Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry

A Wolf Called Wander tells the story of a young wolf who undertakes an incredible journey of survival after his pack is destroyed. The story is based on the real life events surrounding a wild wolf known as OR-7 who was named Journey.

The story opens with the birth of a wolf pup named Swift into a large wolf pack. Swift named because he was the first to stand and walk, has a brother named Sharp who is bigger and a brother named Warm who is smaller,  as well as sisters named Pounce and Wag.  Although Swift is eager to go into the world outside the den, he is warned not to do so by Mother. Eventually at night, Mother orders the young wolf pups out of the den and into the world.

In the world Swift meets other members of the pack, Song the hunger, pup-watcher Growl and Father who gives him a lump of predigested meat. Swift learns this is elk meat, the "life of the pack".

During the summer, the pack hunts and Swift and his brothers and sisters enjoy the elk meat. Despite his best efforts, Swift can never quite get his larger brother Sharp to drop his tail to him. Swift eats more and runs faster but Sharp is stronger and larger. But Swift sits with Father watching him watch the mountainside that is their home. Swift learns not to hunt skunks, eat mushrooms or white berries nor badgers, wolverines or porcupines. He learns about the ravens and how they work with the wolves, about how men kill wolves and works on his hunting skills.

As summer turns to fall, Father notes there are many more wolves in their area. So he and Mother go off to mark out their territory to warn the stranger-wolves away. During an elk hunt, Father teaches Swift how to run the elk to uncover the weakest one but it is Sharp who helps make the kill and who feeds after Father and Mother. This leaves Swift only more determined to beat his bigger brother. During the winter Father chooses Swift to run the herd while Sharp helps him make the kill. 

No longer a yearling, Swift watches as the season changes and Mother has another batch of pups. On the first full moon of summer while the pups are feeding, an enemy pack of silver wolves attack Swift's smaller pack. While Mother escapes up the mountain with the pups, Father is surrounded by the other wolves and attacked. When Swift sees another wolf attempting to follow Mother up the mountain, he gets the wolf's attention by pretending to be a weaker wolf and then leads him on a chase. This wolf dies during the chase, but Swift determined to save his pack, leads several more on chases. However, Swift hears his father's death cry. Although he wants to howl to his pack to learn if any survived he can't because this might reveal them to the attacking pack. Later that night the pale wolves howl. Swift hears Sharp's low howl and knows that he is now their following wolf and that none of his pack remain. So Swift begins a journey that will take him hundreds of miles from his home territory and a new chance at life. Along the way there will be many lessons to learn, new animals to discover and many skills to develop.

Discussion

Remote camera photo of OR7 taken in 2014
A Wolf Called Wander is loosely based on the life of a gray wolf who was collared in Oregon. He was the seventh wolf collared and was named OR-7. OR-7 was born into the Imnaha Pack in Oregon in 2009. He was collared in February of 2011.  In September 2011 OR-7 left the Imnaha Pack, travelling four thousand miles through the state of Oregon and eventually crossing into California. He travelled through the Soda Mountain Wilderness, the Klamath Basin and Sky Lakes Wilderness. His presence in California made him the first wolf in that state since 1924. OR7 returned to Oregon, crossing back and forth between the state and California several times before finding a mate and establishing a new pack, called the Rogue pack based in the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest in 2014. Since that time, OR7 has produced five sets of pups, helping to establish more wolves in Oregon.

Swift's story is told from his point of view, in a decidedly "wolf" voice. This makes the narrative that much more interesting and the lovely pencil illustrations by Monica Armino are a refreshing throwback to classic juvenile fiction novels from the 1950's and 1960's. They enhance Swift's story in a very real way.

Ultimately, Swift's story is one of brute survival, as he travels through new landscapes and must deal with a serious wound, lack of food, water and the loneliness of life without a pack. Early on the reader sees Swift's incredible will to survive after he is injured attempting to take down an elk. Unable to to walk and with vulture flying overhead, Swift determination to live is strong. "All creatures eat and all are eaten in the end, but I am not ready to be eaten, not today. I want my pack, my own pack. I want to run, to hunt, to live."

Parry incorporates many interesting facts about wolves into her story. For example, when Swift first leaves his decimated pack he has help from a raven. Ravens and wolves can have a symbiotic relationship, with the raven helping a wolf find food. But Swift, a young wolf without much experience doesn't understand why the raven has been following him. Father knew how to talk to the ravens, but he does not. However, when the raven picks up a bone and continues to drop it in front of Swift he comes to understand that the raven knows how to find food, but needs help from Swift. "Ravens do things for a reason. She is talking to me. She must know where to find meat. For all their savvy, ravens have the wrong beak for opening a hide. They need someone with teeth to get at the meat."

A Wolf Called Wander is an engaging novel that draws readers into the natural world, teaching them about wolves,  and helping them to understand the importance of an apex predator like the wolf in the forest ecosystem.  It also offers young readers the opportunity to consider the impact of man wolves over the last century. This well written novel will appeal to animal lovers of all ages. It's a book with a refreshingly different theme from the many the fantasy novels written for younger readers.

Parry has included a section titled, "The Real Wolf Behind The Story" which tells about OR7 and includes photographs and a map of OR7's journey through Oregon, into California and back into Oregon. There is also a section titled "About Wolves" which provides readers with information about some of their special characteristics as well as wolf tracks, wolf packs, wolf behaviour, the various habitats that Swift and his real-life counterpart,  OR7 encountered on their journeys. Parry has also listed Resources for Young Readers which offers documentaries, books and websites to check out, as well as some General Resources.

OR7 image credit: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife  https://www.flickr.com/photos/odfw/16674012963/in/album-72157623481759903/


Book Details:

A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry
New York: Greenwillow Books    2019
243 pp.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Orange For The Sunsets by Tina Athaide

Orange For the Sunsets explores the events surrounding the  historic order by Ugandan President Idi Amin in 1972 to banish Ugandans with Asian ancestry from the country. In the novel,

Uganda, initially isolated from outside influence due to its position in Central Africa,  saw an influx of missionaries in the early 1800s. This led to conversions to Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam. The country became a British Protectorate in 1894 after years of civil war between Catholic and Protestant converts. The presence of South Asians in Uganda was the due to the British who brought in workers in for the construction of the Ugandan Railway and also to work in the civil service. By 1972 when Ugandan President Idi Amin issued his order, there were approximately eighty thousand Asian Ugandans living in the country. They were given ninety days to leave.

Idi Amin's order was essentially the ethnic cleansing of the country. Its purpose, according to Idi Amin,  was to give back to Ugandans their country. During British rule, preferential treatment was given to the South Asians they brought in from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Asian Ugandans were generally better educated and better off than African Ugandans. As a result they commonly worked in the banking and business sector and were not integrated into Ugandan society. This resulted in friction between the two ethnic groups and the growth of "Indophobia".

Idi Amin's predecessor, Milton Obote attempted to help African Ugandans through a series of laws restricting the rights of Asian Ugandans. Idi Amin's edict would mean big changes in Uganda and ultimately would result in the destruction of Uganda's economy as Asian Ugandans fled the country taking their money and expertise with them.

In Orange For The Sunsets, the story focuses on the friendship between two tweens,  Asha Gomez who is a well off Indian Ugandan and her friend Yesofu, who is a much poorer African Ugandan. Yesofu had received an invitation to Asha's twelfth birthday party and had wanted to go but his mother reminded him that "You and Asha are from different worlds." So Yesofu doesn't attend her party at the Indian club but instead waits outside for Asha to leave so he can give her the birthday gift. But Asha refuses Yesofu's gift out of anger that he did not attend her party and made her look foolish. In her anger she breaks the bracelet, infuriating Yesofu who runs off.

After Sunday Mass the next day, Asha recovers all ten beads from Yesofu's bracelet and repairs the bracelet so she can wear it. At school she shows Yesofu the repaired bracelet and tells him it's the best birthday present she's ever received. After school at Asha's home, Yesofu tells her that the school cricket team's newly chosen captain will get to throw the first pitch at the India-Uganda cricket match. He hopes to be chosen captain.

The following Friday, Asha and the Gupta twins, Neela and Leela are making their way to Sari House to shop for the upcoming dance at the Entebbe Club when Mr. Bhatt, the owner of Cafe Nile ushers them quickly into his shop. On India Street, what looks like a parade turns out to be a demonstration by African Ugandans in support of Idi Amin who has just made a big announcement ordering all Indian Ugandans to leave the country.

Disobeying Mr. Bhatt, Asha drags Neela and Leela into the street only to find her and her friends caught up in the demonstration where the Africans are chanting "Indians go home." Terrified and realizing that their lives are at risk Asha and her friends try to get to safety.Meanwhile Yesofu and his brother Esi ride to the demonstration and meet Akello there. They are thrilled by the prospect of a brighter future, however Yesofu recognizes Asha in the crowd and that she is in trouble. Asha is saved by Yesofu's brother Esi who gets her out of the crowd on his motorcycle and takes her home.

At school when Asha tries to convince Yesofu and Akello that Idi Amin's order is wrong, she finds the African Ugandan students push back telling her that they deserve better in their own country.  With seventy-five days to go before the deadline to leave, Asha's father wants to leave before the situation gets worse. However, her mother is convinced that things will settle down especially since Idi Amin has exempted government workers like Mr. Gomez. Asha doesn't want to leave her friends in Uganda.

Asha and her family attend the India-Uganda cricket match. However, the match never happens. When Idi Amin arrives, he announces to a cheering crowd that he has sent the Indian team home and that he has also revoked the exemption for professionals like Mr. Gomez. With the crowd chanting "Africa for Africans!", Asha's family and the many other Indian families flee the game in panic. Asha's father insists that they must now leave Uganda, but once again her mother refuses, insisting that this crisis will pass.

Two weeks later, Asha calls her sister Teelu in London asking her to help in convincing their father to stay. During the call, Asha discovers her parents' passports in her father's home office and decides to hide them. As the days pass and the deadline draws nearer, it becomes increasingly evident that Asha and her family cannot stay. Her friend Yesofu finds himself equally conflicted, not wanting to lose his best friend but at the same time hoping for change that will lead to a better life. Leaving will mean letting go.


Discussion

Orange For The Sunsets is an important novel that explores the 1972 expulsion of tens of thousands of Asian from Uganda through the dual narratives of Asha an Indian Ugandan and Yesofu who is African. Through these two characters, Athaide is able to effectively portray the vast disparity between the two ethnic groups in Uganda and their experiences during this difficult time in a way that is meaningful and invites young readers to thoughtful consideration.

From the very beginning of the novel, Athaide portrays the significant economic and social disparity that exists between the two main characters, Asha Gomez who is an Indian Ugandan and her best friend, Yesofu who is African Ugandan. Asha's father who is from Goa, India works in the Ministry of Tourism, arranging "special passports and visas for important dignitaries and other visiting government officials." Asha lives "in a pale yellow two-story house. Twice ...no, triple or quadruple the size..." of Yesofu's home with a "wraparound verandah". Their sitting room has "thick brocade curtains" and a "round, leather pouf" . Their Sunday lunch is followed by sweets in the sitting room. They can afford to eat kulfi or ice cream and serve their tea on a silver platter. Asha's family have African servants, including Yesofu's mother Fara who works as a housemaid and cook. Asha's older sister Teelu is studying nursing at a school in London, England.

In contrast, Yesofu whose family belongs to the Ganda tribe, lives in a two room shack, "made of wattle and daub -- woven rods and twigs plastered with clay and mud" with a grass roof. Yesofu sleeps on a woven mat and gathers branches for firewood. His mother has very little education having only complete up to primary class three and his Baba works in the fields all day. Yesofu's education is paid for by Asha's father and his dreams of college and playing professional cricket hinge entirely on a cricket scholarship.

Life is more restrictive for Yesofu and his fellow African Ugandans. Although the Indian Club where Asha has her party accepts African Ugandans, the only Africans in the club are those who serve drinks. Even at Asha's home Yesofu has had to come through the back door into her home, or stay in the kitchen if her parents were entertaining guests. And Yesofu and his friend Akello are the first African Ugandans to make his school cricket team. Even though Yesofu is an accomplished player, Rajeev, an Indian is chosen over him to be the team captain.Yesofu is only awarded the title when Rajeev reveals he will be leaving the country.

Readers will realize that Asha's family is very well off and that life holds many more opportunities for her than it does for Yesofu and his fellow African Ugandans. For Yesofu, the path to a better life is a college education but that comes at a cost he cannot afford. He is in school only because Asha's father pays his fee. Athaide's portrayal of life in the country shows how British colonial practices harmed the fabric of  Uganda and its indigenous peoples.

Both Asha and Yesofu experience intense internal conflict over what is happening. Asha, who loves her life and Uganda, is in denial about the reality of life in her country. Her life of comfort and privilege means she doesn't understand how being Indian and African makes her and Yesofu different. Her view of the world is very simple and naive.

When Idi Amin's edict is issued, Asha is in denial, "Uganda was home. The president couldn't make her leave."  At school Asha is confronted by her African classmates including Yesofu and Akello who points out that Uganda belongs to the Africans and that the Indians merely continued taking from the country after the British left.

Asha doesn't really understand the situation in her country partly because she is well off and partly because her parents do not talk to her about what is happening. When she asks her Papa she is told "Nothing you need to worry about." This isolation from the reality of what is happening leads Asha to believe they are not at risk and that her family won't be affected. She also has a simplistic view that people need to learn to get along. For example, when Asha states that she should wear the traditional African gomesi to the Entebbe Club, her friend Leela reminds her not to forget that she is Indian. But Asha responds, "Indian. African. We're different, so what if people stopped making such a big deal of it, then it wouldn't matter so much."

It is in her classroom when the topic is brought up that Asha begins to learn more about the reality of life in Uganda. For example, Yesofu mentions that his father was refused a bank loan to buy land, Asha wonders, "Had Yesofu's dad always wanted a piece of land? How come she didn't know?"  This leads her to other questions like, "Why is Amin punishing us? Whose fault is it? Why are Indians being blamed? How come the British didn't hire Africans?"

For Yesofu, the conflict is much deeper. Upon learning that Amin has ordered the expulsion of the Indians and the possibilities this might create for Africans like himself he wonders, "The man's words turned inside of Yesofu. It wasnt' just the opportunities opening up for Africans but also the bit about Indians being kicked out. Did that mean all Indians -Asha too?"  For Yesofu, the possibility of a brighter future, of his Baba being able to buy land, of attending college and having a better life lead him to support the actions of Idi Amin. He is certain his friend Asha will understand "...how the president's plan could help him and other Africans". Yesofu tries to celebrate with other members of his family and his friends, part of the Ganda tribe but "It felt like he was betraying them by not joining in, but wrong if he did."  Akello insists that the Indians must go because they don't belong in Uganda. When challenged about the morality of taking from the Indians, Akello tells Yesofu that leaving may be best for Asha. "Her Uganda is changing. It's going to be an Africa for Africans. Not an African for Indians and Africans."

However Yesofu soon finds that there is a dark side to the explusion as he witnesses the beating of an Indian man in the street and Akello assaulting Asha for calling him a shamba boy. With many countries refusing to take in the Indian refugees, Yesofu remembers the article showing "...The angry white faces holding their signs of hate. Were Africans any different? They didnt want the Indians any more than the British did..."

It is Asha's experience in Katabi, the rural area where Yesofu lives, that ultimately helps her understand events from the African point of view. After she is rescued from the well where she fell being chased by Akello, Asha realizes she does know Yesofu's life. "She'd never worked in the sugarcane fields. She'd never drawn water from a well for cooking. She'd never even had to wash her own clothes. Yesofu deserved to have everything she had or used to have. She wished she'd realized sooner how not having these things did make a difference..." When Yesofu visits her in the hospital Asha tells him that she's been selfish, not really understanding that their lives were different. "I never really thought about what your life was like outside my world."

The title of the novel is taken from the description of the colour of one of the beads from Asha's friendship bracelet that Yesofu gives her for her birthday. Esi is only able to recover four beads from the well. "Red for hibiscus flowers. Brown for sweetgrass. Blue for Lake Victoria. And orange for the sunsets."  Although only four beads remain, their friendship endures. Asha is leaving Uganda but the two friends do not say good bye but "Tautakutana tena." Or until we meet again.

Although the characters in Orange For The Sunsets are fictional, Athaide has used her family's experience in Uganda during this time and the stories told during family get-togethers to craft a realistic and informative novel.  The novel includes several informative features in the back matter including 90 Days In History: A Countdown to the Expulsion which is a timeline of the events, a detailed Author's Note with pictures from Athaide's family, a Bibliography and an Additional Resources section.

Book Details:

Orange For The Sunsets by Tina Athaide
New York: Katherine Tegen Books       2019
pp. 328

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Degas, Painter of Ballerinas by Susan Goldman Rubin

"Drawing is not what one sees, but what one can make others see." 

Degas, Painter of Ballerinas is an exquisite biography for young readers of this famous artist, known for his sketches, paintings and sculptures of dancers.From 1852 to 1912, Degas produced over a thousand dance pictures. While many artists were part of the Impressionist movement, Degas' interest was much different. Impressionists painted landscapes outdoors. Degas spent hours indoors at the Paris Opera observing dancers.The dancers were known as petits rats or "little rats" because they were always hungry. The petits rats would practice different ballet moves over and over to perfection. Degas would sketch their poses as they stretched, rested on a bench or worked at the barre.

Because he spent so much time at the Paris Opera, Degas was very familiar with the different ballet moves and would sometimes do a pirouette or an arabesque. He formed a fatherly friendship with many of the dancers whom he treated as if they were his own children. He saw how hard they worked and  how difficult the art of ballet was.

Degas did his sketching in the ballet studio or his own studio where the dancers were invited to pose. Afterwards he would combine these sketches into his paintings which were done when he was alone.

As time passed, Degas' art changed and developed. He explored different techniques,  and as his eyesight deteriorated, Degas moved to creating sculpture. The result was art that is timeless, beautiful and now considered very valuable.

Discussion

Degas, Painter of Ballerinas is an fascinating exploration into the process and technique of this famous artist.  Rubin keeps younger readers engaged with her simple explanations and with the many wonderful colour plates of Degas' paintings, drawings and sculptures, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Rubin informs her readers on some of the different techniques Degas applied to his work. For example, he often used a single color to create an accent, making a canvas "come to life" or mixed pastels with charcoal and tempera paint. He even used bleach and steam to create different effects in his paintings.The layout of the book is such that there is a bit of text on each page accompanied by many wonderful pictures of Degas' artwork. Rubin mentions Degas poor eyesight, something that plagued him even as a young man and how he tried to preserve his eyesight by wearing blue tinted glasses. As his eyesight worsened, Degas turned to sculpture, creating incredible wax sculptures of dancers in certain poses.

While the first part of the book focuses more on Degas art. Rubin also includes a fairly detailed biography of the artist in a separate section at the back of the book. This gorgeous edition with the beautiful cover and the pink satin spine would make a lovely gift for either a young aspiring dancer or someone interested in art and artists.


Book Details:

Degas, Painter of Ballerinas by Susan Goldman Rubin
New York: Abrams Books For Young Readers    2019
60 pp.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

When Sue Found Sue by Toni Buzzeo

The inspiring story of Sue Hendrickson and her incredible discovery is told in When Sue Found Sue a picture book for younger readers.

Growing up in Munster, Indiana, Sue was a shy and curious child who loved to read and loved to find lost things. Sue was a very smart child who learned about the world around her through her extensive reading. She would visit the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago to view the exhibits of fossils and other items people had found over the years.

At age seventeen, Sue began travelling and joining teams of other treasure hunters. Her travels eventually led her to the hills of western South Dakota, known for its fossils. Sue spent four summers digging for duck-billed dinosaurs. It was dusty, hot work but Sue loved it. She found herself drawn to a sandstone cliff in the distance. On a day off, Sue and her dog Gypsy hiked to the cliff and it was there that she saw the bones of a T. Rex exposed. It took the team five days of hard work to expose the fossil skeleton and another three weeks to map and carefully remove them. Today the skeleton, named Sue, resides in the Field Museum of Natural History. This remarkable fossil has added significantly to our knowledge about this dinosaur.

Discussion

When Sue Found Sue tells the amazing story of the discovery of the most complete Tyrannosaurs Rex skeleton to date. The fossil skeleton containing about 250 bones was discovered in 1990 by marine archeologist, field paleontologist and professional diver Sue Hendrickson. There are believed to be about 380 bones in a T. Rex skeleton, meaning Sue is ninety percent complete.

The new Sue with gastral basket and shifted stance.
Although there are now over thirty T. Rex skeletons that have been discovered, only five are approximately forty percent complete. This makes Sue Hendrickson's discovery that much more important. The T. Rex Sue does have some missing bones including one foot and one hand as well as about eight inches of her tail. And unlike many other fossil bones, Sue's bones were in very good condition.

Although the dinosaur is named Sue, scientists do not know if this skeleton is that of a male or female T. Rex. Dating from the Cretaceous period (about 67 million years ago) the skeleton was discovered with rib like gastralia bones that scientists were not sure exactly how they were connected to the skeleton. Scientists have now determined that the gastral bones were probably a feature that helped the T. Rex breathe. They have added the 26 bones that comprise part of the dinosaurs gastal basket to the skeleton.

When Sue Found Sue presents the story of Sue's discovery in easy to read prose, emphasizing Sue Hendrickson's determination to do in life what she found most interesting  - search for things. But unlike her childhood, Sue became part of teams that searched for lost boats, planes, for prehistoric fossils and finally for dinosaurs. Sue is an inspiration for young readers to follow their interests, challenging them to really look at the world around them. Sue's observations of the world inspired her and filled her with wonder and curiosity. There are many more discoveries waiting to be made!

Artist Diana Sudyka's earthy illustrations help the story of Sue Hendrickson come alive. Gouache and watercolours made from earth pigments were used to create the Dakota scenes in the picture book.

Buzzeo includes a short Author's Note about Sue Hendrickson and her discovery, a Resources For Children section and also lists some Additional Resources.

Readers are encouraged to check out The Field Museum of Natural History's webpage on Sue.

Sue image:  https://www.fieldmuseum.org/blog/fresh-science-makeover-sue

Book Details:

When Sue Found Sue by Toni Buzzeo
New York: Abrams Books For Young People    2019

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Where The World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean

Where The World Ends is a fictional account of an event that occurred in the St. Kilda archipelago, located in the Atlantic Ocean, northwest of Scotland.

The island of Hirta which is the home for the twelve characters in the novel,  is the main island in the archipelago. Hirta was populated by very small number of inhabitants until 1930, when the remaining population was evacuated to mainland Scotland.

In 1727, a group of nine boys and men were set on Stac an Armin also known as Warrior Stac to hunt the birds and eggs, the main staple in their diet. They became stranded on the stac for nine months when a smallpox epidemic on Hirta devastated the community there. Very little is known about this event which was recorded in the diary of a Christian missionary. This provided McCaughrean with the opportunity to imagine what being marooned on a rugged stac in the stormy Atlantic for nine months without any hope of rescue might be like.

The story is told from the point of view of Quilliam who is part of the fowling party that includes Domhnall Don, Mr. Farriss, Mr. Cane, Murdo, Kenneth, Calum, Lachlan, John, Euan, Niall and Davie. To get ashore, everyone has to  jump from the boat onto the craggy stac. It was Calum's father who brought them to the stac and it will be up to him to return in three weeks time to bring them back.

Their first stop is Lower Bothy, a dark, dank, stinking cave where they temporarily stow their gear of ropes, fowling nets, cooking pot, egg baskets, bundles and boots. The next task is to kill the King Gannet, the lookout bird, who guards the Overhand and warns the other gannets of danger. Whoever kills that first lookout bird earns the title of King Gannet for their time on the stac. Quill succeeds in this task and earns himself the title. The fowlers then move from the Lower Bothy to Midway Bothy. This cave is no more comfortable then the lower cave but it allows them to descend on ropes and harvest the birds in this area.

They harvest storm petrels for their oil and meat, gugas (gannet chicks) for their meat, as well as puffins and other birds. The feathers are plucked by the younger boys and stuffed into sacks. Eighty cleits, "little towers built of rocks" are used to store the dead birds, acting like smokehouses to dry out the carcasses.

Two months before the fowlers left for Warrior Stac, the boat arrived from Harris, carrying Murdina Galloway, the niece of Mr. Fariss, the school master. With Murdina and the boat that brought her, came a bundle of clothes belonging to Old Iain who had died, tossed onto the shore by the skipper, Mr. Gilmour. That bundle of clothing was stored in the schoolroom to be shared out amongst the islanders. Murdina brought sentences, songs and laughter to Hirta. And Quilliam was entranced by her and her mainland ways. On Warrior Stac she occupies Quilliam's thoughts frequently.

Shortly after the fowling party left for the stac, the Reverend Buchan, a missionary on Hirta was slated to return to the mainland, along with Murdina. Quilliam believes it unlikely he will ever see Murdina again.

Stac an Armin
The next three weeks are spent gathering birds' eggs, wicking petrels (the oily birds are used like candles, burning down to their feet) and hunting birds. Four weeks pass, then three more. Finally Callum asks the question everyone is thinking, "Why do they not come?" Every possible reason is discussed; the weather, the tides, a problem with the boat. Euan, one of the younger boys faints and then prophesies that all on Hirta have gone up to heaven. Because of this,  many in the band of fowlers believe that God has decided to end the world and that they have been left behind on the island. However, Mr. Fariss and Mr. Don believe that they should try to build a raft and cross to Boreray so as to make a signal to Hirta for help. Quilliam, overwhelmed by the conversation, leaves the Bothy and to distract the younger boys who are also upset, helps them set afire one of the cleits containing gugas and puffins. Although they burn,  the signal goes out and there is no rescue.

As the weeks pass, Quilliam and the other fowlers must now face the prospect of a long winter, possible starvation and death. As tension mounts between the Col Cane who has set himself up as a minister of God and the rest of the party, the struggle to stay alive grows more desperate with each passing week. Has the world truly ended? How will they survive the winter?

Discussion

Told from the point of view of protagonist Quilliam McKinnon, Where The World Ends is a story of extreme survival. Eleven inhabitants of Hirta are set on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the sea to harvest birds for their community over a period of three weeks. But when the boat does not return for them, they must find a way to survive through the harsh winter. Every aspect of their being will be tested; physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. It is a tale of inner strength, resiliency,and courage.

McGaughrean immediately creates the setting and atmosphere for her story through her descriptive narrative. The stac is described in imposing terms. "Warrior Stac grows bigger the closer you get. You would swear it was pushing its way upwards -- a rock whale pitching its whole bulk into the sky, covered in barnacles, aiming to swallow the moon...Warrior Stac is so big and so dark that all the fowl of the air since Creation haven't been able to stain it. It looms there, as black and fearful as one horn of the Devil himself. And it teems with birds." Quill doesn't want to think ill of the stac. "It was not a living thing, only a slab of rock in a big, cold ocean at the edge of the world." It is evident from the beginning, that even in the warm summer months, survival on the stac will be a formidable challenge.

Map of St. Kilda showing the location of Stac an Armin
When the boat fails to return for them, it soon becomes evident to the group that they are marooned, likely for the winter and possibly permanently. The incredible challenge of staying alive through the winter is ably portrayed by McGaughrean. They have plenty of food in the form of birds and eggs, although they must deal with the rain and cold. So initially, the most significant challenge the men and boys face is psychological; the realization that for some unknown reason, no one is coming to take them back to Hirta. Each character deals with this realization in their own way. Murdo wants to partition off areas of the island so each can have his own area to hunt and store birds. Mr. Fariss contemplates suicide but is talked out of it by Quilliam. Mr. Don makes a practical plan to build a raft out of driftwood so they can sail to Boreray where they will have a much better chance of surviving the winter. Col Cane takes refuge in rigid religious belief.

From the beginning, Col Cane appoints himself as a "Minister", controlling the group by playing on their fears. Quilliam does his best to counter these fears but is largely unsuccessful. For example, when Quilliam tells the younger boys a story that draws on mythology to distract them from their dark thoughts, Cane decides he is a pagan who is to be shunned. Cane dictates Sundays as days of prayer and ordering the fowlers to "confess" not only their own sins but the sins of others too! As winter approaches, Cane's beliefs and demands become more extreme as he orders the group to stop fowling and say in the Bothy to pray and sing hymns. Quilliam sees the folly in this; they will run out of food if they stop harvesting birds. "It was insane. The birds would be gone soon.The party must keep fowling for as long as possible. Their were cleits needed mending." Eventually Quilliam is banished by the increasingly unstable Col Cane. This sets Cane up as the main source of conflict in the novel.

Although not much is known about the people living on Hirta before the 1800s, online research indicates that the islanders did not take much to Christianity in the 1700's and that Alexander Buchan, the missionary mentioned in the novel, was largely unsuccessful in his efforts to evangelize them. They still clung to their Druid beliefs as much as to the new religion of Christianity. McCaughrean captures the mixture of Christian and pagan beliefs that these men might have had in the 1700's. Col Cane seems able to use his distorted views of God and death to gain considerable control over the marooned fowlers. Although the fowlers would have been practical men, focused entirely on staying alive into the spring when they could hope for rescue by a passing ship, they would have also searched for omens. They young boys, often Euan remind them to do so.

McCaughrean has crafted a dark tale that might be more appropriate for older readers. Quilliam and Murdo talk about never having the chance to be with a woman, one character attempts suicide but is saved by Quilliam, another dies a gruesome death and various characters suffer serious injuries. There is also the situation of John who turns out to be a girl of fourteen, whom the older boys determine should be married off to one of them. McCaughrean's descriptions of the state of the fowlers as winter ends leave little to her readers' imaginations. "They sneezed incessantly and their skin crawled with parasites. Itchy, scabby and sore, their flesh cracked open at the least cause, like crabs whose backs split as they outgrow them."And there is the matter of Kenneth's toes....

Despite the harrowing, gloomy storyline, the novel has a surprisingly sweet ending for the main character, Quilliam, who survives by frequently imagining his love, Murdina by his side. After their rescue, that dream becomes a reality in a chapter narrated by Murdina.

Overall, Where The World Ends is an interesting but dark fictional account of a real life event that happened almost three hundred years ago. This is a remarkable survival story with many themes to be explored. McCaughrean includes a map of the setting, an Afterword, and a set of drawings of the various birds the fowlers would have found on the stac.

Readers can get a good sense of the novel's setting from this article on the BBC about the isolated island of Hirta and its unique people.


Stac an Armin image: Bob Jones [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)] from geograph.org.uk

Map credit: Eric Gaba (Sting - fr:Sting) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]


Book Details:

Where The World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean
London: Usborne Publishing    2018
330 pp.


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

My Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih

My Name Is Hanna is the fictional account of a Ukrainian-Jewish family's struggles to survive the Holocaust. Fourteen-year-old Hanna Slivka lives in the village of Kwasova with her younger sister Leeba and her younger brother Symon and their parents Adam and Eva. Kwasova is a town comprised of Galicians from Poland, Russia and Ukraine. Hanna's family is part of the Jewish community, her family having moved to the town in 1927. As Jews they have lived side by side with farmers and townspeople, working together and even sharing the Ukrainian Community Hall with their them. But some Russians and Poles are not so tolerant of their Jewish neighbours. Often when walking home from the market, Hanna and her sister Leeba must deal with bullies.
 
Kwasova is part of Poland when Hitler invades the country on September 1, 1939. However, with the German invasion, the Russians race to occupy the eastern half of Poland. As a result, Kwasova becomes part of Soviet Russia with the arrival of the Red Army. Polish flags are replaced by the Soviet red flag with its sickle and hammer,  the Polish street signs are replaced with Russian ones and classes are taught in Russian.

However, things gradually begin to change for Hanna and her family and their Jewish community as well as for others in the town. Stalin forbids all public practice of religion so in April of 1940, the Jews must hide their preparations for Passover. The last Shepherd's Parade held in the shtetele happens in 1941, only because Hanna's father is able to convince the Russians to allow it.  Her father has considerable standing in both the Jewish and Ukrainian/Russian community. He is not only a sheepherder, but also is able to repair things for the Russians.This allows him to be on friendly terms with Commissar Egorov who is in charge of the NKVD officers stationed in Kwasova. Hanna's family live in the only brick house on the lane that leads to the meadows where the sheep graze. The only other dwelling on the lane is Mrs. Petrovich's thatched cottage. This older lady is a good friend of Hanna's family, hired as their Shabbes goy, doing work Hanna's parents cannot do on the Sabbath.


One night Hanna overhears the men talking downstairs. Visiting their home are the two Cohan twins Pavel and Jacob, Mr. Rabinowitz, and Mr. Stadnick who is Hanna's friend Leon's father. The Cohan brothers who are able to travel freely in the area and are the only source of information reveal that the war has come to their country now. The Ukrainians are welcoming the German army in the hopes that they will be free from the Russian occupation and will sponsor an independent Ukraine. The Red Army is fleeing, the NKVD has left. Gradually the Jewish community finds itself more and more isolated from Kwasovians.

In the winter of 1942, Hanna's family is drawn into sheltering refugees fleeing north from the Germans. When Hanna questions her father about their secret guests he tells her only that they have come from Romania and "are people like us." Hanna's father gives her a leather bound copy of Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc.

In the spring, a Ukrainian farmer, Stepan Illiouk drops off two very young boys whom he helped on their journey north. While Hanna and her mother are attempting to figure out what to do, Mrs. Petrovich quietly deposits a basket of fresh chicken eggs on their doorstep. This means she has seen the two boys come to their home. Mrs. Petrovich makes, pysanky eggs for her clients for Easter and Christmas which Hanna helps to deliver. It is now clear that Mrs. Petrovich is an ally.Hanna and her mother come up with a scheme, disguising the two boys as being injured in a farm accident. After dark, Hanna's papa escorts them to the house of the Ukrainian Catholic priest, Father Dubrowski, who is baptizing Jews and creating new birth certificates for them, in the hopes of saving them.

Eventually the refugees stop coming, the Wehrmacht soldiers advance into the valleys, followed by the Einsatzgruppen with their guns, dogs, gas vans and classical music and the borders are closed.  Life becomes much harsher for everyone but especially for Jewish families. Hanna still attends school although as the oldest pupil she just reads. However the Polish students are careful to sit far away from the Jewish students. Hanna's friend, Leon now attends a small private school in the town for the Jewish boys. The many shops in the market square close and now there are long lines for what little food can be found. Because Hanna has blond hair she is now sent to stand in line for the two ounces of bread their family is entitled to.  In line, Hanna sees the poster warning people to avoid Jews in case of typhus. In a bold move Hanna manages to secure double their bread ration.

Gradually time begins running out for Hanna's family and the other Jewish families in Kwasova.The dreaded SS invade smaller rural towns and villages. In September they arrive Kwasova with a long line of Romanian Jews. They steal the horses and what little food remains in the town. Hanna's family watch from a hilltop outside of town waiting until the Germans move on. From the Cohan brothers, they learn the Germans massacred all the Jews marching with them, near the village of Borszczow, disguising the sound of machine gun fire with classical music played on a gramophone.

In Kwasova, the Jews are now ordered to register and to wear a blue Mogen Dovid.However Hanna's father forbids them from doing either, counting on their neighbours not to turn them in.The SS and the Ukrainian police are searching barns for hidden Jews whom they force into ghettos or murder. Hanna's Uncle Levi and her father dig underground bunkers to hide in during raids, while Hanna, her mother and sister will hide in an attic bunker. A pane of glass is removed from Hanna's bedroom window and the family takes turns listening at night for an unanticipated raid. That raid does happen and for two days Hanna and her family hide.

On an afternoon in the fall of 1942, the Germans force the closure of the schools for good, and the Ukrainian police steal Hanna's family's sheep to feed the Germans. On September 26, 1942, Mrs. Petrovich comes to Hanna's home bearing wooden crosses. She tells Hanna's father this evening, the Germans are coming through the town to forcibly remove all Jews to make it Judenfrei . Any home without a cross will be considered Jewish. Hanna's father takes the cross and brings one to his brother Levi. The night passes and Hanna's family and her cousins are safe. In the morning they learn what happened through the blackness of night from Stepan Illiouk. Many Jews were murdered in their beds, others were marched to a culvert near Stepan's fields and shot in groups while the Germans ate confiscated food and played classical music. Stepan is horrified that he now has a graveyard at the edge of his field.

Hanna and her family now realize that this is no short-lived pogrom they they can survive but the systematic annihilation of every Jew. They set out to save themselves, not realizing just how much it will cost them and how much their lives will change forever.

Discussion

My Name Is Hanna is based somewhat on the real life story of Esther Stermer who saved the lives of her family and five other families by hiding in the gypsum caves in Eastern Ukraine during World War II. Esther and her husband Zaida lived in the small Ukrainian village of Korolowka, when it was invaded by the Germans in 1941. Determined to save her family, Esther and Zaida, along with five other families packed up some belongings and fled into the dark, cold night to the network of gypsum caves near their village. They were told about the caves by a forester in the District of Galicia. Thirty-eight persons would live in the caves for five hundred and eleven days, a record that still stands today, only emerging in when the Red Army had pushed the Germans out of the area in 1944. The families lived in a second cave which had good ventilation and lakes, creating areas to bath and digging latrines. Artifacts from their time in the caves were discovered in the 1990s by cave diver, Chris Nicola. Eventually he was able to discover the story behind the artifacts.

In Masih's novel, the characters are all fictional except for the historical figures of Adolf Hitler and Gestapo Chief Koelner. The author strove "...to be historically accurate in as many ways as possible." in spite of the fact that there were few personal accounts that survive, and the history of the region has been suppressed by both the Ukraine and Russia. In this regard, she succeeds admirably. Because of this Masih relied heavily on Esther Stermer's memoir to craft some of the details of Hanna's story, but she also created her own events too. For example, the Slivka's escape first to the forest, something the Stermers did not do. When that becomes too risky,  as a last resort they realize their only chance to survive is to retreat to the caves, a horrifying prospect, effectively portrayed in the novel.

Masih's characters are varied and realistic. There is the lovable, kindly Mrs. Alla Petrovich, a Ukrainian Christian who creates pysanky and who does as much as possible to help Hanna and her family. She recognizes their differences, but is tolerant and caring.  And there is the Ukrainian farmer, Stepan Illiouk and Yuri the forester who also help. Stepan does all he can to help his Jewish friends and is devastated when he witnesses the murder of hundreds of Jews near his fields.

Hanna is a strong, intelligent protagonist whose compassion is a central feature of her personality.  On her birthday a family fleeing persecution is hidden in their barn. "I listen, eyes wide. A whole family in our barn? Fleeing for their lives? I think of the cold barn, the lack of heat, wind whistling down from the mountains and through the drafty boards, the miles they still have to travel." Hanna gives her father the warm, long scarf her sister Leeba made for her birthday.  Later on from the safety of the hilltop, Hanna watches all the Jews huddled together in the town. "My heart breaks to see their misery. How I wish I had many scarves to hand out." When her friend Levi is depressed on his sixteenth birthday because no one notices, Hanna does notice and offers him a handful of dried crabapples.

However, Hanna is a realistically crafted heroine. When they are ready to leave their home for the forest, Hanna struggles to pray. "I am not much in the mood to be thanking God for things that seem frightening, like living in the forest, but when we thank God for the food we can finally eat, I join in." Hanna struggles terribly at times, wondering how Sonia could possibly have a baby when life is so terrible. She has little hope for the future but in the end that hope is restored.

Despite all the evil around them, Hanna's parents endeavour to teach her not to become like the Germans. This is best demonstrated when Fedir Wolinski appears half-dead at their hideout in the forest. Wolinski was the lamplighter in Kwasova, friendly to everyone before the war. But when the Germans came he turned on his Jewish neighbours and became the Tzeler, a Death Counter, actively looking for Jews in hiding and keeping track of the dead in the shetele. When the Germans shoot his wife, Wolinski knows his time of reckoning is coming and so he flees. Hanna learns from her parent's actions. "But my parents taught me something when they took in the Death Counter. Life is not good, however you are living it, if you become like those who don't value you."

Early in the novel, Hanna is given a copy of Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc which she treasures. To Hanna, her journey to survive parallels that of Joan. When she leaves her village, just as Joan left hers, Hanna understands what Joan feels. "I am at the end of the first chapter in Joan of Ar, where Joan, at seventeen, is looking back on her distant village, 'trying to print these scenes on her memory'. I am doing the same."  Hanna begins to use Joan of Arc to keep track of time. Like Joan, Hanna notes, "It is easy to lose track of time in one room you never leave, away from normal routines..."  Like Joan too, a tree plays an important part in Hanna's life. "I find a beech tree in the oan of Arc story as well. A fairy tree. A mystical tree connected to the children of Domremy, the hamlet she grew up in. I feel like I am following in her footsteps...." For her it is the Witness tree which is used as a means of communication in the forest. And as Hanna and her family  struggle to survive in the gypsum caves, she tries to draw on Joan's heroic example. "I try to be like Joan, who endured prison and torture. 'A great soul, with a great purpose, can make a weak body strong and keep it so,' Mr. Twain wrote." Hanna's purpose is to live.

My Name Is Hanna is a well written historical fiction novel that focuses on the plight of the Jewish population in Ukraine during World War II. Not many readers will know how deeply the Jewish people living in Eastern Europe suffered. Very few Jews in the Ukraine survived the war. And years later, Chris Nicola, attempting to learn the origins of the artifacts in the caves, would discover this history hidden. This is a novel that will place readers securely into a little known event, allowing them to experience the trauma of being hunted to the point of having to live for over 500 days in a dark cave.

Book Details:
My Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih
Simsbury, Connecticut:   Mandel Vilar Press  2018
195 pp