Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Big War: For the Duration by Tomie de Paola

Dear Diary,

Today a sad thing happened to me at school.

I ran out of the music room, crying because my cousin Blackie was killed in the war.


Tomie's public tears at singing "We live in fame, go down in flames" after the his cousin is shot down in the war, leave big brother Buddy, summoned to take the weeping second-grader home, scornful and angry.

"Thanks a lot," said Buddy. "My friends are going to laugh at me because of you....

Big sissy!"

Buddy is not happy about Tomie's fondness for dancing school either, and when Tomie sets out to walk to his after-school class with his black patent-leather tap shoes proudly over his shoulder, Buddy joins the jeers and name-calling when the sixth-grade boys snatch and play keep-away with his shoes. And when the key to Tomie's diary disappears from under his pillow, he knows that Buddy is responsible, but he dares not tattle for fear of Buddy's threats of retaliation.

Meanwhile effects of the war become more and more evident on the home front. At the memorial for his cousin, the family suddenly hears an air raid drill siren, and his grandfather takes him up to his blacked-out apartment roof to watch the searchlights scan the sky for enemy planes. Food and gas rationing begins, with limits on the family's sugar, meat, coffee, butter, and a four-gallon per week quota of gasoline for the family car. An uncle goes off to war as well, and blue and gold stars appear in more and more windows on Fairmount Avenue. Uncle Tony tells Tomie that these changes are going to be part of all of their lives "for the duration."

But good things happen, too. Tomie has his first communion, and in May his narration and solos in the dance recital are a big hit with the audience. Victory gardens appear all around, and family gatherings on both the Irish and Italian side of his family are filled with fun and wonderful food, despite the shortages. He loves the citywide school art exhibit and can hardly wait to enter his own work in third grade. And when the missing key suddenly appears under his pillow and Tomie opens his diary to find it defaced with scribbled insults, he comes to a significant decision:

It was then that I decided to throw my diary away. I would remember everything I could. My thoughts would be saved in my head.

Why is my brother so mean? I guess it's just like the war. I guess I'll have to put up with him for the duration.

In the latest in his 26 Fairmount Avenue: The War Years series, de Paola continues his heartfelt autobiographical stories of his childhood during World War II in For the Duration: The War Years: A 26 Fairmount Avenue Book. For younger beginning chapter book readers, these books provide a realistic first-person view of life during the early years of World War II narrated from the view of a perceptive child with, apparently, a well-practiced memory for the flavor of life in those times.

Earlier books in this series are 26 Fairmount Avenue, Here We All Are (A 26 Fairmount Avenue Book), On My Way: A 26 Fairmount Avenue Book (De Paola, Tomie. 26 Fairmount Avenue Book.), What a Year!: A 26 Fairmount Avenue Book, Things Will Never Be The Same: A 26 Fairmount Avenue Book, I'm Still Scared: A 26 Fairmount Avenue Book (26 Fairmont Avenue), and Why?: A 26 Fairmount Avenue Book.

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