The War I Finally Won

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The sequel to the 2016 Newbery Honor Book The War that Saved My Life continues the story of Ada whose mother hated her because she was born with a clubfoot and locked her away.

This book begins with Ada in the hospital finally getting surgery to repair her clubfoot.  Susan, her adopted mother, is by her side as is her brother, Jaime.  The surgery is successful and after a few months Ada gets to go home.  Only their home got bombed so now they are living in a cottage owned by Lady and Lord Thorton whose daughter, Maggie, is Ada’s best friend.

Ada can now walk almost normally. She can ride her horse, Butter.  She can lead a normal life.  Only the times are not normal.  This is World War II and the war is raging all around them in England.  Food is rationed.  Gas is rationed.  All unnecessary travel is discouraged.  Bomb raids are a constant threat.

Still, Susan, Jaime, and Ada manage to lead a decent life.  However, the government takes over Lady Thorton’s home for war purposes, leaving her to move in with them in the cottage.  Lord Thorton is doing top secret work for the British government.  When he learns that Susan has a degree in Maths from Oxford, he gives her a Jewish German girl named Ruth to tutor.

Everyone does not trust Ruth who had to flee Nazi Germany because she is Jewish.  Eventually, she manages to fit in and becomes almost a sister to Ada.

This book features close family members dying in the war, Susan very sick with pneumonia, and the girls left to discover themselves in this war chaos.

Excellent historical read, dealing with profound war topics such as the Holocaust and death and the whys of war.  Yet, generosity and heroism shows through in the simplest human daily acts that will warm your heart.  Highly recommended but read The War that Saved My Life first for context and so this book will make sense.

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The Notorious Benedict Arnold

The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin

The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin (the same author who wrote Bomb) is a kids book about the rise and fall of America’s most notorious traitor, Benedict Arnold.  Most people just know he’s a traitor.  Most don’t know why he betrayed his country when he fought for it so hard.  This book explains it all.

We start at the beginning as most biographies do with Arnold’s childhood. The son of a prosperous merchant in Norwich, CT, Arnold was known as a daredevil and a prankster.  When Arnold was a teenager, his father’s business began to fail as the shipping business took a downturn.  Once one of the richest families, his father couldn’t pay his debts.  Yellow fever took two of his sister’s lives and his father began to drink more and more.

His father died when Benedict was 21.  Determined to prove himself, he “longed for action, craved attention, and made his own rules when it suited him.”  He was reckless and eager to win back the family’s name and fortune.  This would explain many of his actions as an adult.

Sheinkin goes into details about Benedict’s battles and actions.  He marched overland to take Quebec in freezing temperatures, undo hardships, and starvation.  He dealt the British a crushing blow in the Battle of Valcour Island in 1776, and managed to escape with his men.  The hero of the Battle of Saratoga, which was the turning point in the war and the first major victory in the American Revolution which convinced the French to enter on our side, Arnold was injured and suffered a limp the rest of this life.  Recovery was slow and Benedict hating being out of action.

But with a character like Benedict, he made enemies.  He stole others’ thunder.  He made no apologies for his boldness.  He was not good at playing politics and only had in mind the good of the country.

Arnold’s goal all along had been to win the war.  However, he was passed up for promotions by Congress who wanted control over Washington.  He was not acknowledged for his roles in the various battle of the Revolution. Accused of making money off the Revolution, he faced a court marshal.  And throw in he needed money and Arnold’s character began to see a way out.

Arnold’s plan was to gain command of West Point, an army base at the time at a strategic location on the Hudson River, hand it over to the British, and get paid millions of dollars in today’s money for doing so.  Never one to take blame, Arnold had convinced himself this was for the good of the country.

Through an uncanny series of fortuitous events and many see as only the hand of Providence, Arnold’s plan failed.  Washington, Arnold’s biggest supporter, was shocked.  Effigies burned of Arnold in all major cities.  Attempts were made by the Americans to capture him and bring him to justice but all failed.

Major Andre, the British liaison for this betrayal, ended up the one hanged.  Arnold ended up in Britain but was shunned.  He died at the age of 60 in London.

Sheinkin writes “If Arnold had died from his wounds at the Battle of Saratoga, we would think of him today as one of the all-time great American heroes.  Aside from Washington, we’d say, he did more to win our Revolution than one one.  We’d celebrate his life as one of the best action stories we have–Washington never did anything half as exciting as the march to Quebec or the Battle of Valcour Island.  We don’t say any of that, and it’s all Arnold’s fault.”

Great historical read on one of the America’s most misunderstood figures.  Fascinating how Arnold’s plot failed literally by yards.  Scary to think how the War would have played out if Arnold had succeeded.  Highly recommended.

Bomb

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

Newbery Honor Book for 2013, Bomb by Steve Sheinkin follows the story of the development of the first atomic bomb during World War II.

From the possibility to the discovery of nuclear fission through the Nazi heavy water manufacture to the Manhattan Project and the attempts of the Soviet Union to steal the bomb design, Bomb is a riveting book, exposing the heavy toll the atom bomb takes on the developers, the secret-stealers, the people of Japan, and those of us still living in a nuclear age.

We follow Robert Oppenheimer, the leader of the Manhattan Project, which is the name the US called its development program for the atom bomb, and all the other colorful physicists who created the world’s most powerful weapon.  We see their struggles and triumphs, their sense of duty and desire to prevent Hitler from acquiring the bomb, their sense of helping the Russians in order to even the playing field, and their immense concern seeing its power afterwards.

This book humanizes the developers, gives the reasons behind the development, creates the sense of urgency, and the devastating results afterwards.  For those of us who didn’t live through this time period, Bomb takes up back to what it was like during World War II and fills in a void (at least for me) of the details.  I loved learning all of this since I only had a rudimentary knowledge of the bombing like most people.

An amazing book for all history buffs who want a relatively easy read without getting bogged down in the details of physics.  A few black-and-white pictures.  Probably for older kids although my 9 year old loves the story.  It goes into just a bit of detail of the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Highly recommended!

The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D Schmidt

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D Schmidt is a Newbery Honor Book for 2010.  And for good reason.

We follow a seventh-grade boy named Holling Hoodhood in 1967 during the Vietnam War on Long Island.  He is the only Presbyterian in his class so he has to stay at school on Wednesdays while the rest of his class leave early for Catholic school or Jewish school.  His teacher, Mrs. Baker, is resentful.  She makes Holling clean the chalkboard and clean out the coat closet.  He thinks his teacher is out to get him.

She assigns him extra work as well which include reading the great plays of William Shakespeare.  This leads to him performing in the Christmas performance of The Tempest.  He begins to memorize whole passages of Shakespeare and learn lessons from the plays as well.  His father is overbearing and is very self-absorbed with making sure his architecture business grows and succeeds.  He is also convinced Holling will succeed him in the future.

This book is laugh-out-loud funny as Holling deals with his Tempest costume of yellow tights and white feathers on his butt.  He deals with a bully and pet rats he accidentally let loose in the school.  He learns it’s more about giving than spending money on a date.  Mrs. Baker takes him on a field trip to study architecture and Holling sees buildings and the history they hold for the first time.

There is a very moving scene in the book where Holling rescues his older sister who ran off with her boyfriend and realizes it’s a mistake.  “The first time that you know you really care about something is when you think about it not being there, and…the emptiness is as much inside you as outside you.”  We get to see Holling grow in maturity and into his own as he realizes how much he loves his family and friends around him and realizes there’s more to life than architecture.

I cannot recommend this book enough.  Historically accurate and entertaining I haven’t read this good of a book in a long time.  I read it outloud to all of my kids and they all loved it!

“Sometimes the real world is like Hamlet.  A little scared.  Unsure.  A little angry.  Wishing you could fix something you can’t.”

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts, Al Capone Shines My Shoes, Al Capone Does My Homework

Al Capone Does My Shirts is a wonderful book for children about life on Alcatraz Island in the 1930’s, which is the time the infamous gangster Al Capone was incarcerated there.  This book is a Newbery Honor book for 2005.

Matthew “Moose” Flanagan has moved to Alcatraz Island when his father gets a job as a prison guard in 1935, during the height of the Great Depression.  He has a 15 year-old sister who nowadays would be recognized as special needs but in the book is considered handicapped and unfit for society who should be shut away in a mental institution.  Moose loves to play baseball and do typical activities 12 year-old boys do.  Moose and his friend, Piper, the warden’s daughter, hatch a plot to make money by having the criminals do the laundry of the kids at school.  The criminals currently do the laundry of all those on the island so their plan is to slip in the kids’ clothes and claim Al Capone did their laundry.

However, Moose’s world is consumed by taking care of his sister and her needs.  His family is trying to get his sister, Natalie, into a special school for children like her.  However, she is rejected due to her age.  Desperate, Moose writes a letter to Al Capone to pull some strings and get her in.  He does.

Cute book.  Very historically accurate.  Kids learn all about Al Capone and the infamous Alcatraz Island prison.  Great writing.  Engaging.  Fun.  Funny.  The characters are well developed.  Highly recommended.

Two sequels have been written:  Al Capone Shines My Shoes where Moose is called out by Al Capone to help him since he helped his sister get into the Esther P Marinoff School and Al Capone Does My Homework where Moose’s apartment is burned and his sister being blamed, he sets out to discover who set his family’s apartment on fire and why.  All three books are great reads and a great lesson on siblings caring for one another and standing up for one another.  Moose also shows signs of liking girls and he struggles with making new friends and keeping them.  The books deal with the discrimination of those kids different from others and the struggles these families faced.  Gennifer Choldenko does a fabulous job of narrating a tumultuous time in kids’ lives.

The Witches

The Witches by Roald Dahl

The Witches by Roald Dahl is a fast-paced novel kids will devour eagerly and clamor for more.

A seven-year old boy and his Norwegian Grandmother (known as Grandmamma in the novel) travel to the English coast for a get away.  Unbeknownst to both of them, they are staying at the same hotel as the annual convention of witches for all of England.

Wanting to play with his pet mice, the boy (unnamed in the novel) hides in the hotel convention hall.  In strolls the witches for their meetings and he overhears the witches’ plot to kill all of the children in England by turning them into mice and having them killed by humans.  He, however, is sniffed out (literally) by the witches and turned himself into a mouse.  Returning to his grandmamma, he hatches a plot to take down the witches by giving them a douse of their own medicine.

The boy says to his Grandmamma, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you.”

A master of fast-paced writing for children, Dahl writes a tale full of adventure and fun.  Guaranteed to entertain and make you laugh.  Classic kids literature at its best!

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

This Newbery Medal award-winning book is sure to leave you spell-bound and yearning for more.  The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill introduces us to a world of witches, a dragon, a monster, and a baby girl.  The witch named Xan rescues babies who have been left in the woods to die.  She feeds them starlight on her journey to the Free Cities where she places them in a loving home.

One year, so spellbound by a child with a crescent moon birthmark, Xan accidentally feeds the baby girl moonlight instead.  She is enmagicked and her powers grow.  However, she cannot control them.  Hence, Xan places a temporary hold on the girl’s powers until she turns 13.  But as a consequence, her powers will wane and she will die as a result.

The town that leaves the babies to die, the Protectorate, is run by a Sister Ignacia who is really a witch herself who feeds off of sorrow.  A cloud hangs over the place fueled by the ritual of leaving the babies to die.  One young man named Antain starts to question how things are run.

As Luna, the girl who drank the moonlight, approaches 13, both worlds start to collide.  Her powers start to grow inside her and she had no idea she is special.  Antain leaves the Protectorate to stop the witch once and for all.  Sister Ignacia attempts to stop him.  Glerk, the swamp monster who has been around since the beginning of time and Fyrian, a very small dragon who begins to grow all go off to find Xan who is headed to rescue another baby.

Their worlds collide, mysteries will be resolved, and light will return–all while a volcano is about to explode!

A novel insanely hard to put down with all the twists and turns.  Very cute with endearing characters.  Glerk is lovable.  Fyrian is naively happy.  Xan is the protective parent.  Luna is the rebellious child.  A great storyline of challenging the status quo, questioning authority, following your heart and your gut, and doing anything for love lies underneath the surface.  Great read.  Worthy of the 2017 Newbery.  Enjoy!