May 26, 2018

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9 New Perspectives on WWII | SLJ Spotlight

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The Second World War continues to be an evergreen topic across curriculum and age groups. This recent crop of books offers a fresh perspective on the theme, whether it’s a novel in verse by Margarita Engle or Nathan Hale’s latest graphic nonfiction title.

Donahue, Marilyn Cram. When the Crickets Stopped Singing. 288p. Calkins Creek. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781629797236.

Gr 4-6 –Twelve-year-old Angie anticipates another routine yet carefree summer in her small California town. But it’s 1939 and Hitler’s rise to power in Europe, coupled with the return to town of Jefferson Clement, a seemingly popular WWI hero, soon have Angie asking a disturbing question: How can adults witness evil and not do anything about it? As Angie and her friends look for an answer, they uncover lurid secrets to which locals have turned a blind eye. Their search leads to a tragic confrontation that forces Angie to decide between truth, lies, and justice. Donahue creates a memorable pair of antagonists in glib Jefferson and affable ne’er-do-well Willie Jack: both are war heroes, but the townspeople judge them very differently. Jefferson and Willie Jack’s role in the novel’s climax and its aftermath further underscores a recurring theme of the dangers of false appearances. A leisurely pace, careful language, and a nostalgic tone blunt the novel’s grave topic of child molestation, making it appropriate for younger readers or classroom discussion. An afterword challenges readers to put themselves in Angie’s place and consider if they would make the same choices. Some comparisons Donahue poses to readers may tend toward the simplistic but align with the novel’s gentle handling of a serious topic. VERDICT A thoughtful historical fiction and coming-of-age story; purchase for larger collections.–Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

redstarEngle, Margarita. Jazz Owls. 192p. S. & S./Atheneum. May 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534409439.

Gr 7 Up –Set during the Zoot Suit riots, this novel in verse tells a fictional account of a dark time in American history. Marisela and Lorena are jazz owls who work all day and dance all night. They also dance during the day as they twist and turn trying to navigate their place in Los Angeles during World War II. They face racism at home for their Latino heritage despite having family members serving overseas. Marisela falls in love with a musician, while Lorena dreams about saving enough money to go to school. Zoot suits—loose suits perfect for dancing to jazz and rumba music that has heavy Afro-Latino influences—are frowned upon. Tensions rise as newspapers print headlines that invoke fear. Sailors start pouring into the streets as they round up young Latino men, beat them, and burn their suits. This becomes a nightmare that repeats too many times, and while the forces that be ultimately end it, the Latino and African American communities are still raw from their physical and emotional abuses. The novel focuses on Marisela and Lorena with occasional verses from her parents, brother, and friends. Engle’s approach to a topic that may seem hard for teens to grasp is successful as readers will be cheering for the jazz owls to be able to not only dance, but to overcome racism. VERDICT A quick read perfect for history buffs, dance enthusiasts, poets, and just about anyone looking for a great story. Recommended.–Katie Llera, Bound Brook High School, NJ

Favreau, Marc. Crash: The Fall and Rise of America in the 1930s. 240p. bibliog. chron. glossary. index. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Little, Brown. Apr. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316545860.

Gr 7 Up –In this engaging and comprehensive look at the Great Depression, the text is divided into four sections addressing the crash of the economy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, setbacks to progress, and the eventual end of the Depression. Moving beyond the typical analysis of the time period, Favreau carefully crafts an enjoyable narrative that vibrantly depicts individual experiences, including little-known stories within the context of national trends. Not only is it enjoyable to read, it is also a powerful research source. Each chapter is rife with primary sources, such as telegrams, photographs, posters, song lyrics, speech transcripts, and more. (Besides the extensive primary source section, there is other comprehensive back matter.) While President Herbert Hoover often bears the blame for the Federal government’s initial response to the financial crisis, the author provides a very balanced portrayal of his presidency. This same balance, however, does not extend as much to Roosevelt. There is a section on societal setbacks, but there is no opposing perspective provided in response to Roosevelt’s expansion of executive power, his constitutional challenges, or his attempt to pack the courts. Still, this impressive resource would be valuable, when used in tandem with other resources, for students conducting research. VERDICT An insightful addition to libraries and recommended even for those with a robust collection on the topic.–Paige Rowse, Needham High School, MA

Hale, Nathan. Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Raid of No Return. illus. by Nathan Hale. 128p. bibliog. maps. Abrams/Amulet. Nov. 2017. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781419725562.

Gr 3-7 –Presented in the author’s instantly recognizable artistic and storytelling style, this new series installment centers on the Doolittle air raid over Japan during World War II. The book starts with a brief explanation of events pre–Pearl Harbor (and an even briefer, information-packed history of Japanese military history); soon after, the action begins with a literal bang. Hale describes the bombing of Pearl Harbor from Japanese and American points of view. In response, the U.S. military set up a supersecret counterattack organized by stunt pilot Jimmy Doolittle. Pilots and crew manning 16 planes trained to bomb targets over Japan. Their fate after the attack is harrowing and no detail is left out. While small, the panels are readable, and the graphic novel’s small size makes it portable. Though works of history might not fly off the shelves, Hale’s tendency to incorporate character commentary, infographics, and fun facts will draw readers. VERDICT Purchase for all libraries, and give this title to readers interested in action-packed graphic novels, especially patrons aging out of the “Magic Treehouse” books.–Morgan Brickey, Arlington Public Library, TX

Kacer, Kathy. The Sound of Freedom. 256p. bibliog. Annick. Mar. 2018. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781554519705.

Gr 4-7 –It’s 1935 in Krakow, Poland, and Anna Hirsch’s young life is on the brink of immense change. Lately, she has been noticing more and more unkindness and downright cruelty in Krakow towards Jewish citizenry like her own family. Anna witnesses the violent beating of the local butcher and Anna and her father are almost attacked at his music school. Anna sees only one way out. If her father is accepted in Bronislaw Huberman’s new orchestra that will be based in Palestine, it would ensure safe passage for the Hirsch family out of Poland. Kacer’s novel examines a little-known historical event preceding the Holocaust. Huberman was a real musician who founded the Palestine Philharmonic (as it was then known). Kacer, whose own parents were survivors of the Holocaust, writes a fictional account of a family saved by Huberman. The story is somber from the beginning as the author does not shy away from showing violence and hatred. But amidst a backdrop of despair, Anna and her family have hope, and their love for each other is a beacon of light. Kacer includes an author’s note and a short bibliography encouraging more learning about Huberman. VERDICT A fine historical fiction addition to all library shelves.–Sarah Wethern, Douglas County Library, Alexandria, MN

Pearson, P. O’Connell. Fly Girls: The Daring American Women Pilots Who Helped Win WWII. 208p. bibliog. index. maps. notes. photos. S. & S. Feb. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781534404106.

Gr 6-8 –From 1941 until 1944, more than 1,000 women, many of them already highly experienced aviators, took to the air as part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots. Though quite small in number compared to other airborne units, the WASPs undertook many vital yet dangerous missions with the utmost skill and often very little recognition. From ferrying newly manufactured aircraft to awaiting military bases, assisting in target and searchlight trainings, towing supply gliders behind enemy lines, and acting as flight instructors and air taxis, these remarkable women risked their lives as civilians time and again in service of their country. But despite their bravery and perseverance in the face of danger, harassment, sexism, and discrimination, they would be denied military status, honors, and benefits for another 35 years. Pearson excels at clarifying this complicated war for young readers in a style that is riveting, informative, and never watered down. While bridging world events to American life in the 1940s, she tells the WASPs’ story with dignity, offering a touching, moving tribute to their extremely risky, behind-the-scenes tasks that proved vital to the war effort and an Allied victory. The author also provides a fascinating look at what sadly remained a forgotten history for far too long, creating an inspirational example for young readers to follow their paths despite the obstacles. VERDICT A fine purchase that provides a more balanced and empowered perspective of U.S. history.–Rebecca Gueorguiev, New York Public Library

redstarStamper, Vesper. What the Night Sings. illus. by Vesper Stamper. 272p. Knopf. Feb. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781524700386.

Gr 7 Up –Fifteen-year-old Gerta Rausch did not know she was Jewish until the day she was picked up by the Nazis and taken to a concentration camp. She lived in Germany with her musician father and was sheltered from the reality outside her home, spending all of her time training in viola and opera. Gerta’s father reveals the truth as they are crammed into a train car. Gerta struggles to accept this news; she knows nothing of Jewish traditions and her only experience with her religion is tied up with hatred, abuse, and slaughter. Being allowed to play in orchestras keeps her alive in both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Although the narrative describes life before liberation, much of it focuses on the postwar experience: life in concentration camps–turned–“displaced persons camps,” lingering hostility toward Jews, as well as the grueling journey many Jews made from Europe to Palestine. The illustration style and muted color palette work beautifully with the text, managing to communicate both despair and hope. The narrative is spare but powerful as it depicts the daily horrors of the camps and the struggle to survive, hold on to humanity and, once freed, understand how to live again. ­VERDICT This powerful story is an excellent choice for any library.—Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, Oakland

Voices from the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today. 320p. glossary. index. photos. reprods. Candlewick. Mar. 2018. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780763694920.

Gr 5-8 –This collection of memoirs of World War II survivors was first published in England by First News, an award-winning children’s newspaper, and the Silver Line, a helpline dedicated to serving older adults. Present-day children were asked to interview elderly family members and friends who had served in the military or had been children during the war. Most of the stories, told in first person, are recollections of what the individuals experienced as children. Some interviewees describe their lives as young adults or as members of the military. At least eight different nationalities are featured, including English, French, German, Italian, and Japanese. Among those profiled are the navigator of the Enola Gay, authors Shirley Hughes and Judith Kerr, and an atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima. Many of the pieces are accompanied by a photo of the biographee and the interviewer or early and current photos of the subject. Full-page vintage black-and-white photos are paired with the introduction of each chapter. (The artwork on the colorful cover is reminiscent of 1940s war posters.) ­VERDICT This title will help readers understand that war affects real-life people, including children. A solid choice for collections that serve middle school students.–­Eldon Younce, Anthony Public Library, KS

Yolen, Jane. Mapping the Bones. 432p. Philomel. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399257780.

Gr 6 Up –“To die was easy, to live was harder.” Thus begins the story of Chaim and Gittel, Jewish twin siblings living during the time of the Nazi regime. Almost-mute Chaim and his sister struggle through everyday life during World War II. The decisions they make each day, even those that are minute, will affect their chances of survival. “We have chosen the more difficult path, that of life, now we must walk it.” The siblings rely on each other and their uncanny ability to understand the other’s thoughts through their own sign language. The relationship will engross readers as they are drawn to the unimaginable circumstances with which the children are faced. Readers may find some of the content depressing and emotional though necessary to maintain the authenticity of the time and setting in which the story takes place. Fans of Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic will be engrossed in this story until the last page. Those who appreciate historical fiction, specifically works set during World War II, will find this an important addition. VERDICT History teachers and librarians alike will want to add this selection to their World War II–era collections.–Megan Honeycutt, University of West Georgia

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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