Friday, May 18, 2018

The War Below, Voices from the Second World War

Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk. The War Below
April 24th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Luka and his family lived in the Ukraine, where his father ran a pharmacy and let Luka help with the medicines quite a bit. His father was taken off by the secret police, and Luka ended up by himself in a concentration camp. There, he befriended Lida (from Making Bombs for Hitler). When he ends up in the hospital with a wound to his thigh, Lida encourages him to escape. He does, in a death cart, and jumps out before he gets to the mass grave. He manages to make his way across the countryside, scantily clad and injured, and takes refuge in a barn. Eventually, he tries to steal food, but the couple, Helmut and Margarete, find him. Having two sons of their own, they take pity on him and get him squared away. Eventually, he learns to trust them even though one of their sons is in the WehrMacht and could turn his parents in if they caught him harboring a prisoner. Luka stays for a while, but is determined to make his way to Kyiv to find his father. With the war going badly for the Nazis, it's not safe for him to go towards the city, and he ends up becoming involved with the Ukranian resistance with Martina, a girl who helps him survive in the forest. Once liberation comes, Luka searches for both Lida and his father, hoping that the Red Cross can help him find them.

From the tense beginning, where Luka is trying to escape in the death cart, to the end, where he is able to find some peace, this is a riveting read. Having it set in the Ukraine, with the resistance, adds even more interest to a topic that some would consider to be overdone. As much as I think sometimes that there are too many books about World War II, I know that there are lots of readers who enjoy these books, and that there is always room for fresh titles on new topics.

It also helps that The War Below covers many facets of the Jewish experience-- flash backs to daily life in Kyiv, time in the camps, and time hiding out in the wilderness. I wish that more books followed characters after liberation, when times were especially tense and unsettled. The end of this book reminded me of my all time favorite, Moskin's I am Rosemarie (1972).

The cover of this book is compelling, and will make for an excellent display when accompanied by Gratz's Prisoner B-3087, Bartoletti's The Boy Who Dared, this author's companion title and McCormick's nonfiction The Plot to Kill Hitler.

Voices from the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today 
March 20th 2018 by Candlewick Press

Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

First News ( is a newspaper for children published in Great Britain, roughly akin to Scholastic News, but it seems that they have more in the way of child reporters. This book is a collection of interviews that these reporters filed with First News when they interviewed people (often relatives) who had lived through WWII. Divided into chapters headed with different experiences (The Outbreak of War, The British Home Front, The Fight For France, The Fall of Germany, etc.), this is a particularly British coverage of the war. This makes it a very good choice for US readers who think they know everything there is to know about WWII because they are familiar with the American home front and battle front. Things in Europe were very different.

While some of the people interviewed were young adults who were in the army, many of the interviewees were the age of the children interviewing them. They talk at length about the evacuation of both German and British children to keep them safe, and discuss how difficult it was to leave their families, sometimes not seeing them for years. The privations of living in a country that was being occupied by the enemy and was under attack is not something most people in the US think about, but there are many heart rending stories of children who were living under those conditions.

The stories are all brief, vary widely in their topics, and are accompanied by pictures of the subjects during the war and as they appeared when they were interviewed. The beginning of the book gives brief bios of all of the children who interviewed people for inclusion in the book, so this gives a highly personal feel and deep sense of connection that another style of writing would not provide.

While this might be difficult to use for research due to the lack of index, Voices from the Second World War is an important volume to use to understand how WWII changed the lives of those who lived through it. Pair it with Partridge's Vietnam-era interviews in Boots on the Ground or with any number of fiction books set during this tumultuous time period.

1 comment:

  1. these sound REALLY good! My TBR pile just got bigger.