Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday #2: Skating with the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that highlights
upcoming releases we can't wait to read.

I haven't participated in Waiting on Wednesday in a long time, but hope to be more regular from now on.  This week, my pre-publication selection is:

Skating with the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer
Publication date: April 12, 2016
Random House

From Goodreads:

In this gripping and poignant companion to Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner Black Radishes (my review), Gustave faces racism and anti-Semitism in New York City during World War II, but ultimately finds friendship and hope.

It is January 1942, and Gustave, a twelve-year-old Jewish boy, has made it to America at last. After escaping with his family from Nazi-occupied France, after traveling through Spain and Portugal and across the Atlantic Ocean, he no longer has to worry about being captured by the Germans. But life is not easy in America, either.

Gustave feels out of place in New York. His clothes are all wrong, he can barely speak English, and he is worried about his best friend, Marcel, who is in grave danger back in France. Then there is September Rose, the most interesting girl in school, who for some reason doesn’t seem to want to be friends with him. Gustave is starting to notice that not everyone in America is treated equally, and his new country isn’t everything he’d expected. But he isn’t giving up.

Skating with the Statue of Liberty, the brilliant companion to Susan Lynn Meyer’s debut novel, Black Radishes, was inspired by her father’s stories about his first months in America. It is a gripping look at one boy’s life that is at once honest and hopeful.

I knew there was going to be a companion to Black Radishes, and I am excited to read Skating with the Statue of Liberty to see how Gustave and his family are getting on in America.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

It's 1940 and it's time for the three Bateson children, Katherine, 12, Robbie and Amelie to be evacuated to Rookskill Castle in Scotland.  Their father had already left for Europe, on a secret mission for MI6,  but not before he makes arrangements for a new school to be set up for them and other evacuees at the castle.

Before they leave, Kat's Great-Aunt Margaret takes her aside and gives her a gift - a silver chatelaine with its three hanging charms, a scissor, a thimble and a pen.  This chatelaine was a precious family heirloom that Great-Aunt Margaret always wore pinned to her belt.  But with the gift came a warming - the chatelaine can keep them safe because it is magical, but there is always a price to pay for the use of magic.  Logical Kat is skeptical about magic, but reluctantly accepts the chatelaine anyway.

Arriving at the castle, the children meet Lady Eleanor., who Kat notices also wears a chatelaine laden with charms and hidden from view.  She tells them that Gregor, Lord Craig, who is distantly related to the Batesons, is quite ill and must be left completely along. The children are forbidden to wander the castle and the castle grounds and are to stay either in the hallway where their rooms are located or in their rooms, which will be locked every night.   Eventually, they also meet the other students - Peter, an American slightly older than Kat, Isabella, Colin and Jorry.

It doesn't take long for Kat to begin to think the castle and the cold, aloof Lady Eleanor are very strange, as are the maid Marie, Cook, Hugo the driver who also helps around the castle, and Mr. Storm, their history instructor.  Storm is way overly interested in historical artifacts, especially chatelaines.  But when Kat begins to notices some strange goings on about the castle, and discovers a wireless in the cellar, she begins to suspect that the castle is harboring a German spy.  And who are the children that seem to mysteriously come and go, and then there's Jorry's sudden disappearance, even after his parents come looking for him.

The novel occasionally flashes back to 1745 and the story of Leonora, a young girl who was married to the lord of Rookskill Castle, for the purpose producing a child.  When she fails to do that, she goes to a person only referred to as the magister, who magically helps her get a child, but, of course, there is always a price to pay for using magic and she must pay the magister, a payment that brings us right back to 1940s Scotland.

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle is a dark and sinister tale about the forces of good and evil, and I have to confess I  really loved reading it.  Their are the typical tropes of creepy fantasy - weird nighttime noises, ghostlike children appearing and disappearing, a creepy, evil woman, secret passages and spells cast to confuse.  To me, it felt very Gaimanesque and I mean that as compliment.

Kat is a wonderful character whose logical mind has a hard time accepting that magic might just be real.  On the other hand, her logical mind also mean that she has a real talent for decoding encrypted messages, something that really comes in handy in this novel.

All the ends relating to this story are tied up by the end of the novel, but there is the hint of a possible sequel because the denouement just isn't a neat and clean as it could be and leaves room for a lot of speculation about Kat's future.

Let me just mention here, for those who may not know this, but Adolf Hitler and the men he surrounded himself with had a serious interest in the occult.

I found this to be an original, spine tingly story, even though at times, I know I figured out things before a young readers might.  Readers who have already zipped through the Harry Potter books and want more will probably also enjoy The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle.  I know I did. 

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher


A Discussion and Project Guide is now available to download thanks to author Janet Fox.

In it she discusses the issue around Keep Calm and Carry On.

OK, I really loved this novel and it's great fantasy, so I have no problem with willingly suspending any disbelief to enjoy a good story.  But when I read that Kat's father told her to keep calm and carry on, I did feel I needed to remind readers that that was a slogan that was never used in WWII.  The slogan was designed for a very special purpose, which you can read all about in my post Keep Calm and (fill in the blank)  The fact that Kat's father used the slogan - I chalk up to coincidence.  Keep calm became a kind of mantra for Kat and one she often needed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Tiny Piece of Sky by Shawn K. Stout

It's only June, but the summer of 1939 does not look very promising as far as Frankie Baum, 11, is concerned.  Her sister and best friend Joan, "the just-barely-older of the two," is getting to spend the summer at Aunt Dottie's farm in New Jersey, where Frankie is sure she will be having the best summer ever, while she's stuck at home in Hagerstown, MD with older sister Elizabeth, called Princess by their parents.

And ever worse, Frankie is expected to work in her father's newly purchased restaurant, a long neglected Alpine-style relict of years ago, now with only weeks to get it cleaned up and running again to become his dream of "An Eating Place of Wide Renown."  Opening day is planned for July 5th.  Sure enough, at the restaurant, Frankie is sent to the kitchen to work, a dirty, messy job, while Princess gets to work the cash register.

Frankie is vaguely aware of war talk among the townspeople, of anti-German feelings that are beginning to brew, but she has never really considered her family to be German, even though her father's parents immigrated from Germany.  But when Hermann Baum is approached by the cigar smoking president of the Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Sullen Waterford Price, and refuses to let himself be bullied into becoming at paid member of the chamber, he makes a formidable enemy, one all too aware of his German roots.

Price is also running for mayor of Hagerstown, so when Hermann also refuses to put his election poster in his front window, Price begins looking for just the dirty information he needs to start spreading rumors that Hermann Baum is quite possibly a spy and Nazi sympathizer.

To make matters even more complicated, Hermann decides to throw his own  pre-opening day Fourth of July party for friends, family and even his African American staff and their families.  Hermann has always treated his kitchen staff fairly, despite living in a state where Jim Crow is in effect.  That, coupled with the German flyer that has mysteriously fallen into the hands of Mr. Price, are all that is needed for a boycott of Hermann's party.

Frankie has overheard quite a bit while working in the kitchen, and decides to do some investigating of her own about what is going on.  But she also finds herself doubting her father's innocence.  When no one shows up at her father's party, she goes to the town's celebration to try and find out what is going on.  When Hermann shows up looking for her, he collapses.  And the Baum family's life is changed forever.

A Tiny Piece of Sky is a wonderful coming of age story.  Frankie's character develops slowly over the course of the novel as she encounters different people and situations.  The story is told in the third person by an omniscient narrator in a rather conversational style, and who seems to be right in the thick of things, more aware of what is going on in the world than Frankie is.  To get some of Frankie and even Joan's mindset, there are also first person letters they write to each other, which tend to create more mystery about Hermann Baum's heritage than information.

The story takes place over June, July and August 1939.  There aren't many pre-World War II home front stories for young readers, making this all that much more interesting.  Stout looks at both racism and xenophobia through the lens of Frankie's summer.  Frankie hasn't really paid attention to the racism and discrimination towards the African American community in Hagerstown, until she starts working in the restaurant.  But the character of Mr. Stannum, the restaurant's new manager, opens her eyes when she witnesses the way he treats the black kitchen staff with such cruelty and contempt, even refusing to allow them to use the bathroom he uses.  

You  also don't find many books for young readers that are about the kind of treatment that German Americans experienced in the 1930s and 1940s as the possibility of war with Germany became more of a possibility.  Most people don't realize they were also discriminated against. though to a far lesser extent than Japanese Americans.  What makes this an interesting theme here is that Stout shows how easily people can change their attitudes towards of friends and even fathers when doubt begins to take hold.  For that reason,  A Tiny Piece of Sky is not just good historical fiction, but also resonates so loudly in today's world. 

The other part of what makes A Tiny Piece of Sky such an interesting, realistic novel is that much of the material comes from Shawn Stout's own family and the restaurant they owned in Hagerstown, which she writes about in her Author's Note at the end of the novel.  Be sure to read it when you read this excellent novel.

Teachers can find an extensive Teaching Guide for A Tiny Piece of Sky HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Used with permission: the original menu from Shawn Stout's grandparent's restaurant.
Click to enlarge and check out the prices listed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Tortoise and the Soldier: A Story of Courage and Friendship in World War I written and illustrated by Michael Foreman

It's the early 1950s and office boy Trevor Roberts just wants to be a full-fledged reporter for his hometown paper, the Lowestoft Journal, but so far, he only get reporting jobs once in a blue moon, and usually not very interesting.  One March morning, Trevor is sent out to see if Mr. Friston's tortoise has woken up from his winter hibernation.  Little did Trevor know that that would be the beginning of a long friendship and a wonderful article for the newspaper.

Slowly, over a series of weekends, Trevor peddles out to the two converted railroad cars that Henry Frisson's lives in and hears the story of how he acquired his tortoise, whom he named Ali Pasha, during World War I.  Told in a series of flashbacks and using his saved wartime memorabilia, including his diary, Henry recalls wanting to see the world as a boy, and joining the Royal Navy hoping to realize his dreams.  But shortly after, WWI breaks out and Henry's ship, HMS Implacable, heads straight for Gallipoli.  There, Henry finds himself on shore and in the trenches, charged with the duty of removing wounded and dead soldiers from the battlefield, ironically in the company of the Turkish soldiers they were fighting with.

It is in the midst of fighting one day that Henry is knocked down into a shallow crater by a shell blast, followed by a hard object hitting his head.  It turned out to be a tortoise whom Henry befriends while waiting for the fighting to end.  Henry decides to rescue the tortoise and sneaks it on to the HMS Implacable, hiding it in his battleship station, the Number Two Gun turret.  Because Henry found his tortoise on the Gallipoli Peninsula, which was part of the Ottoman Empire then, he decides to name it Ali Pasha, after one of its rulers.

From Gallipoli, the HMS Implacable heads to the Suez Canal, and eventually back to England.  And Ali Pasha go home with Henry, where the two lived out their days together.

I always know that when I pick up a Micheal Foreman book, I am going to like the story and the artwork equally and The Tortoise and the Soldier is no exception.  Here is a wonderful, lifelong story that begins on the battlefield of one of the worst campaigns in WWI and continues of over 70 years.

And though the center of the story is about Henry and Ali Pasha, there is a lot of story relating to Henry's family, his school days, his brothers fighting in Europe, and mostly centrally, his relationship with the other sailors assigned to Number Two Gun turret.  Foreman subtly shows the reader how important it is to be able to not just get along with those who live in such close proximity to one, but also how much better it is if you really like each other and work together.  As Henry tells Trevor, his shipmates would bring Ali Pasha treats from their own meals in the hope that he would bring them luck.

Perhaps the best message a young reader can take away from this story, is that the enemy, in this case the soldiers from Turkey, are really at bottom no different from Henry and his mates, a important discovery he makes during a short cease fire to collect the dead.

This is a very pleasant story, one told for the most part with a light touch, but make no mistake about it, Foreman doesn't sugar-coat what happens in war, on the sea and in the battle field.  Recognizing oneself in the enemy, and realizing how deadly war is are both good reasons for kids to read this book.  But so is the enduring friendship between man and tortoise.

The Tortoise and the Soldier is historical fiction based on the lives of the real Henry Friston and Ali Pasha.  Foreman includes information, photos and other artifacts about both man and tortoise, as well as his own personal story knowing Henry during WWII.   But it is Foreman's own watercolor illustrations that really enhance and give depth to the tale he is telling:
Henry meets Ali Pasha
This is a wonderful story that is sure to appeal to many middle grade readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Monday, March 7, 2016

Franklin D. Roosevelt's Presidency by Linda Crotta Brennan

Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President in 1932 and served until his untimely death in 1945.   When he came into office, the country was in the throes of the worst depression the world had suffered to date; at his death the country was just coming to the end of World War II.  So much happened during Roosevelt's presidency and Linda Crotta Brennan has chronicled it all in this slim, but informative book.  

Brennan begins with some background information including a brief account of Roosevelt's childhood and education, his famous family (President Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin's future wife Eleanor were distance relatives) and his early rise into the political scene.  But in 1921, Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio and though most people thought that his career in politics was over, Roosevelt was determined to continue on his planned course in politics.

In 1929, the stock market crash sent the country into a depression, with people hungry and out of work everywhere.  President Hubert Hoover did little to help the country get on it feet again, and in 1932, Roosevelt was elected president, taking over the reigns from Hoover.

Elected to four terms in office, Brennan explains how Roosevelt led the country out of the depression with a variety of social programs for putting people back to work.  Not all of these programs were welcomed by Congress and he was forced to issue Executive Orders a total of 3,522 times.  Before the depression was completely over, however, the world was at war, and Roosevelt once again had to come up with some clever ways to help Britain, while keeping the United States out of the conflict.

But on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the US entered the war.  Roosevelt's time in office was often met with dissension in Congress and with the people, but his presidency was really marred by Executive Order 3066, forcing Japanese American to be removed to internment camps.

The book ends with Roosevelt's sudden death and the swearing in of Harry Truman as the next president and his first few months in office.  

Franklin D. Roosevelt's Presidency is chock full of information about our 32nd President, some of it already known, some of it a behind the scenes look at his life.  There are abundant archival photographs and insets that offer additional information, including on one polio, a disease many kids may not even know about anymore.  It is a very well researched work, ideal for upper level middle graders and high school kids studying American History.  The language and explanations are straightforward and easy to understand, including some complex concepts.

The back matter includes a timeline, source notes, a Glossary, and Selected Bibliography along with Further Information.

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