Dash

It’s not exactly a secret that I have issues with dog books. (The blame goes to Old Yeller.) This is something of a problem when one is an elementary school librarian. They’re everywhere.

Most of the time, I pick up a dog book because I have to read it. It could be a South Carolina Book Award nominee or a pick for my district’s Battle of the Books competition. (There are a couple of rare cases when I actually choose to read a dog book myself.) In the case of my latest read, Dash by Kirby Larson, I read this book because it was chosen for Battle of the Books this year.

Last year, I read Duke by Kirby Larson, so I knew kind of what to expect with Dash. I knew that this book was another historical fiction story, it took place during the Japanese internment of World War II, and it had a dog in it. That’s about as far as my knowledge went for a while.

When I made time to sit down and read this book, I quickly realized that, while the dog is an important part of the book, it’s not the primary focus. That honor goes to Mitsi Kashino, a young Japanese-American girl living on the west coast and dealing with the fallout of life after Pearl Harbor. Her story is one that is often glossed over in history books, but it is one that is extremely important for readers of all ages to know more about.

Things are not easy for Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even though many of them have been in America their entire lives and love their home, people–including neighbors and friends–now view them with suspicion and even hatred.

Mitsi Kashino knows that things are bad, especially when her two best friends suddenly decide that they want nothing to do with her. Now, it seems that Mitsi’s only friend in the world is her beloved dog Dash. He’s always happy to see her, and he doesn’t care about what she looks like or where her family is from.

Not everyone is like Dash, though. Soon, Mitsi’s family is forced to leave their home and move to an internment camp…where pets aren’t allowed. Mitsi is heartbroken that she can’t take Dash with her, but she finds a kind neighbor who agrees to care for her dog until they can be reunited.

Life at the camp is not easy, but Mitsi is eventually cheered by letters from Dash. She writes him back, telling him what the camp is like, but she keeps some things to herself. Like how her brother has started hanging out with troublemakers or how she worries that living in the camp is tearing her family apart.

Eventually, Mitsi makes a new friend and finds a measure of joy, even in a horrible situation. She also thinks of a way to keep Dash with her while they’re far apart. But what will happen when Mitsi and her family are forced to move once again? Is there any hope of ever seeing Dash again? Will life ever return to normal?

Read Dash to learn how a girl holds onto hope–and her dog–even when times are difficult.


Dash, like I’ve mentioned previously, addresses an event that most history books gloss over. I’m ashamed to admit that I knew nothing of the internment of Japanese Americans until I was in college. It’s just not something that was talked about. Books like this one help to remedy that situation, letting young people know that the United States is nowhere near blameless when discussing atrocities committed during World War II. (Further conversations could expand on other cruelties in American history–slavery, the Trail of Tears, the current treatment of immigrants, refugees, and Muslims, just to name a few.) Yes, these are serious issues to discuss with upper elementary and middle grade students, but, given what is happening in the world right now, those discussions are especially timely.

Even though Dash is a dog book, the story itself is one that will stay with me. I actually wanted the book to last a bit longer, giving me a glimpse of Mitsi’s future. Dash is a great book, and I know my students will thoroughly enjoy it. My primary hope is that it will make them think.

For those who enjoy reading Duke and Dash, Kirby Larson has another dog book that was recently released. The book is Liberty, and, like its predecessors, it’s a work of historical fiction set during World War II. From what I’ve gathered from Goodreads, it takes place in 1940s New Orleans, giving yet another look at kids–and dogs–during the war. I’m not sure when/if I’ll get around to reading Liberty, but I’m fairly confident that it will be popular with my students.

If you’d like more information on Duke, Dash, Liberty, and other books by Kirby Larson, check out the author’s website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed.

Salt to the Sea

Given that I have a degree in political science and once aspired to be a social studies teacher, it shames me to admit that I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction. (I gravitate toward contemporary fiction, fantasy, and science fiction. You may have noticed this if you’re a regular here.) I usually only read historical fiction when there’s an element of the supernatural involved…or when I have to for my job as a school librarian.

Why, then, did I request to read Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys on NetGalley? Well, part of it was because I’d heard great things about this particular author. I knew her previous two books, Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy, were highly recommended (though I’d never read them). Also, the book’s subject, a virtually unknown tragedy of World War II, intrigued me. So I requested the title, I was approved, and I began reading.

From the first page of Salt to the Sea, I was hooked. This book was a haunting, bleak, gritty look at what this war–particularly the fighting between Germany and Russia–looked like to four young people. It explored their backgrounds, everything the war took from them, and what they hoped for their uncertain futures. Those futures depended on the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that they prayed would be their salvation…but ended up being a horror no one ever expected.

Told in four distinct voices, Salt to the Sea explores the terrifying reality of many innocent (and not-so-innocent) casualties of war. There’s Joana, a Lithuanian nurse who wants to help those around her, reunite with her mother, and escape the guilt she feels over past actions. There’s Emilia, a Polish girl dealing with the torment visited upon her because of her nationality. And there’s Florian, a young Prussian man hiding secrets that, should they be discovered, would mean certain death. These three people meet on the road to Gotenhafen with the hopes that they will receive safe passage out of war-torn East Prussia. The journey is extremely perilous, and, with every step, these three refugees risk their secrets being revealed.

When Joana, Emilia, Florian, and company finally arrive in Gotenhafen, they are overwhelmed by what they encounter. Thousands upon thousands of people are there hoping to board one of the ships that will take them across the Baltic Sea to freedom. It is here that they meet Alfred (the fourth voice in this book), a self-important, disturbed German soldier. They convince Alfred to give them safe passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff. None of them could know that this ship–overloaded with close to 10,000 passengers–would not be their deliverance but their doom.


Prior to reading Salt to the Sea, I had never heard of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. This ship, which was hit by Russian torpedoes just hours into its journey, carried German soldiers, members of the Nazi party, and refugees simply seeking some measure of safety. With 10,000 people aboard the ship (which was intended for fewer than 2,000), there weren’t nearly enough lifeboats for everyone when tragedy struck. Most of the passengers–many of them children–perished on board the ship or died in the icy waters of the Baltic Sea.

For me, Salt to the Sea highlighted a lot of the unknown stories of war. Yes, we hear about battles, victories, atrocities, and so many other things, but what about those things that are ignored–intentionally or not?

Let’s put aside the fact that most people have no clue about the Welhelm Gustloff sinking, which had a much greater loss of life than the Lusitania or the Titanic. When we (Americans) study World War II, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the people who were stuck between Germany and Russia. What happened to those who didn’t agree with Hitler? What became of the women and children left behind when men went off to fight? What did they have to endure to survive? Was survival even an option for many of them? It’s these human stories we don’t often hear, and fictional accounts like this one really help to open our eyes. Maybe we can even use these stories to shine a light on things that are occurring in our world right now.

I truly believe that Salt to the Sea, which will be released on February 2nd, should be added to every library–school, public, or classroom–that serves teen readers. (I would recommend it for ninth grade and up.) It is a phenomenal book that not only draws attention to a virtually unknown event but also delves into what a person can endure during a time of war. Through the four voices in this book, readers experience the horrors of war. They see that some were seeking safety, others wanted to right wrongs, and still others were using the circumstances to make themselves feel important. I think it’s vital for readers to hear all of these voices and see several moving examples of strength, sacrifice, bravery, and humanity.

For more information on Salt to the Sea and author Ruta Sepetys, click here. To learn more about the Wilhelm Gustloff, go to the Wilhelm Gustloff Museum website.

As for me, I am now going to add Ruta Sepetys’ other books to my already extensive TBR list. This author has convinced me to give historical fiction a bit more attention.

Duke

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything for the past couple of weeks. (If you didn’t notice, well…I don’t know what to do with that.) Anyway, I promise I have very good reasons for my absence. Beginning-of-school-year craziness (technology is a you-know-what when it doesn’t work right), home repairs, and minor illnesses have been to blame. Simply put, even the energy to read left me until just a couple of days ago. With any luck, I’ve turned a corner.

Now, on with the show…

Thursday evening, I manged to finish another of the nominees for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. This book, Duke by Kirby Larson, is also one of my county’s Battle of the Books titles. So, even though it’s a dreaded “dog book,” I knew I had to read it, and, like so many others before it, Duke wasn’t the chore of a read that I anticipated. It was actually kind of sweet, and it shed a bit of light on something I’d never really heard of before, the Dogs for Defense program of World War II.

It’s 1944, and Hobie Hanson is doing what he can for the war effort at home. With his dad fighting in Europe, Hobie is the man of the house, and he tries to help his country in ways both small and large. Hobie’s feeling the pressure, though, to do something bigger than anything he’s ever considered–donate his beloved dog, Duke, to the war effort.

The Dogs for Defense program asks Americans to donate their well-trained family pets to the armed forces–as guard and patrol dogs and even bomb sniffers. Hobie knows that Duke is an excellent prospect for this program…but he doesn’t want to let go of his dog. Isn’t it enough that his dad is fighting in this war? Does Hobie have to put his dog in danger as well?

Eventually, Hobie gives in and loans Duke to the Marines…and immediately wants to change his mind. In fact, he does everything he can think of to get Duke home. Hobie even betrays a new friend in his quest to be reunited with Duke. None of his efforts work, and Hobie decides to be brave and deal with his situation as best he can…and that decision could have far-reaching consequences.

Soon, Hobie will realize that there are many different kinds of bravery. His father, who is in more danger than ever, is brave for leaving his home and fighting for his country. Duke is brave when he follows orders and keeps others safe. But maybe Hobie is brave, too. Maybe loaning Duke to the Marines–even though he didn’t want to–was brave. Maybe looking after his mom and little sister is brave. And maybe apologizing to his new friend and standing by his side is brave.

Will Hobie’s bravery be enough to hold things together until he’s reunited with those he loves? Will his father come home soon? Will Duke?

Discover just how much bravery and love mean to a boy, his dog, his family, and those around him when you read Duke by Kirby Larson!

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Given that I don’t usually favor dog books or historical fiction, I liked Duke more than expected. It was at once heart-warming and heart-breaking. Truthfully, this was more Hobie’s story than Duke’s, and that probably factored into my feelings on it. It examined what one eleven-year-old boy likely faced while his father was fighting in World War II. Hobie was asked to take on more responsibility than a kid should…and do it without complaining or thinking of what he really wanted. (That’s kind of hard to fathom today.) He didn’t want to loan Duke to the Marines, but he did it anyway. Yes, he regretted his decision and looked for a way out of it, but he eventually realized it was for the greater good. I don’t know many dog owners today who would have done that.

I think Duke would be a great World War II novel study in upper elementary and middle school classrooms. It highlights the rather unknown Dogs for Defense program, and that could lead readers to further research. It could also lead them to examine their own feelings on what they would or wouldn’t give up for an important cause.

Those who read Duke may also want to take a look at another book by Kirby Larson, Dash. This book, which also takes place during World War II, focuses on a Japanese-American girl who is separated from her dog when the girl and her family are sent to an internment camp. Even though Dash is also one of those dreaded “dog books,” I think this book would provide an interesting perspective on what Japanese-American children experienced during World War II. At any rate, it’s moved near the top of my school to-read list.

If you’d like more information on Duke, Dash, and other books by Kirby Larson, check out the author’s website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. You may also want to take a quick look at the video below. In it, Kirby Larson herself talks a bit about Duke.

Gingersnap

Greetings! This evening, I bring you yet another of the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff. This short yet powerful novel combines historical fiction with a bit of the supernatural, and readers end up with a moving tale of a young girl looking for a sense of family.

The year is 1944, and war continues to hold the world in its grips. Jayna knows it’s just a matter of days before her big brother Rob, the only family she has, will be deployed on a ship headed for the fighting in the Pacific. Jayna tries to put on a brave face, but she’s not happy about being separated from her brother once again, and she doesn’t want to live with Celine, their grumpy landlady, while Rob is away.

After Rob leaves for duty, Jayna is comforted by her turtle Theresa, cooking soup, and by an odd presence that seems vaguely familiar. Is this a ghost? If so, who is it, and what does it want with Jayna?

When Jayna receives the devastating news that her brother is missing in action, this “ghost” leads the girl back to their house and to an old box in a closet. There Jayna finds an old blue cookbook and the address of a Brooklyn bakery called Gingersnap (which happens to be Jayna’s nickname).

Jayna, though scared and unsure, sees the bakery’s name as a sign, and she packs up her turtle, the blue cookbook, and most of her belongings and sets off for an uncertain future and a grandmother she’s never known. Jayna is accompanied by the voice of her ghostly companion, and she eventually arrives in Brooklyn. What she finds there, however, may not be exactly what she expected.

Jayna is very confused about her current circumstances and what will happen to her should her brother never return. She likes being in Brooklyn and the friends she’s made, but what if Rob never comes back to her? What if he’s gone forever? Jayna seeks out her ghostly friend to give her some measure of help, but she doesn’t know if that will be enough to keep her brother safe or to preserve the little family she’s made for herself in Brooklyn.

What will become of young Jayna in this time of turmoil? Read Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff to find out!

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Many of my students may pick up Gingersnap for the length (only 160 pages), but I hope they stick around for this heart-warming story. In just a few pages, Patricia Reilly Giff gives readers a fairly realistic look at what life may have been like for a young girl during World War II. We see how a family can be torn apart by war, how a girl will do whatever she must to survive and thrive, and how scarcity and rationing can have a huge effect on not just a family’s meals but also keeping a business going.

Peppered throughout Gingersnap, readers see Jayna’s soup recipes. These recipes reflect exactly what Jayna is going through, and the instructions are at once charming, funny, and reminiscent of many recipes created by kids–or my own mother, a woman who makes soup by tossing everything but the kitchen sink into a pot and cooking until it tastes right. (Whatever she does, it works. My mom’s soup is the best.)

Even though the ending of this book is a tad predictable, I still appreciated Jayna’s journey. She learned quite a bit about herself, her family’s past, the war going on around her, and what it really feels like to be part of a family and the community around her. And even though everyone around her had their own reasons to be cynical and angered by the circumstances of war, they were all kind and caring, and they showed Jayna just what it meant to be there for one another in difficult times.

As for the “supernatural” bits of Gingersnap, neither I nor Jayna are sure if a ghost was at work. It’s possible. This part of the book is definitely open to interpretation, and the discussions about this presence could be quite interesting.

I think Gingersnap is a great read for those in third grade on up. (Yes, even middle schoolers and teens will find something to enjoy.) This book could lead to further research on World War II and the fighting in the Pacific, and it would be a good novel study presenting a different view of the war. (As my fellow educators likely know, most novels with a WWII-focus tend to center on the fighting in Europe and/or the Holocaust.)

Finding Zasha

I did not want to read this book. If not for the fact that Finding Zasha is a nominee for the SC Children’s Book Award this year, I doubt I would have ever picked it up. (I don’t gravitate toward historical fiction, and I’m getting a little tired of reading “dog books.”) It took me way too long to get through this book, and it was all I could do to even pick it up some days. Eventually, I did force myself to sit down and finish reading (because I’m an adult, sort of), and I have to admit that I found myself enjoying it more than I did at the beginning. It’s still not my favorite of the SCCBA nominees, but at least I won’t have to tell my students that I loathed it. I guess that’s something.

The year is 1941, and twelve-year-old Ivan Savichev lives with his mother in an apartment in Leningrad, Russia. The entire world is at war, and the German forces are bent on destroying Ivan’s home city. Bombs drop from the sky, food and water are scarce, and no one knows if this day will be their last.

Ivan’s mother decides there’s only one course of action. She will join the other factory workers in the Ural Mountains, and Ivan will cross the frozen Lake Ladoga and go to live with his Uncle Boris (a man Ivan has not seen since he was five). Ivan makes this treacherous journey with Auntie Vera, who is going to stay with her sister-in-law in the village of Vilnov. Ivan cannot fathom leaving Auntie, so he stays with her…and it is here that his life will change forever.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Vilnov, Ivan joins a group of partisans, or an underground movement charged with disrupting the work of the German army. He’s surprised to learn that many of those around him are also partisans, and all of them are eager to do their part for the good of Russia.

After the Germans destroyed his beloved home city, Ivan is looking for a way to help his country win this horrible war, and he’s about to get his chance. The Germans have arrived in Vilnov, and Ivan has caught the interest of their leader, the terrifying Major Axel Recht, a cruel Nazi commander. Major Recht is charmed by Ivan’s musical talent, and he needs someone to help care for and train his precious German shepherd puppies, Thor and Zasha. Ivan steps in and seizes an opportunity to feed information to his fellow partisans.

Ivan soon realizes, though, that his mission is not an easy one. Major Recht is suspicious of everyone and quick to anger. He doesn’t fully trust Ivan, and he seems to resent Ivan’s connection with Thor and Zasha, dogs who are being trained to hunt Russians. Ivan knows he must get away from Recht soon, but he cannot fathom leaving Thor and Zasha behind to face Recht’s wrath alone. Ivan plots to escape with the two puppies, an action that is sure to enrage Major Recht. One night, Ivan makes his move, takes the dogs with him, and leaves Recht behind. He can’t know, though, just how far Recht will go to seek revenge…

In the midst of war, Ivan eventually finds a measure of peace as he finally makes his way to his Uncle Boris’ cabin. He trains Thor and Zasha to be faithful companions, he learns about farming, he visits with friends…and he grows perhaps too comfortable. When his worst enemy returns, Ivan must flee once again, but this latest escape puts Zasha in danger. The dog has gone missing, and Ivan must make some difficult decisions that could impact the safety of his friends and his own future.

What will Ivan do? Will the evil Major Axel Recht catch up with him? What will become of Thor and Zasha? Read Finding Zasha by Randi Barrow to find out!

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Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of this book, I do think that Finding Zasha is a good addition to upper elementary, middle, and high school library collections. It presents World War II from a perspective that many students don’t often learn about. Sure, they learn all about American perspectives, and most students know about Anne Frank and the plight of European Jews, but few students–American students, anyway–ever really think about what Russians endured during this war. World War II took the lives of over 25 million Russians, and that’s something that tends to be glossed over in studies of this time period. This book, at the very least, offers a perspective that many American readers rarely consider.

There is another book for those who enjoy Finding Zasha. Saving Zasha, which was actually written first, is the story of what happens to Zasha after the events in Finding Zasha. I’m not sure if I’ll get around to reading this one, but I’m sure many of my students will. (Usually, if there’s a dog on the cover, I don’t have to do much “selling.”)

If you’d like more information on Finding Zasha, Saving Zasha, and author Randi Barrow, visit the author’s website.

The Book Thief

As is the case with so many books, I’m late to the party on this one. The Book Thief has been in my I’ve-been-meaning-to-read-this-for-a-while-but-haven’t-gotten-around-to-it pile since I first became a school librarian (way back in 2005 when the book came out). Like Ender’s Game, it was the desire to see the movie adaptation that really spurred me to finally read the book…and I’m so glad I did.

I finished reading The Book Thief less than an hour ago, and I was so moved by the book that I was sitting in my library crying my eyes out. My students and my clerk thought I’d lost my mind. (By the way, I have no problem taking some time to read at school every now and then. How can I expect my students to learn to love reading if they don’t see me modeling it?)

Anyhoo, back to The Book Thief. This book tore me apart, and I can only hope that the movie will, in some small way, live up to its source material. I’m going to see the movie this afternoon, and I fully expect my heart to be in shreds by the time I get home tonight. Here’s hoping…

The Book Thief takes place in Molching, a small town outside of Munich, Germany, during World War II. It is told from Death’s point of view, and the story follows the journey of a young girl, Liesel Meminger, the the lives she touches, and the books she steals during this turbulent period.

I’ve read quite a few fictional accounts of WWII, but most of those tend to focus on the experience of Holocaust victims and survivors. This may be one of the first books I’ve read that details the experience of a German teen who has to at least pretend to tow the party line while quietly protesting the world around her. Liesel finds power in words, and she does everything she can to gain access to as many words as possible…and share those words with those most important to her.

From her foster parents to her best friend to community members to the Jewish man hiding in her basement, Liesel, through both words and deeds, touches every life around her and demonstrates how much one girl–a book thief–can impact so many lives…and can make even Death stop to take notice.

I’m not going to say much more about this book other than it is at once heart-breaking and heart-warming. I was pulled in by the unique way this story was told, and I stayed because I truly grew to care about Liesel, her family, and her friends. The Book Thief has more than its share of tragedy, but there’s so much more to take in here. Even in the midst of a war, people find ways to experience joy, peace, laughter, friendship, and courage. Some of those things may reveal themselves in unexpected ways…perhaps in the form of a stolen book.

If the movie adaptation is even half as good as the book, I think I’ll be pretty happy.  I guess we’ll find out at 4:25 this afternoon!

For those who haven’t seen The Book Thief yet, here’s a movie trailer to whet your appetite. It worked for me!

The Romeo and Juliet Code

I freely admit that I tend to judge a book by its cover.  After all, it’s the first glimpse of a book that I get.  A good cover will tell me what genre the book falls into, what the target audience is (young readers, middle grade, YA, adult), and just a smidge about the book–without giving anything critical away.  It will also show me a little about the book’s tone.  For instance, a dystopian book with a bright pink cover is probably a bad idea.  I want the covers of these books to be as bleak as the environments depicted on the pages. 

The cover of my latest read, The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone (another nominee for the 2012-13 South Carolina Book Award), was, in my most humble opinion, a failure on all counts.  The book itself was okay, but it did not match the cover in any way.  That bothers me.  Anyway, here’s the cover:

Now, judging by the cover, and even the title to a certain degree, one would likely expect this book to be a middle-grade, contemporary–possibly geeky–romance. Well, one would be wrong. The Romeo and Juliet Code is a work of historical fiction. It takes place from May to December of 1941 in the town of Bottlebay, Maine. Is there anything about this cover that suggests historical fiction to you? If there is, please let me know!  There is a small bit of romance in this book, but certainly not enough to warrant this cover.  Maybe I should have my students design a more fitting cover for this book. 

Moving on to the story…

The Romeo and Juliet Code introduces readers to Felicity Bathburn Budwig, a young  British girl who is moving to Maine to stay with relatives for the duration of World War II.  Her parents leave her with family members she’s never met, and Felicity doesn’t really know where her parents are going or when–or if–they will return for her.  They don’t even write to her…but they do send letters to her Uncle Gideon.  Felicity is barely allowed to touch these letters.  That, of course, makes her want to know what the letters are hiding.

With the help of Derek, a boy who lives with the Bathburn family, Felicity learns that these mysterious letters are codes being sent from her parents.  But what do they say?  What is the code’s connection to Romeo and Juliet?  Do the codes have anything to do with the war that is sure to involve America at any moment?  Just what are her parents involved in?  And can Felicity and Derek figure everything out–including the mystery surrounding the turmoil in the Bathburn family–before they lose their minds?  Discover the truth when you read The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone.

While this book is a decent historical mystery with a dash of young love, it wasn’t exactly a quick read, and that–along with the misleading cover–will make this one a hard sell.  I know some of my female students will pick up the book because of the current cover, but the “bait and switch” here might turn them off once they start reading.  Most of my male students won’t pick up this book at all because the cover makes it look like a “girl book.”  Again, a redesign would help tremendously, and that may well be how I get students to read this one.  I’ll give them the opportunity to recover my library’s copies of this book with their own designs.  They’ll have to create covers that accurately depict the book without giving too much away.  Of course, they’ll have to read the book to enter the cover design contest.  Something to think about…

If you’d like more information about The Romeo and Juliet Code and other books by author Phoebe Stone, visit http://www.phoebestone.com/.

Flygirl

In Sherri L. Smith’s Flygirl, readers are introduced to the Women Airforce Service Pilots, a group of female pilots that served during World War II.  Ida Mae Jones is determined to become one of these pilots.  Only when she’s in the air does she feel truly free.  There’s one major problem, though.  WASP doesn’t accept African American pilots.  Ida Mae is determined that this will not stop her, and she decides to “pass” as a white woman in her quest to become a pilot.

Ida Mae, or Jonesy as her new friends call her, does just what she set out to do.  She becomes a pilot in the service of the U.S. Army.  She feels like she’s really doing something to help the war effort, but she is torn because she must hide her true self in order to do what she loves.  She can never tell anyone that she’s just pretending to be white.  If anyone finds out, her entire future is over, and her very life could be in jeopardy.  Will she ever get to really be herself, or will she spend the rest of her life hiding?  Can she ever be free outside of an airplane?  Read Flygirl to find out.

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed Flygirl.  I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, but this book captivated me from the very beginning.  (I am a feminist, so that might help to explain it.)  I didn’t know much about the female pilots during WWII, so this story enlightened me a bit.  While reading, I was mad at the injustices that Ida Mae endured, both as a woman and as an African American, just so she could do what she was born to do.  I can almost understand pretending to be someone you’re not so that you can do what you love.  Almost.  I honestly don’t know if I could give up my family or my identity for anything, but I’ve never been put in that situation, so I don’t really know what I would do.

I think Flygirl would be excellent supplemental reading for social studies classes studying World War II.  This would be an excellent resource to introduce students to the role of women in the war effort.  Most people have heard of Rosie the Riveter, but this book may give them another glimpse of how women sacrificed and made military contributions during World War II.

Ten Cents a Dance

Christine Fletcher’s novel, Ten Cents a Dance, explores the world of taxi dancing in Chicago around the time of World War II.  The book follows Ruby Jacinski, a poor sixteen-year-old girl, who is sick and tired of working in the slaughterhouse for next to nothing.  Her mother has rheumatoid arthritis and cannot work, so Ruby has to quit school to earn money for the family.  She eventually comes across what she believes is a solution to her financial woes:  taxi dancing at the Starlight Dance Academy.  Men would pay her ten cents a dance.  The Starlight would get half, and she’d take a nickel for every dance.  Add tips in, and Ruby thinks she’s rolling in dough.  Soon, though, the money begins to run out.  It just never seems to be enough.

After a scary run-in with a customer who loaned her some money, Ruby thinks she’s got a handle on things.  Her mother thinks she’s a telephone operator, and her sister doesn’t seem to know what’s going on.  Ruby’s also got a serious boyfriend, local ne’er-do-well, Paulie Suelze.  He’s helped her out of a few jams, and he always seems to know when she needs a little help.  If only he wouldn’t keep pressuring her to do things she’s really not ready for.

Ruby soon realizes that her world is slowly unraveling.  Her new life has lost some of its luster, she’s lying to nearly everyone, Paulie is not the guy she thought he was, and the world is at war.  Can she straighten things out before her life is destroyed completely?  How is it even possible that she’s sunk so far so fast?  Read Ten Cents a Dance to learn what one girl will do to escape a life she’s not sure she ever wanted.

As someone who is fascinated with the WWII era, I really enjoyed Ten Cents a Dance.  I knew a little about taxi dancing, but this book shed new light on it.  I knew this “occupation” began in the speak-easies of the 1920’s and continued through WWII.  I didn’t know, however, that there are still taxi dancers in some major cities today.  Through this novel, it is easy to see how quickly girls could be drawn in by the money and attention and how easily things could also go horribly wrong.  Readers will root for Ruby to clean her life up and become the person she should be.

Climbing the Stairs

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman is the story of fifteen-year-old Vidya.  She lives with her father, mother, and brother in Bombay, India.  The year is 1941.  Gandhi is advocating nonviolent protest against British rule in India, and the British are fighting the Axis in World War II.  After Vidya’s father is critically injured during a protest, her family moves to Madras to live with her paternal grandfather and other member’s of her father’s family.  (According to Indian tradition, they are honor-bound to take in Vidya’s family.)

Life for Vidya is much different in Madras than it was in Bombay.  In Bombay, she played sports, had a loving relationship with her family, and enjoyed a great deal of freedom.  In Madras, however, men reside upstairs, while the women and children stay downstairs and attend to all domestic tasks.  Vidya is constantly ridiculed by two of her aunts and her cousin, Matali.  She has very little freedom, and she longs for things to return to the way they once were.

One day, however, Vidya decides to climb the stairs to the men’s floor.  It is there that she locates the library.  She escapes her life through books.  She also meets a family friend, Raman, who becomes more than just a friend to Vidya.

Read Climbing the Stairs for a moving account of a girl who finds meaning in her life through her faith, her family, and her freedom.

I really enjoyed this book (which is a little odd as I don’t tend to favor historical fiction).  The main character is a strong female, even though she does occasionally bow to the dictates of her traditional Indian family.  (I can also relate to this, though in a different way.   It’s definitely hard to break away from your family’s expectations, especially in a good ole Southern Baptist family.   And Mom, I know you’re reading this, so don’t freak out.)  I think Vidya is a good example for teen readers.  She wants to break out of the strictures placed upon her and be her own person but still retain her identity that her family helped her to form.  As a bonus, she loves to read!  Yay!  Read Padma Venkatraman’s Climbing the Stairs for a wonderful story of becoming your own person.