After reading a review in the New York Times, I acquired some novels set in World War II, each book immersing readers into this period in history and the effect it had on families. Other titles listed below are centred on such topics as poverty, death loss and remembrance, mental health and activism. One book is a memoir by celebrated author Uri Shulevitz. And for fun… another ‘worst’ book from raucous David Walliams.
SET IN WORLD WAR II
RIP TO THE RESCUE by Miriam Halamy
This story is set during the London Blitz during World War II telling a story of search and rescue dog and a brave thirteen-year-old, Jack, was determined to to his part of the country by becoming a bike messenger for fire crews. The story celebrates the life of Rip, the rescue dog, who was able to sense people buried alive under rubble. and was responsible for saving the ives of more than a hundred people buried alive after bomb raids. The author has readers become part in the destruction of war under Nazi invasion as they learn about the turmoil and bravery of those who were fought to survive from day to day and cheer for dog and teenager who always puta forth a brave effort.
THE SUMMER WE FOUND THE BABY by Amy Heist
The setting is a beach in Long Island. Eleven-year-old Julie has found a baby on the steps of the library. Her six-year-old sister, joins in the adventure. Twelve-year old Bruno, who’s brother Ben has gone off to war, gets through each summer day partaking in normal routines, but strongly about his brother and war time. The book is told different voices with each chapter’s narrative told chronologically from Julia, Martha and Bruno’s point of voices. Although the discovery of the baby sets the story in action, the narrative seems to divert for much of the novel from the mystery of the baby’s abandonment. Not until the final episodes do we learn the truth, but in the meanwhile we enjoy the summer holiday, with the opening of a new children’s library, ice cream treats, a visit from a person of significance and letters sent during across the ocean. We also have a story about family and friends who carry-on while loved-ones have gone to fight for their country.
THE BRUSHMAKER’S DAUGHTER by Kathy Kacer
This is a Holocaust Remembrance Book for Young Readers inspired by a true story. Afraid being arrested and put in prioson,m Lillian and her Papa, who is blind are trying to escape from Nazi soldiers. When an opportunity arises for these two Jewish figures to work in Mr. Otto Weidt’s brush factory they are temporarily saved from Gestapo threats. Weidt sympathized with the plight of Jewish citizens and employed deaf and blind Jewish works to create brushes (brooms, toothbrushes, shoe polishers) which were used by the Nazis. Kacer has done her research (of course) by visiting the museum of Weidt’s factory in Berlin and uses her narrative talents to tell a gripping, emotional story.
WAR STORIES by Gordon Korman
Trevor is in awe of his grandfather an the part he played in WW II. Trevor, his father and his GG (Great grandfather, Jacob) embark on a trip to Europe so that Jacob can not only to retrace the steps and missions he encountered during the war but also to receive a medal of heroism from the French village he has said to have saved. The novel is told in alternating narratives, set in 2020 or 1944. Kudos to Gordon Korman for the in-depth research he undertook to put STORY into the hiSTORY of events that took place 75 years ago. The premise and details of this novel puts readers inside the turmoil of war. Mr. Korman, you are a great author.
ON THE HORIZON by Lois Lowry (poetry)
Drawn from the author’s early childhood memories and drawing on stories of real people at Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, the author paints vivid vignettes of World War II. Most poems (some rhymed) are only one page in length, each telling a story and getting to the heart of loss, heroism and connection. Kenard Pak’s black and white illustrations provide a portrait and a mirror to Lowry’s words. An exquisite book.
We played and giggled: Calm, serene.
And there behind us – slow, unseen -0
Arizona, a great gray tomb,
CHANCE: Escape from the Holocaust by Uri Shulevitz (memoir)
Uri Shulevitz is a celebrated author and illustrator ( How I Learned Geography, One Monday Morning, Dawn, 1969 Caldecott Medal Winner for The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship). His most recent publication, Chance, conveys harrrowing memories of a refugee childhood, when his family was forced to flee Poland and survive precariously in the Soviet Union. True personal testimonies of war time experiences often astound readers. How does a young boy struggle with the pains of extreme hunger? How does a family cope by living in compact quarters, escaping on a train without any legitimate tickets. lie to authorities in order to survive, find jobs that provide pittance wages to barely pay for food? Shulevitz’s stories told in short episodic chapters accompanied by stark, expressionist drawings and some photographs vividly make wartime survival events a reality challenging us to think about the human need to persevere and the life and death turn-of-events left to Chance. This extraordinary autobiography, is not only a book of survival, but it is a document of the author’s awakening as an artist, and a publication from a man, now in his 90’s, who has taken the opportunity to document and commemorate his family’s stories.
CANADIAN CHILDREN’S BOOK NEWS, Teaching the Holocaust, Fall 2020
The newest issue of Canadian Children’s Book News (Fall 2020, Vol 43. No. 30) pays tribute to the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Articles include a profile piece on Kathy Kacer, “The Emotional Impasct of Researching and Writing about the Holocaust” by Heather Camlot and and article I wrote entitled “Canadian Children’s Literature as a Stepping-Stone to Understanding the Holocaust”. This issue provides a rich overview of picture book, fiction and nonfiction titles that do Canada proud as a resource for Holocaust literature. Congrats to Shannon Barnes for a job well done as editor of this fine issue.
“Remember this. Every time you remember this history, and every time you talk about it, you are honouring someone who lived and possibly perished during that time. You are giving meaning to their lives. And that is a remarkable thing.”
~ Kathy Kacer in Teaching ToughTopics, 2020, p. 69
ISAIAH DUNN IS MY HERO by Kelly J. Baptist (poverty, mental health)
Ten-year-old Isaiah Dunn is living a sad life. After his father dies, his mother turns to the bottle to deal with her grief. When the family is forced to live in a motel, Isaiah is in despair. He is determined to make money so that his mother and younger sister can have a place to call home. Admiring his father’s talent for writing in notebooks, Isaiah tries to follow in his footsteps. Writing poetry is his Isaiah’s salvation. This is a strong story about living in poverty, dealing with loss and trying to rise above it all and a story of a young boy being a hero to family, friends, and to himself.
OUR CORNER STORE by Robert Hedibreder; illustrations by Chelsea O’Byrne (verse novel)
Do you remember the store on the corner where you used to buy milk and candy? Heidbreder’s book celebrates the store (whether on the corner or not) that is a part of, the heart of a community. Remembrances of Trick or Treating, cookie jars, piggy banks, a big store freeze, the store cat are illuminated through verse poems that tell of the the adventures of a brother and sister who look forwarded to frequent trips to Mr. And Mrs. Stanstone’s corner store. A book of poem stories to inspire our own stories.
SAUCY by Cynthia Kadohata; illustrated by Marianna Raskin
Eleven-year-old Becca is one of four quadruplets (she’s the only girl). Becca feels that she is the only one in the family who isn’t good at anything, until her family, out on a neighbourhood walk, discover a sickly piglet on the side of the road. Becca is determined to nurse the saucy pig back to care, but little pigs grow into big pigs and even though Saucy endears herself to the family, she does cause mischief, destroying the garden, the kitchen furniture and the living room curtains. Becca knows that one day she will have to turn over her pet pig to a nearby sanctuary. When she and her brothers discover a farm factory where pigs are treated terribly, Becca embarks on a mission to rescue other piglets. Becca has found a place of belonging and importance through pigs. A heartwarming illustrated novel about taking care of pets and pets taking care of us. Saucy sure is ‘some pig!’
BADGER AND SKUNK by Amy Timberlake; illus. Jon Klassen
Frog and Toad, The Wind in the Willows Gang and odd-couple ,Felix and Oscar ,can find descendants in Skunk and Badger two animals, each set in his own way, who end up as roommates in a brownstone home. Badger is a serious rock scientist and finds his life completely disrupted when Badger moves bringing with him a cascade, a whirlwind of chickens. An argument and a misunderstanding and skunk spray result in a separation which leaves both characters bereft, longing for companionship and compromise. I was looking forward to this book (the first volume in a series), but if truth be told was somewhat disappointed by the rhythm and what seemed to be choppy narrative. I continually thought of myself reading this book aloud in the classroom (perfect length) but thought student interest might wane as mine did, despite some amusing episodes. I also wondering about the appeal of the book for independent readers grades 3 – 5. I so admire stories with anthropomorphic characters (Abel’s Island, Pax, and The One and Only Ivan) but this book on first reading didn’t wow me as much as I had hoped. Illustrations by Jon Klassen were a lure for me buying the book, but they didn’t seem to illuminate the accompanying passages they were drawn from.
THE WORLD’s WORST PARENTS by David Walliams (short stories)
Walliams has written three books about the world’s worst children, another book about the world’s worst teacher and now he the world of naughty outrageous, embarrassing through madcap adventures that are naughty, outrageous and embarrassing. (peter Pong the dad with the stinkiest feet in the wold (be prepared to be grossed out); Harriet Hurry, the fastest bicycle rider ont ebokc, Monty Monopolize who gives his twin sons gifts (especially Bricko kits), only to take them away from them so he an play with them. The World’s Worst Parents is just like the previous books in the ‘worst’ series.. and that’s a good thing! Walliams and Tony Ross are a dynamic duo team delighting readers with gross and comical words and pictures. No wonder David Walliams books have sold more than 37 copies worldwide (as of this writing) and I for one look forward to adding a new Walliams title to my bookshelf.
BEFORE THE EVER AFTER by Jacqueline Woodson (physical and mental challenges)
Imagine a novel for middle years readers about Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) . Imagine a novel about this degenerative brain disease found in athletes and others who have suffered blows to head to be written in free verse format. Imagine that Jacqueline Woodson, author extraordinaire, choosing this subject of brain disease. ZJ’s dad is a football hero adored by millions of sports fans. When he witnesses his father’s mood swings, depression, aggression and memory loss he bravely carries on because of his strong friendships, because of the power of music and because of devotion to his parents Family love fills every poem in this novel. Huzzah to Ms Woodson for another gem of a compassionate, human story.
TELEPHONE TALES by Gianni Rodari; illus. Valerio Vidali (Short stories)
This collection of 70 imaginative stories has an interesting history. Gianni Rodari was a popular, Hans Christian Anderson award-winning author, with great fame in his homeland of Italy. Because of Communist Party ties, this masterpiece, first published in Italy in 1962, never got released, until now, in the English language in a translation by Antony Shuggar. As with any short story collection, some narratives may appeal to others but each is spun with adventure, a sense of whimsy and absurdity. I read each story chronologically (most are one or two pages). Vidali’s visual accompaniment for each story are thrilling in their vibrancy and graphic design power along with the cut-pages format that adds surprise to the book. This is a great classroom read aloud (grades 3+ and I highly recommend this title as a read aloud f Adult and child will surely find their favourites as wonder, curiosity and moral messages are bedtime stimulated. Some intriguing characters: Giovannino Vagabond the famous explorer who visited the land of men made out of butter, Tonino the invisible boy, Apollooni wo was able to make the finest jam imaginable from stinging nettles a barber who bought the city of Stockholm for the price of shampoo and a haircut. Which title will you read first?The Road of Chocolate, Elevator to the Stars, Educational Candy, Monkeys on Holiday, The Nose That Ran Away or The Planet of Truth. It was worth waiting 58 years for the release of this book. Have fun with “Favole all telefono”!
DON’T STAND SO CLOSE TO ME
by Eric Walters
now available in paperback
How can young people make sense of the COVID-19 epidemic? How will tomorrow’s readers understand what the world lived through in 2020. This book by Canada’s children’s literature hero Eric Walters, reads like a documentary because the. jumps off the pages of today’s news. Walters has his pulse both on world events and the minds and community of young people and with this title he has chosen to illuminate those world events through the minds of a group of grade eight friends. Don’t Stand So Close to Me, is to say the least, a timely read about a time when it was essential to stand alone, stand together. Available on line and in print from ORCA publishers.
THREE KEYS by Kelly Yang
This is a terrific novel. This is an important novel. Three Keys is a sequel to the award-winning book Front Desk which provides a fictional account of the author’s life as a Chinese immigrant and her family’s struggle to find a place of salvation and belonging, which they do in the Calivesta Motel which they have come to own. In this story, set in 1994 Mia and her family and friends are up against the proposed Proposition 187 Bill. intended to prohibit undocumented immigrants from using emergency health care, publication and other services in the State of California. The events certainly resonate with immigration issues and DACA of recent years, where the cry of “Go back to where you came from!” is hurtful, hateful and wrong. Yang writes: “My biggest hope in writing this book is that it will give people a better understanding of the circumstances facing undocumented immigrants so that we can enact a better policy. Not just hot-button propositions to win elections, but laws that embody the vision and core values of our country.” Along with Wishtree by Kathrine Applegate, Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj and other novels about the immigrant and refugee experience we are able to bring world issues and instil students to think about tolerance and acceptance