Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Diana's White House Garden by Elisa Carbone, illustrated by Jen Hill

When the United States entered World War II, people of all ages on the home front were urged to do whatever they could to help the war effort. Naturally, Diana Hopkins, the ten-year-old  daughter of President Roosevelt's chief adviser Harry Hopkins and White House resident, wanted to help, too. But everything she tried, just didn't work out well in the White House. 

So, when the President said that he wanted everyone to grow their own food as part of the war effort to keep both soldiers and citizens strong and healthy, that included the White House lawn. Diana jumps at the chance to help out with the President's proposed Victory Garden and before she knows it, she is sporting a pair of overalls, turning the soil, fertilizing it, and planting beans, carrots, cabbages, and tomato plants. Even Mrs. Roosevelt helps out on occasion.

With the help and guidance of Mrs. Roosevelt, George, the groundskeeper, and Fala, the President's little scotty dog whose job it was to keep the rabbits away, Diana's garden thrives. By harvest time, flouishing has a flourishing garden ready for picking and eating. 

Diana’s garden was made famous when newspapers and magazines published pictures of her working in her garden, wearing her overalls, an inspiration to kids all over the country to follow her lead: 


Diana Hopkins works in the White House Garden while her
parents look on (AP Photo and NY Times May 11, 1943)
Diana’s White House Garden is a lovely picture book work of historical fiction for young readers that shows how kids can sometimes do things that can make a big difference. Without going into the specifics of World War II, the need and desire for a Victory Garden comes across in a very age appropriate way and the real emphasis is on helping out, perseverance (especially after rabbits eat her first sprouts) and the rewards to be reaped as a result, including the feeling of accomplishment.

The simple line pencil, gouache, and digital drawings done in a palette of earth tones on a cream background reflect not just the time period, but also the idea of working in the soil. Of course, Diana’s big, red tomatoes, lovely orange carrots, and deep green cabbages might inspire any to create their own Victory Garden, even today.  


I loved the inclusion of an illustration of Diana reading Wonder Woman comics while listening to the radio. If you look closely, you will see she has been reading Wonder Woman’s first appearance in Sensation Comics and the very first comic devoted to Wonder Woman - a nice pop culture touch.

One bit of reality: President Roosevelt wasn't really very keen on a Victory Garden, it was Mrs. Roosevelt’s idea. It was only after he had seen and tasted the fruits of their labor that the President became enthusiastic. You can read all about it at City Farmer News. However, this by no means should diminish your enjoyment of Diana’s White House Garden. 

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Friday, July 14, 2017

Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji, illustrated by Boris Artzybasheff

This is a book I’ve had sitting on my shelf for years and just never got around to reading. But I recently read two very interesting articles about the author, Dhan Gopal Mukerji, which spurred me to action. I pulled the book off the shelf and finally read it. And while it is usually considered a WWI story, it is really much, much more than that.

Born into a Brahmin family, Mukerji had raised pigeons growing up in Calcutta, India in the early years of the 20th century just like so many boys his age and caste did at that time. Calling upon his own experience with his flock of 40 birds and the experiences of others, Mukerji writes about this special pigeon’s life story. Almost from the moment it was born, it’s young owner knows this is a special pigeon, beautiful and smart. The young master decides to name him Gay-Neck or Chitra-griva, Hindu meaning “painting in gay colours.” 

At first, it is up to Gay-Neck’s parents to teach him to fly, and to defend himself against hawks and eagles, a pigeon’s natural enemies, but soon his master takes over with the help of Ghond, a family friend and hunter who is familiar with India’s forests, mountains, and wild life. Together, they take Gay-Neck on trips further and further from home in Calcutta, releasing him to see if he will return to Calcutta. Gay-Neck’s training is successful, but not without mishaps, including having to retrain him after he becomes frightened to fly again because of a hawk attack. 

When WWI begins, Ghond and Gay-Neck are sent to the front as part of the Indian Army. Gay-Neck performs masterfully as a carrier pigeon saving lives during the war, but ultimately both Ghond and Gay-Neck are invalided out and sent home. Ghond suffering with physical wounds and both suffering from PTSD. Both must be healed now.

I found Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon to be a very interesting book for a number of reasons. First, there is the story of just how a homing/carrier pigeon is trained, something I’ve wondered about whenever I’ve read a book about their use in war. Mukerji goes into quite a bit of detail about this, carefully describing how to begin training them and why a trainer might have to tie a pigeons’s wings to prevent it from flying, as well as the retraining process after the pigeon has been attacked or become frightened as Gay-Neck did on the battlefield.

Gay-Neck is also a window into the life of an Indian boy from a high caste. Gay-Neck’s young master (like Mukerji himself), has the leisure time and money to spend on raising his flock of pigeon’s, living in a two story private home with a flat roof for the pigeon coops.  There is no mention of the British until the war, even though India was still a colony of the British Empire, nor any mention of the poorer people in Calcutta. 

But it is Mukerji’s descriptions of natural and religious life that really makes this novel. Whether they are in the jungle, dealing with a tiger, an angry elephant, a killer water buffalo, or resting and meditating at a lamasery with the lamas, or describing the majesty of the Himalayas,  the writing is always beautiful and the language simply poetic. even when Mukerji is graphically describing the action on front lines. At times, during the war, Mukerji writes from Gay-Neck’s point of view since his master was only a teenager and couldn’t accompany his bird to the front. Thus, the reader is able to read what Gay-Neck sees and experiences, from a wild dog at the front, to machine eagles spitting fire in the sky. 

And, the dramatic black and white graphic illustrations by Russian-born artist Boris Artzybasheff are the perfect compliment to this book. 




While I enjoyed finally reading Gay-Neck, what I am not sure about is whether this is a book that would appeal to today’s young reader. Plus, sensitive readers should be aware that there are some graphic descriptions throughout this book.

Gay-Neck won the Newbery in 1928 and I believe, the author is the only Indian author to have won that award to day. You might want to read these recent articles about Dhan Gopal Mukerji. You can find them HERE and HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

I was inspired to read this novel when I read about it on Mr. Ripley’s Enchanted Books 
last June. So I ordered a copy from The Book Depository and began reading the day it arrived and finished it in one sitting. Needless to say, it is a really good novel.

It’s February 1941, and even though it isn't usual, older sister Sukie Bradshaw has decided to take siblings Olive, 12, and Cliff, 8, to see a movie after tea. But no sooner do they get through the newsreel but the air raid siren goes off. To make matters worse, Sukie has disappeared. Leaving her brother at the Underground shelter, Olive goes in search of Sukie, and just as she reaches her sister, another bomb falls way too close to them. When Olive wakes up in hospital, she learns that Sukie is still  missing, and that she and younger brother Cliff are going to be evacuated to Budmouth Point, on the Devon coast, for safety. 

Olive has already lost her dad to the war when his plane was shot down, and can’t bear that her sister may be gone too. But how can she figure out where Sukie is and who the man she met just before that bomb fell is if she’s in Devon? Still, as soon as she is able, Olive and Cliff are sent to live with Queenie, the sister of their London neighbor, and Sukie's supposed pen-pal. 

Things don’t work out at Queenie’s, who is always busy doing all kinds of work in the cellar, and using Olive to make deliveries for her around the village. It gets especially hairy after Olive is forced to share her room with Esther Jenkins, an evacuee with whom Olive already has a contentious relationship. Olive and Cliff soon find themselves living with Ephraim, the lighthouse keeper. Life is better at the lighthouse, where Ephraim insists on doing everything, where the food is better and Cliff even has a dog to pal around with. 

It doesn’t take long for Olive to realize that there’s an awful lot of activity on the lighthouse radio, much more that seems right. Meanwhile, Olive is also trying to work out the coded message she found in the coat Sukie was wearing the night she disappeared. The longer Olive is lives in Budmouth Point, the more she realizes that Sukie’s disappearance just might have something to do with the clandestine activity she's noticed among some of the village residents…but what could it possibly be?

Letters from the Lighthouse is an exciting adventure and Olive is very appealing, lively narrator. There was something about her story that reminded me so much of the books I read about kids in WWII that were written during the war. The thing I noticed in those books was the ability to carry on despite the uncertainly of the future. One always hopes for the best, and that is the feeling that Carroll captured writing about Olive's search for Sukie - she is so convinced her sister is okay somewhere in the world and she needed to figure out where.  

As Olive's story unfolds, Carroll also provides the reader with a window though which to see and understand just what it means to be a child and live in a country at war and under siege, realistically depicting the fears and the privations, as well as the importance of family. the value of friends and neighbors, and need to learn trust and tolerance. Heading each chapter with expressions, warnings, and advice that were common during the war also helps give the novel a sense of authenticity.

As much as I enjoyed Letters from the Lighthouse, I did have a few plot points that bothered me - like how did Olive end up with the coat Sukie was wearing when the bomb fell in London, and how what happened to Sukie actually happened. They were explainable, but not to my satisfaction. BUT, these were not game changers for me, and if you like historical fiction about WWII, they shouldn't be for you either. 

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Monday, June 26, 2017

Krysia: A Polish Girl's Stolen Childhood During World War II, a Memoir by Krystyna Mihulka with Krystyna Poray Goddu

Nine-Year-Old Krysia Mihulka’s story actually begins without her even knowing it on the night of August 23, 1939 when the Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop signed the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The treaty peacefully divided up Poland - Nazis occupying the western half, the Soviets occupying the eastern half.

What does this have to do with a 9 year old girl living in Lwów, a small city in eastern Poland? Everything. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as it came to be called, sealed the fate of this young girl and her family once the war began. After the initial invasion and occupation of Poland by the Germans on September 1, 1939, the Soviet army invaded and occupied eastern Poland as per the Pact on September 17, 1939. 

The Mihulka family, father Andrzej, mother Zofia, Krysia, and younger brother Antek, 5, had lived a quiet, happy life surrounded by extended family and friends before the invasions. But her father, a respected lawyer, had been part of the Polish Army defending his country against the Nazis, so that when the Soviets came, he was forced into hiding, as all lawyers and judges were being summarily executed. Later, the Soviets arrived at the Mihulka home in the middle of the night looking for him, and proceeded to arrest Krysia, Antek, and their mother. The Soviets, they said, wanted to get rid the world of the “bourgeois rich” aka capitalists, like the Mihulkas.

At the railroad station, they were put into already crowded cattle cars. Eventually, they began the long, hard trip to a remote work camp on the steppes of Kazakhstan. Conditions there are terrible - bitter cold winters without blankets or clothing to keep warm, and a constant gnawing hunger. Krysia’s mother is subjected to constant nighttime interrogations about her husband whereabouts, and the children experienced both fear and anxiety, never knowing if she would return from those brutal sessions.

Then, in 1941, the Polish prisoners were suddenly granted amnesty after the Germans began their invasion of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union signed the Anglo-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance on July 12, 1941 (the Soviets needed the help of Britain, who was an ally of the exiled Polish government). 

Krysia and her family left Kazakhstan, and went to Uzbekistan, where they were able to reunite with some family members. After a while, the Mihulka family made their way to Persia (present day Iran), and in 1944, Krysia and Antek were sent to Africa, where they were living when the war finally ended. It wasn’t until two years later that they discovered their father’s fate. 

For all the history that is included in this memoir, I found it to be very accessible, written in a voice that is at once young but knowledgable, even though the author is now in her in her 80s. Difficult concepts or unfamiliar historical events are clearly explained for even the youngest of readers. Krysia shares both her own experiences and fears in clear detail that is age appropriate, being truthful but without being too graphic (and those times were often graphically violent). 

There is a map to help young readers track the journey Krysia and her family went on beginning with Lwów and ending in Iran. This is followed by Polish pronunciation guide at the front of the book, which I found very helpful, and an Author’s Note explaining why she finally decided to tell her story with the help of her daughter and co-author, Krystyna Mihulka Goddu.  

I would definitely pair this incredibly interesting memoir with a book called The Endless Steppe written by Esther Hautzig which, you may recall, is also about the author as a young Polish girl, Esther Rudomin, and her family who were exiled to a labor camp in Siberia, Russia. Krysia and Esther’s true stories have much in common though told from two different perspectives.

The fate of families like Krysia’s is not a story that is often told, but it is a poignant, important one and this book helps bring it to light. She relates the events that happened to her in a simple, direct, easy to understand narrative style. And, I think, Krysia’s story will certainly resonate with readers given the current refugee problems in the world today.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was a EARC received from Edelweiss+

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Weekend Cooking: My Visit to The Chew and Daphne Oz's "Blow Your Mind" Baked Chicken Wings"

And now for something completely different on this blog:

This is actually the ticket they give you for your turn to enter the studio,
not my ticket to get in to see the show (I lost that)
On the the morning of April 5th, I went on an adventure. I hopped on the downtown then crosstown buses and arrived at the ABC studio on West 67th Street pretty early for a taping of The Chew. I work at home now and watch The Chew most days while I eat my lunch. And I've gotten some wonderful recipes from it. I should mention that even with a ticket, getting in is first come, first served, so if you ever go, get there early.

After standing on line outside for about an hour, we were led through the security check, and into a holding room where there were free water and chips for people, and, naturally, Chew merchandise to purchase. We sat there for a long time and I discovered that there are people who regularly attend tapings of all the NYC TV programs. And they even come from far away to do it.

On line to go into the studio
Eventually, we were led into the studio, and along the way, we passed tall storage cabinets that contain all the cooking and eating paraphernalia you would need in a kitchen, pantry, dining room, or backyard picnic. 

I sat off to the side (not in front of the tasting table), but in the front row. Surprisingly, it was very difficult to see much of where the chefs work because of all the cameras, even though it looks so clear on TV when they show the audience. And picture taking was very limited, none allowed when the stars are on the set, there wasn't much time between segments, and then they darkened the set in between taping, as you can see in the one below:  


When I was there, they were taping several "beginnings" and "endings" and nothing in-between. For the first taping, everyone was there - Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Clinton Kelly, Carla Hall, and Daphne Oz. Before they began, Daphne came and shook hands with everyone in the first rows, the others pretty much ignored the audience except for the people who were participating in segments - not cause they were being mean, but it was clear it was the only way to get things done in a timely way.

The whole time I sat there, there is someone telling you when to clap or laugh, how loudly or softly to do it, and who made all kinds of jokes in between segments - there was a lot of down time for us.  I can't remember all the segments we were the audience for - but Daphne was only in the first one. And I do know they are going to air in late June and early July. 

I left the studio around 2:30 PM and was home by 3:30. It was a lot of fun and part of my new plan to do things in NYC I never do because I live here and actually have an occasional Wednesday free - next up, the Circle Line.

We use a lot of the same recipes from The Chew over and over, and one of our very favorites is Daphne Oz's "Blow Your Mind" Baked Chicken Wings (I snuck three chicken legs into this batch that was made last Sunday and they were delicious):


"BLOW YOUR MIND" BAKED CHICKEN WINGS

2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3 garlic cloves (minced)
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
3 scallions (sliced, whites & greens separated)
1/4 Cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 Cup honey
2 limes (juiced)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons chili flakes
2 pounds chicken wings (separated at joint, tips removed)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

step-by-step directions
In a small bowl make a slurry by stirring together he cornstarch and a tablespoon of water. Set aside.

Heat a few tablespoons of coconut oil in a sauté pan. Toss in the garlic, ginger and scallion whites, cooking for 30 seconds or until fragrant.

Stir in the soy sauce, honey, lime juice, sesame oil and chili flakes. Whisk in the cornstarch slurry and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes, until sauce has thickened slightly. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350º F.
Season chicken wings with salt and pepper, place in a rimmed baking dish. and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and carefully pour the sauce over the wings. Return the dish to the oven for 20 minutes, or until wings are cooked through and sauce is sticky.
Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving. Garnish with reserved scallion greens.

Tip: The sauce can be made a few hours in advance and stored in the refrigerator.  


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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Kensuke's Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo

It’s 1988 and Michael, 11, is a pretty content kid until the day a letter arrives laying off both of his parents. After that, a “creeping misery” settled over the house, until the day Michael’s dad heads south to seek new opportunities. New opportunities are a total surprise to Michael and his mother when they arrived somewhere near Southhampton and discover his dad has bought a bought and has plans for the family to sail around the world.

And sail they do, even bringing along Stella Artois, the family dog. All goes well, with lots of interesting stops, until they are sailing away from Australia and through the Coral Sea heading to Papua New Guinea. It is there, on July 28, 1988 that they hit bad weather, and Michael, at the wheel in the cockpit, sees Stella go overboard. Trying to rescue her, he also goes overboard. Luckily so does his soccer ball, which gives him some buoyancy. 

The next morning, Michael wakes up on an island beach with Stella and no idea how he got there. It turns out the island is a jungle with a thriving wild life. After exploring all day, a hungry, thirsty Michael and Stella retreat to the shelter of a cave to spend the night as a castaway.

The next morning, and every morning after that, Michael and Stella wake up and find fresh water and carefully prepared raw fish waiting for them. Knowing he isn’t alone, Michael finally meets his benefactor while trying to build a large enough fire to be seen by a passing boat. Instead, it is seen by an elderly Japanese man, Michael’s benefactor, who quickly puts the fire out. The two get off to a rocky start, but eventually they become friends, and Kensuke, Michael learns, has been living on the island since WWII. 

Kensuke teaches Michael how to fish, cook, and even paint using ink from the octopi they catch and in return, Michael teaches him English. Kensuke, who had been a doctor in Japan, begins to tell Michael about his happy life in Nagasaki before the war, about his wife Kimi, and his son, Michiya. When war came, Kensuke joined the Japanese Navy as a doctor, and was the sole survivor of an attack on his ship. Later, overhearing some Americans talking about the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, killing everyone, Kensuke decided to remain on the island after the war had ended. 

Eventually, he realizes that Michael belongs with his family, and agrees to let him build a fire to attract a passing ship, and even agrees to leave the island, too, should a ship actually show up.

In the end, when rescue is about to happen, Kensuke chooses to remain on the island, but asks Michael not to talk about him for at least 10 years, which he does. After writing a book about his adventure with Kensuke, Michael receives a very surprising unexpected letter from Japan.

I have to admit, even though I doubted Michael and Stella would survive in a stormy ocean at night, I willingly suspended my disbelief and let myself enjoy this intergenerational story about an unusual friendship. I did find the beginning a little slow, thinking I could have lived without a lot of the descriptions about life in London, but once Michael and Stella were on the island, my interest, the excitement and the pace soon picked up its pace. I found myself very curious about Kensuke but Morpurgo delayed his story until just the right moment. 

Kensuke’s Kingdom did remind me of Theodore Taylor’s book The Cay, but without the kind of racial tension that existed at first between white Phillip and West Indian Timothy, and which actually did take place during WWII. Still, pairing these two books together would result in an interesting take on intergenerational, biracial friendships under stressful conditions (which is often when we discover the most about ourselves). 

I don’t know if it’s me, but whenever I read a book by Michael Morpurgo (and I’ve read a lot of them), I find myself being lulled into the story, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. It is actually almost hypnotic  and I think the reason why not only is disbelief suspendible, but it makes the story more real and enjoyable, even the sad bits. And, interestingly, I find I always pick a Morpurgo book whenever I’m in a nostalgic mood. 

And, yes, I found myself reaching for the tissues as I finished reading Kensuke’s Kingdom, so be warned.

Teaching Ideas has some really nice teaching ideas to use with Kensuke's Kingdom and you can also find some nice downloadable teaching resources and activities from Michael Morpurgo's website.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Monday, June 12, 2017

Update on Survivors Club by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat and Soledad O'Brien

Even though I had had a copy of the ARC for Survivors Club, I hadn't read it yet when I came across this interview of Michael Bornstein by Soledad O'Brien. The interview, in fact, spurred me on to read the book, and I was very glad I did. I finally posted my review of Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz. Now, I am posting the interview that was done and aired on March 4, 2017.



But this past week, on June 9, 2017, Soledad O'Brien aired a new chapter to Michael Bornstein's story of survival. Some of the video below repeats what was shown originally, but stick with it to meet the two women who were by Michael's side when this picture was taken. And, irony of ironies, the three survivors of Auschwitz live not far from each other and didn't know each other. Survivors Club is an amazing story, and described by Debbie Bornstein Holinstat as a book about miracles, but, as you will see in the interview, it is also a book about hope and continuation.



Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Imagine going to the movies one day in the 1980s with your daughter and seeing yourself in the movie you are watching. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Bornstein and his daughter Debbie. The movie was The Chosen and in one scene, two young Jewish boys are watching a newsreel showing footage of the liberation of children from Auschwitz, and there right at the front of the line of children, was Michael Bornstein, age 4.   

Like so many Holocaust survivors, Michael Bornstein never really spoke about his childhood during the Holocaust, even after seeing himself as part of a movie. But, years later, Michael began to realize that his survival was a indeed miracle, and after doing a Google search, he also realized that the liberation images were (and sadly still are) being manipulated by Holocaust deniers to prove that it was all a Jewish lie, or that the Jews made up stories about their children being killed on arrival at Auschwitz, or that it was just a labor camp and not a death camp. Michael decided it was time to tell the story of the Bornstein family.

Michael begins his narrative in September 1939, a year before he was born, when German planes dropped bombs on the small village of Żarki, Poland where the Bornsteins lived, killing residents and destroying homes and synagogue.  Almost immediately, the village was invaded by Nazi solders who went from house to house collecting anything of value from Jewish families, including the Bornsteins. Luckily, Michael’s father, Israel Bornstein, managed to bury some valuables in the backyard including a Kaddish cup, a family heirloom.  

Jews who weren’t shot immediately were rounded up and put into the Jewish ghetto in Żarki, where Michael was born. His father was made head of the Jewish Council, with the difficult job of deciding who would be sent to die in a death camp and who wouldn’t be. Interestingly, although the head of the local Gestapo, Officer Schmitt, was an incredibly cold-hearted man, Zarki remained a somewhat open ghetto, allowing the remaining Jews to conduct some trade with the local Polish residents. It didn’t hurt that Israel was able to continually bribe him to save many lives, as well.  

One of the things that really struck me was the strength of the Bornstein family, Israel, wife Sophie, grandmother Dora, older brother Samuel and now Michael is so evident throughout the narrative. In the face of deportations of fellow Jews, hunger, cold, and sickness, the family struggled but remained strong and faithful. Once it was decided that the Zarki ghetto would be liquidated, and all Jews sent to Treblinka, Schmitt made an exception of Israel and his family, who were sent to a labor camp instead.

Unfortunately, in July 1944, the Bornsteins were all sent to Auschwitz. Sophie, Dora and Michael were immediately separated from Israel and Samuel and it wasn’t until much later that Sophie learned the fate of her husband and son. Michael was only four years old by then, and sent to live in the Kinderlager, where older kids stole his food but also gave him some points that helped him survive. Eventually, Sophie snuck him into the women’s barracks where she and Dora were, and he remained there, even after she was sent to another labor camp. It was illness that ultimately saved Michael’s life. As the Russian Army approached Auschwitz, the Germans rounded up the remaining Jewish prisoners and began what is known as the Death March to cover their atrocities. Michael was left in the infirmary and survived with his grandmother, Dora. 

The aftermath of the war, and the reunion of the remaining members of the Bornstein and of Sophie’s Jonisch family, and forming the family's Survivor Club, takes up the rest of Michael’s narrative. One story that I found particularly poignant is that of Michael’s cousin Ruth Jonisch, who found herself in a Catholic Convent, had her name changed to Kristina, and who had to be taught to hate Jews in order to survive. The years after being reunited with the Jonisch family are very interesting reading.

By now, you must be wondering how Michael knows so much about the time before he was born and the years he lived under the Nazis, given his age at the time. Most of his story is the result of research and interviews with family members. So while it isn’t actually a first hand account, it is still a compelling story about strength, some lucky coincidences, and mostly about family love.

There is a section of photographs, a Glossary and a Bornstein Family Who's Who also included in the back matter. And be sure to read Michael Bornstein's illuminating Preface and Afterword, as well.

Interestingly, the review of the movie, The Chosen, written by Janet Maslin and published April 30, 1982 in the New York Times, ended with these warning: 
''The Chosen'' is rated PG (''Parental Guidance Suggested''). It contains brief but graphic footage of the liberation of concentration-camp inmates after World War II." 

I feel I need to echo that warning: 

Survivor’s Club is a very readable nonfiction narrative, but there are some graphic descriptions of the Nazi treatment of the Jews in it that may be difficult for some sensitive readers. 

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

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sunday Funnies #24: Introducing Wonder Woman

Today is Wonder Woman Day, and so I thought I would introduce everyone to her original story as it was written in December 1941, just as the United States entered World War II. Wonder Woman made her first appearance in the December/January 1941 issue of All Star Comics #8, and was published by DC Comics.

Wonder Woman was created by Dr. William Moulton Marston, writing under the name Charles Moulton. Marston had a PhD in psychology and was a big believer in the newly invented lie detector, even writing a paper on how deception could be measured by blood pressure. He also believed in the superiority of women, and, in 1940, Dr. Marston wrote an important article called "Don't Laugh at the Comics."

This constellation of ideas lead to a part time job at DC Comics, where he was able to suggest an idea for a new super hero character, a super-heroine.

As you can see, the cover of All Star Comics #8 makes absolutely no mention of Wonder Woman, instead the two newest members of The Justice Society of America, Starman and Dr. Midnite, were given introductory billing. But, it was Wonder Woman who found real, lasting favor with readers. It only took a few issues before she was inducted into The Justice Society, and only six months until she was given her own comic book, Wonder Woman #1.

So how did Wonder Woman get from her home on Paradise Island to the United States?

But, after hearing that her daughter, the Princess, might be in love with the injured American captain, her mother, Queen Hippolyte, tells her the story of how they ended up on Paradise Island. In ancient Greece, the women of Amazonia were a foremost nation, until Hercules, the strongest man in the world, decided to conquer Amazon. Queen Hippolyte challenged him to one-on-one combat, knowing she would win because of the Magic Girdle she had been given by Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Queen Hippolyte won the match, but Hercules managed to steal her Magic Girdle, and was able to overcome and enslave the women of Amazonia. Queen Hippolyte called upon Aphrodite for help, and she did save them on the condition that they sail to another island, leaving the man-made world forever, and establishing a world of their own, but the women must always wear the bracelets that they were forced to wear while in captivity to remind them to keep aloof from men. 

To keep their promise to Aphrodite, the American pilot must leave Paradise Island as quickly as possible.  Queen Hippolyte shows her daughter the Magic Sphere, given to her by the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena, by which she can monitor the world that they left behind, the world of the American captain, a world from which she can also gain all the knowledge of arts, sciences and languages to make a more superior world on Paradise Island for themselves. 

Together, she and her daughter, look at the world that the American captain comes from and how he ended up on Paradise Island.





Wonder Woman went on the fight the Axis powers for the remainder of the war and has continued fighting bad guys ever since. She has had several make-overs since her first appearance in 1941, but the original is still my favorite, even if it does seem a bit naïve by today's standards.

If you would like to know more about Wonder Woman's history, I can't recommend a better, more fascinating in-depth book than The Secret History of Wonder Woman  by Jill Lepore.

There are any number of anthologies available if you want to read old Wonder Women comics, without the high cost of an original. My favorite is Wonder Woman: The War Years 1941-1945 edited by Roy Thomas.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Here's a Book I Can't Wait to Read...

If you know me at all, you know I love comics books and the funny pages in newspapers, especially from the Golden Age of Comics (1938-1950). You can see which ones I have posted about already by clicking on my page and Other Interesting Bits and scrolling down.

I was very excited to see that this coming July, Trina Robbins, a master cartoonist/comic writer and artist in her own right, as well as a historian of the genre and longtime feminist, has written a book about women in the comics during World War II. Here's what the publisher has to say about it:

Babes in Arms: Women in the Comics During the Second World War 
Trina Robbins
Hermes Press, July 11, 2017, 304 pages, age 13+ 

During the Golden Age of comics publishers offered titles supporting the war effort - presenting fighting men and their feminine counterparts - babes in arms! Comic books during this period featured US service-women fighting all of the axis bad guys and gave several of the most noteworthy women artists of the era opportunities to create action-packed, adventure filled four color stories. Now for the first time renowned pop-culture historian Trina Robbins assembles comic book stories from artists Barbara Hall, Jill Elgin, Lily Renee and Fran Hopper together with insightful commentary and loads of documentary extras to create the definitive book chronicling the work of these important Golden Age artists. This magnificent art book offers page after page of good girl action.

You can find an in-depth interview with Trina Robbins about Babes in Arms HERE

Cover: 1949 Women's Home Companion
illustrated by Harry Anderson

Monday, May 29, 2017

Rolling Thunder by Kate Messner, illustrated by Greg Ruth

Early one morning, an excited young boy and his family board a train that will take them to Washington DC where they will meet up with the boy's grandpa. At the same time, grandpa is kissing his wife goodbye and hopping on his motorcycle, complete with side car, also heading to Washington DC.

It's Memorial Day weekend, time for the annual veteran's Ride for Freedom, and this year, our young narrator is riding with his grandpa, along with over a million other of the nation's veterans, all on their motorcycles. Grandpa is riding for friends Joe and Tom, lost in Vietnam, and his grandson is riding for his Uncle Zach, a pilot lost in a different war.

The weekend begins with camping out with all the veterans, and meeting the boy some of his grandpa's old friends:



Early next morning, everyone is up and ready to go, riding through the streets of Washington DC to honor all veterans and especially to bring awareness to people of those soldiers who are still MIA (Missing in Action) or POWs (Prisoners of War):



The Ride for Freedom ends at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also simply called the Wall, listing all the names of service members of the Armed Forces who fought and died in Vietnam, as well as those who are still considered to be MIA.  After finding Uncle Zack's name on the wall, and making a rubbing of it, there are speeches and more memory sharing by vets:


As the day draws to a close, it is clear that the Ride for Freedom is an important experience between this grandpa and grandson drawing them closer together in a very meaningful experience:



There are all kinds of books available that can teach kids about Memorial Day and its significance and they are certainly important. But I believe Rolling Thunder is the first book that to be written depicting this special group of veterans.

Messner has written Rolling Thunder in a telegraph-style rhyme, allowing for a great deal of information to be packed into a few well chosen words and she has done it well. The mixture of clipped words and slightly longer sentences also carries the sound of a motorcycle are it revs and rides. At the same time. it is a poignant and emotionally charged narrative.

And Greg Ruth has chosen a palette of bright oranges, warm reddish-browns, khaki and olive greens for his realistic illustrations that manage to to reflect the mood and feeling of the book perfectly.

One Memorial Day weekend, we were going to the house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and while waiting for the Cape May-Lewes ferry, suddenly the car was surrounded by motorcycles. It didn't take long to realize it was part of Rolling Thunder. The ferry hadn't arrived yet, so we socialized with the bikers while we waited and waved goodbye when the ferry docked in Lewes. This year marks the 30th year Rolling Thunder has been riding into Washington DC to keep the memory of POWs and MIAs alive in the hope of bringing them home someday. It has expanded to included POWs and MIAs from all wars that the United States has fought in.

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was purchased for my personal library

In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, illustrated by Chris Connor

It’s 1963, and 10 year-old Charlotte Makepeace has just arrived at boarding school for the first time. After meeting her roommates, and setting up her bed by the window, Charlotte falls asleep that first night, apprehensive about what boarding school will be like. 

The next morning, when she awakens, Charlotte is aware that things are different. Even though the dormitory and bed are the same, the view out the window isn’t. Charlotte has woken up more than 40 years earlier, in 1918, the last year of WWI. Not only that, but she is now called Clare by the other girls, including Clare's younger sister named Emily. No seems to notice that Charlotte isn’t Clare.

That night, Charlotte falls asleep in 1918 and wakes up in 1963, in her original room with her original dorm mates. This nightly switching places with Clare goes on every night for a while. Eventually, Charlotte and Clare start leaving notes for each other to help each other navigate their constantly changing situation. 

Emily knows that Charlotte isn’t Clare and demands to know what is going on. Charlotte can’t explain it, but she does realize it has something to do with the particular bed she and Clare sleep in each night. Then, Charlotte finds out that Clare and Emily will be moving to new lodgings soon and will be walking to school each day. And though Charlotte and Clare make sure they are in their right time for the move, things don’t work out exactly as planned and Charlotte finds herself far from the magic bed that can return her to 1963, where she belongs. 

There were a few things that I really liked about this book. First, the means of time-travel. It is simply a magic bed and occurs while sleeping during the night. To her credit, Farmer never even tries to provide an explanation about how or why it happens, it just does. Sleep and dreams can make anything feel possible, even time-travel. And night is, of course, a time when sleepers dream dreams occur that often make no sense even when they relate to the dreamer’s waking life. 

I also like that Charlotte is so cool and calm on the outside, but on the inside she was a bundle of questions and concerns. And remarkably those questions aren’t necessarily about how and why she keeps waking up in different times so much as they were about her identity. Farmer has written that her intent was to question how… people identify you as you, and how they could accept one person as quite another (assuming the two people look reasonably similar to start with as Charlotte and her 1918 equivalent did)? Boarding school seems to have unsettled Charlotte's sense of who she is on the very first day, causing her ho write her full name on everything, as if to prove she is still really Charlotte Mary Makepeace. Right from the start “she had felt herself to be so many different people, and half of them she did not recognize.” Charlotte, already in an identity flux is an ideal candidate for a little time travel adventure and is easily being perceived as Clare by everyone except Clare’s sister, who naturally would know her better than most.

Interestingly also, the story is related only from Charlotte’s point of view. The reader only knows about Clare from the notes she leaves and from what Emily says about her, leaving me to wonder what the state of her identity was.

A word about WWI. This isn’t a war book per se, but the war does play a part. There is, of course, rationing, blackout curtains are in use, there's an army training camp nearby, and many of the girls are in boarding school because their fathers are fighting in the war, including Clare and Emily’s father.    

I can’t believe that I haven’t read Charlotte Sometimes before now, but somehow it slipped under the radar. It is the kind of book I would have loved as a girl. The style is a bit on the dreamy side, with no big drama anywhere even though major things do happen - like getting stuck in the wrong time period. I’m actually glad I read it after having read lots of Angela Brazil’s book from the same time period, and which the style actually reminded me of. 


Charlotte Sometimes definitely goes on my list of favorite time travel novels and I can honestly give it a high recommend.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book is an EARC of a newly released paperback received from Edelweiss Plus

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Merry Month of May


Well, the merry month of May hasn't been going exactly the way I thought it would.  If you read my other blog, Randomly Reading, then you know why. If not, allow me to explain.

On Thursday, May 4, 2017, at around 12:30 AM, I noticed fire balls dropping from the sky. Not really from the sky, but from the 6th Floor apartment, 4 floors above me. Next thing I knew, there was a fireman in my apartment, who promptly knocked out two of my windows and sent my window air conditioner to the street below. Apparently, fire balls had landed in it and he was afraid of an electrical fire starting in my apartment (which couldn't have happened since it wasn't plugged in).

I've often wondered what I would try to save in the event of a fire and now I know. I tried to save my computer, forgetting that all I had to do was grab the external drive that everything is backed up to. When I couldn't detach the computer from the WiFi router, I had to put in on the floor and leave it to the water that was now pouring from the ceiling. In the end, I rescued my sunglasses, my phone, and purse, oh yes, and myself.

We were allowed back in the building at around 3:00 AM, the Sanitation Department showed up and immediately cleaned the street up, and one fire truck remained for a few more hours to make sure the fire was completely out. The couple in the apartment where the fire began had minor injuries, as did two firemen.
My Workspace on May 5, 2017
In the end, I had water damage in my bedroom/workspace and in my bathroom. I was lucky and I know it. The people on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floor are really in bad shape, as is the 1st floor and of course, the 6th floor apartment is totaled.

My Workspace and Bathroom Ceiling Now
I have to say, I was totally impressed by the speed and efficiency with which the FDNY worked. They've been in the building before to do inspections and a few false alarms, and they have always been so courteous and friendly and that night was no different. The firehouse that serves my neighborhood, FDNY Engine 22, Ladder 13, Battalion 10, is called the Pride of Yorkville and they certainly are.

And the computer I tried to save? Putting it on the floor turned out to be the best thing I could have done. It works just fine, though I can't say the same about the keyboard, which did get pretty wet and is a little on the wonky side right now. If I had left the computer on the desk, it would have been ruined by the water coming down from the ceiling. Last week, I used my cell phone to connect it to the Internet, using the Personal Hotspot, but that eats up your data fast and I don't have that much to begin with, so ultimately, I detached the router, and reattached to the living room cable and got my WiFi up and running again.

Why was my computer so important to me, you might ask? I work at home and have everything on it (which is why I have the external drive and I highly recommend using on of them and then, remembering that you are using it if you find yourself needing to evacuate your home in a hurry.

My temporary workspace, not terribly comfortable, but I'm grateful to have it
It's been an interesting week and a half, but hopefully, I'll be back with new reviews this week. Meanwhile,
HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What the Raven Brings (Book 2 of the Ravenmaster Trilogy) by John Owen Theobald

These Dark Wings (Book 1 of the Ravenmaster Trilogy) ended in September 1941. The blitz had been over for a while, but daily life was still hard. Anna Cooper, whose mother was supposedly killed in an air raid, was still living in the Tower of London with her Uncle Henry. Uncle Henry was on the mend after a serious illness. The mystery of the disappearing ravens had been solved, Anna and Timothy Squire became friends, though she can’t forget his forages into bombed homes to see what he could find there. Much to her happiness, Anna received a letter from her best friend Flo that she is returning to England from Canada, where she had been evacuated to during the Blitz. And Anna’s father, a German and a Nazi, was in London and knows where she is.

And so, in May 1942, Book 2 begins. As the war continues, Uncle Henry, Anna’s guardian, has passed away and left Anna in the care of Yeoman Oakes, much to her chagrin. Uncle Henry’s dying wish was that Anna, who is now 15, be the new Ravenmaster, but the Tower of London authorities refused to let a female do a traditionally male job, no matter how good she is at it, and so it is given to Yeoman Stackhouse, who has absolutely not interest in the ravens, or in the legend that there must always be six ravens in the Tower of London or the monarchy and Britain will fall. Instead, it is recommended that Anna work at as a canteen girl (with NAAFI or Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes). 

Meanwhile, Timothy Squire is up in Scotland learning how to be a sapper, a soldier who builds and repairs roads and bridges, lays mines, and who sometimes defuses bombs. Unfortunately, Timothy and his partner Arthur Lightfoot are not very good sappers and find themselves back in London, working on the docks. 

With Timothy home and helping out with the ravens, it’s time for Anna to leave the Tower and do something useful. With forged papers, Anna joins the WAAF or Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. But her career in the WAAF is short-lived when she proves herself to be pretty incompetent at everything. But luckily, a RAF pilot takes her for a ride in a plane, and next thing Anna knows, she’s being sent to the ATA, or Air Transport Auxiliary. There, Anna learns to fly and begins ferrying planes around Britain wherever they are needed.


But while Anna is finding her place in the war, she is also growing up and finding herself attracted to the opposite sex, and trying to cope with new feelings of jealousy. And the truth about what really happened to her father, and her mother’s death, still continues haunts her, coming up in her thoughts and memories until the realization of what really happened suddenly hits Anna. But it is Timothy, given a second chance at becoming a sapper, who may have the answer to what Anna’s father wants from her and why he hasn't returned to Germany.. But is Timothy willing to risk everything, including losing Anna, to stop him? And what does her father have to do with Hitler’s newest weapon the V1 bomb, his Vengeance bomb?

We all know that sometimes a second book just doesn't live up the promise of the first book, but that is really not the case with What the Raven Brings. Less focused on life in London and in particular, the Tower of London, Anna life has really broadened out, even if she did have for get Yeoman Oakes to forge some papers for her.  

Consequently, Theobald has given us a very interesting, exciting coming of age novel, one that takes Anna into young adulthood and he has captured all the mixed emotions that a girl her age might experience. For example, Anna is jealous when she thinks that Timothy is interested in Flo, but finds herself somewhat attracted to an RAF pilot. And although she loves flying, Anna is afraid to take control of a plane alone, at least until she does it.  I actually liked this book better than the first one, which I also enjoyed. I just feel that Anna and Timothy have much more depth to them as characters.

But Theobald has also given us a window into what the war was like on the home front. The hardships people faced and how they dealt with life under seize. I thought the part where Timothy gets caught up in a mad crush of people trying to get into a tube station during an air raid was particularly poignant, demonstrating how really desperate people can get under stress. It is sadly based on a true event, the wartime disaster at Bethnal Green Tube Station in which 173 people were crushed to death. Timothy, needless to say, clearly suffers from PTSD afterward.

Another nice touch is the way Theobald included American women pilots who were in the ATA with Anna. Joy, the African American pilot who teaches Anna how to fly and becomes her friend, points to the fact the women of color could not fly for the US now that America has entered the war, but were welcomed in the ATA, along with other Americans. 

If you are looking for an exciting, honest multi-faceted wartime MG/YA book, What the Raven Brings may be just the ticket. It thoughtfully explores themes of friendship, loyalty, courage and fear during times of great difficulty and danger. 

Now, I am really looking forward to reading the last book in the Ravenmaster trilogy when it comes out.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Head of Zeus


I have included links to Wikipedia articles in this review about things that young readers may not be familiar with.