Tuesday, August 15, 2017

In This Grave Hour (a Maisie Dobbs Mystery #13) by Jacqueline Winspear

It’s September 3, 1939 and just as Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announces over the radio that England has declared war on Germany, Maisie has a strange visitor. Dr. Francesca Thomas, a former member of the WWI Belgian resistance group La Dame Blanche and who, through her association with the British Secret Service, is the person who trained Maisie in all things spy in book #13 - Journey to Munich, wants her to investigate the assassination-like death of Frederick Addens. Addens seems to be just an ordinary engineer working at St. Pancras station, but he is also a Belgian refugee who escaped to England during WWI and never returned to his homeland.

Soon after Maisie begins her investigation of Frederick Addens, more Belgian expats who arrived in England with him are also killed, executed in the exact same way as he was. But the victims just don’t seem to have anything in common with each other besides being Belgian expats.

Given that, Maisie decides to take a clandestine trip to Belgian to see if she can find any  information or answers as to why these particular people were killed. Maisie enlists the help of her old friend from the Secret Service Robbie MacFarlane, who manages to get her on a transport plane. And despite having a very small window of opportunity to investigate in Belgian, Maisie does indeed discover the information she needs to solve her case.

There is, of course, another story thread that is much more personal. Maisie’s country home, inherited from the deceased husband, has received two rather boisterous brothers evacuated from London, and one 5 year-old girl named Anna. Maisie enlists the help of her dad and stepmother for the boys, but no one seems to know where Anna came from. They only know that she was evacuated from London with the rest of the kids heading to Kent, and now she refuses to speak or let go of the small suitcase she arrived with. Finding herself getting too attached to the little girl, Maisie decides to give her assistant Billy Beale the job of finding out who Anna is and where she came from. 

In the end, both mysteries are solved. Though I found the motive for the murder of the Belgian refugees a bit thin, the rest of the novel is a really solid mystery and worth reading, especially if you are a Maisie Dobbs fan already. In mysteries, it is always the excitement of the investigation that I enjoy most, so that a rather lame motive didn’t bother me, and only occupies a small portion of the book. The thread concerning Anna was interesting, emotional and somewhat predictable, yet oddly satisfying. 

What I did like was seeing how Winspear has really done some spot on research regarding what the English home front was like during those early days of the war and her depictions are as interesting as they are authentic. The book takes place during what was called the “Phony War.” This was the first nine months after war was declared, and people were at the ready, but nothing was happening. The Blitzkrieg came later, in April 1940. That characters keep forgetting their gas masks when they go out is probably more true to life than not. Blackout curtains, cheap tea biscuits, mothers retrieving their evacuated children, and lack of petrol are just some of the things Winspear captures during this quiet period of the war, but sadly, the actual fact that people killed dachshunds and german shepherds because they are German dog breeds is also included.

I highly recommend In This Grave Hour for lovers of mysteries that are borderline cozy. I call it borderline because there are some mildly graphic depictions that may upset some sensitive readers. It took me a while to really get into the Maisie Dobbs’ mysteries, but once I started, I was hooked. Needless to say, now I am looking forward to Maisie Dobbs #14, To Die But Once, but, alas, I will have to wait until next year to read it.

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss+

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday Funnies #25: PSAs from Superman and Batman

I think these PSAs speak for themselves - as relevant today as when they were originally published.

PSA for World Refugee Year 1959-1960

PSA from Action Comics #141 February 1950

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Peace Tree from Hiroshima: The Little Bonsai with a Big Story by Sandra Moore, illustrated by Kazumi Wilds

This is the story of a bonsai tree that was lovingly dug up on the island of Miyajima almost 400 years ago by a man name Itaro Yamaki, as a souvenir of the trees that had touched his heart on that beautiful, lush island.

Itaro cared for the bonsai for over fifty years, passing it on to his son Wajiro when he could not longer care for it. And so generation after generation of the Yamaki fathers and sons passed on the care and careful sculpting of Miyajima, as Itaro has originally named it.

Miyajima thrived year after year, even after the Yamakis moved to Hiroshima. But on August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped that decimated the city and killed many of its citizens. The Yamakis and Miyajima both survived, and eventually Hiroshima was rebuilt as the population again began to grow.

When the United States was celebrating it bicentennial in 1976, it was decided that Miyajima would be sent as a gift from the Japanese people to the American people in the hope that they would always live together in peace. And so the resilient Miyajima became known as the tree of peace, and given a place of honor in the National Arboretum in Washington DC. 

This is an interesting fictional autobiography of a single bonsai tree. It is written in the first person from the tree’s perspective, which often doesn’t work but does here. Miyajima tells its story in simple, straightforward narrative. But it is Kazumi Wilds illustrations that really bring Miyajima’s story home. Her soft, gentle illustrations of almost 400 years of careful tending of the bonsai tree are done in a palette of bright greens, bright blues and beige against an essentially white background contrast sharply with the pages of grays and browns depicting the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and destruction it caused. I personally found these illustrations to be as effective than the accompanying text, and may generate a strong emotional response from readers, just as they did from me. It so simply yet clearly demonstrates what happened that terrible day.

The Peace Tree from Hiroshima is an excellent picture book for older readers introducing kids to this particular aspect of World War II and its aftermath. This is Moore’s debut children’s book and she has written a very poignant story with age appropriate themes of friendship, resilience, war, and peace. Moore has also included a glossary, and facts about the different kinds of bonsai, much of which I did not know before I read it.

Be sure to read the Author’s Note at the back to this book. Some facts were altered for the sake of the story, and the Note explains what really happened and why. 

2017 is the 72nd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945). What better time to read The Peace Tree from Hiroshima, especially now, when talk of using nuclear bombs is being threatened by some of the world’s leaders.  

If you are ever in Washington, DC, you can visit Miyajima at the National Arboretum:

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Mr. Benjamin's Suitcase of Secrets written and illustrated by Pei-Yu Chang

When I was in grad school, getting ready to write my dissertation, I read a lot of Walter Benjamin’s literary criticism, particularly what he wrote about children’s literature and toys. Benjamin was a prolific writer, cultural critic and philosopher. He was also a German Jew who had left Germany because of Hitler and Nazism, and, like so many other German intellectuals at the time, he moved to Paris. But after France fell to the Nazis in June 1940, Paris’s German population knew they were at risk and it was time to leave Europe. And that’s where the story of Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets begins.

But getting out of Europe wasn’t all that easy, so Mr. Benjamin sought out the help of Mrs. Fittko. Pack light so as not to draw attention to yourself, she told the few people she was willing to lead to safety. But on the night of their escape, Mr. Bennie, as Mrs. Fittko calls him, doesn’t pack lightly, in fact, he packs a big heavy suitcase, one he could barely carry. The problem is that the suitcase would have to be carried over rough terrain and then across the mountains and it was heavy and awkward.

Couldn’t Mr. Benjamin just leave the suitcase behind? Mrs. Fittko asks again. No, he can’t, as he tells her “The contents of this case can change everything.” But just as the group arrive at the border and the possibility of safety is just ahead of them, the guards refuse the allow Mr. Benjamin over the border crossing. He returns to the hotel where he had spent the previous night, and then, Mr. Benjamin and his mysterious suitcase simply disappeared. And to this day no one knows what he had been carrying that was so important to him.

This historical fiction picture book for older readers is as unusual as it is interesting. It is based not only on what actually happened to Walter Benjamin and why he was forced to flee, but also on the mystery surrounding the fate of the suitcase and its contents, which he tells Mrs. Fittko are “more important than my life.”

I have to admit, I never thought I would see a children’s book written about Walter Benjamin yet I really like the way some things were presented. I thought the way it shows that intellectual ideas were such a threat to the Nazis that they felt it necessary to arrest those people “who had extraordinary ideas" was very effective throughout the book, as represented by the importance of the suitcase and Benjamin's need to hold on tightly to it. I also liked that the soldiers who were arresting people didn’t have swastikas on their armband, but a kind of generic mark making it relevant to any act of this type. I did enjoy the variety of people speculating about what they thought was actually in Benjamin’s mysterious suitcase, which also defects the reader from wondering what Benjamin's fate was (in fact, he committed suicide after being turned back).

The textured mixed-media illustrations are wonderful. They are both quirky and serious. Look closely at the different bits that go into making the collages on each page, they almost tell their own story. I thought the one below was really effective at conveying the fear that people must have lived with during that time

This is a book I would definitely recommend for units on WWII, or even on units about refugees. Benjamin was a refugee twice over - once fleeing Germany, once trying to flee Nazi occupied France. Pei-Yu Chang has successfully depicted a world where ideas and opposition are seen as dangerous by those in power, making this a potent and relevant story for today's readers.

You can find a detailed essay on Walter Benjamin, his suitcase, and his attempt to flee the Nazis HERE

Who exactly was Mrs. Fittko? She was a courageous Holocaust activist who helped many people escape the Nazis over the Pyrenees working with her husband and with Varian Fry. Find out more about Mrs. Fittko HERE  

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Diana's White House Garden by Elisa Carbone, illustrated by Jen Hill

When the United States entered World War II, people of all ages on the home front were urged to do whatever they could to help the war effort. Naturally, Diana Hopkins, the ten-year-old  daughter of President Roosevelt's chief adviser Harry Hopkins and White House resident, wanted to help, too. But everything she tried, just didn't work out well in the White House. 

So, when the President said that he wanted everyone to grow their own food as part of the war effort to keep both soldiers and citizens strong and healthy, that included the White House lawn. Diana jumps at the chance to help out with the President's proposed Victory Garden and before she knows it, she is sporting a pair of overalls, turning the soil, fertilizing it, and planting beans, carrots, cabbages, and tomato plants. Even Mrs. Roosevelt helps out on occasion.

With the help and guidance of Mrs. Roosevelt, George, the groundskeeper, and Fala, the President's little scotty dog whose job it was to keep the rabbits away, Diana's garden thrives. By harvest time, flouishing has a flourishing garden ready for picking and eating. 

Diana’s garden was made famous when newspapers and magazines published pictures of her working in her garden, wearing her overalls, an inspiration to kids all over the country to follow her lead: 

Diana Hopkins works in the White House Garden while her
parents look on (AP Photo and NY Times May 11, 1943)
Diana’s White House Garden is a lovely picture book work of historical fiction for young readers that shows how kids can sometimes do things that can make a big difference. Without going into the specifics of World War II, the need and desire for a Victory Garden comes across in a very age appropriate way and the real emphasis is on helping out, perseverance (especially after rabbits eat her first sprouts) and the rewards to be reaped as a result, including the feeling of accomplishment.

The simple line pencil, gouache, and digital drawings done in a palette of earth tones on a cream background reflect not just the time period, but also the idea of working in the soil. Of course, Diana’s big, red tomatoes, lovely orange carrots, and deep green cabbages might inspire any to create their own Victory Garden, even today.  

I loved the inclusion of an illustration of Diana reading Wonder Woman comics while listening to the radio. If you look closely, you will see she has been reading Wonder Woman’s first appearance in Sensation Comics and the very first comic devoted to Wonder Woman - a nice pop culture touch.

One bit of reality: President Roosevelt wasn't really very keen on a Victory Garden, it was Mrs. Roosevelt’s idea. It was only after he had seen and tasted the fruits of their labor that the President became enthusiastic. You can read all about it at City Farmer News. However, this by no means should diminish your enjoyment of Diana’s White House Garden. 

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Friday, July 14, 2017

Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji, illustrated by Boris Artzybasheff

This is a book I’ve had sitting on my shelf for years and just never got around to reading. But I recently read two very interesting articles about the author, Dhan Gopal Mukerji, which spurred me to action. I pulled the book off the shelf and finally read it. And while it is usually considered a WWI story, it is really much, much more than that.

Born into a Brahmin family, Mukerji had raised pigeons growing up in Calcutta, India in the early years of the 20th century just like so many boys his age and caste did at that time. Calling upon his own experience with his flock of 40 birds and the experiences of others, Mukerji writes about this special pigeon’s life story. Almost from the moment it was born, it’s young owner knows this is a special pigeon, beautiful and smart. The young master decides to name him Gay-Neck or Chitra-griva, Hindu meaning “painting in gay colours.” 

At first, it is up to Gay-Neck’s parents to teach him to fly, and to defend himself against hawks and eagles, a pigeon’s natural enemies, but soon his master takes over with the help of Ghond, a family friend and hunter who is familiar with India’s forests, mountains, and wild life. Together, they take Gay-Neck on trips further and further from home in Calcutta, releasing him to see if he will return to Calcutta. Gay-Neck’s training is successful, but not without mishaps, including having to retrain him after he becomes frightened to fly again because of a hawk attack. 

When WWI begins, Ghond and Gay-Neck are sent to the front as part of the Indian Army. Gay-Neck performs masterfully as a carrier pigeon saving lives during the war, but ultimately both Ghond and Gay-Neck are invalided out and sent home. Ghond suffering with physical wounds and both suffering from PTSD. Both must be healed now.

I found Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon to be a very interesting book for a number of reasons. First, there is the story of just how a homing/carrier pigeon is trained, something I’ve wondered about whenever I’ve read a book about their use in war. Mukerji goes into quite a bit of detail about this, carefully describing how to begin training them and why a trainer might have to tie a pigeons’s wings to prevent it from flying, as well as the retraining process after the pigeon has been attacked or become frightened as Gay-Neck did on the battlefield.

Gay-Neck is also a window into the life of an Indian boy from a high caste. Gay-Neck’s young master (like Mukerji himself), has the leisure time and money to spend on raising his flock of pigeon’s, living in a two story private home with a flat roof for the pigeon coops.  There is no mention of the British until the war, even though India was still a colony of the British Empire, nor any mention of the poorer people in Calcutta. 

But it is Mukerji’s descriptions of natural and religious life that really makes this novel. Whether they are in the jungle, dealing with a tiger, an angry elephant, a killer water buffalo, or resting and meditating at a lamasery with the lamas, or describing the majesty of the Himalayas,  the writing is always beautiful and the language simply poetic. even when Mukerji is graphically describing the action on front lines. At times, during the war, Mukerji writes from Gay-Neck’s point of view since his master was only a teenager and couldn’t accompany his bird to the front. Thus, the reader is able to read what Gay-Neck sees and experiences, from a wild dog at the front, to machine eagles spitting fire in the sky. 

And, the dramatic black and white graphic illustrations by Russian-born artist Boris Artzybasheff are the perfect compliment to this book. 

While I enjoyed finally reading Gay-Neck, what I am not sure about is whether this is a book that would appeal to today’s young reader. Plus, sensitive readers should be aware that there are some graphic descriptions throughout this book.

Gay-Neck won the Newbery in 1928 and I believe, the author is the only Indian author to have won that award to day. You might want to read these recent articles about Dhan Gopal Mukerji. You can find them HERE and HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

I was inspired to read this novel when I read about it on Mr. Ripley’s Enchanted Books 
last June. So I ordered a copy from The Book Depository and began reading the day it arrived and finished it in one sitting. Needless to say, it is a really good novel.

It’s February 1941, and even though it isn't usual, older sister Sukie Bradshaw has decided to take siblings Olive, 12, and Cliff, 8, to see a movie after tea. But no sooner do they get through the newsreel but the air raid siren goes off. To make matters worse, Sukie has disappeared. Leaving her brother at the Underground shelter, Olive goes in search of Sukie, and just as she reaches her sister, another bomb falls way too close to them. When Olive wakes up in hospital, she learns that Sukie is still  missing, and that she and younger brother Cliff are going to be evacuated to Budmouth Point, on the Devon coast, for safety. 

Olive has already lost her dad to the war when his plane was shot down, and can’t bear that her sister may be gone too. But how can she figure out where Sukie is and who the man she met just before that bomb fell is if she’s in Devon? Still, as soon as she is able, Olive and Cliff are sent to live with Queenie, the sister of their London neighbor, and Sukie's supposed pen-pal. 

Things don’t work out at Queenie’s, who is always busy doing all kinds of work in the cellar, and using Olive to make deliveries for her around the village. It gets especially hairy after Olive is forced to share her room with Esther Jenkins, an evacuee with whom Olive already has a contentious relationship. Olive and Cliff soon find themselves living with Ephraim, the lighthouse keeper. Life is better at the lighthouse, where Ephraim insists on doing everything, where the food is better and Cliff even has a dog to pal around with. 

It doesn’t take long for Olive to realize that there’s an awful lot of activity on the lighthouse radio, much more that seems right. Meanwhile, Olive is also trying to work out the coded message she found in the coat Sukie was wearing the night she disappeared. The longer Olive is lives in Budmouth Point, the more she realizes that Sukie’s disappearance just might have something to do with the clandestine activity she's noticed among some of the village residents…but what could it possibly be?

Letters from the Lighthouse is an exciting adventure and Olive is very appealing, lively narrator. There was something about her story that reminded me so much of the books I read about kids in WWII that were written during the war. The thing I noticed in those books was the ability to carry on despite the uncertainly of the future. One always hopes for the best, and that is the feeling that Carroll captured writing about Olive's search for Sukie - she is so convinced her sister is okay somewhere in the world and she needed to figure out where.  

As Olive's story unfolds, Carroll also provides the reader with a window though which to see and understand just what it means to be a child and live in a country at war and under siege, realistically depicting the fears and the privations, as well as the importance of family. the value of friends and neighbors, and need to learn trust and tolerance. Heading each chapter with expressions, warnings, and advice that were common during the war also helps give the novel a sense of authenticity.

As much as I enjoyed Letters from the Lighthouse, I did have a few plot points that bothered me - like how did Olive end up with the coat Sukie was wearing when the bomb fell in London, and how what happened to Sukie actually happened. They were explainable, but not to my satisfaction. BUT, these were not game changers for me, and if you like historical fiction about WWII, they shouldn't be for you either. 

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Monday, June 26, 2017

Krysia: A Polish Girl's Stolen Childhood During World War II, a Memoir by Krystyna Mihulka with Krystyna Poray Goddu

Nine-Year-Old Krysia Mihulka’s story actually begins without her even knowing it on the night of August 23, 1939 when the Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop signed the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The treaty peacefully divided up Poland - Nazis occupying the western half, the Soviets occupying the eastern half.

What does this have to do with a 9 year old girl living in Lwów, a small city in eastern Poland? Everything. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as it came to be called, sealed the fate of this young girl and her family once the war began. After the initial invasion and occupation of Poland by the Germans on September 1, 1939, the Soviet army invaded and occupied eastern Poland as per the Pact on September 17, 1939. 

The Mihulka family, father Andrzej, mother Zofia, Krysia, and younger brother Antek, 5, had lived a quiet, happy life surrounded by extended family and friends before the invasions. But her father, a respected lawyer, had been part of the Polish Army defending his country against the Nazis, so that when the Soviets came, he was forced into hiding, as all lawyers and judges were being summarily executed. Later, the Soviets arrived at the Mihulka home in the middle of the night looking for him, and proceeded to arrest Krysia, Antek, and their mother. The Soviets, they said, wanted to get rid the world of the “bourgeois rich” aka capitalists, like the Mihulkas.

At the railroad station, they were put into already crowded cattle cars. Eventually, they began the long, hard trip to a remote work camp on the steppes of Kazakhstan. Conditions there are terrible - bitter cold winters without blankets or clothing to keep warm, and a constant gnawing hunger. Krysia’s mother is subjected to constant nighttime interrogations about her husband whereabouts, and the children experienced both fear and anxiety, never knowing if she would return from those brutal sessions.

Then, in 1941, the Polish prisoners were suddenly granted amnesty after the Germans began their invasion of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union signed the Anglo-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance on July 12, 1941 (the Soviets needed the help of Britain, who was an ally of the exiled Polish government). 

Krysia and her family left Kazakhstan, and went to Uzbekistan, where they were able to reunite with some family members. After a while, the Mihulka family made their way to Persia (present day Iran), and in 1944, Krysia and Antek were sent to Africa, where they were living when the war finally ended. It wasn’t until two years later that they discovered their father’s fate. 

For all the history that is included in this memoir, I found it to be very accessible, written in a voice that is at once young but knowledgable, even though the author is now in her in her 80s. Difficult concepts or unfamiliar historical events are clearly explained for even the youngest of readers. Krysia shares both her own experiences and fears in clear detail that is age appropriate, being truthful but without being too graphic (and those times were often graphically violent). 

There is a map to help young readers track the journey Krysia and her family went on beginning with Lwów and ending in Iran. This is followed by Polish pronunciation guide at the front of the book, which I found very helpful, and an Author’s Note explaining why she finally decided to tell her story with the help of her daughter and co-author, Krystyna Mihulka Goddu.  

I would definitely pair this incredibly interesting memoir with a book called The Endless Steppe written by Esther Hautzig which, you may recall, is also about the author as a young Polish girl, Esther Rudomin, and her family who were exiled to a labor camp in Siberia, Russia. Krysia and Esther’s true stories have much in common though told from two different perspectives.

The fate of families like Krysia’s is not a story that is often told, but it is a poignant, important one and this book helps bring it to light. She relates the events that happened to her in a simple, direct, easy to understand narrative style. And, I think, Krysia’s story will certainly resonate with readers given the current refugee problems in the world today.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was a EARC received from Edelweiss+

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Weekend Cooking: My Visit to The Chew and Daphne Oz's "Blow Your Mind" Baked Chicken Wings"

And now for something completely different on this blog:

This is actually the ticket they give you for your turn to enter the studio,
not my ticket to get in to see the show (I lost that)
On the the morning of April 5th, I went on an adventure. I hopped on the downtown then crosstown buses and arrived at the ABC studio on West 67th Street pretty early for a taping of The Chew. I work at home now and watch The Chew most days while I eat my lunch. And I've gotten some wonderful recipes from it. I should mention that even with a ticket, getting in is first come, first served, so if you ever go, get there early.

After standing on line outside for about an hour, we were led through the security check, and into a holding room where there were free water and chips for people, and, naturally, Chew merchandise to purchase. We sat there for a long time and I discovered that there are people who regularly attend tapings of all the NYC TV programs. And they even come from far away to do it.

On line to go into the studio
Eventually, we were led into the studio, and along the way, we passed tall storage cabinets that contain all the cooking and eating paraphernalia you would need in a kitchen, pantry, dining room, or backyard picnic. 

I sat off to the side (not in front of the tasting table), but in the front row. Surprisingly, it was very difficult to see much of where the chefs work because of all the cameras, even though it looks so clear on TV when they show the audience. And picture taking was very limited, none allowed when the stars are on the set, there wasn't much time between segments, and then they darkened the set in between taping, as you can see in the one below:  

When I was there, they were taping several "beginnings" and "endings" and nothing in-between. For the first taping, everyone was there - Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Clinton Kelly, Carla Hall, and Daphne Oz. Before they began, Daphne came and shook hands with everyone in the first rows, the others pretty much ignored the audience except for the people who were participating in segments - not cause they were being mean, but it was clear it was the only way to get things done in a timely way.

The whole time I sat there, there is someone telling you when to clap or laugh, how loudly or softly to do it, and who made all kinds of jokes in between segments - there was a lot of down time for us.  I can't remember all the segments we were the audience for - but Daphne was only in the first one. And I do know they are going to air in late June and early July. 

I left the studio around 2:30 PM and was home by 3:30. It was a lot of fun and part of my new plan to do things in NYC I never do because I live here and actually have an occasional Wednesday free - next up, the Circle Line.

We use a lot of the same recipes from The Chew over and over, and one of our very favorites is Daphne Oz's "Blow Your Mind" Baked Chicken Wings (I snuck three chicken legs into this batch that was made last Sunday and they were delicious):


2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3 garlic cloves (minced)
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
3 scallions (sliced, whites & greens separated)
1/4 Cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 Cup honey
2 limes (juiced)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons chili flakes
2 pounds chicken wings (separated at joint, tips removed)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

step-by-step directions
In a small bowl make a slurry by stirring together he cornstarch and a tablespoon of water. Set aside.

Heat a few tablespoons of coconut oil in a sauté pan. Toss in the garlic, ginger and scallion whites, cooking for 30 seconds or until fragrant.

Stir in the soy sauce, honey, lime juice, sesame oil and chili flakes. Whisk in the cornstarch slurry and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes, until sauce has thickened slightly. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350º F.
Season chicken wings with salt and pepper, place in a rimmed baking dish. and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and carefully pour the sauce over the wings. Return the dish to the oven for 20 minutes, or until wings are cooked through and sauce is sticky.
Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving. Garnish with reserved scallion greens.

Tip: The sauce can be made a few hours in advance and stored in the refrigerator.  

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. As always Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Kensuke's Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo

It’s 1988 and Michael, 11, is a pretty content kid until the day a letter arrives laying off both of his parents. After that, a “creeping misery” settled over the house, until the day Michael’s dad heads south to seek new opportunities. New opportunities are a total surprise to Michael and his mother when they arrived somewhere near Southhampton and discover his dad has bought a bought and has plans for the family to sail around the world.

And sail they do, even bringing along Stella Artois, the family dog. All goes well, with lots of interesting stops, until they are sailing away from Australia and through the Coral Sea heading to Papua New Guinea. It is there, on July 28, 1988 that they hit bad weather, and Michael, at the wheel in the cockpit, sees Stella go overboard. Trying to rescue her, he also goes overboard. Luckily so does his soccer ball, which gives him some buoyancy. 

The next morning, Michael wakes up on an island beach with Stella and no idea how he got there. It turns out the island is a jungle with a thriving wild life. After exploring all day, a hungry, thirsty Michael and Stella retreat to the shelter of a cave to spend the night as a castaway.

The next morning, and every morning after that, Michael and Stella wake up and find fresh water and carefully prepared raw fish waiting for them. Knowing he isn’t alone, Michael finally meets his benefactor while trying to build a large enough fire to be seen by a passing boat. Instead, it is seen by an elderly Japanese man, Michael’s benefactor, who quickly puts the fire out. The two get off to a rocky start, but eventually they become friends, and Kensuke, Michael learns, has been living on the island since WWII. 

Kensuke teaches Michael how to fish, cook, and even paint using ink from the octopi they catch and in return, Michael teaches him English. Kensuke, who had been a doctor in Japan, begins to tell Michael about his happy life in Nagasaki before the war, about his wife Kimi, and his son, Michiya. When war came, Kensuke joined the Japanese Navy as a doctor, and was the sole survivor of an attack on his ship. Later, overhearing some Americans talking about the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, killing everyone, Kensuke decided to remain on the island after the war had ended. 

Eventually, he realizes that Michael belongs with his family, and agrees to let him build a fire to attract a passing ship, and even agrees to leave the island, too, should a ship actually show up.

In the end, when rescue is about to happen, Kensuke chooses to remain on the island, but asks Michael not to talk about him for at least 10 years, which he does. After writing a book about his adventure with Kensuke, Michael receives a very surprising unexpected letter from Japan.

I have to admit, even though I doubted Michael and Stella would survive in a stormy ocean at night, I willingly suspended my disbelief and let myself enjoy this intergenerational story about an unusual friendship. I did find the beginning a little slow, thinking I could have lived without a lot of the descriptions about life in London, but once Michael and Stella were on the island, my interest, the excitement and the pace soon picked up its pace. I found myself very curious about Kensuke but Morpurgo delayed his story until just the right moment. 

Kensuke’s Kingdom did remind me of Theodore Taylor’s book The Cay, but without the kind of racial tension that existed at first between white Phillip and West Indian Timothy, and which actually did take place during WWII. Still, pairing these two books together would result in an interesting take on intergenerational, biracial friendships under stressful conditions (which is often when we discover the most about ourselves). 

I don’t know if it’s me, but whenever I read a book by Michael Morpurgo (and I’ve read a lot of them), I find myself being lulled into the story, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. It is actually almost hypnotic  and I think the reason why not only is disbelief suspendible, but it makes the story more real and enjoyable, even the sad bits. And, interestingly, I find I always pick a Morpurgo book whenever I’m in a nostalgic mood. 

And, yes, I found myself reaching for the tissues as I finished reading Kensuke’s Kingdom, so be warned.

Teaching Ideas has some really nice teaching ideas to use with Kensuke's Kingdom and you can also find some nice downloadable teaching resources and activities from Michael Morpurgo's website.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Monday, June 12, 2017

Update on Survivors Club by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat and Soledad O'Brien

Even though I had had a copy of the ARC for Survivors Club, I hadn't read it yet when I came across this interview of Michael Bornstein by Soledad O'Brien. The interview, in fact, spurred me on to read the book, and I was very glad I did. I finally posted my review of Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz. Now, I am posting the interview that was done and aired on March 4, 2017.

But this past week, on June 9, 2017, Soledad O'Brien aired a new chapter to Michael Bornstein's story of survival. Some of the video below repeats what was shown originally, but stick with it to meet the two women who were by Michael's side when this picture was taken. And, irony of ironies, the three survivors of Auschwitz live not far from each other and didn't know each other. Survivors Club is an amazing story, and described by Debbie Bornstein Holinstat as a book about miracles, but, as you will see in the interview, it is also a book about hope and continuation.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Imagine going to the movies one day in the 1980s with your daughter and seeing yourself in the movie you are watching. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Bornstein and his daughter Debbie. The movie was The Chosen and in one scene, two young Jewish boys are watching a newsreel showing footage of the liberation of children from Auschwitz, and there right at the front of the line of children, was Michael Bornstein, age 4.   

Like so many Holocaust survivors, Michael Bornstein never really spoke about his childhood during the Holocaust, even after seeing himself as part of a movie. But, years later, Michael began to realize that his survival was a indeed miracle, and after doing a Google search, he also realized that the liberation images were (and sadly still are) being manipulated by Holocaust deniers to prove that it was all a Jewish lie, or that the Jews made up stories about their children being killed on arrival at Auschwitz, or that it was just a labor camp and not a death camp. Michael decided it was time to tell the story of the Bornstein family.

Michael begins his narrative in September 1939, a year before he was born, when German planes dropped bombs on the small village of Żarki, Poland where the Bornsteins lived, killing residents and destroying homes and synagogue.  Almost immediately, the village was invaded by Nazi solders who went from house to house collecting anything of value from Jewish families, including the Bornsteins. Luckily, Michael’s father, Israel Bornstein, managed to bury some valuables in the backyard including a Kaddish cup, a family heirloom.  

Jews who weren’t shot immediately were rounded up and put into the Jewish ghetto in Żarki, where Michael was born. His father was made head of the Jewish Council, with the difficult job of deciding who would be sent to die in a death camp and who wouldn’t be. Interestingly, although the head of the local Gestapo, Officer Schmitt, was an incredibly cold-hearted man, Zarki remained a somewhat open ghetto, allowing the remaining Jews to conduct some trade with the local Polish residents. It didn’t hurt that Israel was able to continually bribe him to save many lives, as well.  

One of the things that really struck me was the strength of the Bornstein family, Israel, wife Sophie, grandmother Dora, older brother Samuel and now Michael is so evident throughout the narrative. In the face of deportations of fellow Jews, hunger, cold, and sickness, the family struggled but remained strong and faithful. Once it was decided that the Zarki ghetto would be liquidated, and all Jews sent to Treblinka, Schmitt made an exception of Israel and his family, who were sent to a labor camp instead.

Unfortunately, in July 1944, the Bornsteins were all sent to Auschwitz. Sophie, Dora and Michael were immediately separated from Israel and Samuel and it wasn’t until much later that Sophie learned the fate of her husband and son. Michael was only four years old by then, and sent to live in the Kinderlager, where older kids stole his food but also gave him some points that helped him survive. Eventually, Sophie snuck him into the women’s barracks where she and Dora were, and he remained there, even after she was sent to another labor camp. It was illness that ultimately saved Michael’s life. As the Russian Army approached Auschwitz, the Germans rounded up the remaining Jewish prisoners and began what is known as the Death March to cover their atrocities. Michael was left in the infirmary and survived with his grandmother, Dora. 

The aftermath of the war, and the reunion of the remaining members of the Bornstein and of Sophie’s Jonisch family, and forming the family's Survivor Club, takes up the rest of Michael’s narrative. One story that I found particularly poignant is that of Michael’s cousin Ruth Jonisch, who found herself in a Catholic Convent, had her name changed to Kristina, and who had to be taught to hate Jews in order to survive. The years after being reunited with the Jonisch family are very interesting reading.

By now, you must be wondering how Michael knows so much about the time before he was born and the years he lived under the Nazis, given his age at the time. Most of his story is the result of research and interviews with family members. So while it isn’t actually a first hand account, it is still a compelling story about strength, some lucky coincidences, and mostly about family love.

There is a section of photographs, a Glossary and a Bornstein Family Who's Who also included in the back matter. And be sure to read Michael Bornstein's illuminating Preface and Afterword, as well.

Interestingly, the review of the movie, The Chosen, written by Janet Maslin and published April 30, 1982 in the New York Times, ended with these warning: 
''The Chosen'' is rated PG (''Parental Guidance Suggested''). It contains brief but graphic footage of the liberation of concentration-camp inmates after World War II." 

I feel I need to echo that warning: 

Survivor’s Club is a very readable nonfiction narrative, but there are some graphic descriptions of the Nazi treatment of the Jews in it that may be difficult for some sensitive readers. 

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sunday Funnies #24: Introducing Wonder Woman

Today is Wonder Woman Day, and so I thought I would introduce everyone to her original story as it was written in December 1941, just as the United States entered World War II. Wonder Woman made her first appearance in the December/January 1941 issue of All Star Comics #8, and was published by DC Comics.

Wonder Woman was created by Dr. William Moulton Marston, writing under the name Charles Moulton. Marston had a PhD in psychology and was a big believer in the newly invented lie detector, even writing a paper on how deception could be measured by blood pressure. He also believed in the superiority of women, and, in 1940, Dr. Marston wrote an important article called "Don't Laugh at the Comics."

This constellation of ideas lead to a part time job at DC Comics, where he was able to suggest an idea for a new super hero character, a super-heroine.

As you can see, the cover of All Star Comics #8 makes absolutely no mention of Wonder Woman, instead the two newest members of The Justice Society of America, Starman and Dr. Midnite, were given introductory billing. But, it was Wonder Woman who found real, lasting favor with readers. It only took a few issues before she was inducted into The Justice Society, and only six months until she was given her own comic book, Wonder Woman #1.

So how did Wonder Woman get from her home on Paradise Island to the United States?

But, after hearing that her daughter, the Princess, might be in love with the injured American captain, her mother, Queen Hippolyte, tells her the story of how they ended up on Paradise Island. In ancient Greece, the women of Amazonia were a foremost nation, until Hercules, the strongest man in the world, decided to conquer Amazon. Queen Hippolyte challenged him to one-on-one combat, knowing she would win because of the Magic Girdle she had been given by Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Queen Hippolyte won the match, but Hercules managed to steal her Magic Girdle, and was able to overcome and enslave the women of Amazonia. Queen Hippolyte called upon Aphrodite for help, and she did save them on the condition that they sail to another island, leaving the man-made world forever, and establishing a world of their own, but the women must always wear the bracelets that they were forced to wear while in captivity to remind them to keep aloof from men. 

To keep their promise to Aphrodite, the American pilot must leave Paradise Island as quickly as possible.  Queen Hippolyte shows her daughter the Magic Sphere, given to her by the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena, by which she can monitor the world that they left behind, the world of the American captain, a world from which she can also gain all the knowledge of arts, sciences and languages to make a more superior world on Paradise Island for themselves. 

Together, she and her daughter, look at the world that the American captain comes from and how he ended up on Paradise Island.

Wonder Woman went on the fight the Axis powers for the remainder of the war and has continued fighting bad guys ever since. She has had several make-overs since her first appearance in 1941, but the original is still my favorite, even if it does seem a bit naïve by today's standards.

If you would like to know more about Wonder Woman's history, I can't recommend a better, more fascinating in-depth book than The Secret History of Wonder Woman  by Jill Lepore.

There are any number of anthologies available if you want to read old Wonder Women comics, without the high cost of an original. My favorite is Wonder Woman: The War Years 1941-1945 edited by Roy Thomas.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Here's a Book I Can't Wait to Read...

If you know me at all, you know I love comics books and the funny pages in newspapers, especially from the Golden Age of Comics (1938-1950). You can see which ones I have posted about already by clicking on my page and Other Interesting Bits and scrolling down.

I was very excited to see that this coming July, Trina Robbins, a master cartoonist/comic writer and artist in her own right, as well as a historian of the genre and longtime feminist, has written a book about women in the comics during World War II. Here's what the publisher has to say about it:

Babes in Arms: Women in the Comics During the Second World War 
Trina Robbins
Hermes Press, July 11, 2017, 304 pages, age 13+ 

During the Golden Age of comics publishers offered titles supporting the war effort - presenting fighting men and their feminine counterparts - babes in arms! Comic books during this period featured US service-women fighting all of the axis bad guys and gave several of the most noteworthy women artists of the era opportunities to create action-packed, adventure filled four color stories. Now for the first time renowned pop-culture historian Trina Robbins assembles comic book stories from artists Barbara Hall, Jill Elgin, Lily Renee and Fran Hopper together with insightful commentary and loads of documentary extras to create the definitive book chronicling the work of these important Golden Age artists. This magnificent art book offers page after page of good girl action.

You can find an in-depth interview with Trina Robbins about Babes in Arms HERE

Cover: 1949 Women's Home Companion
illustrated by Harry Anderson