Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Eleventh Hour by Jacques Goldstyn

Jim and Jules were born on the same day, in the same town. Except Jules was born two minutes after Jim. They became best friends, having similar interests. But Jim being faster and stronger was always ahead of Jules in everything they did. Jim watched out for Jules who looked up to him.

When World War I began in 1914, both Jim and Jules enlisted. But as always, Jules was two minutes late for everything. Two minutes behind Jim to get his uniform, in training and even to to catch the boat over to the war. It was those two minutes however that have a lasting effect on both their lives.

Discussion

Jacques Goldstyn delivers a poignant tale about two friends, one of whom dies just before the Armistice comes into effect on November 11, 1918. Goldstyn is a renowned illustrator whose career was born out of a request to illustrate a children's science book. At the time he was working as a geologist!

The Eleventh Hour was written in memory of George Lawrence Price, who is generally considered to be the last Canadian soldier to die on November 11, 1918. Price was conscripted into the army on October 15, 1917. He had fought in several important battles including the Battle of Amiens and he also had been gassed.  Price was killed in Mons, Belgium.

George Lawrence Price
Price who was part of  "A" Company the 28th Battalion of the Saskatchewn North West Regiment, decided to search houses in Ville Sur-Haine, which is located near Mons. Although the Canadian Corps had received notification that the war would indeed end at 11 a.m. that day, this was not communicated to Price's unit.  He was one of five soldiers involved in the search, going from house to house. The first house was searched, with the Germans fleeing through the back door but as they checked the second house, Price stepped outside and was shot in the chest, falling into the arms of  Pvt. Art Goodmurphy. He died minutes later at 10:58 a.m, despite the efforts of his comrades to save him.

Like  George Lawrence Price, Jim also dies two minutes before the Armistice goes into effect. A devastated Jules, who survived because he was always two minutes behind Jim, returns to Canada and tries to pick up life after the war. However, without his best friend Jim to lead him, Jules soon discovers a huge hole in his life. One thing Jules does do is to honour his friend's sacrifice  by attending the ceremonies at the local cenotaph on November 11.

Goldstyn's book is dedicated to his grandfather, Michel Quelever who did survive the First World War, physically uninjured. The Eleventh Hour is illustrated with Goldstyn's signature cartoon-style ink and watercolour drawings which effectively capture the depths of the friendship between the two boys and the horror and chaos of war. The Eleventh Hour is a longer picture book which portrays the sacrifice made by Canadian soldiers in World War I.


For more information about George Lawrence Price.

The Canadian Virtual War Memorial Page.

Book Details:

The Eleventh Hour by Jacques Goldstyn
Toronto: Owlkids Books Inc.      2018

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen


Jennifer A. Nielsen's newest historical fiction for teens explores the courageous fight by hundreds of Jewish resistance fighters as they make their last stand during the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943.

The novel opens as Chaya Lindner, a Jewish teenager who has been working for the past three months as a courier for the resistance movement known as Akiva, attempts to lie her way into the Tarnow Ghetto in Krakow, Poland. Posing as Helena Nowak,she brings food, clothing and forged identification papers to the Jews imprisoned there, informing them of what is happening on the outside. The Tarnow Ghetto has been sealed since very early in the war meaning the people there do not know what is really happening. As a result the Jews in the ghetto were tricked onto trains, believing they were being relocated to work camps. In fact, they were being sent to death camps. The ghettos were merely a step in the German plan to exterminate the entire Jewish population.

Chaya's story flashes back to life three years earlier when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Before the German occupation, Chaya's father owned a shoe repair shop and their family, which included her younger brother and sister, Yitzchak and Sara, had a good life. With the Blitzkrieg, everything changed. All Jews were required to register, their homes were searched by German soldiers who took jewelry, foreign currency, and anything they wanted. National monuments were looted and synagogues burned. Jews were assigned to forced labour, and made to wear the yellow star of David on an armband.

In 1940, Chaya's father lost his business and her family sold most of their belongings to survive. Eventually they were forced into the Podgorze District where four families were crammed into each apartment. However, Chaya's name wasn't on the list of Jews who were to move into what would be called the Krakow ghetto. So Chaya's family sent her to live with her grandmother near the village of Kopaliny. On her way to her grandmother's home, Chaya remembered Shimshon and Gusta Draenger, the leaders of her Jewish scout group, Akiva who lived on a nearby farm. The Draenger's took her in and during the summer more Akiva scouts arrived. One of the Akiva leaders was a man named Dolek.

In the summer of 1942, Dolek brought Chaya devastating news: her sister Sara was taken by train to Belzec, a death camp. Yitzchak had disappeared. The story of Chaya's family was shared with the Akiva scouts leading Shimshon to tell them they must make a decision: they can wait until the Germans eventually come for them or they can fight back, join together with other resistance groups. The scouts chose resistance.

Chaya is asked to be a courier, a most dangerous job that would lead to certain death if she were ever caught. For the next ten months Chaya fights back against the Germans as part of the resistance. It is a fight that will lead her to the ultimate showdown as the Warsaw ghetto fights back against the German's final liquidation.

Discussion

Nielsen's well researched novel, Resistance is an engaging, well balanced account of the final stand taken by the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto to resist the mass deportations to labour and death camps. The ghetto's liquidation or total destruction and removal of all Jews was ordered by Heinrich Himmler in October, 1942. The Jews in the ghetto had organized several resistance cells, ZOB (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa) the Jewish Combat Organization and ZZW (Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy) also known as the Jewish Military Union. With a limited arsenal obtained from the Polish underground, home made grenades and Moltov cocktails and other weapons, the Jewish resistance held out for a month, led by Mordecai Anielewicz. In the end, all of the surviving Jews, over 40,000 souls, were deported to various concentrations camps, where they were murdered by the SS.

Resistance is told through the eyes of a sixteen-year-old Jewish girl, Chaya Lindner whose parents are trapped in the Krakow ghetto. With the certain death of her younger sister Sara and the disappearance of her brother Yitchak, Chaya's mother has lost her will to live. They refuse to use the false papers that Chaya brings them to save themselves, instead accepting their fate. The loss of her sister, motivates Chaya to fight against the Germans, eventually leading to her joining resistance fighters in the Warsaw uprising. Chaya participation escalates as she becomes increasingly determined to fight back against the Germans.

A subplot involves the relationship between Chaya and a new, inexperienced member of the resistance, Esther Karolinski. Chaya is convinced that Esther is not up to the task of working in the resistance and at first various situations seem to prove Chaya right. Despite Esther's mistakes, she does begin to learn, while pushing Chaya to rethink her own reasons for resistance. In the end, Esther courageously makes the ultimate sacrifice so that Chaya and her fellow fighters can escape the Warsaw ghetto as it's being liquidated.

One of the many themes explored in the novel is the meaning of resistance and how resistance might be different for each person. Esther feels compelled to challenge a Nazi sympathizer on the train, raising suspicions and almost getting them arrested. She tells an angry Chaya, "But isn't that the point of the resistance, to make the world notice us?" Chaya however has a different view of the resistance, "The point of the resistance is to save lives...Every single day, more Jews are dying. Our fight is to stop that from happening. Nothing else matters."

In the Lodz ghetto, Chaya attempts to help Avraham, Sarah and Henryk, three teens hiding out on the abandoned upper floor of an apartment building. They reject the option of working for the Nazis as a way to save themselves and have decided to give their lives to God. When Chaya offers to help them escape, Avraham refuses telling her "...No, we're choosing faith...The highest honor we can give God is to die in his name." Unable to understand, Chaya believes they are simply giving up but Esther explains, "No, Chaya. As much as the Nazis want to take our lives, they want to take our faith too. We fight for one, Avraham's friends fight for the other." When Chaya questions the importance of faith, Esther tells her, "We'll all die one day -- no one escapes that fate. Our only decision is how we live before that day comes. Our path requires courage, but so does theirs. Both paths, are ways to resist."

After their presence in the Lodz ghetto results in another Aktion, both Chaya and Esther struggle with the form resistance might take. They are challenged by the fact that their resistance so far seems to be ineffective and harmful whether it was the attack on the cafe or their trip to Lodz. Esther states, "We didn't stop the war or get the Nazis to leave Krakow. We can't even say that lives were saved because of what we did...What about in Lodz? All we did there was make things worse...we stole a weapon, lost food that could have saved lives, and ended up being the cause of an Aktion. Maybe what we're doing is as bad as the enemy!".

When Chaya and Esther arrive in the Warsaw ghetto she tells the resistance there that Akiva failed in it's goal of using resistance as a way to inspire other Jewish uprisings. However she hopes that the Warsaw uprising will inspire not only other ghettos such as Bailystok, Sobibor and Tarnow but also the Polish army and the Polish people to rebel against the Germans.

Their decision to make a final stand in the Warsaw ghetto gives Esther a sense of freedom which Chaya doesn't quite understand. " 'We've never been more free. don't you see? They don't control us anymore. Since we already know how this will end, they can't even use the fear of death against us. There is nothing more they can take from us, but today, we have taken their superiority, and the belief in our submissiveness. No matter how this ends, history will recognize today for its greatness.' "

Although the Jewish resistance lose the fight in the Warsaw ghetto, Chaya vows to fight on for the memory of her friend Esther, for all of Akiva, for Avraham, Sarah and Henryk and those who died in the Aktion in Lodz, for the kind man named Wit who sheltered Jews on his farm, for her parents and her sister.
"Historians might say that the Jews lost every uprising we attempted in this war, that every resistance movement failed.
I disagree.
We proved that there was value in faith. There was value in loyalty. And that a righteous resistance was victory in itself, no matter the outcome."

The novel's balanced approach helps young readers understand how people reacted differently to the Nazi occupation of their countries. While many people supported the extermination of the Jewish population, others did not and Nielsen highlights some of the ways Jews were helped. Chaya observes, "...there were three kinds of Polish citizens in the country these days. The first were those who endeared themselves to the invaders, who proudly allowed their homes to be assimilated into the German territory and their lives into the Nazi culture...The second group of Poles, the largest group, were merely surviving, trying to blend into the background. They might've moved into homes abandoned by Jews who were sent to the ghettos, and might've taken over our shops and our possessions, but they felt little joy in it. They didn't help us, but they believed that at least ignoring our situation caused no harm...the third group of Poles was different. They helped. They snuck close to the ghetto at night and tossed bread over the walls...they took Jewish people into their lives, into their homes, and offered them a place to hide, a chance to escape the fate that tens of thousands of us had already suffered." Nielsen incorporates a few characters into her story that fit the third group; Wit Golinski, an older man who intervenes to protect Chaya and Esther from a woman who is a Nazi sympathizer and who offers them a ride, food and money, and the Catholic nuns who smuggle arms to the Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto and the Catholic priest who helps

Resistance is Nielsen's best historical novel to date. The novel's Afterword provides some detail regarding several key resistance figures and their fate. A map of Poland and of Krakow, Lodz and Warsaw would have provided some context to the setting for younger readers. Nevertheless, an engaging novel with a strong heroine and an interesting cast of supporting characters.

Book Details:

Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen
New York: Scholastic Press      2018
385 pp.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Winnie's Great War by Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut

Cole is ready for bed when his mother asks him if he wants to hear the story  of his stuffed bear. When he asks for something different, Cole's mother offers to tell her son the real story about his great-great-grandfather and his bear Winnie.

The story begins in the woods, where Bear is just emerging from her den inside a tree, for the first time. Mama bear watches as Bear climbs a tall tree, so high, she gets stuck and needs rescuing. But during this adventure, Bear meets two squirrels, Fancy and Tall whom she can understand and talk to. Mama warns Bear that only the trapper can his traps can hurt them. Sadly this is exactly what happens to Mama one day. With her front leg held fast in the trap and the trapper approaching, Mama warns Bear to hide up the tree and to be brave. Bear climbs the tree and witnesses the trapper shooting her Mama and hauling her away.

The next morning the little boy who was with the trapper returns to the tree with food. Each day he returns with food until one day Bear cannot resist the fish that lands at the base of the tree. The fish leads her to the freckled boy who gives her sticky delicious maple syrup. Bear is follows the boy home to an old wood and stone cabin where he lives with the trapper, his grandpa and grandma.

At the cabin, Bear meets Leo the dog and watches as the boy helps a white mare give birth to her foal. When the trapper sees Bear, he recognizes her as the orphan cub. Bear is put into a small wooden pen next to the chicken coop, but soon she finds a way out. This leads to plenty of trouble that includes eating all the flowers in the window box and getting into the cabin where she eats a pie and brings down a shelf of jars and bottles. Although the boy tries to keep her, his grandpa decides to take Bear into town

Bear is taken into White River to the Hudson's Bay Company but when the clerk wants to make her into a rug the trapper leaves. Eventually Bear is bought by a young soldier, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn from Winnipeg for twenty dollars. On August 24, 1914, Bear and Harry leave Port Arthur on the train. Harry introduces Bear as their mascot for the Veterinary Corps. Colonel Currie is not impressed however, threatening to "do away" with Bear should she be a problem. Harry decides to name the young bear Winnipeg or Winnie for short. And so begins Winnie's travels, across the country to Valcartier, and then on to England where Harry and his friends, Brodie, Edgett and Dixon prepare to go to war. But Winnie won't end up in France. Instead she spends the duration of the war in England, seeing Harry whenever he's on leave. But it is Winnie's time in England after the War is over that leads to the marvellous Winnie the Pooh stories.

Discussion

Winnie's Great War was written by Harry Colebourn's great-granddaughter, Lindsay Mattick in collaboration with writer Josh Greenhut. Using material from her family's archive that included Harry's diaries, photographs and other artifacts, as well as detailed research into World War II and also bears, Mattick has penned the story of her great-grandfather and the bear cub he named Winnipeg from her beginning as a bear cub to her purchase by Harry and then as they travel from Canada overseas to England during World War I.

Winnie and Harry
The story is told from the point of view of the bear cub's perspective beginning with when she was a cub in the forest with her mother to her capture, to when Colebourn purchases her and travels overseas, to her life in the zoo in London. Using the basic facts of Harry's short time with Winnie from his diaries, Mattick blends fact and fiction together to create an engaging story that is more detailed and will appeal to readers in the 8 to 12 age bracket. Some of the characters are real such as Harry Colebourn, Brodie, Edgett, Dixon and Currie. Others such as the many animals, Fancy and Tall, Sir Reginald, Victoria and Alberta and Black Knight (who are horses) are fictional, making the tale more appealing for the younger reader. When Cole complains that his mother is just making up the story of the animals such as Sergeant Bill, a goat, she assures him that some actually did exist; "There was a billy goat from Broadview, Saskatchewan, who came to England on the same convoy as as Winnie and trained in Salisbury Plain and fought with the Fighting Fifth in France...Later in the War, he butted three soldiers into a trench a split second before a shell exploded on the spot where they'd been standing. He could hear it coming, he saved their lives. Sergeant Bill  received the Victory Medal before returning  home to Canada."

Mattick's variety of animal characters are used throughout the story to promote the idea that listening to those who are different and tolerating one another leads to understanding and peace. In the novel, the author anthropomorphizes the animals in order to demonstrate how intolerance and misunderstanding can result in war. On the boat, Winnie discovers that the horses hate the rats who poison their food while the rats dislike the horses who stomp on them and kill them. Winnie finds herself caught in the middle because she listens and can understand both sides. Cole asks his mother if the horses and rats can understand what the other is saying. She tells him that they can't because they aren't taking the time to listen. Misunderstandings can then lead to war. "No. Because if you're not listening, it's impossible to hear.If you believe that somebody is so different from you that you can't possibly have anything in common, you'll never be able to hear them no matter what they say. That was the way with the rats and horses. And that's how it is in war." When both begin listening to the other's concerns they are able to broker a solution that works for both rats and horses.

Cole asks his mother if there will ever be a time without war, she tells him, "I don't know. As long as animals have roamed the earth, they've fought -- over food, over land, over everything. But maybe if we were better at understanding each other, there would be less fighting." 

Mattick's novel is filled with lovely pencil illustrations by Sophie Blackall. There is an extensive section title The Colebourn Family Archive complete with many photographs of Winnie and Harry as well as some other interesting information.

Winnie's Great War is a short storybook that captures the essence of Harry and Winnie's remarkable relationship and how Winnie came to be the inspiration for the Winnie the Pooh novels authored by  A.A. Milne. At the same time the author encourages young readers to be tolerant of those who are different or who hold different views and to work together in a way that fosters understanding and peace.

Image from Library and Archives Canada:
http://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.item?app=fondsandcol&op=img&id=e011067494-v8


Book Details:

Winnie's Great War by Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut
Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.      2018
227 pp.