Friday, January 31, 2014

I Survived #9: I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944 by Lauren Tarshis

Living inside the Jewish ghetto in Esties, Poland is difficult for everyone, but especially for Max Rosen, 11, and his younger sister Zena.  Their mother had died a while ago, and then, the Nazis had taken away their father in the middle of the night.  The children are scared and hungry.  Before she disappeared, his Aunt Hannah had told Max not to let the Nazis take his hope away, too, but that is pretty hard to keep hold of now.

When Max and Zena noticed a bush full of ripe raspberries just outside the barbed wire fence that surrounded the ghetto, they couldn't resist them.  But they couldn't reach any, so, with the coast clear of any Nazi soldiers,  Max decides to slip under the barbed wire just for a moment to get some berries for Zena.  And those berries are good, right up until the moment that a Nazi soldier points his rifle at Max's head.

Barking commands, the Nazi marches Max away from the ghetto.  On the way, Max and the soldier hear a noise and both realize that Zena is following them.  When the soldier aims his rifle at her, Max, with sudden, angry strength, throws himself at the soldier, who falls and gets shot in the leg when his rifle goes off.  Max and Zena take off as quickly as they can run.

They decide to rest in a wheat field, but are woken up by a farmer with a rifle, who orders Max and Zena to follow him.  But the farmer has kind look in his eye and tells them they have to go, the Nazis will be searching the area soon, a train load of supplies had been blown up that night and they were angry and  looking for the people who did it.  He feeds them, then takes them to his hayloft, where there is a secret compartment for them to hide in.

Sure enough, the Nazis arrive, bringing their vicious dog to sniff out anyone hiding.  But the farmer seems to be on good terms with them and, after they do a cursory search, he manages to get the Nazis out of the barn.

Shortly after they drive off the farmer lets the kids out of their hiding place and, what a surprise, after he removes two planks of wood, out step three shadowy figures, each with a rifle over their shoulder.  Surprised, Max realizes that they are the men who blew up the train.  But that isn't the only surprise these resistance fighters have for Max and Zena.

I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944 is the 9th book in the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis.  Like its eight predecessors, it is intentionally told from the point of view of a young person, much like the one who would be reading this book.  Though he is often afraid and confused by what is happening, Max is, nevertheless, a nice role model of strength and resilience in the face of fear and danger for readers of this book.  And a great older brother, always conscious of having to watch out for and protect his younger, still impetus sister.

But the other part of this story are the partisans.  What courageous people, to risk everything, to live in secrecy in the forests and woods of Europe in order to help thwart the Nazis.

I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944 is chapter book with very fast-paced action.  There is some violence in the novel, but it is kept to a minimum and not terribly graphic.  This is historical fiction, but when I read the part of the title that says "the Nazi Invasion, 1944" and then discovered that Max and Zena were living in a ghetto in Poland, I was sent back to my history books.  I thought all the ghettos were liquidated by 1943, but it turns out the some ghettos in Poland were actually converted to concentration camps until the people in them could be moved to a death camp.  So, I did, indeed, learn something new in this novel.

The novel is well-written, the characters fleshed out mostly by Max's memories of what life was like before the Nazis invaded, so we also get to know what his father and his Aunt Hannah were like back then.  There are some coincidences in the story, which I never find realistic, even though I know they do happen...occasionally.

This is a nice book for young readers who like historical fiction, who are interested in WWII and who may be learning about the Holocaust in school.  There is a nice, age appropriate Holocaust and World War II timeline, as well as a list of resources for readers who may want more information, and includes a link to the Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation where you can read about what real Jewish partisans did to sabotage the Nazis, a resource I used all the time.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was received as an E-ARC from Netgalley 

This book will be available February 25, 2014

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

We are used to the idea of young people going through an identity crisis, but imagine what it must be like for 60 year old Sookie Poole of  Point Clear, Alabama when it happened to her.  And it wasn't just because she finally got all three daughters through their weddings and was faced with empty nest syndrome.

Instead, Sookie's crisis came first in the form of a phone call, followed by an envelope addressed to her mother, Mrs. Lenore Simmons Krackenberry, from the Texas Office of Public Health Services.  In it, was a letter from a woman in Mexico, and some medical records and...Sookie's adoption papers.  Adopted?  Sookie is floored.

And she does not want to deal with this.

But eventually, circumstances, her husband Earle's support and her own curiosity lead Sookie on a journey of discovery that takes her back to Stanislaw Jurdabralinski, a Polish Catholic immigrant who settled in Pulaski Wisconsin in 1909, married a woman named Linka and had one son, Wencent called Wink, and four daughters, Fritzi, twins Gertrude and Tula, and lastly, Sophie.  Well, Stanislaw Jurdabralinski opened a filling station in Pulaski in the 1920s called Winks Phillips 66 and all the children had to help out.  They were a family that couldn't be any more different than the "genteel" Krackenberry's, who belonged to only the "right" organizations and only socialized with the best people.  And yet, it was a world Sookie never felt at home in.

Back to the Jurdabralinskis. In the 1930s, flying was still quite a novelty and skywriting was a popular way to advertise.  In 1938, the people of Pulaski were expecting a skywriter and cleared land behind Winks Phillips 66 for the plane to land.  When Billy Bevins finally arrives, it is quite special, but then he asks Fritzi out for a date and flies her to Milwaukee.  Fritzi is imediately hooked on flying and soon she is flying and doing aerial stunts, including wing walking, with Billy.

But how did Sookie end up being adopted in Texas?

When the Second World War broke out and the US finally entered it in 1941, Wink enlisted in the Army Air Corps during WWII, so when Stanislaw develops TB and has to go to a sanatorium, the girls take over the filling station, even learning about the mechanics of automobiles.  It is a successful enterprise, but with gas rationing, they eventually have to close it down.  Fritzi wants to do her bit for the war, but she isn't satisfied with something like factory work, so she applies to the Army Air Corps.  She is turned down, but when the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, or WAAC, is formed, Fritzi goes off to Texas to ferry planes for the armed forces.  Eventually, Gertrude and Sophie follow in her footsteps, so for a while, there are three Jurdabralinski sisters in Texas.

But which one was Sookie's mother?

As long as you don't read ahead, I think you will get a genuine surprise at the end of the book when you discover the answer to that question.

I haven't reviewed an adult book on this blog in a long time, but I always enjoy reading Fannie Flagg's novels and this one lived up to my expectations of an interesting, entertaining story.  As you might have guessed, The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion takes place in two time periods, but Flagg switches from one to the other so seamlessly that you never get a jarred feeling or lose sense of what is going on.  In fact, the parallel storylines, as you might expect, eventually come together.

It was interesting watching a 60 year old woman going through another coming of age stage, but as she assimilated information about the Jurdabralinski family, she seemed to break away from the constraints of her adopted family and really come into her own.  Her adopted mother, Lenore Krackenberry, is probably one of the most narcissistic characters I have ever read.  She is so pretentious and feels so superior to others that she garners not sympathetic reaction throughout the book.

Flagg balances her novel with humor, seriousness, information, and mystery, so there is something for everyone in The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion.   In the last few years, a very nice body of really good fiction has begun to form around women who flew planes in World War II and this is one that definitely has a place in it.

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was purchased for my personal library

This is book 1 of my 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Search by Eric Heuvel, Rund van der Rol and Lies Schippers

Esther Hecht always wondered about happened to her parents after they were picked up by the Nazis and she never saw or heard from them again.  She assumed they had perished in the Holocaust just as 6 million other Jews had.  Now, so many years later, she wants to visit her son in Amsterdam and attend her grandson's Bar Mitzvah, but she also wants to see her long time friend Helena.

After the Bar Mitzvah, Esther, her son and grandson, Daniel begin their trip into her past.  As they travel,  Esther begins to tels Daniel about her experiences as a Jew in Hitler's Europe.

When Hitler rose to power in Germany in the 1930s, life became very difficult and dangerous for all the German Jews living there.  But after Kristalnacht, young Esther's parents decided to leave and move to the Netherlands.  There, Esther became friends with Helena, a Christian girl her age.  They both had crushes on Bob Canter, a handsome boy who lived in their apartment building.  Things went well for Esther and her parents, until the Nazis invaded Holland.

Esther and Helena remained friends, but life became harder and harder once again.  After her parents were picked up in a raid one night by the Gestapo in Amsterdam, young Esther is warned by Helena's father to get away.  She went to a friend of her father's who helped her find a place to hide.  There she met other Jews also being hidden, and is taught farm chores by the farmer's son Barend.  One day the Nazis came but Esther managed to get away.   As she runs, she hears shots being fired but doesn't know if anyone was hit.

Barend is the first person Esther and her son and grandson visit and he fills her in on what happened after she escaped.

After wandering around the forest for a while, Esther found people who welcomed her and she remained there until the end of the war.  Returning to Amsterdam to look for her parents, she ran into Bob Canter, her old crush now a concentration camp survivor.  Bob tells her that her parents both died in the Holocaust.  Eventually, Esther migrated to the United States and lost touch with Bob.

Esther's grandson looks Bob up and finds him living in Israel.  A few days later, they are on their way to visit Bob, who fills in all the blanks about her terrible parent's fate, a story well worth reading.
Feeling like she has now really lost her parents and her past, Esther leaves Bob's in absolute despair.

When she finally gets to meet Helena, there is more disturbing information but there is also a pleasant surprise waiting for her, thanks to the action of a true best friend.

The Search is a sensitive yet dynamic and informative graphic novel.   Heuvel doesn't hold back on the plight of Esther to survive or atrocities Bob describes which were inflicted on the Jews in concentration camps by the Nazis, but he does temper it by framing the story in the present, and including the sons and grandsons of Esther and Helena.  And even though the story jumps back and forth between past and present, it is not confusing in the least.

The other nice thing is that each character is distinct from the others, so there is no confusing who is who, which can often happen in graphic novels.  In part, it is because they are also drawn distinctively and a large color palette is used.
The Search page 15
In fact, the illustrations help tell and carry the story along as they should since space is limited in graphic novels.  This is a form that also appeals to young readers, making it a great way to introduce the Holocaust in either the classroom or for home schooling purposes.

The Search was originally written in Dutch, but I think that the translation done by Lorraine T. Miller is quite well done, since the story doesn't feel forced nor does any of the continuity feel lost, giving the whole story a nature feeling and flow that lets the story unfold without jarring the reader.

There is a companion book to The Search called A Family Secret, which is about Esther's friend Helena and which I will be reviewing soon, so watch this space.

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

There is a helpful Teacher's Guide PDF available for The Search, A Family Secret and Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures (my review) for use together or separately.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Right Fight (World War II Book I) by Chris Lynch

Roman Bucyk loves three things: baseball, his girlfriend Hannah and his country.  Roman also knows that because of an ankle injury, he is never going to make to the big leagues, and he has even been slowly working his way down the batting lineup of the Cenreville Red Sox, his team in the Eastern Shore Baseball League.  Roman may love baseball, but he knows his major league career aspirations are over.

Since it also looks like the United States is preparing to enter the war soon,  Roman, along with some other members of the League, has enlisted in the army. Now, it's the very last game of the Sox season, tomorrow the league will no longer exist and Roman will be off to boot camp.  What to do?  He decides to ask Hannah to marry him, and she says yes.

During basic training, Roman is trained in tank warfare, and he turns out to have a real talent for driving  one.  Most of the time is spent on training and more training in the Carolinas and Louisiana, but Roman is chomping at the bit to get into real warfare.  And when the US finally does enter the war, he is sent to do more training in Ireland. After months and months of training under all kinds of conditions, Roman finally gets to fight Nazis in North Africa.

But war doesn't turn out to be what Roman thought it would be.  There is nothing romantic about living and sleeping sitting up in a cold tank day and night.  In fact, it is pretty scary the first time they come under attack, and each time after that.  From Algeria to Tunisia to Italy, amid all the loss and destruction, the introspective Roman realizes that the most important thing about the war is getting home to Hannah alive.  But the war has really just begun, and Roman has more fighting to do before going home can happen.

Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I am not big on battle field books.  My interest is really on home front stories, yet I was pleasantly surprised when I read The Right Fight.  Chris Lynch really knows his way around the front lines and gives us a novel and a hero that will hold you captivated.

Roman goes to war with the same kind of ideologically naive patriotism and impatience to get to the front that causes many young men to enlist.  Yet, once he is part of the fighting, once reality hits him square in the eye, life changes.  Amid death and destruction, a heroic Roman emerges, heroic not so much because of his talented tank driving and loyalty to his tank mates, but because of his dawning realization that even though war is a dangerous, ugly business, he is determined to see it through and get home to his beloved Hannah and the kind of life he is defending.  

I am actually looking forward to reading Lynch's next WWII book, and I think I will chose one of his books about Vietnam for my War Through the Generations reading challenge.  And that is a great endorsement from someone who, as I said before, does not really like these kinds of books.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Three Years and Eight Months by Icy Smith, illustrated by Jennifer Kindert

Living in Hong Kong, 10 year old Choi is told to go home when he arrives at school on the morning of December 8, 1941.  The Japanese are bombing Hong Kong amd on the way home, he sees soldiers breaking into shops and homes and taking people away.  Afraid, Choi makes his way home just in time to see his mother being led away by a soldier.  Already fatherless, Choi is left alone with just his Uncle Kim.

Hong Kong was a British colony and on Christmas Day 1941, British and Canadian forces surrender it to the Japanese and leave.  Within months, more people have disappeared, food is scarce and people are starving, whole villages are set on fire.

To survive, Choi and Uncle Kim head out to the mountains to collect firewood to sell to the Japanese along with Uncle Kim's friend Aaron and his son Taylor.  Taylor's mom, who is American, was in the states when the invasion of Hong Kong happened.  The two boys take their firewood and sell it to a soldier, Watanabe-san.

Watanabe-san is kind to the boys and teaches them Japanese.  Within a year, he gets them jobs as "slave boys" at the Japanese military station.  Uncle Kim promises to visit him every week, but also asks Choi to listen carefully to what the Japanese soldiers say in his presence.  He might hear something important.

Taylor is asked to deliver a package across town and when he returns, he tells Choi he has seen his mother scrubbing clothing by hand.  Choi asks if he can make the next delivery and he, too, sees his mother and even has a brief conversation with her.  He continues to make deliveries in order to see her.

One day, Uncle Kim comes to visit and tells Choi about the shortage of medical supplies to help wounded Chinese people.  Choi knows where the Japanese keep these supplies and tells his uncle he will get them to help his people.

And so Choi and Taylor begin resistance work along with Uncle Kim.  But can they get away with it for long under the watch of Japanese soldiers?  The answer may surprise you.

The story is told in the first person by Choi.  The language is simple and clear, giving enough detail of events without being overly graphic.  Although this is a picture book, it is for older readers, not young children.  And, in fact, since many kids begin to learn about WWII in 4th or 5th grade, it is an ideal choice for use in the classroom.

Based in part on the stories her father and grandmother told her about their experiences living under Japanese occupation in WWII, Icy Smith has given us a rare look at what life was like for the people of Hong Kong at that time through Choi, a character that seems to be modeled on her dad.  Do read her dedication to them to fully appreciate the story in this book.  The title, Three Years and Eight Months, is exactly the amount of time that Hong Kong was occupied.

Choi's story is complimented and enhanced by the beautifully detailed watercolor illustrations of Jennifer Kindert.  As you study each thoughtful illustration, you will notice subtle touches that broaden the story and tell you more about what life was like then.   Choi was only 10 when the Japanese arrived, but was 13 1/2 when the war ended and Kindert has successfully depicted that maturation.

At the end of the book, there are five pages of back matter, called Remembering History, that gives more detailed information about life and conditions in Hong Kong, including black and white photos and a map of countries in the Pacific that were occupied by the Japanese.

This is a valuable contribution to documenting the history of China in WWII and should not be missed.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was borrowed from a friend.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific by Mary Cronk Farrell

We all know about the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, "a date that will live in infamy."  But how many know that only 9 hours later, the Japanese launched an attack on American bases in the Philippines?  The fact is that most of us don't really know as much about the Pacific front as we do the European front.

Likewise, most of us don't know that when American forces were forced to surrender and the troops who had not been killed were taken prisoner, among the POWs were approximately 100 military nurses, both Army and Naval.

Mary Cronk Farrell's Pure Grit is the story of how those nurses not only survived, but also how they continued to care for the sick and wounded with dwindling medical supplies and food.  When the women had first come to the Philippines, their workload in the base hospitals was light, only 4 hours a day because of the heat and humidity, and their spare time was filled with dancing, golfing, tennis, swimming and even a little romance for some.  Living a resort-like life, no one was expecting the war to come their way.  As one nurse, Peggy Nash, said: "I had no idea there was going to be a war...That's how naive I was." (pg 16)

When US troops retreated to Bataan, 25 nurses were sent there to care for the wounded, but they first had to set up a makeshift hospital.  In no time, the wards were overflowing.  From January 1941 until their liberation in 1945, these brave nurses continued to care for the sick and wounded under continuously deteriorating conditions, practicing what Farrell calls "Make-Do Medicine" (Chapter 6)

Over the course of those three years, the nurses lost weight because of the starvation-level rations they were given. some developed beriberi, others dengue fever and/or bouts of malaria and tuberculosis.  Even after they returned to the US, many suffered from untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, untreated because Farrell writes,  understanding of PTSD was two wars and generations away.

And sadly, it wasn't until most of the nurses had passed away that any real recognition of they had experienced and the nearly miraculous care they gave to their patients under such terrible conditions was acknowledged.

Pure Grit is a well researched and very readable history of these courageous women.  Some of their individual stories are sandwiched into the narrative of what happened in the Philippines, giving it all a very intimate feeling.  That feeling is enhanced by all the private photos, newspaper clippings, diaries, and other primary source documents Farrell included to round out the lives of those admirable nurses who served so bravely.  

Besides a history of the survival of the nurses held POW by the Japanese, there is also a useful glossary, a list of all the nurses serving when the Japanese invaded, a select timeline pertaining mostly to the events affecting the Philippines, extensive Endnotes, a nice bibliography, and websites where the curious can find more information.

War books are not always easy to read, but Pure Grit is an exception to the rule and a wonderful addition to any Women's History library.  And it will be available just in time for Women's History Month which is in March.

Full Disclosure:  I have a soft spot in my heart for women who became nurses during WWII - which is exactly what my mom did.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an E-ARC received from NetGalley

Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific will be released February 25, 2014.

Why not take a moment to view the book trailer:

Friday, January 10, 2014

Is there really such a thing as too many books? Or just not enough bookcases?

So I was sitting at my desk writing up a review of a book I had just finished reading when out of the corner of my eye, I caught some movement.  Sure enough, the top two shelves in one of my bookcases had suddenly collapsed.  I shouldn't have been surprised, the bottom shelf had already collapsed last Sunday.  So today, I need to do some rearranging and maybe some purging.  But what to purge?  The two top shelves are almost all WW2 kids books from England and Germany written in the 1940s.  I can't get rid of them, can I?  And then there are the newly published books from Girls Gone By Publishers of 1940s novels I couldn't otherwise.  I can't get rid of them, can I?  What to do?

The bookcase isn't ruined, I just have to change the little pegs that hold each shelf, bit I think I forced too many book on each shelf - a double row of books on each one and a really tight fit.  Lesson learned!  So now, it is off to Ikea again.  Drat!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai

The experience of Japanese Americans who were rounded up and placed in internment camps throughout the United States in areas isolated from the rest of society are a varied as the individuals themselves.  But they do have some things in common - confusion, anger, humiliation, loss of identity, inhumane conditions and dust, incredible amounts of dust due to the isolated areas these camps were built in.  And we find all of these things in Miriko Nagai's forthcoming novel Dust of Eden.

Mina Masako Tagawa, 12, was living a pretty contented life in Seattle, Washington in 1941 with her parents, older brother Nick and grandfather.  But when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Mina soon discovers that, with the exception of her best friend Jamie, old friends are now new enemies.   Soon her father is taken into custody, merchants refuse to sell food ro them, kids in school hiss the words Jap and go home at Masako.

In February 1942, President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 and before they know it, the Tagawa family is temporarily relocated to a place called Camp Puyallup Assembly Center, euphemistically called Camp Harmony.  A former fair site, the Tagawas are placed in a former horse stall, and given bags to fill with hay to sleep on.  

Living conditions are terrible, but in August 1942 the family is moved to the Minidoka Relocation Center in Hunt, Idaho.  Eventually a makeshift school is set up that Masako attends.  Nick begins to not come home before curfew and is angry all the time, and mother gets a job washing dishes.  Eventually, Masako's father returns, now a broken man.  Grandpa, however, begins to cultivate roses in the dusty soil.

The Tagawas, like most of the Japanese Americans, were convinced that they would soon be allowed to return to their homes, but as 1942 became 1943, it became clear that was not going to happen.  Masako is resentful that they are treated like enemy instead of citizens, but when the US Army begins to accept some of the detained men, her brother wants to join up, against his father's wishes, to prove he is an American.

By 1945, Nick is still fighting in Europe, Grandpa has actually successfully managed to coax roses to grow and many families have started to leave the camp and return home.  The Tagawa family has gone through many changes in the years of detainment.  Can they really return to the life they once knew in Seattle after such an ordeal?

Dust of Eden is written in free verse, with the exception of the letters exchanged between Nick and his sister.  Everything the family experiences is told in the first person in the voice of Masako.   This was an interesting, compelling novel, though I found myself annoyed at Masako much of the time.  In most stories about Japanese Internment, the main character feels much of the same things that Masako does, but at some point they take charge of their lives even under these oppressive circumstances.  But she never does that, and her passivity irked me.  Her grandfather was a master grower of roses and she could have at least learned what he had to offer.  He was the only one who made an effort to improve their dreadful life.

I thought Nick would have been a more interesting character to read about.  Where did he go all those times he was breaking curfew?  With whom did he hang out?  What was army life like for him as a Japanese American?

I would still recommend this novel, since it does give us another perspective on the treatment of Japanese Americans in WW2 by our government and citizens, not our shiniest moment.  It would pair nicely with Imprisoned: the betrayal of Japanese Americans during World War II by Martin W. Sandler, which was based on interviews of people interned at around Masako's age.

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

Dust of Eden will be available on March 1, 1014

You can learn more about Minidoka Relocation Center HERE

NB: The cover photograph was taken by Dorothea Lange.  Lange was a talented photographer hired by the War Location Authority to photograph the relocation of Japanese Americans in WW2.  Lange's photographs were so critical of the government and so sympathetic to the Japanese Americans that they were censored by the government and not seen for many years.  You can find some examples of her work at the Library of Congress online exhibit "Women Come to the Front"

Friday, January 3, 2014

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord, illustrated by Marc Simont

It is the Year of the Dog (1946), the war is over and China is no longer an occupied country.  In Chungking (now Chonqing), members of the House of Wong are preparing to celebrate Chinese New Year when a letter arrives from Brooklyn, NY that will change the life of Sixth Cousin AKA Bandit and her mother forever.

And so as the Year of the Dog became the Year of the Boar (1947), Sixth Cousin Bandit beomes Shirley Temple Wong and soon she and her mother were sailing off to their new life.  Arriving in Brooklyn, Shirley finds herself living in a small third floor apartment.  And it wasn't long before she is enrolled in P.S. 8, regretting that she hadn't bothered to learn any English from the records her father had sent from America as her mother had done.

Confused and anxious, Shirley is put into Mrs. Rappaport's 5th grade class.   She begins be feel very lonely and isolated because she doesn't know English or American games and no one really wants to play with her once they discover that.  When her father buys her roller skates, roller skating proves harder to do than she had expected and she gives it up.  When Shirley proves to be a poor stickball or stoopball player, she is left out of the game.  One day, she gets into a fight with Mabel, the tallest, toughest girl in class, but Shirley stands her ground despite two black eyes.

Seeing her eyes, her parents insist on reporting it to the police, but on the way, Shirley notices Mabel is following them and she determines to say nothing about the fight.  Impressed by Shirley's silence, Mabel takes her under her wing and teaches her how to roller skate, and play ball.  And she introduces Shirley to the thrill of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson, the first African American baseball player to play in the major leagues.

Though no without its trials and tribulations, Shirley life has definitely taken a turn for the better.  But there is a big surprise in store for her before the Year of the Boar comes to an end.

Though this novel may feel a little dated, it remains a wonderful story for any young reader who may also be an immigrant to the US.  It is, after all, a tale of coming to terms with two cultures - that of your own and that of your adopted country.  And to her credit, Bette Bao Lord has really captured some of the difficulties involved in adjusting to a new life in a new country, showing us that it isn't always easy.  Perhaps she was drawing on her own experience of coming to the US as an 8 year old.

Lord does include a nice, though subtle tip of the hat to Shirley's two cultures - because this novel starts at the beginning of the Chinese New Year, the chapters are divided into months of the year 1947, with both the English word and the Chinese character given for each month.

I loved her depictions of Brooklyn and the fact that Shirley goes to a public school, where she has the opportunity to meet all kinds of different kids - Latino, African American, Jewish among others.  This kind of diversity was how it was when I was in school in Brooklyn and why I sent my Kiddo to public school.  And the Brooklyn Dodgers - well, people were still taking about them when I was a kid even though they had long ago moved to LA.

So in respect of New York, Lord did indeed get it right, but I had a little problem with what felt like a romanticized picture of China and the House of Wong.  The war hit China pretty hard and Chungking (Chonqing) was very badly bombed.  I seriously doubt there were family compounds like the House of Wong left.   Perhaps it was done to show the difference between the two cultures that are so much a part of Shirley's life and who she is.

The colorful cover and the black and white illustrations at the beginning of each chapter were whimsically illustrated by the late Marc Simont.

Regardless, this is still a wonderful post war novel for young readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 Reading Challenges

Well, it is time to think about reading challenges.  This year I am sticking to the tried and true.

This year War Through the Generations is hosting the 2014 War Challenge with a Twist.  What that means is that reading with focus on one war for two months according to the following schedule:

  • Jan./Feb.: Gulf Wars (Gulf War/Operation Desert Storm and Iraq War/Operation Iraqi Freedom)
  • March/April: French and Indian War
  • May/June: Korean War
  • July/August: WWI (100th Anniversary)
  • Sept./Oct.: WWII
  • Nov./Dec.: Vietnam War
This should be very interesting and I am going for the Dip Your Toes level - 1 book about each war.

Rose City Reader is hosting the 2014 European Reading Challenge.  This idea here is ro read books by European authors or about European Countries.  I am going for the 5 Star level, reading at least 5 books  by either 5 different European authors or different European countries.  

And, of course, how could I pass up the 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry.  I am going for the Medieval level - 15 books.  I did that level last year and it worked out well.  

I am also going to participate in the 2014 Cruisin' Through the Cozies hosted by Socrates' Book Reviews because mysteries are my guilty pleasure and historical fiction is my favorite genre and they just seem perfect together. 

Now, I am looking forward to a how new year of reading and reviewing.  Which reading challenges have tickled your fancy this year?

Sunday Funnies #14: Superman Happy New Year

Today's Sunday Funnies is from the New York Daily Mirror, Sunday December 31, 1944:

Wishing You A Very Happy and Healthy New Year!