Tag Archives: World War 2

Front Lines by Michael Grant

I’m a huge fan of Michael Grant.  His Gone series is one of my all time favourite series.  His books are dark and he’s particularly good at writing gory scenes.  One of the things I love most about his books is his characters.  You really get to know his characters and they end up feeling like your closest friends (and in some cases your worst nightmares).  Michael introduces us to a new cast of characters who will grow to be your friends in the first book in his new series, Front Lines.

y450-293It’s 1942. The fate of the world rests on a knife’s edge. And the soldiers who can tip the balance . . . are girls.

A court decision makes women subject to the draft and eligible for service. The unproven American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled, the armed forces of Nazi Germany.  Three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves.  Each has her own reasons for volunteering: Rio fights to honor her sister; Frangie needs money for her family; Rainy wants to kill Germans.  For the first time they leave behind their homes and families—to go to war. These three daring young women will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race.

As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, they will discover the roles that define them on the front lines.  They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.  But not everyone believes that the girls should be on the front lines of war.

Now Rio and her friends must fight not only to survive, but to prove their courage and ingenuity to a sceptical world.

Front Lines is an epic read! It’s a fresh and exciting alternate history that makes you look at World War II in a completely different way.  In Front Lines, Michael Grant has reimagined World War II with females fighting on the front lines.  I’ve read quite a lot of fiction for kids and teens about World War II and it’s rare to find a story told from an American point of view, let alone from a female point of view.  These girls aren’t keeping the home fires burning though, they are ‘Soldier Girls,’ fighting alongside the boys.  They may be allowed to fight but they are not accepted, especially by some of the older men.  However, just like the boys and men they are about to grow up very quickly and see things they won’t be able to forget.

Like the characters in Michael’s other books, the characters in Front Lines will get stuck in your head and you won’t be able to stop thinking about them.  We follow three girls, Rio Richlin, Rainy Shulterman and Frangie Marr.  Rio is a white girl from California who has lived a fairly sheltered life.  Rainy is a Jewish girl from New York who wants to be part of army intelligence. Frangie is an African American girl from Oklahoma who wants to join the army to help support her family.  We know straight away that Rainy and Frangie aren’t going to have an easy time in the army and they’re often the target of abuse.  We follow each of these girls through their training and onto the front lines of the war.

Michael paints a very vivid picture of war.  His descriptions of the battles and the injuries that the soldiers sustain in battle are harrowing and gruesome.  War takes its toll on all of the characters and none of them are the same person they once were by end of the book.  The story is told to us through a mysterious narrator, who is looking back on the war from a hospital bed.  I’m curious to find out who this person is.

Front Lines is the first book in the Soldier Girl series and I can’t wait to find out what happens to Rio, Rainy and Frangie next.

Check out Michael Grant’s guest blog post here on the blog as part of his Front Lines Australia/NZ Blog Tour.

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Michael Morpurgo Month – Little Manfred by Michael Morpurgo

March is Michael Morpurgo Month, a celebration of one of the best storytellers (and one of my favourite authors).  Organised by Michael Morpurgo’s publisher, it is a chance to highlight the many wonderful stories that Michael has written. Here is one of my favourite Michael Morpurgo books.

I love both stories about war and stories about animals, which is my I love Michael Morpurgo.  Most of his stories are about war or animals and sometimes both.  His latest book is called Little Manfred and it’s about war, and a dog that sparks the memories of an old man.

It’s the summer of 1966 and Charley and her little brother, Alex, are walking their dog Manfred on the beach by their home when they notice two old men staring out to sea.  When the two men discover that their dog is called Manfred, this sparks the memories of Walter and he tells the children about his experiences during World War II.  Through Walter’s story, Charley and Alex learn about their mother’s past and her connection to Manfred, a German prisoner of war who was posted at her farmhouse when she was a little girl.

Michael Morpurgo has woven another amazing story of friendship, bravery, and forgiveness that transported me to another time and another place.   Whenever I read a Michael Morpurgo book it’s almost as if he is sitting on my couch or in the library beside me, telling me the story, because I can hear his voice in my head.  If you’ve ever seen one of his videos of him reading you’ll know that he’s got the perfect storytelling voice.  Michael Foreman’s illustrations, once again, perfectly match the story because they can be bright and happy or dark and gloomy.  I think Michael Morpurgo’s books are perfect for anyone and if you haven’t read any of his books, Little Manfred is a great one to start with.

 

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Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

I enjoy reading stories about war for children and young adults.  It’s these stories that show you the possibilities of hope among horrific events.  The characters in these stories are still shaped by the events around them and through their story we witness the atrocities and the injustices, but there is also a twinkle of hope.  In the case of Anna and the Swallow Man this hope comes in the form of the mysterious Swallow Man who finds Anna when she needs him.

9780552575270-1-edition.default.original-1Kraków, 1939, is no place to grow up. There are a million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. And Anna Lania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father and suddenly, she’s alone.

Then she meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall. And like Anna’s missing father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgement, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous.

Anna and the Swallow Man is the beautifully-written debut novel of Gavriel Savit. I got completely wrapped up in the story of Anna and the mysterious Swallow Man that takes her under his wing.  Like Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Anna and the Swallow Man is a unique story set in a time of war.
We follow young Anna as she is left alone in Kraków when her father disappears.  He told her that he would be gone for a few hours but never returns.  When she meets a  mysterious stranger, who she calls the Swallow Man, Anna is intrigued by him and follows him.  Anna and the Swallow Man walk across Poland for many years, crossing borders and enemy lines, meeting Bears and Wolves, becoming many different people and trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.  The Swallow Man teaches Anna many lessons that are important to remember at this dangerous time, including ‘To be found is to be gone forever,’ and ‘One can’t be found as long as one keeps moving.’
The Swallow Man is an incredibly intriguing character.  Neither Anna nor the reader really knows who he is or where he has come from. You don’t know what his agenda is.  He never seems to reveal his true self as it would be dangerous if he did.  He has many skills which help him to blend in and survive, such as a knowledge of many languages and how to kill a man if needed.  I had to keep reading to discover who the Swallow Man was, and even at the end of the story you still don’t really know.
Gavriel’s writing style is very lyrical, with some stunning descriptions that blew me away.  He conjures up very clear images in your mind which really put you in the characters’ shoes.  These are just a couple of examples:
‘Where last night she had shaken her body so hard with sobbing that she’d thought she would fly apart, now Anna treasured her tears, as if they were a butterfly of deep blue at flight in the small, sunlit jar of her chest.’
‘This is a rare and unforgettable thing: the texture of a foot-fall on the chest of a dead man resting on top of others twenty deep – the slight give and rebound beneath the pressure of your boot.’
Even though I became completely wrapped up in the story I was left feeling slightly disappointed at the end of the book.  There were so many questions left unanswered and I don’t feel that you are given closure.  I feel like there were some big clues that I missed to the mystery of the story.  It’s not often that I feel lost at the end of a book.  If anyone can explain it to me I’ll feel much better.
However, I still recommend you read Anna and the Swallow Man.  Even though it left me wanting, I feel my life is a little richer from reading Gavriel Savit’s lyrical story.

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Guest Author: Melinda Szymanik on A Winter’s Day in 1939

Today I’m joined by the wonderful Melinda Szymanik, author of the powerful new book, A Winter’s Day in 1939.  Based on her father’s experiences during World War II, A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a story of family, the harsh realities of war, and the fight for survival against the odds. Melinda has written a really interesting post for My Best Friends Are Books about why and how she wrote A Winter’s Day in 1939.

Why and How I wrote A Winter’s Day in 1939

When the Soviet soldiers come and order them out, Adam and his family have no idea where they are going or if they will ever come back.  The Germans have attacked Poland and the world is at war. Boarding a cattle train Adam and his family embark on a journey that will cover thousands of miles and several years, and change all their lives forever. And mine too. Because Adam’s story, the story told in my new novel A Winter’s Day in 1939, is very much my Dad’s story.

I often heard fragments of this story from my dad when I was growing up.  It was shocking, and sad, and amazing.  My Dad’s family was forced out of their home and taken to a labour camp in Russia. It was freezing cold, and many people died from disease or starvation. Even when the Soviets finally let them go, they spent weeks travelling around the USSR , were made to work on Soviet farms and were still hungry and often sick, with no idea of where they might end up next.  As a child growing up in a peaceful place like New Zealand it was hard to imagine the real dangers and terrible conditions my father experienced.

I didn’t get to know the full story until I was grown up with children of my own and was regularly writing stories for children.  I wrote a short story, also called A Winter’s Day in 1939, based on a single event I knew fairly well  from my Dad‘s childhood – when Soviet Soldiers first come to order them off their farm, the only home my father had known up till that point in his life. The story was published in The Australian School Magazine.  I showed the short story to the publishers Scholastic who liked it too. They wondered if I could turn it in to a novel.  This was a chance to tell my father’s story. By now I knew it was an important story that should be shared

Luckily my Dad had made notes about his life during World War Two; about twenty pages all typed up.  However I know people’s real lives don’t always fit into the framework of a novel and I knew I would have to emphasize some things and maybe leave other things out.

I read and researched to add the right details to the story. And asked my parents lots of questions. How cold was it in Poland in January 1940? Who or what were the NKVD? What were the trains like? What are the symptoms of typhoid? How do you make your own skis? Some information was hard to find. Some of the places that existed in the 1940s aren’t there anymore. And people didn’t keep records about how many people were taken to the USSR from Poland or what happened to particular individuals. But what I wanted to give readers most of all was a sense of how it felt to live that life.  So this then is the story of a twelve year old Polish boy in the USSR during World War 2 that all started on A Winter’s Day in 1939.

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