Monday, April 22, 2019

MMGM- Paul B. Janeczko

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at 
Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

I knew of Paul Janeczko mainly from poetry anthologies in my library that have seen years of use; Blushing: Expressions of Love in Poems and Letters (2004), Preposterous: Poems of Youth (1991), Strings: A Gathering of Family Poems (1984), and Don't Forget to Fly (1981). Dark Game (2011) and Double Cross (2017) surprised and delighted me with their spy details, and showed me another side of this author. Sadly, he passed away 21 February, just as this new book showed up on my radar. According to his obituary in Publishers Weekly, there are two more manuscripts in the hands of his editor. I always thought fond thoughts about this author when I handed his books to students; I'm sorry I never got to tell him how much easier he made my job. 

Secret Soldiers is a masterpiece; pick it up for your WWII fans as a fitting tribute to a great author.

Janeczko, Paul B. Secret Soldiers: How the U.S. Twenty-Third Special Troops Fooled the Nazis
April 23rd 2019 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from

During WWII, there were dozens and dozens of departments and units doing things that 95% of the population still has no clue about. Whether it was the art units or African-American women sorting mail, the Fly Girls, or the Candy Bombers, I am always amazed by the things I read about WWII that most of the history buffs I know aren't even aware of! Certainly, very few people know about the Twenty-Third Headquarters Special Troops, also known as the Ghost Army. Their job was to go in, with about 1,100 members, and impersonate troops of up to 50,000 soldiers or sailors. They were also instrumental in throwing off the enemy by making it look like there were tanks, encampments, and even troop transport ships when they were merely inflatable items and scores of dummies! Even better, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was instrumental in the idea! It was sort of like a covert USO, made up of artists, sound technicians, and other special effects experts. My favorite was when they staged a naval attack to try to siphon troops away from the area where an actual attack was planned-- they had the fake ships, threw up a smoke screen, played sound effects, and sent in a few bombs! And it actually worked. Tactics like this would probably not work today, but how intriguing that they did.

This followed the group from their inception through the many different activities in which they were involved in a very orderly fashion, and there were lots of good pictures of people, equipment, and areas. There were so many fascinating details that I wanted to share with someone: did you know that Quonset huts were called Nissen huts in the UK? That the Beach Jumpers were named that because they wanted other words to fit the acronym for be-jesus? And... Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.!

Here's the thing: I have zero interest in WWII. None. And yet, my students love to read about it, so I have acquired enough of a background knowledge that I could, say, hold up my end of the conversation if I were on a date with a WWII buff. This book was so well-researched; where would you even get pictures of the fake tanks? Surely, there was some kind of security that would have made this difficult to sneak back home after the war.

This is an essential addition to a middle school or high school library, and will probably be my nominee for the Cybils middle grade nonfiction award for 2019.

Well done, Mr. Janeczko.

Sutter, Marcus. Attack on Pearl Harbor (Soldier Dogs #2)
October 30th 2018 by HarperCollins
Library copy

There are a growing number of dogs in war books being published, and these are a great way to sate to appetite of slightly younger readers who  like WWII books. In addition to the four by Sutter, there are:

Calkhoven, Laurie. G.I. Dogs: Stubby (G.I. Dogs #2) (Two books)
Hart, Alison. Darling, Mercy Dog of World War I (Four books)
Klimo, Kate. Buddy (Dog Diaries #2) (A lot, some about war)
London, C. Alexander. Semper Fido (Dog Tags #1) (A couple, plus some sea creature ones.)


  1. Glad you enjoyed Secret Soldiers! I don't read much WWII-themed MG books but Secret Soldiers sounds like a fascinating read!

  2. This book by Paul Janeczko sounds fascinating. I'd also like to read more of his poetry, although I wasn't that fond of The Death of the Hat.

  3. I've loved Paul Janeczko's books tor years, too, and have a copy of this one, will be reading it soon. I enjoyed Double Cross very much. It feels as if Paul loved all kinds of things, poetry along with history, most especially covert ops. I'm glad you shared, Karen.

  4. I was a huge WWII reader in middle school, so I sympathize with the kids forcing you to acquire expertise. Thanks for the books!

  5. I didn't know about Paul Janeczko's books. But, I do love reading books about WW II and have loved learned about the women who broke codes etc. But, what you shared is all new to me and I am amazed at the unorthodox attempts to trick the Germans. Secret Soldiers sounds fascinating and I will look forward to getting a copy. Thank you for the recommendation! Wow!

  6. Ooh! Loving the soldier-themed middle grade novels here! :)

  7. I'm so glad to learn of How the U.S. Twenty-Third Special Troops Fooled the Nazis -- the fact that it will be your Cybils middle grade nonfiction nominee is very telling! I'm adding it to my list. Hope you have a wonderful week, Karen!