Tag Archives: World War II

The Valley of Lost Secrets – Lesley Parr

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

White Bird: a Wonder Story – R. J. Palacio

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9780241397244

Penguin Australia

October 2019

ISBN: 9780241397244

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $39.99

Millions of readers have fallen in love with Wonder and its subsequent books and will most likely think of Julian as Auggie’s tormentor but in this first foray into graphic novels Palacio presents a completely different side to the erstwhile bully. Those who have also read Auggie & Me will have had a brief introduction to Julian’s French grandmother but it is of no consequence if readers have not as this narrative is completely self-contained.

Julian has a humanities project to do and he decides that his much-loved grandmother will be the interviewee for his assignment. He knows a little of her story but now she tells it fully via their Facetime conversation.

Sara relates her own personal history as a young Jewish girl evading capture by the Nazis and her fugitive existence being cared for indomitable French friends and also reveals a great deal about life for others during this most terrible and frightening of times. It is powerful and moving and tragic but ultimately heart-warming and an affirmation of the goodness of many people – those who are willing to risk all in order to do the right thing especially.  The courage and kindness of those who helped young Sara to survive is echoed in the accounts of many Holocaust survivors and Palacio herself has personal connections to these through her husband’s family.

 

While entirely fictional it does of course draw on much factual information which is thoroughly explained at the end of the book along with other entries, links and references for readers to explore at leisure.

The survivors of the Holocaust are adamant, and rightly so, that the immensity of the wholesale slaughter of not only Jews but the other minorities targeted by the Nazi regime should never be forgotten – or repeated.

Sharing stories such as this along with non-fiction accounts with our young people is vital and in my experience the outrage of the injustice and inhumanity of these develops a solid and strong sense of empathy and understanding in students. It goes without saying that in our own parlous times this is something which we must strive to engender in all.

I cannot recommend this highly enough. I am not, as some know, a great aficionado of graphic novels but found this a compelling (one session) read and one that will help children to understand the enormity of this heinous episode in human history in a manner that is calm and honest.

Listen to a grab here.

The National Archives: World War II The Story Behind the War that Divided the World – Nick Hunter

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9781526605580

Bloomsbury

ISBN: 9781526605580
Imprint: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $17.99

Given the continued interest shown by young people in the history of the World Wars, not to mention those students who are studying this period of modern history, this book is a valuable addition to any shelves.

Nick Hunter holds a degree in modern history and has produced over 50 books for young people on a wide variety of topics. Crammed full of photographs, original documents, artefacts and more this is a cornucopia of information for any reader interested in the war that split the world and has had so much bearing on the global situation of contemporary times.

Covering both the war in Europe and that in the Pacific all aspects are included from the rise of Hitler and the Nazis to espionage, coding to the Blitzkrieg, from the lives of women and children in wartime to propaganda as well as occupation and resistance and tales of heroism as well as much more. Despite its slender size the amount of information contained within is amazing and so written that any reader from around ten years upwards will be able to grasp the significant facts.

The book also includes a timeline, glossary, links to further reading as well as an insight into physical reminders such as preserved buildings and monuments.

Personally I found it quite a fascinating read and enjoyed seeing items and photographs previously unknown/unseen.

Highly recommended for your lovers of nonfiction as well as your history buffs.

The Lily in the Snow: Book #3 Miss Lily – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

March 2019

ISBN: 9781460753842

ISBN 10: 1460753844

RRP 29.99 AUD

We devotees of Miss Lily have been waiting fairly impatiently for her return and I was thrilled when my copy arrived and immediately started immersing myself once more into the world of Sophie, Nigel and Miss Lily. However packing and moving house followed up by three weeks of the dreaded lurgy meant I was only ¾ through – until last Saturday when I binge read the remaining chapters because I just couldn’t wait any longer to find out the conclusion.

The Jazz Age has begun and Sophie and Nigel generally manage to ignore it living peacefully at Shillings watching their delightful twins growing up. There are concerns such as Sophie’s belief of an impending financial crash and her need to ensure the safe continuation of her father’s corned beef empire.  But long held secrets and intrigues threaten their idyll and the most significant of these will change their lives forever.

Responding to a request from their old colleague the pair help to uncover the identity of a badly injured veteran of the Great War which brings Sophie once again into contact with the mysterious ‘John’ from her Australian home. Questions surround the paternity of the Shillngs twins and the encounter with ‘John’ must resolve these.

A mysterious and ferocious young girl, Violette, turns up at Shillings after considerable mis-adventure and is intent on killing her mother whom she believes is Miss Lily: a circumstance which throws all kinds complications into the household.

And Sophie’s old friend Hannelore instigates what is tantamount to blackmail to enlist Miss Lily’s support of the man for whom she has developed a blind and misguided fervour, a German called Herr Hitler.

The tension and mystery of the narrative are superlative and once again Jackie’s undisputed skill in weaving fact with fiction provides the reader with a plot that unfolds with high drama and exquisite anticipation. One cannot help but become completely invested with these characters that become all but real as the series continue.

As always one is living within the story and the involvement is powerful with the conclusion thrilling and filled with twists and turns as only Jackie can achieve.

I truly hope this is not the last we see of this engaging saga and now we must wait with patience to see the next instalment.

An amazing and triumphant return of the story highly recommended for senior readers and adults.

 

a PS – from my lovely cousin (sister from another mother) who is currently reading it……..

Jackie is a wonderful story teller, she makes you feel as if you really KNOW the character, or invokes emotions about how you feel about them.

Dolls of War – Shirley Parenteau

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Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9780763690694
Imprint: Candlewick
Release Date: February 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $19.99
New Zealand RRP: $22.99

 

This is another charming book in the ‘Friendship Dolls’ series. The last one I reviewed examined the narrative from a Japanese girl’s perspective when the American dolls were coming as gifts of friendship to her country.  This one takes another tack with the story of Macy, an American eleven year old in 1941 just after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

The large doll Miss Tokyo and her accompaniments of small dishes, tea set, parasols etc have been a special part of Macy’s life and also the museum of which her father is the curator. Macy’s mother, who has recently died, was raised in Japan and always had a fond association with that country’s people and culture. Macy and her mother always had a special secret relationship with Miss Tokyo, when they pretended to ‘talk’ to her.  Now that her mother is gone, Macy feels an urgent protector role to the doll.

When Pearl Harbour is attacked, Macy’s town like so many other Americans are enraged and retaliate by engaging in mindless violence against all things Japanese. Macy’s lot is not good and realistically her father senses that she would be better off away from their town and in a quieter locale.

There are many twists and turns in this narrative with Macy’s determination to protect the doll and protest the senseless knee-jerk responses.

All in all, it’s another fascinating read for the history and the insight into a fictional participant in this turmoil.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards – and if your school has Japanese as another language or even Lower Secondary students studying World War II a fabulous read for the back story of ordinary people.