Friday, December 30, 2016

Doing Her Bit: A Story About the Woman's Land Army of America by Erin Hagar, illustrated by Jen Hill

2017 marks the 100th anniversary of America's entry into World War I. And, with most of the men now working in munitions factories, or enlisting and fighting, the country's farm crops were on the verge of being ruined without anyone to care for them.  And so it was the Women's Land Army to the rescue.

Using a typical woman as her protagonist, Erin Hager presents the story of the Women's Land Army or farmerettes as they were called. Helen Stevens is a young college student living in New York City when she sees a poster in a store window and decides to join the Women's Land Army much to the puzzlement of her family. But Helen wanted to do more than knit socks and roll bandages, so before long, she is off to the experimental Women's Agricultural Camp in Bedford, NY.

After Helen and her fellow farmerettes are issued some very oversized overalls to work in, they spend their days learning how to plow, how to whitewash a barn, how to fence in a chicken coop under the watchful eye of Ida Ogilvie, the camp director. But now matter how much the women learn about farming, no matter how hard they work, no farmers are willing to hire them.

Finally, Ida decides to take three women, including Helen, to a farmer who is in desperate need of help, but still unwilling to hire women to do what needs doing. Ida strikes a deal with him - one day of free labor to prove they are capable workers, and if he is satisfied, he will hire them for pay the next day. Totally satisfied with what the women do, the farmer, nevertheless, tries to get another free day, but the farmerettes stick to the bargain Ida made for them. Helen tells him "If you want us back tomorrow, it'll be two dollars a day for each of us." And the farmers response, OK, but bring two more girls.

I found this to be such an interesting picture book for older readers about a big part of women's work in WWI that isn't really all that well known. If you read the author's note at the back on the book, you will find that Ida Ogilvie was a professor who really was the director of the Women's Agricultural Camp in Bedford, NY, and that most, if not all, of the first volunteers were students from Barnard College in NYC, and Helen Stevens the protagonist was based on the experiences of the real Helen Stevens.

Hager tells the story of the farmerettes in clear language which is supported by Jen Hill's gouache illustrations. I thought the illustrations were also very much in keeping with the many recruiting posters for the Women's Land Army, like this one, similar to the one that drew Helen's attention:


Be sure to look at the front and back endpapers for more posters and photographs of the Barnard women at work.

Besides the Author's Note, back matter also includes a section to Learn More section and a Bibliography.

There is an interesting article from Smisthsonian.com about the Farmerettes, which readers can find HERE

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

Monday, December 26, 2016

Women Heroes of World War II - The Pacific Theater: 15 Stories of Resistance, Rescue, Sabotage, and Survival by Kathryn Atwood

Ever since I started this blog, I've thought a lot about heroes and heroism. In her new book, Women Heroes of World War II - The Pacific Theater, Kathryn Atwood takes as her guiding principle two quotes. One from humanist and women's rights activist Zainab Salbi, which reads "War can teach you so much about evil, and so much about good." The other quote is from diplomat/historian George F. Kennan. who said "Heroism is endurance for one moment more." The 15 women that Atwood has chosen for her second book about woman in WWII are indeed examples of heroes who endured in the midst of and despite so many of the wartime evils they encountered.

Once again, Atwood has included stories about courageous nurses, journalists, a photographer, a missionary, a teenage survivor of a Japanese POW internment camp, and yes, even a 14 year old rape survivor who was forced to become a comfort woman for the occupying Japanese in the Philippines. Their nationalities are as varied as their situations, ranging from American to Dutch, Malayan, Chinese, Filipino, British, and Australian, but each and every one has a story this is as harrowing as it is compelling.

Most people think that World War II began with Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. I've always thought it to have began in 1937, with the Second Sino-Japanese War and the fall of Nanjing, but Atwood takes the reader back to 1932 China. The Japanese had already invaded Manchuria, and now they set their sites on Shanghai. American reporter Peggy Hull had just arrive in China thinking to write articles about women there, but suddenly she found herself the war correspondent for the NY Daily News instead. Peggy reported on this early fighting between Japan and China despite the danger, but was later ironically refused accreditation as a war correspondent when the fighting intensified, and was forced to report from Hawaii until 1945.

Peggy's story is followed by that of Minnie Vautrin, also an American. When the Japanese invaded Nanjing in 1937, Minnie was working at a woman's college there. The college was turned into a woman's refugee camp, in an attempt to protect them being raped by the Japanese, who were intent on raping every female, in Nanjing, regardless of age. By the end of 1937, the college had become a sanctuary for 10,000 women.

The most difficult story to read is that of Maria Rosa Henson, a 14 year old Filipina who had always lived in near poverty with her mother. After the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, Maria was repeatedly raped by soldiers as she went about collecting desperately needed firewood. When she and her mother finally moved in with a male relative, he talked Maria into joining the Hukbalahap, or Huk, a guerrilla army, working as a courier. One day, she was taken by the Japanese to a garrison, where she was repeatedly beaten and raped until some Huk guerrilla's rescued her. Atwood continues Maria's story, telling about her attempts to make the plight of "comfort women" known and attempts to make the Japanese government acknowledge what was done to Maria and so many other women during WWII.

Some of the experiences included in this volume are difficult to read, case in point is that of Maria, but they all are important and deserve the kind of acknowledgement that Atwood gives the women in her "hero" books. So many could have given up, turned their backs, left it all for someone else to do, but instead these courageous women endured that one moment more.

Atwood has organized Women Heroes of World War II - The Pacific Theater in sections of place: I- China; II- the Philippines; III- Malaya, Singapore, Dutch East Indies; IV- Iwo Jima and Okinawa. I was already familiar with some of the stories she included, like that of American photographer Dickey Chappelle but I still found Atwood's bio of her to be fresh and informative. In fact, I found that to be true of all the stories. They are written with Atwood's characteristic energy, and though they are short, the stories are so succinct that I felt I had actually read much more than I did.  

Be sure to read the Introduction, where Atwood has included some very important background information. There is also a map of the Pacific Theater to help reader unfamiliar with that part of the world. At the end of each woman's story, readers will find Learn More suggestions for further reading, and the Epilogue will take them past the end of WWII and into the Cold War.  Back Matter includes Discussion Questions and Suggestions for Further Study, perfect for high school students studying WWII, an extensive Bibliography and, as with all good researchers, Notes used for each section of the book.

For an excellent overall picture of this part of the world in WWII, pair Women Heroes of World War II - The Pacific Theater with Mary Cronk Farrell's book Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific.

I cannot recommend this new book by Kathryn Atwood highly enough.

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Chicago Review Press

Saturday, December 24, 2016

May We All Find Some Joy and Peace This Year


1942 Rockefeller Center - the Christmas Tree with no lights because of the war

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Year of Borrowed Men by Michelle Barker, illustrated by Renné Benoit

I think that we sometimes think that if a person was German in the 1930s and early 1940s that automatically makes them Nazis. But the truth is that there were plenty of decent people who were not Nazis, didn't support Hitler and his Third Reich, and were just struggling to survive like anyone caught in a war.

A Year of Borrowed Men is just such a book. This fictionalized story that takes place during the last year of the war is based on the author's mother's actual experiences as she related them to her children. Farms and the food they produced were just as important to Germany during the war as they were everywhere else, but with all the men off fighting for the Führer, many farms were struggling to survive.

For Gerda Schlottke, 7, and her family living on a farm in a rural part of Germany, taking care of all the farm chores was getting difficult with her father off fighting in the Germany army. They had a good sized farm consisting of cows, pigs, 150 chickens and 6 horses that needed to be cared for everyday, as well as field work to be done and only 5 young children. To assist families like the Schlottkes, the German government decided to use POWs to help with the farm work. The German government sent them three French POWs - gentle Gabriel, prickly Fermaine, and cheerful Albert. The men lived in the cold, bear pig kitchen, next to where the animals slept. Families were not supposed to be kind to them, or to feed them or treat they like a member of the family, but for some people that was hard not to do.

One cold day, Gerda's mother invited the men into their warm kitchen to eat with the family. The next day, there was a knock on the door and Frau Schlottke was taken to police headquarters by a formerly kind neighbor who had joined the Nazis and warned not never to be kind to her workers again or she would find herself in prison.

Over the year that they 'borrowed' the French POWs, the Schlottke family found ways to counter the admonishment they were given regarding the treatment of Nazi Germany's enemies. For example, at Christmas, the men were allowed a tree, but no decorations, they were allowed to receive parcels, but no food from the Gerda's family, and yet they managed to find a way around that. It is interesting to see just how they could make the time somewhat bearable for Gabriel, Fermaine, and Albert and A Year of Borrowed Men is a nice reminder that there were at least a few pockets of humanity still to be found in what was an otherwise brutal regime.

At the end of the European war in the spring of 1945, the men left the farm and eventually returned to France. Meanwhile, the Russian army arrived, "liberating" all the farm animals, including those of the Schlottkes.

A Year of Borrowed Men is a gentle story, poignant in its hopeful perspective, perhaps because it is narrated by 7 year old Gerda, and Michelle Barker is able to retain all the the innocence of a child in her writing. A cruel, hateful regime and war, after all, doesn't mean one needs to sacrifice their humanity, as so many did living under Hitler and during WWII. Although the story covers the year the POWs were at the Schlottke's farm, because of the number of pages devoted to Christmas, it makes a nice holiday story, as well. There may not have been Peace of Earth at that time, but at least on one farm there was Goodwill towards men.

Renné Benoit's watercolor, pencil and pastel illustrations has a gentle, almost folk art feeling to them, done in a palette of warms browns, greens, and ochre earthtones that seems to create a haven in the midst of war.

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

Monday, December 12, 2016

The School The Aztec Eagles Built: A Tribute to Mexico's World War II Air Fighters by Dorinda Makanaōnalani Nicholson

In this informative new book, Dorinda Makanaōnalani Nicholson relates the exciting and relatively unknown story of how a newly formed Mexican Air Force squadron managed to become an important part of World War II, fighting with the Allies in the Philippines and being the reason for a new school to be built in Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico.

Relations between the United States and Mexico haven't always been very friendly. In the 1800s, the two countries went to war against each other over land that Mexico had claimed in the southwes but ultimately had lost to the US. So when the United States was forced into World War II with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a reconciliation between the US and Mexico that had finally begun in the 1930s was further solidified after German U-boats torpedoed two unarmed Mexican oil tankers and Mexico declared was on the Axis powers.

In an agreement between President Franklin Roosevelt and Mexican President Manuel Ávila Camacho, it was decided that Mexico would send a group of 38 of its best pilots to the US to be trained.  The pilots became known as Air Fighter Squadron 201. On the day they left Mexico, June 20, 1944, President Camacho asked if any of the pilots had a last-minute or special request. One of the pilots, Ángel Bocanegra del Castillo, a teacher from Tepoztlán, managed to get the Mexican president to promise he would build a desperately needed school in there. The men then boarded the train that would take them to the US for combat training, after which they shipped out to the Philippines.

In The School The Aztec Eagles Built, Nicholson has written a wonderful tribute to these Mexican heroes. And woven into the history of the Air Fighter Squadron 201 is the personal story of Ángel Bocanegra del Castillo, who father, a high-ranking soldier himself, had originally wanted him to enter military service, but who wanted to teach instead. And yes, the school Ángel has asked for was built by the time these hero pilots returned after the war and is still in operation to this day.

In this nonfiction picture book for older readers, Nicholson presents her information in a clear, coherent manner, chronologically following the pilots through their training and their combat fighting. She has included copious photographs, not just from WWII, but right up to the present. In addition, there are maps to help orient the reader. Also included is an important Author's Note, a Glossary and Pronunciation Guide, Author's and Quotation Sources.

The School The Aztec Eagles Built is a true life story that is sure to please young readers interested in World War II, especially lesser known ones like this. And it was so nice to read about a time when US-Mexican relations were so positive and productive.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was provided by the publisher, Lee & Low Books

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LaFleur

The country of Sofarende has been at war with the imperialistic Tyssia for a long time. For the families of best friends Mathilde Joss and Megs Swiller, both 12, that means little food, little sleep, and the nightly bombs dropped from airplanes, destroying their city, Lykellig, and their country. Then, a notice is given out at school that all children 12 and over are eligible to sit for an examination that would allow them be become part of an Adolescent Army.  Just what the Adolescent Army does is a mystery, but the renumeration offered to parents of children with the kind of aptitude they army is looking for is very tempting.  

For Megs family it would mean more food on the table for all of her brothers and sisters. Things have been particularly difficult for them since their father was drafted into the army and, since they hadn’t heard from him in a long time, no one knows if he is dead or alive.

The Joss family is not quite a bad off as the Swillers.  There are fewer children and Mathilde’s father is still at home and has a job working in the post office. Mathilde isn’t particularly interested in taking the examination anyway.  After all, she has always been just an average student in school, unlike Megs who is always top in their class, so Mathilde isn’t too surprised when she learns that Megs has decided to sit for the exam. The two friends have always been inseparable and Megs success at getting accepted in the army would be the first time they would be apart.

In the end, Mathilde also sits for the exam. And no one is more surprised than Mathilde when she learns she is the only student in all of Lykellig to be accepted into the army’s program. Two days later, Mathilde finds herself alone on a train heading north until she finally arrives at Faetre. From there, she is taken to a remote manor house that has been taken over by the army, and disguised to look like a boarding school. Inside, Mathilde meets the other members of the Adolescent Army. Each one has a special ability or talent that enables them to do important intelligence work for the war effort. 

After spending a few days watching the other children working, Mathilde is still not sure why she has been selected for the army's program, until she meets Rainer, a Tyssian soldier, now a POW, the only one to survive when his plane was shot down and crashed. Mathilde's assignment - to sit and talk to the recalcitrant Rainer every day. But why? What is she supposed to find out?


I found myself immediately pulled into Beautiful Blue World expecting to read a kind of reworked fairytale set during a make-believe war, in part because of the cover illustration.  Instead, I found myself reading a deceptively simple novel about a non-existent war in a non-existent country with some very dark overtones. In that respect, it is fantasy, not fairytale. But it is also about the impact war has on everyone involved - family, friends and foes. The story is told completely in Mathilde's voice - a curious complex mix of innocence and wisdom, of childish wishes and desires, of confusion mixed with astute observations and actions.


Beautiful Blue World has all the makings of an great anti-war novel focusing on the children caught up in a war, always its most vulnerable victims.  Sofarende and its enemy Tyssia will no doubt remind some readers of England and Germany in World War II.  Rationing, lack of heating and electricity, blackout curtains, and nightly bombing raids certainly carry the imprint of what we know about everyday life during war, as does the talk of sending children to the countryside where it is believed things are safer. Rainor, the Tyssian POW, has blond hair, blue eyes and the blind belief of what he has be taught by the leaders in his country so reminiscent of the Hitler Youth. 


I mentioned the cover illustration which I think is deceptively brilliant. The two young girls holding hands and standing in a snowy forest in the center of the upper part of the illustration are, of course, Mathilde and Megs. They couldn't look more innocent, with their mittens and long braids.  But look closely under the title words and what you see is three planes heading their way. At first glance, the planes look like shadows on the snow from the forest. Could a picture be clearer about the impact of war on children?  


Beautiful Blue World is a quiet novel that is not only an anti-war novel, it is also a coming of age book about personal growth, self-discovery and inner resilience set against that harshest of teachers - war. 


This book is recommended for readers age 9+

This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Friday, December 2, 2016

Your Hit Parade #7: Someday at Christmas (two versions) sung by Stevie Wonder and Andra Day




Well, the Christmas season is upon us, the season of Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards Men, and I thought this would be the perfect song to get us started this year. It isn't a WWII song, but it is one of my favorites. Someday at Christmas was originally released in 1967  by Motown Records on Stevie Wonder's Christmas album by the same name. He was only 17 years old at the time. There was a lot of unrest in the country at that time and it that is reflected in the lyrics of this song - protests against the war in Vietnam and deteriorating race relations amid the fight for equality and civil rights. And even though the song ends on a bit of a pessimistic note, it was still listed as one of Billboards Best Bets for Christmas for the week of December 23, 1967. And sadly, almost 50 years later, it still rings true.




Someday at Christmas there'll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life's really worth
There'll be peace on earth

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

Someday at Christmas we'll see a Man
No hungry children, no empty hand
One happy morning people will share
Our world where people care

Someday at Christmas there'll be no tears
All men are equal and no men have fears
One shinning moment my heart ran away
From our world today

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

Someday at Christmas man will not fail
Hate will be gone love will prevail
Someday a new world that we can start
With hope in every heart

(Someday all our dreams will come to be)
(Someday in a world where men are free)
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime
Someday at Christmastime

Songwriters
BRYAN WELLS, RONALD MILLER, RONALD N. MILLER



In 2015, Stevie Wonder did an Apple commercial with Andra Day, singing a duet of Someday at Christmas while he records it on his Apple laptop. Later, they released it as a single on iTunes. This is the version I have on my iPod because I just love Andra Day's voice. And while I don't believe in promoting products for anyone, I have decided to include the full video of them singing together, mostly because there is nothing that indicates it was a TV ad.


Do you have a favorite?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Making Bombs For Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

After the Nazis shoot their mother and the Jews she had been hiding, Lida, 8, and her younger sister Larissa, 5, are kidnapped from their grandmother's home in the Ukraine and sent by cattle car to Germany, along with all the other Ukrainian children the Nazis took.

Days later, arriving at a slave labor camp in Germany on March 14th, 1943, Lida's 9th birthday, she and Larissa are forcibly separated from one another, and from this point the story follows only Lida's life in the labor camp.

Told to lie about her age, Lida tells the Nazis she is 13 instead of 9, avoiding what seems to be certain death for the young children.  Because they are Ukrainian and not Jews, the children are treated a fraction better. They are put into barracks with a small useless heater, given two thin blankets for sleeping and fed two meals a day consisting of watery coffee and soup, plus a small triangle of bread made mostly from sawdust. The children are also given Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday off.  The rest of the time, they work, and soon enough, the Nazis weed out the good workers from the ones unable to meet their needs. The weak workers are sent to the 'hospital' never to be seen again. Luckily for Lida, she lands a job in the laundry for a woman named Inge, where the work is hard, but it is at least warm, since she was barefoot, having  lost her shoes pretty early on.

When Inge discovers that Lida can do embroidery, she has her remove the name and initials from clothing sent to her by her soldier husband, and embroider them with hers.  Lida does such a great job, the woman can't help but brag to the head of the camp. Lida is immediately transferred to work in a factory, where the small hands of children are ideal for making bombs. By now, the Germans are losing the war and getting desperate, while the Allies are bombing the area constantly. Lida's one goal is to stay alive so she can find her sister Larissa.

Eventually, the war ends, the Americans arrive and Lida is told that if she returns to her home in the Ukraine she will be arrested as a traitor because of the work she did for the Nazis. She finds herself living in displaced persons camps looking for her sister, and accompanied by a boy named Luka. The story ends in 1951on a much needed hopeful note for Lida.

I have to admit, I didn't know that much about the Nazi treatment of Russian and Ukrainian people sent to Germany to be used as slave labor, although I have always know there were slave labor camps, though my own work never really focused on the Eastern Europe. In that respect, Making Bombs for Hitler was a real eye-opener for me.

And it was a difficult story to read. Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch pulled no punches in her descriptions of the deplorable conditions and treatment the Nazis doled out to their enemies. The story is told in the first person by Lida, although given her vivid descriptions, her detailed observations and her rather mature language, I felt as though she were recounted her life between 1943 and 1951. That, however, does not take anything away from the immediacy of Lida's life in the labor camp, if anything it makes it all the more poignant.

Lida is a brave, determined character who feelings of guilt about losing her sister as they arrived at the camp really propels everything she does. She never loses her sense of humanity, and proves herself to be a compassionate, caring friend to the other girls. At one point she gives her cross, a family heirloom, to a Jewish girl named Zenia so that the Nazis will not suspect the truth.

Making Bombs for Hitler is actually a sequel to a book called Stolen Child, which I haven't read yet and hope it doesn't matter that I read them out of sequence. I am curious to continue the story of Lida and Larissa.

The Nazis were so cruel and violent in reality and I feel I should warn sensitive readers that their are some graphic descriptions in Making Bombs for Hitler. But it is also a book that should be read, especially, as I said above, I haven't found another book like it. I know there are a number of books that take place in Russia, including Siberia, but none focus of the Nazi treatment of stolen children the way this novel does, making this an important book for young readers to read.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press

I read the 2012 edition of the novel, but a new edition will be available February 28, 2017

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Weekend Cooking #29: Victory through M&M's - Happy 75th Anniversary


This year M&Ms turn 75 years old. And one of the things I always wondered about them was why, given all the American and British magazines I had to go through for my dissertation that were published during World War II, I never saw an ad for M&M's (and also, why M&M's had an apostrophe).

So when I walked into my local Walgreen's to pick up a prescription and was greeted with a large 75th anniversary display for M&M's, I decided to finally find the answers to my questions.

M&Ms are made by the Mars company, founded by Franklin Clarence Mars (1882-1934).  Frank contracted polio when he was young and, although he recovered somewhat, he stayed home with his mother, a woman who loved to bake.  To keep Frank busy, she taught him how to make candy.

Eventually he married, had a son, Forrest Mars, and got divorced.  Forrest was sent to Canada to live with his mother's parents.  Frank was beginning to be successful in the candy business, and founded a company called Mar-O-Bar that made a candy bar by the same name.  He didn't see his son Forrest years and by now Forrest was working as a traveling salesman.  He was arrested in Chicago for illegally posting ads on buildings, and his father came to bail him out of jail.

While sitting at a soda fountain and talking, Forrest suggested his father make a candy bar that tasted like the malted milk shakes they were drinking and the Milky Way was born.  Father and son began working together, and it didn't take long for them to become Mars Inc., and to begin producing Snickers and 3 Musketeers bars.

Frank died suddenly in 1934, while Forrest was in Europe with his wife and son trying to establish Mars Ltd there.  While in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, he noticed soldiers eating small pieces of chocolate candy that didn't melt in their hands because they had a hard sugar shell coating. Once World War II began, he remembered those candies from Spain and decided to produce something similar.

In 1939, Forrest met with William Murrie, president of the Hershey Chocolate Company.  Forrest wanted Hershey to provide the chocolate for his new candy and agreed to call them M&M's - M for Mars and M for Murrie, and making the apostrophe a possessive one.  In 1940, M&M LTD was formed and began to produce their version of little chocolate candy pieces coated in a shell that wouldn't melt.
And it didn't take long for these candies to find their way into the soldier's C-Rations in a convenient cardboard tube. And they were quite a hit with the soldiers they were given to. During the war, the candy coating only came in brown, and they were only available to the military, which is why there were no magazine ads between 1939-1945.

M&M's may not be included in C-Rations anymore, but they do still support the military in different ways, as you can see in this 2005 ad:


Today, M&M's come in a variety of colors and kinds, represented by 6 lovable spokescandies.  

And even though they don't really melt in your mouth and not in your hands anymore, they still taste mighty fine. 

FYI: Most of my information Frank and Forrest Mars came from a book called The Mars Family: M&M Mars Candy Makers by Joanne Mattern.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. As always Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Navajo Code Talkers by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Gary Kelly

Often, when it comes to the history of this country, we focus on the heroic things that people have done to achieve certain ends and overlook things we don't like about them. Our founding fathers fought for America's independence while owning slaves of their own. Settlers braved the elements and other dangers as they pushed across the plains states, towards the west coast, unsettling and fighting the Native Americans who had lived there for centuries, and black soldiers fought valiantly in World War II to liberate Europe from a narcissistic, hate-filled dictator even as they were denied the same equality as their fellow white soldiers.

And sometimes our many heroes simply go unsung. But in this picture book for older readers, J. Patrick Lewis introduces us to a group of real true-life Navajo heroes of World War II. He begins by giving a little background history. The Navajo had lived for generations in the four corners where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet, calling their land Dinétah. But in 1864, they were removed from their homes there by the United States government, and marched 350 miles to Fort Sumner, New Mexico.  Forever known as "The Long Walk" by the Navajo, it cost many Navajo their lives. It was four years before they were allowed to return to their tribal land, to their Dinétah.
Click to enlarge
Once home, many of the Navajo children were sent to Indian schools, away from family, traditions and culture, where they were forbidden to be Navajo, and to speak their language.  Punishment for speaking Navajo was harsh.

Flash forward to December 7, 1941 and the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, forcing the United States to finally enter the Second World War. As with any war, there was a need for communication that couldn't be intercepted and deciphered by the enemy.  The Germans had their enigma machine, but what code could the Americans use that the Japanese couldn't figure out.

The Navajo language, that language that the government-run Indian schools tried so hard to eliminate, proved to be the perfect code. It was "unique, enormously difficult, and unwritten" the "ultimate unbreakable wartime code."

The irony that "suddenly, bilingual Navajos [have] become valuable" isn't lost in Lewis' account of the history of these code talkers.  He writes "Recruited into the military that once sought to destroy their ancestors, the 'code talkers' were born."

Lewis used spare, but lyrical text throughout this picture book history, relying on artist Gary Kelly's incredible pastel illustrations.  Kelly chose a fitting palette of dark earth tones to create both the images from the history of the Navajos and the scenes of war.

This is a beautifully done book by the same author and illustrator who did And the Soldiers Sang, about the WWI Christmas Eve truce between the Germans and British on the Western Front in 1914, and Harlem Hellfighters, introducing us to the brave and talented unsung heroes of the 15thNew York National Guard, which was later federalized as the 369th Infantry Regiment, soldier that the Germans dubbed the Harlem Hellfighters "because of their tenacity."

The Navajo Code Talkers could prove to be a useful addition to a unit on WWII, but it does have one major drawback. The story is told so generally that none of the original 29 code talkers are mentioned by name, making the overall impact of this book not quite as powerful as it could have been. Following the pattern of singling out one individual to give the story a deeper, more personal focus that was used in the other two collaborations would made this a more relatable story.  Still, it is important nevertheless.

There is some Back Matter for anyone interested in more information about the real code talkers, including Endnotes, Artist's Notes, and a Selected Bibliography.

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

If you are curious to know who the Navajo Code Talkers were, here is a list compiled and posted by the former student of Window Rock High School in Fort Defiance, Arizona.  Be sure to visit their website for more information.

Click to enlarge


Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day 2016




"We don't know them all but we owe them all"

Anonymous


In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Some Favorite Books About Resistance - Nonfiction and Fiction

I've been reading a lot about resistance in World War II lately and I began to wonder how many books I have read where I used that as a keyword.  Turns out, it was quite a few books.  I've always admired the people who chose to resist the Nazis.  Whether it was done as part of a resistance group or as individual acts of resistance, it must have taken a lot of courage to go up against such a large, well-organized, well-armed government known for its cruel treatment of anyone who wasn't like them, e.g. Aryan. And as much as I have admired those who resisted, I have also wondered what I would have done.  Hopefully, the right thing.

(I know I included Women Heroes of World War I, I felt it was just that important to do so.)

Currently Reading: Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater by Kathryn J. Atwood



Next Resistance Novel: The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman


Do you have a favorite resistance book?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz

It's 1943 and 13-year-old Michael O'Shaunessey, the son of the Irish ambassador to Berlin, has been living in Germany since before 1938.  Back then, after witnessing the killing of a man on Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, the systematic destruction of Jewish property and the arrest or killing of Jews throughout Germany, Michael, then 8, was stunned when his parents did nothing to help the man and made him walk away with their heads down. The reason - Michael's parents had an important secret - they are spies for Britain and must stay undercover, though most of the espionage work is done by his mother.

Now, five years later, Michael speaks fluent German, attends a German school and has joined the Jungvolk, the branch of the Hitler Youth for younger boys.  But knowing his parents are spies only makes Michael want to be part of the action, and he finally gets his chance. When a British RAF plane is shot down doing reconnaissance over Berlin, Michael and the rest of the Jungvolk are ordered to search the area for the pilot.  As luck would have it, Michael is the person who discovers the pilot hiding, but seriously hurt.  He convinces the pilot, Simon Cohen, that he will come back for him later, and successfully throws the Nazi boys off his trail.

It turns out that Simon was photographing a site where it is believed the Germans are attempting to build a jet fighter plane, known as Projekt 1065, that would surely give them a real advantage in the war because of its speed. But Michael has befriended one of the weaker boys of the Jungvolk, Fritz. When he learns that Fritz's father has the design plans for the jet fighter, Michael goes out of his way to help Fritz build up his strength and stamina for their upcoming Hitler Youth physical tests that they must pass. It also gives Michael entry into Fritz's house and the plans, and as luck would have it, Michael has a photographic memory.

Soon, the plans are recreated, and it is up to Simon to deliver them to England, providing Michael's mother can find a way to get him out of Germany.  Meantime, in helping Fritz pass his exams, Michael has inadvertently created a super-Nazi youth in him rather than an ally. Fritz now poses a real problem, especially because he has been picked for a special Nazi science project. When Michael finally discovers that that science project is, he and his parents know they must stop it at any cost.  But can a 13-year-old go up against Fritz and the other super-Nazi gung-ho youth alone?

I have to admit I had two trains of thought about Projekt 1065. On the one hand, it is totally improbable.  On the other, it is a fast, action-packed, tense, exciting novel that will keep you reading and turning pages, especially if you are a middle grade boy.

What really stood out in my mind, however, were the moral and ethical dilemmas Michael comes up against as well as his own sometimes questionable decisions and actions. From the first killing he witnessed on Kristallnacht to watching how the Hitler Youth handles their elderly teacher even after learning his son had been killed in the Battle of Stalingrad, to the sacrifice of a person he was particularly fond of, Michael is completely caught up with the idea of playing spy.  His father does question the wisdom of letting his son become involved with ideological zealots who are willing to do anything for their Führer, Adolf Hitler, and considers sending him back to the neutral Republic of Ireland, but his mother overrides his concerns.

I loved Gratz's book, Prisoner B-3087, and although I felt he may have included a few too many coincidences in Projekt 1065, I felt that he is really spot on about the enthusiasm of the Hitler Youth, the disregard for life in the Third Reich and the mindless devotion to Hitler, even to the point to dying for him and his ideology.  So, in the end, I do recommend this book for young readers, though with the warning that there is violence in it.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Holocaust: The Origins, Events, and Remarkable Tales of Survival by Philip Steele

I have to be honest and say that I am never sure about books like this.  I have thought long and hard about this book that introduces readers to the Holocaust using charts, pictures, maps, and brief text.  Philip Steele, the author of many well received nonfiction children's books, begins this history of the Holocaust by introducing his readers to Jewish roots and religion in the Middle East and the diaspora, followed by a short history of Jews in Europe.  All of it leads up the WWI, the aftermath of Germany losing the war, the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party and how Jews were blamed for everything that was wrong in Germany.

Interestingly, Steele also includes a section of the books published for young German readers and posters extolling the idea that Germans are a master race.  I found this section particularly interesting since popular fiction for young girls in the Third Reich was the topic of my dissertation.  In fact, much of his focus is on the impact of the Nazi's racism on young people - Jewish and non-Jewish.

Everything about the Holocaust is covered in this book, including the aftermath of World War II, and the trials of those who participated in the extermination of 6,000,000 Jews in their attempt to rid Europe (and later the world) of the entire race of Jews, the later establishment of the state of Israel, and calls that genocide should never happen again.  And as Steele writes, never again also means "offering a safe refuge to victims of war and persecution" instead of country's turning their backs on Europe's Jews when they needed so much help.

So why was I hesitant about this book?  It is, after all, an introductory book, but still part of me felt it painted such a broad picture that young readers would not fully grasp the gravity of what was happening at the time.  And, although the information seems factually correct to me, I felt it should have been sourced better.  There was only a Glossary, and picture credits.  No Bibliography, no suggestions for further reading, or websites for more information.

But then someone sent me this link to YouTube and I realized that a picture book for older readers like this one in a library or classroom might be an important addition after all, at least as a starting point:



I'm still stunned.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was provided to my by the publisher, Scholastic Press.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Irena's Children: A True Story of Courage (Young Readers Edition) by Tilar J. Mazzeo, adapted by Mary Cronk Farrell

It probably wasn't until 2009 when Anna Pacquin played the title role in the 2009 Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler that most of us learned about what she had done during WWII.  Since then, a few excellent picture books have also come out about this brave young woman, notably Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto by Susan Goldman Rubin, Irena's Jars of Secrets by Marcia Vaughan and Jars of Hope: How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children During the Holocaust by Jennifer Roy.  These are all very well-done, and a wonderful way to introduce younger readers to what Irena Sendler accomplished right under the noses of the Nazis occupying her city, Warsaw, Poland, during World War II.

Now, however, a book has come out that goes even deeper into the work of Irena Sendler and the Polish Resistance. Originally written for adults, Irena's Children has been adapted for young readers who are beyond the picture book age.

Growing up in a religious Catholic home in Otwock, Poland, Irena saw that her father, a doctor and her hero, would always treat the Jewish families when no one else was willing to, and had also welcomed Jews as friends into their home, again when no one else would.  Irena had played with the Jewish children growing up near her home, and had even learned to speak Yiddish by age six.  In Warsaw, Irena went to social work school, always thinking of her deceased father as her inspiration because of the kindness he shown to all his patients.  At the Free University, Irena's mentor and teacher had been Dr. Helena Radlikska, who taught her that "the commitment of a small group of well-intentioned people could shape the world in their vision of it." (pg 19)

Small wonder that when the German Luftwaffe began its unrelenting bombing of Warsaw in September 1939, destroying most of its building, it didn't take Irena long to spring into action. She began by finding food for soup kitchens, and delivering money to friends and teachers who were forced to go underground because of the Nazi occupation of Poland.

In 1940, Warsaw's Jews were first forced to build and then to live in a crowded ghetto.  As it became more and more crowded, people began to stave and fall ill. Irena, because of her training, received permission to enter the ghetto as a public health specialist, bringing whatever food and medicine she could manage to sneak in.  Soon, however, Irena found herself going from family to family asking them to let her smuggle their children out of the ghetto to safe places away from Warsaw.  Hiding children however she could, in coffins, in carpenter's tool boxes, even wading through sewers, among other things, Irena worked hard to save as many of Poland's Jewish children as she could, even as she risked her own life on a daily basis to do it.  All the while, Irena kept lists of the children and where they were placed so that they could be reunited with family after the war, list that were eventually buried under an apple tree in a friend's garden.  Altogether, Irena saved around 2,500 children.  She herself was arrested and, after being tortured, sentenced to be executed, only to be saved at the last minute.

I've always thought of Irena Sendler as a real hero, even though she didn't consider herself to be one.  And of course, I knew there was much more to her story than what I found in the picture books about her. The Young Readers Edition of Irena's Children is an ideal age appropriate book for going deeper into what happened in Poland during World War II and for understanding exactly what Irena Sendler faced when she decided to become part of the resistance and not turn her back on friends and strangers. Mazzeo has clearly done a lot of research for this historical work about Sendler and even continues it, with information about some of the friends and children that Irena was involved with during the war and who survived it. Sendler's biography is well sourced with extensive Endnotes and there are copious photographs of many of the people with whom Irena surrounded herself with.

Sometimes, when an young readers edition is adapted from the adult book it can get a little confusing in places, but I found that Irena's Children, adapted by Mary Cronk Farrell, flows smoothly, with none of the jolts that sometimes causes the reader to become confused and/or lost in the details. Farrell is not stranger to WWII nonfiction.  You may recall that she wrote a book a few years ago called Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific and is very comfortable working with this kind of information.

Irena's Children: A True Story of Courage is a gripping, tension filled work that is all the more poignant because of is true. I highly recommended this work not only for anyone interested in WWII, but for everyone else.

There is a reading guide available on the publisher's website that is for the adult book but can easily be adapted for this Young Readers Edition.  You can find it HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (A Flavia de Luce Mystery #8) by Alan Bradley

Yes, it's that time of the year again, time to review the newest Flavia de Luce mystery.  The Christmas season has rolled around once more but it looks to be a dismal one for Flavia, now 12.  After being expelled from her mother's alma mater, Miss Bodycote's Female Academy in Canada, in less than a term, Flavia returns to the family's rather run-down estate, Buckshaw, in Bishop's Lacey. Expecting to be welcomed back with open arms at the train station by her father and sisters Feely and Daffy and young cousin Undine, Flavia is surprised to find only their beloved family retainer Dogger there bearing bad news.  Colonel Haviland de Luce, Flavia's father, has been diagnosed with pneumonia and is in hospital quite ill.

When Flavia realizes that nothing else at home has changed, she takes off on Gladys, her trusty bike, and despite the freezing rain, decides to visit the vicar's wife, Cynthia Richardson.  After some tea and catching up, Cynthia asks Flavia if she would bike the 2 1/2 miles over to Thornfield Chase to deliver an envelope to a Mr. Roger Sambridge, master wood-carver.

But when she gets to Thornfield Chase, Flavia discovers a dead Mr. Sambridge hanging upside-down on the back of his bedroom door from an elaborate leather and wood contraption looking like he had been crucified.  Naturally, Flavia does her own investigations of the scene before the police and Lieutenant Hewitt arrive.  And one of the things she notices is a set of pristine first edition children's books written by Oliver Inchbald, one containing the name of an acquaintance of Flavia's - Carla Sherrinford-Cameron.  Why, she wonders, would a 70-year-old woodcarver have these children's books?  He had no wife or children.

The investigation of Roger Sambridge's murder leads Flavia on quite a journey.  In London, she seeks help from Mildred Bannerman, whom she met at Miss Bodycote's, and who was once accused than acquitted of murder, and who seems to know everyone.  When she learns that Oliver Inchbald died on a small island, pecked to death by seagulls, Flavia is led to a women who claims to be a witch.  And then to an odd Boy Scout who took pictures of Inchbald on the island before the authorities shows up.

Oddly enough, it was Carla Sherrinford-Cameron's Auntie Louise Congreve who ultimately identified Inchbald's body or really what was left of it after the seagulls were done.  But how is Auntie Loo connected to Sambridge? And Inchbald?  Sadly, Auntie Loo had died in a diving accident shortly after Inchbald was discovered dead.

As Flavia begins to tie up the loose ends and seemingly disconnections related to the murder of Rober Sambridge, she also begins to notice that she herself is changing.  After all, she is close to being a teenager now, no longer a child.  Will adolescence change our beloved Flavia?  I hope only for the better.

I enjoyed reading this 8th Flavia de Luce mystery as much as I have the 7 previous novels, but I did notice a certain pall hanging over this novel, most likely caused by Colonel de Luce's illness.  Flavia seems a little less spontaneous and her usual sense of humor isn't a prevalent as before, a combination of growing up and her father's illness?  Probably.  And there was none of Flavia's trademark chemical experiments to help her solve the case, but there was a nice unusually cooked breakfast made in her lab that sounded delicious.

Still, Bradley's writing is still excellent as well as his plotting.  Despite Flavia's foray to Canada, none of the setting, Buckshaw and Bishops' Lacey, has been lost and I had the sense that I had come home along with Flavia.

Fans of Shakespeare's Macbeth will recognize the title from Act 4, Scene 1 and the incantations of the three witches that begins with the first witch chanting "Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd." And yes, one of the things that helps Flavia put the case together is a brinded (tortoiseshell) cat who does "meow" three not so easy to find times.

And fans of Flavia will probably enjoy this latest edition as I did, and those who haven't discovered these mysteries won't have trouble reading Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, as with all of the Flavia books, it works as a stand alone novel.  But be warned - they are addicting.

Shucks, now I can't wait for the next book to come out.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

When I first began this blog, I read a book called Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter.  It is about a 13 year-old girl named Ann Fay Honeycutt who becomes the "man of the house" when her father go to war in 1944, that is, until she contracts polio in an epidemic sweeping the area around her home in Hickory, NC.  Now, Hostetter has written a prequel to Blue, which focuses on her neighbor, 14 year-old Junior Bledsoe.

It's 1941, and Junior is not having a good year. His momma wants him to stay in school, but his Pop thinks he should quit.  To make matters worse, his ninth grade teacher is Miss Hinkle, a neighbor and a hard-nosed educator who forces Junior to write with his right hand rather than his left so his penmanship will be perfect.

But Miss Hinkle does own a '35 Plymouth that Junior would love to get his hands greasy working on it. Because all Junior really wants to do is follow in his Pop's footsteps and tinker with cars and other broken things that need a good mechanic to fix them.  But no matter how much he helps his father, no matter how much he can prove what he knows, his father will simply not let Junior do much more than hand him his tools.  And sometimes Junior just gets so mad at his Pop.

To top it all off, his Pop's mean, ornery father is living with the family now, sharing Junior's room with him and he just seems to delight in needling Junior.  And granddaddy, who thinks President Roosevelt is a coward for keeping the country out of the war, just can't wait for the United States to enter it.

But when Pop is found dead by the side of the road on morning after what everyone presumes is a night of drinking and poker, Junior is suddenly at a loss about his life.  Missing his Pop terribly, Junior just wants to find out what happened that night and the only way he can do that is by making friends with the boy in his class who is the schoolyard bully.  And making friends with Dudley Walker is not an easy task, but doable.

Junior is basically a good kid, however, between missing his Pop, always being annoyed at his granddaddy, and not liking school very much, Dudley Walker's suggestion that they enlist together seems like a good idea. But when enlisting doesn't work out, it just seems that Junior goes on a downward spiral of bad decisions, like borrowing/stealing Miss Hinkle's car after Dudley agrees to help him find out what happened the night his Pop died, and, even though Junior knows stealing the car is wrong, he does it anyway.

Junior is grappling with a lot of changes since his father died, but as he struggles to face his challenges, he also discovers some family secrets that help him understand his Pop better.  And maybe, just maybe with the help of neighbors who are willing to help him, Junior can come to terms with all that has happened and find his aim in life.

Like Ann Fay in Blue, Junior is a wonderful, full-bodied character.  He's full of the kinds of contradictions, disorientations, and mixed emotions of adolescence as he searches for identity, his place in the world, independence, and respect. And a little peer pressure from Dudley doesn't help matters. Neither does dealing with a grandfather who puts him down all the time or having to come to terms with his father's alcoholism.  These are hard topics for a middle grade novel, but Hostetter has managed to bring them together in this coming of age story without overburdening the reader, letting everything unfold naturally and with some humor, allowing Junior tell his own story and keeping the authorial voice to a real minimum.

The area around Hickory, NC is familiar to Hostetter and when she takes the reader there, it doesn't take long to feel like you know it, too.  It's the kind of place where families have lived for generations, and everyone knows everyone else. And when Junior goes into the woods to seek comfort and solace, you can almost hear the trees rustling in the wind, smell the earth underfoot, and taste the catfish that can be caught in the river.  It is, in short, an ideal setting for a 14 year-old boy to do some hard growing up.

If you haven't read Blue, or its sequel Comfort, Aim is a great place to begin this well-written historical fiction trilogy.  If you have read either of the other two books, no problem, there are only occasion visits from Ann Fay in Aim.  If anything, you will understand Ann Fay's relationship with her father even better, but it always remains Junior's story.  Either way, I can honestly and highly recommend this book and Blue, and now that I have a copy of Comfort, I can't wait to read it, as well.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Calkins Creek, at the request of the author

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is a weekly event hosted by Shannon Messenger at Book Ramblings, and Plenty of Shenanigans

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Blog Tour: Dive! World War II Stories of Sailors & Submarines in the Pacific by Deborah Hopkinson

When most of us think about World War II, we generally focus on the European Theater.  Hitler, the Gestapo and the Nazis seem to be the predominant focus of books for kids and adults in both fiction and nonfiction.

But there are excellent, well-researched books that also turn their attention to the Pacific Theater and the war with Japan that began on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked and decimated America's naval base in Pearl Harbor.  It truly was a day, as President Roosevelt said, "that will live in infamy."

And that is the day that Deborah Hopkinson begins her fascinating look at the important role that the Submarines, Asiatic Fleet played in the war, a fleet that was by no means war ready.  She begins by introducing the reader to 15 year-old sailor Martin Matthews on leave and visiting a friend aboard the USS Arizona. Martin survived the attack, and although he could have revealed his age (yes, he, like many others, lied about it) and gotten out of the Navy and the war, he stayed, "because it was my country" under attack.

Making it clear that the goal of the Japanese was to achieve dominance in the entire Pacific region, Hopkinson turns her attention to four submarines, USS Seawolf, USS Trigger, USS Wahoo, and USS Tang.  Presenting them in chronicle order, and using first-person recollections combined with other source, she follows the sequence of events as each submarine faced them, focusing on the problems the faced, such as torpedoes that were defective, tracking battleships using only sound and not knowing if they were friend or foe, on the camaraderie among the submariners, and their amazing accomplishments from the mess chefs on up to the commanders.    

Hopkinson makes her history of the submarine in the Pacific Theater fresh, in part because of the personal narratives included, and exciting, putting the readers into a submarine during war, giving them a real sense of the tension while out on patrol, looking for enemy ships, and especially the close quarters the submariners lived in, sometimes not seeing daylight for very long periods of time.

To her credit, Hopkinson has also made this story of sailors and submarines a reader-friendly work. Technical terms, fighting strategies, battles fought and either won or lost are all written clearly and understandably, ideal for young readers who have an interest in WWII, and/or submarines.

Interspersed among the narrative are what she calls breakouts: sidebars that give additional information; briefings that provide analysis and background information; dispatches that are stories of interest or additional first-person accounts; and submarine school focusing on submarines or life as a submariner.  I found all of these breakouts interesting and informative and fit right in with submarine life.  In addition, there is quite a bit of back matter, from timelines, to a glossary, maps, diagrams, bibliography, and excellent source notes.

Dive! is a book I can highly recommend to all readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press

Be sure to visit the other stops on the Dive! Blog Tour:

September 26        Interview                    Provato Events
September 27        Review/Interview      The 3 R's - Reading, 'Riting & Research
September 27        Interview                    ALSC Blog
September 28        Review                       The Book Faerie
September 29        Review                       ReaderKidz
September 30        Review                       Orange Marmalade Books
October 1              Review                       My Learning Life
October 3              Guest Posting             Literary Hoots
October 4              Review                       The Children's War
October 5              Review                       Girl Who Reads
October 6              Review                       I Read Until Dawn
October 7              Review                       Kitty Cat at the Library
TBD                      TBD                           Hope is the Word

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Blog Tour: Bjorn's Gift by Sandy Brehl

Bjorn's Gift is a sequel to Odin's Promise (my review) and continues the story of Mari, now 12, and her family living in Norway under Nazi occupation since it was invaded in April 1940.

Bjorn's Gift begins in August 1941.  Mari is still mourning the loss of her beloved dog Odin, killed by a Nazi trying to protect her, her older brother Bjorn is in hiding, working with the Norwegian resistance, and older sister Lise lives in Oslo with her new husband.  As the number of Germans occupying Mari's village increases, so do their demands to be supplied with whatever they want, leaving everyone else cold and hungry all the time and making life generally very difficult for all Norwegians.

Mari still wonders what she can do to resist the Nazis like Bjorn, so when her friend Per tells her that Bjorn asked him to keep a coded journal of happenings in their village, Mari feels a pang of jealously. But when Per asks her to take over the task, she refuses and instead begins to record events in her own notebook for Bjorn.  Mari is hoping to be able to live up to her brother's faith in her, especially as she begins to get involved in more dangerous resistance activities.

And it seems that once school begins, things get even worse.  Mari's old school friend Leif appears to have become a staunch Nazi supporter, counting the days until he is 14, and can officially join the Unghird, the Norwegian version of the Hitler Youth, who are, as far as Mari is concerned, a bunch of bullies. Added to that, now Leif's aunt and uncle, also Nazi supporters, have moved into the house across the way, a house left vacant after the Jewish owner, Mr. Meier, was beaten and taken away by the Gestapo. And it seems that Leif is there all the time, or rather, he seems to always be where Mari is, trying to convince her he is still her friend.

When the Germans start to increase the number of soldiers throughout Norway, Mari and her family decide move into her grandmother's small cottage for some privacy.  The soldier's living in their house expect her mother and grandmother, and Mari when possible, to cook and clean for them. In return, the family gets more ration cards and leftovers, which they share with those less fortunate.

Throughout the novel, Mari worries about her brother and how he is surviving the harsh winters in hiding, wishing she knew if he is actually still alive.  But he continues to serve as Mari's strength and inspiration, even as she begins to realize that the war and occupation are going to go on for longer that she had first believed.  If only she knew about Bjorn, it would be so much easier.

Bjorn's Gift is a powerful look at the life of one family on the home front when it is governed by an occupying enemy.  It is told from Mari's point of view in the third person, except for the journals entries, which are told in the first person and really move the story along nicely.  The journal entries are a chance for Mari to express her anger, her fears and even her hopes.

The novel takes place from August 1941 to New Year 1943 and the reader sees Mari as she continues to grow and mature, going from a still questioning, 12 year-old to a more self-assured 14 year-old, and gaining more of her family's trust.

But, as Sandy Brehl clearly demonstrates in both Odin's Promise and Bjorn's Gift, living under Nazi occupation makes Mari, her family and friends more determined than ever to keep a firm hold on their Norwegian identity, their values as a family, and their role as kind, caring, and concerned neighbors,  To their credit, Mari and her family never waver in their concept of who they is, and Mari especially feels not temptation to follow Leif in his support of the Nazis, no matter how much he pressures her.

Brehl's setting, Ytre Arna, is ideal for some of the resistance activity that occurs in Bjorn's Gift.  It is a real place, located on a fjord on the western side of Norway, and Brehl's descriptions of the beautiful landscape and the village certainly do it justice (though I suspect it is not longer considered to be a village).
Ytre Arna in 1940
Often a sequel falls a little short of a first novel that was thoroughly enjoyed, but let me assure you that that is not the case here.  Bjorn's Gift is fresh and exciting and works well as a stand alone novel, with enough information about the events in Odin's Promise that the reader won't get lost, though I would definitely recommend reading both, particularly since I have just read that there will be a third book, called Mari's Hope.  This is good since Bjorn's Gift really left me wondering what what was going to happen next.

Bjorn's Gift is a novel about family, friends, and courage and should appeal to young readers whether or not they have a serious interest in World War II.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was provided to me by the author

About the Author: Sandy Brehl is a retired educator and active member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). When she’s not reading and writing, she enjoys gardening. She lives in the Milwaukee area and invites you to visit her website (www.SandyBrehl.com) to learn more about ODIN’S PROMISE and BJORN’S GIFT. Sign up for quarterly newsletters to stay informed about future releases (including MARI’S HOPE), and special events and offers. 

Twitter: @SandyBrehl
https://www.facebook.com/sandy.brehl


Be sure to visit all the other stops on the Bjorn's Gift Blog Tour:

September 1          Interview                   GROG
September 7          Review                      GOLOWD
September 11        Guest Post                 Unleashing Readers
September 14        Review                      This Kid Reviews Books
September 19        Review                      Tales from the Raven
September 20        Review                      Kid Book Reviewer      (Odin's Promise)
September 27        Review                      Kid Book Reviewer      (Bjorn's Gift)
September 29        Review                      The Children's War
October 3              Review/Interview      Jenni Enzor
October 5              Review                      Mom Read It
October 7              Review                      Mindjacked
October 11            Guest Post                 Write Now! Coach