"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

New MG/YA Nonfiction books -- batch #2 reviews

Impossible Escape: The True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Europe
by Steve Sheinkin. (Roaring Book Pressing, New York. Aug. 29, 2023)

This is the stories of Rudi Vrba and Gerta Sidonová, two teens caught in the anti-Jewish web cast by the Nazis in WWII. Rudi is in Auschwitz concentration camp and he knows he must escape or he will die in the camp. He is also sure that the world must not know about the horrors and killings at the camps or they would do something to free the prisoners. He must escape and tell the Jewish people to sound the alarm. 

Gerta, a schoolmate of Rudi's, escapes Slovenia to Hungary as the war on Jews heats up. Even though it comes at great risk, Gerta is not satisfied to just hide and stay out of sight. She has to do what she can to fight against the Nazis. She does so by helping others get false papers so they can escape or remain free.

Both teenagers bravely act, not thinking so much of their own lives but of the lives they can save. After Rudi and another teenager, Alfred Wetzler, manage a daring escape from Auschwitz in 1944, aided by regular citizens. Rudi and Alfred become the world's biggest whistleblowers. Their actions probably saved 100,000 Jewish lives. 

As soon as I noticed Steve Sheinkin had written another nonfiction book for teens I knew I had to read it. He is a reliably great writer for this population and I've found every one of his books to be readable and informative. It is hard to believe that yet another true story of heroism emerges from the ashes of WWII, but here we are. Rudi and Greta's stories are so worth reading.

What I liked about the book:
  • I enjoy reading narrative nonfiction and Sheinkin gives us enough back story on each of the teens to cause the readers to cheer for their success.
  • There are plenty of source notes and an index to make this book a good tool for student research.
My rating: 5 stars.

Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life by Jerry Pinkney. (Little, Brown and Company, New York and Boston. Jan. 17, 2023)
Jerry Pinkney drew everywhere, all the time. It was how he made sense of the world—how he coped with the stress of being a sensitive child growing up in crowded spaces, struggling with a learning disability, in a time when the segregation of Black Americans was the norm. Only drawing could offer him a sense of calm, control, and confidence. When friends and siblings teased him about having the nickname “Jerry” as his only name, his mother always said, “Just ‘Jerry’ is enough. He’ll make something of that name someday.” And so he did, eventually becoming one of the most celebrated children’s book illustrators of all time and paving the way for countless other Black artists. 

Jerry’s vivid recollections and lively sketchbook drawings of his youth in postwar America tell an inspiring story of how a hardworking boy pursued his passion in less-than-ideal circumstances and became a legendary artist against all odds. (Publisher)
As a high school librarian it wasn't until I started reading children's books to my grandchildren that I really became familiar with the art of Jerry Pinkney. Follow this link to Jerry's website to learn more about this amazing illustrator and see the covers of all 100 books he illustrated. My favorite is The Lion and the Mouse. It makes me laugh every time I look at the big lion's face. Just Jerry is a very inspiring book where the reader learns about Jerry's humble beginnings and about his learning disability, dyslexia. He was driven to draw since reading was nearly impossible for him.

Unfortunately, Jerry died before his memoir was published. He had nearly completed the text of the book but all of his illustrations were just in the beginning conceptual stages. He not only wanted his readers to understand his beginnings in Philadelphia growing up in an all-Black neighborhood and attending an all-Black school but he wanted them to be immersed in the visually aspects of his experiences through his art. His wife and his editor decided to publish the book with the conceptual art, which I think allows the readers to experience being part of the creative experience of the artist.

I have two tiny quibbles with the book. First, Jerry's learning disability is mentioned and one chapter is dedicated to how torturous it was for him in school since he had such trouble reading, but then there was no mention of how he overcame it or what helped him on this score, outside of art. Somewhere I read that the text color (brown), the justification and varied line lengths, and the illustrations themselves were intentional to assist others with dyslexia. But those points were never elaborated on. Second, the book's target audience, I'm guessing, is middle grade readers yet I have the hardest time imagining students picking up this book to read unless assigned for a book report. My only hope is that it gets into the hands of other students, like Jerry, who are artistically capable even if they have troubles in other aspects of school.

What I liked about the book:
  • The inspiring story.
  • The art, even if it was unfinished, it was still amazing.
My rating: 4 stars.

Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams's Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration
by Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki. (Chronicle Books, San Francisco. October, 25, 2022)
This important work of nonfiction features powerful images of the Japanese American incarceration captured by three photographers—Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams—along with firsthand accounts of this grave moment in history. Three photographers set out to document life at Manzanar, an incarceration camp in the California desert: Dorothea Lange, a famous photographer from the San Francisco area, best known for her photos taken during the Great Dust Bowl; Toyo Miyatake, a Japanese-American who was incarcerated with other Japanese families in Manzanar during WWII, he has an insider's view to the incarceration; Ansel Adams, also from California best known for his nature photographs of Yosemite. (Paraphrase from publisher)
Three photographers, one assignment to document what was once called Japanese Internment during WWII. Each approach the task from a different angle. 

Dorothea Lange was hired at the beginning of the incarceration process to photograph the conditions of the prisoners at each stage as they made their way to Manzanar. She was personally opposed to the government's action to imprison the Japanese living on the West coast. Some of her photos, which she had to turn in to the government where "impounded" and not made available for viewing by anyone until well after the war was over. All Dorothea could do was hope her photographs carried a strong message of "this is what we did."

Toyo Miyatake snuck a camera with him when he and his family were imprisoned. He took photos of what life was like for the Japanese-Americans inside the camp without trying to present a positive angle. Though sometimes he also took photos of people living their lives and celebrating what they had to celebrate: births, marriages, anniversaries. 

Ansel Adams was as opposed to the imprisonment as Lange. Rather than take candid shots like the other photographers, Adams liked to pose his subjects. On page 90 we see a photo of a clean, smiling mother with her two daughters in front of a cabin holding hands. The artist, Lauren Tamaki, extends the photo through an illustration which shows to the left of the photo a shot of four people sitting/lazing around with nothing to do. The boredom was crushing.

The book is powerful and the marriage of the photography and the illustrations by Tamaki is just stunning. One gets a fairly complete idea of what life was really like for these victims of unjust thinking during the war. I highly recommend this book for both junior and senior high school libraries.

What I liked best:
  • The juxtaposition of the photographs, the illustrations, and the text. The powerful visual message makes a strong point of the injustice.
  • There are photo credits, notes, author's/illustrator's notes, and an essay called "The Damage of the Model Minority" which make this book a valuable resource for student projects.
  • Elizabeth Partridge is another must-read YA author. Now I will add Lauren Tamaki as a must-see illustrator.
My rating: 5 stars.

They Called Us Enemy
by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, art by Harmony Becker (Top Shelf Productions, Marietta, Georgia. 2019.)

A graphic memoir recounting actor/author/activist George Takei's childhood imprisoned within American concentration camps during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon -- and America itself.

Long before George Takei braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father's -- and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten "relocation centers," hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei's firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother's hard choices, his father's faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.
Two books about the Japanese Incarcerations of WWII here is America in one post! This book is about George Takei's actual experiences when he and his family were displaced from their home in California and sent to an internment camp for the years of the war. The story is brought to life in the graphic biography format, allowing the reader to more easily imagine the experiences of the Japanese American people who were incarcerated for nothing other than their heritage. It's target audience is young adults, which is a way to invite teen readers to learn about aspects of our history in format that is accessible.

Page one. The family is forced to leave their home with very little notice.

Page 65. Here the young family are dealing with the reality of their new "home" in the relocation center where they were sent and where they lived for several years, during the duration of the war.

I appreciated this book very much.

My rating: 4.25 stars.


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