Monday, August 03, 2015

MMGM--Cold War on Maplewood Street

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

8/4/15: Iron Guy had a good question about US troops in Vietnam in 1962. It seemed early to me, but there were over 11,000 U.S. Soldiers in Vietnamese in 1962. Maybe a bit of a stretch, but possible. Good eye!

23281786Rosengren, Gayle. Cold War on Maplewood Street
August 4th 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

It's the fall of 1962, and Joanna is so mad that her brother Sam went off to fight in Vietnam that she is keeping her "promise" to never write to him, since he broke his promise to never leave her. Their father left when Joanna was very young, and their mother struggles with her job at a store and with night school. Joanna is at home by herself a lot, and every bump and noise scares her. Mrs. Strenge, an older neighbor lady, is especially scary. When the Cuban Missile Crisis starts appearing all over the news, Joann's anxiety increases. Luckily, she has her friend, Pamela Waterman, who lives nearby, and the two like to hang out at the Waterman's apartment and eat Mrs. Waterman's home baked bread in their cozy apartment. School is okay, but Joanna's mother won't let her attend a very socially important birthday party because it is a boy-girl event. In the course of a few weeks, Joanna learns that Mrs. Strenge is actually nice but lonely, Pamela's family isn't perfect, and her grudge against her brother is not something that she can sustain.

This was a brilliant historical piece, especially so because of the wealth of details about every day life in 1962. Ms. Rosengren was about 12 when these events occurred, and she puts her memory to good use. Joanna heats up tomato soup for dinner on the stove, her grandmother calls on the land line to tell her mother about the news, and her class has duck and cover drills. Milk is poured out of a glass bottle, and Joanna wears bobby socks and skirts and blouses. Sometimes these details are even more important to the setting than the larger historical events, but the fears and worries caused by the Cuban Missile Crisis are artfully drawn as well.

Joanna's anger at her brother's leaving is valid, and her irritation with the quality of her family life compared to that of her friend Pamela is diffused by the Waterman's even greater difficulties. The interaction between the friends is realistic, as is Joanna's desire to go to the birthday party where they will actually have PIZZA. Even her discovery that Mrs. Stenge is just lonely (a frequent topic in middle grade literature) is handled well, and the scene where Joanna runs away from school to go home when she thinks a air raid drill is the real thing is quite nice.

While readers of historical fiction will enjoy this well-crafted look at the 1960s, this story has a wider appeal because of its themes of family and forgiveness. Even though it deals with serious issues, it is upbeat and hopeful at a moment in time when these emotions were not in the forefront of most people's minds. Teens today can get a very good idea of what it was like to live through this harrowing event in US history by reading Cold War on Maplewood Street.

For a little fun this week, I have a few reviews from my collection of vintage fiction from the 1960s. I have long lamented the lack of "historical" fiction for this time period, and have started investigating titles written about the same time as The Outsiders for students to use as background information for that class-assigned novel. Of course, Lizzie Skurnick has republished a lot of titles, but even my school library has some originals! Have fun on this little blast from the past.

 Bradbuy, Bianca. The Amethyst Summer
1 April 1963, Washburn

Bayley's mother has to spend the summer caring for Bayley's great aunt, her namesake, in a town an hour or so away, because the aunt has broken her leg. She still plans on teaching one more year of 4th grade, though-- they won't get her to retire before she's 70! (Which means that she probably started teaching in about 1914, so is almost exactly my grandmother's age!) Bayley is left to take care of the homefront because her father and three brothers couldn't possibly do the laundry or shopping, what with Chip's jazz combo, Benjy working in the grocery store, and Tom working in the paper factory and needing to eat hearty breakfasts, leaving Chip and Bayley with dry cereal instead of eggs. Friend Jean helps out a little, but in the tradition of teen books from this era, is a bit more boy crazy than Bayley, who barely combs her hair and rarely changes out of her dungarees. Bayley does make an attempt to befriend the new neighbors, a family of Polish refugees whose father is a much lauded scientist recently hired by the nearby university. The mother is scared of everyone, having survived the Concentration Camps, but takes to Bayley. Between her brother's and Jean's admonitions, Bayley does manage to clean herself up and try to get some dates, because goodness knows she needs some break from the endless loads of stinky boy laundry. At the end of the summer, though, it's all been worth it--  she gets to put on a yellow silk dress and the boys all take her out to a fancy restaurant and each give her a piece of amethyst jewelry.

What the book doesn't address is how Bayley got older, spent two years in college studying home ec before marrying Bruno the neighbor boy. By 1975, she had four children, and Bruno decided to take up with a young Polish student of his, leaving Bayley alone in the split level with the avocado shag carpet. In order to make ends meet, she takes a job as the secretary at the children's school, and every morning as she puts on her double knit polyester pantsuit and accessorizes it with her amethysts, she looks in the mirror and wishes that she had learned her lesson that summer and had gone to Berkeley like Jean did. Jean's in line for tenure as a professor of the newly developed Women's Studies Program at one of the SUNY branches now, while Bayley is stuck with her brother Chip living in her basement and smoking pot.

Interesting that Kirkus, seemingly at the time of publication, didn't have great things to say about this, either.


  1. COLD WAR sounds like a great period piece and one that could have wide appeal to both boys and girls. Can't wait to track this on down for myself.

  2. I am looking forward to Cold War. I love when the little details of historical fiction are noticed!

  3. Cold War looks really fantastic! Looking forward to reading it! =)

  4. Cold War sounds wonderful! I agree - not much fiction from that time period. Have you read Revolution by Deborah Wiles? It is late 60's rather than Cold War-era but is an amazing middle-grade novel.

    Enjoy your books this week -


    Read My Latest Essay at Mamalode!

  5. I love this post. One reason I love it is that I have written a MG manuscript that takes place during the Cuban missile crisis. I've been sending it to publishers, but no luck yet. I was very young at the time, but mine was written from a very small memory I had about when it happened. I love the 60s time period.

  6. Cold War sounds like a book I would really enjoy, Amethyst Summer maybe not so much. Thanks very much for telling me about them.

  7. I agree with everything you said about Cold War. It is a great read! We review it tomorrow :)

    Happy reading this week!

  8. After I finished Cold War, I was looking to read others' thoughts. I was happy to see your review (it was one of the only other reviews on GoodReads!). That seems to happen often. You are always ahead of the game, my friend.

  9. I want to read Cold War. I laughed at your review of The Amethyst Summer. Having lived through these times and remembering a lot of the stuff we read about, makes all this nostalgia a bit absurd. It also makes me feel very very old. Can't wait to read what you've been up to next year. Hope your leg is better.

  10. Anonymous10:45 AM EDT

    I hadn't heard of this book, and I've never read anything set around the Vietnam War for MG. It seems like a period that's often skipped for that age group. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I have a small quibble about the Vietnam timeline. I was 9 years old in 1962 and Vietnam was a back burner issue. There were very few, if any US boys fighting there and the Americans sent mainly military advisors to assist the South Vietnamese. In fact, as late as August 1964, LBJ said, "We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves." But I could be wrong--this is her story and I don't know all her details. But she is absolutey right about those details--milk in glass bottles and pizza being a rare treat. (Hard to find a pizza place in those days). I also remember serious talk about sending kids out to the countryside in case of an attack. I talked with a friend about which toy to take!