“Taking flight: From war orphan to star ballerina” Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

Rated 4 stars **** 2016. Ember. 246 p. (Includes an interview with Michaela DePrince).

TakingFlightHer parents in her Sierra Leone village loved their daughter Mabinty Bangura but, because of her leopard-like spots from vitiligo, she was shunned and despised by the villagers. Her parents could read, and defied tradition by educating her. They were a happy family until rebels killed her father. Without his support, she and her mother were forced to move into her despotic uncle’s house where they were starved. Within a short time her mother died, and she was abandoned at an orphanage.

Mabinty recounts her hard life in the orphanage, her adoption by an American family at the age of four, and her rebirth under the new name of Michaela. Inspired by a magazine picture, she was determined to become a ballerina. “Taking flight” is Michaela’s story of how she soared past the pain of her early life and into the world of ballet.

Michaela does an excellent job recounting her many trials and tribulations, the love she has for her parents and family members, as well as her successes. However the technical ballerina jargon used to describe various dance moves in several different chapters was very confusing. It would have been helpful to have a glossary, with photographs, of these dance terms at the end of the book.

Recommended for ages 12-18, due to the graphic nature of some of the war crimes described.

“Code name Verity” (Verity #1) Elizabeth Wein

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Hyperion. 339 p. (Includes a “Brief Bibliography.”)

CodeNameVerityThe story opens with Verity, a secret agent sent to Occupied France by the British, being held prisoner by the Gestapo during World War II. After being tortured for weeks, Verity struck a deal which allowed her to regain a modicum of civility but which also included having her write all she knew about the Royal Air Force (RAF) and her role with the British.

As Verity’s story unfolds we meet Maddie, a rare female pilot in the RAF who became Verity’s best friend. As their stories of bravery, friendship, and survival in the midst of fear and the unknown are revealed, readers will be hard pressed to keep their tears and emotions in check.

“Code Name Verity” won the Michael L. Printz Honor Award in 2013, given by YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association). It also was listed on the 2013 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten list, and won numerous other awards. All are well deserved.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older, including Adults.

“Four-four-two” Dean Hughes

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published November 8, 2016. Atheneum Books. 268 p. (Includes “Preface,” “Author’s Note,” and period photographs.)

FourFourTwoYuki and his best friend Shig were busy being teenagers when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Though American citizens, both suddenly found themselves considered enemies of their own country. Along with thousands of other Japanese American citizens, Yuki and Shig lost their homes and everything they owned when they and their families were forcefully relocated to an internment camp in the middle of a desert.

Eager to gain back the respect they felt they’d lost in the eyes of their fellow citizens, Yuki and Shig joined the army where they were assigned to the all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Yuki’s story of love, loss, friendship, and brotherhood will tug at reader’s heartstrings.

Hughes’ descriptions of the many battles fought by this extremely brave unit, along with the prejudice faced by these soldiers both in and out of the army, will prove to be eye opening to many readers.

Highly recommended for all high school and public libraries.

“Projekt 1065: A novel of World War II” Alan Gratz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Scholastic. 309 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

projekt1065In 1938 Michael O’Shaunessey moved to Berlin, Germany with his parents when his father was named Irish Ambassador. Over the 6 years of living there he’d seen the Nazi Party became stronger, changing its people for the worse. It is now 1943, and things have gotten bad as Jews and other dissenters are being taken to concentration camps. Michael had never known his parents were spies for the Allies but now, at the age of 13, he found himself working with them.

When a British RAF pilot was shot down over the city, Michael and his parents discovered the Nazis had been secretly building a plane with engines instead of propellers, which could fly faster than any country’s planes and would turn the tide of the war towards Germany.

Accidentally finding the plane’s blueprints accelerated Michael’s spy role within the ranks of the Hitler Youth. As things heat up, it soon becomes evident that Michael and his parents are in grave danger. Michael will have to do all he can to make sure the Nazis don’t succeed in their plan for world domination before it’s too late.

I really enjoyed reading “Projekt 1065.” Its short, cliffhanger, fast paced chapters make it a great choice for reluctant readers, while its storyline is very interesting.

Highly recommended for ages 11-14.

“The school the Aztec Eagles built: A tribute to Mexico’s World War II air fighters” Dorinda Makanaonalani Nicholson

Rated 5 stars ***** Lee & Low. 2016. 40 p. (Includes “Author’s Note,” “Glossary and Pronunciation Guide,” “Author’s Sources,” and “Quotation Sources.”)

theschooltheazteceaglesbuiltThough not directly involved in World War II, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor Mexico aided the United States with shipments of oil and war materials. As retaliation for these shipments, German U-boats torpedoed two of their ships. Mexico entered the war on May 28th, and volunteered its best air force pilots to assist the United States.

No military unit in Mexico’s history had ever left the country to fight, but Air Fighter Squadron 201 became the first to do so. Nicknamed the Aztec Eagles, the almost 300 pilots and support crew set off for the United States to be trained. When their training was completed, they went on to support General MacArthur in his Philippines campaign.

Through period photographs, interviews, and careful research Nicholson tells the story of the courageous men of the Aztec Eagles. Her inspiration for their story was the unusual request from one of the support crewmembers, Sergeant Angel Bocanegra a former teacher, who asked the President of Mexico to build a school in his small village of Tepoztlán. The school still stands in their honor, and this book also honors those brave men who fought on behalf of both the United States and Mexico.

Highly recommended for ages 10-14.

“Ashes” Laurie Halse Anderson

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Seeds of America #3. Published October 4, 2016. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. (Appendix includes Questions and Answers as well as lists of books and websites for more reading.)

ashes“Ashes” continues the stories of escaped slaves Curzon and Isabel. First introduced in “Chains,” more of their lives and the cruelty of slavery was documented in “Forge.”

After escaping from their masters once again, the two have spent years making their way through the wilderness seeking news about Isabel’s sister Ruth who’d been sold away from her by a cruel mistress when she was just a little girl. Their plans of a reunited and peaceful life are interrupted by war and the cruelties of fate. The Patriot’s fight for independence causes Isabel to question how those seeking freedom for themselves could deny it to thousands of their slaves, while Curzon is sure the war will mean freedom for all.

As time passes, Isabel’s former closeness with Curzon dissipates as they remain at odds over the war and its meaning to them as slaves. As they learn to survive in the midst of chaos, they are left wondering and hoping about a future in a world turned upside down.

Anderson has done her research well, bringing readers fully into Isabel and Curzon’s time and place. The plight of escaped slaves, found on both British and Patriot’s sides, black soldiers fighting for General Washington, and other historical events are incorporated into the storyline of “Ashes.” If Laurie should choose to continue Isabel, Curzon and Ruth’s story in another set of books about their life after the war, I would be a very happy reader of them. Laurie can you hear me?

Highly recommended for ages 11 to 15.

 

 

 

“Orhan’s Inheritance” Aline Ohanesian

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. 2015. Algonquin Books.

Orhan'sInheritanceForced to return to his tiny village in Turkey from the big city of Istanbul for the reading of the will after his beloved grandfather Kemal dies, Orhan is shocked when his ancestral home is left to a stranger named Seda. Knowing his father and aunt would be displaced if this happens, he is determined to travel to the United States and confront the mysterious woman named in the will.

Orhan finds 90 year old Seda living in an Armenian nursing home, stubbornly refusing to reveal her ties to Kemal. Through persistence and an invisible bond that seems to draw them together, Orhan slowly learns the painful secrets hidden in Kemal and Seda’s pasts which forever changed both of their lives.

Kemal and Seda’s hopes and dreams, often reminding me of the famous star crossed lovers in Romeo and Juliet, is intermingled with the horrors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The more I read the more I could see its sad comparison to the events of the Trail of Tears, and how similar warped thinking by people in leadership led to the Holocaust.

These awful lessons from the past should never be repeated, and should serve as a reminder to beware of those who execrate others based on race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation – especially those in leadership or those seeking to become a leader. Thank you Aline for educating us, and for reminding your readers to never forget crimes committed against humanity. As George Santayana wrote in 1905, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We need to remember.

Highly recommended for Adults.