Tag: World War II

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.

Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban

Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban

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.

Review: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

war that saved my life

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.

Review: The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett

children of the king

The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett

Along with their mother, Cecily and Jeremy are sent from London to the English countryside during the bombings of World War II.  Seeing other children who don’t have parents or family with them, Cecily decides that her family should take in one of the young refugees.  So she picks out May, a girl who looks just the right age to be a friend but also still young enough that Cecily can be in charge.  But May won’t be contained by Cecily, and soon is out exploring the countryside on her own.  She is the one who first discovers the two boys hiding in the ruins of Snow Castle.  Cecily joins May and the two of them meet the boys who are dressed in old-fashioned clothing.  Meanwhile in the evenings, Cecily and Jeremy’s uncle Peregrine tells the story of Richard III and his nephews.  The two stories weave together, two levels of history intertwined into one gorgeous tale.

Hartnett does so much in this book without ever losing sight of the heart of the story.  Her story telling is phenomenal.  She shares details of life during the Blitz and creates a warm and rich world of safety in the country.  Within the World War II setting, she manages to have a character tell of another historical period with its own harrowing historical details.  So often in a book with a story within a story, one is better than the other.  Here they are both beautifully done and complement each other nicely.

Throughout the book, Hartnett uses imagery and beautiful prose.  Her writing is rich and dazzling, painting pictures of the countryside, the city, Heron Hall, and England for readers.  Here is how the study in Heron Hall is described for readers on page 35.  This is just part of the lush writing that sets the stage:

Underfoot were flattened rugs, and a fire karate-chopped at the throat of the chimney.  There was a good smell of cigarette smoke mixed with toast and dog; this room was a den, the lair of Heron Hall’s owner.  Here, rather than in any of the grander rooms, was there the house’s living was done.

Hartnett’s characters are done with an ear for tone.  Jeremy and Cecily have a mother who is mostly absent though she is right there all the time.  She is disengaged from their days and even when they are out in town together she is separate and withdrawn.  Cecily too is a rather unlikeable character.  And what a risk that is, to create a story primarily about a little girl who is pushy, bossy and whiny.  Yet it is Cecily who makes the book work, the character who brings the responses, the action, and keeps it from being overly sweet or convenient. 

Gorgeously written with a complex storyline and interesting characters, this is one incredible piece of historical fiction.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Candlewick Press.

Review: Odette’s Secrets by Maryann Macdonald

odettes secrets

Odette’s Secrets by Maryann Macdonald

This true story of a young Jewish girl growing up in Nazi-occupied Paris is told in verse.  Odette’s father is sent to a Nazi work camp and her mother works hard to protect Odette.  As the Jews in Paris are steadily more badly treated, Odette has to wear a yellow star on her clothing and is unwelcome in many places in the city.  Even at school, Odette is bullied for being Jewish.  When their apartment is raided in the middle of the night, Odette and her mother hide in their landlady’s cupboard.  After that, Odette is sent to the country to live.  There she learns to pretend to be Christian so that she isn’t discovered.  When her mother is forced to flee Paris, the two of them move together to live in the French countryside as peasants, but Nazis and bigotry are never far behind.  Odette learns that sometimes secrets are vital to survival and just as hard to stop keeping as they are to keep.

Macdonald writes in her author’s note about the inspiration for creating a children’s book that tells the story of the real Odette.  It is interesting to learn about the transition from straight nonfiction to a verse novel.  I’m so pleased that the end result was this novel in free verse, because Macdonald writes verse with a wonderful eye to both the story she is telling and the poetry itself.  She truly creates the scenes of Paris and the French countryside in her poems, making each place special and amazing. 

Perhaps most amazing is Odette herself, a protagonist living in a brutal and complicated time, forced to lie to stay alive.  Odette has to learn to deal with the fear she lives in every day, something that no one should have to get used to.  There was the fear of slipping and telling the secrets she held but also the fear that someone could figure out they were Jewish without any slip from Odette.  Macdonald creates quite a dramatic series of events that point out that Odette was terrified for very good reason.

Beautiful verse combined with a true story of a young girl World War II France makes this a very successful book that cuts right to the heart and lays all its secrets bare.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Bloomsbury.

Review: Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff

gingersnap

Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff

Jayna’s older brother Rob rescued her from foster care but now he is called to duty on a destroyer during World War II.  Both brother and sister love to cook: Jayna’s specialty is soup.  The two don’t have any other family in the world, so Rob leaves Jayna with their landlady who is always lecturing Jayna about manners.  Right before he leaves, Rob tells Jayna about a recipe book he found that may have belonged to their grandmother.  It contains an address for a bakery in Brooklyn.  When Rob is listed as missing in action, Jayna decides to travel to Brooklyn to discover if her grandmother still has a bakery there.  She takes her pet turtle with her and also a ghost who has been helping lead her in the right direction.  But what will she find when she gets to Brooklyn?

Giff has created a very pleasant mix of historical fiction and ghost story in this novel.  At the center is a young girl and her wish for a family, which propels the action in the story.  I appreciated that while the ending is satisfying it is not the perfect vision that young Jayna had been searching for.  Some may say though that it’s even better.  The ghost is not frightening at all, instead she borrows nail polish and even clothing.  She offers opinions on what is happening, most of which are helpful and get Jayna to make decisions more quickly.

It is the historical piece that is very special here.  I appreciated a young girl who could not just cook but excelled at it.  The food shortage is vital to the story as is the war itself.  Later in the book, readers also get to hear about the first World War and its impact.  This is a book about the homefront, made more dynamic by one untidy little ghost.

A treat for readers, this book should be embraced by teachers looking for fiction about World War II.  The setting is strong, the characters memorable and the food enticing. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.

Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

code name verity

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Verity has been captured by the Gestapo, who have tortured her and kept her without sleep for weeks.  Now she has agreed to tell them the truth, but as a British spy during World War II, that means putting many others in danger.  Still, it gets the torture to stop, and there are many ways to be truthful.  As Verity puts pen to paper, she tells the story of the friendship between two girls, Maddie and Queenie, who would never have met during peacetime, much less become best friends.  Maddie’s story is that of becoming a female pilot when there are very few.  It is a story of strong skills, good luck, and great mentors.  Along the way, she met Queenie, another strong girl, who spoke German, bluffed naturally, and loved fiercely.  This friendship is the heart of Verity’s story of truth, one written with details that are lingered over as if they transport her somewhere safe.  It is also the story that will keep her alive one more day, but eventually the story must end.

Wein is purely masterful here.  While I caught certain things in the story that pointed me to the right conclusions, much of it is so cat and mouse that it is a real pleasure to puzzle through.  That said, it is also a great story all on its own without the puzzle, something that is incredibly difficult to do.  Wein populates her story with so many strong women.  There are Maddie and Queenie, either of whom would have been heroine enough to carry their own book.  Yet there is the magic of having their stories told intertwined.  There are the other women who risked their lives against Hitler, women who defied by seeming to capitulate, women who fought with all their had.  It is the story of all of those women too.

Throughout the book there is an ache that will not go away.  That is the ache of Verity and her story of torture.  Every detail is rimmed with sorrow, with never seeing it again, with the knowledge that her days are so few.  This creates a fragility, a solid sadness, that is present throughout.  It is the world of war, the desperation and the death, and it lifts this book to another level that is beyond the pain.

Tremendously beautiful, achingly sad, and beyond brave, this book and these heroines are simply and utterly amazing.  This is a must-read book, one that I hope garners awards, one that will be a delight to share with others.  Oh, and I must mention that it’s a great crossover for adult readers too.  Trust me, get your hands on this one!

Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from library copy.