Tag Archives: World War II

Katipo Joe Spycraft – Brian Falkner

Standard

My review of this absolutely fabulous read is now live on Kids Book Review – don’t miss out, especially all of you with those blasé teens who need a good reading rev-up!! I loved this book and now I need to find time to read the earlier ones!

The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan – Felice Arena

Standard

Penguin Australia

29 March 2022

ISBN: 9781761044366

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $16.99

In a completely genius move, Felice Arena has combined his love of football (the AFL kind) and his skill with bringing lesser-known history to life. Set in Melbourne in the later years of WWII, this is the story of Maggie Flanagan who loves the game of football, and her team St Kilda, with all the passion of the most diehard fan. It is also the story of everyday life in Australia with the threat of war and invasion hanging like a pall, the constant worry about the menfolk away fighting, the rise of feminism and the history of women’s football.

Maggie practises her footy skills every day, using the precious football entrusted to her by her older brother, Patrick, who is away over the other side of the world, fighting for King and country. Football for girls is not only considered inappropriate – “unladylike” – but, indeed, risible by many people, mostly but not only males. So, when the new local priest suggests the children of Maggie’s school come up with some fund-raising ideas to support the troops, and Maggie proposes a girls’ football match, the shock and ridicule from many quarters soon squashes the idea.

If nothing else, Maggie is one determined young woman, and with Blessed Mary listening to her prayers, she knows she can succeed in this enterprise, despite the apparent obstacles. Over the course of just a couple of weeks, Maggie seems to uncover potential players for her match in the most surprising of places: the new ‘ice-woman’ delivering for the household ice-chests now that her husband has enlisted, or similarly the ‘milk-lady’, the usherette from the cinema, school nurse Nancy, Lizzie who lives with Miss Kelly of the corner shop, and even Sister Clare. Some of these have actually played football before, much to Maggie’s surprise. She also makes discoveries about her elderly neighbour, Grumpy Gaffney, and new girl, Elena, that not only give her much pause for thought but show her different ways of thinking.

Felice cleverly weaves into this snapshot of a significant time in our history, many of the prevailing attitudes and customs of the time – thankfully, most of them long gone the way of dinosaurs – as his narrative reveals how diverse people such as Maggie’s effeminate best friend, George, and Italian Elena were generally treated. The arrival of the ‘Yanks’ in Australia was divisive at the time and this too, is reflected in older sister Rita’s deviation from her steady boyfriend, seemingly dazzled by a tall good-looking American. Overall, there is much here that will provide some interesting discussions and comparisons for your young readers.

Like all of Felice’s stories, above all it is a cracking good yarn, with a plot that moves along at a brisk pace with a keen desire to find out what happens next. This, aside from anything else, will make this a fabulous tempter for your reluctant readers, particularly those who love their footy – whether boys or girls – and along the way they will absorb some valuable insights into a period of history that had great impact on the growth of our nation and our society.

Highly recommended for your readers from around Year 5 up to Year 7 – it will definitely be going up on my current Specky Magee anniversary display and will be part of my book talking with my kiddos over the coming weeks. Just in time for footy season – it’s a winner all round!

[Pre-orders available from the usual suppliers]

The Little Wartime Library – Kate Thompson

Standard

Hachette

FEB 22, 2022 | 9781529395402 | RRP $32.99

Subtitled: A gripping, heart-wrenching page-turner based on real events…

So in essence, I should have known…I rarely request an adult title to review (and generally speaking, that’s a memoir/bio)… but the ‘library’ bit got me in. Really, I should have seen that, even though it’s based on real events, the sub-title was a give-away that it is more chick lit than historical fiction. And this is sad, because I think it could have been a fabulous historical fiction and still engaged readers of lighter fiction.

I picked it up this week after ploughing through a number of middle fiction titles, and gave it the last four nights of my attention but, for me, it became harder going each night. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with it if you are after a light entertainment/escapist read – and who doesn’t in these weird and trying times? – but I was expecting more of the historical and less of the popular fiction tropes. There are some fascinating facts woven in but there is far more emphasis on the personal life of the characters, all of whom I found quite predictable and almost trite.

Young war widow Clara runs the Bethnal Green underground library, assisted by Ruby – cue bad girl with a heart of a gold. Clara becomes involved with conscientious objector but decorated ambulance officer, Billy and Ruby is being pursued by Eddie, the Yank with the penchant for buying up stacks of books. The ‘residents’ of the underground are amiably East Ender enough to be entertaining and Clara’s boss, the pole-up-his-bum misogynist, Pinkerton-Smythe plus the matriarchs, her own mother plus her mother-in-law are nasty enough villains of the piece. Ruby’s life is blighted by the abusive step-father who seems set upon killing her mum with his drunken rages. There are the inevitable tragedies e.g. death of a child and also an elderly regular patron separately via Hitler’s buzz bombs and other historical events such as the crush of people trapped in the underground stairs. There are children who are parent-less, there are children who are deprived, there are families with nine kids and an old man constantly drunk – it’s all very resonant of the social strata of the district in that time period. Clara faces much opposition for her part in empowering women in matters such as birth control and, in that sense, it takes a lot from Call the Midwife plots.

The final forty pages where the author describes her interaction with veterans of this period, collating eye-witness accounts and researching the actual history of the two men who ran the library is the best part of the book (why not write about them?) along with the quotes from librarians that head up each chapter.

I don’t want to put you off – even though it sounds that way – because really if you want an enjoyable Eastenders type read, you will love it. I, for whatever reason, was expecting a more meaty and true account of a fascinating and little-known aspect of the war years and so, remain disappointed.

Jacqueline: a soldier’s daugher – Pierre-Jacques Ober/Jules Ober

Standard

Ford St Publishing

October 2021

ISBN: 9781925804911

RRP: $34.99

In a completely remarkable new format comes this exquisite narrative from a remarkable couple of creators who have turned the art of miniatures into something that will enchant, intrigue and inspire young readers.

Jacqueline is an only child and has always dreamed of having a sister. Little does she know she will find one in the most unexpected and, arguably, difficult circumstances ever. When the Second World War breaks out, Jacqueline’s life is turned topsy-turvy. Her father goes away to the front, she and her mother are sent away to the country. France had become a dangerous and troubled country for its people. The times are dark but there are moments of light. When Papa comes home with a puppy for Jacqueline, she is overjoyed but it is not long after that the Germans invade and poor little Chiffon is shot. Papa is imprisoned and Maman and Jacqueline bravely ride to the town where he is locked up and plan an escape. After making it to the French Free Zone, Papa announces that he is going to join the French African Army, so the whole family travel to Algiers where life is strange and confusing, and for Jacqueline quite lonely as she does not fit in. Then the Allied troops arrive and Jacqueline realises that the long war is finally coming to an end. Two years later Jacqueline is back in a bombed, and defeated Germany and her family move into a requisitioned house along with its German owners. Jacqueline and Hildegard, the daughter of the family, are very antagonistic at first but over time the two girls discover they actually have much in common and their life-long friendship is forged. 75 years later their friendship still holds true.

This is a remarkable story made all the more striking because of the highly creative format in which it is told – modelled miniatures, photography and artistic – it is both highly poignant and evocative. It is exactly the type of picture book that demands to be shared with audiences of all ages and there is no doubt in my mind that as a springboard into studies of history this is a front runner of real distinction.

I would strongly recommend adding it to any collection either primary or secondary and will certainly be drawing attention to it with both my students and my Humanities staff.

The Valley of Lost Secrets – Lesley Parr

Standard

Bloomsbury Australia

February 2021

ISBN:9781526620521
Imprint:Bloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $14.99

Omg, I can’t tell you how much I loved this read during the week!! It completely reminds me of two much-loved favourites, Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden and Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian (both of which I own and have re-read many times), but with its whole new take on the situation of evacuee children in WWII.

Jimmy and his little brother have been evacuated from London to a Welsh valley – traditional, coal-mining families and either open welcomes or suspicion of ‘foreigners’. Mr and Mrs Thomas are warm and caring, and little Ronnie is quickly comfortable with both, but Jimmy is both distrustful and resentful. He’s already lost his mum, who took off leaving the brothers with their dad and grandmother, and he’s certainly not ready to treat this temporary stay as ‘home’. The entire London contingent seem different here. Jimmy’s best friend, now lodged with the local minister’s family, has turned into a nasty bully like the Reverend’s son and Florence, uncared for and abused at home, blossoms into a true friend.

Jimmy is to realise that even a temporary family can be a solace but first there are difficulties to overcome and these are complicated when the boy discovers a human skull hidden in the hollow of an old tree. Enough to scare even an adult, this find has Jimmy scrambling for someone to trust and sometimes an ally can be found in the most unlikely quarter. The secrets of the valley are gradually revealed as Jimmy and his little tribe work together to solve a decades old mystery, and bring much needed comfort to a long-held grief.

We do know, of course, that not all the evacuated children had happy experiences and we cannot begin to comprehend how overwhelming or unnerving the whole exercise would have been even for those who did. In those times, many city children had never had any experience of wide open spaces, nature and the reality of rural living – some didn’t even know that milk came from cows!

Young readers, particularly those who are fond of such stories set in wartime, will find much to love about this narrative. The strong themes of family, friendship and bravery are very inspirational and will give many children finding our current circumstances difficult some insight in dealing with similar events.

Highly recommended for your readers from around ten years upwards.

The Enigma Game – Elizabeth Wein

Standard

Allen & Unwin

August 2020

ISBN: 9781526601650

Imprint:Bloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $14.99

Elizabeth Wein continues her stellar historical novel series with another look at a fascinating aspect of World War II, this time weaving a wonderful tale around the famous Enigma code.

This exciting story revolves around three very diverse main characters: Louisa, orphan of a mixed marriage (English and Jamaican) who is habitually judged unfairly due to her race and culture, despite the fact that she has raised in a very ‘English’ manner; also subject to prejudice is Ellen McEwan, a Traveller, who is working as a driver for the RAF at the nearby airfield and Jamie Beaufort-Stuart, young pilot in the locally stationed squadron.

Louisa’s loss of both her parents in rapid succession means she needs to find work – not easy for a girl of colour – but is hired by the owner of a pub in Windyedge, Scotland, to be carer for an elderly aunt, herself a colourful and feisty character of German descent. It is in the small village, most notable for the airfield close by, that Louisa encounters Jamie and Ellen, who have known each other for years.

All three are desperate to fight back against the enemy and when the trio find themselves in possession of the mysterious Enigma code machine by means of an even more mysterious German flier, they use the machine to the advantage of Jamie’s squadron to inflict as much damage as possible on the relentless German assault by air.

It’s a deadly and dangerous course for the young people but they are all made of stern stuff and are determined to wreak havoc on the despised Germans.

The interaction between all the characters, both primary and secondary, is fascinating and eminently engaging and for young readers this is a superb way to ‘learn history’ that might otherwise be quite dull while also reflecting on attitudes and intolerances, sadly still all too prevalent today.

This was a gripping read which I thoroughly enjoyed and I truly warmed to these young characters, each so very different yet united in their unwavering determination and strength of character.

I highly recommend it for young readers from around upper primary onwards and would be certainly advocating it for a ‘read around your topic’ program.

The Last Paper Crane – Kerry Drewery

Standard

Allen & Unwin

July 2020

ISBN: 9781471408472

Publisher: Bonnier

Imprint: Hotkey

RRP $16.99

Much has been written in the past 75 years about the horrific devastation that was the bombing of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki). It is an event the pain and suffering of which still resonates in modern times and with hindsight, even some of those whose militaristic justifications argued for the necessity of this dreadful action have modified their thoughts. Arguably, in light of recent global events the examination of tragedies such as this are even more imperative.

While this is a fictional account there can be no denying the essential truth of the emotions, repercussions and conflicting attitudes that surround not only the act itself but the consequences. Part free verse and part prose it is hauntingly poignant, beautiful and sombre but offers hope for victims to make peace with their own past.

Japanese teenager, Mizuki, knows that her much-loved grandfather is troubled – not only by his fading faculties and strength but by a much deeper grief than she can possibly fathom. It takes some persuasion but eventually Mizuki is able to hear the full account of Ichiro’s terrible memories of the day the bomb fell on his city and the even more terrible events that came after.

On the day of the bombing Ichiro was with his friend Hiro and when their whole life and surrounds explode without warning their one shared thought is to find their family members but particularly Hiro’s little sister Keiko. The reader shares in Ichiro’s struggle and distress as he loses first Hiro and then has to ‘abandon’ Keiko because he is unable to go any further without help. All his life his guilt at this unavoidable desertion has eaten away at his conscience and so Mizuki determines to help him find out Keiko’s fate in the hope that it may help him eventually heal before his time runs out.

The bravery of the young Hiro and his deeply felt guilt is a harrowing story but the other side of the tragedy – the support of a Japanese-American nurse with the rescue troops as well as the many people who guarded the paper cranes that Ichiro folded and left as talismans and guideposts for little Keiko is uplifting.

Students of history may find plenty of factual accounts of this heinous military act but those who wish to go deeper and find a greater and more compassionate understanding of the full consequences of the bomb will benefit immensely from this sensitive and powerful narrative.

Highly recommended for readers from around upper primary upwards and for aany school that encourages ‘read around your topic’ this is a must-have.

Red Day – Sandy Fussell

Standard

 

1569817219332

Walker Books Australia

March 2020

ISBN: 9781760651886
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

It seems very apt to be reviewing Sandy Fussell’s latest book today as we commemorate ANZAC Day albeit in a very different way to the usual events.

This is a very powerful story which blends contemporary life in small town Australia with the past and at the same time explores the sometimes fragile and complicated relationships with family and other people.

Charlie (Charlotte) has synaethesia so for her everything has colour and sometimes emotions: days of the week, people, numbers and even inanimate objects. When Kenichi, a Japanese exchange student, arrives to stay with Charlie and her mother for a week, Charlie is not at all pleased at the prospect. But his arrival also sparks a strange sequences of experiences in which her synaethesia is magnified to an almost frightening extent. She begins to feel nausea and pain, has flashes of the past and hears unfamiliar voices – some of which Kenichi can also detect. As the two begin a tentative partnership to investigate the cause of this distress, a slice of history begins to reveal itself and connects with their present. The Cowra Prisoner-of-War break-out remains a significant event in Australia’s history and while essentially tragic forged a lasting and important testament to forgiveness, peace and hope for the future.

For both the solution of the mystery provides a healing for their families and their dreadful loss of loved ones so important to their lives. Readers will completely connect with the characters who are so very well executed and the peripheral characters of friends and families will provide much fodder for self-reflection on loyalty, courage and ethics.

Definitely a book that will appeal strongly to both boys and girls, from around 12 years upwards, this is another one to promote enthusiastically to readers. I can certainly see many of my keen readers being fascinated by this – not to mention learning a great deal of hitherto unknown information.

Highly recommended for Upper Primary upwards.

Lilies, Lies and Love (Book #4 Miss Lily) – Jackie French

Standard

y648 (9)

Harper Collins Australia

March 2020

ISBN: 9781460754986

ISBN 10: 1460754980

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 29.99 AUD

When this arrived (and after all, I’d only been waiting for it impatiently since the moment of finishing book #3) I told myself I would not gobble it up like a kid eating lollies. *Laughs hysterically* As if! Three nights later…..

It is 1936 and Sophie, Dowager Countess of Shillings, has been living at her beloved Australian property, Thuringa, with her children and Miss Lily since the widely-reported death of her husband, Nigel Vaile.

The years have rolled by peacefully and all has been well although there are times when Sophie is concerned about Miss Lily’s frailty, the realisation that her dear friend Daniel, once known as John, is becoming increasingly fond of her and, if she admits it truthfully, often she feels bored.

In England and Europe a storm is rising as Hitler grows in power and begins to demonstrate his inherent evil. To complicate this England’s leaders refuse to re-arm and more worrying is the new King’s obsession with a divorcee called Wallis Simpson and the fascist views of the Nazi regime.

Sophie’s old friend James Lorrimer, as always, is in the thick of the intrigues and politics in the inner circle of cabinet and together with Churchill develops a plan to both thwart the King and provoke the Prime Minister into action. And so he enlists Sophie to ‘fascinate’ her old friend David, HRH King Edward VIII, to wean him away from the American predator and reluctantly she agrees taking all her precious family, as well as Daniel, back to Shillings and a world she thought she had left behind forever. Naturally they also take Mr Jones, Green and Violette along with them as this venture requires the skills and knowledge of all.

The evolution of the plan is complex and becomes fraught with complications which not only jeopardise England’s security but Sophie’s own personal safety. There are many tense moments in the unfolding of the plot which will have readers turning the pages as quickly as I did.

Interwoven with the main thread are the interactions and emotions of the main characters and a no-holds-barred interpretation of the man who has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons.

Readers will be, in turns, thrilled and dismayed as the events unfold but will relish their renewed acquaintance with familiar characters such as the indomitable Ethel, the elegant Emily and the duplicitous Hannelore along with the introduction of others new to the narrative.

Based on recently revealed documents from the German archives, there will be astonishment and shock in store for readers as the previously unknown machinations behind the King’s abdication and the extreme lengths to which some would go in the name of duty in this new work from the maven of historical fiction. For many this will be an eye-opening insight into one of the most turbulent times in British history and the monarchy.

There is never any need for me to recommend Jackie’s work – and indeed, there are many in my circle who have been practically panting for this next instalment – but I urge you to take this up with the highest recommendation I can offer. I remain optimistic that we have not yet seen the last of Miss Lily and Sophie and resign myself to waiting (somewhat) patiently for another chapter in their story.

As an aside, when my father was on his way to England as he transferred from the army to the RAF in 1941, he met the Duke of Windsor in New York and, in fact, shook his hand – he said forever after that he could tell just by that handshake and brief encounter that the man was completely spineless and had nothing but scorn for him all his life.

The Missing: the True Story of my Family in World War II – Michael Rosen

Standard

1577053974835

Walker Books

March 2020

ISBN: 9781406386752
Imprint: Walker
Australian RRP: $22.99
New Zealand RRP: $24.99

First of all I have to say that I have the greatest admiration for Laureate Michael Rosen, both as a writer, a champion of children’s reading and school libraries and as a human. His writing over the years has always resonated with readers both young and old whether prose or poetry.

This is an account both intensely personal and powerful of Rosen’s determination to uncover the history of his missing relatives – who were ‘there before the war ….and gone after’. With very little to go on Rosen made it his mission over years, countries and continents and what scant records were available to piece together the fate of his missing uncles and aunts during the terrible purge of the Jews by the Nazis.

From the outset the tone of this volume is conversational in order to make it accessible and clear to his young readers and while never shying away from facts of genocide, death camps and similar topics he does not go into depth or details which may make it too confronting for the reader.

Written in both prose and poetry (in the main, excerpts from longer works) which was written specifically addressing his family as his thoughts turned to them, it is also interspersed with such rare primary documents and photos as were uncovered during his long research. The book concludes with extensive book lists of both fiction and non-fiction about the Holocaust and refugees (including our own Once by Morris Gleitzman and The Arrival by Shaun Tan)  as well as a useful list of museums and libraries for further investigation and an index. I would add to the list of graphics both the new White Bird by R. J. Palacio as well as Peter in Peril: Courage and Hope in World War II (2016) – Helen Bate.

In my experience, there is a large sector of child readers who will devour books around the Holocaust and not, in my opinion, because of any ghoulishness but rather a deep desire to understand the terrible tragedy, which in turn further develops their empathy and their acute awareness of injustice, and in the cases of some books the demonstration of resilience and the enduring hope displayed by so many.

I commend Rosen on his sharing of his own family’s sad story and his continuing endeavours to provide for children meaningful and thought-provoking readings. Books such as this one in particular will go a long way to raising our readers as compassionate and caring adults in an increasingly intolerant world.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.