Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Soldiers, Spies, and Medics by Kathryn J. Atwood

WomenHeroesWWI_cover Chicago Review Press, 2014.

They came seeking adventure, resisting their country’s occupation, because they were do-gooders or impassioned supporters of their nations. Many had to talk their way into service for a government not their own in order to be a part of the war effort. No one thought the war would last more than a few months, and few thought that the work they did would demand the level of courage and sacrifice that were ultimately required of them. In Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Soldiers, Spies, and Medics Kathryn Atwood brings these long-forgotten women and their feats of bravery alive again.

Atwood has produced a book that’s a wonderful introduction to the history of the Great War, including the events and attitudes leading up to it as well as the bridges from the Great War to World War II. She includes just enough general history interspersed with the biographies to help readers understand the causes and the challenges of the war and the worldview of the period. In each individual biography Atwood helps readers get to know the women themselves, their personalities, their motivations, their courage, and their resourcefulness in the face of extreme danger. Each account reads easily and engagingly with enough excitement and adventure to draw even somewhat reluctant readers along. The focus on social history rather than military history will appeal to readers who are turned off by the dates-and-battles approach to war history.

I’d recommend this book to young adult and adult readers with an interest in history and World War I. Librarians and teachers will want to add this text to their collection both as reading material for students interested in nonfiction and as material to support research projects. This accessible history will help students understand both the war and the culture of the times. Readers can read the whole book through or dip into one biography or another as it suits them. Sidebars within each chapter provide additional background information that is necessary to understand the history or circumstances of each hero. In addition, Atwood has provided sources at the end of each chapter to help students with further research.

I received a review copy of this book after the author and I corresponded briefly about events of World War II, a war I’m far more familiar with from my own research. I enjoyed the book thoroughly and learned a lot about a period and conflict I knew little about. I am happy I can recommend it highly. My teen-aged daughter often complains about the battles-and-dates method of teaching history found most in high schools today. I find it encouraging that a resource of this quality is available to help students more interested in social history learn about World War I. Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Soldiers, Spies, and Medics is a must have for middle and high school social studies classrooms and libraries, for homeschooling families, and for history buffs.

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Dial; March 18, 2014.

UnderEgg-300x300

 

Theo’s grandfather’s death in a street accident is completely unexpected, and his last words to her are mysterious. “There’s …a letter…And a treasure,” he said. His words propel thirteen-year-old Theo into a mystery that shows there was more to her grandfather than she ever imagined. Theo finds an old painting in his studio, and she thinks she know who painted it. It’s bad news though, because Jack wasn’t anywhere rich enough to afford such an old painting. There’s worse news, too; Theo’s grandfather was a museum guard, and a painting has just been found missing from the vaults. In order to solve the mystery and save both her grandfather’s house and reputation, Theo must enlist her smarts, her resourcefulness, and an unlikely pack of new-found friends.

Under the Egg is a cracking good mystery. The story engages the reader in its twists and turns. Even more engaging than the twists of the story is Under the Egg’s main character, Theo. She’s got a tough life that’s become much tougher with her grandfather’s death, but rather than feeling sorry for herself, she soldiers on and works to find a solution. And though Theo is the most fully drawn of the characters, all of the characters ring true. And they all have their surprising sides, some heartwarming and others sinister.

Personally, I have always loved books that open up some part of the world to me. This book offered new insights into the world of art museums and auction houses. It also offered fascinating glimpses into certain aspects of World War II. I expect that Under the Egg may expose its readers to a new interest. Fitzgerald is ready to help with that, too. Her web page includes loads of information and source links to help interested readers delve further into the art and history referred to in the book.

This is Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s debut novel for middle grade readers. I had to double check that because it’s so accomplished. According to her web page it’s true. I’m so sorry that Under the Egg only came out this March because I’m already waiting impatiently for Fitzgerald’s next novel.

The Thickety: A Path Begins by J. A. White

Katherine Tegen Books; May 6, 2014.

Twelve-year-old Kara no longer bothers to expect life to be easy. Ever since the night her mother was tried as a witch, life has been hard for her family. Villagers who were once kind have turned cruel, for their religion preaches the eradication of all magic. Kara copes with her difficult life unbelievably well. She manages to hold her little family together, though that should be her father’s job. He seems to have lost his will to function, so Kara has been effectively in charge since the age of six. Kara’s brother, in her care since infancy, is as young and sickly as he is charming.

As social pressure at school and in the village mounts against Kara, she finds herself drawn into the Thickety, a forbidden and dangerous part of the island. There she finds a grimoire, a witch’s spell book and begins an adventure into the area most feared and forbidden by her people, the practice of magic.

The Thickety pulls readers into another world where the rules and religion are changed and the wild creatures alarming. The story is a dark one. Kara is a strong and appealing character, but the depth of trouble that she must navigate virtually alone might turn off some readers. Though she keeps plodding on, it is difficult for me to imagine how she coped when there was so much hardship in her life and so much negativity in her world.

White builds the mystery of The Thickety and the creatures there well, providing a strong motivation to read. Though I prefer a story with more levity and a good measure of hope, I am intrigued enough with the people and the island to want to know how this fringe group came to live in such an inhospitable place. I also want to know what happens to Kara and her family. I couldn’t help but be drawn in and wonder what will come in successive books—and given the cliffhanger at the end, I’m certain more are coming.

The Thickety is a good read for older middle grade or young adult readers who enjoy mystery and magic. It may appeal more to those who favor dystopias than to tenderhearted readers. At almost 500 pages it’s not a short book, but its driving pace kept me reading quickly, and I think young readers will have the same experience.

Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013.
SMOKE-COVER

This book is a sequel to Burned, Hopkins’ second novel, so if you haven’t read that one, you may want to stop reading here. Burned presents Pattyn Von Stratton as she attempts to navigate her growth as a teenager and her developing sexuality within the confines of her very difficult life in an abusive household within a misogynistic Mormon community.

Smoke follows Pattyn and Jackie, her younger sister, in the wake of the violence that ended Burned. Taking her mother’s advice, Pattyn is on the run from the law and Jackie is left at home. Both young women are suffering from post-traumatic stress and yet must still navigate their complicated lives. I dare not divulge more for fear of spoiling the story.

As always, Ellen Hopkins puts characters in impossibly difficult, but believable, situations. But her characters are struggling with universal teen concerns, too: Am I loveable? Will I be kissed before my 16th birthday? Who am I going to be? She is masterful at presenting characters that the reader quickly becomes invested in. The verity of her characters, the beauty of her verse, the underlying current of hope, and the fear of what might happen kept me reading Smoke late—too late—into the night.

Smoke presents and examines a lot of hard topics including abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual), rape, poverty, misogyny and other abuses of power, and illegal immigration. It also shows the characters and the readers that respectful and loving relationships, both platonic and romantic, are a choice that even victims can make. The characters consider who they want to be as adults and struggle with finding the lines between attraction, lust, and love. The best and worst of human behaviors are examined in Hopkins’ spare and enticing verse.

I’ve read that Hopkins’ books are often favorites of reluctant readers, and I can see why. She enlists sympathy immediately, uses strong imagery, few words, and a driving pace. This book is highly recommended, though you’ll want to read Burned first.