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June 2023

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.

 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.

Someone Named EvaMilada lives in Lidice, Czechoslovokia in 1942. When the Nazis take her suddenly from her family, the only things that remain are her grandmother’s pin, and her grandmother’s final words to her: “Remember who you are, Milada. Remember where you are from. Always.”

Milada is sent to a “school” to be re-educated as a good German girl, and is then adopted to a German family. But Milada takes her grandmother’s words to heart, and doesn’t forget who she is, and where she came from. Excellent.

SieUpon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944gal writes powerfully of her experiences as a Jewish child in Hungary as Hitler came to power. The horror of the Nazi regime, and the power of love and family come to life.

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