Saturday, December 27, 2014

John Bloom and the Victory Garden by Leigh Shearin

When John Bloom, 10, woke up on Monday, December 8, 1941, he woke up to the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor the day before.  America was now at war and John feels he needs to do something to support his country.

John thinks that forming a club with his friends Chewie and Joe so that they can do good-works projects is a good idea. His frineds agree and they name it The American Boys Club, or the ABC, for short.  They decide their first project should be chopping firewood for a neighbor, 98 year old Mr. Hutchins who has been ill and unable to do it himself.  But when Mr. Hutchins greets them at his front door with a pitchfork, they decide to prank him instead, by filling up his outhouse with snow.

John knows it is wrong to do but goes along with Chewie and Joe to save face.  The next day, looking for something to do after their club meeting, the boys decide to go back to Mr. Hutchins's place to see if the outhouse was still full of snow.  But when they get there, there is no sign of Mr. Hutchins anywhere, until John notices a hand on the floor.  Breaking into the house, he discovers Mr. Hutchins unconscious on the floor.  Chewie runs for the doctor while John and Joe stay at the house.

It turns out that Mr. Hutchins had fallen and is now required to stay in bed until he recovers, first in the hospital and then at home.  But when John goes over to see how the old man is doing, he discovers that there is no food in the house and Mr. Hutchins hasn't eaten for a while.   Perhaps John has not only found the perfect good-works project for The American Boys Club, but has also made a new friend who can help him do something else good for the war effort as well.

John Bloom and the Victory Garden is a real home front novel.  Not only does it address the fears that most Americans felt at the outbreak of World War II, but it shows how quickly people responded to being at war.  For example, John's father immediately goes to the Army recruiting office to try to join up; John deals with concerns that his friend Joe, who is Italian, will be sent to an internment camp with his parents and grandmother; America's first demoralizing defeats are acutely felt by the residents of John's town, Appleside, NJ.

There are other nice touches like how people really depended on their radios for entertainment and news; and that boys still wanted shiny new bikes for Christmas despite the war; and of course, there is talk about rationing, and expectations of food, rubber and metal shortages.

The characters are well realized, even the secondary characters have a feeling of depth to them.  The community that John lives in is easy to picture and there is a helpful map at the front of the book to situate the reader in Appleside and the boys adventures all over the town.

There is a lot of talk about food in the novel, dishes made by John's mother and Joe's grandmother, so to satisfy the cravings that will no doubt result from the food descriptions, there are some recipes at the back of the book, including Nonna's Buttered Noodles, which I am going to make this week.

This is a book that any middle grade reader will enjoy, whether or not they are history buffs, mainly because the themes of friendship, loyalty and helpfulness are timeless.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book is part of a blog tour and was obtained from Mother Daughter & Son Book Promotion Services


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014


Wishing you a very Merry Christmas,

Little Orphan Annie Christmas 1942

Peace on earth, and
Goodwill towards all people

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Shepherd by Frederick Forsyth

It's Christmas Eve, 1957, and a 20 year old pilot has just climbed into the cockpit of his Vampire jet fighter, taking off from an RAF air base in Germany to return to England and home in time for Christmas day.

But ten minutes after taking off, over the North Sea, the pilot runs into his first bit of trouble - the jet's compass is not longer working.  Before long, the jet suffers a complete electrical failure and the young pilot needs to call up every bit of emergency information he had received while still in training.

Before long, the pilot is completely lost in the fog over the North Sea and beginning to run out of fuel.   Bailing out isn't an option - the fighter jet just isn't made for that and it would most likely mean instant death.  Not far from the Norfolk coast, he decides to use a last resort technique - flying triangles in the hope that the odd behavior would be noticed and bring out a rescue plane that could bring the Vampire down safely.

The triangular pattern works, and suddenly, a pilot in an old World War II de Havilland Mosquito fighter with the initials JK on the side is signaling that he understands the problem and will shepherd the Vampire to safety.  Shepherding is when the rescue aircraft flies wing-tip to wing-tip with the disabled plane.

The Mosquito shepherds the Vampire slowly into the descent.  By now, the Vampire had pretty much run out of fuel.  Suddenly, "without warning, the shepherd pointed a single forefinger at me, then forward through the windscreen.  It meant, 'There you are, fly on and land.'"  At first, the pilot sees nothing.  Then, the blur of two parallel lines of lights become visible in the fog.  The pilot is able to safely land his Vampire.

After being rescued and brought back to RAF Station Minton, now just a supply depot run by the elderly WWII Flight Lieutenant Marks, things begin to get odd.  To begin with, Marks can't imagine how the young pilot found his way to the runway on this now preactically deserted base that had been a thriving hub of RAF pilots and planes during WWII.  And, the young pilot doesn't seem to be able to find anyone who knows anything about the pilot in the mosquito who had shepherded him to safety.  The whole story begins to become more and more sinister until the young pilot notices an old WWII picture in a room and recognizes the pilot in it standing by his Mosquito with the same JK initials.


But, who is the mysterious shepherd who brought a young pilot to safety on Christmas Eve 1957?

All through the novella, the young pilot provides himself with the rational explanations of how and why everything he experiences happens.  And most of the explanations are fine. That is, until he comes to the part about the shepherd, where all rational explanation fails, giving the story its surprise ending.

The Shepherd is a short, 144 page novella written in 1975 by Frederick Forsyth, author of novels like The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File.  It is said he wrote The Shepherd for Christmas as a present for his wife.

This tightly written illustrated story is perfect for Christmas Eve, with its message of hope.

Every year, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation broadcasts a reading of The Shepherd by Alan Maitland on CBC Radio One.  Maitland passed away in 1999, but recordings of him reading The Shepherd are available, like this wonderful 32 minute reading.


This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was purchased for my personal library

This is my World War II book for my 2014 War Challenge with a Twist hosted by War Through the Genreations

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hit Parade #5: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas



The not terribly Christmasy
original 1944 sheet music
On November 28, 1944, MGM released a movie starring Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor and Tom Drake, among others.  The movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, takes place in 1903, a year before the St. Louis World's Fair.  The Smith family has just learned that they will be moving from St. Louis to New York City.  Esther, 17 and played by Judy Garland, have fallen for the boy next door and is very unhappy about the move.  During Christmas, Tootie, her much younger sister played by Margaret O'Brien, is also upset about leaving family behind and is also afraid Santa won't be able to find her because of the move.  Esther sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to try and comfort her sister as much as herself.

When the song was first written in 1944 by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine for the movie, some of the lyrics were very not quite as heartwarming as the ones that we are most familiar with now, so they were rewritten.  As you can see, there is quite a difference in meaning and sentiment:


Why the change?  Well, the world was still at war and, according to *Ace Collins, Judy Garland had spent a lot of time entertaining the troops during the past three years as well as visiting, talking and reading their fan mail.  She had a pretty good idea that a depressing song wasn't what was wanted or needed by these courageous soldiers and so, with support from the movie's director (and her future husband), Vincent Minnelli, she sent the song back to Martin and Blaine and asked for a rewrite.  The new version was certainly more hopeful than the original.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"was released as a single in time for Christmas 1944, and Collins writes, when Judy Garland "sang in to soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen, there wasn't a dry eye in the place."

The song only spent one week on Billboard's charts in 1944.  With its message of hope for a future, it was extremely popular with troops, particularly those still serving overseas.  It seems that it wasn't until later that "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" became a big hit with the general public.

In 1957, Frank Sinatra recorded it for an album called A Jolly Christmas.  Thinking the line "Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow" wasn't very jolly, he asked Martin to revise that lyric and so it became "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough," which may the the lyric you are most familiar with, although both are still recorded by singers today.



Of the approximately 150 different versions that have been recorded since 1944, all by different recording artists, I think my favorites are the ones by Rosemary Clooney (1976) and Diana Krall (2001).  

Do you have a favorite version of this beloved Christmas song?

*Collins, Ace.  Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday #15 - Top Ten Books I Read in 2014


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

Picking the top ten books I've read in 2014 was no easy task, so I've decided to list the top ten books I've read here on The Children's War and list the top ten books I've read on my other blog Randomly Reading.

(I liked these books all equally well, so the list isn't from favorite to least favorite)

1- Dash by Kirby Larson
Mitsi and her family lose everything when they are forced to live in an internment camp, including her beloved dog Dash.  Luckily, a kind neighbor agrees to care for Dash.

When a cruel German captain orders the killing of the last of a small herd of Przewalski's horses, a young Jewish girl tries to save the mare and stallion that survive, even if it means putting herself in danger.  

I love a good mystery and I love historical fiction, so this mystery series is perfect.  Maggie Hope is a great main character, an American who found herself in England at the start of World War II and remained there.

This graphic novel, illustrated in a palette of wonderful colors, tells the story of a Japanese American teen and his American mom forced to go into an internment camp and the nightmares he has about his dad, stuck in Japan when Pearl Harbor was bombed while caring for his elderly parents.

With his signature collage illustrations, Sis writes about the life of Antoine de Saint Exupéry, his love of flying and its connection to writing The Little Prince.  A beautiful picture book for older readers. 

This was a fun novel to read.  It's a great New York story, but also a nice introduction to monuments men who saved works of art in Europe during WWII.

This is a poignant World War I story about a boy, his dad and PTSD.  When his dad's letters stop coming from the front lines, his young son wonders why.  Then an overheard comment in King's Cross  Station results in discovery and surprise for the son.

This is a two for one because I read both this year and couldn't decide which to list.  Besides, I'm really hooked on these post war mysteries.  Young Flavia de Luce is quite the amateur detective, complete with her own lab.  These are fun mysteries and I can't wait to read the next one.

I loved Hartnett's The Midnight Garden and this is just as wonderful.  Two children, evacuated to the country during WWII, meet two boys who seem to be from another time.  And they are, but it is all connected as only Hartnett can do. 

My mom was a nurse and so I have a real soft spot for them.  This nonfiction book about nurses caught in the Pacific war, their dedication to their patients, even under harsh circumstances as POWs, is an excellent addition to women's history, especially during wartime.  

11- The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin
Another favorite nonfiction book, I learned so much about this almost completely unheard of event that happened in WWII, perhaps because it involved African American sailors.  This is really one of the best books I've read this year.






Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hunt for the Bamboo Rat by Graham Salsibury

Zenji Watanabe is 17 years old in the summer of 1941, a Nesei born on Honolulu to Japanese parents.  Naturally, he is fluent in both Japanese and English.  He has also just graduated from high school and is thinking about studying Buddhism in Japan, Meanwhile, he was working to help support his family - mother, older brother Henry, younger sister Aiko, father deceased.

All that changes when Zenji's JROTC commanding officer Colonel Blake shows up at his house one day.  He wants Zenji to be interviewed and tested, but for what?  To travel to the Philippines to translate some documents from Japanese to English.

But when Zenji arrives in Manila, he is instructed to stay at the Momo, a hotel where Japanese businessmen like staying, to befriend them and keep his ears and eyes open.  He is given the key to a mail box that he is required to check twice a day to be use for leaving and receiving information and instructions.  Zenji is also given  a contact person, Colonel Jake Olsten, head of G2, the Military Intelligence Service, and even a code name - the Bamboo Rat.

In December 1941, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and the war in the Pacific begins.  It isn't long before the Americans are forced to withdraw from Manila.  Zenji chooses to remain, giving his seat on the last plane out to another Japanese American with a family.  Not long after that, he is taken prisoner by the Japanese, who torture and threaten him trying to make him admit he is the Bamboo Rat, and considering him a traitor to his county - Japan.

Eventually, the Japanese give up and Zenji is sent to work as a houseboy/translator for the more humane Colonel Fujimoto.  Fujimoto seems to forget that Zenji is a prisoner of war, and begins to trust him more and more.

By late 1944, it's clear the Japanese are losing the war in the Pacific.  They decide to evacuate Manila and go to Baguio.  Even though food is in short supply, Zenji starts to put some aside for the day he may be able to escape into the jungle and wait for the war to end.

But of course, the best laid plans don't always work out the way we would like them to and that is true for Zenji.  Will he ever make it back to Honolulu and his family?

WOW! Graham Salisbury can really write an action-packed, exciting and suspenseful novel.  Salisbury was born and raised in Hawaii, so he gives his books a sense of place that pulsating with life.  Not many authors explore the Japanese American in Hawaii experience during World War II and not many people realize that they were never, for the most part, interned in camps the way the Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians on the west coast of the US and Canada were.  And although Hawaii was only an American territory until it became a state in 1959, if you were born there, you had American citizenship, just like Zenji continuously tells his Japanese captors throughout Hunt for the Bamboo Rat.

At first, I thought Zenji was too gentle, too innocent and too trusting for the kind of work he was recruited to do, which amounted to the dangerous job of spying.  But he proved to be a strong, tough character even while he retained those his aspects of his nature.  Ironically, part of his survival as a spy and a POW is based in what his Japanese Buddhist priests had taught him before the war.

One of the nice elements that Salisbury included are the little poems Zenji's mother wrote.  Devising a form of her own, and written in Kanji, it is her way of expressing her feelings.  They are scattered throughout the book.  Zenji receives one in the mail just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and keeps it with him as long as he can, deriving comfort from it.

Like the first novel I read by Salisbury, Eyes of the Emperor, one kept me reading straight through until I finished it.  It is the fourth novel in his Prisoners of the Empire series, and it is a well-crafted, well-researched story, but it is a stand alone novel.  Zenji's story is based on the real wartime experiences of Richard Motoso Sakakida.

True to form, Salisbury brings in a lot of history, along with real people and events, but be careful, fact and fiction are seamlessly woven together.  He also includes the tension between the Filipino people and the Japanese after the Philippines are occupied by the Japanese and the cruel treatment of the Filipino people.   And included is the tension between Chinese and Japanese in Hawaii because of the Nanjing massacre of Chinese civilians in 1937/38.

All of this gives Hunt for the Bamboo Rat a feeling of authenticity.  There is some violence and reading the about Zenji's torture isn't easy, so it may not appeal to the faint at heart.

Hunt for the Bamboo Rat is historical fiction that will definetely appeal to readers, whether or not they particularly enjoy WWII fiction. And be sure to look at the Author's Note, the Glossary and additional Resources at the end of the novel.

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bear on the Homefront by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat, illustrated by Brian Deines

In A Bear in War, a young girl named Aileen Rogers sends her beloved teddy bear to her father, a medic in Europe with the Fifth Canadian Mounted Rifles during World War I, in the hope that it would keep him safe from harm.  Unfortunately, Aileen's father didn't return home, dying on the battlefield, but Teddy did.

Now, it is 1940, the world is at war again and England has decided to send as many children as possible to Canada to keep them safe.  Aileen Rogers is all grown up, working as a homefront nurse, whose present job is excorting the English children to their wartime foster homes.  And yes, she still has Teddy, carrying him in her pocket in hope that seeing him will help the children feel less afraid.

As a ship arrives, Teddy notices that two small children, Grace and younger brother William, 5, look particularly lost and afraid.  With a long ocean voyage behind them and now facing a long train ride across Canada, Aileen and Teddy take them under their wing.  William is allowed to keep Teddy when they arrive at their destination.  And so, for the rest of the war, Grace, Teddy and Wiliam live on a farm, helping their host family and keeping in touch with the parents by post.

The war lasted five years, and by the end, William was 10 years old.  Grace and William return to England and their parents, and Teddy is returned to Aileen.

This lovely, gentle story about separation is narrated by Teddy, an old hand at being away from Aileen, and so someone who really understands the feelings of loneliness and anxiety that William feels at being so far away from his mom and dad.  Sometimes, just having a warm and furry toy is enough to provide just the right amount of reassurance needed to get through something difficult.

Along with and complimenting Teddy's narration are beautiful, realistic oil paintings by Brian Deines.  These illustrations are the same softness to them that Teddy's words offer.

Author Stephanie Innes created A Bear in War and Bear on the Homefront used family memorabilia, including letters, photographs, Aileen's journal and, of course, Teddy.  Teddy was donated to the Canadian War Museum.  You can hear about it in the short video below (after the annoying ad).


This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Your Hit Parade #4: Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)

In honor of the return of my very favorite variety of apple, the *Honey Crisp, returning to produce shelves now, I have had the song "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" running through my head now for the past two weeks and I thought it would be interesting to explore the song's WWII roots.

In the spring of 1942, things were not going well for the United States, now at war in Europe and the Pacific.  In fact, things were really looking bad in the Pacific, where the US was losing in the Philippines and would end up surrendering in Bataan and in Corregidor to the Japanese.  Yet, even as the US was losing the war in those early days, Americans were still wanting and listening to war-related  music, but mostly of the novelty or sentimental variety and if only to boost morale.

"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" proved to be a real favorite during those dark days, but it was not originally a war-relate song.  It was written in 1939, with music and the lyrics by Sam H. Stept, Lew Brown and Charles Tobias and was called "Anywhere the Bluebird Goes," but the name was changed when it was used in a play called Yokel Boy starring Judy Canova.  According the Playbill, Yokel Boy opened  July 6, 1939 and closed January 6, 1940, after only 208 performances.

But the song's popularity increased after the US entered the war.  In early 1942, it had been recorded by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, and with vocals by Beneke, Marion Hutton (older sister of Betty Hutton), and the Modernaires.  Miller's version of "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" was very popular and stayed on Billboard's charts for 13 weeks in 1942.

Billboard January 2, 1943 pg 27
In May 1943, the movie Private Buckaroo, a musical comedy about army recruits after they are finished with basic training, was released.  In it, the Andrews Sisters travel around the US, performing at USO dances in uniform  accompanied by Henry James and his Orchestra.  One of their most popular songs in the film was "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree."  The song was a perfect fit, since it is about a young soldier who is off to war and is basically asking his sweetheart to stay true to him while he is off fighting, something that was happening every day in real life.


"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" proved to be a very big hit for the Andrews Sister, and though not as big as "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", it does have that distinctive swing style Maxine, LaVerne and Patty Andrews were so well known for, as you can see in this clip from the movie:



In his 1985 Pulitzer Prize winning oral history of World War II, The Good War, author Studs Turkel interviewed Maxine Andrews about the wartime experiences of Andrews Sisters. This is what she said about "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree":
"I remember we sang it up in Seattle when a whole shipload of troops went out.  We stood there on the deck and all the young men up there waving and yelling and screaming.  As we sang "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," all the mothers and sisters and sweethearts sang with us as the ship went off.  It was wonderful.  The songs were romantic.  It was a feeling of - not futility,  It was like everybody in the United States held on to each other's hands."

"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" was so popular that during 1942, three different versions were recorded and all ended up on the pop charts - Glenn Miller's The Andrews Sisters, and Kay Kyser and his band.


*The Honey Crisp is the only apple that should be refrigerated otherwise it gets mealy real quick.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Hitler in Paris: How a Photograph Shocked a World at War by Don Nardo

Even before he seized power and became the chancellor of Germany in 1933, Hitler had done two things that most people seeking political office rarely did at that time - first was that he used a private plane with his own pilot to campaign quickly all over Germany.  The plane was so much faster than a train or car, and much less tiring.  The second thing he did was to have a personal photographer to record his every move.  That photographer was Heinrich Hoffmann.

You probably know, if only from reading The Extra by Kathryn Lasky, that Leni Riefenstahl made several propaganda films, but her most famous film of all was Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens) documenting the 1934 Nuremberg Rally and showcasing Hitler.  She was a talented and innovative filmmaker, and a good friend of Hitler's (despite later denials of not knowing anything about was was happening in Nazi Germany and the occupied countries), but for still photography, it was Heinrich Hoffmann that Hitler wanted.

Hoffman was a very talented photographer, who loved to take pictures of people in moments when their guard was down, and recording their spontaneous actions/reactions.  But he was also gifted at the posed photograph and the iconic June 1940 photograph he took of Hitler standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, flanked on one side by Albert Speer and on the other by Arno Breker, is the one that Don Nardo has chosen to focus on in his book Hitler in Paris.  It is this photograph that best represents Hitler's dominance in Europe.  Standing at the Eiffel Tower, in a now defeated France, and with conquered countries to the North, South and East of France, Hitler's sights are now to the West and Britain.  One can only imagine how people must have felt when they saw this photo.  But what brought Hitler and Hoffmann to this point?

Nardo gives the reader a parallel history of each man early life - both middle class, but with very different family circumstances.  Events in Hitler's early life, a cruel father with whom he often fought, held feed his anger and hate at those more fortunate, and was later spurred on and fueled by Germany's defeat in World War I, for which he desperately wanted to seek revenge.

Hoffmann, by contrast, was taken under his father's wing and taught the art of photography.  Nardo describes Hoffmann as a very likable man, who claimed (like Riefenstahl) that he was not political, his relationship with Hitler was strictly personal and he had no knowledge of what was happening around him.  Eva Braun worked in his photography studio and it was Hoffmann who introduced her to Hitler (you may recall that from reading Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman).

Taken on the same trip to Paris by
Hoffmann
This is a short, 64 page book that is filled with information and photographs, all taken by Hoffmann.
 Nardo has done a pretty good job at presenting these two men with objectivity and allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions about them and the circumstances depicted in the book.

Nardo also used lots of primary and secondary sources to write Hitler in Paris, giving the book a real sense of time an place, as well bringing these two controversial figures to life.  Additionally, he has included a useful timeline, a glossary, a list of additional resources, source notes and a selected bibliography.  There are also copious photographs of Hoffmann's, which are all now in the public domain.

Hitler in Paris: How a Photograph Shocked a Word at War will probably have great appeal to history buffs interested in the 20th century, WWII, and/or Nazi Germany.  But it will also appeal to serious serious budding photographers and even to those who are more experienced as a study in how one emblematic photograph can convey so much.

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


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sunday Funnies #19: Thanksgiving Day Edition



I have a lot to be thankful for this year.  First, my Kiddo is happy and healthy and living in California with her new husband and I will be seeing them at Christmas when they come to visit.

I'm thankful for my friends and family, even if I don't get to see them very often.  And I am thankful for my online friends, even though I haven't met many of them.  One of the things I love about blogging is getting to know so many people all over the world, an opportunity that can be found in few other ways.   Thank you to all my followers and readers.  Your presence on my blog is much appreciated.

Thanksgiving was hit hard in WWII because of rationing and it wasn't lost on the people who drew comic strips for the newspapers, as you can see:

November 25, 1943 Rationing on the Home Front:


November 25, 1943 Rations on the Front Lines:



I wish everyone a happy and bountiful Thanksgiving



Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Tattered Prayer Book by Ellen Bari, illustrated by Avi Katz

When young Ruthie finds a tattered prayer book in a box of old photographs marked Germany in her grandmother's house, she gets quite a surprise.  The prayer book in written in Hebrew and German and had apparently been burned.  Even more surprising - her grandmother tells Ruthie that the book came from Germany and it belongs to her father.

When Ruthie asks her dad about it, he tells her that he was born and lived a happy life in Hamburg with his family, and with lots of cousins and friends.  But, when the Nazis took over the government in 1933, all that changed.  Soon, Jews weren't allowed in restaurants, movie theaters, libraries, schools.  Old friends became instant bullies.

Then, in November 1938, Nazis began a night of destruction, Kristallnacht, destroying Jewish business and synagogues, setting them on fire.  When Ruthie's dad saw what was left of his synagogue, he also saw burnt prayer books all over.  He reached for one and hid it in his coat - a reminder of the place where he had once been so happy.

One day, while he and his father were in a shop, Nazis came down the road probably to arrest the men.  Ruthie's Grandpa slipped out the back door, while her dad ran home to tell his mother what happened.  Days later, Grandpa came back home and told his family he had to leave, sailing for America with his son Fred.

Every night, her dad opened his burnt, tattered prayer book and prayed.  Finally, in June 1939, visas arrived for Ruthie's dad, mother and brother Sid.  Other friends and family members were leaving Germany, too, for Argentina and Israel.  Others, sadly, had to remain in Germany.

On board the ship, after the Sabbath candles were lit, Ruthie's dad showed the prayer book to his mother, expecting her to be angry, but she wanted it to be a reminder of the good life they had had in Germany and a source of strength for the future.

Recalling what happened so long ago in his life in Germany, after making such an effort to forget it all, Ruthie's father realizes how important that burnt, tattered prayer book had been to him and how much what it symbolized is an important part of himself.

The burnt prayer book is a symbol of both the happy, good life Ruthie's dad and his family shared before the Nazis came to power, and at the same time, the terrible years that followed.

Often, when we talk about the Holocaust, it is about the mass roundups of Jews, the death camps they were sent to, and the attempt to systematically destroy an entire race of people.  But nothing happens in a vacuum and neither did the Holocaust.  Between the years 1933 and 1938, Jews were subject to all kinds of degrading treatment by Hitler's henchman in the SA and the SS, and by ordinary citizens who turned their backs on friends overnight.

In The Tattered Prayer Book, Ellen Bari has written an informative, but gentle picture book for older readers (age 7+) about those deplorable years in a way that kids will definitely understand.  It is an ideal book for parents who wish to introduce their children about the Holocaust themselves before they learn about it in school.  Teachers, however, will also find it to be an excellent book for teaching the Holocaust, as well.

The illustrations by Avi Katz are done in sepia-tones that are reminiscent of old photographs and burnt paper, again reflecting that balance of good and bad times that the prayer book represents.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was sent to me by the publisher

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

This novel opens on October 27, 1942.  Helmuth Hübener, 17, has been imprisoned on death row in Plotzensee Prison, Berlin, charged with high treason against the Third Reich.  He had hoped the court would show lenicency because of his age, but that hope was now gone.  Sentenced to death, Helmuth recalls, in a series of flashbacks, the events in his life that led him to this day.

As a young child living in Hamburg, Helmuth hears his grandparents talk about their dislike of the Nazis and their leader, Adolf Hitler and Opa's predictions that Hitler wants war.  But Helmuth likes playing with his toy soldiers and thinks maybe he will be a soldier when he is old enough to fight.

But when Hitler seizes power in 1933, Helmuth sees everything around him change.  Teachers and schoolmates show their support for the new chancellor and begin harassing the Jewish students, Germans are told to boycott Jewish stores, enforced by SS and SA destroying their businesses.  Un-German books and movies are forbidden, and Helmuth is afraid that means Karl May's beloved stories about America's wild west, until his brother Gerhard tells him they are Hitler's favorites, too.

In 1935, Helmuth's mother begins seeing a Nazi named Hugo Hübener.  Hugo changes everything in their home and after the two marry, moves the family away from Opa and Oma.

In 1938, at age 12, Helmuth begins a new school, where he is immediately labelled a troublemaker by his teacher, a Nazi.  He is punished by having to write an essay with the title "Adolf Hitler: Savior of the Fatherland."  Helmuth knows he must bite the bullet and write the essay his teacher expects and in the end, even his teacher has to admit that he is a talented writer.  Helmuth is also required to join the Jungvolk, the younger version of the Hitler Youth.

When his older brother Gerhard is inducted into the army in 1939, he is sent to Paris for training.  Once the war begins, Helmuth suspects that the Reich's radio is not giving the German people the truth about what is going on.  When Gerhard returns from France, he bring a new forbidden short wave radio back with him., but hides it and tells Helmuth to leave it alone.  At first, Helmuth resists the temptation to listen to it, but after a while he can't resist any longer and each night, sets up the radio to hear the BBC broadcasts done in German.  And just as he suspected, the German people are indeed being lied to about German successes in the war.

Helmuth, who is a devout Mormon and who practices his faith throughout, convinces his two best friends from church, Rudi Wobbe and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, to help him create leaflets transcribing the BBC broadcasts to be distributed all over Hamburg.

Helmuth, Rudi and Karl are turned into the Gestapo by a supposed friend, put on trial and sentenced. Helmuth is the only one sentenced to death for high treason.  He had promised Rudi and Karl he would  take full responsibility, so they were only sentenced to imprisonment for a few years (which were shortened more when Germany lost the war).

It is through the flashbacks, that Bartoletti skillfully shows us Helmuth's development from a child who enthusiastically  supports the Nazis to an adolescent who critically questions what he sees going on around him to a courageous young man willing to risk death in order to tell people the truth about Hitler and the Nazis.  It makes for a very powerful story.

The Boy Who Dared is historical fiction based on a true story and is one of the reasons why Helmuth's story is so compelling.  I think that it is important for today's readers to understand that not everyone in Germany supported Hitler and his politics, but so many chose to remain silence about their feelings, like Helmuth's mother who told him that silence is how people get on sometimes. (pg 95)  In fact, we never really know how Helmuth's mother really feels.  She married a Nazi, but her family was basically against Hitler.

At the back of the novel, there are photographs of Helmuth, his friends and family, as well as an extensive, not to be skipped over Author's Note explaining how Bartoletti researched the novel and the people she interviewed.

Helmuth was the youngest resister of the Third Reich to be executed.  His story really makes you stop
Helmuth, age 16
and think about whether or not you might have had the kind of courage of your convictions that Helmuth had.  Did his actions impact anyone who knew him or read the leaflets he wrote?  Except for his stepfather, Hugo, who did become a changed man after Helmuth's execution,we will never know, but hopefully Helmuth's story will inspire others to find courage within themselves to speak out against injustice and lies regardless.

If you are moved by The Boy Who Dared, and would like to know more about what life was like for young people like Helmeth during the Third Reich, then be sure to look at Susan Campbell Bartoletti's excellent nonfiction book Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow. 

Scholastic offers an extensive lesson plan/discussion guide for readers of The Boy Who Dared which you can find HERE 

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Craig Orback

Gifts from the Enemy is based on Alter Wiener's book From a Name to a Number: A Holocaust Survivor's Autobiography. 

It is many years after the Holocaust and Atler begins his personal story of survival by telling the reader that he was an ordinary person with an extraordinary past.

Alter was only 13 when the Nazis invaded Poland, including his small village of Chrzanów.  Up until the invasion on September 1, 1939, the Wiener family, Papa, Mama, and brother Schmuel and Hirsch had lived a comfortable happy life.  His mother was a generous woman and every Shabbath she made sure there was enough food to share with the homeless and less fortunate.

But soon after the Nazis arrived, Jews no longer had any rights - they could not go to school, the park, to the synagogue, and a curfew was imposed making all Jews prisoners in their own homes.  Before long, the Nazis came for Alter's father, killing him.  A year later, they came for his brother Schmuel.

When Alter was 15, the Nazis came for him in the middle of the night.  He never saw any of his family again. Atler was sent to a prison labor camp, where he and the other prisoners were always cold and hungry, and forced to work long hard hours.

While working in a German factory, a German worker caught his attention and pointed to a box.  Later, Alter went to see what she was pointing at.  Underneath a box was a bread and cheese sandwich.  This went on for 30 day and Atler believes that this woman not only helped to save his life, but taught him the valuable lesson that "there are the kind and the cruel in every group of people."

After the Russian Army liberated the camp Alter was in, he tried to find the woman who had shown him some kindness at a time when kindness towards Jews was forbidden.   He never did discover who she was, but he has never forgotten her.

Trudy Ludwig has taken the adult version of Alter Wiener's story and simplified it for younger readers, yet it never sounds condescending or patronizing.  The book is written from Alter's point of view, and as he recounts his experiences, Ludwig is able to include a lot of historical information in his narrative about the Nazi occupation of Poland and about the horror that was the Holocaust without overwhelming or frightening the reader.

Gifts from the Enemy was illustrated by Craig Orback.  His realistic oil paintings are light in times of freedom, happiness or hope and appropriately dark during the days of Alter's imprisonment by the Nazis.

With its message of hope at the end, Gifts from the Enemy is an excellent choice to begin the difficult talking about the Holocaust with children, especially as a read aloud.  And to help do that, Ludwig has included information about hate, the Holocaust, a vocabulary for what might be unfamiliar words for many kids, as well as discussion questions and activities for young readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day 2014

Honor to the soldier and the sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country's cause.  
Abraham Lincoln




IT IS THE VETERAN

It is the Veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the Veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the Veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Veteran, who saluted the Flag,
It is the Veteran, who serves under the Flag,
To be buried by the flag
So the protester can burn the flag.
Anoymous

To all Veterans, Thank You for your Service!


In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001








Sunday, November 9, 2014

Movie Matinee #6: The Book Thief

I've waited a whole year to watch this movie.  When it opened, I had just reread the novel and wanted to put some distance between the written word and its cinematic representation.  Also, the critics really didn't like this movie.  In his New York Times review of November 7, 2013, Stephen Holden, described The Book Thief as a "shameless piece of Oscar-seeking Holocaust kitsch."    At rogerebert.com, critic Godfrey Cheshire echoes this sentiment, writing that there is a distinct air of solipsism in the film, that main character Liesel never undergoes a transformation, so that the actual tragedy [that is the Holocaust] is reduced to the role of kitschy backdrop.

Sounds like a colossal flop, doesn't it?

But, let's not forget that in her March 27, 2006 review for the NY Times Janet Maslin snarkily referred to the novel as "Harry Potter and the Holocaust."  Yet, it has been on the NY Times YA best seller list almost consistently since it come out and almost everyone who reads it, loves it.

OK, back to the movie with a Spoiler Alert Warning

It's  April 1938 and the voice of Death begins to tell the story of young Liesel Meminger, on a train with her mother and brother traveling to their new family.  The children are being taken from their mother because she's a communist.  When Liesel's brother dies on the trip, he's buried by the side of the tracks.  One of the gravedigger's drops his manual and it becomes the first book Liesel steals.

Arriving at the home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann on the ironically named Heaven Street, it soon becomes apparent that Liesel can't read and she becomes a target for the class bully, Franz Deutsche.  So, gentle, kind-hearted Hans teaches her how to read in the basement of their home, using chalk to list the words she learns on the walls.  Rosa Huberman appears to be a hard-hearted women who calls every one Saumensch (pig) and takes in the Bürgermeister's laundry to make some money.

Liesel becomes friends with neighbor Rudy, who is immediately smitten with her.  Rudy also admires runner Jesse Owens, and works hard to emulate his skill, which earns him a place in a special Nazi school when he turns 14.

After Kristallnacht in November 1939, Max Vanderburg arrives ill at the Hubermann's home one night seeking refuge.  Max is on the run from the Nazis because he is a Jew, but his father had saved Hans's life in WWI and so the Hubermann's willingly take him in despite the danger to themselves and Liesel if they were to be caught.

During a book burning, Liesel steals another book.  But this time someone sees her and when she next delivers the Bürgermeister's laundry, his wife invites her in to see and use their library to her heart's content.  Unfortunately, when her staunch Nazi husband discovers it, he throws Liesel out and fires Rosa.  Later, when Max becomes very ill, Liesel starts to sneak into the Bürgermeister's library to borrow books to read to him.   Liesel and Max are definitely kindred spirits when it comes to their love of books, reading and words.

Despite living in Nazi Germany, Liesel is surrounded by people who love her and whom she loves.  But Death soon visits again and Liesel loses everyone she loves.  Death also informs us that Liesel grew up, married (not Max), had children and grandchildren, and became a successful writer.

Not everyone disliked this movie as intensely as the two critics above.  And neither did I, although I do think it is a somewhat flawed film.  Cinematically, it is a beautiful film.  It was directed by Brian Percival, whom you might remember directed some of the Downtown Abbey episodes.  And there is a definite Downtown feel to The Book Thief, mostly notably in the cinematic color palette Percival used.  It was done in dark shades of browns, blacks, and red so that the bright red, white and black of the Nazi flag really stands out, as does the fire yellows in the book burning scene.

Living in Nazi Germany meant leaving in constant fear, but I didn't necessarily feel that that in the movie, as much as in the book.  Sure, there were air raids and house searches looking for hidden Jews and constantly being hungry, there was even a scene where Jews were forced to march through the streets in a roundup.  And when Hans stands up for a Jewish acquaintance, he finds himself drafted into the German Army despite his age.  But there was a certain lack of feeling on the part of the characters even while they are endearing themselves to you.

The person I watched the movie with thought it was odd that Liesel and Rudy were both in the Hitler Youth, but they would have had no choice, that was mandatory by then.  Penalties for not letting your children join were harsh and stiff.  But it is clear, even as Germany is losing on the Eastern Front, Liesel believes what she has been told - that Germany is winning the war.

The book burning seems strangely out of place.  Book burning were done in the early 1930s,  In all my research, I don't recall hearing about book burnings happening the late 1930s or early 1940s.  It seems a  plot device to bring Liesel and the Bürgermeister's wife together on a mutual appreciative ground.  Her dead son was also a lover of books and the library that temporarily is made accessible to Liesel belonged to him.

Five years pass during which Liesel lives with the Hubermann's that we see and in all that time, Liesel and Rudy don't get older.  The only concession to time passing this the length of Liesel's hair, but Rudy never matures beyond his original 12 years.

Those are my main gripes about The Book Thief.  On the whole, I did like the film, and thought the acting was excellent.  Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson play the Hubermanns,  Sophie Nélisse plays Liesel and Nico Liersch is Rudy.  Some complaints were made because the characters speaks English with German accents with the occasional German word.  My feeling was that it bridged the fact that I was watching a German story in English and helped to keep the sense of place.

This film is recommended for viewers age 13+
This film was purchased for my personal library


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Two Dog Heroes of WWI

 Rags: Hero Dog of WWI, a true story
written by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Petra Brown

This is the story of a mongrel dog who was surviving by his wits in Paris when he was found by an American soldier named James Donovan during an air raid after the Americans entered WWI.

Private Donovan felt sorry for the hungry, scruffy, scared pup, giving him the very suitable name Rags.  When the air raid was over, Donovan took Rags back to his army base, where he was ordered to pack up this gear so he could leave for the battlefield that night.  And yes, Rags went with him.

It didn't take long for Rags to become a favorite with the soldiers and to adjust to infantry life in the trenches.  He was immediately put to work, chasing mice and rats out of the trench where Donovan was fighting.  Donovan was a radio operator and soon Rags was delivering important messages all up and down the trenches.

It didn't take long for Rags to become quite the hero.  In October 1918, little more than a month before the war ended, Donovan and Rags were both seriously injured in a terrible battle, but not before Rags got a message through that helps the Allies win the battle.  At the army hospital, a kind doctor found Rags and took care of his injuries.  From then on, Rags was blind in one eye, deaf in one ear and walked with a limp.  Sadly, Donovan did not survive his injuries.

Rags: Hero Dog of WWI is really a picture book for older readers, though there are not real resources at the back of the book.  It is well written, but though the story is based on an actual dog, it is really historical fiction.  Still, it is an inspiring work and is sure to please kids who like animal stories.  By the same token, it introduces the reader to some of the horrors of war in a gentle, age appropriate way.

The soft, muted realistic illustrations by Petra Brown are sure to tug at the heartstrings.  I know they did mine.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Stubby the Dog Soldier, World War I Hero
written by Blake Hoena, illustrated by Oliver Hurst

Like Rags, Stubby (named that because of his stubby tail) was also a scruffy stray who began to follow Private J. Robert Conroy around his army base in New Haven, CT after Conroy had given him some leftover food.  Soon, Conroy made a place for Stubby to sleep under his bed and a friendship was born.  It didn't take long for Stubby to become the mascot of the 26th Infantry Division and in August 1917, he sailed to France with the soldiers.

On the battlefield, Stubby's keen sense of smell served as a warning when the enemy starting using mustard gas to attack the soldiers.  The mustard gas would have burned their skin and lungs so they couldn't breath if Stubby hadn't warned them.  Soon, the soldiers learned to follow Stubby's cues.  He sense of hearing warned them when a bomb was coming so they could take cover, and he even helped capture a German soldier crawling over no man's land to drop a grenade in the trenches.

When the war ended, Conroy went to Georgetown Law and Stubby went with him, becoming the football team's mascot.  Stubby died in 1926.

Stubby the Dog Soldier, World War I Hero is a similar story to that of Rags, but for younger readers.  It too is well written and straightforward, with back matter that includes a glossary, books for further reading and even a Critical Thinking using the Common Core section.

Oliver Hurst's oil painted and pencil folk art type illustrations are done in a palette of browns, greens and blues, giving Stubby's story a real feeling of the battlefield, where I don't imagine there were too many bright colors anywhere, since soldiers was to blend in the background.

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was received from the publisher

Dogs were not officially used in World War I, but both Rags and Stubby were two of the exceptions.  In fact, each received a write-up in the New York Times when they died.

You can read the obituary for Rags HERE and Stubby's HERE (oddly located at the bottom of the page about the Metropolitian Museum of Art)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween, Donuts and Soul Cakes


HAPPY HALLOWEEN


I was thinking about Halloween and what kind of post to do this year, which is hard since Halloween wasn't a big deal during WWII and really wasn't even much of a children's holiday.  Halloween and trick or treating didn't become a such a big thing for kids until after the war.  

Searching through my virtual folder marked Halloween, I came across this old ad from a 1943 Life Magazine.  I had already done a Weekend Cooking post called Victory through Donuts about the hard-working canteen women of the Red Cross, who went all over this country and Britain handing out coffee and donuts to soldiers, and thought I was done with donuts of WWII.   


But when I saw that little square at the end of the illustrations, reminding people to invite servicemen to their Halloween Party, and to serve donuts, I began to wonder why donuts are so much a part of Halloween festivities.

Enlargement from the above ad.

Turns out, there is a reason for it and it has noting to do with servicemen or WWII, but is interesting nevertheless.  So, what's the scoop?

It all began with an old English custom, mostly likely stemming from the very early Middle Ages, if not actually from the dark ages.  All Hallows Eve (October 31st) was traditionally the time that the dead return to earth along with all manner of dark forces, such as witches, ghosts, goblins, and devils, to wreck havoc and mischief.  And it was a day when Christians would stay home and lit fires to keep away any of these spirits.  On the next two days, All Saints' Day, also called All Hallows Day, and All Souls' Day, it was the custom of the poor and destitute to go out begging, or a-soulin', from door to door and singing their traditional soul song.

When a beggar did come to someones door, s/he would be given a small round cake called a soul cake in return for a promise to pray for those who had died in the household during the past year and who might still in Purgatory.  The cakes were a type of shortbread and had a cross drawn on it to make it as an alms cakes, and sometimes it would also have currants sprinkled on the top.  They would look something like this:

From NPR, where  you can get the recipe
Legend has it, however, that the beggars were more interested in the food they received and not terribly in the prayers they promised in return.  One woman decided to cut a hole in the middle of the soul cake, fried it in deep fat and gave them out to anyone who came a-soulin'.  The circle was a reminder of eternity, where we will all end up someday.  Whether true or not, it is the precursor to having donuts at Halloween.

You may remember that Peter, Paul and Mary had a song called A-Soalin' on their 1963 album Moving (which also had Puff the Magic Dragon on it).  Their version pretty close to all the old version I have seen, and you might think that the last stanza was attached to the original song  by the trio because of its reference to Christmas.  This isn't entirely wrong since the poor and destitute went a-soulin' or really a-wassailing at Christmastime as well as on All Saints' and All Souls Days:


Well, this is a long way from donuts, soldiers and WWII, but here is a reminder to enjoy a donut for Halloween with your own trick or treaters, after all,


NB: I've give just a basic description of soulin' and soul cakes.  There are actually a number of descriptions about the origins of these traditions, and the roots of  Halloween.  You may even recall that soul cakes were mention in the novel Catherine, called Birdy by Karen Cushman.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Less Than Perfect Peace by Jacqueline Levering Sullivan

It's January 1950 and for most people, WWII has been over for five years.  But not in the Howard household in Tacoma, Washington.  It was only fours years ago that Annie Leigh's father, who had been MIA, returned from the war, and spent time in a convalescent hospital learning to adjust to his blindness.  Now, he's home, but is starting to withdraw more and more, refusing any more help with his blindness, unlike Uncle Billy, who had also come home from the war with PTSD, and had gotten help for it.  Now, the Howard Brothers are planing on starting a carpentry business together - one that won't require Annie's father to leave home.

On top of that, her mother, who seems to be extremely most self-absorbed and domineering, has started her own beauty salon, a long time dream finally realized, but a bone of contention between her and her husband.  The family needs the money the salon will bring in, but it takes up a lot of her time, or maybe, Annie speculates, what takes up her mother's time is really the florist, Mr. Larry Capaldi, whose shop is downstairs from the salon and who frequently picks Mrs. Howard up and drops her off.

Into all this come Jon and Elizabeth VanderVelde, refugee twins from Holland who have come to  Tacoma to live with their Aunt Dee and Uncle Hendrick.  They live on the estate of a wealthy family,  Aunt Dee is the cook and housekeeper and Uncle Henrick is their driver.  Jon and Elizabeth immediately become friends with Annie Leigh, but they are also carrying their own emotional baggage, especially Jon.   The twins spent the war living under Nazi occupation, and witnessed the terrible killing of their parents, to which Jon responded in ways that left him with his own nightmares and PTSD.

Luckily for Annie, her beloved Grandma Howard from Walla Walla comes for an extended stay and can offer Annie some support, advice and stability when needed.  Meanwhile, Annie gets to know Jon better, and the two find they are attracted to each other, despite his black moods.  But after he  surprises her by telling her the truth about what happened on his family's farm towards the end of the war. Annie begins to question her feelings for Jon.   But, Annie's biggest surprise come when her mother announces that she is pregnant, and Annie can't help but wonder who the real father is.

Yes, this coming of age story is packed with problems that Annie fears might collapse her world.  But in the process of seeking solutions, Annie learns to appreciate what those who were directly involved in the war experienced.  And in her attempt to find solutions and make everyone's world better again, she must learn to sometimes step back and let things unfold without her help.

A Less Than Perfect Peace has some nice elements to it and creates a very realistic sense of place and time, giving the reader an interesting window into the beginning of the Cold War, which is also a good metaphor for what was going on in the Howard family at the time.  At times the story did drag, and it seemed like there were just too many different story threads, but it all works out in the end and it does mimic how real life happens.

When my mother suddenly lost the sight in one of her eyes, I saw how truly panicked she was about it, and the idea of losing sight in both eyes was a really scary thought for her.  I could understand Mr. Howard's desire to stay in the safe confines of his home, where he knew his way around, and to be so resistant to admitting to himself that he is blind and therefore handicapped, even when there were programs and guide dogs to help him maneuver the world again.  His character shows what a paralyzing emotion fear can sometimes be.

I should mention that this is a sequel to Annie's War, which I haven't read yet, but enough background information is given by narrator Annie Leigh in A Less Than Perfect Peace so that it is a nice stand alone novel and a novel that will certainly resonate with many young readers especially those who are or have family members stuggling with PTSD.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was borrowed from a friend

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ashes by Kathryn Lasky

Life is pretty comfortable for Gabriella Schramm, 13, called Gaby by friends and family.  Living in 1932 Berlin, her upper middle class family is better off than most Germans at the time.  Her father is a renowned scientist, teaching astronomy at the University, and is friends with Albert Einstein.  Her mother, an former pianist who gives lessons at home now, hob nobs with Baba, a well-respected Jewish society columnist for the only newspaper in Berlin that isn't pro-Nazi.  Gaby's older sister, Ulla, is scheduled to begin studying at a conservatory in Vienna next year.  And Gaby, who loves to read anything she can get her hands on, including Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Mark Twain and my personal favorites Rainer Maria Remarque and Erich Kästner, is looking forward to reading Heinrich Heine's poetry in Gymnasium after summer vacation.

But things are beginning to change, both within Gaby's family and all over Germany.  First, Ulla insists on remaining in Berlin for the summer instead of going to the family's lakeside vacation home, claiming she has a bookkeeping job at the cabaret where her boyfriend Karl, an engineering student, works.  But when Karl and Ulla come to visit, Gaby begins to suspect that Karl is a Nazi supporter.  She had already suspected the same thing of the family housekeeper, Hertha and the man who maintains their Berlin apartment building.  In fact, Gaby has noticed a significant increase in the number of Brown Shirts (SA) and Black Shirts (SS) all over Berlin despite the ban on them.

Back in school after vacation, Gaby and her best friend Rosa are overjoyed to begin studying literature with the very beautiful, kind, well-dressed Frau Hofstadt, who is picked up everyday by a mysterious limousine.  But, at home, the talk is more and more about the political situation, which in 1932 is all over the place, though everyone is relieved when the Nazis loose seats in the Reichstag (Parliament), hoping that that will be an end to Hitler and his Nazi party.

But that's not what happens at all and through all kinds of twists and turns, Hitler is named Chancellor by President Hindenburg at the end of January 1933.  And with amazing speed, Gaby watches her previously safe, happy world fall completely to pieces.

The period 1919-1933 was such a complicated time in German history and politics.  The Nazis referred to it as the Kampfzeit, the time of struggle to gain acceptance and power for their radical policies.  Lasky covers only 1932-1933 in Ashes and kudos to her for successfully tackling it in a novel for young readers.  There is lots of talk about events that actually happened, and Lasky provides enough information to understand it without overwhelming or boring the reader.

Ashes is a well-written novel, and although it is a little slow in places, given the time and place of the action, it is indeed a worthwhile read.   I particularly loved that each chapter begins with a quote from a book Gaby loves and which foreshadows what happens in that chapter.  And since Gaby witnesses the Nazi book burning on May 10, 1933, it is all the more poignant a reminder of some of what was lost in that tragic event.

The novel is told from Gaby's point of view, which gives us her very subjective, but very astute observation, not only of what is happening around her, but how she thinks and feels about it all,  A fine example of that is when she witnesses her former math teacher, Herr Berg, being removed from her school by the Nazis for being Jewish, and disappears.  The reader feels her shock, disgust, sadness and  despair all at the same time.

Some of the scenes may feel a little cliche and I am not the first person to realize that Karl resembles Lisle's Hitler Youth boyfriend from The Sound of Music, and that there is a scene similar to one in Cabaret, in which everyone in an outdoor Biergarten joins a Hitler Youth in singing a Nazi song.  But, these scenes also make a necessary point (and people have traditionally joined in singing in Biergartens in Germany, it wasn't just a Nazi thing to show support).

Ashes is a nice contribution to the body of Holocaust and World War II literature and on its own, a very interesting book about a very complex time made accessible by good research and skillful writing.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was purchased for my personal library