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February 2020
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Weedflower After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Sumiko and her family are forced to abandon their thriving flower business, and are sent to live in an internment camp on an Indian reservation in the Southwest.  In the dry desert sand, Sumiko feels lost.  It is only when she plants a garden and makes a friend that hope for the future grows again.

“The lass” is the youngest of the poor woodcutter’s nine children.  At her birth, she was not even given a name, since she was just another useless daughter.  The lass is a kind girl, and loves most of all to spend time with her oldest brother, Hans Peter, learning the meaning of the mysterious signs that he carves over and over.  When she is given the gift of understanding animals, the lass is content in her life, until one night, a huge bear shows up, asking her to come live with him in his castle for a year and a day.  In return, her family will be made rich.  The lass goes to live with the bear in his enchanted castle, full of enslaved servants, mysterious carvings, and unanswered questions.

George’s retelling of the Nordic fairy tale, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” is fabulous.  George became passionate about all things Norwegian when she was just a girl, and this passion infuses her book with realistic details.  The details and changes that she makes to the original story only make it more exciting and believable.  This book can proudly take its place amongst the finest of fairy tale retellings.

Bunce’s debut novel is a fantastic addition to the world of fairy tale retellings.  Mixing historical fact, fantasy, romance, and a suspenseful ghost story with the retold tale of Rumplestiltskin results in a tale that’s hard to put down!

Upon the death of their father, Charlotte Miller and her sister Rosie find themselves responsible for their family’s woolen mill.  Although the girls are skilled in their trade and eager to work, they find themselves fighting a losing battle to keep their mill.  Strange accidents, bad luck, unexpected debts and rumors of an ancient curse plague their family business.  Out of desparation, the girls make a deal with a mysterious man who appears to magically save the day.  But the price of his help, which at first comes cheap, soon threatens those they cherish most.

 Mother and Me: Escape from Warsaw, 1939Note:  I found and read this book because the publisher (Academy Chicago Publisher) recommended it for my reading list.

Julian was only 7 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland, and he fled Warsaw with his mother whom he barely knew, and his aunts and cousins.  Although Julian and his family were Jewish, Julian’s beloved governess Kiki had taught Julian of God’s love for Catholics and disregard for Jews.  Thus, Julian secretly in his 7-year-old heart was a Catholic.  Julian’s thoughts and misunderstandings on God and religion form a welcome break from the brutality of the war swirling around him.  One passage in particular describes the Trinity from a  child’s mindset:

Over the next two years or so, I learned from Kiki about God and Mary, their little boy Jesus, and the Holy Ghost.  This last, I saw from pictures, was like a white pigeon that they had.  This, I supposed, was like the canary that I was going to get some day when I was old enough.

Julian’s mother was an amazingly strong and intelligent woman.  Although she was used to being pampered and cared for, when it came to the survival of her family, she did whatever it took to keep her and her son alive.  This memoir recalls the basic story of Julian’s escape from Poland.  But beyond that, it shows two important transformations in Julian’s young life.  First, Julian’s attitude towards his mother changes from disregard and embarrasment to love and respect.  Second, due to his mother’s influence, Julian discovers that God doesn’t hate people just because they aren’t born Catholic–God loves everyone.

Due to the nature of the book (a memoir) parts of the book read a bit slow, as Padowicz includes more detail than a fiction writer would.  But because of the detail and his memory of small incidents (accidentally receiving his first sausage sandwich, jumping in the hay loft) the story has an authentic feel, and has a true child’s perspective on some horrible times.

This is the most powerful and most horrifying account of World War II that I have ever read. I am hesitant to recommend this book, as the violence is so personal and so graphic. And yet, the story is so powerful, it is one that should be read. Although classified as a Young Adult novel, I would advise caution for readers younger than 16, and for classroom teachers of children of all ages. The war violence is quite gruesome, and there is some explicit sexual content as well. Some parents would object to their children reading this book even in high school.

Murphy takes the classic story of Hansel and Gretel, and retells it during the setting of World War II Poland. A father and stepmother are forced to send their children into the forest to protect them from Nazi hunters. Taking on the new names of Hansel and Gretel, the children make their way through the forest until they are taken in by the village recluse, Magda. Just as the children find relative safety with Magda, a new German Oberfuhrer comes to town with a horrifying agenda for the residents of the small village.

Murphy’s characters are amazing. She tells her story not only through the eyes of Hansel and Gretel, but also though Magda, the father, the stepmother, villagers, partisans, and the Germans. Throughout the story run the themes of survival, sacrifice, and remembering your true self, in spite of the horror around you.

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