by, but eventually life, though now different, returns to a steadier routine. Suddenly, remembering everything about Ted becomes an important memory to keep. The war finally ends in August 1945, Molly begins fifth grade, but looking at the world map still on the school wall, she begins to think about all those soldiers on both sides of the war, ally and enemy, who didn't come home, just as Ted didn't, and how stories of those other lost loved ones are passed down, "in different ways and in different voices/from family to family,/and from neighbor to friend.../the stories/that are important enough to keep.

Across the Blue Pacific is basically a home front story, told from Molly's point of view, and looking back as a adult to those intense years when the war became a reality for her in the figure of Ted Walker. It is told in Borden's well-crafted, sensitive free-verse, a style she has mastered so that Molly's story never loses its sense of poignancy and thoughtful introspection.

Parker's ink and watercolor illustrations alternate between Molly's life at home and Ted life on the submarine, and are done in a subdued, loose-line style that distances the reader (along with Molly) from the war years, but also gives those years a real sense of unsteadiness.

Across the Blue Pacific is a story that has its roots in reality, as you will discover when you read Borden's Author's Note. The real Ted Walker was an uncle whom Borden never knew, an executive officer aboard the USS Albacore. Do read the Note if you want to find out what happened to the submarine, according to the US Navy.

Across the Blue Pacific is a picture book for older readers that deals with the impact of war, loss, and grief on the life of a young girl in elementary school, and the importance of memory to keep those lost alive in our thoughts.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Night Witches: A Novel of World War II by Kathryn Lasky

It 1941, and the Nazi have just begun Operation Barbarossa, their invasion of Russia. Nazi soldier have surrounded Stalingrad on three sides (the fourth side is the Volga River), making it impossible for people and supplies to get in or out of the city. After her mother was killed by a Nazi sniper, Valentina Petrovna Baskova, or Valya, 16, sees no reason for not joining her sister Tatyana as a Night Witch, a fighter pilot with the 588th Regiment. Her father, a pilot, hasn't been heard from since he left to fight, and is MIA.

With the help of Yuri, an old classmate now turned Russian sniper, Valya sets off for the river where ferries are rumored to be taking people across in the morning. Unfortunately, so many people are fleeing Stalingrad, that Valya is unable to get on the ferry, and ends up unwillingly manning antiaircraft guns in Trench 301 run by another school friend, Anna.

Valya is stuck fighting in the Trench 301, always looking up into the night sky and wondering if one the Night Witches she sees could be her sister, making her long to be part of it all the more. But no one in the Trench 301 really believes a 16 year old can fly a plane. Finally, it is again rumored that civilians will be allowed to cross it. Valya makes it to the docks, but just as she is about to board, Yuri shows up and pulls her away, saving her life.

It's in the dead of winter that Valya finally makes it across the frozen river, escorted by Yuri, who seems to know exactly where the secreted 588th Regiment is located. At last, Valya makes it to Night Witches, and finds her sister Tatyana. And despite all she has already been through, her real adventure as a Night Witch has only just begun.

Night Witches is a pretty exciting, fast-paced story with perhaps a little poetic license.  Valya is a strong female main character, who exhibits plenty of level-headed self-confidence even in a dangerous situation, yet retains the impulsiveness of her age.  I have to admit, however, her jealousy and the way she constantly compared herself to her older sister annoyed me (um, too close to home, perhaps?). Still, the very strong bond between the sisters which becomes all the more evident when Tatyana's plane is shot down and Valya refuses to believe she could be dead and vows to find her.

The story of the Night Witches is not a familiar story to today's readers, and Lasky's book certainly has a great deal of appeal going for it. Since most WWII books for young readers focus on the home front, the war in European theater, and to a lesser extent, the war in the Pacific theater, Lasky has included some information as part of the narrative to give readers some sense of context. But, the use of female fighter pilots was such an unusual phenomenon in WWII, that I would have liked Back Matter with some addition information about the Night Witches and perhaps suggestions for further reading.

While there is some strong language, and some of the fighting is a bit graphic, especially while Valya is fighting in Trench 301, it isn't overly done. My first introduction to Russia's women pilots was in an old book called Comrades of the Air (1942) by Dorothy Carter, a story about a female pilot in the ATA who ferries a plane to Russia, so it is nice to read a book from a Russian perspective.

Did you think that Valya was too young to fly? Here is an interesting article about Russia's Night Witches from The Atlantic magazine about the real women pilots who actually did range in age from 17 to 26.

I really enjoyed this book but one thing bothered me. At some point, Valya refers to the popular slogan in England "Keep Calm and Carry On." This was one of three posters the government issued to boost morale. But it was only supposed to be used in case of invasion, which never happened. For more about this, see my post of 2012 Keep Calm and (fill in the blank).

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss/Above the Treeline

Since Night Witches is a YA novel, may I recommend a work of nonfiction as a two supplements to those interested in these brave pilots that were recommended to me by Gwen Katz, author of the upcoming novel Among the Red Stars (also about the Night Witches. They are A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in WWII by Anne Noggle, published by Texas A&M University Press, 1994, 2007; and Wings, Women, and War: Soviet Airwomen in World War II Combat by Reina Pennington, University Press of Kansas, 2007.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Bloodlines: Heart of War by M. Zachary Sherman

Bloodlines: Heart of War is the story of the Donovans, an American family, and consists of eight stories that cover four generations of that family as they serve in five different American wars.

Each story followers one family member at a particular time in the war they are fighting in, beginning with WWII and Private First Class Michael Donovan, a parachutist in the U.S. Army 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment AKA Dog Company. Donovan parachutes behind enemy lines in France, in order to help secure a base of operations in preparation for the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France. Of course, nothing is as easy as it sounds, and Donovan lands without his equipment bag, no weapon, and a German patrol passing by. And his story just gets scarier and more dangerous from there, but ultimately, courage and determination guide his actions to the end of the mission.

The second story is also set in WWII and is an exciting saboteur tale. Michael Donovan’s brother, First Lieutenant Aaron Donovan is part of the U.S. Army’s Office of Strategic Services. His mission is to board a German submarine located in Gilleleje, Denmark, sabotage it so that the Germans will have to evacuate the sub, and while that is happening, Donovan and his companion are to steal the new codebooks for decoding the latest Enigma codes. It’s a daring mission, not everything goes a planned, but again Donovan strength and courage win the day.

A third Donovan brother is a U.S. Marine Captain Everett Donovan during the Korean War. Captain Donovan finds himself the only survivor of…what? He couldn’t remember, but he can figure out that he is in North Korea and the temperature is 35° below zero. With the bayonet of a Korean sniper aimed at him, Donovan suddenly remembers his mission - he and his Counterintelligence Marines were supposed to scout the area known as Toktong Pass, making sure it is clear for U.S. and U.N. Forces to advance through in the morning. But this Korean sniper had a real surprise for Captain Donovan.

In this fourth story, we meet the Donovan brothers cousin, Private First Class Tony Donovan of the U.S. Army’s 249th Engineer Battalion, who is also stationed in Korea. When a C-119 cargo plane crashes behind enemy with Donovan and his men on it, they know they had to get out of that area and back to safety as quickly a possible. But first they had to try and repair a jeep they were carrying. And even at that, getting back to safety provea to be a dangerous trek, especially when a North Korean tank gets the jeep full of soldiers in it’s sights. How will they ever survive a hit from a tank?

Next is the story of Everett Donovan’s son, Lieutenant Verner Donovan, Everett’s son, a pilot in the VF-96 “Fighting Falcons” Squadron, part of the U.S. Navy. Verner, known as the “Candy Man” because of his fondness for chocolate, is stationed on a aircraft carrier in Vietnam. When he and his RIO (radio intercept officer) Blem receive a radio transmission from Marine recon unit Razor Two requesting air support after having stumbled into a Vietcong training camp, the two men spring into action. Locating the Marines, they soon discover they aren’t the only ones in the air - so are the enemy and the two men are forced to parachute out of the plane. Now, it is the Candy Man and Blem who need help. Will they make it out of the Vietcong jungle? 

Also in Vietnam is Captain Anne Donovan, a U.S. Army nurse, and Verner’s sister.  Finding herself in a M.A.S.H. unit, providing medical care to badly wounded and dying soldiers, Anne has something to prove - that she has what it takes to be a doctor some day. When she finds herself assisting a doctor during the Battle of Hamburger Hill, she learns the most valuable lesson of all - how to keep her emotions distanced from the carnage all around her in order to be strong for the soldiers who need her.

Lieutenant Commander Lester Donovan, Verner’s son and Anne’s nephew, is a U.S. Navy Seal stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Lester was a by-the-book officer, but the men he commanded wanted to see a little flexibility when needed. When the helicopter carrying Lester, his men and a Taliban prisoner is shot out of the sky, Donovan knows he has a difficult  choice to make - obey orders or defy them and search for his two missing men, taken prisoner by the Taliban and hidden in a dark cave. But which cave? There are so many used by the Taliban. 

This last story also features Lieutenant Commander Lester Donovan, now serving in Iraq. Based on information given to them by Iraqi Police Chief Hakedam, a supporter of Saddam Hussein’s old ruling party, Donovan, two of his men and a CIA agent hope to capture a black marketer and terrorist, Abdul Kasieem, whose stronghold is camouflaged as a goat farm near the Syrian border, and which contains an underground bunker loaded with weapons. But has the Police Chief played the Americans so that they would get rid of Kasieem and he, Hakedam, could be the only black marketer in town? 

Bloodlines: Hear of War is a very well-done collection of short stories for middle grade readers, many of who really like these types of military tales. There are lots of details about the conflicts that the Donovans find themselves fighting in, but they are not terribly graphic, though they are realistic. And even though I’m not a fan of combat stories, I did find them somewhat interesting. I like the way the author connected the family to each other in the stories. I know there are lots of military families like the Donovans, who will also find this and interesting book. 

There not much background as to what each war is about within the stories, however, there is a brief description of each of these U.S. Military Conflicts at the back of the book. I would have liked to see suggestions for further reading as well, but I did read an ARC so many the finished book has these things. Maybe kids who read and enjoy Bloodlines: Heart of War will be inspired to seek out more information about each conflict on their own.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Genevieve's War by Patricia Reilly Giff

French American Genevieve Michel, 13, and her older brother André have been spending the summer of 1939 visiting their rather cold, judgmental grandmother, Mémé, helping out on her farm in Alsace, close to the Germany border.

Now, at the end of summer, André has already returned to the States and Genevieve is set to leave on Normandie, on what may well have been the last passenger ship leaving France before the expected invasion of France by Germany. But at the last minute, Genevieve decides to remain with her grandmother. In September, war is declared, and in June, the Germans do indeed invade France.

Suddenly, everything changes. The are German soldiers everywhere and everyone’s farm animals and food supplies are confiscated. Luckily, Mémé has a secret pantry where she and Genevieve move most of their jars of food. The teacher at school is replaced by a new Nazi teachers, and the French names of the students are changed to German names (Genevieve becomes Gerta), and French is outlawed, only German may be spoken at all times, French books are publicly burned, and a German officer is billeted on the farm, enjoying what little food there is, and complaining about the scarce heat.

Genevieve believes her brother has safely returned to the United States, but when she notices a sweater of his at the village book shop, she becomes suspicious of the owner, Monsieur Philippe, and decides he is not to be trusted, even though Mémé tells her she is wrong. But when the train station is sabotaged, and Genevieve learns that Rémy, a boy she likes very much, is a Resistance fighter and missing since the station was blown up, she has to turn to the bookseller for help. Can she really trust him?

Soon, she finds herself hiding Rémy from the Nazis in Mémé attic. Genevieve and even her grandmother becomes part of the local Resistance, doing what they can. Mémé has always told her granddaughter not to trust anyone, not even her best friend Katrin, but Genevieve’s a naïve, impulsive girl who always thinks she knows better. And Genevieve has to learn the hard way that people are often not who they seem to be, and friends may betray friends, while perceived enemies may turn out to be friends after all.

Until now, I have only read two of Giff’s WWII books, both of which take place on the home front, so this was a change for me. But just as she did in Willow Run and Gingersnap, Giff managed captured what life was life - this time in an occupied country. All the realities of war are there: the constant fear, the constant hunger, the winter cold, the always present mistrust, and especially the presence of an enemy who will not hesitate to use their force or weapons to get what they want. And although Genevieve constantly thinks about what life would be like in Springfield Gardens, Queens if she had gone home, but to her credit, she never regrets her choice to stay with her grandmother in Alsace.

Genevieve's War is told in the first person, narrated by Genevieve so everything is filtered through her experiences. I especially liked seeing her opinion with her grandmother changed over time, as well as how Mémé's judgement of her granddaughter changed. Over the course of the war, Genevieve transforms into a capable, thoughtful young woman who comes to appreciate her grandmother, learns about her deceased father whom she never knew, and discovers a love for farm life. 

Genevieve's War is a thought-provoking novel that explores the themes of courage, defiance, and loyalty in times of peril that still manages to carry a note of hope throughout.

An Educator's Guide for Genevieve's War is available to download from the publisher, Holiday House.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fly, Cher Ami, Fly! The Pigeon Who Save the Lost Battalion by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Robert MacKenzie

During World War I, carrier pigeons were frequently used by the army to deliver important messages because of their innate ability to find their way home, even if it means flying over ground combat and going great distances. For one lost battalion, it was a matter of life and death.

In 1918, a battalion of the US infantry was fighting in France, surrounded by the enemy, when their radio communications went out. No one knew where these soldiers were located to send help and rescue them. There was only one chance to save themselves - send a message back home, attached to the leg of their last carrier pigeon, Cher Ami.

Flying through gun fire aimed at him by a German soldier, Cher Ami managed to avoid being hit and kept flying. Even when the Germans send a hawk after the pigeon, he managed to fly at the sun and blind the hawk just before it could sink its talons into the pigeon.

Arriving at the army's base in England, Cher Ami delivers his message, and as the army prepared to rescue their fellow soldiers, Cher Ami found his nice comfortable nest for a hard earned rest and a job well done.
The message Cher Ami carried that saved the Lost Battalion
There are lots of versions of Cher Ami's story out there, but this one is aimed at young readers who probably don't know a lot about war in general, and WWI in particular. And it really doesn't give much information about war, nor is much needed. What this book does do is give kids a nice, age appropriate fiction biography of one famous heroic carrier pigeon and highlights the importance of the role they played for helping soldiers in dangerous situations (although they did more than what this story shows).

Burleigh doesn't give details about the battle that the battalion was involved in, not does he give names to any of the soldiers. This is definitely Cher Ami's story. Cher Ami's tale is complimented by the realistic illustrations of Robert MacKenzie, which are done in a palette of mainly browns and burnt oranges for the battlefield and dull smoky blue for the sky, presumable from all the weapons being shot.

I do have one problem with this fictional bio. We see Cher Ami being shot at, but the reader is not told that he is hurt. Cher Ami was actually seriously wounded on this trip, which proved to be his last. He didn't die, but one of his legs was badly hurt, so doctors fashioned him a wooden prosthetic leg to replace the injured leg. I would have like to see this within the story, not pushed in an Afterword at the end of the book.

As a book about carrier pigeons and what they are capable of, Fly, Cher Ami, Fly! would be an excellent teaching tool. It would also be useful as part of a WWI unit, but not as a primary resource.

A Cher Ami Coloring Book is available to download for free at the Home of Heroes, where you can also read more about the Lost Battalion of WWI

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Adrift at Sea: A Vietnam Boy's Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, art by Brian Deines

The plight of refugees have been in the news a lot these days because of the war in Syria. As more and more borders are closed to them, it might be a good time to remember another group of refugees who arrived on North America's shores and have contributed so much to their adopted country.

When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, and the communist government took over South Vietnam, daily life became so difficult and unbearable that families were willing to risk escaping their country in rickety boats not made for long sea voyages. But these boats were the only way out, unless you were rich.

In the Ho family, six year-old Tuan's father and older sister Linh were had escaped Vietnam in 1980 and made their way to Canada. Now, in 1981, it is Tuan's time to escape with this mother and two sisters, Lan, 9. and Loan, 10. His youngest sister Van, 4, would  have to be left behind for now. She is just too young for the trip. No one, not even the neighbors must know what Tuan and his family are up one dark night as they sneak out of the house.

Their journey to freedom begins after a truck drops them off close to the water's edge. Running for their lives, dodging soldiers and their gun fire, they are picked up in a skiff. Still dodging bullets, the overcrowded skiff takes them to a fishing boats further out in the sea.

It is hot and humid and there isn't much drinking water. When the boat springs a leak, Tuan's mother and aunt help bail out the water as quickly as they can. On the third day, the boat's engine dies and the refugees find themselves adrift on the huge and unpredictable Pacific Ocean. One day six, an American aircraft carrier is spotted and the refugees are welcomed aboard.

The Ho family, we learn, survives they harrowing ordeal, and are reunited with Tuan's father and sister in Canada. And yes, Van and her grandmother both arrive in Canada in 1985, safe and sound.

Adrift at Sea is told from Tuan's point of view, and aimed at readers about the same age as he was when he escaped Vietnam. Such a young narrator may not capture the truly difficult and risky trip in the kind of detail a book for older readers might, but he still very clearly depicts the fear, the hot sun, lack of water, and relief at being rescued at an age appropriate level that any young reader will be able understand.

Skrypuch has included a number photos of the Ho family, both in Vietnam and in Canada. She has also included a brief history of the "boat people" as the refugees came to be called. The refugees faced not only the kinds of problems that the Ho family dealt with, but there were storms, pirates and always the threat of dying of thirst and hunger, and sometimes, they found that they were not welcomed everywhere.

Using a color palette mainly of oranges, yellows and blues, Deines's highly textured oil on canvas illustrations capture all the secrecy, fear, and perils, all wrapped up in the dangerously hazy, hot, and humid weather that these refugees faced in their desire for freedom and a better life.

Adrift at Sea is a powerful historical nonfiction story that can certainly help shed light on events of the past that share a similarity to those that are happening in the world today.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Pajama Press

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Queen's Accomplice ( A Maggie Hope Mystery #6) by Susan Elia MacNeal

It's 1942 and Maggie is back in London after her trip with the Prime Minister to meet with President Roosevelt. She's working in an SOE (Special Operations Executive) office on Baker Street, and is understandably surprised one night when she learns that her friends have fixed up the house she inherited from a grandmother she didn't even know she had. When her old collage friend shows up after her home blows up, Maggie is glad for the company - it's a house that holds some bad memories for Maggie.

On her job, Maggie is dealing with a misogynist boss who couldn't be more dismissive of her constant appeals for equal pay for the young women who are trained operatives and being sent into enemy territory or benefits for their families should anything happen to them. When it appears that an agent in France may be compromised, Maggie can't even get him understand her seriousness of the situation. Heck, she can't even get him to call her by her actual name. Apparently, the only use "Meggie" has is to fetch him his cuppa.

And, just as Londoners begin enjoying a bit of a break from the nightly bombing by the German Luftwaffe, under cover of the intense blackout conditions a mad man, dubbed the Blackout Beast by the newspapers, emerges who begins imitating the murders of Jack the Ripper and targeting the young women who are working for the SOE. These are women in London for a short time before beings sent overseas and their unfamiliarity with their surroundings and having no friends or family nearby makes them particularly vulnerable. Readers will certainly be surprised when they discover how this new Jack is able to overcome these trained agents so easily.

Because all the victims are SOE agents, Maggie gets sent to Scotland Yard to work with Detective Chief Inspector James Durgin, who also seems a bit of a misogynist at first and not at all happy about working with a female MI-5 operative. Working together, Maggie begins to see a mathematical pattern emerging as they investigate the murders, while DCI Durgin prefers to rely on his gut feeling. As the two get closer to solving the crime, they begin to appreciate each others methods a little bit more...and maybe even each other.

If you have been reading Maggie Hope mysteries as I have been, you know that by now it is a little like visiting an old friend. We know all about her friends, her boyfriends, her family history. And yet the novels never feel stale. In The Queen's Accomplice, Maggie's college friend Sarah, a dancer by profession, and her old boyfriend Hugh Thompson, are about to be sent to France as SOE operatives, passing themselves off as a married couple. Her old boyfriend John Sterling is still in California, working for Disney creating wartime propaganda. Maggie believes her mother, Clara Hess, a German and a high level Nazi supporter, and whom she never knew until the war, is dead. And her newly discovered German half sister Elise Hess had been sent to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, but Maggie is now excitedly expecting her in London.

The Queen's Accomplice seemed like perfect book to read during Women's History Month, since MacNeal really highlights some of the difficulties women doing war work encountered back then. The parochial attitudes will no doubt resonate with some readers in today's new world.

And I was very happy to see MacNeal's reference to Lion Feuchtwanger's 1925 novel Jud Süß which is a formidable counter to the horrible, anti-Semitic movie made by the Nazis.

There is lots going on in her life, but Maggie Hope is a cozy mystery reader's delight.

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Seeking Refuge: a graphic novel by Irene N. Watts, illustrated by Kathryn E. Shoemaker

Back in 2014, I read and reviewed a trilogy by Irene N. Watts called Escape from Berlin. The first book, Good-bye, Marianne, tells the story of Marianne Kohn, 11, a young Jewish girl living in Berlin, with her mother. Her father has been missing since before Kristallnacht and her mother is working in an orphanage. It was through her work there that Marianne was able to secure a last minute place on the Kindertransport.

Seeking Refuge is the graphic form of the second book in the trilogy, which is called Remember Me, and picks up where Good-bye, Marianne leaves off.  Marianne has just arrived in London, where she is sent to live with the very wealthy and very snobbish Mr. and Mrs. Abercrombie Jones. Mrs. Abercrombie Jones immediately changes her name to Marianne* to Mary Ann, gives her a small room in the servants quarters and has her helping out around the house. Luckily, Marianne is allowed to go to school where she makes a friend named Bridget O'Malley. But when the two girls come up with a plan to find a someone who will sponsor Marianne's mother so she can also leave Germany for England, Mrs. Abercrombie Jones finds out and puts a stop to it, angry that she has been humiliated in front of her friends. Once the war begins, however, Marianne is evacuated out of London with the rest of her school and away from the Mrs. Abercrombie Jones.

From London, Marianne finds herself in Wales, but has a hard time finding a family that wants her. Finally, she finds herself in the home of a couple who have recently lost their daughter and expect Marianne to take her place - almost literally. When that doesn't work out, she is taken to another place, where she is met with a wonderful surprise.

I am a big fan of graphic novels. They are very appealing to reluctant readers and can be used in classrooms to supplement social studies classes. They are fast to read and don't require the kind of time as would a novel. Of course, that means that the graphic novel has to be done well, since it must convey the same information as a novel using a combination of words and illustration.

For that reason, I was very apprehensive about recommending Seeking Refuge at first. Even though I had read the novel, I was a little lost. I think I was a little put off by the fact that the illustrations are done in shades of gray and white, and that there is absolutely no other colors throughout. Ironically, for years whenever I thought about Nazi Germany and WWII, I thought about it in shades of gray. as though the sun never shone throughout the war and the Holocaust. Yet, the more I thought about what I was reading, the more I realized that here was a graphic novel that had actually succeeded in getting the story across and that the illustrations were perfect for the subject matter.

Both Watts and Shoemaker have created a story that really manages to convey the fear, the tension, the unease of a refugee arriving in a country where she is not really welcomed by everyone, and even looked down on by some. No one takes into consideration how a 11 year old girl might feel having just left her family behind in a dangerous place, never knowing if she will see them again, knowing no one in the foreign country that she was sent to for safety and not really understanding the language that well. It's pretty daunting, when you think about it. And hopefully, this is a book that will get young readers thinking, particularly in a time when we are seeing refugees seeking a safe place only to have the welcome mat pulled out from under them.

I did discover that an earlier graphic novel was published some years ago that tells the first story in the Escape from Berlin trilogy called Goodbye, Marianne which I know is still available but I haven't read it yet. I did think that Seeking Refuge stands on its own, but I would like to read the first graphic novel someday.

The book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

*In German, the final e has a soft uh sound, as in Emma

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Mitchells: Five for Victory by Hilda van Stockum

It is July, 1943 and John Mitchell, father of the five Mitchell children and an electrical engineer, has just left from Union Station in Washington, D.C. to join his ship.

Back home, the three older Mitchell children, Joan, 10 1/2, Patsy, 8, Peter, 6, along with two friends decide to form the Five for Victory Club to help with the war effort. The purpose of the club is to help people who need it, to collect scrap and bottles, to help in their mother's victory garden, and even to do some babysitting. Anything they earn pays for stamp to paste in their V for Victory Bond book and eventually to exchange that for a bond. And the children believe they have found the perfect place to hold their club meetings - a small playhouse in the yard of an empty house they call the 'white elephant.'

No sooner do they get the playhouse all set up, however, than a mother, Mrs. Trotter, and her son, Henry, 12 and a bully, move in the house, and the first thing Henry does is kick them out of the playhouse.

Meanwhile, their mother, Rita Mitchell, has decided to rent a room for some extra income. The first woman, Mrs. Merryvale, to move in doesn't last long. She may have written a book about how to discipline children, but in fact, she doesn't really seem to like them very much and the Mitchells are way to unruly for her. Her leaving, however, is based on a complete misunderstanding which is because of a very funny misunderstanding.

The next boarder is a businessman named Mr. Spencer. Mr. Spencer believes he has lost his daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter in the bombing of Rotterdam (Holland) in 1940, although he never had any official word about that. Luckily, he really likes the Mitchell children, especially Angela, age 3.

And it turns out that Mrs. Trotter has a young refugee girl named Una, who is about 8 years old, living with her beside her son Henry. Henry doesn't much care for Una and delights in tormenting her whenever he can. When the Mitchel children discover Una, they all become instant friends.

There is one other subplot concerning Lieutenant Mitchell's admonishing to his family NOT to get a pet while he is away. Well, you can certainly guess what happens there.

The Mitchells: Five for Victory was written in 1945 as the war was coming to an end.  In the novel, Hilda van Stockum has created a charming look at everyday life on the home front and peopled it with an endearing, lively family. The book takes place over the course of one year and there are three generations living under one roof, Grannie (and Mr. Spencer), mother and the five children, so you know that there are lots of antics as well as ups and downs.

We hear a lot about refugees these days, and I think the story of Una will resonate with today's young readers. Van Stockum has really captured the trauma of a child who has lost her family in the war, and who was shuffled from country to country by people whose language she didn't understand, until she reached the United States, to be fostered by Mrs. Trotter. One particularly poignant scene takes place in a movie theater, where Una is left alone to watch a film while Mrs. Trotter and Henry shop for clothes for him. The movie she's left at is Journey for Margaret, a film about a young girl who has been traumatized by the Blitz. Judging by Una's reaction to the movie, it is clear that van Stockum had a very good understanding of how she felt.

Today's readers may find it odd that the children have so much freedom, but that was how it was back in those days. They may also find a few things a little outdated, like the children calling an escalator the moving stairs, but none of that detracts from the novel, in fact it really serves to give it a feeling a authenticity and charm. And yes, I find the van Stockum is a master at giving each of her characters just enough quirky characteristics to make them interesting, but still believable.

The Mitchells: Five for Victory is the second WWII novel by Hilda van Stockum I've read (The Winged Watchman was the first) and I have to say, they are as different from each other as possible and yet both are really interesting stories. I understand there is a third one called The Borrowed House that takes place in van Stockum's homeland, Holland, that I would like to read.

Should you fall in love with the Mitchell family as I did, you will be happy to know that their adventures continue in two more books that take place after the war is over. They are Canadian Summer and Friendly Gables.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by Boissevain Books

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Secret Project by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Jeanette Winter

A quiet remote boys school located in the New Mexican desert suddenly receives a letter telling them that the school must evacuate the area immediately. The letter goes to explain that the school is needed for important government work.

With the school gone, the location becomes a secret, with no name or other identification. Soon, cars begin to arrive carrying scientists from all other the world, followed by other workers who are sworn to secrecy.

The scientists begin working, hoping to cut the atom, the smallest particle in the world, in half. But why? All the reader knows is that they are working on something called the Gadget, a thing that requires a lot of mathematical calculation in order to create something gigantic out of something tiny. And it is a race to get it finished before anyone else in the world does.

At the same time that the scientists are shut away in the former school building working day and night, outside ordinary desert life goes on. Until one day, the scientist pack up their Gadget and drive out to an even more deserted part of the desert. They carefully unload their project, drive away to a safe bunker in the ground, and start counting down. Suddenly, the biggest man-made blast the world had ever known fills the sky. The atomic bomb has been unleashed.

The Secret Project is a very compelling, very powerful picture books about the creation of the atomic bomb. It is never referred to by its name, the Manhattan Project, or its exact location, the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, nor are any of the scientists who worked on it named. This kind of ambiguity, not explaining what is going on, only makes the secret project feel that much more secret, sustaining the suspense of what is going on, and also adding a rather sinister tone to the over all story. Outside the building, the desert remains peaceful and serene, providing an interesting contrast to the work inside the building. The reader sees a Hopi Indian carving a Kachina doll, an unnamed artist, probably Georgia O'Keefe, painting a desert scene, and desert animals going about their business. It is a contrast that is only fully realized at the end of the book.

Author Jonah Winter has once again collaborated with his mother, illustrator Jeanette Winter, on this book. Illustrations and text compliment each other in their straightforward simplicity. The digitally rendered images are a contrast of light, bright colors reflecting the hot sunny desert, and the dark, shadowing grays inside the former school, testimony of the clandestine work going on inside.

The Secret Project is an excellent way to introduce children to the difficult topic of the atomic bomb, and, unfortunately, a book that resonates in today's world of nuclear weapons.

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

An Eagle in the Snow by Michael Morpurgo

After spending the night in a shelter, Barney, 10, and his mother return home to find their house on Mulberry Street reduced to rubble, as result of the bombing of Coventry. Even knowing all was lost, Barney tries to look through the remains to find his beloved toy trains, but it stopped by a Civil Defense Warden.

Realizing that all has been lost, Barney's mother decides to relocate to Cornwall, spending the rest of the war living with her sister. Barney's dad is away in the army, stationed in Africa with the Royal Engineers. Taking the 11:50 train to London, mother and son are soon joined in their compartment by a stranger. But almost immediately, Barney realizes that the man looks very familiar. Sure enough, the stranger is none other than the Civil Defense Warden who had carried Barney out of the rubble of his destroyed home. After they start chatting, it turns out the the man had also grown up on Mulberry Street, in the orphanage that used to be there.

Looking out the window, Barney spots a plane in the air, which the stranger immediately realizes is a German Messerschmitt, pushing Barney and his mother to the floor and covering them with his own body. After the train is attacked, the conductor drives it into a tunnel for safety. Suddenly, they are plunged into darkness, and Barney, who has a severe fear of darkness, begins to feel like it is closing in on him.

To take Barney's mind off the darkness and pass the time, the stranger starts to tell the story of his life-long friend Billy Byron and their experiences together in World War I. After leaving the orphanage, the two friends had gone to work in a hotel, stoking the boiler there. Not much liking it, they decided to join the British Army and have some adventures. But it wasn't long before the war began and they sent to the front lines to fight. On their way there, Billy saw a little girl sitting by the side of the road, starving and in need of medical care. Picking her up, he carried her all the way to a field hospital against his sergeant's orders. All he knew about her was that her name was Christine, but her face haunted him all through the war.

Billy was a brave soldier, and by the end of the war he had been award a number of medals, including the Victoria Cross for valor in the face of the enemy. But all the killing and wounding of men really got to Billy, so at the end of the war, after the intense Battle of Marcoing, he allowed a German soldier to simply leave and return home to Germany.

Billy also returned home, haunted by the war. He never forgot Christine, and returned to Europe to try to find her. Eventually, he does, and now a grown woman, they two marry and settle down in Coventry. All goes well for them until Barney suddenly recognizes the German soldier he allowed to go free while watching a newsreel about the German Führer Adolf Hitler.

Was it possible that Billy was responsible for Hitler's rise to power and starting the Second World War? Billy needs to know

An Eagle in the Snow is a story that is based on speculation and reality with Morpurgo giving it all his own spin, and a surprise ending. It's a formula that really works well for him. In this story, Billy is based on the real life experiences of a WWI soldier named Henry Tandey, and while there is still a lot of speculation over whether Henry actually spared Hitler's life, it does make for a good novel.

Told in Morpurgo's typical story within a story format, An Eagle in the Snow is actually a little slow in the beginning, but readers who stick with it will be rewarded by the end. It is, however, a short, quick novel and well worth reading. He does go into the fighting that Billy and his friend took part in but it isn't graphic, and kids will most likely pay more attention to Barney's fear of the dark then to the scenes at the front lines.

There is lots of potential for speculation in the novel and in the accounts of Henry Tandy's wartime experience, as well as hypothesizing what one might do in Billy's shoes. Fans of Michael Morpurgo will definitely want to read this new novel, as will young readers who like historical fiction.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher

Below is a painting that is featured in the novel, that hung on Hitler's wall at Berchestgaden, in the Bavarian Alps. Click the link to find out what part it plays in the life of Henry Tandey, Adolf Hitler, and in the novel, Billy Bryon.

Post battle painting by Fortunino Matania 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport by Emma Carlson Berne

The Kindertransport was a short-lived program that rescued approximately 10,000 Jewish children in Nazi occupied Germany, Austria and Poland and Czechoslovakia between December 1938 (just three weeks after Kristallnacht, and May 1940. The children were sent to live with families in Great Britain. I have reviewed a number of books about the Kindertransport before, but most of them were novels.

In her new book, Emma Carlson Berne introduces readers to the program through the true stories of seven former Kindertransport survivors, including a detailed explanation of what was happening in Europe, especially after Kristallnacht, and how the Kindertransport program worked. The program was the brain child of British Jews and Quakers and only worked because at that time, Hitler wanted to get all Jews out of Europe. Still, It's hard to imagine parents willingly surrendering their children to strangers in the hope that they would be safe, but it just shows how dangerous Europe had become under the Nazis. It was up to the families to get their children to the transport train that would take them to the ships traveling to England, an expense difficult for Jewish parents to afford by 1938, having lost their jobs and most of their money having been confiscated by the Nazis. To make it more difficult, no parents or other family were allowed to travel with their children. For many, Berne points out, the train station would be that last time parents and children would ever see each other.

Berne than recounts the experiences of the seven children and how they became Kindertransport children. Her writing style is very interesting. She invites the reader into the book with sentences like: "We can imagine the train whistle blowing. 'All aboard,' the conductor might have yelled in German over the crowd of frightened children and weeping parents." (pg 62) Each persons recollections are told in their own words, as well, taken from interviews done when they were adults, and adding a sense of authenticity that these are true stories and not the stuff of imagination.

In addition to each person's story, Berne has included archival photographs of what Jewish life looked like in Europe before and under the Nazis and a collection of family photos each child must have taken to England with them. The whole book is set up like an old family album, including chipped, aged-looking pages.

There is extensive back matter, including a timeline, a Glossary, information about The Kindertransport Association, which you might want to check for additional information, suggestions for further reading, discussion questions, and and extensive Bibliography.

Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport is a well done, very well researched book. The seven stories included in it are poignant, and really bring home the feelings of desperation parents were feeling, but also the fear of the child suddenly being separated from their family, and not always being old enough to understand what was happening.

This is a valuable teaching resource for classes studying the WWII and Holocaust. Pair it with some of the excellent novels that have been written about the Kindertransport for a really in-depth, well- rounded sense of how the events of the time impacted children.

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Two Refugee Stories: The Journey by Francesca Sanna and Stepping Stones by Margriet Ruurs

Refugees seeking asylum and safety is a old as humanity and a recent as today’s news. It is hard to imagine having to leave the home you have always known, the place you have always thought of as safe, leaving behind your beloved possessions whether it is a doll, or a stuff toy, perhaps pawning your great grandfather’s pocket watch or your great grandmother’s tea service to get money to pay for the trip you and your family are about to embark on. But that is just what these two excellent books are about.

The Journey written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna
Flying Eye Books, 2016, 48 pages, age 5+

The Journey begins with a young girl, the narrator, introducing her happy close-knit family living in a city near the sea, until war arrives and bad things began to happen. But when the war takes her father, her mother decides it is time to leave their homeland despite the dangers, and to try and reach a country where they can live without war and fear. So the family packs up what belonging they can and leave. But the journey is difficult, and little by little they begin to leave belongings behind to lighten their load and make traveling easier.

And they face all kinds of obstacles - a high guarded wall, a sea that stretches far and wide, a scary ferry boat ride, followed by a long train ride, all in search of a home where the family can begin their story all over again.  

Sanna used a collage of migration stories from different people she interviewed at a refugee center in Italy to create The Journey, inspired by the story of two girls she met there. Using simple language, and folk art style illustrations, Sanna has written a book that really captured what it is like to be a refugee, to be fleeing friend, family and home for your life with no idea how it will all end. Kids who may have heard about the ongoing problems in Syria this year may greatly benefit from this book, not because it will help them understand the politics of what is happening, but because, on a more personal level, it will help them understand what being a refugee means.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey written by Margriet Ruurs, 
artwork by Nizar Ali Badr, translation by Falah Raheem 
Orca Books, 2016, 28 pages, age 5+

Stepping Stones is a collaboration of Canadian author Margriet Ruurs and Syrian stone work artist Nizam Ali Badr that tells the story of Rama and her family.  For Rama, living in Syria means waking up to breakfast prepared by Mama, with tomatoes from the garden. It means playing outside with her friends and brother Sami, and it means stories in the evening when Papa comes home from work. So many wonderful days and memories, until war comes to Rama's country. Families started leaving her village and one day, she also left with Mama, Papa, Jedo (grandfather), and Sami. Walking with only the things they can carry, they join the "river of people" fleeing the war with its destructive bombs. Then Rama and her family take an overloaded boat to a new land, walk some more, until finally they are welcomed by the people living in their new village far away from the war in Syria. 

The story of Rama and her family is similar to the story that the young narrator tells in The Journey and certainly just as compelling. The text is simple and Ruurs has really captured how confusing and frightening it is to go from a life filled with love and serenity to one that knows only fear and upheaval and the hardships refugees experience on their journey. To it credit, the story is written in both English and Arabic, increasing its accessibility to young readers. 

What makes this book unusual is the artwork done by Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr. Using carefully and skillfully placed stones, he has created Rama's tight-knit family and surroundings, creatively capturing all the mixed emotions and feelings that they experience as they flee.  

I liked that in The Journey there are no names used for the family, making it a kind of Everyman tale, encompassing all refugees regardless of when, where, or what the circumstances of their leaving might be, while Stepping Stones personalized the story by naming the family members on their journey to freedom and safety, yet both stories are so much the same.

War inevitably leads to people fleeing from the fighting, the persecutions, because their homes, schools, cities, towns and villages have been bombed and/or shelled to smithereens, because of the color of their skin, their religion, or simply because they have been caught in the middle of someone else's war. We see it everyday on the news and so do our children. The Journey  and Stepping Stones are two excellent books that will help young readers understand what is happening to the children they see on TV. I can't recommend these two books highly enough.

These books were both purchased for my personal library.