Posts tagged ‘War’

Truce

0-545-13049-2Title: Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting
Author: Jim Murphy
ISBN: 9780545130493
Pages: 116 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc.

In a matter of days, six million soldiers would find themselves facing weapons of unimaginable destructive power. Many of them would be blasted from the face of the earth, while others would be left permanently wounded in horrible ways. None of these young men realized that their leaders had lied to get them to fight in a war that did not have to happen. Nor could they know that on December 25, 1914, they would openly defy their commanding officers and meet on the battlefield in what can only be described as a Christmas miracle. (x)

Since I’ve read Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan I know that World War I started when the Austrian Archduke was assassinated while visiting Bosnia-Herzegovina. I’d also previously heard about the impromptu truce that was called between troops in order to celebrate Christmas, which when the war started was when everyone thought the war would be over. Little did they know at that point it was just starting. But Jim Murphy glosses over the causes of the war and strives to put the focus on the soldiers involved in the conflict. There are copious photos of soldiers in the trenches, close-ups of the no-mans land that they could not cross, and the aftermath of the futile charges when they did attempt an attack. Soldiers from both sides are quoted extensively, with first-hand accounts taken from journals, letters home, and official correspondence. Even if you’d previously heard about the impromptu and imperfect truce, there’s new insight to be gained.

For instance, did you know that the truce was previously coordinated? Mini-truces had been organized between the troops, as they exchanged songs and sometimes supplies over the crumbling walls. Murphy relates that one area even had a shooting competition, where a target was placed in the middle and each sides shot until it was hit. But arranging the truce depended upon the individual platoons, battalions, and soldiers.

The most surprising thing was that it was frowned upon by the superior officers!

Back at headquarters, [English] General Horace Smith-Dorrien had been disturbing reports all day about strange goings-on at the front. [...] The commander of all British troops, Field Marshall John French, was just as angry. “When this [fraternization] was reported to me I issued immediate orders to prevent any recurrence of such conduct, and called the local commanders to strict account, which resulted in a good deal of trouble.
The German High Command took much the same view and issued a terse order: “Commander Second Army directs that informal understandings with enemy are to cease. Officers . . . allowing them are to be brought before a court-martial.” (82-83)

As a result, some of the opposing officers in the field met to warn their enemies that they’d be resuming their hostilities. Some soldiers initially refused to resume firing, and others warned their counterparts each time they were forced to give the impression that they were still fighting, such as when they were being inspected by higher ranking members. While most places continued to fight by the new year, soldiers stationed on both sides at Ploegsteert Wood kept the friendship until March. I laughed at some of the comments, as I’m sure the commanding generals did not, such as when one captain declared that the men waved at each other and made tea and acted “most gentlemanly” and that “this useless and annoying sniping can have no real effect on the progress of the campaign.” (88)

A truly intriguing idea that begs the perpetual and never solved “What if” question that is probably hanging over the heads of every soldier involved. “What if the fighting had stopped there?” How different would history and the world be? Especially how reluctantly some of the parties were to even get involved in the conflict, I wish the practice of listening to the troops and the people would have enacted some change. As the holidays approach and we hear about “Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men,” consider reading this book and learning about how this idea was practiced in the worst of circumstances.

This was posted in conjunction with Nonfiction Mondays, a drive around the internet to encourage reading and reviewing nonfiction titles.

Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

BombTitle: Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
Author: Steve Sheinkin
ISBN: 9781596434875
Pages: 266 pages
Publisher/Date: Flash Point, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, c2012.
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Awards: 2012 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, 2013 Newbery Honor Book, Winner of the 2013 Sibert Award and the 2013 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award, Cybils Top Five Nonfiction Finalist,

This is a big story. It’s the story of the creation — and theft — of the deadliest weapon ever invented. The scenes speed around the world, from secret labs to commando raids to street-corner spy meetings. But like most big stories, this one starts small [...] sixteen years before FBI agents cornered Harry Gold in Philadelphia. (7)

Not only is this a big story, but it’s also a complex and sometimes convoluted story, filled with spies and sabotage, intrigue and ingenuity, science and suspense. In 1938, German physicist Otto Hahn was the first to split the atom, an accomplishment that scientists around the world thought was impossible. Less than one year later, President Roosevelt was appraised by none other than Albert Einstein of the possibility of this discovery being used to build a super-sized bomb, and Roosevelt demanded action. Thus began the race for physical, monetary, and intellectual resources to discover the key and build a bomb before any of their enemies. In the shadow of World War II and into the Cold War, scientists worked tirelessly. Robert Oppenheimer’s team in California was the first to crack the code, but the group was plagued with security uncertainties and the government, military, and scientists involved questioned who they could really trust with this deadly and destructive data.

This book has received many accolades, from being a 2012 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature and 2013 Newbery Honor Book to winning the 2013 Sibert Award and the 2013 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. One thing that would have helped this award-winning book immensely is a timeline. As readers bounce from scientists to spies and back again across multiple continents and countries, it was almost information overload. It was difficult to differentiate everyone in the beginning, especially when the forward starts in one year and then you zip backwards in time almost a decade and another part where two people on a sabotage team both had the same first name. But for science enthusiasts and detailed orientated people, this will intrigue and enthrall them to have all the pieces of the puzzle together in one concise book. Sheinkin goes beyond the creation of Fat Man and Little Boy and their deployment on Japan, allowing readers a glimpse into the beginnings of the Cold War.

One scene mentioned in the book that particularly struck me was learning how far America went to determine who was spying on us:

While in the United States, Soviet spies had to use an American telegraph company to send information quickly to Moscow. The KGB probably knew that the telegraph company was making copies of every telegram and handing them over to the U.S. Army. This didn’t particularly worry the Soviets–the messages were always written in an extremely complex code.
In 1949, after years of failure, American code breakers cracked the code. Intelligence began decoding all the messages sent to the Soviet Union during the war. That’s when they came across a shocking note sent from New York City to KGB headquarters in 1944. [...]
The 1944 telegram summarized a top-secret scientific paper. The paper had been written by one of the British scientists working with Oppenheimer. A few phone calls later, Lamphere [a FBI counterintelligence agent] had the name of the paper’s author: Klaus Fuchs. (221)

Proving how complex the situation was, the German-born physicist named Klaus Fuchs was working with British scientists in England when his assistance was requested in America, prompting him to spy for the Russian Communist Party. When he is arrested and finally being tried in 1950, his lawyer emphasizes the fact that at the time he was passing secrets to the Soviet Union during World War II, the country and Britain were allies. This made the difference between a maximum 14 years in prison for passing secrets to allies and the death penalty if the two countries had been enemies at the time the crime was committed. Fuchs got out early for good behavior, later moving back to East Germany.

Especially interesting is a peak, however brief, into the political rational of Japan not surrendering after the first bomb was dropped. I would have liked to have read more about the bombs’ effects on the country, but sticking to the facts and not trying to sensationalize the country or its population I feel made a greater impact. The simple statement “Fat Man exploded over the city of Nagasaki with the force of 22,000 tons of TNT. At least 40,000 people were instantly killed, and tens of thousands more fatally wounded or poisoned with radiation.” leaves a power impression. I hope readers considered these stark statistics and allowed them the full attention they deserved. This is not a fast read, but you’ll feel immeasurably rewarded once you get through this dense text that presents the making of the bomb and it’s after effects from all sides.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Sue Heavenrich over at Sally’s Bookshelf.

This book in particular was read as I participate in YALSA’s 2013 Hub Reading Challenge which challenges readers to finish 25 books by June 22nd from a list of 83 titles that were recognized and published over the last year.

Shadow

Title: Shadow
Author: Michael Morpurgo
ISBN: 9780312606596
Pages: 180 pages
Publisher/Date: Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillian, c2010.
Publication Date: Sept. 4, 2012 (US) (first published Jan. 1, 2010)

I saw then what they had seen, foreign soldiers, several of them, coming slowly toward us. The one in front had a detector–I’d seen them before in Bamiyan–and I knew what they were for. He was sweeping the road ahead of him for bombs. I think it was only then that I put two and two together, and realized what Shadow was doing. She had discovered a bomb. She was pointing to it. She was showing us. and I knew somehow that she was showing the soldiers too.
But they still couldn’t see her. She was hidden from them by a boulder at the side of the road. So I just ran. I never even thought about it. I just ran, toward the soldiers, toward Shadow, toward the bomb.(72-73)

When Aman was just a child living in Afghanistan, his father and grandmother were killed by the Taliban. Forced to flee the country with his mother in the hopes of meeting up with an uncle in England, Aman faced some insurmountable odds. Finally making it across the border with the aid of a unique dog he named Shadow, Aman leads a relatively comfortable life in England. After spending six years in England, Aman and his mother receive the shocking news that their asylum request has been denied and they need to return to Afghanistan. They are locked away, awaiting deportation. That’s when Aman’s friend Matt and Matt’s grandfather make a last-ditch effort to save this family from a separation that could kill them.

Allowing Aman to tell the story in a flashback format prevents the urgency and apprehension from building. We already know that he and his mother make it to England successfully because he is locked there awaiting deportation. By the time readers catch up to present day, there are few pages left to resolve the conflict, and it’s fairly obvious what’s going to happen and you’re really not surprised by the ending. While the ending is fairly serendipitous, it’s also realistic, as you generally hear about “Hail Mary passes” being caught by someone and being taken all the way by a network of people.

The characters are likeable enough, but even Aman comes across as somewhat one-dimensional, as the focus is on the journey and not the people. Readers can sympathize with his situation, but you don’t get emotionally involved like some other stories encourage. Matt and his grandfather are supplemental, even though they are the only ones relating “present” events. I think it would have increased urgency if we had seen Aman’s state first hand, like when he was detained in the deportation “camp”.

However, I can see teachers using this in lesson plans about ongoing wars overseas, immigration, refugees, and comparing detention centers of today to other times we’ve had something similar occur, such as during World War II with Hitler’s concentration camps and the Japanese internment camps here in the United States. With short chapters, many of which have a dangling if not a true cliff-hanger ending, it would make an interesting read-aloud during transition times or for several minutes each day. Being written by Michael Morpurgo helps too, especially with the recent release of the War Horse movie generating interest in his war based realistic fiction. He provides some background information about asylum-seeking families and military dogs in his acknowledgements and postscripts. I’m very interested in getting the two movies he sites, Phil Grabsky’s The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan and In this World, directed by Michael Winterbottom, although I’m not finding either at any library locally at this time.

Robopocalypse

Title: Robopocalypse
Author: Daniel H. Wilson
ISBN: 9780385533850
Pages: 347 pages
Publisher/Date: Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. c2011.

“Stop. You have to stop. You’re making a mistake. We’ll never give up, Archos. We’ll destroy you.”
“A threat?”
The professor stops pushing buttons and glances over to the computer screen. “A warning. We aren’t what we seem. Human beings will do anything to live. Anything.”
The hissing increases in intensity. Face twisted in concentration, the professor staggers toward the door. He falls against it, pushes it, pounds on it.
He stops; takes short gasping breaths.
“Against the wall, Archos”–he pants–“against the wall, a human being becomes a different animal.”
“Perhaps. But you are animals just the same.” [...]
His breathing is shallow. His words are faint. “We’re more than animals.”
The professor’s chest heaves. His skin is swollen. Bubbles have collected around his mouth and eyes. He gasps for a final lungful of air. In a last wheezing sigh, he says: “You must fear us.” [..]
This is the first known fatality of the New War. (19-20)

After this initial uprising, it takes this highly intelligent and adaptable robot a year to hack into the computers governing every robot on the planet and coordinate a highly effective plan of attack. The robotic aids for the elderly, the computerized auto pilot cars, the military machines and computer controlled weapon systems, even the mechanized elevators and mail delivery systems, all systematically and simultaneously turn on their owners and controllers. Some survive the initial attack, either fleeing into the wilderness away from civilization or burrowing into what remains of the city, fighting for survival and standing against the machines. But with these scattered groups of resistance fighters unable to communicate with each other and barely able to move, it’s going to take all their ingenuity, unpredictability, and human spirit to fight off machines that can think, learn, and evolve.

This book is eye-opening and fear inducing, simply because it’s portrays something that could happen in the not so distance future. This isn’t just Star Trek’s Data going haywire and revolting. This book’s concept is so scary because it’s not just humanoid robots, it’s every computerized mechanism in the world that communicates with other things. Think about that for a second, because Wilson sure did. The smart cars of the future (Or even of today!) that can drive themselves start running over their owners and crashing into things, killing the occupants. The planes that talk to the tower and even today contain autopilot also take over the controls. Keypads on doors can lock people in or out of areas. Water and air purification and filtration systems can malfunction at a moments notice. Even houses today have computers where the lights, locks, mechanicals, and even your fridge can talk to each other and be controlled remotely. We saw a brief glimpse of what could happen during the 2003 Northeast Blackout that affected eight US states and people in Canada, and that was just an inconvenience. What if robots had gained control of the facilities and withheld the electricity for over two years?

The presentation of the story as collected flashbacks gives readers a vision of this war from the beginning to the climatic end. It also however proves to be a little choppy, and I found myself flipping through to read the accounts and actions of specific characters, rather than from the beginning to the end for a more well-rounded view. However, it gets better when the counter assault gets underway, as the various perspectives give you a clear view of how the war effort is progressing.

I’m presenting a review of this book during Banned Book Week because it’s inclusion on a summer reading list this year for a STEM-based class at Hardin Valley Academy in Tennessee was challenged by a parent for language. I’m actually somewhat surprised that language was the only complaint behind Mr. Lee and his wife’s objection to the book, although their counting the number of f-words (93 according to this article) leads me to believe that they did not read the entire book and simply searched for the objectionable word. There are some rather graphic descriptions of people getting injured and/or killed throughout the war that I would think some parents might find more objectionable than the language. If their excuse for the violence falls under the reasoning of “Well, that’s what happens when robots and humans enter all out war,” then I would think strong language would be just as justified by that reasoning. Ironically enough, this book is one of four choices that students at a local high school can read for required reading. We’ll have to see if they are faced by the same challenges and objections.

One of ten books to receive the Alex Award from YALSA for “books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18″, Robopocalype is an involving read and I can see the comparisons between Wilson’s writing and that of Michael Crichton in weaving science and scary together. But where Crichton had tension, Wilson relies heavily on action, technical details, and coincidences. I can see the appeal as the story because the fear it generates and questions it raises stay with you, but ultimately this is yet another robots take over the world tale similar to Transformers. The unique aspects of the story is the insidious nature and patience involved in getting to that point.

Between Shades of Gray

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Narrator: Emily Klein
ISBN: 9780142428979
Pages: 344 pages
Discs/CDs: 7 CDs, 8 hours
Publisher/Date: Penguin Audio, c2011.

“Davai!” An NKVD officer grabbed Jonas by the shoulders and began to drag him away.
“NO!” screamed Mother.
They were taking Jonas. My beautiful, sweet brother who shooed bugs out of the house instead of stepping on them, who gave his little ruler to splint a crotchety old man’s leg.
“Mama! Lina!” he cried, flailing his arms.
“Stop!” I screamed, tearing after them. Mother grabbed the officer and began speaking in Russian–pure, fluent Russian. He stopped and listened. [...]
Mother pulled a bundle of rubles from her pocket and exposed it slightly to the officer. He reached for it and then said something to Mother, motioning with his head. Her hand flew up and ripped the amber pendant right from her neck and pressed it into the NKVD’s hand. He didn’t seem to be satisfied. Mother continued to speak in Russian and pulled a pocket watch from her coat. I knew that watch. It was her father’s and had his name engraved in the soft gold on the back. The officer snatched the watch, let go of Jonas, and started yelling at the people next to us.
Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch. (26-27)

Fifteen-year-old Lina, her younger brother Jonas, and her mother are violently taken from their home in the middle of the night by the Soviet police. Being deported to who knows where, it’s a constant struggle to survive as they travel by train car to first one labor camp and then another. Forced to do back-breaking work in deplorable conditions with little food or medical care, Lina spends her days alternatingly fearing the worst and hoping for the best. But when you’re faced with insurmountable odds, is there really any difference between hoping for life or begging for death?

It really amazes me the coincidences that happen when no one is aware of them. The fact that this book and Breaking Stalin’s Nose could both be about Stalin’s rule during World War II, events that most Americans including myself have very little knowledge of AND be published within six months of each other is amazing enough in my mind. To have them both be recognized by the various awards committees is even more remarkable, with Breaking Stalin’s Nose receiving a Newbery Honor and Between Shades of Gray receiving a host of recognition, including nominations for the Cybils Award for Young Adult Fiction, the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and the ALA Teens’ Top Ten list. I feel like I should go hunting for more books about Stalin’s regime! The beauty of this coincidence that with these two books you have perspectives from both sides of how life was like from authors who both have personal connections to that time in history. The fear that Sasha suffers from in Breaking Stalin’s Nose is almost incomparable to what Lina and her family go through in Between Shades of Gray, although it did slightly prepare me for what I would find in Between Shades of Gray.

Ruta Sepetys stresses at the end of her book that to this day, seventy years later, still no one talks about the horrors that happened at the beginning of the war. Librarians, teachers, military professionals, lawyers, and doctors along with their families were just some of the professions that were rounded up, shoved onto trains, and forced to hard labor in the camps for years. As a librarian, knowing about this left me thinking if I would have survived the journey, and the answer would have most likely been no. They took the educated, the informed, and the influential, and reduced them to scavengers, sickly citizens, forcing them to sign documents that marked them as criminals and labeling the train car they rode on as carrying prostitutes and thieves to further demean their existence.

There were so many scenes in this book of the torture that these people endured that stand out to me so vividly even after finishing the last page and closing the cover. I can’t lock those descriptions away and put them on the shelf as easily as I can close the book and put it away. From being threatened with being buried alive to suffering from lice, scurvy, and other diseases to picking up and eating the trash that is pelted at you just so you have something to eat that night, to watching a new mother be shot for mourning the death of her new-born, which suffered the irrevocable fate of having been born to someone on the “list”. The United States, as far as I’m aware of, doesn’t share the histories of atrocities that other countries do, as even slaves back in the 1700s were taken care of to some extent because they had value. These people were seen as worthless by the NKVD and made to feel worthless by any means necessary.

Sepeyts spares nothing and no one when portraying the hardships, but the book is also filled with instances of caring and the small actions that helped Lina, her brother, and everyone around her maintain a shred of hope and decency. When asked to undress for the first time in the open air for showers, the women avert their eyes and turn around so as to give the boys some modicum of privacy. Jonas gives his school ruler as an ineffective splint for a crotchety and pessimistic man who broke his leg in a failed suicide attempt. The prisoners share what little knowledge, food, and warmth they have with each other because they recognize that sometimes the littlest things could mean the difference between hope and despair, between another day above ground or the first of many below.

Emily Klein narrates the book, and the part she excels is Lina’s varied feelings and the clipped and impatient tones of the NKVD officers, many times shouting just one hated word: “Davai!” While her differentiation between characters is only really noticeable with Lina, Jonas, and one or two others, the emotion is raw and palatable and certainly is a welcome addition to the experience. However, you should also take a look at the map included in the printed text, which gives a visual of how far Lina, her family, and the rest of the captives had to travel over the course of more than a year.

Ruta Sepetys summarizes the conflict succinctly in the video on the book’s website. She also recently wrote a piece for NPR, explaining how her book is frequently confused with that “other shades of gray book” but that’s she’s embracing the opportunity to educate people who wouldn’t normally have been interested and claims the “mix-up is a victory.” It’s a powerful novel, both informative and inspirational in the same way that Anne Frank’s diary was for the Jewish Holocaust, and I highly recommend not only for book groups and school reading, but for individual reading as well.

Changes for Caroline

Title: Changes for Caroline
Author: Kathleen Ernst
Illustrators: Robert and Lisa Papp
ISBN: 9781593698928
Pages: 84 pages
Publisher/Date: American Girl Publishing, c2012
Publication Date: September 4, 2012

The success of our new farm depends on making a good start this summer. We must have a good harvest if we are to have any hope of surviving next winter. Therefore, I ask that you send Caroline to us right away. We will likely need her for some time to come.
Caroline gasped. She was to go to the farm? Right away? Without knowing when she might return? A band seemed to go tight around her chest. (10)

Things seem to finally getting back to normal, or as normal as they can get with a war threatening to disturb their lives at any moment. Then Caroline and her family receive word that her Uncle Aaron and cousin Lydia desperately need help starting their new farm… and they want Caroline to come and help! Within an hour, Caroline is packed and leaving her family behind to take the ride into the country. Farming is not easy, as they must plow the fields, tend the meager crops, milk the cows, and an assortment of other chores that take them from sun up to sun down. Life is made even more difficult when a thief starts running off with their hard-earned food. When Caroline is left on the farm by herself for the day and she hears noises, she must act quickly to save the food and supplies.

This is my favorite book of the Caroline series, probably because I’m willing to overlook the abrupt ending. It shows every day farm life during this time period. Yes, the war is still going on, but Uncle Aaron and his family are more concerned with getting crops in the ground, milk out of the cows, and food on their table then who is fighting who. Ernst includes little details about farm life, like if cows eat onions their milk tastes and smells funny for a couple of days. We see just how much hard work there is in keeping a farm in running order, and readers witness the camaraderie between farmers as they help each other with their chores. It reminded me of the Little House series, only much shorter and less descriptive. Although the war is still being fought at the end of this book, Caroline’s story ends peacefully and jubilantly as the whole country celebrates Independence Day in ways very similar to what we do today, with speeches, picnics, gun salutes, and music.

Caroline’s Battle

Title: Caroline’s Battle
Author: Kathleen Ernst
Illustrators: Robert and Lisa Papp
ISBN: 9781593698904
Pages: 90 pages
Publisher/Date: American Girl Publishing, c2012
Publication Date: September 4, 2012

“A few dozen British men and some of their Indian allies rowed ashore several miles west of here,” the officer said. “As soon as the wind picks up, though, the British fleet will surely head for Sackets Harbor and try to land a huge force near the village.” [...]
The officer waved his hand toward the shipyard. “I need these men to help defend Navy Point.”
Caroline caught her breath. She saw the men exchanging worried glances and heard them muttering in protest. “We’re needed here, to guard the gun boat!” one of the carpenters shouted.
“With so many of the American troops away, our position is desperate,” the officer snapped. “We need every man to fight.”
“But–but sir,” Caroline stammered, “who will defend our shipyard?” (28-29)

When the British decide to attack the town of Sackets Harbor while the majority of the military is away, every man is called into action to defend against the landing party. This leaves Caroline and her mother to guard the gunboat being constructed in the family operated shipyard. The British cannot be allowed to gain access to the almost completed gunboat, much less the building plans or the navy instructions housed in the office, and Caroline and her mother are ordered to burn the ship if the fighting goes bad. But with signal fires flaring and the sound of gunfire approaching, will Caroline follow orders or her heart when she’s called to action?

One point in the story that really struck me is when Caroline asks her mother “How do you know when it’s right to do what you’re told, and when to decide for yourself?” (44) Her mother doesn’t really answer except to say “It is sometimes very difficult. I try to use both my mind and my heart.” I feel though that this is one of the important things that girls discover or figure out as they are growing up is that sometimes you have to make your own decisions and you’ll have to figure out when that time has arrived.

Another aspect of the story that I enjoyed was knowing that the events in the book are based on actual events. We learn in the Looking Back section that Sackets Harbor was actually attacked just as described in the story and the outcome was exactly what happens to Caroline and her family. Staying that true to history encourages kids to investigate more and makes everything more believable. I was quite surprised about how close she gets to the fighting again, and I think readers will really bear witness to what it was like during that time.

I feel like the cover could have been done differently, since there are very few details for the background. Understandably the lack of details places the emphasis on Caroline and her torch and it’s effective in raising questions about what she is doing and who she is battling. That cover is just very different from the typical American Girl cover, and there is a stark contrast when compared with the others in the series. The plot however is more of the same intriguing and engaging story line that readers have come to expect.

Caroline Takes a Chance

Title: Caroline Takes a Chance
Author: Kathleen Ernst
Illustrators: Robert and Lisa Papp
ISBN: 9781593698881
Pages: 91 pages
Publisher/Date: American Girl Publishing, c2012
Publication Date: September 4, 2012

Caroline’s heart dropped as she followed his gaze. A sloop had just appeared, and she could see a British flag flying from its tallest mast.
“It’s an enemy ship,” she whispered.
Rhonda’s eyes were wide. “It’s making straight for us!”
“It’s not making straight for us,” Seth said grimly. “It’s making straight for the bateau.”
Her heart racing, Caroline eyed the sloop. Seth was right. Although the British sloop was zigzagging to make use of the wind, its captain was clearly heading toward the American supply boat. (21-22)

Caroline and her friends Seth and Rhonda go out to catch some fish, and spot the missing supply boat fleeing from a British ship. During the ensuing chase, Seth decides that he can’t stay out of the war and admits his desire to join the navy. His obligations as post walker prevent him from immediately enlisting, until Caroline volunteers to assume his duty. His route takes her close to an old fishing spot she used to visit with her father, and it’s there she finds more than just memories of happier times.

This book reads like two connected short stories, and it got me thinking that while that’s how most of the American Girl book series play out, with a overarcing problem tying all the books about one girl together, this one just seemed more bisected than most. Again, we see Caroline getting personally involved in the war effort, although with the next book being titled Caroline’s Battle I can imagine that this won’t be the last time. It’s in this book that I think Caroline’s resourcefulness is most apparent, and it makes it obvious how much everyone needed to rely on each other and nature during their times of need. What would the world be like today if we could depend on one another the way Seth depends on Caroline to finish his route? Not my favorite in the series because it seemed predictable in nature, but overall still a fun fast read.

A Surprise for Caroline

Title: A Surprise for Caroline
Author: Kathleen Ernst
Illustrator: Robert and Lisa Papp
ISBN: 9781593698867
Pages: 85 pages
Publisher/Date: American Girl Publishing, c2012.
Publication Date: Sept. 4, 2012

Didn’t the older girls understand? “That means we can go out on the lake,” Caroline said.
“Why would we want to do that?” Rhonda asked.
“We can go skating!” Caroline explained happily.
“What do you think, Rhonda?” Lydia asked. “Shall we go skating?”
Caroline’s smile slipped away. In the old days, the promise of sunshine and good ice would have made Lydia race Caroline out the front door.
“Not today, I don’t think,” Rhonda said. “I like fixing hair. I don’t want to go outside in this cold anyway.” [...]
“We’ll do yours too, if you want.”
Caroline’s shoulders slumped. How could Lydia and Rhonda think that arranging hair was more fun than skating? “No, thank you,” she said. With a sigh, she left the older girls alone and headed back downstairs. (12-13)

Caroline thought that having Lydia and Rhonda staying in her house would be great fun, with constant friends and playmates. But when Rhonda refuses to go skating and Lydia follows her lead, Caroline is left out in the cold. She’s tired of being frozen out by the two of them and being treated like a child when there is only two-year difference in their ages. But sometimes friends have your back when you most desperately need it, when Caroline finds herself on thin ice and turns to them for help.

This book in the new American Girl series focuses on the home front more than the war front, which I’ve always thought made the stories more realistic. While some girls might get up close and personal with the war like Caroline does in earlier (and later) books in the series, most were probably more removed from it. To witness life where the kids play in the snow and ice skate and celebrate Christmas, those stories always seem more real to me, even if they are slightly less “exciting”. We see Caroline struggling again with friendships as her impulsive (and some might say stubborn) nature gets the better of her because she’s so focused on doing what she wants to do when she wants to do it. As always, good lessons for readers are cleverly disguised in an interesting and engaging plot driven tale.

Caroline’s Secret Message

Title: Caroline’s Secret Message
Author: Kathleen Ernst
Illustrators: Robert and Lisa Papp
ISBN: 9781593698843
Pages: 93 pages
Publisher/Date: American Girl Publishing, c2012.
Publication Date: September 4, 2012

“He told us that the British are planning to send prisoners to Halifax. Oliver thinks that if Papa ends up on a ship to Halifax, he should try to escape.”
“That’s why we’re here,” Mama said. “I’m going to argue for my husband’s release. If I fail, I’ll try to let him know what Oliver advises.”
Uncle Aaron got to his feet and began to pace the room. “But if John does escape, what then?” [...]
Aunt Martha explained, “Your father has now way of knowing which families he can trust, or where the British gunboats patrol. If the British were to capture him a second time, he would be treated much more harshly.” (42-43)

When Caroline’s cousin Oliver appears on the road, Caroline expects her father to be right behind him. But Oliver explains that while they might have released him, her father’s knowledge of ship building and refusal to aid the British fleet meant that he is still locked up in prison across the lake in Canada. The War of 1812 has been raging for several months, and Caroline misses her father dearly. Her mother and Caroline embark on an effort to get her father released, but their back-up plan of helping him escape might be in jeopardy. Will Caroline’s father make it back home in time for her birthday?

A subplot that I find equally intriguing as the story of Caroline and her father is the fact that Caroline and her family unexpectedly find themselves opening their home to an Army officer’s wife and two daughters, Rhonda and Amelia. Caroline isn’t too thrilled to have Rhonda initially, and Rhonda is likewise unenthusiastic about their newest move, but the girls find friendship and camaraderie as they both try to deal with their absent fathers. The way their friendship grows seems almost natural as they progress from arguing to the silent treatment to finally mutual apologies. The Looking Back section gives readers information on how the war affected everyone, from families lodging soldiers and their families to men joining the military and women assuming the chores. That last effect reminds me very much of how women pitched in during the World Wars by assuming the men’s jobs and responsibilities.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 83 other followers

%d bloggers like this: