Monday, July 20, 2020

MMGM-- War Stories

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Korman, Gordon. War Stories
July 21st 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Trevor is fascinated by World War II-- reading books about it, playing videos games based on it, and talking to his 93-year-old great-grandfather Jacob, who joined the army at 17, fought at Omaha Beach, and helped liberate a French town from the Nazis. When the town of Sainte-Regine prepares to celebrate the 75th anniversary of this event, they invite Jacob,since he is the only surviving American soldier who was there. Trevor's father convinces Trevor's mother that the three of them should go, and Jacob wants to start at Fort Benning, where he was trained, and follow his path through Europe to the French town. When they start on their journey, the chapters alternate between the modern journey and Jacob's experiences. Trevor is surprised by how unglamorous and difficult his grandfather's experiences were; for example, in his video games, tanks can go right over hedgerows, but Jacob assures him this is not true in real life. As they continue across France, Trevor notices a blonde girl following them, and odd things happen. A dead bird appears on their windshield, and a rock is thrown through their hotel room window. The girl is Juliette, and she is responsible for the Facebook group condemning and even threatening Jacob, claiming she knows that he did horrible things during the war and should not be lauded as a hero. Still, the trio continue to cross France as Jacob reconnects with pivotal experiences from his past, some of which he had suppressed. When the anniversary celebration takes place, will Jacob be able to take part or will Juliette's efforts to admit his past dissuade him?
Strengths: I am always surprised that even after twenty years of being a middle school librarian, World War II is still utterly beguiling to select readers. Korman does an amazing job at describing Jacob's reasons for wanting to join and have the "adventure" of fighting but also the way his view of the experience has changed over the years. Trevor's fascination with war is also brilliantly explained. The father is an interesting voice as well-- he's NOT that interested in the war but wants to support the man who raised him. I'm not usually a fan of going back and forth in time, but contrasting the modern day countryside with Jacob's memories of it during the war is fascinating. The family connection is well done, and I appreciate that Korman did his math and made Jacob Trevor's GREAT grandfather! Most of my students have grandfathers who served in Korea or Vietnam. My favorite part was the twists at the end, so I don't want to spoil those.
Weaknesses: I almost would have preferred it if Jacob hadn't met Juliette, and we just heard her side of the story without his involvement. This would have added a bit more suspense to the modern day story line, but we also wouldn't have seen Trevor's empathy for Juliette's family situation develop, so I can see why Korman made this choice.
What I really think: All of the parents who are concerned that their children are too interested in WWII (and believe me, I've gotten a LOT of e mails about this!) should read this book. It's an excellent explanation of why war is intriguing, but also informative about how devastating and destructive war. While Lynch's military based books about WWII and Vietnam addresses this, I've never seen a book that really talked about a modern day young person obsessed with a war, except for Landis' The Not-So-Boring Letters of Captain Nobody. Hand this to readers who enjoyed other tales of the French Resistance, such as Hughes Hero on a Bicycle, Preus' Village of Scoundrels,  
McDonough's The Bicycle Spy.

53066513. sx318 sy475 Kimmel, Allison Crotzer and Stone, Joanie (Illustrator)
Unbeatable Betty: Betty Robinson, the First Female Olympic Track & Field Gold Medalist 
June 9th 2020 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Girls and women have run for a long time; even the author Louisa May Alcott made distance running part of her every day life. It wasn't until the 1920s, however, that woman athletes started to be able to compete on a wider scale. Young Betty Robinson was approached  in 1928 by her high school track coach to run with the boys' team, since there were no teams for girls, and she was soon on the 1928 women's Olympic team! This was the first year that women were allowed to run, and Betty managed to edge out the favored runner, Fanny Rosenfeld, by .1 of a second in the 100 yard dash, making her the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal for running. She was all set to run in the 1932 Olympics as well, but was involved in a plane crash that shattered her leg. Told by the doctors to forget ever running again, she instead was only in a wheel chair for four months, although it took her two years to be able to run. Undeterred, she wanted to compete in the 1936 Olympics, but was limited by her injury. She switched to running relays, since the pin in her leg would not let her crouch down. Facing stiff competition from the German team, Betty was determined to win, and propelled her relay team to another gold medal.

After reading Macy's Breaking Through: How Female Athletes Shattered Stereotypes in the Roaring Twenties, I was amazed at the number of unheralded female athletes from the first half of the 1900s there were! Robinson would have been a contemporary of the great Babe Didrickson Zaharias, who also went to the 1932 Olympics but only ran hurdles.

Robinson's story of overcoming adversity is one that just begs for a longer treatment, but for now, this picture book biography will have to do. Stone does a great job at recreating the styles and fashions of the time, although I would have liked to see more photographs.  Some of these can be found at The after note and sources help give a bigger picture of women track athletes for whom Robinson paved the way.

Use this book, along with Poletti and Yee's The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon and  Chaffee's Her Fearless Run (about Kathryn Switzer), to inspire the young runners in your life to sign up for a one miler or try a program like Girls on the Run.

Now I really have to track down this Joe Gergen book! Doesn't Betty look modern?


  1. That's odd that parents are worried their kids are too interested in WWII. This sounds like a great story learning about the war through the experiences of Trevor's grandfather.

  2. War Stories sounds like a rare example of a unique WWII book! I've enjoyed the Swindle series and Ungifted by Korman, so I'm sure I'd enjoy this book as well. Unbeatable Betty sounds great as well—Robinson sounds like a fascinating person! Thanks for the great reviews!

  3. I just finished War Stories and really liked it (especially the end), and I thought it was a good book for showing kids the horrors of war without overdoing it. I just Gordon Korman!

    I also found your review about Betty Robinson very interesting. I took Track & Field in college, and continued to run afterwards until the arthritis in my knees made it impossible. I sure do miss it.

  4. Having just found a stack of my dad's WWII letters, I will have to read this one. Plus it's a Gordon Korman book and I've enjoyed many of his previous titles. Thanks for sharing WAR STORIES on MMGM.

  5. This is the second review of War Stories I've read this week. I was already intrigued, but after reading your words here, I just have to get a copy of this. Now I also want to read Unbeatable Betty.

  6. I am in a small school and usually have one or two readers per year that find WW2 books beguiling as well. This one seems to have a slightly different take on it. I find those few readers go through all my Alan Gratz and other historical fiction books but this one seems different. I might give it a try. Unbeatable Betty also looks interesting. Thanks for the reviews.

  7. War Stories sounds fascinating. Your mention of Juliette as me interested in what she has to say that could possibly change Trevor's view of his grandfather. I am suprised that you receive e-mails from parents about their kids' fascination with WWII. I was just the opposite -- I didn't want to read, study or watch a movie about WWII -- and my father served. Something about the Holocaust rattled me. It wasn't until I was an adult, that I became obsessed with reading everything I could via historical fiction and some nonfiction. Today, I worry that there are kids who don't know about what happened in Europe and the Pacific.
    Am also intrigued with your second share today about female athletes in the early 1900s. It was a man's world. I'm glad they are are books being written as they are great role models. Yes, Betty does look modern!

  8. I'm a huge fan of Korman, and this book sounds really intriguing. I like the contrast of the reality of war with what the main character thinks it's like. I remember being fascinated as a kid as to what it'd be like to live through a war (more the daily life stuff), and I gobbled up any book that talked about it.
    Unbeatable Betty sounds like an extraordinary story.
    Thanks for featuring such interesting titles this week!