Werner Reich is just a young boy when he arrives alone at Auschwitz. His father had died a few years before, he was separated from his mother when the...moreWerner Reich is just a young boy when he arrives alone at Auschwitz. His father had died a few years before, he was separated from his mother when the Nazis took her and his older sister was supposedly hiding in plain sight with a Christian family.
Werner may be young but he quickly assesses that the best chance to survive Auschwitz is to appear not to be weak. So, climbing up to the third rung of the triple decker bunks in his barracks, scared and lonely, Werner meets his bunk mate, Herr Herbert Levin.
By day, Werner and the other men and boys stand hours for roll call, then move heavy rocks from one place to another, eat the watery soup and stale bread, then try to sleep so they can do this all over again the next day.
One night, however, the guards come in and wake Herr Levin up, demanding magic. Giving him a deck of cards, Herr Levin performs all kinds of magic tricks for the guards entertainment. His magic also delights Werner, who thinks Herr Levin might be favored with an extra piece of bread, but his thinking is quickly straightened out by his bunk mate. "This is not a game and it is not a show…if I displease the guards, if I fail in my magic, if I run out of tricks, if they tire of me…my life will be over." Werner quickly grasps the capriciousness of life in a concentration camp.
Then one night, Herr Levin teaches Werner how to do a card trick, one just for Werner only. Magic helped keep Herr Levin alive in Auschwitz so far, maybe it will help Werner, too, he tells the boy.
Eventually the two are separated, and towards the end of the war, Werner is forced to walk on a Death March from Auschwitz to Germany, a walk he survives. Herr Levin also survives, but the two have no idea what happened to the other.
Werner remained interested in magic throughout his adult life, performing tricks for his family and friends after marrying and migrating to the United States. But he never found out what happened to Herr Levin until one day he was reading a trade magazine about magic…
and discovered that his Auschwitz bunk mate Herr Levin was none other that the renowned Nivelli the Magician, eminent pre-war magician known all over Europe and who, after the war ended, had been performing in the United States.
It must be so difficult to write books for young readers about the Holocaust that aren't too scary, too grime, too graphic, but istis doable and many parents and teachers find that they are a sensitive way to introduce the heinous circumstances of the Holocaust to their kids. Canadian author Kathy Kacer, who has written many books for young readers about the Holocaust, seems to instinctively know how to make a Holocaust book accessible and informative without frightening young readers. And she has done just that in The Magician of Auschwitz, a picture book for older readers.
What makes The Magician of Auschwitz such a fascinating story it that it shows so clearly how one small act of kindness can make such a difference in a person's life - in this case, maybe even helping to save it. The themes of hope and friendship forbidden in a place where often it really was (understandably) every man for himself are reflected in the muted, subdued illustrations, almost as though they are being hidden from the Nazi captors.
The watercolor illustrations by Gillian Newland are indeed dark and foreboding grays, blacks, browns and gray-green, reflecting life in a concentration camp, with only small touches of red on the playing cards and the swastika on the guards armbands.
Though based on the experiences of the real Werner Reich and Herbert Levin or Nivelli the Magician, however, this is a fictional retelling of their story, told from Werner's point of view. As a biographical picture book for older readers, there should have been more souces in the back matter than just the author's one extensive "How it Happened" explanation. However, readers will still enjoy reading this and seeing the accompanying photographs of Werner as a youth and as an older man. Sadly there is only one photographs of Herr Levin and his wife.
Isaac, 10, and his family are part of the Choctaw Nation living in Mississippi in 1830. One morning, Isaac's father tells his family that they will ha...moreIsaac, 10, and his family are part of the Choctaw Nation living in Mississippi in 1830. One morning, Isaac's father tells his family that they will have to move from their homeland. The Choctaws had been Treaty Talking with the Nahullos (White people), who, Isaac declares, must want something.
Around the same time, Isaac begins to have premonitions of how people will die. And after the Nahullos burn down their village one night, he begins to see the ghosts of deceased Choctaws. Now homeless, the people of the village are offered blankets to keep warm in, but Isaac's mother refuses to take any. The blankets were full of smallpox, so many people got sick and dies.
Isaac, his father Zeke, mother Ochi, older brother Luke and talking dog Jumper take off through the woods and soon meet up with many walking Choctaws and soldiers on horses. All the Choctaws are wrapped in the blankets that the soldiers had given them against the biting winter cold. Wary, and hiding in the woods, they watched this procession a few days and when nothing happened, Isaac's father stepped out to ask if the blankets were safe.
Isaac's family joins another family, Gabe, Ruth and daughter Nita, 6, on their forced march west, sharing food and shelter. Isaac continues to see the ghosts of the people from his village, who are now guiding him to keep things safe, but he also realizes that he, too, will become a ghost soon.
Then, Isaac meet Joseph, the grandson of two deceased elders from his village. Joseph is a shape-shifter who can change into a panther as will. Together, they make a plan to rescue Naomi, the daughter of Gabe and Ruth, abducted by soldiers to cook and take care of them.
It is a dangerous rescue with very unexpected results.
How I Became a Ghost is a short, very straightforward story with elements of what we might think of as magical realism, but which are actually parts of Choctaw beliefs. Tim Tingle takes the reader into their belief system and lets them experience it without explanation.
The readers comes to understand that family and community are very importance aspects of the Choctaw Nation.. In How I Became a Ghost, you can see in the way they interact with each other that Isaac's family is close, loving and playful. And community is really just an extension of family, all Choctaw being kin, obvious when Gabe and Ruth welcome Isaac's family to join them on the Trail of Tears.
And ghosts, well, they are present in the daily life, guiding and helping the living. Choctaw's believe that everyone has an inner spirit or shilup and an outer shadow or shilombish. The shilup, meaning ghost, is supposed to go to a good afterworld but this couldn't happen without proper burial rituals, which couldn't happen on the Trail of Tears.
Most disturbing to read is the treatment of the Choctaw by the American soldiers. Abducting children to use as slaves, disregarding all Choctaw traditions, forcing people to walk in the bitter cold and snow with little food or withholding it as punishment, all this is described by Isaac.
But, How I Became a Ghost is written by such a gifted writer that it is not a book that should be passed over. Tingle is a member of the Choctaw Nation whose great great grandfather walked the Trail of Tears in 1835. He based this novel on family stories and those of other families, giving it it's feeling of authenticity.
There really are many good books about Native Americans, but Tingle's stories go far in giving the reader a feeling of what life was life. How I Became a Ghost is the first in a trilogy and I can't wait to read the next book.
The more I think about this novel, the more amazed I am at how much Tingle has managed to put into a novel only 141 pages long and never lose the integrity of the story he is telling. Surely that is the mark of a great storyteller.
This book is recommended for readers age 10+ This book was borrowed from the NYPL
Living on a small farm in the Darfur region of the Sudan, Amira has just turned 12 and her father has given her a new drawing stick to make pictures i...moreLiving on a small farm in the Darfur region of the Sudan, Amira has just turned 12 and her father has given her a new drawing stick to make pictures in the Sudanese sand.
But now that she is old enough and her mother tries to warn her about the Janjaweed militants, Amira just doesn't want to hear about that. What she wants is to go to school like her best friend Halima has. And although her family is happy and hard working, there just isn't any money for school. Besides, her mother doesn't believe that girls should be educated, except for marriage. For now, Amira will just have to be satisfied with drawing the pictures in the sand with her stick.
Then, one peaceful morning, in the middle of chores, the Janjaweed militants sweep through Amira's village, randomly shooting at people and animals as they go. Amira sees her beloved father shot and, when it is all over, he is dead, their home is destroyed and their livestock gone.
Traumatized, Amira loses her ability to speak. To make matter worse, Amira, her mother, disabled younger sister Leila, along with Old Anwar, a neighbor, and Leila's friend Gamal must now walk through dark nights to reach a displaced persons camp and safety.
Life is hard and crowded in the refugee camp, impinging everywhere on Amira's grief, so deep that even when things happen that make her want to speak out, she is still unable to utter words. Then, one day, a Sudan Relief woman arrives at the camp, bearing pencils and yellow tablets for the children. Everyone gets a yellow pencil, except Amira, who is give the one pencil that is red.
At first, she doesn't like the short, too shinny pencil, but little by little she begins to draw pictures of her life, before on the farm and now in the refugee camp. But now that she is able to express herself again in pictures, will she once again find her voice?
By placing this novel in free verse from September 2003 to June 2004, and putting the narration in Amira's voice, with accompanying simple pencil drawings on each page, Pinkney wisely manages to introduce the horror of government sanctioned genocide and displacement in Darfur to young readers of The Red Pencil without scaring them away.
Indeed, Pinkney pulls the reader into the story with verse images of Amira's peaceful, ordered life with her family - her new turning-twelve-twig, the birth of her sister, later, the birth of a lamb, even raking animal plop on the family's small farm. But the fear and danger of the trip to the camp and the chaotic life there will also keep readers turning pages.
Young readers will certainly be able to relate to Amira on some level. She is a girl with hopes and dreams just like any 12 year old, a little strong-willed and at times defiant, but also kind and loving. There is some mother/daughter clashing over Amira's future, some sibling fighting, and a close father/daughter relationship - just as there are in many families. However, her story may also help readers better understand the conflict in Darfur.
But The Red Pencil isn't a book about fighting, it is a book about resilience and surviving and even hope despite everything. And it is about doing what you need to do in order to survive and be happy. And it is also a testament to the healing power of art.
Though occasionally there is a word or phrase that sounds a little to American and less like Amira, for the most part, Pinkney's language throughout is so beautifully lyrical, at times causing me to read passages over and over just because of her delicate, very moving way of saying something.
The Red Pencil is definitely a book everyone should read.
There is a Reading Guide for The Red Pencil from the publisher which you can download HERE
This book is recommended for readers age 9+ This book was obtained from the author at BEA 2014
It's Christmas vacation and Alvin Ho, 7 year old Chinese American second grader, is back for another adventure and this time he's leaving his home in...moreIt's Christmas vacation and Alvin Ho, 7 year old Chinese American second grader, is back for another adventure and this time he's leaving his home in Concord, MA and traveling half way around the world to visit family in Beijing, China.
For most kids, a trip to China would be an exciting, fun adventure, but most kids aren't Alvin. For Alvin, it means packing your PDK (Personal Disaster Kit), and climbing into a tin can to fly half way around the world, accompanied by his dad, his mom, older brother Calvin, younger sister Anibelly and baby sister Claire, and oh, yes, all his allergies. You see, Alvin is allergic to all kinds of scary things, and on a trip to a foreign country, he will be able to add all kinds if fears like flying, heights, and elevators to his repertoire of allergies.
Once in China, Alvin does manage to visit the Great Wall, lose his father's passport (NOT something you want to have happen in China), go through the Forbidden Palace and, my personal favorite, end up in a Chinese hospital.
But anyone familiar with Alvin's previous adventures in fear will remember he is allergic to girls (#1: Alvin Ho is Allergic to Girls School and Other Scary Things), so when his cousin Katie shows him the Christmas tree she decorated with angels bearing the wishes of girls living in an orphanage, Alvin thinks it is a swell idea until the angel he picks says Friend on it. How do you give a friend? And to a girl, no less? It is a conundrum, but Alvin works out with some surprising results.
Although Alvin's obsessive nature sometimes got on my nerves, I think the real benefit of the Alvin Ho books is that they address the many fears that kids often have, and may even provide a kind of relief for the reader when they realize they are not alone.
I also laughed my way though most of Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, The Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions, partly because so much of what happens is so spot on (right down to Calvin's I Climbed the Great Wall t-shirt, the same t-shirt my Kiddo came home wearing from her first trip to China).
I've always like Lenore Look's books because he manages to get so much information into the story that you don't even realize you just learned something new about China and Chinese culture. For example, I didn't know that Chinese buildings don't have a 4th, 14th and 24th floor because 4 is an unlucky number in China and they don't have a 13th floor because that is an unlucky number in Western countries. And I didn't know that the purpose of acupuncture is to more your stuck Chi (Qi) or energy to help you feel better. These are just part of Alvin's story and are worked into it so seamlessly.
I chose Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, The Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions for my first book in the A More Diverse Universe Reading Challenge because so often children's books written by people of color are overlooked and there are so many more that there used to be and so many are wonderful.
It's 1940, and British soldiers have just been evacuated from Dunkirk, but Dodo (Dorothy) Revel and her younger brother Wolfie, 8, still haven't heard...moreIt's 1940, and British soldiers have just been evacuated from Dunkirk, but Dodo (Dorothy) Revel and her younger brother Wolfie, 8, still haven't heard from their Pa, Captain Revel. When a telegram arrives, Spud, the children's housekeeper, tells them the sad news that their Pa is missing. Later that night, however, the children overhear Spud talking to someone that seems to indicate something else about Pa.
Next thing Dodo and Wolfie know, they are being evacuated to Dulverton, North Devon. Billeted with a reluctant woman whose son is off fighting, their only relief is at school with their kind teacher Miss Lamb. One day, on their way home from school, Dodo and Wolfie find a newborn foal. For Wolfie, it's a miracle. Pa had loved horses and knew a lot about them, much of which he had already taught Wolfie. Dodo and Wolfie decide to hide the foal, now named Hero for Captain Revel, with the help of a local boy named Ned.
When word breaks that Captain Revel is being charged with desertion and disobedience at Dunkirk, Mrs. Sprig decides she can't have his children living with her. Luckily, they end up with Miss Lamb and her elderly father, Rev. Lamb. There is even a place for the growing Hero there.
Life is better with the Lambs, though not at school. The whole nation is following Captain Revel's court-martial and his children are bearing the brunt of people's anger. It is a slow process and as time goes by life gets harder, with increasing shortages and rationing. Hettie Lamb has been watching over a small herd of Exmoor ponies, which are slowly disappearing. During a particularly cold snowy winter, the ponies are rounded up, and, along with Hero, put into a pen where they can be fed. But one night, the ponies and Hero disappear. Wolfie is devestated.
When Rev. Lamb dies, Hettie is told she must move and so the three of them go to live in County Durham, a coal mining area in Northeast England. There, Dodo gives art lessons to the children of a coal mine owner, while Hettie teaches school. The war has now ended and Captain Revel is serving a two year sentence and still hoping to have his name cleared. He had always worked to improve condition for coal miners, and now, even in prison is continuing that work.
But when the truth about Ned, the boy who had helped Wolfie with Hero back in Dulverton, and the shady activities he had been bullied into doing by his father come to light, things begin to change. Is it possible the Ned holds the key to what happened to Hero?
I really enjoyed reading Sam Angus's novel Soldier Dog when it first came out, so I was excited to read A Horse Called Hero. And I wasn't disappointed, it is a very compelling, though somewhat predictable, story with lots of coincidences. What is nice about this story are the glimpses the reader gets into so many aspects of life during the war.
There are the pacifist demonstrations in Knightsbridge the children witness while out shopping with Spud. Sometimes we forget that not everyone supports war. The crowds of children and parents on Praed Street heading to Paddington Station was palpable. And although evacuation was difficult under the best of circumstances, Dodo and Wolfie's story show how absolutely capricious the whole process was. Mrs. Sprig was a horrible, narrow-minded woman with friends just like herself and wasn't able to really welcome these two scared, displaced children into her home. It makes one wonder how often that or worst happened in real life.
However, Angus draws a lovely picture of the relationship between Wolfie and Captain Revel in the letters exchanged throughout the war, much of which was advice on caring for a horse. Wolfie's hero worship of his father is touching, never flailing even when the circumstances surrounding Captain Revel's arrest are revealed. Captain Revel was clearly a very compassionate character and it is one of the best fiction father/son relationships I've ever read.
The reader also learns so much about what life was life for coal miners and the pit ponies, as they were called. These horses pulled tons of coal out of the mine each day, never seeing daylight once they were deep in the mine. The men and horses labored under dangerous conditions and that was what Captain Revel was working to change.
Two things did bother me - we never find out how old Dodo is, only that she is older than Wolfie. And a map showing the relationship of London, North Devon and County Durham would have been nice (maps are almost always nice in historical fiction).
But, in the end, the novel really asks the readers to consider what makes a hero. For that, it is a novel well worth reading.
This book is recommended for readers 9+, but proably better for 11+ This book was purchased for my personal library
Well, by now the first blush of the new school year is over and I suspect there are lots of kids out there who are beginning to wish they didn't have...moreWell, by now the first blush of the new school year is over and I suspect there are lots of kids out there who are beginning to wish they didn't have to go to school everyday. But as Kelly DiPucchio's new picture books warns: be careful what you wish for.
Charlie is pretty tired of school - tired of writing his letters all the time, tired of drawing pictures, just tired of everything about school. Lucky Norman, he thinks, he doesn't have to go to school cause he's a dog and gets to laze around every day. So one Sunday night, Charlie wishes on a star that he were a dog.
Next morning, Charlie wakes up in Norman's bed and Norman wakes up in Charlie's bed. Yes, it's the old switch-a-roo. Norman goes to school and has fun, while Charlie gets to stay home and does dog things.
It's fun at first, but by Friday, the fun is wearing off for both Charlie and Norman. And when the weekend is a total disaster for each of them, come Sunday night, Charlie makes another wish - he wishes to be a boy again.
The idea that a kid can make a wish and wake up to find it has come true can be a pretty scary idea for young readers, but writer DiPucchio's dead pan, straightforward text is combined with artist Brian Biggs humorous illustrations to turn this into a lighthearted story kids and their parents will laugh at. Everything Norman does in school is dog related - for example, making a clay fire hydrant and drawing a food pyramid that consists only of bones, while Charlie gets to do dog things - drinking out of the toilet and digging in the garden.
Why do I suspect that DiPucchio and Biggs both chuckled their way through creating this book? Perhaps because I and the young reader with whom I read Dog Days of School did exactly that.
So if school is beginning to feel like it isn't so much fun at the moment for your kids, you might want to share this charming story with them. It worked on my young reader.
This book is recommended for readers age 5+ This book was borrowed from the library(less)
Have you ever imagined what the world would be like if the Axis powers, Germany, Japan and Italy, had won World War II. Well, author Caroline Tung Ric...moreHave you ever imagined what the world would be like if the Axis powers, Germany, Japan and Italy, had won World War II. Well, author Caroline Tung Richmond has done just that in her debut novel The Only Thing to Fear.
It's been 80 years since the Allied Forces lost the war and surrendered after being defeated by Hitler's genetically-engineered super soldiers. The United States has been divided into three territories, the Western American Territory ruled by Japan, the Italian Dakotas, and the Eastern American Territories ruled by the Nazis.
For Zara St. James, 16, living in the Shenandoah Valley in the Eastern American Territory, life has been hard. She has lived with her Kleinbauer (peasant) Uncle Red since her mother was killed by the Nazis in a Resistance mission when Zara was 8. Since then, Uncle Red has wanted nothing more to do with Resistance matters, but Zara can't wait to join Revolutionary Alliance, and with good reason. English on her mother's side, Japanese on her father's, Zara is considered a Mischling by the Germans and there has never been a place for mixed-race children in Nazi society. But Zara is also hiding a secret, one that would mean instant death - she is an Anomaly, able control the air around her. Anomalies are the result of genetic testing by the Nazis in their concentration camps in the 1930s and, as super soldiers, they helped them win the war. But only full-blooded Aryans can be Anomalies, everyone else is put to death instantly.
Into all this comes Bastian Eckhartt, son of the formidable Colonel Eckhart, commanding officer of Fort Goering. Bastian attends the elite military academy where Zara is assigned cleaning duties and lately she has noticed he has been looking her way more and more frequently. But what could the son of a powerful Nazi leader possibly want with a Kleinbauer who garners no respect whatsoever? The answer may just surprise you.
I was really looking forward to reading The Only Thing to Fear when I first heard of it. There aren't many alternative histories for teen readers about the allied Forces losing the war to the Axis powers and what that would have meant for the future. Unfortunately, this doesn't come across as an alternative history so much as it really just another dystopian novel. What seems to be missing is a strong sense of ideology - on both the Nazi and the peasant side. The Resistance was there to overthrow the cruel Nazis, but there is not sense of how or why they will make the world better if or when they succeed.
Richmond's world building was pretty spot on, though not terribly in-depth. I really like the idea of generically engineered Anomalies, which added an interesting touch.
Zara is quite headstrong and can be a bit whinny and annoyingly brave in that she takes chances without thinking through the consequences. Zara has a lot to learn, and a lot of growing up to do, even by the end of the novel (or maybe it is going to be a series and she can mature at a later date).
One of the things that always amazes me in books about people fighting for their lives is that there is always time for romance. Yes, Bastian is originally interested in Zara for reasons that have nothing to do with romance, yet even as things take a dangerous turn, they both find they are attracted to each other.
The Only Thing to Fear is definitely a flawed novel, but still it is one worth reading. As I said, it is Richmond's debut novel, and though you might find it a bit predictable, it is still a satisfying read.
The Only Thing to Fear will be available in bookstores on September 30, 2014.
This book is recommended for readers age 12+ This book was an E-ARC obtained from NetGalley
Sophisticated readers might also want to take a look at Philip K. Dick's 1962 Hugo Award winning alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle.
It's summer vacation and Larissa Renaud, 12, isn't really looking forward to it. Her best friend is off to Paris with her grandmother and Larissa hasn...moreIt's summer vacation and Larissa Renaud, 12, isn't really looking forward to it. Her best friend is off to Paris with her grandmother and Larissa hasn't any other friends. But what she does have is a serious scar running down the side of her face, gotten when she almost drowned in the Bayou Teche a year ago after falling from the broken bridge that once crossed over it on a dare. Ironically, her Aunt Gwen had actually drowned the same way.
Now, living over the antique shop her parents had opened in Bayou Bridge, LA, her mother's childhood home, Larissa's summer prospects don't look interesting, at least not until an old disconnected antique phone rings and the voice on the other end tells Larissa to not only find the fireflies but to trust them as well. After all, it's a matter of life or death.
Sure enough, later that day, Larissa finds the fireflies at, of all places, the broken bridge where she almost drowned. As they swarm around her, enveloping her in their bright light, the bridge suddenly appears to be whole and safe. Cautiously, Larissa crosses over it and by the time she reaches the other side, she has time-slipped back to 1912.
Larissa can't believe what she is seeing - her great great grandmother Anna Normand as a young girl surrounded by family and servants. Anna's Uncle Edgar had just returned from the Caribbean where he had bought gifts for everyone, including a young African American servant named Dulcie who received a beautiful Victorian doll. Anna, who received a pony, asks to hold the doll and never gives it back. Larissa recognizes the doll as one her mother owns, kept locked on a display case, the doll whose eyes seem to follow her whenever she is in the same room.
As Larissa receives more mysterious phone calls from disconnected old phones and travels back to the past again and again with the help of the fireflies, she learns more and more about her family's tragic past and the beautiful doll that great great grandmother Anna had taken from Dulcie, its rightful owner, and who seems to always be present when tragedy strikes. Is it possible that doll is cursed? And could Larissa's mother and the baby she is expecting become it's next victims?
I should have known the minute the doll was mentioned that I was in for a creepy doll story. And what better place to set a time-travel, creepy doll story than in a Louisiana Bayou, which always seems to have an aura of sinister mystery about it, anyway (at least, in books). And Kimberley Griffiths Little does capitalize on that and has created a delightfully haunting coming of age story in which place is one of the best characters in the book.
Larissa is an OK character. She's totally focused on her scar and tries to hide it as much as possible with her hair. But, she is also so wrapped up in her anger at the two girls who dared her to stand on the edge of the broken bridge, that she has never let anyone explain how she was saved that day. Solving the mystery around the creepy doll does help to pull her out of her self-pity so that she can see things more clearly - past and present.
And the mystery is interesting, though I thought too much time was spent in 1912, so that time travel episodes to other, later ancestors felt a bit rushed. I did like the story of the doll, made by doll makers in the Dominican Republic at a place called the Island of Dolls, though I wish there had been a little more said about the doll's voodoo roots.
Despite my few grumblings, The Time of the Fireflies was a fun read, compelling and exciting. I was pulled into the story immediately and read it in one sitting, wanting to find out what happens. If you liked Doll Bones by Holly Black, you are sure to enjoy this creepy doll mystery.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+ This book was borrowed from the NYPL
One summer day in 1941, while Peter Dixon, 12, is in the woods checking his snares to see if he's caught a rabbit to supplement the meager amount of f...moreOne summer day in 1941, while Peter Dixon, 12, is in the woods checking his snares to see if he's caught a rabbit to supplement the meager amount of food her and his mam get with their ration coupons, the air raid siren goes off. Not knowing what to do, Peter starts running for home and the safety of their Anderson shelter, but before he gets there, a German plane crashes so close to him, Peter is knocked out.
It doesn't take long for the whole village to come out to see what happened, including all the children who want to try to get souvenirs from the wreckage. And that's how Peter meets Kim, a girl about his age, with short hair and dressed like a boy. The two become instant friends.
Peter and Kim decide to go back to the wreckage that night to look for their own souvenirs, even sneaking inside the plane. After almost getting caught by the soldiers guarding the plane, the two end up with a gun belonging to one of the dead Germans in it. Running off towards the woods to hide, they stumble upon a third German from the plane, who had parachuted out but was badly hurt.
Seeing the gun, the German begs them not to hurt him and they decide to take him to Peter's hiding place in the woods. They clean him up and over the next few days, they learn that his name is Erik, and the three become friends, as much as that can happen when you can't speak each others language. Hiding and feeding Erik is difficult but Kim is afraid the army will shoot him on the spot and she is convinced that if they take care of Erik, than the same kindness will be shown to her brother Josh, in the RAF, or Peter's father in the army if they shot or injured and found by the enemy.
Peter, however, just wants his dad to come home. Than maybe Mr. Bennett, who owns most of the land surrounding the village, who stop coming around to see his mother so much. And maybe the older boys in the village will stop bullying him so much about his mother and Mr. Bennett.
Things get more complicated, but in the end, all the elements of this story come together in an exciting, maybe a little predictable, but definitely satisfying denouement.
I found myself immediately pulled into My Friend the Enemy. It is a compelling story right from the start. Peter is a sensitive boy, a bit of a loner and rather timid who seems to have spent much of his time with his dad, the gameskeeper for Mr. Bennett's land. Kim, on the other hand, is a confident girl. a bit of a tomboy, and not the least bit afraid of standing up to bullies older and much bigger than she is.
It is also an exciting story, with plenty of action and historical detail. Times were tough during the war, food was in short supply and people lived their lives in fear of bombing raids. Smith incorporates all that into his story, giving the dilemmas Peter wrestles with - to help a German soldier, to steal food from his mother to feed Erik, to accept Mr. Bennett's help even as he begins to suspect the bullies are right about him and his mother - a very realistic quality so necessary in good historical fiction.
I did like that it takes place in the same north-eastern area of England as Robert Westall's book and, in fact, My Friend The Enemy did remind me somewhat of books by this favorite author. Unlike the Blitz in London, the north eastern coast was one of the places that was bombed only because German planes were dumping them to lighten their load as they returned home from a bombing raid, a fact Dan Smith includes in his novel, but not a place you read about much in WWII books for young readers. My Friend The Enemy gives readers another perspective on the war as it happened in England.
Young readers will definitely find this a book to their liking, especially readers interested in WWII and what like was like on the home front for kids around their age.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+ This book was an E-ARC obtained from NetGalley
It's Saturday night, June 20, 1964 in Greenwood MS and Sunny Fairchild, 12, and her older stepbrother Gillette, 14,, have just snuck into the municipa...moreIt's Saturday night, June 20, 1964 in Greenwood MS and Sunny Fairchild, 12, and her older stepbrother Gillette, 14,, have just snuck into the municipal pool in Greenwood MS for a forbidden nighttime swim. But as Sunny backstrokes to the edge of the pool, her hand suddenly touches someone else and as she screams and screams, a young black boy, every bit as afraid of Sunny as she is of him, runs from the pool, grabbing his clothes and a pair of new white Converse hi-tops.
Raymond Bullis, 14, just wanted to know what it was like swimming in the cool, clean "white only" pool, especially since the "black" pool had been closed for a long while now and black kids could only swim in the muddy river.
This night begins a intertwined journey which will take Sunny and Raymond through a summer of change that will impact both of their lives as each comes of age in the time that will become known as Freedom Summer
Sunny has heard so much about the so-called "invaders", as the local media refers to those "Civil Righters" coming south to help register black voters and to set up Freedom Schools for their children, but she is also dealing with "invaders" at home. Sunny was perfectly happy living with just her father and an idealized idea of her mother, a person only known to her in a photo with Miranda, age 19 written on the back. Sunny has convinced herself that her mother loved her but she left her as a baby because she needed adventures. Now, Sunny's father has just remarried and everything's changed. He's brought a new family to live in the house, stepmother Annabelle, Gillette and his little sister Audrey, 5. And even though Annabelle wants nothing more than to be a mother for Sunny, Sunny is resistant to her every attempt, testing her over and over.
For Raymond and his friends, change can't come fast enough - in fact, even SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) are too slow. But when he takes things into his own hands, he brings down all the wrath and hatred of Deputy Davis, a little too quick with physical force when it come to the activists, both black and white, and the black residents in Greenwood.
The novel is told from three points of view - Sunny, Raymond and a narrator there to fill in some of the blanks about Sunny's mother and father, as well as Annabelle's first abusive husband, a cop friend of Deputy Davis. The narrative is interspersed with photos, song lyrics, speeches, political slogans, posters, pamphlets and four of what Wiles calls "opinionated biographies" of SNCC's Bob Moses, Lyndon Johnson, the Wednesday Women and Muhammad Ali, all important figures of the Civil Rights movement, so that the reader genuinely feels wrapped up in the events of that summer along with Sunny and Raymond.
Sunny and Raymond are both believable characters, well drawn as children of the time. Sunny has always accepted the way things are, believing that the blacks on the other side of the tracks were happy with their separate but definitely not equal lives, and so Freedom Summer is a real eye opener for her. Raymond gives the reader a credible picture of what life was like on his side of the tracks, from the lack of electricity, indoor plumbing, proper schools and recreation for kids to the threat of job loss if one dared step out of line, all designed to keep blacks down.
If there is a flaw in this book, for me it is the thankfully-not-very-time-consuming substory of the young Civil Rights activist, Jo Ellen Chapman, who reminds Sunny of her mother. Sunny, even as she realizes Jo Ellen is not really her mother, becomes a little obsessed with her, and the whole thing comes to a quick but unsatisfactory resolution by the end of the book.
As a former history teacher, I loved reading Revolution. It is a truly wonderful book, and one you won't soon forget as it brings history to life and life to history. It is the second book of a planned trilogy. The first book, Countdown, takes place in Washington D.C. and is the story of Jo Ellen's younger sister Franny, 12, and covers time of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. It is also written in the same documentary style. I am really looking forward to the third book, which takes place in 1966. 1962, 1964 and 1966 were all important, pivotal years in our recent history.
Want to know more about Freedom Summer?
Deborah Wiles has Pinterest boards for both Revolution and Countdown that have more documentary resources for interested readers who might like to follow her boards. A particular favorite of mine is the 1962 and 1964 playlists of what kids were listening to back then. Be sure to check them out.
Scholastic offers a PDF discussion guide for the Civil Rights Movement, that includes Revolution and The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell, as well as suggestions for addition books on this important topic.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+ This book was purchased for my personal library
It is Fall 1942 and the Nazis have been occupying Holland since Spring 1940. Beatrix, 6, and her mother are Jews who have been running and hiding from...moreIt is Fall 1942 and the Nazis have been occupying Holland since Spring 1940. Beatrix, 6, and her mother are Jews who have been running and hiding from the Nazis for that long. But now it is time to hid Beatrix in a safer more stable place.
Sitting on the tram, on their way to meet the woman who would take Beatrix to safety, her mother is suddenly taken away by the Nazis who regularly board and search the trams looking for Jews. Beatrix is left sitting on the tram by herself.
Brothers Lars, 63, and Hans Gorter, 65, both life-long bachelors, work together on a tram - Hans driving it while Lars collects tickets. When it looked like the Nazis were also going to take Beatrix away, Lars suddenly told them that she was his niece. The war and all the rumors they had heard about Nazi treatment of Jews suddenly became real for the brothers.
Now, these kind, well-meaning though naive brothers must learn how to care for a little girl, who has been traumatized by the loss of her mother and who must become someone different than who she really is - if only for the duration of the Nazi occupation. Luckily, Hans and Lars have help from their elderly neighbor Mrs. Vos, 80, and from a new, younger neighbor, Lieve van der Meer, 30, who husband is rumored to have escaped Holland and is flying for the RAF.
Why would two older men who have made it a point to always live quietly and keep a low profile, suddenly risk everything, including their lives, for a little girl they know nothing about? That is the question at the heart of The End of the Line and Canadian author Sharon McKay answers it eloquently as the story of Beatrix and her new uncles unfolds.
There are lots of books about Jewish children who were rescued by people during the Holocaust and who did what they did simply because they believed it was the right thing to do. But these stories are generally written from the point of view of the child. What makes The End of the Line stand out is that it is written from the point of view of the two brothers. and yet it is a thoroughly appealing, totally engaging book for young readers accustomed to reading about protagonists their own age.
Living under Nazi occupation meant living under a daily shroud of fear and anxiety, never knowing if you were going to be singled out at any given moment. There are plenty of these moments portrayed in the story of Hans, Lars and Beatrix, like the time Beatrix whispers Geb Achting, Yiddish for be careful, to a young Nazi soldier. However, the story offers more insight into what it was like for the brothers in order to survive the war and the occupation of Holland, from dressing Beatrix as she grows, managing to find food when there is almost none to be had, even to buying her a doll to cuddle and comfort herself with may be new experiences for Hans and Lars, but keeping her safe from the Nazis turns out to be instinctual for these kind brothers.
The End of the Line is an interesting supplement to Holocaust literature written for young readers by an author who is part of the Canadian War Artist Program and has already written books about child soldiers in Uganda, young girls caught in the war in Afghanistan and short stories dealing with the Holocaust with Kathy Kacer, another Canadian artist who also writes books for young readers about the Holocaust. This should be a welcome addition to any library.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+ This book was received as an E-ARC from NetGalley
You can find more information and a very useful lesson plan for The End of the Line from the publisher HERE
Imagine your mom coming home one day with a snarky 13 year old boy in tow that turns out to be your grandfather. Well, that is just what happens to 11...moreImagine your mom coming home one day with a snarky 13 year old boy in tow that turns out to be your grandfather. Well, that is just what happens to 11-going-on12 year old Ellie Cruz, and it couldn't have happened at a worse time. Her parents are divorced, albeit amicably. She misses 5th grade and is facing 6th grade without her best friend Brianna, who has discover volleyball and now hangs out the other girls on the team. And she misses her miracle goldfish that has finally died after 7 years, the fish that was supposed to teach her about the cycle of life. Now, she finds out that her mother has simple replaced her goldfish with another each time it died - 13 goldfish in all.
The last thing Ellie needs right now is a 13 year old grandfather, but that is what she gets. It seems grandpa, Dr. Melvin Sagarsky, 76 and with 2 PhDs to his credit, has discovered the secret to reverse aging thanks to a rare jellyfish. Now he is stuck in middle school with Ellie and is being forced to read The Catcher in the Rye ("All this Holden kid does is whine. He should just get a job").
So imagine how Dr. 2PhDs middle schooler Melvin Sagarsky feels when a goth kid named Raj calls him a quack while riding the school bus. It seems that, despite his many published articles, grandpa's lifetime of research trying to find the secret to the fountain of youth isn't widely admired by the rest of the scientific community, even if he does have a fan club in Finland.
Now imagine Ellie's surprise when Raj, who, it turns out, is very much into science, shows up at her house, newly hired as Melvin's lab assistant. Their goal: to break into the lab where Melvin used to work and steal the rare jellyfish that helped him reverse the aging process. Natually, Ellie wants in.
Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong!
You've probably already figured out that this book is pretty funny. And it is, but at its heart is a rather serious question - what happens if Melvin's discovery works out and people stop aging, what does that do to the cycle of life?
The Fourteenth Goldfish is a character/action driven coming of age novel fueled by science and I really enjoyed reading it. I liked watching Ellie grow and change, and seeing how she coped with everything going on around her. It was particularly nice to read about a girl who learns a lot about science and the for-better-or-worse life-changing work of people like Galileo, Issac Newton, Robert Oppenheimer and Jonas Salk from her grandfather. It's through her many conversations with Melvin that Ellie discovers she also has a real interest in science. And a real interest in the ethical questions scientific discoveries can generate. Oddly enough, despite regressing to a snarky 13 year old while still remaining as curmudgeony as ever, even Melvin grows as a character for the same reasons.
It was also nice to read a book that has parents that get along after divorce and a father who is still welcomed in his daughter's home. And it was nice to see an ex-husband who got along with his wife's new, serious boyfriend. Perhaps that is why Ellie was able to handle her own age appropriate problems so well. For example, she and Brianna may have drifted into different interests, but they remained friends.
The Fourteenth Goldfish is a fun, quirky easy to read novel about life, friendship, science and possibility. Definitely not a novel to miss.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+ This book was an E-ARC received from NetGalley
To tbe honest, the two most exciting things about BEA 2014 for me was meeting Jacqueline Woodson and Andrea Davis Pinkney and it a typical twist of fa...moreTo tbe honest, the two most exciting things about BEA 2014 for me was meeting Jacqueline Woodson and Andrea Davis Pinkney and it a typical twist of fate, both authors were doing book signing at the same time. What to do? Get to the first signing early, even skipping two signings (one was favorite actor Alan Cumming) I would have liked to go to, then whip over to the second signing before it ended. So I went home that day with two cherished ARCs - Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacueline Woodson and The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney.
So, now I have finished reading Brown Girl Dreaming. Was worth all that crowd-pushing, line-standing, time-finagling? YES, YES AND YES.
Written in free verse, Woodson shares the people and events in her childhood during the 1960s and 1970s which helped to shape her as a person and as a writer. Beginning with her birth in Ohio, where her father's family, the Woodsons, lived, she was the youngest of three children, a sister and brother. Jacqueline, named for her father Jack, was still young when her mother left her father, and returned to her home and family South Carolina. Leaving the children with her parents, she went off to New York to try to establish herself and bring her children up there.
In the south, Jackie, her sister Dell and brother Hope experience the best of family and friends. The children became Jehovah's Witnesses like their grandmother, but, for Jackie, it was her grandfather Gunnar Irby who was her favorite. But in the south, she also experiences signs that say "Whites Only" and even after things changed, her grandmother refuses to sit in the front of the bus, but also refuses to shop in stores where people made her wait and wait to be helped.
Later, her mother came to get her three children to bring them to their new home to Brooklyn and to meet their new baby brother, Roman. Living in Bushwick, attending PS 106, the teachers immediately recognize that Dell is gifted, Hope loves science, Woodson writes her name on the board as Jackie, avoiding the q that gave her trouble. And she finds a best friend Maria, whose mother makes the best chicken and rice. Brooklyn in this time frame is so familiar to me, that reading most of this memoir is like going home. I laughed out loud when I got to the poem called "John's Bargain Store." Woodson and her friend bought 3 t-shirts, blue, yellow and pink, to dress alike (My best friend and I bought .29 cent silver friendship rings at John's Bargain Store on Flatbush Avenue, and I still have mine).
Woodson doesn't skirt issues that others might want to avoid. She grew up in pivotal times for the country, and in places where she experienced change first hand, but also the kind of passive-aggressive racism that exists even today. But she also writes about more personal issues - her beloved Uncle Robert, his arrest and visiting him in an upstate prison; baby brother Roman's addiction to eating lead based paint and his hospitalization, the painful death of her grandfather - it's all there.
And slowly, through it all, we see the writer Jacqueling Woodson develop, beginning with a love of words and what they could do, hinting at the person she will and has become.
When I finished reading Brown Girl Dreaming, I thought about it for a few minutes, turned to the front of the book and began reading it again. The images that each of the poems conjure up are at times beautiful, sad, funny, poignant and at time difficult and honest, but all are beautifully rendered. In the hands of a great wordsmith like Woodson, the sparseness of free verse can create an image that this so full-bodied, in part because it allows you to carry your own experienced/memories to what you are reading and become a part of the poem.
Brown Girl Dreaming is a book not to be missed. A good companion to it would be Rita Williams-Garcia's books One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven, which both take place in late 1960s and 1970s.
Brown Girl Dreaming will be available on August 28, 2013, exactly 51 years years after Martin Luther King, Jr gave his "I Have A Dream" speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom…something to really think about.
This book is recommended for readers age 10+ This book was an E-ARC
There have been lots of stories and books written about the Christmas truce of 1914 that spontaneously occurred between the Allied troops and German t...moreThere have been lots of stories and books written about the Christmas truce of 1914 that spontaneously occurred between the Allied troops and German troops. Now, Aaron Shepard has written another version of this astounding event.
In a fictional letter to his sister Janet back home in London, Tom, a soldier at the Western Front, tells her the extraordinary story of how the truce came about. Soldiers on both sides of No Man's Land, a space of only 50 yards, were relatively quiet on Christmas Eve day, waiting for replacements after heavy fighting and many deaths. It was cold and had snowed, so everything, including the soldiers, was frozen.
Suddenly as night fell and even the sporadic gunfire stopped, the British heard the Germans singing "Stille nacht, heilige nacht…" and saw that they had placed Christmas trees, complete with burning candles, all along their trenches.
Soon, the soldiers on both sides began to trade favorite Christmas carols back and forth across No Man's Land. Finally, the Germans invited the Allied soldiers to come out of their trenches and meet in the middle: "You no shoot, we no shoot" they said.
As Christmas Eve wore on, soldiers on both sides discovered they had lots in common. After exchanging gifts - badges and uniform buttons, cigars and cigarettes, coffee and tea, and even newspapers - the soldiers parted and went back to their trenches.
As Tom ends his letter to his sister, he writes: "All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough."
The Christmas truce of 1914 was quite remarkable in the annals of military history and some people even believed it never happened. But as Shepard points out in his afterward, the truce was reported in the British newspapers, photos included (and I found reports about it in the New York Times dated December 31, 1914). In this fictional letter from Tom, Shepard tries to clear up some false beliefs and misconceptions, all explained in the afterward.
Christmas Truce is beautifully and realistically illustrated in watercolor by Wendy Edelson, who has really captured the idea of the Christmas truce. The cold browns of the trenches gives way to color, first in the line of brightly lit Christmas trees across No Man's Land, with warmer and brighter colors added as the men get closer and closer to each other. Christmas Truce may be a picture book, but it is definitely meant for older readers.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI and this Christmas will be the 100th anniversary of that history-making truce. It is nice to know that for at least a short time, it really was all quiet on the Western Front.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+ This book was an E-ARC from NetGalley
GOOD NEWS: If Christmas Truce is a book you think you might like to read, and you have an ereader, you can download this book for free at Barnes & Noble Amazon iTunes