Posts tagged ‘World War II’

April 28, 2011

On the darkest side of beautiful

Fairy tales were never meant to be pretty.  The original stories are a lot less about princesses in pink dresses than about evil mothers and vengeful fairies.  Briar Rose, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, would make the authors of those original dark stories proud.  It is a story about an average American family, an average girl, and the darkest part of the human heart.

Title: Briar Rose
Author: Jane Yolen
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fairy Tale
Age: Older, mature Middle School students and High Schoolers

Summary and Review:

Rebecca is a young reporter who has always been very close to the red-headed grandmother she resembles.  Ever since she was a little girl, she has loved listening to the story her grandmother tells again and again–the story of Briar Rose, or Sleeping Beauty.  Rebecca can recite her grandmother’s version by heart, but loves to hear it again and again anyway.  But the story is full of mysteries, and the most important one guides this book: why does Rebecca’s grandmother insist that she is Briar Rose?  That she is a princess from another land, that she is Sleeping Beauty?

Rebecca makes a promise to her grandmother as she is dying that she will discover the truth, that she will learn what her grandma means when she claims to be Sleeping Beauty.  And while her older sisters mock her, Rebecca sets off on a life-changing journey and learns the remarkable story in her family’s past.

The idea that drives this book and the history behind it is brilliant.  It’s an incredible reinterpretation of the story of Sleeping Beauty, and this comes beautifully to light in the first half of the book.  If I can quibble with the book (and I guess I can…), I would say that I was a little disappointed with the second half.  It seemed very disjointed from the first half–I would have loved if the two stories were more interwoven.  However, that being said, this is a beautifully conceived story.  (More info about the plot below the spoiler line.)

I also felt that the “mystery” she is trying to solve—that is, how exactly her grandmother could have been Sleeping Beauty—is fairly obvious from very early on in the book.  (And I NEVER solve anything in a book until the end—I am a VERY clueless reader!)  So I found it distressing that I predicted most of the events way ahead of the main character, who in comparison seemed completely clueless and out of it.  I guess I would have preferred if it was just presented less as a mystery, but that’s just my take.  However, just in case there are those out there that like to hang on to the mystery, I have left the rest of my review below a spoiler line, although I will by no means give everything away!

SPOILER — SPOILER — SPOILER — SPOILER

Rebecca’s journey takes her to Poland, where she finds the proof that her grandmother came to America near the end of World War II, not before the war as her family had been led to believe.  What happened to her grandmother during the war and the people she met along the way pose the setting and the characters for a dark and violent Sleeping Beauty story.

Parents might want to know that despite the happy and very G-rated first half of the book, the story definitely takes a turn that will require a more mature reader for the end.  The violence of the concentration camps and death camps is described in a lot of detail, including descriptions of inmates being forced to do things like roll in the cold snow, mentions of the gay inmates being asked to “try” themselves in brothels and be castrated if they “fail”, talk about babies being killed and people being stuffed into trucks with their children and gassed to death, among other descriptions of the horror that was the Holocaust.  There is also some mention of having sex (although no description of this).  Nothing is gratuitous and it’s all within the range of acceptable for a young adult reader, but parents and teachers might want to read the book along with their children to provide support.

September 20, 2010

Save the next generation of politicians, ball players, and world citizens by reading real books like this one

I swear, so many picture/board/early readers about baseball end with the short guy hitting a game-winning home run, that my son is going to grow up thinking that that’s just how baseball games end.  But this one goes a lot deeper–a LOT deeper–than most of them, so not only do I love reading it, but my son, who loves any book with pictures of bats and balls in it, loves hearing it.  The great thing about this book is that it has a strong message and an important historical lesson without sounding too preachy.  The illustrations are beautiful, although I do have a slight issue with books that differentiate between the past and the present with the number of colors used.  I mean, seriously, history was NOT actually in black and white.  Or sepia.

Title: Baseball Saved Us
Author: Ken Mochizuki
Genre
: Picture Book, Historical Fiction
Age: 0 – 9

Summary and Review:

The book follows the story of a young Japanese-American boy who struggles to play on a baseball team in America with kids who are often taller than him.  Then he starts to hear a lot of things about “some place far away” called Pearl Harbor and all of the sudden, his school friends hate him and call him awful names.  Before he knows it, his family is shipped off to a “camp” with other Japanese-Americans, forced to leave their homes and most of their belongings behind.

The book describes some of the basic details about camp life and then describes how they decided to start baseball games.  Our young hero gets better with practice and finds his strength by wanting to defy the armed guard in the tower above him, watching his every move on the field.  Later, he returns home and joins another baseball team.  He’s still one of the shortest players, but he’s gotten much better.  Over all, it’s a story of human strength and perseverance in the face of terrible obstacles.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Most people would say you can’t read a story like this to a younger kid–they won’t get it, they won’t sit for all the text, or the issues are too deep.  I say “bullocks”.  Or “bollocks”.  I’m not sure because I’m not British.  At any rate, I don’t believe that.  When I started reading this to my son, he wasn’t even one, but he liked the baseball picture.  I would summarize the text on each page to about one sentence and read the book that way.  (I read a lot of books this way and eventually lengthened the summaries until I was reading the entire text.)  As far as introducing deep issues goes, I believe that kids will understand what they are ready to understand.  By being honest with them from the beginning, we give them a framework in which to analyze the complicated world they eventually must navigate for themselves.

For older kids in grades 3 and up

Even though it’s a picture book, much older kids will relate to this book.  Do you have an elementary student–or even a middle school student–struggling to understand something in history class?  Too often classroom history takes issues like geography, war, and politics and disassociates them from the reality of people living in that time frame.  Ask your kids to read this book and then talk about why the United States created policies and camps like this.  Talk to your kids about what they think about that.  Talk to them about what these camps did to the people living in them.  Then ask them a crucial question–what would they think if something like this happened today?  Helping kids relate characters from history to characters today can help them realize that history isn’t just a list of dates–it’s real people living real lives, with all the love, hatred, heartbreak, and adventure that comes with that.  Then go back to the issue in history with which they were struggling to understand.  Can they picture the people who were going through that?  Can they imagine what kinds of things they were doing and how they would have felt?  If so, chances are they understand their issue a lot better.