Today I am revisiting my very first blogs posts here and on my other blog Randomly Reading. It isn't because I haven't been reading, I have actually rToday I am revisiting my very first blogs posts here and on my other blog Randomly Reading. It isn't because I haven't been reading, I have actually read lots of blogable books lately. I just thought it would be fun to see this again. And I still love it as much now as I did on all subsequent readings of it.
So here's what I wrote on June 11, 2010:
Life isn’t terribly exciting in Blackbury, England in 1996 until 21 May 1941, the night of the Blackberry Blitz and the destruction of Paradise Street, where 19 residents are killed. It all begins when 13 year old Johnny Maxwell and his friends find the local bag lady, Mrs. Tachyon, lying in an alley near her overturned shopping cart and her black plastic bags strewn about, blown from the past to the present by an unexploded bomb or UXB.
Johnny does the right thing and calls an ambulance to take her to the hospital. And because he is a good kid, he takes her shopping cart, her bags and her demon cat Guilty home to store in his garage until Mrs. Tachyon can reclaim them. This incident begins Johnny’s foray in time travel, accompanied by his friends Yo-less, Bigmac, Wobbler and Kristy. As Mrs. Tachyon explains to Johnny when he visits her in the hospital “Them’s bags of time, mister man. Mind me bike! Where your mind goes, the rest of you’s bound to follow. Here today and gone tomorrow! Doing it’s the trick! eh?” (page 49) And because Johnny’s mind has been on his school project about the Blackbury Blitz that is exactly where Mrs. Tachyon’s bags of time take him and his friends.
Travelling back in time, Johnny is not only faced with the dilemma of knowing what the result of the Blackury Blitz will be, but also with the possibility of changing its grim outcome. It is a classic fork in the road dilemma given a new twist, or as the mysterious Sir John, burger magnet and richest man in the world, presents it to his chauffeur in 1996 “Did you know that when you change time, you get two futures heading off side by side?...Like a pair of trousers.” (page 55-56)
In 1941, Bigmac, a skinhead who finds cars with keys in the ignition irresistible, is arrested for stealing one and then accused of being a German spy. He manages to get away from the police by stealing one of their bicycles. Thanks to Bigmac, the group is forced to return to 1996 to escape. Unfortunately, when they get there, they discover that they have left Wobbler behind. Do they go back and return Wobbler to the present time? What leg of the trousers does history follow if they leave him in 1941? What leg of the trousers does history follow is they go back for Wobbler? And who is the mysterious Sir John and what does he have to do with everything?
Johnny and the Bomb presents a number of interesting conundrums for the reader. Every fan of time travel stories knows the cardinal rule that if you manage to find a way to time travel, you must not change anything or you change the future. But doesn’t the very fact of your presence in a time you have traveled to constitute a change? So, can you change something and still have the same future result – more or less?
Johnny and the Bomb was a well done, thoroughly enjoyable novel. It is the third book in the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy. The first two books are Only You Can Save Mankind (1992) and Johnny and the Dead. It was made into a movie by BBC in 2006 in the UK, but can be viewed in 10 minute increments on YouTube. Though a little different from the book, I still found it to be entertaining. Mrs. Tachyon was played by Zoë Wanamaker, who, as fans of the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone will remember, was Madame Hooch, the flying instructor (among her other numerous excellent roles.)
Speaking of the time traveling Mrs. Tachyon, there is an interesting concept in Physics called a tachyon. Essentially, a tachyon is an imaginary particle of ordinary matter that can travel faster than the speed of light, which means it can travel back in time.
It seemed appropriate to begin this blog about World War II-themed books for young readers with a time travel novel, even if the focus is not directly about the war. Historical fiction is, after all, similar to Mrs. Tachyon’s bags of time, and the novels become a portal that can transport and return me to the time period under consideration.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+ This book was purchased for my personal library ...more
In her New York Times review of the novel Time of Trial, Mary Stoltz wrote: “When Hester Burton…writes a historical novel, it is not a modern romance wIn her New York Times review of the novel Time of Trial, Mary Stoltz wrote: “When Hester Burton…writes a historical novel, it is not a modern romance with appliqués of research but a sound portrait of the period, presented with unobtrusive scholarship.” (NYT Book Review, May 10, 1964) This description could just as easily be applied to Burton’s 1968 World War II novel In Spite of All Terror, an ALA Notable Children’s Book. The title is taken from a speech given by Winston Churchill on 13 May 1940 in the House of Commons:
“Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”
Burton’s novel begins in 1939, a year before this speech. Liz Hawtin, 15, has been living with her Aunt Ag, Uncle Herb and their children in a poor section of London since her father died in an accident when she was 12. Her mother died when Liz was 3. Liz knows that Aunt Ag resents having to care for her, even though her father’s insurance money pays for her private school (which he insisted she go to) and helps support the family. But now the money is running out and it is possible that Liz may not be able return to school for her last year. Then the Germans invade Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and Britain announces plans for evacuating all school children to the country in case of war at government expense. In September 1939, Britain and France declare war against Germany and evacuations begin. Liz is sent to Chiddingford, in Oxfordshire and billeted with the Brereton family, consisting of Professor and Mrs. Brereton, sons Miles, Ben and Simon and their grandparents, General and Lady Brereton. She is happy to get away from her aunt until she discovers that Mrs. Brereton wants a boy evacuee as a companion for Miles. Although Liz once again feels like an unwanted intruder in someone else’s home, she does form a strong bond with Ben, Simon and their grandparents.
Liz has many good things in her life, which she doesn’t seem to appreciate and is an annoyingly self-absorbed girl. “What an unpleasant sort of girl I must have been?” she would think [later in life] in anguish. “How arrogant and bitter and full of self pity I was!” (page 15) But this coming of age story is about Liz’s personal victory over her own self-centeredness in spite of all the wartime terrors she faces. The turning point comes when the General and Ben sneak off to answer the call for all small boats to help with the Dunkirk evacuation. Liz realizes what they have done, running away to help them. But they refuse to take her and, after sailing down the Thames, she is dropped off at Ramsgate and told to go home. Volunteering to write out telegrams for the exhausted, wounded returning soldiers instead, Liz begins to appreciate the danger that all the men and women of Britain willingly face everyday in order to bring about victory. It is this realization that motivates Liz’s behavior for much of the rest of the story
This novel held my attention throughout and I, like the NY Times reviewer, found it to be an excellent portrait of the period without it ever feeling like it was a school history lesson. Burton’s detailed descriptions of events during the early days of the war are graphic and chilling, but provide a vivid picture of life in Britain. They are aided by the excellent black and white illustrations by Victor G. Ambrus throughout the novel. One interesting point was that Liz’s father was a communist. Burton describes how, when he wasn’t working in a print shop, he would stand on a wooden box and urge his fellow workers to join the Communist Party, but she never does anything more with it and his views seem to have no influence on Liz’s life whatsoever.
The brief history referred to in the title of this novel is the entries made by the main character, Sophie FitzOsborne, after she receives a diary forThe brief history referred to in the title of this novel is the entries made by the main character, Sophie FitzOsborne, after she receives a diary for her 16th birthday from her brother Toby.
Montmaray is a very small fictional island in the English Channel at the mouth of the Bay of Biscay. The FitzOsbornes are the reigning royal family on the island. However, its royal residents only include, besides Sophie, her 10 year old tomboy sister Henry (short for Henrietta), her beautiful cousin Veronica, 17 and Veronica’s father King John. They live in a crumbling castle at one end of the island, and, despite being royal, they have no money. Rosemary Chester also lives with the FitzOsbornes, caring for the King, who is now quite mad most of the time. Rosemary’s son, Simon, lives in London, working for the family lawyer. Toby FitzOsborne also lives in London, where he attends boarding school. Sophie has a serious crush on Simon, though he doesn’t seem to know it.
There is also an Aunt Charlotte in London, who never makes an appearance in this novel. She has some money, and wants to present her two nieces Veronica and Sophie to London society during the social season.
On another part of the island, the village, live their subjects, three adult and one child, who play a somewhat integral part in the beginning of the story.
Most of the first half of the novel is taken up with family and island history. Sophie also chronicles all the daily events that occur on the island, the ships that come by bringing mail and supplies, as well as news of political events happening in Britain and Europe. The Nazis have been in power for almost 4 years and the Spanish Civil War is still raging, and King Edward VIII of England chooses abdication in order the marry an American. When Simon comes to visit, he and Veronica have very heated discussions about the role the island should play in Europe’s politics, and about different political systems that are in conflict with one another. The animosity these two young people feel towards each other nicely echoes the kinds of current events taking place among the various countries.
After one of the villagers dies, the remaining three subjects decide to leave the island and live in England. Not long after, a boat arrives on Montmaray and two Germans, Otto Rand and his assistant Hans Brandt, disembark,. Though they are wearing Nazi uniforms, Herr Rand informs the FitzOsbornes that he is there not on official German business, but for personal reasons. He is a medieval scholar from Berlin and has come to Montmarmay to request permission to look at the vast library in the castle in hope of discovering something about the Holy Grail. They are refused entry, but sneak in one night anyway. This rash act of theirs spells trouble for the FitzOsbornes and the island where they had always felt so safe and secure and life will never be the same. There is much more, but to go into any more detail would spoil the story.
This is a character-centered novel in which everything is filtered through Sophie’s eye as she writes in her diary. Nevertheless, the main characters are well-developed and sympatric, even if they do ultimately challenge our sense of right and wrong when you are faced with an enemy like the Nazis. Sophie’s youth and inexperience serve as good devices for Cooper to present a great deal of historical information. Some of this information is factual, some of it is not, but the difference is made very clear. Through Sophie’s entries we also see the foreshadowing of actual things to come within the fictional story of the FitzOsbornes. So much of what occurred in the 1930s led to World War II that I think pre-war books like this are an important part of understanding how and why it happened.
And of course you will hear A Brief History of Montmaray compared to I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, another wonderful book. They are definitely similar in some way, particularly the teenage diarists observing events around them. But Michelle Cooper has created her own distinct characters, distinct plotline and a distinct, extensive history for the island and its inhabitants. Still, if you like one, you will most likely like the other.
My only problem with A Brief History of Montmaray was the cover. It gives the impression that Montmaray is much smaller than it actually would be. However, the author, Michelle Cooper, has a website that includes information on her historical resources, maps of the island, how the castle is situated on the island and a floor plan of the inside of the castle and a very nice downloadable teaching guide. These are all very handy to have while reading and may be found at Michelle Cooper
This is a wonderful story; the kind that I hate to put down and can’t wait to get back to. And when I reached to end, I was comforted with the knowledge that there is a sequel, The FitzOsbornes in Exile, but unhappy to discover it will not be available in the US until April 2011. Without reservation, I would highly recommend this book to all YA readers.
A Brief History of Montmaray received the following well-deserved honors: 2008 Shortlisted for the Golden Inky Teenage Choice Award 2009 Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature 2009 Recommended Parents’ Choice Book Award 2010 Listed American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults
A paperback edition of A Brief History of Montmaray will be available in the US in March 2011. This book is recommended for YA readers. The book was borrowed from the Inwood Branch of the NYPL ...more
This novel begins like a typical teenage love story. “Buddy” William Raymond Boyle is a 16 year old boy from a lower middle class family, living in aThis novel begins like a typical teenage love story. “Buddy” William Raymond Boyle is a 16 year old boy from a lower middle class family, living in a small village near Montauk, Long Island, NY, where his father is the local policeman. Buddy works part time in a soda shop for a pot-head named Kick Richards, where he sees Skye Pennington whenever she comes into the shop. Skye is the daughter of an oil mogul, who summers with her family at their beachfront estate. Attracted by Buddy’s good looks and her own root-for-the-underdog nature, Skye agrees to go out with him.
Buddy is completely impressed by the Pennington estate and the lavish, carefree life-style they live. He had to thumb three rides to get the estate for his date with Skye; the Pennington’s have 6 cars in their garage, including a Rolls Royce and a Jensen. But Buddy isn’t the only fish out of water at the Pennington’s. While waiting for Skye to finish getting ready for their date, Buddy meets Nick De Lucca, a short, bald man wearing yellow tinted glasses, a hearing aid that seems always to need adjusting and holding a fake cigarette to help him quit smoking. De Lucca is a journalist and guest of Mrs. Pennington, a collector of underdogs just like her daughter.
To impress Skye, Buddy does the only thing he can think of – visit his maternal grandfather in Montauk, a man Buddy barely knows and who is estranged from his mother. Frank Trenker is a cultured, sophisticated man, one who listens to music, loves animals and lives in an impressive house at the end of a long private driveway. The house is filled with books, paintings and antiques – all things the Skye is completely comfortable with while poor Buddy doesn’t have a clue about any of them. When they arrive, Madam Butterfly is playing on the stereo, one of Skye’s favorites. Skye is completely impressed by Buddy’s grandfather, as he had hoped she would be.
Buddy is blinded by his feelings for Skye and lives for the moment he can call her. When he promises his father that he will take his younger brother swimming, the promise is forgotten the moment Skye asks him to come over to see her. His feelings for her and his disregard of his brother begin to cause a riff between Buddy and his father, and even though Buddy knows he is in trouble, he is unable to do anything about it, other than go running whenever Skye calls.
Sunday comes and Buddy is supposed to take his brother fishing, but lies and promises something special when he comes back from seeing Skye. Once there, he can’t bring himself to leave. That night, as Skye and her friends are sitting around a bonfire on the beachfront part of the Pennington estate, Mr. De Lucca wanders over and joins them. It isn’t long before some anti-Semitic joke is casually made, causing everyone to laugh but De Lucca. This is followed by a girl’s poem about an alcoholic boyfriend she one had. De Lucca then begins to recite a poem he said was written by a 15 year old girl called Gentlehands. It is about an SS guard who plays the aria O dolci mani or gentlehands from the opera Tosca to torment the Italian prisoners and whom they nicknamed Gentlehands. The girl is his murdered cousin. She had been a prisoner in Auschwitz when this man was a guard there. Everyone has assumed that DeLucca was Italian, and are quite surprised when he tells them that he is, in fact, an Italian Jew. Upset, Skye tells Buddy she has to get away.
A few days later, they decide to drive out to visit Buddy’s grandfather again. The music for the evening is La Traviata, another of Skye’s favorites. They are offered a glass of wine, but only Buddy accepts. Skye and Trenker have a long conversation about expensive pipes and he tells her that his pipe is hand-carved block meerschaum imported from Turkey, costing about $8,000. Trenker also tells them about his one love, a woman he had lived with in Cuba and who had died before he could marry her. The two kids are, by now, completely impressed with Trenker. By the end of the evening, Buddy has had too much to drink and has to stay with his grandfather, while Skye drives herself home. Buddy ends up staying there for four days, using his grandfather’s jeep to go to work and visit Skye.
On her third visit to Montauk, Trenker plays the opera Tosca. At the end, she explains to Buddy that they are singing the aria O, dolci mani or O gentle hands, the same thing the SS guard played at Auschwitz Somewhat freaked, she lets slip that De Lucca has been sitting outside Trenker’s house, watching it, but Trenker just shrugs it off. Soon after this night, DeLucca publishes a story in the newspaper accusing Frank Trenker of Montauk of being an SS guard that tortured and killed people in Auschwitz, including his cousin. His proof is irrefutable.
If this story began like a typical teenage love story, it doesn’t end like one. It was, in fact, a very disturbing story. Kerr plays around a lot with the idea of appearance and reality with a good dose of irony and asks the reader to look at their own definitions of what, for them, is a good person. Basing our definition of a good person on those who appear to be refined, knowledgeable and sophisticated and whose possessions reflect this can be very seductive, as they were for Buddy. But what happens when harsh reality comes knocking and it doesn’t fit this picture? That is what Buddy must contend with in this coming of age novel
The story seemed to drag somewhat in the beginning, but that appears to be Kerr’s style. There is a lot of time spent on Buddy’s relationship with his family and with Skye. I felt it was a little too much time. Then, all of a sudden, things really moved. The flat, expository style at the beginning increased to a sharp contrast at the height of the story, only to slip into a sort of flatness again at the end. But that reflects the rhythm of life.- most days just go along and then, boom, an event of some kind breaks the sameness of ours days for a while, then back to going along, hopefully changed and wiser.
I always find that when I read Kerr’s books, I can’t put them down. This was also true of Gentlehands, making it a book I would highly recommend.
This book is recommended for readers age 12 and up. This book was borrowed from the Hunter College Library.
Gentlehands was honored with the following well deserved awards 1966-1992 ALA Best of the Best Books 1978 ALA Notable Children’s Books 1978 ALA Best Books for Young Adults 1978 School Library Journal Best Children’s Books 1978 Christopher Award winner 1978 NYT Best Children’s Books 1993 cited for Margaret A. Edwards Award ...more
Traitor begins in the winter of 1944. Anna Brünner, 16, lives in Stiegnitz, a small village, with her mother and grandmother, not exactly Nazi supportTraitor begins in the winter of 1944. Anna Brünner, 16, lives in Stiegnitz, a small village, with her mother and grandmother, not exactly Nazi supporters, and her younger brother Felix, member of the Hitler Youth and completely indoctrinated in National Socialist dogma. Older brother Seff is fighting at the Eastern front. Anna's father, Felix Brünner, had been a conjuror with a traveling circus before marrying her mother, and had committed suicide when Anna was still a baby.
During the week, Anna goes to school in Schonberg, living in an attic room rented from a widow, and coming home every Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon.
While walking home from the train station, Anna notices some odd footprints in the snow. Becoming curious, she follows them all the way to her family’s barn. Climbing up into the hay loft, Anna finds a sleeping man lying there, wet and emaciated. Anna assumes that he is an escaped patient from the nearby mental asylum, but at home, her grandmother tells her about eight Russian POWs who had escaped in the area. Seven of them were found and shot on the spot. Anna naturally assumes that the man in the barn is the last missing Russian, but still feels sorry for him. She tells her grandmother that she thinks she is getting a cold and is given a jug of steaming milk and told to go to bed. Naturally, Anna sneaks it out to the hay loft and gives the milk to the man.
Anna continues to think about this man and before returning to school on Sunday, she givess him clean, dry clothes, some food and takes him to the Moserwald Bunker, a large complex that had been used for defense at one time, but has long since been abandoned. Using hand motions, she explains that he must stay there or he will be caught. With the help of a calendar, Anna indicates that she will return the following weekend.
Although Anna knows it is treasonous to help the enemy, she continues to bring the Russian, whose name is Maxim, more clothing and food. After giving him her older brother’s clothes, Anna becomes afraid that they can be traced back to her if Maxim if found. As Anna becomes increasingly stressed by this, her landlady, Mrs. Beraneck, notices and, knowing she is not a supporter of the NS regime, Anna finally confides in her that she is hiding Maxim. Just before Christmas vacation, Anna find clothing, toiletries and some kitchen utensils in her room for Maxim, left there by Mrs. Beranek.
The police have by now basically given up their search for Maxim. By now, the war is not going well for the Germans and the Russian Army has been pushing westward, getting closer and closer to Stieglitz. Anna’s brother Felix, however, has been watching her closely and following her when she goes to visit the bunker. He finally confronts Anna, telling her that he thinks she is hiding the prisoner and reminding her that that is treason, punishable by death. She explains that she goes to the bunker to be alone and write poetry. He accepts this explanation with skepticism.
Traitor is a taut, psychological novel, full of the kind of suspense that grips the reader, making it impossible to put the book down. It relies, for the most part, on Anna’s thoughts to move the narrative forward, so the reader can see the interesting play of what she thinks and what she does. It had me on the edge of my seat the whole time I was reading. There seemed no possibility that this story of Anna and Maxim could have any kind of good resolution. But as the Red Army gets closer, a good outcome seems to become a possibility. Still, the ending was not what I was expecting at all. Not one of the possibilities for a positive or negative ending that occurred to me prepared me for what does happen. But I leave it at that.
Traitor is so well worth reading and I highly recommend it. I think Anna dilemma and her actions, coupled with the way the author builds up the tension, would be very appealing to teen readers. Often translations are not as good as the original because, as they say, something gets lost. But Rachel Ward has done a great job capturing the deveolping warm relationship between Anna and Maxim in an otherwise cold and impersonal landscape that reflects the militaristic society the Nazis were so good at creating. They say you should write what you know and the Sudetenland under Nazi domination is something that Gudrun Pausewand would know about firsthand. Pausewang was born there in 1928 and spent her youth living under Nazi rule until fleeing with her family from the advancing Russian army in 1945.
Music for the End of Time is the story about the time that French composer Olivier Messiaen spent as a prisoner of war in *Stalag VIIIA, in Görlitz, GMusic for the End of Time is the story about the time that French composer Olivier Messiaen spent as a prisoner of war in *Stalag VIIIA, in Görlitz, Germany. It begins with his arrival at the camp, clutching a knapsack. After the prisoners are settled into their barracks, cold, tired and hungry, one of the other prisoners wants to know if there is food in Olivier’s knapsack. Grabbing the bag, the other prisoners discover there is only sheet music in it. Disappointed, they go back to their bunks.
Not long after his arrival, while Olivier is listening to the morning birdsong, a prison guard comes over and tells the composer to follow him. He takes in to a small, cold room off a lavatory, and tells Messiaen that he may come here for a while every day and compose his music.
At first, nothing comes to Messiaen. He feels discouraged, believing no one will hear anything he creates. One day, a new truckload of prisoners arrive, two of whom are carrying instruments. Inspired by the sight of these musicians, Messiaen soon begins a composition based on the birdsong he can hear, even in prison.
Late in the winter, Messiaen finishes his composition, and on January 14, 1941, along with three other prisoner musicians, performs his newly written composition, Quartet for the End of Time, for all the 5,000 prisoners in the camp, as well as the German guards.
This was a lovely story accompanied by the beautiful pastel illustrations done by Beth Peck and I highly recommend it, despite some criticism. The author focuses only on the story of Messiaen’s musical creation, which is fine. I think, however, she leaves out some biographical information that might be interesting to know. Messiaen was a prisoner of war; he was not in the same kind of camp that Jews and other enemies of the Reich were put into. She says he survived the war, but he really spent one year as a prisoner of war, from May 1940 to May 1941. In her Author’s Note, Bryant does explain that the piece Messiaen wrote was called “Quartet for the End of Time" and it is based on a passage from the Books of Revelations, when an angel announces “There will be no more time.”
This book is recommended for readers age 9-12. This book was borrowed from the Yorkville Branch of the NYPL.
Music for the End of Time received the following well-deserved honors: 2006 Bank Street College Best Children's Books of the Year 2006 Cooperative Children's Book Center, CCBC Choices List 2006 Society of Illustrators "The Original Art" Annual Exhibition
More information about Music for the End of Time, including a link to a very useful discussion guide may be found Jen Bryant Books
More information about Olivier Messiaen may be found at The Olivier Messiaen Page
An a short sample of Quartet for the End of Time may be seen and heard at YouTube *Stalag is an acronym for Stammlager, which is a prisoner of war camp for soldiers not including any officers...more