Tuesday, December 10, 2013
But soon Poland is invaded and, their town, Sokal, is taken over by Russians, as per the non-aggression Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact made between Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. Now, with the world at war, life becomes more difficult for everyone.
But by the end of 1940, Hitler disregards the pact and orders the German army to begin their invasion the Soviet Union. Sokal is now occupied by German soldiers and suddenly the lives of its Jewish population are put in jeopardy. Jews are rounded up and put in a ghetto surrounded by barbed wire.
Damian begins working for the resistance, delivering food and supplies to Jewish partisans. Helena works as a secretary in a factory and soon, she and the factory head, Casmir, fall in love. Franciszka has made many friends in Sokal selling her vegetables and eggs to.
But by 1943, Damian has been killed making a delivery to the partisans and Franciszka is hiding 15 people in her small house - two Jewish families and 1 German soldier incapable of killing. Not only that, she has the guts to entertain the Nazi commander at her home with delicious home cooked German meals. Clever Franciszka knows this will get her money to buy enough food to help feed the people she is hiding and make her neighbors think she has such good connections with the Nazis in Sokal that they will be quiet even if they suspect something is up.
My Mother's Secret is a well-written compelling story. And it is a wonderful example of how one person can make a big difference in the world. I really like the rotating perspectives that J.K. Witterick chose to write the book in because it gives the reader some insight into what everyone's life was like before, during and after the war and how they ended up in Franciszka's house. Interestingly enough, however, we do not hear from Franciszka herself, perhaps because no one knows why she did what she did. For my part, I think it is just simple human compassion.
One of the incredible things brought out in this story is that no one Franciszka is hiding knows about the other people she is hiding until they come out of their hiding places at the end of the war.
The other incredible thing is that of the 6,000 Jews who had lived in Sokal, 30 survived and 15 of them were Franciska's Jews (there is nothing about Franciszka actually hiding a German soldier).
Not surprisingly, Franciszak and Helena were named to Yad Vashem's list of The Righteous Among the Nations for what they did.
This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an ARC provided by the publisher
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Because of copyright laws, music can't be included, but if you click this
you can listen to the original song on YouTube
you can listen to the original song on YouTube
Back on April 20, 1935, a radio program called Your Hit Parade debuted on Saturday nights. Each week, the program would play the 15 most popular songs of that week, performed by live artists, though not the person who originally recorded the songs. Regardless, it didn't take long before Your Hit Parade was itself a hit.
It shouldn't be surprising that during WWII, Your Hit Parade was an very important part of life, not only on the home front, but it was also head overseas and on the front lines thanks to Armed Forces Radio Service.
In Britain, the BBC was also broadcast popular music to their forces fighting in Europe and to the war-torn home front. Even the Germans recognized the morale building value of shared music and broadcast their own version of The Hit Parade in a weekly program called the Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht, also heard at home and on the front lines.
One of the most popular songs of the war was actually one that wasn't really considered really great by the composer, Irving Berlin, and the original singer, Bing Crosby. White Christmas was originally just another song on a movie sound track, written sometime between 1940-1941, and it was supposed to be ironic. It was first introduced on the radio on Christmas Eve 1941 by Bing Crosby and later released on July 30, 1942. At first, White Christmas didn't go anywhere, but by October 1942, thanks to radio plugs, it went to first place on The Hit Parade's weekly countdown and stayed there for 10 weeks, and was in first place on Billboard's charts for 11 weeks.
|White Christmas on Billboard's charts October 1942 and December 1942|
(click to enlarge)
White Christmas is a simple song, but despite the opening words, it became a very popular war song because it appealed to people emotions with it melancholy nostalgia for the ideal long ago Christmas that, in reality, most people never experienced. The opening lines, which make fun of Hollywood, are sometimes still recorded but not often. In fact, Berlin had these cut from all sheet music after seeing how popular the song became in 1942:
The sun is shining.
The grass is green.
The orange and palm trees sway.
There's never been such a day
In Beverly Hill, L.A.
But it's December the twenty-fourth,
And I'm longing to be up north.
In 1943, White Christmas won the Academy Award for Best Song. The movie it was written for, Holiday Inn, was not about the war at all, but when it was remade in 1954 and called, not surprisingly, White Christmas, it was about two former Army buddies trying to help out their former General with his so-far-not-too-successful Vermont hotel. I have to admit, I like White Christmas more than Holiday Inn, but I think that has more to do with Rosemary Clooney being in it than anything else. Although, I do like Fred Astaire's tap dancing in Holiday Inn.
Because the original recording of White Christmas was damaged, the Bing Crosby version that is most often heard now is a 1947 recording. To date, it has sold over 50 million copies and, according to Wikipedia, there are more than 500 different recorded versions of it.
|Original 1942 White Christmas sheet music,|
complete with Buy War Bonds stamp
Your Hit Parade remained a popular radio show all through the 1940 and on July 10, 1950 became a weekly television show using the same countdown format.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
A Bag of Marbles by Joseph Joffo, adapted by Kris, illustrated by Vincent Bailly and translated by Edward Gauvin
Jo, 10, and his older brother Maurice are forced to wear yellow stars to school, as is every Jew in Paris. Jo resents it and when a friend offers to trade a bag of marbles for the star, Jo jumps at the chance. But even without the star, the fact that he and Maurice are Jewish causes a fight in the schoolyard. Arriving home, bloodied and bruised, their father makes the decision to send the boys to Vichy France, the southern free zone to stay with their older brothers.
Armed with 5,000 francs and the addresses of safe places to find help, the boys are sent on a dangerous journey through occupied France by themselves. Using only their wits, and sometimes making poor judgements, they travel by train, bus and foot, all the while having to evade the Nazis and occasionally finding a kind person willing to help them.
Yes, they make it to Menton, but the story doesn't end there. Remember, they left their parents in Paris, who promised they would shortly follow them to Menton. But, word comes one day that they were picked up by the Nazis and re in an internment camp. And the boys are themselves picked by the Nazis when they unknowingly enter a resistance center during a raid. Arrested, they are questioned by the Gestapo and must convince them that they are not Jews despite being circumcised.
Will they succeed and will they be reunited with their parents and be a family once again?
I really wanted to love this graphic story, particularly since there are not that many good ones for kids about WW2, fiction or nonfiction (exceptions are Carla Jablonski's Resistance trilogy, Miné Okubo's early work Citizen 13660, and Lily Renée, Escape Artist by Trina Robbins, to name a few reviewed here). But I just didn't love it, I only liked it.
And what made me like it was really the artwork. Graphics don't have a lot of time and space to tell a story, so the reader must rely on the illustrations to help carry it along. And Vincent Bailly's colorful, detailed watercolor illustrations really do just that, and along the way they impart exactly what the characters are feeling at any given point - happiness, sadness, fear, anger, pleasure. A quick, simple facial expression says so much here. Bailly's illustrations are brilliant.
But alas, at times the story was just dull. It lacked some of the poignancy you might expect from a story about two young boys sent out into a very dangerous world on a long journey towards safety. Though I could read what the boys felt by the look on their faces, I never felt those same feelings. In fact, I never felt any emotional pull in the story and never really connected with Jo and his brother. I can't help but wonder what the original memoir written by Joseph Joffo back in 1974 was like. That was a book written for an adult audience, and this version of A Bag of Marbles was rewritten for a younger reader. Perhaps sometimes was lost in the shuffle.
I kept waiting for the titular bag of marbles to make another appearance in the story but the only part it played was the schoolyard trade and I am still scratching my head over why an obviously not Jewish boy would want the star that Jo was wearing.
On the plus side, there is a very nice map showing the route Jo and Maurice took to safety and their modes of transportation. There is also a glossary of French words used. Interestingly, when German is used, the translation is at the bottom of the page. And there is a nice Afterward that explains what France was like under German occupation.
A Bag of Marbles is a nice book for readers who are really interested in the various experiences of Jews during WW2. It would be a nice supplemental text for teaching the Holocaust, as well. It will really appeal to all the kids sitting on the floor in Barnes & Noble across the country after school reading graphic books with their friends (and I don't say to be snarky - those knowledgeable kids have helped me find something I wanted on more than one occasion).
This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was purchased for my personal library
Sequential Highway has a very interesting interview with the illustrator Vincent Bailly about working on comics in general and on A Bag of Marbles in particular.
Friday, November 29, 2013
His mother had one of his medals and let Michael keep it in his room. She told him that his Auntie Snowdrop (really Martha) had the other medals and would be happy to show them to him when they visited her and her sister, Auntie Pish (really Mary), on New Year's Day. And while Michael didn't really like to visit his Aunties much, he did enjoy seeing Jasper, a little Jack Russell terrier.
The visits were always the same, time after time, but one day, as Michael was coming out of school, he saw his mother waiting for him and knew something was wrong. She told him that his Auntie Snowdrop had passed away. At the funeral, his Auntie Pish told him there was a parcel from Auntie Snowdrop for him and she was post it to him right away.
When Michael was 13, five years after his Auntie's death, he was given Jasper to take care of when Auntie Pish couldn't do it anymore. Eventually she went into a nursing home and, about five years after the death of her sister, she gave Michael the parcel that was meant for him.
In the parcel was a framed photograph of Michael's father, which he set on his desk. But when Jasper jumped up on the desk, he knocked the photograph over and the glass broke. Annoyed, Michael picked it all up and discovered a pad of paper behind the picture. On it his Auntie had written "Who I Am, What I've Done and Who You Are" and it was dated 1950.
As Michael read her words, he discovered who his grandfather, his father, and his Auntie really were and how they were connected to each other. And what this all means to him. It was all a family secret that was never even shared with his mother. His grandfather had served in World War I, and had died saving the lives of other men on the battlefield, but even though he should have gotten a posthumous medal for his bravery, he was never awarded one.
Why did this happen? Well, Leroy Hamilton was a London orphan, intelligent, a great soccer player and a very congenial person. He was also black and when he volunteered for military service in World War I, black men did not get awarded medals...until his great great granddaughter decided to fix that wrong.
But where do Auntie Snowdrop and Michael's father Roy fit into all of this?
Using his familiar device of telling a story with a story, Michael Morpurgo has found another unusual story and turned it into a wonderful tale for kids. A Medal for Leroy is based on the true story of Lieutenant Walter Tull, the only black officer to serve in the British army in WWI, though it only contains aspect of Tull's life, it is not a recounting.
I was a little skeptical about this book before I started reading it because I didn't really care for the last Morpurgo book I read. But I was pleasantly surprised once I started reading. A Medal for Leroy is a gentle, poignant story that has some really interesting elements in it. It is about family, love and being true to yourself, and the emotional harm and unhappiness that family secrets can inflict on everyone involved. But is it also about triumph and hope and acceptance and I expect you may shed a tear or two before you finish.
This book will be available in the US on January 14, 2014
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an E-ARC received from Net Galley
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
This has been a hard sad year for my family because of the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, yet what better way to honor Daniel than to remember the things I am thankful for.
These are the top ten things I am thankful for:
1- My Kiddo - who makes my proud everyday!
2- My family - even if we don't always agree on some things, we know we are always there for each other.
3- My best friend - my theater pal and doing other fun stuff pal, and who is always there for me when I need to talk to someone.
4- A roof over my head and food in my kitchen - given the state of things in today's world, anyone who has these basic necessities is very fortunate.
5- My health - which, except for a little congenital heart glitch, is pretty good.
6-- My friends - good company, good book talks, good food, all shared.
7- My blogs - The Children's War and Randomly Reading, where I can talk about the books I have read and loved, and where I have met some really incredible people, and the best part is that they are all over the world and add so much more to my life just by being who and where they are.
8- Books and music - my two favorite things in life. I would be lost without them.
9- The library - where I can get all the books and music I want.
10- My devices - these delight the geek in me and also make carrying my two favorite things, books and music, compact, easy to carry around and available 23/7/365.
Oh, yes and
11- All the countless little things that go into making life good.
What are you thankful for?