Tag Archives: World War II

Is it Night or Day? by Fern Shuman Chapman

Farrar, Straus, Giroux     ISBN: 9780374177447

This novel is based on the experiences of the author’s mother who, in 1938, at the age of twelve was sent from Germany to Chicago to live with an aunt, uncle, and cousin. Her older sister had been sent separately a year before. Edith travels with a group of other Jewish children, escorted by a young woman who was part of an American rescue effort that placed 1000 children in foster homes in the United States.

Arriving in Chicago, Edith discovers that her presence is only tolerated because her aunt wants someone to do the chores, and because the family receives a small stipend for taking her in. Kept constantly busy with housework, it is weeks before Edith can see her sister, Betty, who has emotionally replaced her with the daughter of her foster family. Meanwhile, Edith is doing everything she can to raise money to rescue her parents.

Chapman makes effective use of a first person, chronological narrative to develop the story. She chooses her scenes well to reveal Edith’s loneliness and isolation as she tries to adjust to her circumstances, and the reader is quickly engaged, and cares what happens to her. Edith comes across as a complex and realistic young person who has much to struggle with. Dialogue is effective and realistic, sometimes painfully so. The ending leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next, and is perhaps the only part of the book where Edith seems older than she really is in the story.


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Filed under *** A good read, Grades 5 - 6, Middle School

White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages

Viking, 2008     ISBN: 0670062359

whitesands“The Green Glass Sea,” about the Manhattan Project, which Suze Gordan’s parents, and Dewey Kerrigan’s father was involved in, is now continued in this new volume by Klages. The war is over, the US is bomb-happy and has imported a bunch of former Nazi’s to work on their rocket program. Suze’s father believes both in the political value, and the scientific value of proceeding with the rocket program, while her mother, having seen the results of the bomb she helped to create, has gone over to the other side, protesting for an end to the program, and for world unity.

Dewey, whose father died in the last book, is living with the Gordan’s, and Suze alternately enjoys her company and is jealous of the relationship that Dewey has with her mother since both are interested in science. With the conflict between her parents growing ever more fierce, Suze feels very much alone. Meanwhile, Dewey lives in uncertainty: the Gordan’s can’t adopt her, because she has a mother somewhere who abandoned her as an infant. Dewey and Suze each make a new friend which relieves some of the stress between them, but the future for all of them as a family is unclear.

Historically accurate and interesting, Klages brings the post-war/early cold-war era to life in every detail, small and large, from “atomic” cleaning products to spinthariscopes (look it up), to rocket testing debris, all of it is there.

The interpersonal relationships are all well drawn. The issues between the Gordan parents as scientists on either side of what will become a fierce issue in the future also anticipate many of the issues that feminists will bring to the fore in the coming years, in particular, about the role and importance of a woman pursuing her own career. Suze and Dewey’s struggles, jealousies, and desires for security both in their personal lives, and in a world that they understand is much more frightening than most of their peers do are very realistic.

Klages wraps up a number of plot lines, but leaves others unresolved, making the reader eager for another book.

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The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

Viking, 2006     ISBN: 0670061344

green glassTen-year-old Dewey Kerrigan, who has been living with her grandmother for some years, is reunited with her father and taken to Los Alamos where he is doing “war work.” When he is called to Washington, she stays temporarily, with the Gordans, a family with two scientist parents, and a girl her own age, Suze. Suze does not appreciate her presence, and when Dewey’s father is hit by a car and killed, Dewey moves in on a semi-permanent basis. Her grandmother is in a nursing home, and her mother abandoned her when Dewey was an infant, so she really has no where else to go.

The girls ultimately become friends, though not without some continued tension between them. One of the things that draws them together is how they are able to combine Dewey’s knack for gadgets and technology, and Suze’s artistic skills to create some one-of-a-kind contraptions.

In the backdrop of the kids concerns is the ever increasing tension as the scientists at Los Alamos rush to create and test the first atomic bomb, which is secretly held out as the hope to put an end to World War II, once and for all.

The characters are well-drawn and full-fleshed, and the historical and scientific information fits seamlessly into the story.

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Filed under **** Highly Recommended, Grades 5 - 6