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World War II Fiction

22nd January 2011

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr: This juvenile autobiographical novel tells the story of 9 year old Anna and her family.  Anna’s family must flee their Berlin home for the relative safety of Switzerland, leaving friends, family, and most of their belongings behind.  Anna’s life as a refugee is completely different from the one she left in Germany.  In spite of the hardships and danger, she learns to cherish her family even more, and even finds satisfaction in making their new life together.

Black Radishes by Susan Lynn Meyer: Gustave and his family leave Paris just ahead of the Nazis, settling in a small French village that happens to be just across the river from Nazi occupied France.  Even though the Nazis technically aren’t in control of Gustave’s village, the Vichy French government is still in complete cooperation with the Nazi agenda.  Gustave comes to realize that he must face his fears and help the people close to him, even if it means risking his life to do so.  While the story is fiction, many of the events in the book are based on real events from the Meyer’s father’s life.

While We’re Far Apart by Lynn Austin: Penny, trying to escape her domineering parents, agrees to care for handsome Eddie Shaffer’s children, Esther and Peter, when he goes off to war.  Jacob Mendel, still grieving after his wife’s death, spends every spare moment searching for his grown son and family, trapped in Nazi controlled Hungary.  Esther and Peter, missing both mother and father, desperately need someone to love and care for them.  Everyone is searching for meaning, comfort and reason in a broken world.  This was definitely one of Austin’s best books.  The stories of the characters are alternately told, without being distracting.  While the ending was somewhatpredictable, there were a few surprises, and throughout the book, God’s love, mercy, providence and unseen workings are gently shown, without being preachy or overly dramatic.

Stones in Water by Donna Jo Napoli: Roberto and his friends are taken from their Italian town by German soldiers and sent to a work camp deep in Nazi occupied Europe.  Struggling to survive and to protect his best friend, Roberto must find the courage to finally fight for his freedom.  An excellent book.  There is a sequel, Fire in the Hills, that I am eager to read.

Historical Fiction Roundup

30th October 2010

Blue Willow by Doris Gates

Janey and her family have been on the move since their farm failed in the dust storms of Texas.  Janey can’t even imagine staying in one place for more than a few months, and her dream is to settle in a house like the one pictured on her precious blue willow plate.  This Newbery Honor book told Janey’s story gently, and was enriched with illustrations by Paul Lantz, whose drawing style reminded me of Lois Lenski.

Bound for Oregon by Jean Van Leeuwen

A fictionalized account of the Todd family’s journey to Oregon, told through the eyes of 9 year old Mary.  Written for upper elementary/middle grades, the story is authentic, full of details and awe inspiring.

Lost Childhood: My Life in a Japanese Prison Camp During World War II
A Memoir by Annelex Hofstra Layson

When the Japanese invaded the island of Java during World War II, they imprisoned the island’s Dutch citizens in prison camps for the duration of the war.  Annelex was 4 years old when she was sent to a prison camp with her mother and grandmother.  In this slim volume, she shares her memories of that horrible experience in order to honor those who suffered, and to share the lessons of compassion, freedom, and positive thinking that she learned in the camps.

Annexed: A Novel by Sharon Dogar

Anne Frank’s story has been told in many ways by many people.  But what about Peter’s story?  For the first time, an author explores what life may have been like for Peter VanPels, hiding in the annex with Anne and 6 other people.  This novel is based on Anne’s diary, other historical documents and extensive research.  Haunting, powerful, heartbreaking.

Little House on the Prairie fans will love this book.  Melissa walks you through her seasons on Little House, giving her thoughts on various episodes and sharing little known trivia and background.  She also share memories about the cast, in particular, Michael Landon.  I’m inspired to re-watch my favorite episodes.

I’m also impressed with Melissa Anderson as a person.  Here is a child star who went on to have a successful career and then put it all on hold for the sake of her own children.  She stepped out of the limelight so she could put her family first.  You just don’t see that very often.

This was one of the best history books I’ve ever read.  I learned so much about a time period that is often reduced by history textbooks to a summary of The New Deal and the beginning of WWII.  American History classes should use this book!  Egan interviewed people who lived through the Dust Bowl, and combined their stories with historical records to recount 40 years of history on the American Plains.

Did you know that during the great dust storms, the skies would rain mud?

Did you know that babies, children and even adults died from lung diseases brought on by dust?

Did you know that the dust storms blew dirt from the plains all the way to Washington DC and out into the Atlantic?

Did you know that the dust storms could have been prevented?

The Blue Sweater was written by Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen, which she describes as, “A nonprofit venture capital firm for the poor that invests in sustainable enterprises.”  Novogratz has spent her entire career as a banker working to help the poor and disadvantaged help themselves through sustainable ventures.  Her experience and wealth of knowledge are amazing.

I would have loved to have read this book in an economics class, or as part of a mission trip.  Reading it in isolation left me with too many questions and too few answers.  I did come away with a few favorite quotes:

“…strengthened resolve to find more solutions that started with the poor as customers…” pp276-277

“There is a powerful role both for the market and for philanthropy to play in creating this future.  Philanthropy alone lacks the feedback mechanisms of markets, which are the best listening devices we have; and yet markets alone too easily leave the most vulnerable behind.” p277

“The world will not change with inspiration alone;rather, it requires systems, accountability, and clear measures of what works and what doesn’t.”  p 277

Although I love Novogratz’ ideas on a big scale, I was left wondering what I, as an ordinary person, without thousands of dollars to invest, can do to help in any meaningful way.  What do the ordinary folks do?  Novogratz offers a brief piece of advice (“thinking and acting like a true global citizen” p.284), but I feel that there is much more that can be written at the practical level for individuals.  That being said, if you work with disadvantaged populations of any type, this is a book that you and your organization should read.

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