Thursday, December 30, 2010

We Can Do It! Geraldine Hoff Doyle

Geraldine Doyle has died.  Most people won’t recognize her name, but everyone knows who she was.  Geraldine’s picture while working in a factory during World War II was the inspiration for the iconic Rosie the Riveter “We Can Do It!” poster.  The poster was commissioned by the government as a morale-booster.  Geraldine was 17 years old at the time; she was 86 years old when she passed away on December 26, 2010.  Her obituary may be found at

On the left is the origninal photo of Geraldine taken in 1942 and below is the poster based upon it, both include her famous red polka dot scarf.

One can only wonder at how many women were inspired by this poster since World War II.

Thanks, Geraldine!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman

I had a hard time getting into The Entertainer and the Dybbuk because I don’t like ventriloquists and their dummies. I have always found something creepy about them. But I pushed past my dislike and I am so glad I did.

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk begins in 1948 in Vienna, Austria amid the ruins of World War II. Freddie the Great is an ex-American serviceman who has decided to remain in Europe and is working as a third rate entertainer in third rate dives. His problem is that he isn’t a very good ventriloquist – his lips move. One night, he opens a closet door in his seedy hotel room and there, sitting on the floor, is a child with a faint glow about him. It is, in fact, the ghost of Avrom Amos Poliakov, a 12 year old boy killed by the Nazis. He explains to Freddie that he is a dybbuk, which is, according to Jewish folklore, the spirit of a dead person who takes possession of a living person in order to fulfill an earthy purpose. And Avrom has a very important earthly mission and Freddie owes him a favor - Avrom had saved his life during the war.

Little by little Avrom makes his presence known in Freddie’s act speaking as though he were the dummy and pretty soon Freddie has achieved some measure of success. Freddie no longer moves his lips, and can even drink a bottle of Perrier while the dummy speaks. The audience loves it. At first, Avrom is willing to go along with Freddie’s usual routine, but he soon begins to throw in facts from his life under the Nazis. And the audience continues to love the act. Freddie finally achieves real stardom in Paris, but now Avrom decides he can’t work on the Sabbath or Shabbes, so Friday and Saturday afternoon performances are cancelled. Yet they remain a success, so much so that when a reporter interviews Freddie, intrigued by his claim that his dummy is a dybbuk, Avrom willingly tells her his story.

Avrom and his younger sister Sulka had managed to elude the Nazis in Ukrainian for two years, but on August 22, 1944 the Nazis rounded up all the Jewish children for deportation. Avrom and Sulka escaped, but were hunted down by the SS. First they killed Sulka, and after a chase, Avrom was shot 6 times by SS Colonel Gerhard Junker-Strupp. The interviewer is amused, but doesn’t believe the story.

Avrom next tells Freddie that he had been killed two weeks before his Bar Mitzvah and he wants Freddie to find a Rabbi to complete it. Freddie figures that once he is Bar Mitzvahed he would be gone, but discovers that the dybbuk’s real purpose is to exact vengeance on Junker-Strupp now that Avrom is a man under Jewish law. And Avrom was not going to be stopped. It had taken him two years to track the Nazi down, and he had discovered the Junker-Strupp was in hiding as a Jewish Holocaust survivor, complete with a tattooed number on his arm. Given the zeal with which Avrom hunted his killer, the ending of this novel is not to be missed. And it is better than you might expect.

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk is a short but powerful book. It was Fleischman’s intention to honor the 1.5 million children killed during the Holocaust with this novel because “History is easy to forget. Does it matter in our contemporary lives if we toss aside what happened so long ago? If we forget – poof – history vanishes. The Holocaust vanishes. If we don’t know where we have been, how wise will we be in the future?” (pg 179)
Avrom’s story is delivered in pure Shtick or what Fleischman calls “the tough Jewish sense of humor” in his Author’s Note at of the book. (pg 179) Don’t be fool by that. Even though there is much satirical humor and it looks like an easy book, Avrom’s story is heartbreakingly sad. He is a character that has stayed with me since I finished reading the book in much that same way he stayed with Freddie – hauntingly so. But this is an excellent novel and I would highly recommend it.

This book won the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award for older readers.

This book is recommended for readers aged 11-14.
This book was purchased for my personal library.

For more information on Sid Fleischman and his works see his website at Presenting Sid Fleischman

Sadly, Sid Fleischman passed away on March 17, 2010 at the age of 90. His obituary may be found at

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book Blogger Holiday Swap

I would like to thank Michelle at The True Book Addict for the wonderful Book Blogger Holiday Swap gift. As you can see below, the package arrived just in time to go under the tree for Christmas morning.  Michelle sent a lovely 2011 wall calendar, which I desperately needed.  Each month has a picture from a classic children’s book such as Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan.  Also enclosed were two medieval mysteries by P. C. Doherty that I have not read. Medieval mysteries are one of my favorite guilty pleasures, so I will be a happy reader - especially if the predicted blizzard really happens.
Thank you again, Michelle and I hope you have a very Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Some Holiday Books – Christmas

Christmas is almost here.  It is a season of hope, joy and miracles.  It is also the season of peace on earth, good will towards all men and that is my personal Christmas wish for all the world.

The Farolitos of Christmas: a New Mexico Christmas Story by Rudolfo A. Anaya, illustrated by Edward Gonzales. The story of a young New Mexican girl named Luz during World War II. Her father had been wounded a month before Christmas and is in a hospital. Her grandfather makes a promise to Santo Niño to light farolitos, or small lanterns, on Christmas Eve in exchange for the safe return of his son. But he is so ill and weak he cannot even chop the wood needed to make base for the candle lights that for the farolito, or small lantern.  A promise made to Santo Niño must be carried out only by the person who makes it.  Worried about both her father and grandfather, Luz finally figures out a new way to make the farolito that her grandfather can do without wood and it remains to be seen if Santo Niño honors his part of the promise.  This is wonderful book about an old Southwestern tradition and includes a glossary of Spanish used in the book.  Recommended for ages 5-9.

One Splendid Tree by Marilyn Helmer, illustrated by Dianne Eastman. This is the story of Hattie, her younger brother Junior and their mother as they try to adjust to living in an small apartment in the city during World War II. Their father is fighting in the army and their mother has taken a job in a factory to help support the family. With Christmas coming, there is no money or space for a tree and it just doesn't feel like Christmas.  One day, Junior finds an abandoned large potted fernlike plant in the hallway and thinks it will make an ideal makeshift Christmas tree.  At first, Hattie is against it, but remembers her dad saying Christmas is a time when magical things can happen.  She changes her mind and they enthusiastly decorate the tree with homemake decoration leaving it in the hallway so everyone in the building can enjoy it. This is the season of peace on earth, good will towards all mankind. Can their tree create that kind of feeling in a building where everyone goes about his/her own business and don’t bother with their neighbors?  Recommended for ages 4-8.

In the Dark Streets Shineth: a 1941 Christmas Eve Story by David McCullough. This is a rather odd, but nevertheless interesting book about what feels like totally unrelated things.  In late December 1941, Winston Churchill traveled to Washington DC to speak with President Roosevelt about the war.  It was less that a month since the US declared was against the Japan and her allies, Germany and Italy. While here he heard the hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem for the first time.  McCullough then gives the history of that hymn and also of the song I’ll be Home for Christmas, written especially for the war and at the time, the most popular Christmas song besides White Christmas. McCullough attempts to tie them to Churchill’s visit. There are photos of ordinary people and the Roosevelts celebrating Christmas, along with photos of Churchill's visit.  At the end of the book is a transcript of Roosevelt's and Churchill's Christmas Eve address to both nation.  It is a newly published very nice non-fiction book by a well known historian.  Recommended for readers aged 10 and up.

Captain’s Command by Anna Myers. The story of 12 year old Gail Harmon living in Stonewall, Oklahoma.  Before her father had left for the war, he had given Gail a golden retriever puppy, which she named Captain and told her to look after her Uncle Ned.  Uncle Ned had been blinded early in the war, and has been bitter and depressed ever snce. The family receives news that her father had been shot down over France and is now considered missing in action, but her mother who refuses to believe the worst has happened to her husband.  Each chapter begins with a bit about two airmen, shot down over France, one very badly wounded.  On Christmas they receive a letter from one of the airmen telling them how he and Gail's father had been hidden by some French farmer and that her father had died in their barn and was now buried there.  This new causes Uncle Ned become even more despairing and he decided to run away. Now it is up to Gail and Captain to find and help him. This is a story about family, kindness and sacrifice, and a Jewish Santa named Mr. Weise.  Recommended for readers ages 9-12.

Christmas Sonata by Gary Paulson, illustrated by Leslie Bowman. Paulson grew up during World War II and there is supposedly an autobiographical basis for this novel.  It is the story of a 6 year old boy whose father is away, fighting in Europe and whose mother has had to take a job in a laundry to help support the two of them. Christmas is coming and the boy still fervently believes in Santa until one day when he sees his mean, nasty neighbor dressed as Santa and drinking wine.  His belief in Santa and the magic of Christmas are destroyed by this.  Shortly afterwards, he and his mother travel to visit his cousin Matthew, Uncle Ben and Aunt Marilyn in Minnesota. Matthew, who is bedridden and dying, has also lost his belief in Santa and it will probably be his last Christmas.  But when Uncle Ben hears the boys talking, he decides to do something. Can he pull of a real Christmas miracle?  Recommended for ages 9-12.

Molly’s Surprise, a Christmas Story by Valerie Tripp. Part to the American Girls collection, this is the third story about Molly McIntire. It is almost Christmas, but Molly's father, Dr. McIntire, is away, working in a hospital in England and she is missing him very much.   Her grandparents are supposed to visit and bring a Christmas tree with them, but call to cancel the trip.  Their car has a flat tire and they can't get a new one because of the rubber shortage and there is no one who can fix it until after the holidays.  It looks to be a sad Christmas for the McIntire household until Molly and her sister Jill decide to pool their money and buy a rather sparse, but affordable tree for the family. A few days before Christmas, there is a wonderful snowfall and while playing in it, Molly and Jill find a box from their dad that had gotten buried under the snow.  They decide to hide it until Christmas. Finally on Christmas morning, the McIntires open the box and have more than one special Christmas surprise from Dr. McIntire.  Recommended for readers ages 8-12.

These are three book I haven’t own and haven’t read, but I believe they are very good stories and I include the publisher’s abstract (even though I don’t normally like to do that)

The Miracle Tree by Christobel Mattingley, illustrated by Marianne Yamaguchi. Separated by the explosion of the atomic bomb, a husband, wife, and mother carry on with their lives in the ruins of Nagasaki and are eventually reunited one Christmas by a very special tree.

The Angel with a Mouth-Organ by Christobel Mattingley, illustrated by Astra Lacis. Just before the glass angel is put on the Christmas tree, Mother describes her experiences as a little girl during World War II when she and her family were refugees and how the glass angel came to symbolize a new beginning in their lives.

Izzie: the Christmas that almost wasn’t by Budge Wilson. This is the second book of a trilogy in the Our Canadian Girl series. Izzie and her family are preparing for a special Christmas in their coastal Nova Scotia village. The year is 1941, and with soldiers, sailors, and ships crowding into nearby Halifax, World War II seems especially close at hand. But this year, despite the war and rationing, Izzie's grandparents, aunt, uncles, and cousins are coming to spend the holiday. When a terrible storm threatens to spoil everything, Izzie is bound and determined to save Christmas for everyone.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Busting the Newbie Blues

1. When did you start your blog?
I began The Children’s War on June 11, 2010.

2. Why did you start your blog?
I have always had an interest in popular culture and when it came time to write my dissertation, I chose to write on popular fiction written for girls in Nazi Germany. I read over 100 novels written for girls’ from 1933 to 1945. When I was done, I the novels away with my collection of American and English books for kids on WW II that I have had since I was young, or had acquired over the years and it occurred to me it might be interesting to write a blog devoted to these kinds of books.

3. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Probably the same challenges most new bloggers face – getting noticed and finding followers who are interested in what I am writing about. Also the technical side of blogging and getting things to look the way I want them to.

4. What do you find most discouraging about being a new blogger?
This is answered in part by question 3. Also, self promotion is difficult for me. I am a low-profile person by nature, and you can’t be that way to some extent with a blog. For example, I didn’t ask anyone the Cybils and missed out on the opportunity to participate. I could kick myself – but there is next year. Now, I ask questions and push myself to be out there in the blogosphere as much as possible.

5. What do you find most encouraging?
The most encouraging thing about blogging is the support from the wonderful people I have met since starting my blog. And other bloggers are so willing to give helpful advice if you need it. I also try to make my blog a resource that people can use, and when they comment on the additional information or the links I include, I feel very gratified.

6. What do you like best about the blogs you read? Have you tried to replicate this in your blog?
I like the reviews when I can tell that the bloggers are expressing themselves and not just copying from a promo or dust jacket. I also like a good clean layout, where things are easy to find. Sometimes a blog is so cluttered that I just navigate away from it. I did use a few blogs which I considered to be good examples in terms of layout as a template for my own blog.

7. What do you dislike about blogs you read? Do you try to avoid this?
The main thing I dislike is a blogger who writes “I loved, loved, loved the book” followed by a cut and paste from the publisher’s website. It tells me nothing about the book. I also do not like a blog with a black or dark background and colored text. I have eye problems and these are so hard to read.

8. Do you have any advice for new bloggers?
The best advice is to stick with it and have a lot of patience. Remember – Rome wasn’t built in a day. Join a few memes and/blog hops and decide which work best for you. I think the first six months to a year are for experimenting in ways to make your blog exactly what you want it to be. And be consistent with posts. I lose interest in blogs that have long periods of time between postings.

9. How did you bring your blog to the attention of so many people?
I joined Book Blogs and Kidlitosphere, since I do children’s and YA books. I also set up a twitter account and post on that. And I participate in some memes and comment on the blogs I read.

10. Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience?
Be yourself and have fun with your blog and don’t give up.

Thanks to Small Review for hosting this event.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Don’t You Know There’s a War On? A Novel by Avi

Don’t You Know There’s a War On? provides an amusing look at the life of 11 year old Howie Crispers of Brooklyn, NY during the war, and narrated in a snappy conversational style by his 16 year old self in 1948. The story covers one week, from Monday to Monday beginning on 23 March 1943. Each day Howie and his best friend Denny stop to read the war headlines at a newspaper stand on their way to school and these headlines preface each chapter. The story is driven by two premises. First, Howie and Denny have both decided that the principle of their school, PS 8, is a spy. Second, they each have a serious crush on their teacher Miss Gossim, but have kept it a secret from each other – until now.

On Monday, Howie sees his principle knocking on the front door of a brownstone. Since he is convinced that Dr. Lomister is there on spy business, he feels it is his patriotic duty to spy on the spy. He manages to sneak into the house through the coal chute, winding up in the basement, but manages to get himself upstairs by using the dumbwaiter. Listening at a door, Howie is stunned by what he hears, which has absolutely nothing to do with espionage; and everything to do with the fact that Miss Gossim is going to be fired in a week. Howie escapes from the house and, despite being covered with coal dust, goes to school, arriving in time to see Miss Gossim called down to the principle’s office. It is obvious to Howie that she knows she has been fired when she returns to the classroom. Later in the afternoon, when Howie takes Denny to the brownstone he saw Dr. Lomister enter, they see Miss Gossim coming down the street. She knocks on the door, but no one answers and she leaves. Denny must go home, so Howie follows her and discovers where she lives.

On Tuesday, nothing much happens.

On Wednesday, Howie, his mom and sister Gloria receive a letter from his dad, who is in the merchant marines and sails convoys across the North Atlantic delivering war supplies. His father’s safety is a constant worry for Howie. Later that evening, there is a blackout, and since everyone must be off the streets, Howie is sent out to find Gloria and bring her home. While still out, he is asked by a Civil Defense warden to take a message to his commander, who conveniently is located near Miss Gossim’s apartment building. Caught out in the blackout by another warden, Howie lies and says he lives in her building. Since the warden stands and waits for him to go in, Howie is forced to ring Miss Gossim’s bell, and ends up spending the rest of the blackout with her in her apartment. He tells her he knows she has been fired, and how he found out. She confesses that she is a war bride, marrying someone she had only known a short time. Now she is pregnant and that is the reason she has been fired.

On Thursday, Howie tells Denny about his nighttime visit to Miss Gossim. When they still can’t come up with a workable plan to save her job, Gloria, a devoted fan of radio soap operas, solves the problem for him with an idea inspired by one of her favorite shows.

The rest of the novel involves preparing and instituting the plan. But does it succeed?

This is not really a book about the war as much as it is a book in which the war acts as a catalyst for setting things in motion. Howie speaks exactly like a kid from Brooklyn, and I know what that’s like because I was a kid from Brooklyn. Coal chutes and dumbwaiters existed long past their usefulness though they are pretty much gone now, but Howie gives a good description of them for the reader, along with any other things that might be unfamiliar to today’s kids. It was also a nostalgic read for me because so much of what went on in Howie’s life was similar to mine - the games he mentions, the school procedures, the different class monitors listed on the blackboard and the class picture at the back of the book. And why wouldn’t they be similar - Howie went to PS 8, I went to PS 249. But the difference was the war and Avi accurately and vividly portrays wartime daily life – the anxiety for loved ones in the Armed Services, the fear of Nazis spies, the impact and devastation that the death of a soldier can have on a family, the hardships of rationing, and the small pleasures like listening to stories on the radio, or Saturday morning kids shows at the movie theater. Avi’s descriptions of life in Brooklyn were so realistic that it didn’t surprise me to find out he grew up there too.

The book did bring out one antiquated practice in schools back then. Under normal circumstances, women were not allowed to teach after they married, but because of a teacher shortage during the war, that ban was lifted. However, a pregnant teacher, even if married like Miss Gossim, was not allowed to continue teaching under any circumstances.

Avi has always been a favorite in this house, and when I told Allison that I was reading a book of his, she began to wax nostalgic. And I can see why. I highly recommend Don’t You Know There’s a War On?

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

Monday, December 13, 2010

Parallel Journeys by Eleanor Ayer with Helen Waterford and Alfons Heck

The early lives of Alfons Heck and Helen Katz and their individual experience of Hitler’s sway are the subject of this book. Alfons was born in1928, in Wittlich, Germany, a town near the French border and in the heart of the Mosel wine country. He was still a young boy when Hitler came to power and knew no other way of life than Nazism. By the time he was old enough to join the Hitler Youth at age 10, he had been fully indoctrinated in and completely accepted Nazi dogma. Helen was older, born in 1909 in Frankfurt, Germany. In 1933, she married Siegfried Wohlfarth. When the first new laws were passed discriminating against Jews, Siegfried lost his job and Helen was forced to leave university.

By 1935, things were considerably worse for Jews in Germany. Helen and Siegfried decided to leave and went to live in Amsterdam, Holland. In 1937, their daughter Doris was born. Less than a year later, Alfons was sworn into the Jungvolk , the junior branch of the Hitler Youth. After Kristallnacht, or the night of the broken glass on November 9, 1939, Helen and Siegfried were able to get Helen’s brother Fred to England and later the US, and their parents to Holland. But other Jews were not so fortunate.

When the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940, the Wohlfarths knew their safety would be in jeopardy from then on and they realized that they would have to do something. In July, 1942, they received a letter telling them to report at the train station for “resettlement to the East.” They bought themselves a little more time in Holland by having a doctor remove Siegfried’s healthy appendix. Through the Dutch Resistance, they were able to find a Christian family who was willing to take in Doris and protect her from the Nazis. With Doris safe, Siegfried and Helen decided to go into hiding, again with help of the Dutch resistance. Meanwhile, Alfons had been accepted into the elite Flieger Hitler-Jugend, where he would start training first in glider flying and later as a Luftwaffe pilot. Alfons loved flying and became youngest top-rated glider pilot in all Germany.

Eventually the Wohlfarth’s were discovered in their hiding place. On September 3, 1944 they were put on a train and sent to Auschwitz. Their arrival at this camp was the last time Helen saw Siegfried. It wasn’t until many years later that his death on December 5, 1944 in Stutthof concentration camp was confirmed for her. Helen stayed in Auschwitz for two months and was relocated to Kratzau, a work camp in Poland. She remained there until the Russian Army liberated the camp. She decided to go find her daughter, despite being sick and weak, and, wearing a pair of men’s dress shoes she had been given by the Red Cross, she started walking across Europe to Amsterdam. By the end of the war, Alfrons never made it to the Luftwaffe, but he did achieve the highest rank possible in the Hitler Youth.

Alfons and Helen both ended up living in California, and after reading an article Alfons had written in a newspaper, Helen got in touch with him. In 1979, they formed a partnership, speaking to groups of people about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Their only criterion for their collaboration was complete honesty. I can only imagine how much courage it must have taken for these two people to stand in front of audiences and tell their stories.

In 1985, Alfons Heck published a book about his life called A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika. In 1987, Helen, whose real name was Herta Katz, published a book about her life called Commitment to the Dead: One Woman’s Journey toward Understanding. These books are not for young readers. However, using excerpts from each of them to trace the parallel, but very different journeys of Helen and Alfons, Ayer has produced a very informative and engrossing book for a younger reader. She has filled in their personal stories, which are compelling on their own, with historical details. The book is intense, but never overwhelming. It is clear both Helen and Alfons continued to bear the scars of their youth under Hitler’s domination, although they both tried very hard to come to terms with their separate pasts. But can one ever come to terms with this period in history? I did find that sometimes, when reading the sections on Alfons, I had to remind myself that he was still a child turned into a boy soldier, along with so many others, by the end of the war. And even after Nazi Germany fell, he was not yet a man, just a 16 year old boy who wanted to go back to school. Not that youth exonerates Alfons of the things he did, but it points to the vulnerability of young people to the attraction of a charismatic leader.

My only problem with Parallel Journeys was the timeline. Hitler’s 12 year reign is a period I am pretty familiar with, but found myself getting confused in the book timewise and had to go back and reread parts to figure out the timing. It seemed to me that I was reading about 1942, and suddenly it jumped to 1944, with no reference in between. I understand it can be complicated, made more so by the two different lives Ayer is writing about and not a debilitating confusion and certainly did not diminish the real life stories of Alfons and Helen. Perhaps a timeline at the end of the book would be helpful.
Alfons died in 2005 and his obituary may be found at The Boston Globe

Helen died in 1996 at age 86.  A short obituary may be found at Los Angeles Times
Helen may be heard describing the day she sent her daughter into hiding in Holland at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Scholastic has provided a useful online teacher’s guide at Parallel Journeys Discussion Guide
This book is recommended for readers’ age 9 and 12. 
This book was purchased for my personal library. 

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted this week by  Books Together

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I digress again..and Revise Weekly Geeks - Reading Challenges

I learned a good lesson when I went back and looked at this blog entry - try not to blog when you are not in tip-top shape.  But I am better now, so I revise...

This week the Weekly Geeks question is
Do you plan on participating in any reading challenges in 2011? Are you planning on hosting any reading challenges? Perhaps you'd like to share an idea for a reading challenge--to see if there is any interest! Share with us which challenges look tempting to you! (You don't have to "officially" join any of the challenges for this weekly geek. Just let us know which ones you'd be most interested in.) You might want to spend some time browsing A Novel Challenge. Are there any challenges you are looking forward to that haven't been announced yet? Regardless of your challenge plans, are you starting to plan ahead for next year? Do you make lists or goals? Are you a person who enjoys reading more if it is structured? Or are you all about being free to read what you want, when you want?

To which I respond

I started blogging too late last year to be able to participate in any reading challenges. This year is different and as the challenges are posted online, I want to do them all. But that is impossible. Nevertheless, some of the challenges I am seriously considering are YA of the 80s and 90s, YA Historical Fiction, , and perhaps the East and Southeast Asia Challenge. All of these can be tied into the subject of my blog – World War II. And for something completely different – War through the Generations reading challenge on the US Civil War.
Revision: I am definitely going to participate in the following challenges:

I love YA Historical Fiction and I am going to go for the gold - Level 3 - 15 YA HF in 2011.

Next challenge I am looking forward to is

And in honor of the upcoming Royal nuptials, I am committing myself to The Royal Family level - 12 books by British authors in 2011.

In honor of my child who is still have fun in China and loves teaching the kids, I am also participating in the

The minimum number of books are 3 from 3 different countries.

Next is another YA challenge - YA of the 80s and 90s

And finally, I have decided to definitely do the Civil War Challenge at War through the Generations.

I am committing to the Dip level, which is 3-5 books where the Civil War is a primary or secondary theme.

This sounds like a lot, but they all allow crossovers, which is helpful.

I can’t say I have done much about planning for these challenges, except to read the requirements. Yet I am a person who likes structure and I am a list maker, one of the compensatory measures I learned for dealing with severe dyslexia. When I was doing my qualifying exams in graduate school, I loved making my reading lists. My problem was limiting myself to what was really manageable, but challenges are good in that one can do crossovers. Still, I think I am postponing making any reading lists until the initial feeling of over zealousness passes and I can make a realistic list. And as soon as I get them together, I will post my reading lists here.

And an update on Hoilday Readathon that I did - yesterday I paid my pledge to the Salvation Army.
I read a total of 888 pages at 5¢ a page.
And a total of 11 books, which doesn't amount to many cans of food, I am afraid.  I may have to cheat on this one with additional cans of food.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Boy at War: a Novel of Pearl Harbor by Harry Mazer

Today is the 69th anniversary of Pearl Harbor day, the day that the Japanese empire attacked the American base at Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii and American officially entered World War II. In his speech, President Roosevelt called the attack a “…date which will live in infamy.” For high school student Adam Pelko, it was a day that started like any other and a day that ended like no other.

Adam has moved around his entire life because his father is a lieutenant in the navy, and had recently been transferred to the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. It is the first time Adam has been able to go to a regular high school, not a base school and once again, he must make new friends. The two friends he makes are Davi Mori, a Japanese-American boy and Martin Kahahawai, a Hawaiian. However, Adam’s father doesn’t want him to be friends with a Japanese kid since war with Japan is imminent. He reminds Adam that what they do, including who their friends are, reflects not only on them as a military family, but also on the United States Navy. His father firmly believes that Japanese loyalties would not be towards America, and that even Japanese-Americans can’t be trusted if war comes.

But Adam has already made a date to go fishing with Davi on Sunday. Saturday evening his father is called back to the Arizona until Sunday afternoon to cover for the duty officer, who had a family emergency. With his father gone, Adam decides to meet Davi and give him some excuse about not being able to go fishing, but when Martin shows up too, Adam loses his nerve. The boys ride their bikes over to the naval base at Pearl Harbor, slip under a fence, find a rowboat and take it out into the harbor to fish.

They stop rowing within sight of the battleships docked around Ford Island in the harbor. Before they even have a chance to start fishing, they hear the whine of planes. At first, the boys don’t think the planes and explosions are real, that maybe they are for a movie or just a mistake, even after a hot blast batters them. But as more and more bombs fall, Adam realizes that it is a real attack and the planes are Japanese. And when he sees Davi waving his arms and cheering, Adam suddenly begins to suspect that his father was right about not trusting the Japanese:
Why was Davi cheering? What was he doing? Signaling them? Yes, signaling them! He was Japanese. Japanese first! Who had said to come to Pearl Harbor to “fish”? Who had “found” the boat? Who had gotten them out here? “Dirty Jap!” Adam dragged Davi down. He wanted to get him. Kill him. Drown him. (pg44)
Martin breaks up the fight and the boys start rowing towards shore, but when Adam looks over towards his dad’s ship, he sees the USS Arizona bounce in the air, split apart, start burning and finally sink (it sank in 9 minutes.)

Almost immediately a plane flies over the rowboat and starts shooting at them. The boys are blown out of the boat, and Martin is badly injured with a long splinter of wood through his chest. Davi and Adam manage to get him back to shore and into a Red Cross car, but not before a soldier attacks Davi with the butt of his gun, yelling "I got a Jap!" (pg 50)  With Davi and Martin in the car along with wounded soldiers, Adam rides on the running board, holding on to the center post of the car, but is thrown from it when the car swerves to avoid going into the harbor.

Adam finds himself alone, returns to the rowboat and is mistaken for a sailor by an officer who demands he be rowed out to the USS West Virginia.  Adam is recruited to help carry ammunition to the guns on the West Virginia, but soon flees the ship and begins helping to pull wounded men from the water and bring them to shore. As one point, he is even issued a rifle. For the rest of the day, Adam remains in the Pearl Harbor area, helping and trying to find any information about his father, hoping he was not on his ship at the time of the attack for some reason. Finally, late in the day, Adam decides to sneak away from the base and return home. But his day and his story aren’t over yet.

A Boy at War is a small book, but a powerful narrative. It is the story of a boy who becomes a man in one single day, but a man who can think for himself. At the heart of the story is the theme of racism, or what one reviewer call racial profiling. When the Japanese attacked and the battle cry “Remember Pearl Harbor” was sounded, it became hard for many Americans to differentiate between the Japanese of the Empire and the Japanese who were loyal to the United States. According to Mazer’s Author Notes, in Lt. Pelko talk with his son he was stating the Navy’s position on the Japanese living in Hawaii, believing they would assist their ‘homeland’ and work to sabotage the war effort. (pg 102)  Lt. Pelko’s influence on his son is apparent when Adam reacts by wanting the kill Davi, but as hurt and angry as Adam is over the attack on Pearl Harbor and the probable loss of his father, he does come to realize that one cannot assume people are the same simply because they share the similar racial characteristics.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a tragic event; some many lives were lost that day. And they should always be remembered and honored. As Harry Mazer said in his acceptance speech when he was given the 2007 Nēnē award
We need to remember. We need to know our history. The present rests on the words and deeds of those who came before us, their sacrifices and heroism, their foresight and folly. The present, this moment, your moment in time, your actions, your deeds, will influence and shape what is to come. Never forget that.
This is the message I think Mazer wants his readers to realize through his character Adam Pelko.

This book is recommended for readers aged 9-12.
This book is part of my personal library.

A Boy at War received the following well-deserved awards
Children's Literature Choice List
Iowa Teen Award Master List
Nene Award Master List (HI)

There is much information on the internet about Pearl Harbor and about A Boy at War.  Below are a few that might be helpful:
Scholastic has teaching resources at  My Story: Pearl Harbor 
eThemes also has teaching resources at A Boy at War by Harry Mazer
The National Archives has information on President Roosevelt’s speech to congress including an annotated copy of the original typewritten speech at A Date Which Will Live in Infamy
National Geographic has resources on the attack on Pearl Harbor at Pearl Harbor

I had a teacher in grad school who taught us the value of using a map whenever we read literature in which a place played such an important, as in A Boy at War. This is the one I used while reading.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

'If you ask folks around here what they remember about the year 1944,
A child might say, "That was the year my daddy went off to fight Hitler."
A mother might look off towards Bakers Mountain and whisper that
polio snatched up one of her young'uns.
And the Hickory Daily Record will say that my hometown gave
birth to a miracle.' (pg9)

It is January 1944.  Everyone in Hickory, NC is focused on the war, including Ann Fay Honeycutt’s family, especially now that her father is off to war to fight Hitler.  But even though he is the one going away, 13 year old Ann Fay feels like this moment is the beginning of a journey for her too.  Her journey begins when her father gives Ann Fay a pair of overalls and tells her that while he is gone, she needs to be the man of the house.  This means planting the victory garden with the help of Junior Bledsoe, a neighbor’s son.  It also means looking after her 6 year old twin sisters, Ida and Ellie and her brother Bobby, 4.  He tells Bobby to help out, but to make sure he plays everyday. 

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

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

In September 1944, Ann Fay is stricken with polio too. She is taken to the same hospital that her brother went to. There she meets Imogene Wilfong, a black girl in the bed next to her. Ann Fay, despite everything that has happened, is shocked when Imogene tries to be friendly:
“I reckon she thought we was going to be friends. But I hadn’t ever been that close to a colored before. I sure hadn’t thought about making friends with one. Instead of telling her my name, I looked away.” (pg. 122)
Over the course of their treatments, the girls finally do become close friends. The hospital has accepted polio victims regardless of race or economic circumstances, and even though it was in the Jim Crow south, they were not segregated. But that changes when the emergency hospital closes in March 1945 and the girls are moved to Charlotte Memorial Hospital. Because they were together in Hickory, they assume that they will be in Charlotte too. But when they arrive, Ann Fay goes in one direction into a building; Imogene goes in another into the tents set up for “colored.”

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

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

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

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

This book is recommended for readers aged 9-12 years old, though if perfectly suitable for older readers.
This book was borrowed from the 67th Street Branch of the New York Public Library.

Blue has received the following well deserved honors:
2007 International Reading Association Children’s Book Award.
2006 North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award.
2006 Parent’s Choice Silver Honor
Best Books of 2006 for Young Readers (Post Dispatch, St. Louis, MO)
Pennsylvania School Library Association Top Ten
The Best Children’s Books of the Year (Bank Street College of Education)

More information about Blue and other good things may be found on the author’s website at
Joyce Moyer Hostetter

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Some Holiday Books - Chanukah

The holiday season has officially begun. And along with it is my first Holiday Readathon running from December 2nd to 5th and all I needed to do was make a pledge for charity. My pledge is 5¢ per page read to the Salvation Army and a can of food for each book read to a local food bank.
You too can sign up at Holiday Readathon

I am beginning the Readathon with books for Chanukah because last night was the first night of Chanukah and the world’s largest Menorah was lit at Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan (59th Street and Fifth Avenue.) Chanukah is a joyous festival of lights, hope and miracles. And last night we did have a bit of a miracle when the horrible rain and strong winds stopped just in time for the lighting. If you would like to know more about this holiday, including how to make and play with a Dreidel and why children receive Chanukah Gelt, be sure to visit Chanukah on the Net

The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah by Isaac Bashevis Singer, illustrated by Irene Lieblich.
There is one story for each night of Chanukah in this book. The sixth story, called “The Power of Light,” is about two young teens, David, 14 and Rebecca, 13, hiding from the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto after it was bombed and burned. They had been hiding for a long time because Rebecca was afraid to leave even though remaining there was also dangerous. But their story is one of courage and strength discovered in the glow of a miraculously found candle on the first night of Chanukah. They decide to bank on the miracle and travel through the sewers of Warsaw seeking partisans who could help them escape to Israel. Singer is a master storyteller and the stories in this book are – well – masterful.

Menorah in the Night Sky: a Miracle of Chanukah by Jacques J.M. Shore, illustrated by S. Kim Glassman.
This is a story about two young boys, Zev, age 12 and David, age 11. The boys are best friends, separated from their families in Auschwitz and working in a factory separating shoes. Homesick and sad, David did not want to remember the Chanukah celebrations he had had with his family before the war. Zev wanted to help David with a miracle of hope, but all he could do was tell David to look up in the winter sky, light their found, but forbidden candle and pretend they were lighting a Menorah. That night a bright star appeared as if it were the first candle on the Menorah. But could such a thing happen again and again for 8 nights? Well, it is the season of light and miracles.

One Yellow Daffodil: a Hanukkah Story by David A. Adler, pictures by Lloyd Bloom. Morris Kaplan is a florist, an older man who lives alone. Two children pass by his store every day and buy flowers on Fridays for Shabbes. When they come in on a Tuesday and buy flowers for Chanukah, Morris tells them that he had celebrated Chanukah when he was young, but not anymore. The next day the children invite him to their home to light candles and have dinner. When he leaves later that night, he pulls out a box of the only family mementos he owns, which includes the Menorah his family used back in Poland when he was a boy. The next day, he returns to the children’s apartment with the Menorah and tells them about being taken with his family to Auschwitz and how he ultimately came to possess his family’s Menorah. Morris is the only survivor in his family, his parents, brother and two sisters all perished. He believes that he survived because just when all hope was gone, he saw a daffodil blooming in the camp, and decided that like the daffodil, he too could survive in a place that offered no other hope.

The Tie Man’s Miracle: a Chanukah Tale by Steven Schnur, illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson. Mr. Hoffman is a door to door tie salesman, who shows up on a cold, snowy night with his tattered box of ties but with no overcoat. It is the last night of Chanukah and 7 year old Seth is annoyed because he is afraid Mr. Hoffman will delay their celebration. But Seth’s parents insist that Mr. Hoffman stay and he tells them how he lost his own family, two boys, three girls and his wife, during the war. After he leaves, Seth goes into the living room to look at the candles, which have all burnt down. He wishes that the tie man be given his family back. Suddenly the room goes dark, except for nine columns of smoke from the Menorah, which braid around each other. At the same time, Seth thinks he hears voices calling “Papa, Papa.” Even though Seth looks out for tie man everyday after that, he is never seen again. Did Seth’s wish come true and was the tie man reunited with his family? It is for the reader to decide.

By the Hanukkah Light by Sheldon Oberman, illustrated by Neil Waldman.
This is a story about the way one family celebrates Chanukah every year. It begins when Rachel and her grandfather clean the Hanukkiah, or Menorah. On the first night, after the candle was lit, grandpa always tells the story of the Maccabbees exactly the way his grandfather had told it to him. Next, he tells the story of Hanukkiah that had belonged to his family but was left behind when they fled the destruction of their homes, school and temples by the Nazis. Later, while grandpa was still an American soldier, he returned to the destroyed home of his family, and found the Menorah buried in the ashes. This is a true miracle that his family celebrates every year.

Nine Spoons: a Chanukah Story by Marci Stillerman, illustrated by Pesach Gerber.
This is my favorite story. Every year, when Oma’s family celebrates Chanukah, she tells them the story of the Children’s Menorah. One winter, in the concentration where she was, her bunk-mate, Raizel, said that Chanukah was coming. Raizel was an artist and wanted to find a way to help the children in the barracks celebrate the holiday. She comes up with the idea of making a Menorah out of spoons, but spoons were prized possessions among the people in the camp. Nevertheless, in various, often surreptitious ways, nines spoons were collected; Raizel twisted the handles around a stem, with the bowls of the spoons facing upwards and attached it to a piece of wood. The spoons were filled with stolen kitchen oil and lit with stolen thread twisted into wicks. After the war, Oma had kept the Menorah and the children used it every year to remember how this miracle happened under such dangerous conditions. This was based on a true story, told to the author by the woman survivor who brought the Menorah with her after the war when she came to the US.

These books are all part of my personal library.
Total for 12/2/2010 6 Books
                           239 pages