MG – Soul Lanterns

Kuzki, Shaw. Soul Lanterns. Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-593-17434-0. 162 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Each August, Nozomi and her family release lanterns on the river to guide the souls of lost loved ones. The year she turns twelve, an unsettling encounter with a stranger at the ceremony makes Nozomi wonder about her mother’s past, and about the stories of other adults who lived through the Hiroshima bombing of 1945.  Nozomi likes art, and for an upcoming art showcase, she and three school friends ask relatives and community members to relate heartbreaking stories from “the flash” that they lived through before the children were born. This school project prompts the friends to create moving works of art to remember those that were lost. Ultimately, their works of art help the children to better understand the significance of the lantern ceremony. As Nozomi’s art teacher says at the end of the book, releasing the lanterns helps those in the community not only remember lost loved ones from the tragedy of the bomb, but also “remember the question of why such an awful thing happened.”

THOUGHTS: This story is told from the fascinating perspective of Hiroshima children who do not fully grasp the significance of the Hiroshima bombing because it occurred before they were born, and considerable character growth occurs when they find out through stories and family members what really happened on that terrible day. Many cultural references and Japanese words throughout the book make for a rich reading experience. Although there are descriptions of death and suffering which sensitive students may find disturbing, the author does an excellent job of describing the tragedy of the Hiroshima bomb with sensitivity and respect. This book will inspire readers to look more deeply into the history and ethics of nuclear warfare. Translated from Japanese.

Historical Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem./MG – Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars

Wallmark, Laurie. Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars. Illustrated by Brooke Smart. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-419-73963-7 $18.99 Grades 3-6. 

“A cryptoanalyst is a person who analyzes and reads secret communications without the knowledge of the system used.” Elizebeth Smith Friedman, born in 1982 in Indiana, became a relied-upon, yet secret, cryptography expert who helped the U.S. government to intercept coded messages during two world wars, and helped to identify and send thirty-three German spies to prison in “the greatest spy roundup in American history.” She never spoke of her work, classified as “Top Secret Ultra,” and most was not known until declassified in 2015. Wallmark, with Smart’s well-matched illustrations, follows Friedman’s story from childhood, to education to first job, to marriage, to secret work. Friedman was repeatedly requested for the most difficult code-breaking, and often testified in criminal cases, demonstrating her code-breaking when needed. In one case, she decoded two years of backlogged messages in her first three months of work. Friedman created the first code-breaking unit for the OSS–Office of Strategic Services, now known as the CIA–Central Intelligence Agency. In at least one major case, another person earned the honor for her work. But Friedman’s work helped the U.S. in two world wars and can be well-recognized today.

THOUGHTS: This book is an excellent addition to World War II units and will inspire readers to learn more about code-making and code-breaking.

Biography          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Gottesfeld, Jeff. Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-5362-0148-2 32 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5. 

Sentinel guards keep vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, protecting soldiers that made the ultimate sacrifice. Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a picture book written by Jeff Gottesfeld and illustrated by Matt Tavares, perfectly captures and honors the soldiers that honor the fallen. This moving and inspiring book teaches the reader the history and significance of the memorial and how the “Unknowns” have come to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Gottesfeld and Tavares explain through enriched vocabulary and powerful illustrations that the privilege and most challenging post to earn in the army is to stand, with absolute precision in every type of weather, at every moment of the day, since July 2, 1937, when the tomb became protected by American Soldiers. This moving and informative picture book honors the past, present, and future members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

THOUGHTS: This inspirational and beautiful picture book targets grades 2-5, ages 7-10, and would make an excellent mentor text for upper elementary or even middle grades. Not only is Twenty-One Steps a moving tribute but an informative text that would fit well with a WWII or Memorial Day unit. Emotional. Beautiful. Very well done.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

YA – The Auschwitz Photographer: The Forgotten Story of the WWII Prisoner Who Documented Thousands of Lost Souls

Crippa, Luca, & Maurizio Onnis. The Auschwitz Photographer: The Forgotten Story of the WWII Prisoner Who Documented Thousands of Lost Souls. Penguin Random House, 2021. $16.99. 978-1-728-24220-0. Grades 7-12.

Based on an obscure obituary and an interview in a BBC documentary filmed in 2009, the authors of  The Auschwitz Photographer: The Forgotten Story of the WWII Prisoner Who Documented Thousands of Lost Souls develop a story of life in Auschwitz Concentration Camp focusing on the young, talented photographer, Wilhelm Brasse. A political prisoner for five years in Auschwitz, Brasse clings to his mother’s Polish heritage rather than his father’s Austrian one and refuses to join the Wehrmacht. After a year or so of crematorium duty, Brasse and several other political prisoners are selected to man the Identification Services. Twenty-three year old Brasse stands out as a leader and the tactful liaison between the photography studio and the Nazi commandants. Slowly and meticulously, the book chronicles his photography sessions starting with the incoming Jewish prisoners, political prisoners, and those marked “A” for anti-social behavior. He treats his subjects humanely, knowing he can do nothing to deter their inevitable deaths. Eventually, the SS enlist Basse in particular to photograph the unethical medical practices of Mengele, Clauberg,and Wirths, whose experiments on twins, tattoos, reproductive organs, eyes epitomized man’s humanity to man. Through the dense narrative, the reader learns of the fear, deprivation, and shame prisoners felt, but also their courage and sacrifice (Brasse recounts viewing the now Saint Maximillan Kolbe, a Fransciscan friar offering his life in place of a distraught prisoner). The Identification Service also becomes an agency for officers to have their portraits preserved for loved ones. Brasse coaxes his subjects to show a softer, other side by recalling childhoods in pastoral settings and dignifies the request of a beautiful female SS auxiliary officer to be photographed partially nude. In the latter years of his imprisonment, Brasse smuggled some photographs to the Resistance. When the coming of the Russians marks the impending doom of Auschwitz, Brasse defies the commandant’s orders to burn the photos in favor of a younger assistant’s suggestion to scatter thousands of photos and negatives around the office before jamming shut the building’s doors. His hope was to preserve them for whomever may find them when the war ended. Brasse survives the war, but the memories of the horror he documented are burned indelibly in his soul. Endnotes contain epilogue of major players in the narration, Readers’ Guide, and some photos of prisoners and the camp. All persons in the book are Caucasian.

THOUGHTS: Categorize this book with World War II, Holocaust materials because the reader learns little of Brasse’s past or future to classify it as a biography. The authors focus on Wilhelm Brasse’s activities as a political prisoner at Auschwitz, but in doing so, reveal a different view of camp life, the treatment of the SS and kapos toward Jewish prisoners, and a glimpse into the personalities of Nazi officers. The descriptions of the brutal medical experiments are graphic though not prolonged, but may be too much for sensitive middle school students. The text is very detailed and may find optimum use as a resource for research of that time period.

940.531 Holocaust           Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
920 Biographical

Elem. – Nicky and Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued

Sis, Peter. Nicky and Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued. Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01574-1. $19.95. Grades 3-6. 

Peter Sis was visiting his native country (Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic) when he chanced upon a memorial for Englishman Nicholas Winton, credited with saving the lives of 669 Jewish children by establishing passage for them out of Nazi-occupied Prague to foster families in England.  Sis was stunned that he had never heard of Winton’s efforts, and he learned more of the history through Winton and one of the children he saved, Vera Gissing. Winton was moved to act when he skipped a ski trip to meet a friend in Prague in 1938; there he saw the suffering of many and the slowness of the systems offering any hope of freedom. He opened a makeshift office in his hotel room and quickly received overwhelming requests from parents to get their children out of the country. He returned to England to raise funds, advertise for foster families, and procure necessary forms. He found much support, but still found it necessary to forge forms and bribe officers when he returned to Prague. In total, he arranged for 9 trains to carry children out. The first eight trains carried 669 children to new families in England. The ninth train, scheduled to leave on September 1, 1939, was thwarted by the Nazi invasion of Poland. It is believed that just two of the 250 ‘Winton’s children’ meant to be on that train survived.  Winton never told his story until the 1980s when his wife chanced upon a box of the children’s information in their attic.  She arranged a meeting between Winton and some survivors, many of whom learned of his name and efforts for the first time. Sis rightly calls Winton a hero, as do the children whose lives he saved. Vera’s story is told in the out-of-print Pearls of Childhood, while a documentary “Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good” was made about Winton.

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful, cleverly illustrated story of remembrance interweaving Vera’s life with Winton’s efforts and highlighting the stalwart love and care of so many across the world.  Though K-3 is the indicated grade level, this feels well-suited for upper elementary children as well.

Biography          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – War and Millie McGonigle

Cushman, Karen. War and Millie McGonigle. Alfred A. Knopf, 2021. 210 p. 978-1-984-85010-2. $16.99.  Grades 4-6.

Mollie McGonigle is a twelve year old girl who lives with her family in San Diego. It is the autumn of 1941 and with war raging in Europe, Millie worries that the conflict will come to California. The young girl is grieving for her grandmother, who died on Millie’s birthday. Her grandmother’s gift was a diary, and she suggested that Millie “use [it] to remember the good things in this world…things that seem lost or dead-keep them alive and safe in your book.” Millie interprets this to mean that she should keep a list of dead things and explores the beach and neighborhood to find or hear about something to write down. When not looking after her younger asthmatic sister and energetic brother or doing chores, Millie finds time to be with her friend Rosie from Chicago, who is temporarily living with relatives. Then, Pearl Harbor is attacked, and Millie becomes even more alarmed about a possible invasion, as do others in the town. With Rosie’s help, Millie comes to terms with her anxiety about the world and the loss of her grandmother, realizing that “whatever is lost stays alive when we remember it.”

THOUGHTS: This novel explores the effects of grief and anxiety about a world turned upside down. The story is not all doom and gloom, as Cushman has included some comic relief in characters like Aunt Edna and MeToo. Millie is a likeable character and readers who enjoy books about sensitive issues and friendship will like this one.

Historical Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

YA – Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis

Gaddy, K.R. Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis. Dutton, 2020. 978-0-525-55541-4. 301 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

This engaging non-fiction title introduces readers to the Edelweiss Pirates, groups of nonconformist German youth. The Pirates rejected the demands of the Nazis to join Hitler Youth organizations. Instead, they held secret gatherings where they enjoyed activities such as camping, hiking, and singing. They also adopted a distinct style of dress that often included badges or buttons featuring an edelweiss flower motif. Gaddy incorporates many first hand accounts and experiences of Edelweiss Pirates within the text to help bring their stories to life for the reader. When war broke out, the teen members of the Pirates grew daring in their defiance of the Nazis. They painted anti-Nazi graffiti around their towns and distributed anti-Nazi flyers. Some members even carried out sabotage and planned attacks against the Nazis. These actions carried a high risk. Many Edelweiss Pirates found themselves arrested and beaten by the Gestapo, imprisoned, or worse. The text is supplemented by numerous photos and excerpts from official documents. An extensive bibliography is also included.

THOUGHTS: This fascinating exploration of these little known anti-Nazi resistance groups is sure to hold appeal for students. A worthwhile addition to secondary World War II collections, it could also be incorporated into discussions or displays about historical youth activism.

940.53 World War II            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – The Lady with the Books

Stinson, Kathy. The Lady with the Books. Kids Can Press, 2020. $17.99. 32 p.  978-1-525-30154-4. Grades 2-5. 

Annelise and her younger brother Peter wander aimlessly through the streets of post-World War Munich. Feeling hungry and dejected, Annelise wonders why people are attempting to clean up the rubble. Outside of a building they join a queue hoping there will be something to eat. Grey, somber streets give the reader a realistic sense of the destruction Germany was facing after the war, but a lovely green tree just outside the building is a beacon of hope. Once inside, the pair is greeted by a room filled with books. Forgetting their woes for an afternoon, the children become completely absorbed. The illustrations skillfully capture a bustling archive brimming with colorful books from around the world. The children return the next day, just in time to listen as the “lady with the books” reads aloud from The Story of Ferdinand complete with translation from English to German. This story is especially comforting to Peter and Annelise, whose father was killed during the war for “standing up to” orders. Although the children cannot borrow books from the exhibit, they are encouraged to read as many books as possible. Whimsical characters and blooming flowers creep into the pages and eventually follow the children home. Annelise is able to find hope among the destruction and vows to join the rebuilding efforts. Graphite pencil and digitally colored illustrations beautifully enhance Annelise’s mood transformation from hopelessness to regaining a childlike sense of wonder. Annelise, Peter and Mama are white with blonde hair while the story lady has the same complexion with short dark hair. Some diversity in skin and hair types is shown among the book exhibition crowds. Backmatter informs the reader that the children in this story stumbled upon an international collection of books at the Haus der Kunst art museum as curated by Jella Lepman. A Jewish refugee who returned home after the war, Lepman managed to create a traveling collection of books that had been previously banned from Germany, including The Story of Ferdinand which she translated and printed by the thousands to distribute among children. Later, she was able to raise enough money to create the International Youth Library, also known as the “Book Castle” and contributed to the formation of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).

THOUGHTS: This picture book provides a nice mix of fantasy and historical fiction for elementary readers to get a glimpse of the impact Jella Lepman and her international book collections made on children recovering from the trauma of war.

813 Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

MG – Tangled History

Tangled History. Capstone Press, 2016-2020 (2020 Titles Listed). $24.54 ea. $588.96 set of 24. Grades 3-6.

Otfinoski, Steven. The Battle of Iwo Jima: Turning the Tide of War in the Pacific. 978-1-54357-258-2.
Burgan, Michael. The Battle of the Bulge: Nazi Germany’s Final Attack on the Western Front. 978-1-54357-259-9.
—. Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Atomic Bomings that Shook the World. 978-1-54357-256-8.
Otfinoski, Steven. Japanese American Internment: Prisoners in Their Own Land. 978-1-54357-257-5.

Part of the Tangled History series, Japanese American Internment uses the lives of a dozen individuals who were impacted to tell the story of of the Japanese American internment which took place after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and continued until March 1946, when the last of the detainees were released from Tule Lake internment camp in California. Harvey Itano was not present to receive the Gold Medal for Outstanding Student award at his graduation ceremony from the University of California, Berkeley because he and his family were sent to an internment camp. Isamu Noguchi was a well-known sculptor when he volunteered to go to Poston, Arizona and teach art to internees. Mine Okubo and her brother were to be separated when they arrived at the Tanforan Assembly Center in California, but Okubo insisted they be kept together. Their quarters were horse stables, and they were given bags of ticking to fill with straw for mattresses. These are just a few of the stories told about this shameful time in American history. Through their experiences, students will learn what internment meant to Japanese Americans, from the day of the Pearl Harbor bombing until the final detainees were released.

THOUGHTS:  Middle School students likely have little idea about this time in America’s past, and the stories of individuals and the included photos will help illuminate what that experience was like for those involved.  It is certainly a timely addition to a collection.

940.53  World War II          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

MG – Fighting Forces of World War II (Series NF)

Miles, John C. Fighting Forces of World War II. Capstone Press, 2020. $21.54 ea. $85.16 set of 4. 32p. Grades 5-8.

Fighting Torces of World War II at Sea. 978-1-543-57481-4.
Fighting Forces of World War II in the Air. 978-1-543-57482-1.
Fighting Forces of World War II on Land. 978-1-543-57483-8.
Fighting Forces of World War II on the Home Front. 978-1-543-57484-5.

 

Fighting Forces explores the military forces of both allied and axis powers. With several primary sources and informative captions, history lovers will enjoy learning about specific units that fought during World War II. In every book, each unit is featured in chronological order with specific dates the units were formed, the strength, and the areas the units were active including Europe, the Pacific, Mediterranean, and the Eastern Front. Included is a Timeline and “Read More” section with credible books and websites.

THOUGHTS: Perfect for students who already have knowledge about World War II and for those wanting to learn about how both sides of the war contributed at sea, in the air, on land, and on the home front. Well organized and full of in-depth information, this is an excellent addition to a library that already has a full World War II collection and history buffs are begging for more.

940.54 World War II     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD