Friday, April 18, 2014

The Color of LIght by Helen Maryles Shankman

It is 1992 and postmodernism is the dominent art movement of the moment.  Rafe Sinclair, founder of The American Academy of Classical Art in New York City, is a classicist through and through, but now he is facing grumblings from some of his board member who think other art forms should be introduced, a board that wouldn't mind removing Rafe as head of the Academy.

But his Board isn't the only problem Rafe has.  First, Rafe is a vampire and is trying desperatgely to hold on to his sense of humanity even as he is forced to kill in order to live.  Second, Rafe was an art student in the 1930.  He had met and fallen in love with a young Jewish woman, a fellow artist, just before World War II began, and he is still in love with her, although he believes she had perished in the Holocaust.

Tessa Moss is a young art student at the Academy, talented but naive and involved in an unhealthy relationship with another artist, the very narcissistic Lucian Swain.  Rafe never really noticed Tessa's work until one day when he notices a sketch she has done of a woman with a child by a suitcase that has the name Witzotsky written on it.  The woman is covering the eyes of the child with her hand.  Rafe begins to take a special interest in Tessa and her work.

Witzotsky is a familiar name to Rafe and it turns out that Tessa has sketched a picture depicting a relative of hers named Sofia Witzotsky.  And, in fact, Sofia is the very same woman that Rafe was involved with, the same woman he thought he had lost in the Holocaust.  Or had he?  After all, he never really knew what Sofia's fate had actually been?  Before long, Tessa and Rafe are involved with each other, which is against school rules and just the kind of infraction the board could use to remove Rafe from his position as head of the Academy.  But if Tessa can help Rafe discover what really happened to Sofia, maybe it was worth the risk.

Helen Mayles Shankman has written a long, complicated book encompassing two time periods, and a fair amount of different characters.  It is very well written, engaging, compelling and I actually enjoyed the intricacies of the plot twists and turns.  Rafe and Tessa are believable (well, except for the vampire part), well defined, likable characters, each carrying a lot of baggage that goes back to the Holocaust: Rafe may have lost the love of his life, and Tessa has lost one whole family line on her father's side.

The Color of Light is a novel that will definitely please your romantic sensibilities, and your penchant for historical fiction and has all the elements of a good mystery novel all in one long (574 pages) story.   Shankman has a MFA in painting, so her art/artistic descriptions are pretty spot on and you will have no trouble picturing works of art that don't really exist.

My vampire fan days are long behind me and vampires are certainly not something I expected to read about when I started this blog.  And yet, I have certainly read my share of fantasy and science fiction here, so why not vampires?  But the fact that  Rafe Sinclair is a vampire is only a plot device allowing the narrative its dual time frame with him in both time periods as a man his age and it worked.

And generally the YA/Adult books I review here are of the cozy type, but variety is the spice of life and The Color of Life is a spicy novel that could be classified as New Adult/Adult.  What I mean is that it has more sexual content than most of the YA/Adult I review.

My friend Zohar over at Man of La Book recommended The Color of Light to me and I am so glad he did.  And I am paying it forward.

This book is recommended for mature readers age 15+
This book was sent to me by the author

A Reading Group Guide for The Color of Light is available HERE

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's National Bookmobile Day: Bookmobiles in WWII

Yesterday, I went to the library to pick up some books that they had gotten for me through interlibrary loan.  I have always been fortunate enough to live within walking distance of a public library and a short subway ride to one of the greatest research libraries in the country, the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.  And since it is National Library Week, I would like to give a shout out to my local library and the librarians who have gotten me many of the books I have used for this blog, as well as my other blog, Randomly Reading:

It may be National Library Week all week long, but April 16th is National Bookmobile Day.  

Bookmobiles have played an important part in providing library services to people to can get to their local library, or in areas that are too rural for a library to be built.  During World War II, bookmobiles helped bring books to factories, where workers who had little enough free time could browse and check out books.
1943 Chicago Public Library Bookmobile (University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign, University Archives
 And they played a major role bringing books to people in the armed forces, both here and abroad.
The 31st Division's Mobile Library at Camp Polk, Louisiana 1943
A small mobile library for soldiers stationed in the Middle East
And of course, they were there for schoolchildren and their parents

Two Bookmobiles serving New York City
1942 Bookmobile, Stamford CT
Today, there are just under 1,000 bookmobiles in the United States, still serving people in all different areas, the bustling cities to rural farms.  And then there is the Camel Library Service in Kenya, the mobile library in Zimbabwe pulled by a donkey, an well as in Columbia, South America, in remote areas of Norway there is the book boat, Epos and in Thailand, the bookmobile is an elephant. (Wikipedia)

If you would like to know more about the history of bookmobiles, you might want to visit Orty Ortwein blog, Bookmobiles: A History

Here are some books that feature mobile libraries for young readers:
Picture Books:
Hannah's Bookmobile Christmas by Sally Derby
That Book Woman by Heather Henson
The Book Boat's In by Cynthia Cohen
Miss Dorothy and her Bookmobile by Gloria Houston
Wild About Books by Judy Sierra

Biblioburro: a true story from Columbia by Jeanette Winter
My Librarian is a Camel by Margaret Ruurs (nonfiction)
Down Cut Shin Creek: the pack horse librarians of Kentucky by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer (nonfiction)

Chapter Books:
Clara and the Bookwagon by Nancy Smiler Levinson
Mystery of the Bewitched Bookmobile by Florence Parry Heide and Roxanne Heide Pierce

Lending a Paw: a Bookmobile Cat Mystery by Laurie Cass
Taliling a Tabby: a Bookmobile Cat Mystery by Laurie Cass

Be sure to visit the ALA National Bookmobile Day 2014 for more resources and activities.  And you can download this nice PDF and put together your own bookmobile, like the one below:

Cardboard Bookmobile bringing books to the toy soldiers

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Grandpa's Third Drawer: Unlocking Holocaust Memories written and illustrated by Judy Tal Kopelman

Young Uri loves to visit his grandparents.  He sees his vacations there as a quiet respite from the daily routines and annoyances of life at home, especially his nagging sister.  Grandpa Yuda always has time to play with him, and Grandma Genia loves to pamper him with hot chocolate and homemade cookies.

But Uri's favorite spot in his grandparent's home is Grandpa Yuda's study.  In the study, Uri tells the reader, his Grandpa has a desk with three drawers and he is allowed to keep his pencil case and crayons in the first drawer.   Grandpa  keeps all kinds of little toys he used to play with when he was a boy before the war in the second drawer, and now, he lets Uri play with them.  But the third drawer is always kept locked.  No one, not even Uri, is allowed to open it and Grandpa never talks about what's inside.

Naturally, Uri can't help but wonder about that third drawer - what's in there and why it is a secret.

Then, one cold, rainy winter day, Uri finds himself home alone for a little while and decides to color.  He goes into Grandpa's study to get his crayons, and there in the first drawer is a key, one he is certain would open the third drawer.

Sure enough, when he puts the key into the keyhole and turns it, the drawer opens.  But just then, Grandpa Yuda walks into the room and catches him holding a yellow star with a safety pin, just one of the things Uri found in the drawer.   At first, Grandpa is angry at Uri, but then he decides to tell him about the contents of the locked drawer.

Grandpa tells Uri about being sent to live in a ghetto with his parents and sister Anna, about how hungry he was there, because they were allowed so little food with their ration stamps.  In the drawer, is the doll his mother made for Anna from rags, and the dominoes he made himself from wooden scraps while in the ghetto.

And he tells Uri about the day his family was separated by the Nazis, never to be seen again.   His grandparents were sent to a concentrations camp, while his sister and parents sent somewhere else on trains.  Grandpa Yuda was sent to a labor camp.

Uri tells us they stayed up late that night talking about these events and even afterwards, Uri had lots of questions which Grandpa always took the time to answer while they played with the homemade wooden dominoes.

The Holocaust is a delicate subject and it is hard to know when to talk to young children about it.  For the children, grandchildren and now even the great grandchildren of survivors, that may happen sooner than for other kids, because they may hear things being said, or noticed the number on a grandparent's arm.

Whatever your reasons for starting a conversation about the Holocaust with a younger child, this gentlest of stories would be an ideal way to begin, just as Uri's Grandpa did.  As Grandpa explains what happened to his family, he keeps the focus on his them and not on the Nazis.

The story is told in clear, simple language, and enough details are given for a child to understand what happened to Grandpa's and his family without becoming too graphic to frighten.  This focus on Uri's family history also helps him to feel more connected to them and his Grandfather and is more emotionally age appropriate for a child around Uri's age (which is probably 6 or &).  Details of Nazi atrocities will come later in Uri's life, when he can emotionally handle them better.

Grandpa's Third Drawer was originally published in Israel in 2003, where it won the Ze'ev Prize for Children's Literature.  It is newly translated picture book has now been published for young readers in English.  The artifacts and illustrations used by Kopelman were used courtesy of Beit Theresienstadt Archives, in Givat-Haim Ichud, Israel.

Grandpa's Third Drawer will be available on May 1, 2014.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was an eARC received from Edelweiss

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday #14: Top Ten Most Unique Books I've Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

This week's topic, Top Ten Unique Books I've Read, came just as I was going over all my blog posts and creating a master index of them, before I begin breaking them down into categories.  I realized that over the time I have blogged, I have read a number of unique books for The Children's War, some reviewed, some not, and the last book has nothing to do with WWII, but it is Unique, with a capital U.

1- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs - the fantasy novel is told, in part, through the use of old, carefully chosen, unusual photographs and it totally works.

2- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - the story of a young girl in Nazi Germany, told from the point of view of Death.

3- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - this is the story of a friendship in WWII, the first part of the story is told from the point of view of Julie, a spy being held prisoner by the Nazis, the second half is told from the point of view of Maddie, a ferry pilot who goes in search of Julie. This is the book I chose to hand out on World Book Night.

4- Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway? by Avi - the story of a boy in Brooklyn during the war, who is obsessed with radio programs like The Lone Ranger and dreams of being a hero, told entirely in Radio Dialogue.

5- Blitzcat by Robert Westall - Westall was a master storyteller for middle grade books, and in this one, he tells the story of Lord Gort, a female cat who goes searching for her owner, who is serving his country.  She crosses southern England and changing people's lives alone the way.  Westall never anthropomorphizing the cat, but it is written entirely from her point of view - really brilliant.

6- To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis - Willis is one of my favorite science fiction writers and another master storyteller, this time travel goes from the future to 1940 Coventry, to Victorian Coventry trying to prevent a rip in the time continuum and it is another brilliant piece of writing.  

7- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank - Anne gives the reader a unique, first hand look at what it was like to be a young, Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis with her family in Amsterdam at a time when it was dangerous to be Jewish.

8- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut - a favorite on high school banned books lists, this fantasy novel gives a unique perspective on war and especially on the Allied firebombing of Dresden, from the point of view of an American POW being held in that city.  It is stunning in the way it normalizes the brutality of war in four simple words - and so it goes.

9- Vango by Timothee de Fombelle - the first book in a trilogy, it tells the story of Vango as he travels through the 1930s, and the dangerous political climate in Europe of the time unfolds as he tries to prove himself innocent of a crime he has be charged with committing.

And last, a book I am reading right now, that has nothing to do with WWII…but it does have something to do with WWIII

10- The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean Telt by hisself by David Almond - Billy has been kept hidden away in a back room since he was born at the start of "day of endless war & at the moment of disaster."  Now 13, he has come out into a post-apocalyptic world, uneducated but possessing healing power, the question is whether he is an angel or a monster.  This is unique because the entire book, told from Billy's point of view, is completely written phonetically.

What are the Top Ten Most Unique Books you have read?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hidden Like Anne Frank: Fourteen True Stories of Survival by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis

Most people are familiar with the story about how and why Anne Frank and her family went into hiding in the attic of her father's business in Amsterdam after Adolf Hitler's army invaded Holland.  The diary she wrote as a young teenager is a priceless artifact of those terrible times.  Anne, her sister Margot, and her mother did not survive after they were captured by the Nazis, only her father lived.  But Anne diary has become a symbol of courage, innocence, and one of the most tragic periods in recent history.

But if you knew Anne and her family were hidden away from the Nazis, you also probably figured that there were more, many, many more that we haven't heard much about.  Indeed, according to Marcel Prins, author of  Hidden Like Anne Frtank, approximately 28,000 Jews went into hiding during the Nazi occupation of Holland.  Of those, around 16,000 survived, and 12,000 did not.  Fascinated by his own mother's story of hiding and surviving, Prins collected stories of other children like her, and the result is Hidden Like Anne Frank, fourteen true stories of surviving the Holocaust by Jewish youths, both boys and girls, stories that are all different, all dangerous, all told in their own words.

Prins begins the book with his own mother's account of going into hiding.  Only 5 at the time, Rita Degen was forced to lie about her age and say she only going on 5, not 6, so that she wouldn't have to wear the required Yellow Star that marked her as Jewish.   She was quickly removed from her first foster family when someone recognized her, but luckily placed by the resistance in another home, where she was wanted.

Frightened by the deportations, Bloeme Emden, 16, was one of the people to be called up.  Her father managed to get it delayed, but that didn't last long.  She was told that if she didn't show up, her parents and younger sister would be taken.  Bloeme managed to get away again, but ultimately ended up in Auschwitz, where she ran into friends from school - Margot and Anne Frank.  Her parents and sister did not survive the Holocaust.

Hiding, constantly needing to change your identity, both name and religion, forced to lie and to live in fear are all part of the stories by these fourteen survivors.  At times, most of these youths managed to survive with the help of the Dutch Resistance, at other times, they simply survived by their own wits using creativity, stealth, craftiness.  Some found themselves in situations where they welcomed and cared for, others were taken advantage of, or terribly mistreated.  They were separated from their families and many never saw them again.  All of their individual stories attest to the horrors of the Holocaust.

Hidden Like Anne Frank is a fascinating, compellingly poignant collection of true stories.  The individual accounts are not very long, but they certainly convey the fear and danger that al Jews in hiding were forced to live with day by day, never knowing if they would see tomorrow or not, if they would see their loved ones again or not.  Prins has included lots of old photographs from the times before and after the children were hidden and at the end of the book, there are recent photographs of each person who contributed their story.

Hidden Like Anne Frank book should have lots of appeal for young readers, many, no doubt, will be drawn to it by Anne's name on the cover.  But it is also a perfect collection for any classroom when students begin studying World War II and the Holocaust.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was received as an eARC from NetGalley

Be sure to visit the website devoted to Hidden like Anne Frank to hear more stories of survival told by these and other survivors.

This is book 1 of my European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader

Monday, March 31, 2014

Movie Matinee #4: Janie (1944)

Lobby Card with Scooper, Dick Lawrence and Janie
Janie Conway is a pretty typical 16 year old girl living in the small town of Hortonville.  She has a high school boyfriend named Scooper and lots of girlfriends, a wiseacre little sister named Elsbeth, a dad, Charles Conway, who is the editor of the town paper and a mom, Lucille Conway, who does war work.

Life looks pretty good for the Conways despite the war.  Until now, that is.  After learning that the Army plans to open a base nearby, Mr. Conway had written an editorial opposing it, worried that so many soldiers around so many impressionable, young energetic, boy crazy girls might not be such a good idea.  Now, he is trying to get special priority from Washington for a new printing press, and his requests are being ignored.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Conway's old friend, Thelma Lawrence, is arriving in Hortonville with her son, a private in the Army and needs a place to stay.  Of course, once they arrive at the house, and Janie meets Private First Class Dick Lawrence, it is instant attraction, much to Scooper's distress.

When Janie's parents make plans to go out for an evening with Mrs. Lawrence, Janie decides to seize the opportunity to see Dick Lawrence alone in the Conway house.  But now some of her girlfriends also have boyfriends in the Army and no place to see them, and since they know Janie is home alone, they all drop by.

Elsbeth, always in the way, is sent off to her grandmother's on what should have been a short bus ride with Dick, but she gets the on the wrong bus intentionally because she likes riding buses.  Dick runs into his old chemistry professor, who also likes to ride buses and hands Elsbeth over to him so he can get back to his evening with Janie.

Scooper, jealous of Dick, calls the Army base and tells them to send over more soldiers, that there is a party going on at the Conway house for them.  Before long, the house is filled with servicemen and their girlfriends, more of Janie's girlfriends, music, singing and dancing.  There are even plenty of wieners to eat and pop to drink.  Before long, the furniture is pushed aside and a long conga line forms.  Janie's quiet evening with Dick turns into the biggest and best party Hortonville has ever seen.

Lobby Card
But all good things must end, especially when the base commander shows up, followed by the police and then your parents.  But this is a light domestic romantic comedy, so all's well that end's well.

I watched Janie on a gloomy, rainy, chilly Sunday afternoon and it really was a fun thing to do.  It is a very fast paced film, and a lighthearted war movie.  Janie, played by Joyce Reynolds, is a bubbly teen, always up to things she would rather her parents didn't know about, like going off to a blanket party (a party where everyone brings their own blanket to sit on, to "smooch" with their boyfriends.  Janie speaks a mysterious lingo with her friends, really just the slang of the day, but it totally bewilders her dad.

This was definitely a feel good movie made for a war weary audience, released on September 2, 1944.  It was highly recommended by movie editors in magazines like Child Life, Calling All Girls and Life, having appeal for both adults and teens.  As much fun as Janie is, though, I can't say it reflects the life of the average American teenage girl in 1944.  And the feminist side of me did bristle somewhat at how boy crazy girls were portrayed.   

Originally a successful Broadway play, Janie was made into a movie by Warner Bros., and directed by Michael Curtiz, who had already won an Academy Award in 1944 for directing a film you may be familiar with called Casablanca.

Hattie McDaniel, another Academy Award winner for her portrayal of Mammy in Gone with the Wind, plays April, the Conway's maid.  Unfortunately for this favorite talented woman, playing the role of a maid was the part she was always cast as during the war.

Other well known actors who appeared in Janie were Robert Hutton as Dick Lawrence, Edward Arnold as Charles Conway, and Ann Harding as Lucille Conway.  Ironically, it turns out that the irrepressible, but annoying younger sister Elsbeth was played by Clare Foley who made only two movies in her film career: Janie and the 1946 sequel Janie Gets Married.  I could not find any more information about her.

And here is some real trivia:  I used to watch reruns of the original Mickey Mouse Club when they were on late at night and I was still writing papers for grad school.  If you remember the Mickey Mouse Club and happen to catch Janie on TMC, see if you can find Jimmy Dodd, head Mouseketeer and song writer (Hint: he is an uncredited soldier during the party scenes).

This movie is recommended for viewers age 11+
This movie was watched onTurner Movie Classics (it isn't available on DVD yet, but runs pretty frequently on TV.

Enjoy the trailer for Janie after the annoying 30 second ad:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Across a War-Tossed Sea by L.M. Elliott

It's September 1943 near Richmond, Virginia and Bishop brothers, Wesley, 10, and Charles, 14, have been living with the Ratcliff family for over three years now, after being evacuated from war-torn London.  And there is nothing Charles, called Chuck by his American family, would like more than to return home and do his bit for the war, but his parents still refuse to let him.  Besides, Wesley still has frequent nightmares about firebombs hitting their home during the Blitz and about the possibility of being torpedoed by Nazi submarines while crossing the U-boat infested waters of the Atlantic and Charles feels responsible for taking care of him when they happen.

The Ratcliffs are a large farming family.  Patsy, the only girl, is 16 and has a boyfriend named Henry flying missions overseas, next is Bobby, 15, who has become a great pal of Chuck's, followed by Ron, 12, Wesley's real nightmare, and lastly are the twins, Jamie and Johnny, 7.  The war is a constant presence in this novel, making it truly a home front story.

Life isn't always easy for the Bishop brothers.  Ron has always jumped at every opportunity to bully Wesley.  So when Wes ends up skipping two grades and, much to Ron's annoyance, lands in his 7th grade class, the bullying only intensifies.  Charles, who has become quite muscular from farm work, has made it onto the football team along with Bobby.  Everyone must help out on the farm and the work is long and difficult, because of a dWes has a fascination for Native Americans that he has read about and longs to meet one, but when he does, much to his surprise, Mr. Johns is nothing like what he expected.  Wes also befriends a young African American boy, and learns first hand about segregation and prejudice.

And Chuck must come to terms with his feelings about the German POWs that are brought into the area and used to help on the farms, and, ultimately, on the Ratcliff farm as well.  The more he sees them, the angrier he becomes and the more he wants to go home and help.  Chuck is also dealing with a crush he has on Patsy, which is especially hard on him, since he knows that her heart belongs to someone doing just what he wishes he could do.

Across a War-Tossed Sea follows the Bishop boys and the Ratcliff family through the year up to and a little beyond the D-Day invasion at Normandy, France in June 1944.  It is a nice home front book that gives a good idea of what life was like for people in the United States, interspersed with letters exchanged between the boys and their parents, giving the reader a good picture of life in England under siege.  In fact, this is really like a series of vignettes all connected to each other.

Given all the things that happened in this novel, I thought it was odd that after living with the Ratcliffs for over three years, the boys would feel like new arrivals and make the kind of mistakes that would most likely happen in their first year.  But that didn't diminish my feelings about the story.

I thought Across a War-Tossed Sea was an exciting, interesting, thought provoking novel documenting life on the home front and the adjustments that had to be made by everyone during World War II.  At the end of the book, there is a very informative Afterword giving a short recap of what was going on in Europe, the evacuation of children overseas that sometimes ended in tragedy and further explaining many of the things referred to in the novel, such as U-boats, V-bombs and secret air bases (a particularly amusing part of the novel, even though it involves a runaway German POW).

Across a War-Tossed Sea is a companion book to Across a War-Torn Sky, which follows what happens to Patsy Ratcliff's boyfriend, Henry Forester, after he is shot down over France on a flying mission for the Air Force.  And, bringing things full circle, they are both companion pieces to A Troubled Peace, and the end of the war.  Luckily, I have not read the two companion books yet, so I have them to look forward to.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an eARC received from Net Galley

Across a War-Tossed Sea will be available on April 1, 2014, meantime have a look at this very nicely done trailer: