This historical graphic novel takes a modern-day teen and puts her back in time. Kiku is vacationing with her mother in San Francisco, when she first travels through time back to World War II. As the mists form around her, she finds herself watching her grandmother play her violin as a teen. It happens again the next morning, when Kiku finds herself joining the line of Japanese-American people heading for the internment camps. Those experiences were shorter. But then Kiku finds herself back in time for a longer period as she experiences the internment camps herself. She lives near her grandmother, but can’t bring herself to actually meet her face to face. As Kiku witnesses and actually lives the experiences of Japanese-Americans in the internment camps, seeing how they suffered, the restrictions, the injustice but also the communities that were formed in the camps.
Hughes uses a dynamic mix of modern and historical in this graphic novel. She takes the sensibilities of a modern teen and allows readers to see the world through Kiku’s eyes. When Kiku is stuck in time, readers get to experience the full horror of the internment camps and what our country did to Japanese-Americans. Hughes ties our current political world directly to that of the camps, showing how racist policies make “solutions” like internment camps more likely to happen. She also keep hope alive as well, showing Kiku making friends and also developing a romantic relationship with a girl she meets.
The art is done in full color throughout. The color palette does change between modern day and the internment camps, moving from brighter colors to more grim browns, grays and tans. Hughes uses speech bubbles as well as narrative spaces that let Kiku share her thoughts. There are no firm frames here, letting colors dictate the edges of the panels.
Timely and important, this is a look at what we can learn from history and stop from happening now. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Henry started out life talking and able to hear, until a fever took his hearing as a small child. By the time Henry is six, he is labeled as “unteachable.” He is turned away from the school for the deaf after failing their test, refusing to blow out a candle when asked. His parents are encouraged to send him to an institution where he will be cared for. Given their lack of money during the years before World War II, they reluctantly agree. Henry is sent to Riverview, where his life becomes bleak, food is often scarce, children are beaten and restrained. He makes some dear friends there though, working to protect and care for them even as the system works to tear them down. When World War II starts, Victor arrives at Riverview. He’s a conscientious objector, sent to work as an attendant there. He quickly learns that Henry is far from unteachable, reaching out to Henry’s family, including Henry’s beloved sister who has always seen that Henry is smart and kind.
Frost is a master at the verse novel, creating entire worlds that spin by with her poetry. Here the verse draws readers into the darkness of Riverview. One could get caught in that dark, but Henry is there to show a way to see the squirrels outside the window, make friends with some of the other children, and find a way to live one day at a time. While he misses his family horribly and does not understand what happened to make them send him there, he understands much more than everyone thinks he does.
Frost keeps hope at the center of the book. She uses both Victor and Henry’s sister and family members in this way. They all love Henry, trying to figure out how best to deal with an impossible situation exacerbated by poverty and wartime. But hope really is an inherent part of Henry himself, who faces every day and its brutal challenges with a touch of humor, a courage to defend his friends, and a determination to survive.
An important look at how those with disabilities were treated in our country and how conscientious objectors made a difference in their lives. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Bruno and Julie aren’t really friends anymore, but in the small town of Belle Beach, Long Island, they still see one another. That’s how Bruno sees Julie discover the baby that was left on the steps of the new children’s library. Julie carries the baby off, leaving Bruno to discover the note that Julie never found. Bruno though is on a mission for his brother who is overseas fighting in World War II, and he must decide if he will miss the train to New York or not. Told through flashbacks that show the story of Bruno, Julie and Julie’s little sister, Martha, this book explores the impact of the war on families and also how one complicated situation can somehow tie their entire summer together.
Hest creates a marvelous story told in brief chapters by each of the three characters. Their perspectives are beautifully individual, filled with misunderstandings about one another, views that are entirely their own, and opinions that they form along the way. The book is almost a puzzle, where one must figure out what is actually happening through these independent lenses that show a fractured image of the truth.
Each of the three characters has their own personality, deftly created and shown by Hest. Her writing is brief and clear, allowing each character’s words to stand strong as their own. It is the quality of her writing and the profound respect she shows her young characters that really let this delight of a novel work, revealing the moments and experiences of a single sun-drenched summer on the beach.
Ideal for summer reading, this work of historical fiction is masterful. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Grandmother’s bowl is precious for their family. Sachiko and family live in Nagasaki. At dinner, grandmother’s bowl is brought out and filled with food, Everyone bows their heads, pressing their hands together and says “itadakimasu.” Soon war comes to Nagasaki with its noises and the lack of food and other supplies. As the war continues and intensifies, the food in grandmother’s bowl changes too, becoming less and less. The family survives air raids, until one gets through. One of Sachiko’s siblings is killed in the blast. Her family leaves Nagasaki on foot, until they reach a hospital. Her brothers are very ill and both die from radiation from the bomb, other members of her family die too. Ice chips are all that help the survivors quench the burning. Two years later, Sachiko and her family return to Nagasaki and in the rubble of their home find grandmother’s bowl, unbroken and not even chipped. Going forward, ice chips are placed in the bowl on the anniversary of the bombing, watched as they melt away.
This picture book version of the award-winning book for older children, Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Journey, allows the story of Sachiko to be shared with elementary-aged children. Stelson manages to pare the story down, writing in poetic lines that capture the horror of war and atomic bombing as well as the wonder of finding anything still intact afterwards. The symbolic nature of the bowl and the ice chips is incredibly moving and repeats in the book so that readers deeply understand the loss and work that must be done.
Kusaka’s illustrations are beautifully spare. She has created touching moments that show the family around their table with the bowl at the center. When the bomb hits, the pages turn from a red burst to blackness. It’s a powerful use of image without words.
A book about war with a strong focus on peace. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.