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war-diaries-1939-1945-cover-imageWar Diaries, 1939-1945, written by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated with family photos
first published in Sweden, 2015; first U.S. edition published in 2016 by Yale University Press

When I first heard late last year that Astrid Lindgren’s diaries from the World War II years were being published in the U.S., all my must-read buttons began flashing at once! Now I’ve read it, I want to pass on to you this remarkable piece of adult non-fiction.

Lindgren is Sweden’s most famous children’s author. Many

Astrid Lindgren Foto: Jacob Forsell Kod: 14 COPYRIGHT PRESSENS BILD

Astrid Lindgren Foto: Jacob Forsell Kod: 14
COPYRIGHT PRESSENS BILD

Americans are sadly limited in their familiarity with her books, Pippi Longstocking being the only title immediately connected with her. Lindgren, though, has written dozens of wonderful stories, many of which have been translated. In fact, almost 100 different languages host at least one of her works.  In addition, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is among the most prestigious awards in children’s literature worldwide. You can read all about it here.

So, of course, as a lover of children’s literature, I am fond beyond words of Lindgren. Our family has immensely enjoyed reading aloud many of her books and we treasure our common memories of feisty Lotta, daring Bill Bergson, those darling children of Noisy Village, intrepid Ronia, and other equally vivid characters.

Christmas in Noisy Village

Christmas in Noisy Village

That’s what initially drew me to this compilation of her diary entries from 1939-1945, but what I read there goes far, far beyond children’s literature. Honestly, one gets only a glimmer of the beginnings of Lindgren’s illustrious, unexpected career in children’s literature. A glimpse of the publication of her first book, passing mentions of Pippi being written, and her surprise at Pippi’s reception are all tantalizing to come across.

Finnish victory, WWII

Finnish victory, WWII

What took me by surprise was how engrossing it is to read about World War II from a Swedish perspective. Lindgren was deeply thoughtful about the politics and maneuverings of the Scandinavian countries throughout the war. The plight of Finland, in particular, is largely overlooked in American histories, and as a person with Swede-Finn heritage, I was grateful to read about Finland’s intense and heroic plight, squeezed as they were between Stalin and Hitler. Norwegian resistance, Danish resistance, her unease over neutrality and unique perspective on what she believed was gained by that, the massive numbers of refugees welcomed by Sweden during the war — all of this captivated me.

Lindgren’s heart ached when confronted with the immense human toll of the war on populations across Europe. Her entries lament over the vast numbers of hungry and starving civilians, communities ravaged by both Russian and German armies, Jews who were harassed out of their homelands (though she was long unaware of the full extent of the Holocaust), Norwegians executed for their resistance, and German soldiers as well, fighting a war she guessed many of them did not believe in, an extraordinary perspective for someone in the midst of this carnage.

Astrid's war diary

Astrid’s war diary

Because she was employed by the Swedish government as a censor, Lindgren’s work involved reading personal letters written from all areas of Europe by ordinary people struggling to cope with war, loss, and simply putting food on the table. This gave Lindgren a much broader understanding of the impact of the war.  Given the global humanitarian crisis in our world just now, this is a timely read.

Whether you pick it up as a children’s literature aficionado, a fellow Scandinavian, or a history buff, then, you’ll find a great deal to love about this remarkable, personal narrative of those strenuous years.

I decided to re-read Pippi Longstocking in light of this new, fuller understanding of both Lindgren and the context in which she wrote the book. My copy is this wildly colorful edition illustrated by Lauren Child, published by Viking in 2007.

pippi-longstocking-cover-image

I love the effervescent spunk Child introduces to the text through her explosive, personality-laden collages, and the clever manipulation of type to highlight particular shenanigans.

What I discovered was that knowing the circumstances of Lindgren’s life when she wrote Pippi, and the origins of it as bedtime stories for her daughter, made all the difference in how it reads!

What jumps off the page is the obvious appeal of what began as story-spinning for her young daughter, then for many more neighborhood children. Certainly these fantastical adventures and silly stories brought fresh vision and happy thoughts into the hearts of children, some of whom were terribly burdened with anxiety.

pippi-longstocking-illustration2-lauren-child

The life of Pippi is not only chock-full of giggleworthy episodes, it is one with no stultifying rules during a period of annoying rationing and ham-fisted Nazi demands. Free as a bird, she is. Despite having no parents, Pippi is a strong, hopeful, self-sufficient girl. No need to worry about her! In one telling incident, Pippi attends the circus and accepts the ringmaster’s challenge to defeat the strongest man in the world, a fellow not-coincidentally named Strong Adolf. Pippi neatly pins him to the mat in one blink of an eye. Immensely satisfying. European children during WWII had to rise above their circumstances in heroic proportions, and Pippi was certainly a plucky role model.

pippi-longstocking-illustration-lauren-child

Bits and pieces from the Lindgren’s Swedish household are scattered throughout the story, too. Wouldn’t you do that, if you were spinning stories for your child? Coffee is drunk  commodiously! Heart-shaped gingersnaps, August pears, sugared pancakes — lots of delicious food comes to play in this story. Household chores, pippi-longstocking-illustration-detail-lauren-childoutdoor play, making music by blowing on a comb (a trick my Swedish grandfather taught me once upon a time) — choice elements of ordinary life are effortlessly woven into the fantasy.

If you’ve never read Pippi, you really should consider it. It’s a delightful read-aloud for children ages 4 and up. If it has been awhile since you read it, I think you’d enjoy giving it another read keeping in mind the world in which Pippi was born.

Here are Amazon links for both books. I keep forgetting to put these in! I am an Amazon Associate meaning you can do me a favor by clicking through a link on my blog before purchasing something from Amazon. I get a little dab from them each time that happens. Thanks!

Astrid Lindgren’s War Diaries 1939-1945

Pippi Longstocking

 

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So many women are told their dreams “simply can’t be done.” Today, meet a drummer, a mathematician, a primatologist and others, who persisted and realized their dreams.

Plus a tribute to mothers: In our heart of hearts, we often feel overwhelmed at this epic task — nurturing healthy human beings for our world. Women’s History Month would not be complete without celebrating motherhood.

drum dream girl cover imageDrum Dream Girl:How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hot pepper oranges and Caribbean blues saturate the pages of this poetic celebration of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the first female drummer in Cuba. As a young girl, the varied drums’ beats tantalized her, but it was taboo for women to play them.

drum dream girl illustration rafael lopez

Winner of the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustration Award, the gorgeous artwork in this book explodes with color and Cuban culture, while the text dances along lithely. Superb introduction to Millo, who became a world-famous drummer, and another example of the odd restrictions women have had to overcome with the help of a key insider. Ages 3 and up.

ada byron lovelace and the thinking machine cover imageAda Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu
published in 2015 by Creston Books

Ada, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, was a brilliant mathematician. From childhood she was mesmerized by numbers and the inventions made possible by their calculations. Ada was a child of privilege, yet had to overcome family dysfunction, a crippling illness, and her society’s conviction that math was no place for a woman.

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Wallmark’s introduction is intriguing and accessible, and Chu’s handsome artwork immerses us in Ada’s world. Read about the woman who wrote the first computer program with ages 5 and up.

paiute princess cover imagePaiute Princess: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca, written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
published in 2012 by Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux

Sarah Winnemucca was not a princess. And her name was not really Sarah. Yet by assuming an identity the White world invented, she was able to wield her strengths for the good of her Paiute people.

This lengthy, fascinating account by award-winning author and illustrator Deborah Kogan Ray introduced me to an amazing person I had never heard of, who worked tirelessly for justice for the Paiute.

paiute princess illustration deborah kogan ray

She was a controversial figure, accepted fully by neither white culture nor her own people. I think that is often the case for peacemakers caught in the middle, searching for the best compromise this world offers. A beautiful, thought-provoking read for ages 8 and up.

irena's jars of secrets cover imageIrena’s Jars of Secrets, by Marcia Vaughan, illustrated by Ron Mazellan
published in 2011 by Lee & Low Books

Irena was a young Polish Catholic woman when World War II broke out and with horror she witnessed the beginnings of the Holocaust. As a social worker, she gained access to the Warsaw ghettos, smuggling in aid for two years until it became clear that Treblinka was in store for all who remained.

irena's jars of secrets illustration ron mazellan

Read the story of how this intrepid woman risked her life to smuggle 2500 children out to safety, and find out what role was played by two glass jars hidden under an apple tree. A riveting account with rich, atmospheric paintings, for ages 5 or 6 and up. Obviously, extermination camps are a part of this narrative, so use your judgement as to the appropriateness for young children.

florence nightingale cover imageFlorence Nightingale, written and illustrated by Demi
published in 2014 by Henry Holt and Company

Demi’s characteristically elegant treatment of her subjects turns here to Florence Nightingale, another child of privilege who used her life to benefit the poor and broken in the world.

florence nightingale interior by demi

Demi traces her life from her birth in Florence, Italy, (I never knew that is how she got her name!) through her calling as a young woman into nursing — an objectionable life for a proper lady, careful study of the care of patients, and blossoming as a leader and innovator in nursing care. It’s a brilliant account, never bogging down yet covering a vast amount of information, accompanied by intricate, appealing illustrations. An inspiration for ages 5 and up.

me...jane cove imageMe…Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
published in 2011 by Little, Brown and Company

This tender story tells of Jane Goodall’s childhood love of the great outdoors and all the wondrous natural world around her. The entire, sparkling account spins out just a few thoughts, like candy floss, magically endearing us to this dear girl, until with one turn of the last page, she is all grown up, living out her dream in Africa.

me...jane illustration patrick mcdonnell

Charming and engaging for children ages 2 and up, the story is followed by a bio written for ages 8 and up, and a wonderful, the watcher cover imagepersonal message from Jane about the opportunity for each of us to make a difference in our world. If you want to learn more about her, follow this up with another excellent account focusing more on her long work in Tanzania:

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, also published in 2011 by Schwartz & Wade and ideal for ages 3 and up.

lullaby for a black mother cover imageLullaby (for a Black Mother), by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Sean Qualls
published in 2013 by Harcourt Children’s Books

Langston’s dark-cherry sweet lullaby, a mother singing to her little dark baby, her little earth-thing, her little love-one, is marvelously illustrated in Sean Quall’s rhythmic, contemporary styling. Twilight purples and midnight blues infuse  the pages, anchored in strong shapes, textures, and inky blacks.

lullaby for a black mother illustration sean qualls

A note about Langston Hughes informs us about his sweet connection with words during a childhood of fractured relationships. Qualls conjectures about the comfort Hughes believed a mother’s lullaby could bring to a lonely boy. Read this with children ages 2 and up, and invent your own lullaby to speak your love.

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the boys who challenged hitler cover imageThe Boys who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club, by Phillip M. Hoose
published in 2015 by Farrar Straus Giroux

I finally read this riveting non-fiction book about a group of WWII-era Danish schoolboys who intrepidly wreaked havoc on the occupying Nazi army while the rest of their countrymen meekly acquiesced. It’s a fabulous read, deeply-researched and strongly-written by an award-winning author.

Knud Pedersen was one of the leaders of the secret Churchill Club formed by a group of boys who admired the Norwegians for resisting the Germans and writhed in shame that their own Danish people did not likewise defy them. Pedersen was alive

Phillip Hoose and Knud Pedersen

Phillip Hoose and Knud Pedersen

when Hoose began researching this book. Their lengthy interviews provide much of the dramatic, insider information about the bold, dangerous actions the boys took against the Nazi occupiers which ultimately led to their arrest.

It’s a page-turner, and nearly unbelievable. The commitment of these guys is stunning, and the support of their parents after their arrest — the first they knew of their sons’ activity — is deeply thought-provoking for me as a parent.

Members of The Churchill Club

Members of The Churchill Club

Standing up for one’s beliefs and values, with a willingness to suffer dire consequences, is a heady notion. In this case, the boys’ actions were heroically brave, and eventually it was they who inspired the wider Danish resistance movement to arise. Today, though, I wonder if we would be appalled at this level of covert, risky, literally-explosive behavior by self-directed teenage boys. Certainly we would bitterly condemn these actions by some groups, in pursuit of some causes. That leads to some provocative questions, of course, and makes this an ideal choice for book club discussions.

It’s no secret that teens can play monumentally-decisive, the boys who challenged hitler photo illustrationhonorable, and impressive roles in society. To what lengths are we willing to let them go to accomplish this? How does our infatuation with safety affect roles teens are allowed to play? How do we encourage kids to act on their own consciences, without sanctioning utterly foolhardy, impulsive, or wrong-headed thinking? Those are a few of the questions that rattled around my mind as I read this amazing account.

Rest assured, the narrative in the book does not touch on these issues at all. Rather, Hoose gives us 165 gripping pages of high-stakes espionage, audacious sabotage, and shocking imprisonment, introducing us to an inspiring, cool-headed, determined set of boys who left an indelible mark on the world. Knud and his compatriots are definitely worth meeting.

Ages 13 through adult.

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