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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.

Hannelore was safe at her school in Germany when her mother and brothers received a letter saying that they were to be deported.  Knowing that her family would have a better chance at survival if she were there to care for them, Hannelore voluntarily turned herself in for deportation as well, thus beginning a nightmarish journey through the concentration camps of wartime Europe.  Hillman bravely records her haunting memories in order to ensure that her loved ones will not be forgotten, that the sacrifices of good people will be remembered and that the horror of Nazi Germany will never be repeated.

Book Overload

08th October 2009

The stack of books on my desk, waiting to be reviewed, is insurmountable.  I will never get to them all.  So for the sake of time, I need to do a combo post.  Here are the books I’ve been reading the past few weeks.  Most of them have been fantastic:

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf–Two young girls are missing in the woods.  Told through multiple perspectives, the families work to find their girls, and one of the girls, Callie, works to regain her voice.  I had a hard time putting this one down.

Day After Night by Anita Diamant–A fictional account of the October 1945 rescue of Jewish detainees from the Atlit internment camp in Israel.  A grim reminder that the plight of the Jews didn’t end with the surrender of Germany.

The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam–The autobiographical account of Somaly Mam, who was sold into prostitution in Cambodia as a young girl, was able to escape, and returned to help other girls.  An amazing and heartbreaking story that continues today.

While I’m Falling by Laura Moriarty–A college student and her mom try to figure life out.  I love the way Moriarty writes about mother-daughter relationships.

Blood on the River: James Town 1607 by Elisa Carbone–A fictional account of Samuel Collier, page to Captain John Smith and his journey to Jamestown.  I read this after having visited Jamestown Settlement.  The book brings the familiar story to life.

The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick–I can’t believe I didn’t discover this book earlier!  A love of reading and writing saves a dystopic civilization.  Great book.

Lost and Found by Andrew Clements–Twin brothers take turns going to school, and in the process, discover who they are as individuals.  Not my favorite by Clements, but well done nonetheless.

Shackleton’s Stowaway by Victoria McKernan–One of the most amazing adventure stories I’ve ever read, based on the real journey made by Ernest Shackleton and his crew as they attempted to cross the Antarctic continent in 1914.  Highly recommended.

A horrifying and tragic book.  I had a hard time putting it down.  Sarah and her parents are Jews living in occupied France in 1942.  When they are rounded up by French policemen to be handed over to the Germans, Sarah hides her little brother, promising to return for him.  60 years later, Julia, an American journalist, stumbles onto Sarah’s story.  Desperate to discover Sarah’s fate, Julia dives into her investigation, and finds some old family secrets. 

Sarah’s Key explores a part of the Holocaust with which I was unfamiliar, the round-up of French, Jewish citizens by French policemen at the Vel d’Hiv.  Although the book is at times difficult to read, its message of forgiveness, remembrance and life is a powerful one.

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