Wednesday, May 16, 2018

World War II

36127366Larson, Kirby. Code Word Courage
April 24th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Billie and her big brother, Leo, have lived with their great aunt Doff for a while, since their mother passed away, and their father eventually left after he lost his farm. Doff is brusque and no nonsense, but takes good care of them. When Leo must go off to fight in World War II, Billie knows that she will miss him dreadfully, especially now that her best friend Hazel is hanging out with Kit, a mean and popular girl. When Leo comes home to visit after basic training, he brings a fellow Marine, Denny, home with him. On the way, Denny has found an injured dog that he names bear, and brings the dog with him because he feels that Billie needs someone to care for with Leo gone. Doff grudgingly agrees to keep him, and Billie struggles to get him a collar, leash and food with her scanty babysitting money. When the men go back to the Marines, Denny is picked to be part of the Codetalkers, Navajo men who used their native language to transmit messages that could not be decoded by the enemy. Leo gets shipped to the Pacific, and Billie must deal with living on the home front, collecting salvage, saving money to buy stamps to trade in for a saving bond, and rationing food. Her new friendship with Tito, a boy whose father is working on Doff's ranch, is put to the test when the two fight and Tito is injured while out stargazing. Bear comes to the rescue on more than one occasion.

Aside from Bruchac's Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two (2005), there are not many books that incorporate this bit of history. Even though this is not an #ownvoices book, Larson had sensitivity readers and did a lot of research to accurately portray Denny's experiences. While not exactly like her other dog books set during World War II, Duke, Dash, and Liberty, this is a great book to have on an underrepresented topic.

Billie's experiences on the home front are not that unusual, but it was interesting to see a book set out west that included the treatment of Mexican Americans. Tito suffers from being made fun of a lot, but he is very stoic about it. I hadn't known that there was such discrimination against Mexican Americans during this time period until I read Conkling's Sylvia and Aki (2011), and this, too, is a good topic to see addressed.

World War II continues to be a topic that fascinates young readers, and Code Word Courage will keep those obsessed with the era reading happily.

31394849Weissman, Elissa Brent. The Length of a String
May 1st 2018 by Dial Books
Public Library Copy

Imani was adopted as an infant by a Jewis family in Baltimore. Although she knows that her biological heritage is mostly African-American, she enjoys her Hebrew school and Jewish family traditions when her great grandmother Anna dies, she and her cousins get to pick out books, and Imani finds Anna's diary. Enthralled by the story, Imani and her friend Madeline read the diary in secret for a while, but eventually share it with Imani's family. As her bat mitzvah is approaching, Imani starts to think about her biological cultural heritage, and is interested in finding her birth mother. Since it wasn't an open adoption, her mother is a bit surprised and unsure what reception Imani might get. Reading about Anna's story, which involved being sent to the US to live with a relative while her extended family remained in Luxembourg, Imani learns a lot about her family history and culture, but also a lot about herself.
Strengths: My best friend in middle school was adopted, and I know we spent a lot of time thinking about her backstory. Personal identity is a huge issue in middle school, and there are not as many books with adopted characters as there perhaps should be. We also need more Holocaust stories with different facets, and there are relatively few that cover children sent away. Weissman always writes compellingly, and this is an interesting departure from her usual humorous novels.
Weaknesses: This is a bit on the long side, and my readers who ask repeatedly for Holocaust books are most interested in stories set in the camps. I wish this had followed Anna and her family. Imani's story could be a completely different book!
What I really think: I will probably purchase this because it was good, but sort of do wish it were two separate books.

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