Thursday, November 8, 2012

Guest blogger - View from the school library

Janet Hutchinson is a colleague and kindred spirit when it comes to children's literature.  She also works a day and half in the library in the school which her children have or are attending here in Calgary.  Her experiences there provide her (and me by extension) the opportunity to see what teachers and kids do with the books we promote.

Today's posting highlights three fictional pieces that take us back to Europe during World War II.  All three are new to me though Janet had already sold me on Code Name Verity which I've since ordered for the Doucette Library.  What are your thoughts?  Any recommendations that you'd recommend for Remembrance Day?

Lest we forget….a different take

So maybe it is just me – but do you know how occasionally you read a book – and then the next book you pick up is somewhat related? And then you find a third book that ties into the second? And so on? Well, that happened to me this fall. It started with a book I read for my book club, - a mystery, set in Sweden and moving back and forth between present day Sweden and Sweden during the Second World War. Then I picked up the next book on my pile – and it linked to the first.  So this fall, I have read four different books about events in the Second World War that I was less knowledgeable about. Three of the books are intended for children or young adults, making them perfect fodder for both my jobs.

The first book is Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus. This is historical fiction, written about Nazi-occupied Norway during the early years of the war. I did not know that Norway had been occupied and so this book piqued my interest. The story’s main character is a teenage boy, Kjell, drafted into the Resistance movement in Norway – initially, by delivering letters, but eventually moving on to spy on the Nazis.  The story details his increasing involvement, but also offers the stories of three other characters – his sister, a local bully and his former best friend. Ultimately, Kjell commits an error, which uncovers his role as a spy and he is forced to flee Norway for Sweden on skis. The book has been well-researched and includes maps, quotes, a pronunciation guide and a brief history and timeline of the occupation. Based on a true story, the authenticity rings through and it will be an excellent read for Grade 6 and up.

The second book I read is My Family For the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve. This book begins in Germany during the initial period of Nazi persecution of Jews, but before the war officially started. Franziska is a young girl with Jewish roots, but a practicing Protestant. Nevertheless, she is sent to England on a “kinder transport” - a system that smuggled close to 10,000 Jewish children out of Germany to safety. When Franziska leaves, it is with the idea that her family will join her in England. But travel of Jewish people is prohibited before her family can join her and Franziska is placed with a Jewish family in England for the duration of the war. I found myself quite entranced with this book. As a parent, I could (barely) imagine sending my children away to safety – but from a child’s perspective, this must have been a very confusing and upsetting time, with conflicting loyalties to family, religion and countries.  The author does an excellent job of portraying that confusion and sense of loss – and reading the story of Frances as she grows and matures during wartime England kept me interested right to the end.

 Finally, the third book I read is Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Weins. This was, quite simply, a fabulous read. I don’t want to get into too much detail, as it might ruin the story. But take two young women – one with a talent for languages and the other with an interest in, and ability to, fly planes. Put them into the Second World War and what evolves is a story of friendship, of fears and fears faced, of intelligence, true courage, faith and hope. It is not an easy read, and for that reason, I would only recommend it for older students – Grade 10 and up, as the plot is complex and the narrative is third person diary (sort of). But I want this book (I borrowed it from the library) and have put it on my Christmas list. The book gave me goose bumps and made me ask myself “Would I have the courage to do what they did?”

War and war time is a subject of great interest for many of the students at my school, helped no doubt, by the fact that the school resides on one of the army bases “decommissioned” during the 1980s and 1990s. I also have a strong interest in these wars, helped along by a daughter who is studying military history in university and stories told by my father, a navigator in the Second World War. But these three books gave me different lenses on the Second World War, ones that I won’t forget when November 11 rolls around.


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