Home Front Girl- A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing up in Wartime America By Joan Wehlen Morrison

Home Front Girl


I feel like I have a new friend after reading Home Front Girl. Joan Wehlen was so palpable on the pages of this book, that I wish I had in fact met her and could call her my friend. Full of historical snippets and teenage soliloquys, Home Front Girl is the Yin to Anne Frank’s Yang.

One of my favorite parts is something Joan Wrote at age 17:

“Oh you, my generation! –we were a lovely lot! Sharp minds—arguing all the time and brittle bodies and even more brittle laughter—and all the time knowing that we were growing up to die. Because we weren’t fooled, you know. All through those bright-colored years of adolescence we knew we were growing up to disaster. For at least four years—well, three, before it happened, we knew it was coming. Some sort of inner sense of war lay upon us. We were pretty brave—we joked about it the way we joked about love and about the polio epidemic when we were all scared to death of it.”

Joan, more than anyone I’ve ever heard of at this time, felt the world was small- that all were worthy of brotherhood and peace, and saving and that war for anyone and everyone was wrong. This is illustrated in another one of her quotes, “London is Troy tonight. . . . Berlin is Troy too.” I think in this sense Joan is somewhat unusual for her generation, for most youth of her time were not pacifist. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that.)

I highly recommend Home Front Girl as a primary source for research and insight into the Greatest Generation as so many have called Joan and her peers. Joan’s writings are full of insight and humor and the every day happenings of a teenage girl. Even though Joan had profound insights, she also struggled with the same thing teenage girls struggle with now- school, boys, parents and knowing what to believe in.

Thanks to Susan Signe Morrison, Joan’s daughter for wading through pages and pages of memories to bring her mother’s diary to light and share it with the rest of us. I received a review copy of this book at no cost to me courtesy of Caitlin Eck, publicist for Independent Publishers Group. The opinions are my own.


Book Giveaway for Purple Day: The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors By Chris Barton, Illustrated by Tony Persiani

Woohoo!!!  The Bookscoop’s sisters managed to pull off two Doublescoops in one month. Our review of The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand- New Colors by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani is part of our Purple Day challenge to raise public awareness about epilepsy and seizures. One in ten people will have a seizure in their life-time and one in a hundred will have epilepsy. We want people who have epilepsy to not feel so alone and this happens to be a favorite book of Cari’s daughter. If you comment on this post and/or participate in our Purple Day Challenge we will enter your name in a drawing for The Day-Glo Brothers. Please see our Purple Day post for eligibility requirements.

Cari: I love biographies like The Day-Glo Brothers – nonfiction picture books that tell a compelling human story, which doesn’t typically make the history books.

Holly: When I picked it up, the librarian was just putting it on the request shelf for us. She turned around and said, “That book has great pictures!” and I agree. The colors are very illuminating. Tony Persiani does an excellent job.

Cari: The pictures really, really add to what you’re reading. Which is what a picture book is supposed to do, but not all of them actually do. It helps that you are talking about colors that you can only see in the dark with certain lights. So the illustrations are black and white in the beginning with a few select colors. It helps you realize what the world is like before those eye popping colors. I liked the story too, did you?

Holly: Yes. I liked that the Switzer brothers had goals early in life, but their lives didn’t necessarily turn out how they planned them.

Cari: That’s a lot how life is. They weren’t always interested in the same things, either- Joe was an entertainer and Bob wanted to go to medical school.

Holly: And Bob had an accident that resulted in a head injury that left him with seizures & double vision so he wasn’t able to go to medical school anymore. The two brothers experiment while he’s trying to recover in the basement.

Cari: Yes, light would bother him. They started working together out of boredom. I’m very interested in these two because of my daughter’s seizures. I was curious to know how he dealt with seizures the rest of his life or if the seizures eventually stopped. During Bob and Joe’s era people with epilepsy did not talk about it. In fact a neurologist today has been doing research on Franklin Delono Roosevelt and there is a lot of evidence to suggest he had epilepsy. I wondered if he couldn’t complete medical school because of prejudice about seizures.

Holly: Medical school is very intense. Without specific allowances for a disability, it may be impossible to complete medical school due to lack of sleep, which I hear contributes to seizure activity.

Cari: Yes, we have to be very careful to make sure our daughter gets adequate rest. We’ve also had to put in place protocol with the school for the special allowances this sometimes requires. Like for instance, the recent time change that throws our sleep/wake cycle off triggered a seizure in my daughter last year. So this year, we took extra precautions and had to take her to school late a few times.

Holly: I’m glad that you take such good care of her! I liked that this is the author’s first book  and that he was inspired to write it when he heard the Day Glo brothers’ amazing story.

Cari: Despite Bob having a what sounds like seizure disorder, I can’t say that he did have epilepsy although to be diagnosed you have seizures that do not have an underlying problem that can be corrected. Bob still did a lot of great stuff & both brothers had a lot of fun. If you suffer a traumatic head injury you have a 50% chance of developing epilepsy and it can develop years later. It’s so important to protect your head and that is why helmets are critical in prevention of post-traumatic epilepsy

Holly: The book makes it clear at the end that even though they didn’t become what they thought they would as kids, they still achieved their goals and I think that’s a great example.

Cari: Their paints were used in WWII to help pilots land and also to avoid problems with friendly fire. Their paints made it easier to identify the enemy from an ally.

Holly: Yeah, I wonder if there were spies trying to figure out how they made those glowing colors- or was that world wide knowledge by then?

Cair: Who knows?

Holly: So, how did you find out about the book?

Cari: It was a Cybils book we read in my book club. It was one of the ones I liked the most. My daughter also enjoyed reading it. I think she liked knowing that there were lots of cool things you could still do even if you have seizures.

Holly: I remember when ‘neon’ colors were all the rage.

Cari: I do too. Now we know who to thank. Some of them are coming back.

Holly: Yes, I’ve noticed. I’m wishing I’d kept my neon Golden Gate Bridge t-shirt and maybe my neon green striped t-shirt. But, I don’t need the neon spandex. I think we’ll pass on those.

Cari:  You know I bet those brothers didn’t think that they would actually work together. You know a magician and a medical doctor don’t seem like they would go well together.

Holly: I beg to differ. Isn’t that what we expect from medical professionals? Magic?

Cari: Hah! That’s true.

Holly: I think the book is fascinating for kids – even if they can’t read it on their own, the pictures will appeal to them.

In lieu of a trip down memory lane, we thought we’d share some insight into our real personalities…

Cari: Growing up I was more of the idea person and tended to be in trouble more than Holly.

Holly: So far this isn’t any different than our stories.

Cari: How are you different from how we represent you in the stories?

Holly: I don’t let people walk all over me- you especially. I actually do have a back bone and opinions about things. I do tend to work in the background, so that much is true. How about you?

Cari: Well, I was not really a devious child. Yes, I did get in more trouble than Holly and have an overactive imagination. But, I wasn’t generally mean. I think I still come up with lots of good ideas for stuff.

Holly: Yes. You do. Like creating a book blog.

Cari: Thanks!

Holly: As always, I thought you were crazy when you brought up the idea, but did anyone ever tell you that you are convincing?

Cari: I’m known for my powers of persuasion. Speaking of which, isn’t it time we shared that one story?

Holly: Not unless you want to share the other one.

Cari: Blackmail. Did anyone ever tell you that you were good at blackmail?

Holly: Nope! It goes both ways, though. If you want to share my story, I’ll share yours.

Cari: You know, I think some stories are better left untold.

Holly: Now you’re talking!

Cari: You’re not so bad with those persuasion powers yourself. Maybe you should thank me.

Holly: For what?

Cari: For teaching you all my skills, of course!

Holly: I think we’re off track here. Aren’t we supposed to be telling them what we’re really like? I think we’re back to our paper personalities now.

Cari: Oh, yes. I guess it’s time to put out the lights on this doublescoop.

Holly: I think it might glo in the dark.

Cari: Yes, there is still a light on.

Holly: It’s your computer screen. Push the little circle button and it will turn off.

Cari: I’m not stupid.

Holly: I never said you were.


Breaking Through by Fransisco Jimenez

Breaking Through

Sequel to “The Circuit” (which I haven’t read)

My husband picked out this book for me- and I have to say, I wasn’t exactly attracted to the cover and probably wouldn’t have picked it out for myself, but I’m so glad he picked it, because I really enjoyed reading it. A biographical history of the amazing author of La Mariposa (one of my original reviews), Breaking Through documents the struggles of Fransisco’s family as they are deported and then readmitted to America. The humiliation of being taken out of school by immigration officials and the discomfort of the long journey to the border were palpable.

Jimenez documents his experiences as an immigrant, first illegal and finally legal. Fransisco and his brother face prejudice and hard work with determination. When told that he could easily pass for white, or say he is from Spain and thus escape the difficulties of being treated as a Mexican, Fransisco courageously replies that he is proud to be Mexican and has no reason to hide his heritage. The story reminded me of the stories of many people I met while we lived in Quincy, Washington- a small farming town with a large immigrant-worker population. Jimenez truly broke out of the poverty cycle and has done amazing things for himself, his family, and his friends. Have you ever put off reading a book because of the cover? Thank goodness I can’t resist a good book put right in front of me, because this one is worth the time and effort, even though I don’t like the cover.

Onward: A Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson by Dolores Johnson

onwardI first heard of Matthew Henson before at the Utah State History Fair (similar to Science fair, but with history) several years ago. A boy had created a documentary on Matthew Henson. Incredibly well-done documentary and a fascinating story of bravery in the face of danger and racial discrimination. So when I saw this book at the library I had to check it out.

Matthew Henson is one of America’s unsung heroes. Henson is self-educated son of sharecroppers who sets out on his own at the ripe old age of 13!!! He works as a cabin boy and sailor on several ships and travels the world. Eventually, his love for adventure gets him a job with Robert Peary, whose main goal in life was be the first human to reach the North Pole. These two men shared the same passion – to reach the north pole. It took years to accomplish their goal, which was finally achieved on April 6, 1909 just over a hundred years ago.

Without Matthew Henson, Peary would never had made it and you could say the same of Peary. Matthew was very adept at learning the Inuit language and survival techniques, which one more than one occasion saved their lives. Peary was regarded as a hero and awarded prestigious medals, money and a promotion to Rear Admiral in the Navy. Congress even passed  a resolution thanking Peary for his exploration and achievement. Not one of these awards ever mention Matthew Henson because he was African American and most people considered him to Peary’s man servant as opposed to fellow explorer. After Henson’s death, with the help of African American professor Dr. S. Allen Counter, Matthew Henson was later recognized as the co-discoverer of the North pole.

I thought this book was well written and I loved the primary source photographs throughout the book. Lots of great references including a reference to another book for children called Matthew Henson: Co-Discover of the North Pole by Laura Baskes Litwin. I’ll have to check it out. One of my favorite pictures is in the afterword where Matthew Henson at the age of 81 reads to a child from comic book series detailing Henson’s adventure entitled Negro Heroes. I would recommend this book for ages 8 and up and would make an excellent classroom resource on American History and exploration.

Satchel Paige: Don’t Look Back by David A. Adler, illustrated by Terry Widener

satchel-paige1This is a non-fiction book about one of Baseball’s best players. Satchel Paige played during a time of racial segregation in our nation’s favorite pastime. Satchel overcame a difficult childhood to become famous among black fans. Satchel Paige was overlooked by mainstream media and ‘regular’ fans. At one point when Satchel’s Negro League team played a white team, Satchel proved that he was the best by having all the other players sit down and he threw straight strike outs, until the other team apologized for their disbelief and racial remarks.

“You got to understand,” said Connie Johnson, a pitcher in the Negro Leagues and later in the major leagues. “He was like Babe Ruth to us, but he was our Babe Ruth.”

When teams were integrated, in 1947, Satchel was 40 years old and determined to continue playing. Satchel played baseball until retirement at age 59 saying he liked keeping busy and didn’t want to rust. A truly inspiring player, Satchel was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.

“Don’t Look back,” he often said. “Something might be gaining on you.”

Our whole family enjoyed the colorful illustrations, and excellent history of Satchel’s amazing career. We are baseball lovers in our home, and as baseball season gets underway, we wanted to pay tribute to this great baseball player who played an integral part in the history of our nation’s top past time. If you have t-ballers or rookies, and even older players, they will enjoy getting a little history lesson disguised as a great story about a great player. I highly recommend this story!

Tisha , The Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaska Wilderness as told to Robert Specht

In 1927, Anne Hobbs is an amazing teacher who, after teaching in the western frontier town of Forest Grove, Oregon (where I lived once upon a time), decides to teach in the Alaskan wilderness. The journey to the gold-mining settlement of Chicken is grueling and unbearable, and ironically, somewhat flattering:


“Along the way I had so much attention paid to me by men that sometimes I didn’t think I was me. Even though I’d heard that there weren’t too many women in the North, I hadn’t expected to be treated like a raving beauty wherever I went . . . A couple of times, in my cabin, I’d look at myself in the mirror thinking that maybe I’d changed in some way, that maybe I was really much prettier than I’d always thought I was. But after a good examination I knew I was just the same plain Anne Hobbs- same gray eyes, not a bad nose, good white teeth. One of the front ones was a little crooked, so about the best I could say was that if I didn’t open my mouth and if my hair were still long I might have a faint resemblance to Mary Pickford. But even here in Eagle, where the riverboat had left me off, there’d been a dance given for me.”

A captivating story of determination and grit that will swell your heart. Anne became known as Tisha because that is how the Indians said Teacher. She challenged the limitations and prejudices that were commonly placed upon the native people by the white miners and villagers. This was my second read of the book and I had forgotten how much swearing there was- but when you are quoting miners and trappers, I’m not sure how else you are to be authentic. You can’t exactly change their colorful phrases and have them be the same people!

The western frontier, particularly Alaska, was a harsh place for women, but Anne Hobbs proved that women are a great force for good and are able to raise the level of humanity and compassion in the world. Our nation was changed for the better when women like Tisha ventured west, often in response to ads, to educate- not just in school, but in matters of community as well.

Tisha is part of my reading for Women’s History month. (I know it’s the end of the month- oops, I mean April,  but I’m working on it and hope to have a few more eventually)

Non-Fiction Monday Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Lived to Draw by Deborah Kogan Ray

wandagagthegirlwholivedtodrawAs part of the Children’s Literature Book Club, I am reading several of the Cybils finalists for the month of February and will try and post reviews of as many of the books that I can.

When I first started to read this book I was a little skeptical at first because I just wasn’t getting into the story. However, by the end of the book, I feel in love with Wanda Gag and her passion for drawing. In fact I got a little teared up while reading her story. She wrote and illustrated what is considered the first modern picture book Millions of Cats.

Wanda Gag was talented artist who would not let personal crisis, tragedy and poverty get in the way of her dream. What really made me fall in the love with the book was how she achieved her dream and at the same time took care of her family. Her father, an artist died leaving a widow with seven children and Wanda helped to make sure each child finished high school and at the same time she pursued her passion for art. Using her talents to help support the family.

Deborah Kogan Ray does an excellent job of combining Wanda’s Diary with her own words to add more details to this inspirational story. I can definitely see why this was a Cybils Nominee.

This is my favorite quote

I can’t help it that I’ve got to draw and paint forever; I cannot stop; I cannot; cannot, CANNOT. . . . I have a right to go on drawing….And we are all going though high school.

Deborah Kogan Ray’s website

I’m not sure I have the same passion as Wanda and I definitely have not had to deal with such hard things as loosing my parents and raising my siblings, etc.  I do have a passion for books, obviously, but I wonder how far I would go to keep my passion going. What are you passionate about and how far would you go to keep following your dreams?

Guts – The True Story Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books by Gary Paulsen

gutsI loved Hatchet as a kid and when I saw this autobiography I had to read it. I wanted to know what was behind the stories. After reading this the man is lucky to be alive. Born in the 1939, he is not slowing down to say the least as of right now he is currently training for the Iditarod in Alaska.


I saw death coming at me, snorting and thundering. I think I may have thought of phantoms, wood spirits, wild monsters – I most certainly did not think of moose.

This is what Gary Paulsen writes as he describes his first encounter with a moose. In response to reader’s inquiries Paulsen decides to explain what parts of his books were based on real life. Paulsen, a talented writer ensnares the reader with his easy conversation style of writing balancing both fact and narrative description of his life. Growing up with alcoholic parents, forced Paulsen to be resourceful. He really spent a lot of time in the woods hunting for his own food as a kid. 

This creative man with guts shares his knowledge and love of nature through such his personal experiences with themes of courage and survival.  You’ll learn such things as why deer are some of the deadliest animals in the wild and the best way to eat bugs. This book, in addition to being a fun read, can help readers understand connections between authors’ own lives and the books they write.

I highly recommend this book especially for the adventure, outdoor, adrenaline seeking types. I would caution those of you who get a little quesy or don’t like vivid death scenes to either skip those parts or sit this one out. Paulsen literally witnesses death and comes close on more than one occasion himself and has eaten some interesting things and if you have read Hatchet – he eats everything that Brian eats plus some and minus one, but you’ll have to read it to find out. 

Since I live and was raised primarily in an urban setting I have no great outdoor adventures (other than while camping with my family in a Missouri thunderstorm – not fun by the way). I know wildlife is there and actually about 6 months ago while on a walk on the river walkway by our house my daughter and I saw a doe with two babies less than a mile from our home! My daughter was thrilled (we kept our distance thanks to Gary’s advice) and I had no idea there were deer so close to our house.  Currently we have a gopher living in our yard. We have tried a variety of things to get rid of the little buggar, traps, bombs, flooding the tunnels, sending the dog to dig, etc and so far he/she has evaded us. We’ve lost a few plants to the gopher including one of my favorite rose bushes. Argh. . . this spring I am determined to get rid of the gopher. I’ll keep you posted.

So what is your experience with wildlife in your area or do you have any outdoors adventures you would like to share? 

Gary Paulsen’s website and current Iditarod Journal

Alphabet Books 8-14

The Icky Bug Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta Illustrated by Ralph Masiello

ickybugalphabetI thought this book was okay. My daughter liked looking at the pictures of all the different “bugs”, which included spiders and insects. I liked that it had a little bit of information for each bug. My biggest complaint is that at the end of the book he says that “The Orb Spider, Water Spider and Tarantula are spiders. The Velvet Mite and the Scorpian are arachnids.” Spiders are arachnids too so I thought that was confusing. But that’s just me. So it could be a good book to begin a study of “bugs”, which I always thought of as insects. I am over analyzing too much?

The Disappearing Alphabet by richard wilbur Illustrated by david diaz

disappearingalphabetI think I got this book at a Scholastic Warehouse sale for a buck. It wasn’t worth it. The book idea is cute as they go through the alphabet asking the reader to pretend what life would be like without that letter. However, the rhymes seem forced at times and just odd. I did like the illustrations, colorful and fun. The book has great potential that didn’t materialize.

Miss Spider’s ABC Written and Illustrated by David Kirk

missspiderabc1This book was recommended by Bookie Woogie when I first posted a list of ABC books who said “the most vivid colors I’ve ever seen in a picturebook.” He was right. I cannot say enough about the pictures. They are vivid, vibrant and so full of color it’s easy to spend several minutes on each page admiring the art work. My 4-year old loved the book. The verse is fun creative and very buggy and compliments the illustrations very well. I would definitely buy this book.

Alphabet by Mathew Van Fleet Edited and Art Directed by Skip Skwarek

alphabetvanfleetThis is a very thick, pop-up book with lots of different textures to use. This is a good book to use with young children as it is very tactile – little ones love to lift flaps and touch things. Like the Velvety tall Giraffes are really – velvety. Great way to introduce reading to a young child.

G is for One Gzonk! by TINY DiTERLOONEY (aka Tony DiTerlizzi)

gisforonegzonk1This book claims to NOT teach you the alphabet and is written for children ages 4-7. It also includes number counting as well. Each letter is represented by an fictional monster created by TINY. My daughter loved the book. She thought it was fun and that the monsters where funny. It reminded my of Dr. Suess only for older kids.

Picture a letter by Brad Sneed

picturealetterThis is a wordless alphabet book for kids ages 4-7. In other words each page has pictures of things that start with that letter. For letter the letter A there is an acrobat. Loved the pictures which he did on watercolor paper with mixed medium. It took a while to go through the book and we have since read it at least 3 times. My daughter loves looking for pictures that started with the corresponding letter and each time we found more pictures that started with the corresponding letter. There is a key at the end of the book of all the different items, which helped because sometimes I didn’t know the name of a paricularly animal or illustration. Two mice accompany you on the journey – one to set up the letter and the other to watch. This is a fantastic book, great illustrations and a great way to teach beginning sounds.

Akira to Zoltán: Twenty-Six Men Who Changed the World by Cynthia Chin-Lee Illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy

akiratozoltan1I saw this one when I checked out the author’s website and thought it looked like a great companion to Amelia to Zora which I did a review for last month. I loved this book. It talked about so many different men from athletes to artists to scientists to peace activists and more and their contributions to the world from all backgrounds. Loved it, loved it, loved it! Same format as the other book as it uses the gentlemen’s first names and includes a quote from each man. The pictures are all done with a mixed medium in a collage style. One of my favorites is B for Badshah who lead the larges nonviolent protest group ever of 100,000 in what is now part of Pakistan. This would be a good one for 3rd grade on up.