Monday, May 30, 2011

The Exeter Blitz by David Rees

May 3, 1942 starts out like any other day. Colin Lockwood, 14, is falling asleep in class and his despised history teacher, Mr. Kitchen, catches him, earning Colin an extra homework assignment that night – a four page essay entitled “Why I am a Fool.” Terry Wootton, an evacuee from London and no friend of Colin’s even though they share a desk, finds Colin’s predicament very amusing.

After school, Colin seems to get under foot with everyone. His mother is busy preparing for a wartime fashion show at Nimrods, the shop where she works; his older sister Mary, a nursing student, is in the living room with her soon to be drafted boy friend, Lars; younger sister June, 10, was having her tea with her best friend Pamela. Colin decides to go off to see his father at Exeter Cathedral, where he is a verger.

Returning home with his dad a little later, Colin’s bad day isn’t over yet. He is told he must help serve snacks and sherry at the fashion show, where, as it turns out, Mr. and Mrs. Kitchen are also in attendance. Despite this, Colin does very well until he is hit with a bad case of the giggles over the name of the show’s organizer, Mrs. Wimbleball. His mother tells him to leave, and he runs out of the store, remembers he left his jacket in the top of the south tower of the Cathedral, and decides to go and fetch it.

While walking up to the tower, Colin hears the first drone of planes, but continues upward thinking there is plenty of time between sirens sounding and the arrival of the planes. But not this time.

Up in the tower, Colin watches as the bombing of Exeter begins almost immediately. By the time the all clear sounds, a little over an hour later, Exeter is in shambles. On his way home, Colin runs into his enemy Terry Wootton and his mother outside their destroyed fish and chips shop/home. Mrs. Wootton goes to stay with her sister, while Colin and Terry go to the Lockwood house. Colin’s home has been destroyed, but his sister June and his father survived in their shelter – a reinforced cupboard under the stairs. His mother, he later learns, was trapped in an elevator in Nimrods with Mrs. Wimbleball and Mr. and Mrs. Kitchen. His sister Mary has managed to get to the hospital to help out.

June goes to stay with her friend Pamela and his father goes to check the damage to the cathedral. Colin leaves a note for his mom, climbs into the house to get some sleeping bags and food, and he and Terry go off to a field to sleep in the haystack.

The next day, when they return to Mrs. Wootton’s fish and chips store, they find all the thawed out fish and the potatoes, and set up shop amid the rubble, advertising it as:

“T. Wootton and C. Lockwood. Noted fryers of quality fish. Business as usual. Hot meals on sale. FREE.”

Realizing they have much in common and work so well together, Terry and Colin have by now gone from being mortal enemies to being fast friends. For Colin, the bombing of Exeter serves as the catalyst that helps Colin become a very different person than the boy he was when he woke up on the morning of May 3rd.

The purpose of The Exeter Blitz is not to present the attempt to destroy the cathedral, and what a terrible loss that would be, which it would have been had it happened. And though this is Colin’s coming of age story, Rees has also realistically presented each of the Lockwood’s thoughts, feelings and activities up to, during and after the bombing through the use of an omniscient narrator.. In this way, the readers is privy to the way each of them deals with the loss and damage that surrounds them on the morning of May 4th. It is inevitable that that level of destruction of personal and public property would have an effect on each individual. What makes The Exeter Blitz such a worthwhile novel to read is watching each person changing over the two days that the novel covers.

This focus on people rather than the event may be why Rees had no qualms about using anachronism in the timing of the blitz on Exeter, which he fully acknowledges in his Introduction. The bombing actually took place around 2 AM on May 4th. Had Rees written his novel using the correct time of the bombing, he would not have been about to present the kind of diversity of view points changing the time enabled. All the Lockwood family would have been sleeping in their beds and not interacting with the other residents of Exeter.

Exeter was part of the air attacks known as the Baedecker raids. Hitler, angered by the fire bombing of Lübeck, gave the order for all of the famous, meaningful historic building listed in the Baedecker Guide to Great Britain to be bombed out of existence in retaliation. These included Exeter, Bath, Norwich, and York. Canterbury was targeted in retaliation for the bombing of Cologne.

David Rees was awarded the 1978 Carnegie Award for The Exeter Blitz.

This book is recommended for readers aged 10-14 years old.
This book was purchased for my personal library.

For more information on the Exeter blitz, see Exeter Memories

A view of Exeter Cathedral
This is book 4 of my YA of the 80s and 90s Challenge hosted by The Book Vixen
This is book 7 of my British Books Challenge hosted by The Bookette
This is book 9 of my Forgotten Treasures Challenge hosted by Retroreduxs Reviews

Sunday, May 29, 2011

It's been an interesting BEA/BCC

Friday was the Book Blogger Convention, a nice way to end a bookish week. This proved to be an interesting day. I missed the breakfast and part of the opening remarks by Sara Wendell (Smart Bitches, Trashy Books)

After that, there were two sessions offered simultaneously – from 10:00 AM to Noon:
“Ask a Publisher or Publicist” and “Practical Challenges of Blogging.” I went to the Ask a Publisher/Publicist, which was very interesting. Some of the more important suggestions they had for bloggers were

1- Introduce yourself when you contact them. Tell them who you are and the kinds of books you write about on your blog

2- Be nice, but don’t be grabby. In other words, don’t ask for everything under the sun

3- After your review goes live, email the publicist who is your contact person with the link to the post.

We broke for lunch, which was a buffet style. There were large round tables so lots of mingling could and did happen. This was good, because people tend to be very social at a meal. There was a green salad, a nice tasty variety of sandwiches (for example, I had ½ roast beef with cheddar cheese and lettuce and ½ of Italian cold cuts with brie and lettuce) and chips.  Dessert was simply large chocolate chip and oatmeal raison cookies, and, naturally, there were plenty of drinks. There were also freebies – books and stuff.

In the afternoon, the first session was from 1:00 PM-3:00 PM and the choices were “Navigating the Grey Areas of Book Blogging” and “Author Speed Dating.”

I chose the first one, whose panel consisted of fellow bloggers. Some of their suggestions were

1- Use Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

2- Don’t ask for everything

3- Be honest, if a book isn’t good, so it isn’t good

4- It is ok to use galleys in giveaways, a question that seems to come up a lot on places like Book Blogs

From 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM, you could go to either “Blogging for a Niche Market” or “Technology for Blogging.” I went to the Niche session because you can’t get much more ‘Niche’ than my blog. This was also a panel of fellow bloggers and it was interesting to hear how each of the 10 panelists came to find their particular Niche.

Before I went to BEA/BCC, I read a few tips about what to do to have a successful week, so I would like to give a shout out and a big thank you to these people:

The Girl from the Ghetto who wrote the first list of tips I read;

Genevieve at Something Bookish, whom I met while waiting in line for book early one morning (I think it was Haven by Kristi Cook ;
and Candace at Beth Fish Reads not only for hosting my favorite weekend meme “Weekend Cooking” but who provided the single most important tip, which was “be polite, ask.” I never took anything without ask “May I have one?” It was like magic. Sometimes there person said sure, sometimes they even gave me more than I asked for and each time I ended it with a smile and a “thank you very much.”

So now I have a little stack of business cards in front of me and I will be visiting everyone at some point today. I am looking forward to seeing all the different blogs out there.

I also want to give a special thanks to all the authors who signed my books, to all the people I chatted with on long lines, all the new people I met at the Book Blogger Convention and to everyone from the Kidlitosphere that I finally got a chance to meet for making this a really terrific first BEA/BCC.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Very Bookish Week

This has been a very bookish week, and ironically, I haven't managed to get much reading done.

On Sunday, I had some work to do in the New York Public Library on 42nd Street and it happened to be one of the days they were celebrating the library's 100th anniversary.  Outside the library, there was a Lego sculpture of the famous library lions, Patience and Fortitude.  Who knew you could do that with Legos?  For that matter, who knew there were that many grey Legos to do this with, but here is the picture of both a Lego library lion and a real deal library lion:


On Tuesday, the BEA (BookExpoAmerica) opened its doors for us to peruse and sometimes receive the latest from publishers and authors.  Every author I spoke with was so open and friendly, it really made it a nice expereince.  I want to just sit and read all these new books right now, but I know I will get to each one soon and yet, where to start?

Lisa See, who wrote Shanghai Girls, was there reading from the sequel Dreams of Joy, which I am looking forward reading myself.  Father and son, Michael and Patrick McMenamin, are writing a thriller series together involving Winston Churchill that looks very enticing.  They gave me the first and second books, The DeValera Deception and The Parsifel Pursuit, which naturally involves a holy relic. 

I also can't wait to read the YA novel The Apothecary by Maile Meloy, who was so charming.  The novel The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg, which is about the Lodz ghetto, look like a fascinating book, as do In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, about an American family in Hitler's Germany, and Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy.

It also was so nice to meet so many bloggers whose blogs I have been reading for a while now, and meeting some new bloggers, whose blogs I will be visiting in a few days. 

Tomorrow is the Book Bloggers Convention and there are a few sessions on blogging I am anxious to attend.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Funnies #1: Graduation 1943

From: The Saturday Evening Post June 6, 1943

For an interesting article about the work of cartoonists and their efforts to keep up morale of people during the World War II, see Stripper's Guide  This is a reprint of an article from a journal called Editor and Publisher, originally published September 19, 1942.

NB Women's teaching colleges used to be called seminaries, e.g. Mount Holyoke College used to be called Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Slap Your Sides by M E Kerr

Quakers have always been pacifists and so whenever war comes, they have invoked their religious belief as conscientious objectors. Most people see this unwillingness to fight as cowardice rather than religious conviction. During World War II, conscientious objectors were quite ostracized, as they have been in all wars that they refuse to participate in.

Slap Your Sides is about what happens to a family when one of their sons, Bud, refuses to go to war when he is drafted because of his Quaker beliefs. The story is told from the point of view of thirteen year old Jubal Shoemaker, faced with the idea that the war could continue until he old enough to be drafted. Jubal goes through some real soul-searching before he decides he will follow in his brother’s footsteps. Middle brother Tommy isn’t nearly as interested in the war or his “conchie” brother as he is in “scoring” with girls.

The family must deal with harassment and snubbing by former friends and neighbors as well as constant graffiti on the windows of the family department store, and even vilification on a local radio program hosted by their neighbor, Radio Dan, who happens to have two sons service overseas.

Though he looks up to his brother and admires Bud’s resolve to follow his beliefs, Jubal also wants to be liked by the people around him. Daria, Radio Dan’s daughter, is forbidden to have anything to do with Jubal and his family, but a closeness begins to grow between them anyway. Daria loves to ride horses and Jubal invites her over to the farm where he works in the stable on the weekend to ride with him. Daria cannot understand Bud and Jubal’s pacifist position on war, but she slowly begins to change her opinions, or rather form her own, when letters from her start brother to arrive, questioning the wisdom of war. But it takes the death of one of her brothers for Daria to really see the pointlessness of war and to begin to understand Jubal’s position. At the same time, Jubal’s beliefs are called into play when he must make a snap decision about what he perceives to be an attack on Daria by a deranged, escaped conscientious objector.

Running parallel to Jubal’s story is that of Bud, though it is not presented directly, but through other devices, such as letters and phone calls. Bud is given the conscientious objector classification, 4-E, by the army and sent to Colorado to work as unpaid labor in a Civilian Public Service camp. There, he and his fellow COs are harassed, barred from entering stores, restaurants and movie theaters, their packages arrive empty and they threatened with bodily harm.

From Colorado, Bud is transferred to the Shenandoah State Asylum for the Insane. While there, he is seriously beaten up for of his “conchie” beliefs and one of the inmates, a very large Indian patient named Sky Hawk, is blamed. In reality, Bid and Sky Hawk had hitched a ride home from the movies and the men in the pickup that stopped had given Bud the beating, poured beer over Sky Hawk’s jacket and driven off. Though seriously injured, Bud slowly recovered. Afterwards, he participated in a starvation experiment. Men were intentionally starved to see how malnourished people could be re-nourished. All these things, and others, were considered to be legitimate forms of alternate service by the Army.

The consequences of one person’s decision to not fight are well illustrated in this novel. It is a decision that has a profound effect on the lives of everyone in the Shoemaker household. It is a part of the war we seldom see presented in novels. Kerr has done this very well in this novel, and ends Slap Your Sides with the same irony that is her trademark. After all, as Radio Dan reminds us, “Oh, listeners, the world’s filled with irony.” (pg 184)

Kerr has certainly done her homework on conscientious objectors during World War II.  Feelings ran high during the war and sometimes people dressed their worst behavior up in patriotism that then run amuck. Often during the war, as is the case here, patriotism was not much better than nationalism in terms of its treatment of people who were considered inferior, for example, conscientious objectors, African-Americans or Japanese-Americans. Another bit of irony Kerr brings out.

Slap Your Sides is an excellent book in many ways and I would highly recommend it. It opens up a lot of questions about how we define what is right and wrong that can lead to interesting discussions either in school or at home. It may be about war, but some of the issues tackled will always resonate with kids.

This book is recommended for readers 9-12.
This book was borrowed from the 67th Branch of the NYPL.

Slap Your Sides received the following well deserved honors
2002 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age Listee
2002 Oklahoma Library Association Young Adult Book Award Nominee
2002 Booklist One of ten best books about religion

A reading guide for Slap Your Sides is available at Harper Collins

More information about pacifists in World War II can be found at PBS The Good War and Those Who Refused to Fight
There is an interesting article in the Friends Journal about Quakers and conscientious objectors in World War II.
The National Peace Museum of Conscientious Objection and Anti-War Activism is online and has information on conscientious objection from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq War.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Cat with the Yellow Star: coming of age in Terezin by Susan Goldman Rubin with Ela Weissberger

Theresienstadt, or Terezin as it was commonly called, is probably best remembered as the ‘showcase’ camp among all the Nazi concentration camps. Part camp, part ghetto, conditions in Theresienstadt were appalling for the most part and it also served as a major deportation center. Deportations, Ela Weissberger writes in The Cat with the Yellow Star, were called “being sent to the East” and the inmates of Terezin thought that meant they were going east to work; they didn’t have any idea it meant being sent to a concentration camp like Auschwitz. But Terezin was also the promoted by the Nazis as a cultural center and many of the inmates were among some of the most well-known Jewish members of the arts throughout Europe in the 1930s.

The Cat with the Yellow Star is the true story of Ela Weissberger and her life before, during and after the part of her childhood that she spent in Terezin.

Ela and her family were living in the Sudetenland when the Nazis took control of this area of Czechoslovakia. The family decided to move to Prague, but not before her father, Max Stein, was arrested by the Nazis for speaking out against Hitler. Ela never saw him again.

Not long after arriving in Prague, Jewish children were prohibited from to attend school, all Jews were forced to wear a yellow star, and in 1941, deportations began. In 1942, Ela, age 11, and her family were sent to Terezin. For a while, Ela lived with her mother in a barrack, but her mother soon sent her to live in a barrack designed for girls only. There were 28 girls altogether and began to make Ela lots of friends. The caretaker in her barrack, Tella, was very strict about hygiene even under the terrible conditions of the camp, making sure the girls kept the barrack clean, the bedding was aired out everyday to fight the bedbugs and lice they were plagued with and having the girls wash daily even if the water was ice cold.

But Tella also taught them songs and made sure they did their schoolwork, both of which were forbidden and accomplished in secrecy. Also forbidden was any descriptions of the camp, whether in writing or drawing, but the well-known artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis was also in Terezin and brought the children art supplies to use under her supervision.

Also in Terezin was composer Hans Krása, who had written the children’s opera Brundibar as an anti-Nazi work. In 1943, he reworked it and it was announced that Brundibar was going to be performed. Ela was cast to play the part of a cat. The Nazi officers were very capricious about allowing cultural activities, but play was allowed to rehearse several times in the summer on 1943. Brundibar was preformed a number of times during 1943-1944. Sadly, as children were deported, their parts were taken over by other kids. Ela, however, was fortunate enough to have never been deported and therefore, never missed any of the 55 performances that were given and always played a cat.

Original performers in Terezin's production of Brundibar
In 1944, both the Danish Red Cross and the International Red Cross was allowed to visit Terezin. Of course, the camp was cleaned up and temporarily turned into a “model camp” for the visitors. Among the things the Red Cross visitors were shown was a performance of Brundibar. The Nazis managed to fool the visitors completely with their ruse.

Unfortunately, after this visit, deportations increased considerably and soon there were only three girls left in the barrack besides Ela. Then, in the early spring of 1945, hundreds of people suddenly began streaming into the camp. They were the survivors of the Death March from Auschwitz to Terezin. Among them was Ela’s old friend Helga. Helga told Ela about what life was like in an extermination camp and Ela finally understood what the meaning to “sent to the East” meant. On May 3, 1945, Terezin was liberated and turned over to the International Red Cross.

Ela Weissberger lived in Terezin for 3 ½ years, making many friends there. After the war, she lived in Israel and later, she moved to Brooklyn, NY. On a trip to Europe in the 1970s, she discovered her friend Helga living in Vienna. A reunion of the girls from Ela’s barrack was arranged and they discovered that altogether 15 of them had survived.

Brundiabar seemed to have been lost to history, until renewed interest in it began in 1987. Since then it has been preformed fairly frequently, and Ela has been able to attend performances many times. Ela also spends time speaking to school groups about her experiences in Terezin.

The Cat with the Yellow Star is an excellent book for young readers containing a wealth of information. There are photographs of Ela’s family, copies of the art work she produced in Terezin and some wonderful pictures of her with her friends after they founded each other again in the 1970s. This was an interesting first-hand account of life in a ghetto/concentration camp that was always different from the others. Theresienstadt stands as an example of how clever the Nazis were at deception and propaganda. It was a place that they used to deflect interest away from what they were doing in the other camps and yet, of the 10,632 children sent to Terezin, only 4,096 survived.

A very nice compliment to The Cat with the Yellow Star is the 2003 story of Brundibar retold by Tony Kushner (Angels in America) and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Unfortunately, the opera's composer Hans Krása was sent to Auschwitz and killed in October 1944 at the age of 45.

This book is recommended for readers age 9 to 12.
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL.

An interesting interview with Ela Weissbergermay be found at 

Holiday House offers an excellent Educators Guide for The Cat with the Yellow Star.

Non-fiction Monday is hosted this week bySimplyScience Blog

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Weekend Cooking #10: Victory through Carrots

Remember when you were a kid and your mom told you to eat your carrots because they are good for your eyes.

Well, it turns out that this is a myth and we have a fellow named John “Cat’s Eyes” Cunningham to thank for it. Cat’s Eyes was an RAF officer during the war and one of the best combat pilots. During his flying career, Cat’s Eyes destroyed 19 out of 20 enemy aircraft at night, and this apparently was a very good record. Well, the government didn’t want anyone to know that the real reason he was so good at what he did was because he was using some new called Airborne Interception or radar. So a story was devised by the British government that Cat’s Eyes really liked carrots and he, along with a select group of fellow pilots, has eaten large quantities of carrots for years to develop their good vision. Hence, the great Carrot Cover Up was born. They even went so far as to create a poster to this effect.

And it wasn’t it lucky that carrots were not rationed during the war, so this myth could be perpetuated on the youth of the world ad infinitum, both during and after the war. The truth is that while carrots are indeed healthy, they do not help your vision one bit. But they did play a large part in World War II recipes. For one thing, carrots could be used as a substitute for sugar, which was rationed, in many recipes. And then there is always the delicious looking carrot lollipop –

The New York Times offered many carrot recipes to wartime cooks, including the following which works very nicely with chicken, in case you don't fowl available.

I have actually tried it out, tempted by the curry used for it.

John Cunningham became a real folk hero to many people in Britain and it is easy to see how that could happen given was a rather good looking fellow.
To read more about John “Cat’s Eyes” Cunningham, who sadly passed away in 2002, be sure to visit Air Space

To see more about the important role of carrots in World War II, be sure to visit the World Carrot Museum where you can also find a very nice variety of carrot recipes.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post at Beth Fish Reads

Friday, May 13, 2011

Booking Through Thursday - Age Appropriate

Do you read books “meant” for other age groups? Adult books when you were a child; Young-Adult books now that you’re grown; Picture books just for kicks … You know … books not “meant” for you. Or do you pretty much stick to what’s written for people your age?

This is an interesting question. Recently, I have been mulling over the term Crossover. It seems that the more common usage for Crossover is for books that are written for young readers, but enjoyed by adults. Does the term work the other way around – books written for adults that appeal to young readers?

When I began 7th grade, I started to read adult books. The first one was Majorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk. I still love Herman Wouk and recently reread this novel. It was every bit as good as I remembered it.

From Marjorie, I went on to others and I never looked back to the books of childhood. That is, not until I started reading my daughter’s books. After that, I found myself engrossed in books by J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman and Avi, to name a few. Now I read a mix, in other words, I read what appeals to me regardless of who it was written for. Otherwise, I would have missed books like The Hunger Games or those wonderful fantasy novels of Diana Wynne Jone, but not the vampire novels that are so abundant now. Not a big fan of vampires, I’m afraid.

Confession time – at 12, I didn’t always understand everything I read in adult books. For example, I remember reciting a little poem I read in Leon Uris’ Battle Cry at the dinner table one night, something about a rifle and a gun, fighting and fun. My parents almost choked on their dinner, and suggested I forget that poem, and to please not repeat to anyone else. This makes me wonder, what kinds of books would be suitable as Crossovers? The adult book that has a young protagonist, like Emma Donoghue's novel The Room, with its 5 year old narrator? Or one narrated from an adult point of view, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but has an important child character, the narrator’s son. What about books that have no child characters? I saw a young girl reading the new Jodie Picoult novel Sing You Home on the subway one day, and she appeared totally engrossed in it. I actually had the temerity to ask her if she liked the book. She was very enthused about it. I also thought it was good.

So I asked myself the following: if my blog is about books set in World War II, what adult books would be appropriate for teen readers? Probably Neville Schute’s novel Pied Piper, about an older man who rescues some children from France during the Nazi invasion of that country, would appeal to teens. But what about Herman Wouk’s masterful Winds of War and War and Remembrance? (Not that I am biased about Herman or anything) Certainly, Connie Willis’s Blackout and All Clear have a great deal of appeal to teen readers and with good reason, they are excellent, but they are really adult novels.

I have pondered these things over and over in my mind. Now I ask you:

What do you think makes a good crossover book for teens?

Booking Through Thursday is a weekly blog hop

I apologize to the people who left comments before the Blogger snafu.  They were lost along with my original post.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ghostscape by Joe Layburn

Ghostscape is a small, time travel story about a young Muslim Somali girl named Aisha. She is a very unhappy, angry girl, who is now living in London with her mother after her father was murdered in Somalia’s civil war.

The story begins with Aisha crying in the girl’s bathroom because she has once again been bullied by a girl named Chevon. Hearing a cough, Aisha opens the door and there is a pale young boy standing there. She doesn’t recognize the boy and he isn’t dressed like anyone else at school, in fact, the bathroom isn’t even the same. And the boy is asking her if she is afraid of the bombs. Next thing Aisha knows, she back in the right girl’s room - alone.

Later, in the playground, she tells two friends about the experience. Chevon overhears her and threatens to tell Aisha’s mother that she has a boyfriend, knowing that goes against Aisha’s religion. The two girls get into fight and Aisha again finds herself in the presence of the mysterious boy, yelling at her that the sirens are going off and they are in danger.

This time, Aisha finds out the boy is named Richard and it is 1940 London, in the midst of the Blitz. They run through the streets to the shelter of a railway arch to wait out the bombing raid. Richard tells her that he lives with his grandfather, who refuses to go to a shelter during raids. When the air raid warden comes by, they discover he cannot see Aisha.

During a break in the bombing, Aisha goes with Richard to his grandfather’s house. They find his grandfather surveying the remains of their home, which has been destroyed by a bomb along with many other homes on the street. Everyone is taken to nearby Trentham School for shelter. This is also the name of Aisha’s school, but they don’t look a bit alike. They find a spot on the floor and settle in. Just before they fall asleep, Richard asks Aisha to tell him about Chevon.

When she wakes up, Aisha is in her own bed and her mother tells her she had fainted during her fight with Chevon. Aisha can’t wait to get to school that day to talk to the teacher who teaches World War II history. But instead of Miss Brown, Aisha finds Chevon in the classroom, ready to exact some justice. To Aisha’s delight, Richard also shows up and starts to invisibly torment Chevon. Richard manages to actually scare an apology out of Chevon, along with a promise to leave Aisha alone.

Later, Miss Brown tells Aisha to speak with the lollipop lady (crossing guard) about the local history of the area during the war, but she does find out that the Trentham School was bombed during a raid and had to be rebuilt.

By the end of the school day, Aisha has been suspended from school until the following Monday, resulting in yet another terrible fight with her mother. But suspension gives her time to go to the library and read about the bombing of the Trentham School. Aisha determines that she must find Richard and warn him.

But time travel can be capricious. Will she be able to find Richard again or lose the first person she has cared about since her father’s murder in Somalia? Will she ever come to terms with the loss of her father and begin to get along with her mother? The ending yields a bit of a surprise for Aisha.

Ghostscape is a good book. It is essentially about differences, similarities and acceptance. Despite the fact that both kids come from paranoid times when suspicion and mistrust of “the other” run high, and despite their individual differences, Richard and Aisha accept each other’s presence unquestioningly. Their differences become that which binds them together and gives the story its interesting twist. Richard and Aisha are reflections of each other, they have both experienced loss because of war; both are scared, and scarred; if Aisha can save Richard, she can save herself.

Though I do highly recommend this book, I did have one problem with Ghostscape. Layburn is certainly not without talent as a writer, but I think because the issues he addresses in this book are serious and it should have been a longer, more finely drawn story. For example, one of the things he does address is the issue of bullying, particularly how distressing it can be and how easily it can be missed by those who should be more aware of what goes on among students. Instead I felt that he have found a true life incident and that was his focus, not the characters and the issues.

The true story upon which Ghostscape is based has been the subject of disagreement between the British government and the people of the East End of London since it happened. After a night of heavy bombing, hundreds of people made homeless were moved into the shelter of the South Hallsville School, in Canning Town in the East End. On September 10, 1940, the school was hit by a bomb. The government claimed that it killed 73 people, but the area residents believed it was more like 400, mostly women and children.

An interesting article about the author, Joe Layburn, and the genesis of the book can be found at Ghost of a Chance

This book is recommended for readers ages 9-12.
This book was purchased for my personal library.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Weekend Cooking #9: Welsh Cakes (or as we called them as kids Welsh Cookies) also being an homage to my Mom Gracie

Recently, as I was reading Barbara Mitchelhill’s excellent World War II novel Run Rabbit Run, I came to page 157 and read the following sentence:

“My mouth watered at the thought of food – especially when I saw the table, which was covered with plates of ham and tongue and pickles and cheese and Welsh cakes.”

Well, my Id read that sentence too and immediately said “I want Welsh Cakes – now.”

We grew up eating these not very attractive, but very delectable treats.

It seems that when my mother was a head over heels in love newlywed, my father wrote to some relatives in South Wales and asked for the recipe. It was sent and mom promptly went to work whipping up a batch for dad. They were a big success, just like he used to have back in Wales, and so mom continued to make them on a fairly regular basis.

After my dad passed away, we didn’t have them for a long time. Then one Christmas, my mother couldn’t think of what to get me as a gift. She called me up lamenting about it, and my Id butted in and said “Say, mom, why make me a nice batch of Welsh cookies.” (We had Americanized the name by then)

So every Christmas and birthday, for years I received a batch of Welsh cookies as my gift and it was the best. But then, mom also passed away. And I didn’t realized how long it had been since I had a homemade Welsh cookie, except I had some I had bought in Cardiff a few times. But even that was a while ago.

So I told my Id, after we read the above mentioned passage, all is not lost. My ego had the good sense to get the recipe from mom long ago, and, as you can see, it was while she was still in nursing. Turns out, I had two recipes: one she wrote leaving out the raisins, one I wrote and it seems that poor recipe recording runs in the family:

I looked around on the internet for a recipe that is a little more explanatory and came across a blog called The Old Foodie 
This recipe is as close to mom’s as I have seen. So with all due respect and credit, I am repeating her recipe here, but do visit her blog as it s is a fabulous source for all kinds of foodie things.

Welsh Cakes
½ lb. self-raising flour
¼ lb. pure lard
¼ lb. sugar
2 oz sultanas or currants or raisins
1 egg
1 heaped teaspoonful nutmeg
1 heaped teaspoonful salt

Crumble the lard into the flour by hand; add sugar, sultanas, nutmeg, and salt. Mix in the beaten egg – adding a little milk if necessary – till just right to roll out to about a bare quarter of an inch thick. Cut into rounds about 2 ½ inches in diameter - a glass works nicely.

In the meantime the griddle should have been heating, and when you think it is ready, rub it over with larded paper. Try it for temperature with a scrap of dough and regulate the heat so that the dough browns evenly without burning in about seven to ten minutes, then place as many of the Welsh Cakes on it as possible. Turn over when all are evenly brown (about ten minutes) and cook the other side the same.

So I have done the unthinkable today and bought a block of lard and tomorrow I am going to try my hand at making Welsh Cakes a/k/a Welsh Cookies for the very first time.

I hope everyone has a very Happy Mother’s Day.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post at Beth Fish Reads

Photo of Welsh Cakes from A Slice of Wales: A Collection of Tales to Tickle Your Taste Buds

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Shadow Children by Steven Schnur, illustrated by Herbert Tauss

Ever since the end of World War II, 11 year old Etienne has spent his summers on his grandfather’s farm in Mont Brulant, France. Etienne can’t wait to get there this summer, dreaming of all the things he loves on the train trip, but when his grandfather, Monsieur Hoirie, picks him up at the train station, things feel different somehow. The usual summer magic and beauty are gone.

Riding in his grandfather’s horse-drawn wagon out to the farm, they pass a group of raggedy children. Probably refugees, Etienne thinks. He was used to seeing orphaned refugee children wandering and begging after the war. So Etienne is surprised when his grandfather doesn’t stop and give them something, as he always had done. But he is even more surprised when his grandfather says he hadn’t even seen the children.

The refugee children are forgotten as Etienne settles into farm life with his grandfather. And it is nice when Madame Jaboter, the butcher’s wife, comes by to help with some of the housework, as she did every Thursday since Etienne’s grandmother had passed away.

Later, he decides to go for a ride on the old farm horse, Reveuse. Eventually they come to what looks like an abandoned road, over which trees have grown, giving it a tunnel-like feeling. The air, he notices, is ice cold, despite the hot summer day. Etienne thinks he hears crying down the road, but when he tries to get Reveuse to ride forward, the horse appears to be frightened, refuses move and even throws him off his back. His grandfather brushes the incident off later, telling Etienne the road is an old railroad spur, and that he and the horse were probably just sleepy and imagining the crying.

Yet, when Etienne tells Madame Jaboter about it the next week, she becomes quite agitated and makes him promise never to go there again. The woods are haunted, she explains, with the souls of thousands of lost children, but she refuses to explain more, simply saying it is something no one likes to speak about.

Etienne can’t stop himself from returning to the abandoned road and one day he finds an infant’s gold bracelet. This is puzzling since no children live in Mont Brulant. It is a town of only old people now. The children who once lived there, like Etienne’s mother, left as soon as they could.

But another day out there, he hears chanting and when he explores, he meets a young man and several children, who asks him if there is any news. When Etienne tells them who he is, the young man says that Monsieur Hoirie has helped many, they owe him much.

Even more puzzled now, Etienne tells Madame Jaboter about the encounter, that the young man was named Isaac and he seemed to be teaching the children out of a large book. Besides farming, Monsieur Hoirie also restores old books. In his workshop is a long row of beautiful restored books, still waiting for the owner to come and pick them up. When Madame Jaboter points to these books, Etienne realizes they are the same as he saw in the woods.

But as he learns more about the children in the woods from Madame Jaboter, his grandfather becomes more and more agitated, and irritated at the woman for filling Etienne’s head with her superstitions.

The children, he snaps, are just the bad dreams of guilty consciences, “War is terrible, especially for children. They always suffer the most.” During the war, thousands of children were sent to Mont Brulant for safety, he explains. The town tried to help, but there were so many of them.” (pg 45) Still not satisfied with this explanation, Etienne continues to visit the abandoned road, where he starts to find all kinds of evidence of the children’s existence there.

One night, both Etienne and Reveuse both hear a train whistle in the distance. They ride out to the abandoned road, but this time the horse seems to have a mind of her own, throwing Etienne again when he tries to return to the farm. On the ground, he finds a fountain pen in good order, with blue ink. He tests it on his arm and a blue line appears that look very much like numbers. But when he gets home, the pen is old and rusted, and there is no ink in it.

Things reach a climax when they are taking Madame Jaboter home on the next Thursday. She and Monsieur Hoirie are napping as they go along the road, so well known by Reveuse. Suddenly Etienne sees a girl leading a large group of children. When the wagon comes to a stop, he jumps out and runs after the children, who are running away, but they disappear. When the wagon finally reaches town, Madame Jaboter sees the blue ink on Etienne’s arm and tells his grandfather it is a sign.

Finally, back at home, Etienne’s grandfather tells him about the children. Who are these children? What truths was the town hiding? And does it explain why there are no children in Mont Brulant?

The Shadow Children will cause more than a few hairs on the back of your neck to stand on end. It is a well crafted ghost story that keeps you in suspense even as Etienne finds more and more clues about the children in the woods. I don’t know if this may have been based on a true story, and there is no mention indication about it. There were, of course, many Jewish children who hid in the woods from the Nazis all over Europe. Some were lucky and taken in by people, others either perished in the woods or were caught by the Nazis.

The illustrations by Herbert Tauss are as haunting as the story, adding to the sense of suspense throughout the story. Most appear to be charcoal, some with a watercolor wash to them.

The Shadow Children is a short novel that forces one to think about is what they would have done under the same circumstances that the French residents of Mont Brulant found themselves in, making it an excellent choice to incorporate into a classroom discussion on the Holocaust. I highly recommend it.

This book was a 1994 Sydney Taylor Book award.
This book is recommended for reader age 9-12.
This book was purchased for my personal library.

This novel was read as part of the Holocaust Remembrance Week event hosted by The Introverted Reader

Thursday, May 5, 2011

75 Years of Children’s Book Week Posters: celebrating great illustrators of American children’s books, introduction and text by Leonard S. Marcus, sponsored by the Children’s Book Council

Books, especially for young readers, have always been considered to be a weapon during wars because of the influence they can have on the reader. This was as true for the Allied Powers as much as it was for the Axis Powers during World War II. Despite paper shortages everywhere, a good number of children’s books were still written and published between 1939 and 1945.

Children’s Book Week, sponsored by the Children’s Book Council, has been celebrating books and reading and encouraging youthful readers since 1919. Each year the Council commissions a poster by a well-known illustrator of children’s books for the purpose of commemorating this week.

75 Years of Children’s Book Week Posters contains the first 69 posters for Children’s Book Week. This is a book well worth close examination if you are a reader who really appreciates the work of each illustrator in the books you read. According to the publisher’s description of the book, these posters are not only first rate illustrations, but the also reflect the history, social climate and wider concerns of the country at the time each was created.

This made me think of one of my favorite quotes about children’s books by A.S.W. Rosenbach, who was a famous rare book seller and collector of children’s book. In 1933, in the introduction to his own book Early American Children’s Books, Rosenbach wrote:

“…more than any other class of literature, [children’s books] reflect the minds of the generation that produced them. Hence no better guide to the history and development of any country can be found than its juvenile literature.” (pg xxvii)

I think about this quote each time I read a kidlit book.

Since this is Children’s Book Week at the Children’s Book Council, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the posters that were created for it during World War II.

To see this year's poster by Peter Brown, visit Children's Book Week at Book Week Online

If you are ever in the Philadelphis ares, be sure to visit the kid friendly Rosenbach Museum and Library or visit online at

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jacob the Liar by Jurek Becker, translated by Leila Vennewitz

First, forget everything you may remember about the movie Jacob the Liar with Robin Williams. That movie is totally NOT representative of this excellent novel.

Read the book instead.

Jacob the Liar takes place in the Łódź Ghetto in 1944. Returning home from work one night, Jacob Heym is caught in the spotlight of a guard who tells Jacob he is out past the 8 o’clock curfew and to report to the military office for a “well deserved” punishment. As he walks the corridor of the military building, not knowing where to go, he overhears a radio. Radios are forbidden Jews in the ghetto, but Jacob can’t resist stopping to listen to the newscast. And what he hears gives him hope – the Red Army is 300 miles away at a town called Bezanika and pushing closer.

Jacobs is in luck that night and he is simply told to go home, the guard was having him on and it is not yet 8 o’clock. But what to do with the good news he has overheard? While loading crates with his partner Mischa the next day, Jacob tells him the news. Mischa is skeptical, so Jacob embellishes his news with a lie – he tells him he heard it on a forbidden secret radio he owns and implores Mischa not to tell anyone else.

And of course Mischa does exactly that. He tells his girlfriend Rosa Frankfurter and her family. It turns out that her father actually does have a hidden radio, which he promptly destroys out of fear. But Jacob’s lie soon spreads throughout the ghetto and it is not long before his best friend, Kowalski, comes to him to ask if the news is true. Jacob tells his yes, but now that people believe that he has a radio, he is forced to continue to make up more and more lies about the Russian advance. His lies, of course, give hope to the otherwise despairing Jews in the ghetto and soon even the suicide rate begins to fall.

Jacob has also been hiding an 8 year old girl named Lina. Lina’s parents had been deported to Auschwitz two years earlier when her father accidentally went to work one day wearing a jacket that didn’t have a yellow star on it. Lina was found by Jacob, who took her home and cared for her. She is bedridden with whooping cough and is being taken care of by the doctor, Kirschbaum. Dr. Kirschbaum never believes that Jacob has a radio, but he does keep it to himself.

Soon Jacob’s lies begin to have dark consequences. Among them is the death of Herschel Schramm. One day a boxcar full of people from the ghetto is just about to leave for a concentration camp. Herschel, thinking to give the people inside hope, goes over to tell them about the closeness of the Russian Army when he is shot to death by a Nazi sentry.

As it becomes more difficult to make up lies, Jacob devises a plan to steal some newspaper from the Nazi latrine in the hope of finding out some more real news. Despite the risks, he manages to get into the latrine, but than is interrupted by a Nazi. Believing Jacob is in the forbidden latrine for its intended purpose and noticing the Nazi, his friend Kowalski creates a disturbance which distracts the Nazi. Jacob is able to escape safely but only with a few bits of useless newspaper.

It is beginning to become clear to Jacob that the lying can’t be kept up much longer. But he is torn because of the renewed hope it has given the people. Finally he decides to confide in Kowalski, who reassures him over and over that it is ok, he understands what Jacob has done. Yet not long afterward, Kowalski hangs himself.

Was Jacob wrong to tell the initial lie or is it better to give even false hope to help people try to survive something as horrific as the Holocaust? 

Jacob’s purpose is clear to himself: “hope must not be allowed to fade away, otherwise they (the Jews in the Ghetto) won’t survive.” (pg 60) But the narrator skirts around the question of the morality of Jacob’s actions all through the novel and it is never clear how s/he truly feels about what Jacob has done. It is left to the reader to decide for themselves whether or not Jacob acted morally or dishonestly.
The narrator is clearly a survivor of the Holocaust who knows much of what happened but who is never identified.  And yet the narrator describes the events of the story in an almost detached manner, as though s/he is simply an observer but with a certain amount of omniscience unually found in third person not first person narrators.  S/he tells the reader in conversational tones about life in the ghetto in all its everydayness, with humor, pathos, understanding, irony. There are never any really graphic descriptions of Nazi atrocities in Jacob the Liar; yet the narrator manages to successfully make the feelings hopelessness and vulnerability together with the physical cruelty in all its randomness that the Jews are subjected to by the Nazis very apparent to the reader.

Jurek Becker based Jacob the Liar on a true story that he and his father had heard about another Jew who was in the Łódź Ghetto who had lied about having a radio. Becker himself was born in Poland in 1937 and spent his childhood living first in the Łódź Ghetto, and later in Ravensbrück, and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camps.

This is one of the less well known, but in my opinion, one of the better books in the whole Holocaust oeuvre that I have read. I originally read it years ago in German (called Jakob der Lügner) and so I know that the English translation is true to the initial novel.

For true film buffs, there is a 1974 East German version of Jacob the Liar with subtitles that is much better than the later Robin William’s version and can often be found in libraries, or rented from places like Netflix. I like Robin Williams but I think he made Jacob look like a buffoon, and that isn’t correct. An actor of the caliber of Eli Wallace would have been a better choice.

Jacob the Liar is a book that would appeal to more mature teen readers.
This book was bought for my personal library.

This novel was read as part of the Holocaust Remembrance Week event hosted by The Introverted Reader

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Children We Remember by Chana Byers Abells

This week is Holocaust Remembrance Week, a time for remembering the victims of the Holocaust, and especially the 1.5 million children who perished. There are many good books about the Holocaust for young readers and today I have chosen The Children We Remember by Chana Byers Abells.

Using photographs from the archives of Yad Vashem and an absolute minimum amount of text, Ms. Abells has created a picture book based on photographs arranged chronologically as a way of creating a story about what happened to Europe's children before, during and after the Holocaust.

She begins even before the Nazis came to power, showing photos of Jewish children engaged in daily activities similar to what any child would be doing, and not very different from what children still do everyday – learning in school, praying in synagogue, playing with friends.

When the Nazis come to power, the photos take a turn, showing how life had changed for Jewish children – now they are dressed in clothing bearing a yellow star, their schools are closing, and their synagogues are being burned, they are no longer allowed to play.

This is followed by photos of the roundups of families, life in the ghetto, then separation from family and death for many. At the end, there is a small photo gallery of children who did not survive, followed by photos of children who did manage to either escape or simply survive their untenable circumstances.

It is a simple but powerful book that still manages to end on a note of hope.

In a New York Times article, Ms. Abells described how the book took its form while she was working in the archives of Yad Vasherm:

“She found herself setting some pictures of children aside. ‘I laid them out one night after work. It was almost as if the pictures told me a story, which I put together in the hope, I think, that someone would want to use the material. Then, I guess, I looked at the pictures and began to write little titles that described the pictures. I wanted the words to reflect the pictures, not the other way around.’”  (September 8, 1986)
The photographs chosen for this book are not so terribly graphic that they would frighten children, in fact, that was intentionally avoided. Each photo is of a different child, yet they as well as the reader are tied together by the text.  The book makes clear the very real and very scary implication being that without out vigilance, the Holocaust could happen again – to anyone but that might not be apparent to younger readers.  In a classroom, it is an excellent way to begin a discussion of present day instances of genocide.

The Children We Remember is an excellent choice for parents or teachers to begin to broach the topic of the Holocaust to young children. There is an outstanding lesson plan by Ruth Markind utilizing both Abell’s The Children We Remember and David Adler’s One Yellow Daffodil: a Hanukkah Story which may be found at Holocaust Education Lesson Plan Template

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Hereos’ Remembrance Authority located in Jerusalem, Israel, has a wealth of Holocaust information and material available online for parents and teachers.

This book is recommended for readers 8 and up.
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL.

This book was read a part of the Holocaust Remembrance Week event hosted by The Introverted Reader 

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted this week by Jean Little Library