Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kid Konnection: Books That Teach History

Both these book are set in the early 1940s when WWII was raging in Europe. My daughter and I learned what it was like to be a War Guest child. Not sure what that is? Read on.

Dear Canada: Exiles From the War: The War Guests Diary of Charlotte Mary Twiss by Jean Little
(Rated: C)
Scholastic Canada
ISBN: 978-0545986175
Published January 2010
Hardcover, 248 pages

This is the first Dear Canada series my daughter and I have read. A year ago when Scholastic sent it to us, my daughter didn't seem ready to read it but we are glad we picked it up again. It was a fantastic history lesson in the form of a 12-year old girl's diary! What a pleasant surprise this book turned out to be.

The year is 1940 and Charlotte Twiss' parents decide to take in a War Guest child. England is at war with Germany and Britain is sending its children as far as across the ocean to protect them from the enemy bombings that are destroying London. I knew some children had been displaced to other parts of Britain but not to Canada. The book also included photos of British children who arrived in Montreal in 1940.

Through Charlotte's eyes we get to live through one year of her life with Jane and Sam Browning, as well as other War Guests who came and stayed with neighbours. In addition, Charlotte's brother George enlists in the Navy. The reader gets a feeling of the tug-of-war emotions both Charlotte and these children experience, leaving their homes and remaining in their host countries for five years before they could return to their families. The differences in culture, yet the similarities in childhood are also explored.

As a mother, my heart ached for these families who were torn apart by war. My daughter did find some of the elements in the story sad, but she was relieved when not everything turned out sad. At times the story did seem long. The book is 240 pages.

We were also surprised to learn that the author, Jean Little, was a girl of eight in 1940 when the War Guest children arrived in her city. So some of the things mentioned in this fictional story are inspired from her own memories. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Yes, this author is 79 years old and also blind! What an accomplished author! 

The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone (Rated: C)
Arthur A. Levine Books
ISBN: 978-0545215114
Published Jan 2011
Hardcover, 304 pages

With the exciting setting of a British girl brought to her father's American family for safekeeping during WWII while her parents return to London, The Romeo and Juliet Code is full of secrets, mysteries and suspenseful moments.

Eleven-year-old Felicity is angry and resentful when she is left in Bottlebay, Maine with her eccentric Uncle Gideon, Aunt Miami and her grandmother known as The Gram, mainly because her glamourous parents have not written to her at all or sent any news as the weeks stretch into months. Instead she has seen letters addressed to her uncle with her father's handwriting on the envelope. And they are from Portugal. Confused, Flissy, as she is nicknamed by her family, wants to find out why her Uncle is so secretive and why she has no news of her parents.

Then she meets handsome twelve-year-old Derek, and they do some investigating, discovering that the letters are in code! In addition, Flissy realizes that her parents and her American family have not communicated in years. There is tension and it all stems from something that happened long ago. This is where the story gets really exciting, except that towards the middle it begins to drag. There is a lot of backstory that pops up right after a suspenseful ending to a chapter. We are left dangling until it resumes again much later. This happened a few times and it left my daughter and I a little frustrated, especially since after they discover the letters are in code, we don't see them actively trying to decipher it.

Stone writes beautifully, though, using symbolism and comparisons throughout the story, such as with Wink, Flissy's teddy bear. She has created colourful characters that quickly drew us into the story. Flissy is adorable and we liked her and her manner of speech. There are adult themes in this book but they are handled well. The story ends with a few surprises that caught my daughter off guard and wowed. She loved it. I thought Flissy accepted her situation a little too readily, and I did not actually know how she felt about it besides acceptance. There are a few things left unanswered at the end and it left my daughter wondering what would happen.

We enjoyed reading this book, loved the title and concept, and learned more about events during a historic and unforgettable time period.

Disclosure: Thanks to Nikole Kritikos from Scholastic Canada for sending us these books for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.

Every Saturday, Booking Mama hosts a feature called Kid Konnection—a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, visit Booking Mama.

Feed Me Books Friday is a feature hosted by Little Sprout Books where you can leave a link to your children's book reviews and discover others. 

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  1. Both books look interesting. I've recently discovered the Dear America series and love them!

  2. These both sound good. I know nothing about Canadian history, so the Dear Canada books intrigue me.

  3. The Romeo and Juliet Code looks good. Maybe sneak some history in-- the cover looks more modern.

  4. Catching up on neglected links after my family's sickest month on record! Thanks for linking up at Feed Me Books Friday!
    I love books written in diary format - makes them feel so connected and personal! Historical fiction was always my favorite way to engage kids in history study in the classroom.


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