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.

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Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury audio book read by Elissa Steele

Wrapped is a great audio book for teen girls- I’m sure it’s great in written form as well, but I listened to it and loved it out loud. Agnes Wilkins is a beautiful young woman about to make her debut on London’s high society. She is invited to a mummy unwrapping party and discovers that she has stumbled upon a mystery when she is chosen to cut into the ancient mummy wrappings.

While standing still for endless hours being fitted for top-secret ball gowns Agnes spouts off Jane Austen quotes in multiple languages, much to the chagrin of her mother. Of course, in keeping with Jane Austen’s most famous decree that every single, wealthy man is in want of a wife, Agnes is expected to be snatched up by her wealthy bachelor neighbor, the dry arrogant Lord Showalter who loves to flaunt his wealth and knowledge (he’s also the host of the unwrapping party). I think my favorite character, next to Agnes, was Caedman, the aspiring Egyptologist who has no means to pursue Agnes and no hope to succeed in winning her because of that.  Wrapped

I would love to read this in written form because sometimes I get distracted when listening to things out loud and I kept having to backtrack when my kids got too noisy. I learned a lot about Napolean and London in this refreshing glimpse into 1815 London. Most novels of this time period completely ignore the political turmoil of the time, and I enjoyed getting a more world-savvy view. I also enjoyed that Agnes defied the social expectations of young women of her day to accomplish some amazing things. If you prefer written words, to audio books, you may want to check this version out:

wrapped2

I have to ask, because the covers are so different- which cover most appeals to you? Or do you like them both?

Cold Case by Julia Platt Leonard

For the fast-approaching month of October, I have a creepy mystery for all those who want to get ready for Halloween. Of course, this is not a tale exclusive to the Halloween season. It just fits in rather well. Cold Case is Julia Platt Leonard’s first novel, and a doozy at that. I grew up a fan of Nancy Drew novels, with a few Hardy Boys thrown in to the mix for good measure. Cold Case is a little like Hardy Boys on steroids. When Oz Keiller finds a dead body in the freezer at his family’s restaurant, the 13-year-old  sets out to find the killer and clear his brother’s name. It’s a fast-paced murder mystery, without the proverbial ‘colloquialisms’ so to speak that are common to the formulaic mysteries I grew up on.

Oz, first off, is not a typical middle-upper class, white american, with a housekeeper and his own car. He’s the youngest son of a French-American widow, drives a bicycle around town and works to help run the family restaurant, Chez Isabelle. While his mom is off in France caring for their ailing grandmother, Oz and his older brother Dave have to deal with the scariest most intense period of their lives. I enjoyed reading Cold Case- it brought back so many memories of the good old days. If you like mysteries and you’re not too creeped out by dead bodies and blood, you will be impressed with Julia Platt Leonard’s work.

*Thanks Julia for the review copy of your book!

*Disclosure: I received a review copy of this novel, but my apologies to Julia. I wrote this and it got buried in my drafts pile instead of published long ago. Hopefully, it’s not too late to get the word out!

Some Books to love this Christmas and a fun reading lamp idea…

We have been loving some books lately that I want to share with you. The first two, my boys and I have read together. We’ve all laughed and it has allowed for some great conversations. Not to mention some fun activities.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger. My boys and I read this out loud together last year and all got a kick out of Dwight and his escapades with the sixth grade and his talented origami finger-puppet Yoda.

 

Darth Paper, an Origami Yoda Book also by Tom Angleberger. We ordered this one from the Scholastic Book Order. It seemed to take forever for it to arrive. Monday, my 3rd grader came home triumphant, book in hand. I toyed with the idea of making my boys wait until Christmas- it is so close. But, I just couldn’t wait myself. The only one who likes to wait for presents in this house would be my husband. He’s good with surprises. And waiting. Me? Not so much.

Right after dinner, my husband and boys flipped to the back where there are instructions for folding your own Darth Paper. We then folded and colored a multitude of ten-fold Darth Papers. Mine turned out to be the five-fold Origami Yoda. Somehow I must be a little paper-folding challenged. Either that or I just never listen to the dark side (yes- that would be blatant denial there). I think all of my kids, including my kindergartener, have taken some form of Star Wars Origami to school this week. We’ve had such a great time together reading and folding. I (we) highly recommend this for a family-friendly Star Wars activity.

 

 

My last recommendation is a super big secret. You can’t tell my kids. If you do, you will spoil Christmas. Don’t be a scrooge!

If you can’t keep a secret, the post ends here. I know, I know, I’m not good at keeping things secret. Let’s just say it’s a surprise. You can tell after December 26th. Here goes: Last year, Santa bought some lovely little reading lights from Costco for our boys. Unfortunately, they didn’t stand up to the destructive power of busy boy hands. They probably wouldn’t have lasted for girl hands either, but as we don’t have any of those in our house, I can’t make any promises. We were all sad when they ended up broken. Our nights were certainly more full of noise and rambunctious bunk bed escapades after the lights broke rather than peaceful, quiet reading-filled evenings. I have tried a few other kinds of book lamps but one thing has always frustrated me. The light never focuses where you want it by just hooking it on the book. It always required one hand for the light and one for the book. Leaving one or the other or both hands tired. Not to mention if you do manage to hook it effectively on the book, you end up moving it when you turn the page. Grrr! Not good for extended periods of reading in the dark. Which, if you are a night person and your sweetie is not, those little lights are necessary to happiness at times. So, I did some internet searching and found some Head lamps at Harbor Freight of all places. And check out the price! Only $2.49! For this price, I think Santa will definitely be stocking up. No more finger fatigue! They can break multiple times and still be cheaper than all those other more expensive, not to mention awkward, book lights. Happy reading! Yes, I will be wearing one of these ugly lights before long. They can double as Nerf Gun in the dark lights too. Think of the possibilities…

Petals in the Ashes by Mary Hooper

petals in the ashes

I read this, the second in a series, without reading the first, “The Sign of the Sugared Plum”. My husband picked some great books up for me at the library when I was sick, and this was one he came home with. Luckily, it is great reading and stands on its own, without the necessity of reading the first book, although now I would really like to read the first one.

Set in England during the ‘Black Plague’ of the mid 1600s, two sisters Hannah and Sarah manage to escape the city of London with a wealthy family’s baby they hope will buy them health and peace in the country. Unfortunately, every city has rules for new occupants to pass health tests and the two sisters must wait out two months in a pest house. A pest house is the place where all the poor and deathly ill are ‘taken care of’ if you can call it that. Living in putrid circumstances, the sisters manage to remain healthy and take care of their charge until they are able to move to the estate that has sponsored their escape.

Amazing historical fiction- I have always been fascinated with stories of the plague. Perhaps knowing some of our relatives survived the plague’s destruction in Eyam, Derbyshire, England, contributes a little to that. Highly informative, this book also includes the Great Fire of 1666 a horrific disaster that burned much of London, and probably helped to cleanse the area of the Plague.

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.

The Frog Scientist by Pamela S. Turner Photographs by Andy Comins

the frog scientist by pamela turner nad andy cominsMy kids love to hunt for frogs! We have an ongoing family catch and release program at the local pond. So, it came as no surprise that my three boys were eager to get their hands on The Frog Scientist. I thought I might get trampled in the stampede for the couch! There was something for everyone inside- beautiful captivating pictures and short, concise picture descriptions that enticed my 3 & 6 year olds. Attention spans of young ones being what they are, my 8, almost 9, year old was my only child with the fortitude to read the whole book (although my 6 year old hung on the back of the couch and checked in frequently). We read it together and I don’t know who was happier to have such a fascinating book to read- him or me.

The Frog Scientist is written like fiction, with a fascinating storyline, alternating between frogs, and the frog scientist (aka Berkeley’s own Tyrone Hayes). Turner’s wonderful writing style sets a great tone for learning and is augmented by Comins’ beautiful, detailed photographs documenting the scientific process. The Frog Scientist satisfies various learning styles- the pictures draw you to read the story and the story keeps you turning pages to figure out exactly what pesticides can do to amphibians.

I highly recommend The Frog Scientist for grades 3 and up while allowing for the fact that children younger than this will really enjoy the pictures and could easily sit still for a chapter at a time. A thoroughly engaging introduction to biology and the scientific method, this book would be especially useful in classes where frog dissection will take place- I can almost smell the formaldehyde!

My Own Two Feet by Beverly Cleary

I finally read the second book of Beverly Cleary’s autobiography, which covers her life after High School. The first book, A Girl from Yamhill covers the years from birth to High School Graduation. Beverly Cleary is one of my favorite authors and I was excited to read more about her life after she left home. my own two feet

Beverly’s life was filled with grueling realities during the depression. Scraping the bottom of the barrel to find enough money to attend college and then, once graduated, trying to find a job, when so few were to be had. The amount of work that she put into college and some of the ridiculous expectations were fun to learn about. In order to graduate from junior college she had to compose an original tap dance. Refusing would have cost her her diploma. Thank goodness we don’t have rules like that anymore!

Beverly is a great inspiration for the things we can accomplish when we pick a path and work hard to get across the finish line. Beverly has done so many amazing things in her life working as a librarian and in book stores and finally in creating wonderful stories that speak to the mischievous little stinkers inside each of us. I enjoyed the pictures sprinkled throughout the book. Beverly Cleary is one of my literary heroes! I highly recommend this for older (as in middle school and above) fans of Cleary’s.

izzy’s place by Marc Kornblatt

izzys-imageWhen Henry’s parents have trouble getting along, they send him to spend the summer in Greenville with his Grandma. The only hitch is that Henry’s Grandpa died in the last year, and he can’t imagine being there all summer with his Grandma, who is all alone. Grandma Martha can’t seem to let Henry be by himself, which appears to be an overreaction to his grandpa’s death- or maybe she’s always been that way and Henry just has outgrown it.

This story had some good topics to discuss- bullying, death, divorce. Difficult topics that kids deal with. Henry learns that his parent’s relationship is something he has no control over. Although sometimes he wishes he could make it all go back to how it used to be. This is a very common theme for children of divorce, who often feel out of control and angry because they don’t have a say, and even when they express their thoughts, it doesn’t make a difference.

I appreciated Grandma Martha’s neighbor, Mr. Fine, reaching out to Henry despite his own life challenges.

This book is a heavier read, although nothing offensive, just heavy topics to deal with that I think middle readers will appreciate knowing someone is out there who understands.