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.
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: 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 (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 (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 (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 (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.
Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban
Manami loves her home on Bainbridge Island where she can walk with her grandfather and his dog on the beach. Everything changes when Pearl Harbor is bombed in 1941. Manami and her family along with the other Japanese Americans are gathered up and forced to move to internment camps far from the sea. Manami’s grandfather has arranged for someone to care for his dog, but Manami cannot bear to leave him behind so she hides him in her coat. But she is not allowed to bring the dog with them. Heartbroken, when they reach the camp, Manami stops speaking entirely, unable to force words past her dusty throat. Manami keeps hoping that their dog will find them, sending pictures on the wind to him.
Told in spare and elegant prose, Sephaban captures the devastating impact of World War II policies on Japanese Americans. Losing all of their property and belongings except what they can fit into one suitcase each, the families work to put together a semblance of a life for themselves and their children. Sepahban sets this story in a prison camp that had a riot break out and one can feel the tension building. This novel manages to show the impact of loss of civil rights and also be a voice for moving forward to embracing diversity and differences.
Manami is an amazing character. Her pain is palpable on the page, her voice buried under guilt and compounded by their internment in the camp. Everything changes for her in one moment, taken from the place she loves, removed from the life she has been living. Manami has to find a way to make a new life, but it is devastating for her as she is unable to forgive herself for what she has done.
Beautiful writing, a complex heroine and a powerful story make this short historical novel worth reading and sharing. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Edelweiss.
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ada has never been outside of her family’s one-room apartment. Her mother won’t let her be seen by others, though Ada does sit at the window and wave at people. Ada has one foot that is twisted and doesn’t work right, so she crawls around the apartment. But when Ada realizes that she has to get stronger, she teaches herself to walk on her twisted foot, even though it is agony, making sure that her mother doesn’t find out. World War II comes and children are being sent to safety outside of London. Though her mother refuses to let Ada go, Ada escapes along with her little brother Jamie and gets on a train of evacuees. From there they head into the country and are reluctantly taken in by a grieving woman. Immediately Ada is given crutches which let her get around more easily and she stubbornly sets out to teach herself to ride her host’s ignored pony. But there are many changes to come, ones that both test the strength of Ada and others that more strongly tie her to the woman who gave them shelter and care.
There are books that you read that tumble into, ones that are impossible to put down, but you don’t want to read them quickly because you are so entranced with the world they are showing you. This was one of those books for me; I adored this novel. All of the characters are human, they all make mistakes, lose their tempers, figure things out, move on and continue to care (in their own ways) for one another. They are all brave in their own ways too, escaping from a life of imprisonment and hate, learning to live after loss, and creating their own family. These are inspiring people, but the book also shows that community matters, that being accepted for who you are is vital, and that there are people out there to love us.
Bradley’s writing is exceptional. It reads easily and beautifully. She captures Ada perfectly, from her overwhelming fear of being beaten or put in a dark place to her determination and stubbornness; from her teaching herself to walk to the freedom of riding a horse. Ada is remarkable. She is a prickly child who does not let anyone into her world easily, but at the same time with the story told in her voice the readers understand her and witness how much she wants to connect and yet cannot. That first person narration is a critical reason that this book works so well.
Brilliant characters shine on the page as this book looks at war, abuse, and love in a complex and heroic way. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dial.