Catherine’s War by Julia Billet

Catherine’s War by Julia Billet

Catherine’s War by Julia Billet, illustrated by Claire Fauvel (9780062915603)

This graphic novel from France is a reworking of a novel based on the experiences of the author’s mother during World War II as a Jewish child during the Nazi occupation. Rachel lives at a children’s home in Sevres, France in 1942. Her parents are still in Paris. The children’s home allows its students the freedom to study what they are interested in. Rachel loves photography and developing and printing her own images. She begins to document her experiences of the war. Soon as the danger gets closer, Rachel changes her name to Catherine and gets a new identity. She moves from place to place, leaving friends behind, finding new ways of life with each new place she lands. She works on a farm, helps the Resistance, and along the way finds time to take pictures and find places to develop her film. She even manages to fall in love with a boy who loves photography the way she does. Still, she must leave him behind as well, as she continues to try to find a safe place in a world hunting her down. 

Based on her mother’s story, this graphic novel is a dazzling mix of danger and hope. Billet does not minimize the constant danger the Jewish children found themselves in, hiding in cellars and gaining new identities, missing their families horribly. This book is not an adventure across France, but a fearful dash from one safe place to the next, each move causing more loss and anguish. Billet uses hope and the joy of photography to show that life continued despite the war, but always impacted by it. 

The art is marvelous and the story works really nicely as a graphic novel which keeps the pace fast. All of the danger and the moves from place to place spiral past the reader, as new people step forward to offer Catherine a safe place to live for even a brief period of time. The journey and the devastation are one and the same, even when walking through beautiful French landscapes, there is a sense of loss and dread.

A marvelous balance of resilience, tenacity and war. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Village of Scoundrels by Margi Preus

Village of Scoundrels by Margi Preus

Village of Scoundrels by Margi Preus (9781419708978)

Based on the true story of a remote village in France that resisted the Nazi invasion in their own way, this novel is a testament to bravery in the face of seemingly unrelenting evil. The story focuses on several teens who live in Les Lauzes, France in 1943. They go to school, sleep in the local dormitories, and also help in the resistance. Some of them are Jewish, hidden in plain sight with the other teens and children. Others are from the village and know the terrain and area so well that they can be messengers. Still others spend their nights getting people safely across the border to Switzerland. Meanwhile, there is a rather inept policeman who tries to figure out what is going on. He is almost as young as the others, but focused on proving himself and defending his country. As the teens take more and more risks, they learn that resistance is a way through paralyzing fear and towards freedom.

Preus has written such an engaging tale here, with so many of the elements based on real events. In fact, the more unlikely the scenario, the more likely it is to be true. This makes reading the epilogue at the end of the book great fun as one discovers the real people behind the characters. The simple bravery of all of the villagers by taking in Jews and others, hiding them in their homes and barns, and helping them escape is profound. There is a delight in seeing where items were hidden, in realizing the power of forgery, of accompanying these characters on their travels to help people survive. 

A large part of the success here is Preus’ writing which contains a strong sense of justice and resistance in the face of the Gestapo. Even as some children are being taken away, the others gather to sing to them, standing in the face of the Nazi force directly. There is no lack of sorrow and pain though, with parents lost to concentration camps, children never having known safety, and arrests being made. Still, there is a joy here, of being able to fight back in some way against overwhelming odds.

A great historical novel with strong ties to the true story. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Amulet.

Review: A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata

A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata

A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by Julia Kuo (9781481446648)

Award-winning author Kadohata tells the story of a Japanese-American family forced to return to Japan after World War II because of their Japanese ancestry. After spending years in an internment camp in the United States, twelve-year-old Hanako and her family move to Japan to live with her paternal grandparents. They travel by ship first and then train until they reach the decimated city of Hiroshima, where her grandparents’ farm lies outside. All of Japan is poor and hungry, with black markets and children begging on the streets. Hanako meets her grandparents for the first time, discovering that her grandfather is very like her little brother who is five years old. Her grandmother is stooped over from the hard work in the fields. Hanako must face learning a new language, attending a new school in a different country, and trying to find a way forward for her entire family. It’s a lot of pressure, but Hanako learns steadily to adjust and change.

Kadohata’s novel for children tells the untold story of Japanese Americans forced to repatriate to their country of origin and renounce their American citizenship. It also gives an unflinching look at the aftermath of World War II in Japan, particularly with its setting near Hiroshima. That dark setting is juxtaposed against the warmth and beauty of discovering loving grandparents and building a new relationship. Yet there is a constant sense of loss in the book and a teetering feeling that things may suddenly change at any moment.

As always, Kadohata’s prose is beautiful. She vividly depicts Japanese life during the 1940’s and the unending work of being a tenant farmer. In the midst of all of the sorrow, loss and confusion, she places a loving family who are willing to sacrifice for one another and for brighter futures for the next generation. Through this family, there is intense hope broadcast on the page.

An important and vital book about the horrors of war and its aftermath on individual families. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Review: Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange

Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange

Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange (9781338353853)

Released April 30, 2019.

Pet lives with her family in a lighthouse on the southeast coast of England just as World War II is coming to England’s shores. The daughter of a German immigrant and a lighthouse keeper, Pet loves the wildness of the coast, the way they can see long distances from the pinnacle of the lighthouse, and the warmth of their family. But as the war progresses, things change. Mutti is taken to an internment camp for being German and in the process is accused of espionage and sending messages to the Germans. Pet knows that her kind and gentle mother hasn’t done it, and sets off to find out what actually happens. There is the strange man who lives in a shack nearby or it could even be Pet’s older sister, who is always disappearing and doesn’t seem to be actually working on her boat the way she claims. As the war gets closer, Pet must work to untangle who is an enemy in their small town and who she can trust as her family crumbles around her.

I was entranced with the writing of Strange’s first novel, The Secret of Nightingale Wood, and this one has the same strong and stirring writing laced with touches of magic and wonder. In both of her books, Strange makes young women the heroines of their own stories even as they struggle to figure out what is going on around them. The setting here is almost another character in the book, depicted with glowing terms and a love of the sea. The perspective of the lighthouse is used throughout the novel and aspects of the structure help our young heroine discover the truth, even when it is hard to hear.

Pet is a unique heroine. She is not particularly brave since she tends to freeze at signs of trouble and be unable to move even when in physical danger. That continues to be true throughout the book. Yet at the same time, Pet also shows what bravery truly is and works with desperation and determination to discover the truth.

Another brilliant read from a gifted author, this one offers an extraordinary perspective on World War II. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

 

Write to Me by Cynthia Grady

Write to Me by Cynthia Grady

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Amiko Hirao (9781580896887)

This nonfiction picture book tells the true story of a librarian who stayed in touch with the children she served even after they were moved forcibly away. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were sent to prison camps. As a librarian in San Diego, Clara Breed served many children of Japanese descent. Before the children left, she gave them books and postcards to correspond with her. While they were gone, she continued to send them small things, even visiting once and delivering boxes of books. The children wrote to her during the three years they were gone as she offered them a way to stay connected to the outside world.

This book shows the Japanese internment in a way that children will understand. The letters shared in the book are excerpts from actual children’s letters written to Miss Breed during this time. They reflect the different ages of the children, their focus on everyday moments and their strong connection to books and their librarian. It is a book that shows how importance and life changing kindness is.

The illustrations  are done in pencil on paper and have a softness and glow to them. They do not shrink from showing the desolation of the internment camps and the sorrow and fear of those being placed in them.

A very timely nonfiction book that will show young readers a horrific point in American history and how just one person can make a difference. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Charlesbridge and Edelweiss.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (9780525429203)

This is a marvelous sequel to the award-winning The War That Saved My Life. Ada has just gotten her club foot surgically repaired in the beginning of this new novel. Due to their home being destroyed, Ada and her brother along with Susan, their guardian, must move into a small cottage on the land owned by Lady and Lord Thornton. As World War II continues, they face food shortages, hard work, and then are asked to house a German refugee while Susan teaches her math. Though her foot is fixed, Ada continues to wrestle with her disability and how it factored in to her mother’s abuse. Once again horses are on the scene to help with healing, both physical and mental, as unlikely friendships and bonds are formed in a small cottage.

Bradley writes books that don’t just draw you in, they captivate you. It was so wonderful to return to Ada’s story and find out what happens to beloved characters. In this sequel, more is shown of the stern Lady Thornton and Bradley demonstrates that with more knowledge comes more understanding. Ada continues to be a dynamic character, never easy with life or her own role in it. And yet as Ada is prickly and abrupt, she is also warm and inquisitive, looking for answers and asking questions.

Bradley wrestles with dark themes in both of the novels in this series. There is the physical and mental abuse that Ada suffered at the hands of her mother. There is the ongoing war that threatens everyone’s safety. There is the loss of beloved characters due to that war. Still, she also shines hope. Hope for progress forward, for learning more, for accepting differences and for building friendships. The tension between all of this is remarkably well-handled and creates a book that is riveting to read.

A sequel that is just as good as the first, get this into the hands of fans. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo

Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo

Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo (9780451476418, Amazon)

Renato loves living in Florence, Italy. He particularly loves all of the art throughout the city, both in the museums and on the streets. His favorite statue is the stone lion in the piazza. As war approaches Florence, everything changes. Brick shelters are built around the statues to protect them. Renato wants to protect the lion and has a dream that the lion and his father helps him. Their family flees to the United States and Renato doesn’t return for many years. Has his lion been safe through war and time?

In her author’s note, DiLorenzo talks about how she has melded history and fiction together in this dreamy picture book. World War II did threaten Florence and they did protect the statues in this way. The lion statue exists, but Renato himself is fictional and the timeframe has been altered to work in the book. DiLorenzo’s prose is very readable and the story is immensely strong and well structured.

The art adds to the dreamy effect with the softness of the watercolors. The dream sequences are particularly nice, as they show even more of Florence than the story could have otherwise. Readers will love the lion as Renato does thanks to the wise and gentle look on its face.

The power of art and dreams come together in this wonderful historical picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

the-secret-horses-of-briar-hill-by-megan-shepherd

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd (InfoSoup)

Emmaline lives at a hospital that used to be a grand house. The gardens still exist, but they are overgrown and in shambles. When Emmaline looks into the mirrors in the hospital, she sees winged horses living in the world in the reflection. Then one day when she climbs into a walled garden on the grounds, she discovers a wounded winged horse named Foxfire who is unable to fly and seems to have entered Emmaline’s world. On the sundial, Emmaline discovers a letter from the Horse Lord that gives her a quest to surround Foxfire with all of the colors from the rainbow to protect her from a dark horse who is hunting her. But where is Emmaline going to find bright colors in her world of World War II gray?

Shepherd has crafted a novel for young readers that offers a glimpse into another world where mirrors are filled with wild winged horses. It is a world with a kind Horse Lord who needs a child’s help and also one filled with the hoof and wing beats of a huge Black Horse. Beautifully, she allows readers to wonder if Emmaline is entirely imagining the horses, and keeps that question up until the end and beyond. Yet readers who believe will adore this book filled with mirror magic and dreams.

The “still waters” that Emmaline fights are tuberculosis. Shepherd makes sure that readers know that this can kill when Emmaline loses her closest friend at the hospital. Emmaline’s own tragic past is also revealed late in the book. Though Emmaline is fighting for her life, she is also filled with determination to save the horses and fight back against darkness. As the still waters rise in her, so does the full moon which is the deadline of when she must find all of the colors.

Beautifully written, this novel takes readers to World War II England and the battles fought on the homefront. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox (InfoSoup)

Something horrible is happening at Rookskill Castle, a remote castle in Scotland. When Kat and her two younger siblings are sent there to escape the Blitz in London during World War II, they see odd things. There are children who don’t attend classes with the others but can be seen outside fishing in an empty pool, singing in the old part of the castle or polishing silver down in the basement rooms. The Lady who runs the school is also strange, aloof and beautiful, she has hands that are cold and amazingly strong. Kat believes that there may be a Nazi spy at the school, though she doesn’t believe at all in the magic object that her aunt gave her. But things are odder than Kat could ever have dreamed and soon she has to face that there may be magic at work after all as one child after another disappears.

This tantalizing story is pure dark fun. With a glorious mix of mystery and history, there are also elements of horror that are delightful to encounter. There is real risk here, perhaps worse than death itself and that makes this book all the more impressive. Horror for children is a growing genre and here it is handled particularly well with British flavors, historical information, and plenty of hidden passages and magical relics.

As with any great horror story for children, the children here are left to save themselves. The adults are particularly unhelpful and the story explains why in a clear way. Particularly wonderful is a female protagonist who loves numbers, can solve code algorithms better than her teacher, and who can be prickly but also adores her siblings. She’s complicated and exactly the main character this story needs to really work as Kat doesn’t believe at all in magic.

Smart, intelligently written and gorgeously scary, this historical horror for children is a fantastic read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.