Thursday, December 18, 2008

Last Minute Gifts: Build Your Own Boxed Sets--World War II , The Home Front

World War II was fought on more than one front around the world--on the field of battle and on the home front. Across occupied Europe and Asia the battle was often fought underground, by organized Resistance and by secret sympathizers who sought to rid themselves of their temporary masters. In the United States, civilians united to support the war effort however they could, even the children. Here are some fiction books which tell the story of the war on the home front.

Davy Bowman idolizes his older brother, a bombardier on a B-17 crew, but as the war drags on and his brother's letters stop coming, Davy throws himself into the war effort at home--collecting metal, string, tinfoil, and even milkweed down for life jackets--as his parents and grandparents work long hours to support the war effort. In Richard Peck's On The Wings of Heroes Davy comes to see that there are many heroes in wartime, most of whom have never fire a shot.

In Mary Downing Hahn's Stepping on the Cracks eleven-year-old Margaret and Elizabeth worry about their older brothers at war in the European theatre, but their immediate concern is dodging class bully Gordy Smith, a big, rough kid from the wrong side of the tracks. But then they discover that Gordy is hiding his older brother Stuart who has gone AWOL from the army and are drawn to help the desperately ill deserter. As they hear Stuart's story, they come to understand why he is a conscientious objector but still face to dilemma of whether to turn Stuart in to the authorities.

Robert Westall's The Machine-Gunners has been called the best children's novel about World War II. Awarded England's Carnegie Medal for the best children's book in 1976 and made into a BBC television series in 1983, this grim and gripping depiction of young adolescents in the first year of World War II deals with both the horrors of German bombing raids which nightly and systematically destroy the coastal town of Garmouth and the intense struggle of fourteen-year-old students to control their fear by trying to become, not victims, but defenders of their nation. The two boys wrest a machine gun from a downed German fighter plane and mount it in their secret bunker, but when they discover an injured German pilot hiding in their potting shed, they surprisingly find themselves becoming friends with their former enemy.

Transplanted from his Ohio farm to Rhode Island when his pilot father is recalled to go to war, Robert throws himself into coast-watching for German submarines. But when Robert and his cousin befriend a foreign-sounding artist they often meet walking the beaches, they learn that he is a Jewish refugee from the Nazis. Then, when the townspeople turn on the man, beat him, and eventually set fire to his studio and cause his death, the two boys realize that irrational hatred of the outsider is not limited to Hitler's Germany. Janet Taylor Lisle's The Art of Keeping Cool shows the dichotomy of the home front--great personal sacrifice and yet sometimes painful xenophobia with which even children had to deal.

The Light in the Cellar: A Molly Mystery (American Girl Mysteries) is filled with historical details of life on the World War II homefront. Molly's mom saves up ration tickets to buy sugar, eggs, meat, and gasoline, while Molly slogs her way through soybean casseroles and other "meatless meals," and ruefully contemplates sugarless cereal when her mother gives up her family's sugar ration to make cookies for soldiers bound for the front. Still, she pitches in as a volunteer, recycling magazines for the local convalescent hospital, all the while longing for a more heroic role. Then she and her friend discover that someone is stealing sugar from the hospital and trace the black market operation to a vacant mansion on the edge of town, where Molly bravely mounts a stakeout to catch the traitors in action. Sarah Buckey's historical mystery provides a realistic look at the heartland home front in 1942.

Billy and Tomi are baseball buddies, teammates whose early morning practice is rent by the sights and sounds of the attack upon Pearl Harbor. The Scott O'Dell Award-winning Under the Blood-Red Sun deals with the violent disruption of life in the tiny fishing community in Oahu where Tomi's foreign-born father and grandfather proudly cherish their Japanese heritage and where the white haoles suddenly regard them as the enemy. As nisei Tomi is torn between his love for American and his love for his isei family, so Billy, a haole and Tomi's best friend, is torn between their friendship and the hostility of his white community toward the Japanese among them. Salisbury's novel explores the deeper meanings of friendship and loyalty in a time of war.

Loyalty to friends and to the ideal of human decency are also the themes of Lois Lowry's Newbery Award novel of the Danish Resistance, Number the Stars. Annemarie Johansen and her family risk their lives as they smuggle the Rosen family to the Danish coast, where a fishing boat ferries them to sanctuary in Sweden--not only because of their friendship with their neighbors, but because it is the right thing to do.



  • These books sound so good! I have got to stop reading book blogs, my credit card bills are killer!

    Tony Peters
    Author of, Kids on a Case: The Case of the Ten Grand Kidnapping

    By Blogger Author Tony Peters, at 11:49 AM  

  • Thanks, our library has several of these and I'm getting them for my kids. I've also linked to this blog post on my organization's blog.

    By Blogger ACCTS, at 1:35 PM  

  • Great reviews! Thanks for sharing your librarian expertise with those of us surfing the Web now that you're retired. I write for this age group and teach children's literature, so I'm always looking for resources.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:09 PM  

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