Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.wolf-hollow

I don’t mean the small fibs that children tell. I mean real lies fed by real fears—things I said and did that took me out of the life I’d always known and put me down hard into a new one….

     The year I turned twelve, I learned that what I said and what I did mattered.”
So begins Wolf Hollow, masterfully written by Lauren Wolk and drawing the reader right in.  It is 1943 and Annabelle and three generations of her family live on a farm in Pennsylvania.  She walks to school in a one room school house, but as the story begins, we learn that a bully has demanded money from her on her way home.  The bully, a new girl named Betty, has been “sent to the country because she was incorrigible.” Betty had stepped out from behind a tree in Wolf Hollow and stood in her path and threatened to beat her with a stick if she didn’t bring her something the next day.  Wolf Hollow had been named because men used to dig pits there to catch wolves who were killing chickens and such.   As Betty’s threats and escalate, she proves herself to be a “dark-hearted girl who came to our hills and changed everything.”
Instead of using the road to go from the hollow to the houses on the other side of Annabelle’s family’s farm, they often would walk across the fields.  Lots of people did.  But one person was different.  Toby was a veteran of WWI with his scarred left hand and his long oilcloth coat, carrying three rifles on his back. Toby lived in an old smokehouse which was hidden among trees and bushes.  annabelle met Toby when she was nine, outside taking photos.  As she slowly realized he was standing there watching her she took one of him.  He asked her if he could borrow it, and she gave it to him.  Toby would in time cover the inside of the smokehouse with his photos of the sky, the woods and the orchards.
Betty continues her hateful deeds, not unnoticed by quiet Toby.  When a rock is thrown and hits  Annabelle’s friend in the eye, Betty accuses Toby.  So when Betty goes missing, and Toby can’t be found, people begin to suspect him.  Not Annabelle though.

More books about children during World War II

I’m looking forward to reading The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.  I just read a review of it by Elizabeth Bird on her blog A Fuse #8 Production.  I’ve put the book on hold at the library.  I remember loving Goodnight Mr. Tom by Michelle Margorian.  I’ve also got The Children of the King by Sonia Hartnett on my “to read” list.  It was also suggested by Elizabeth Bird.  All of these books are about children that were sent to the British countryside during WWII to escape the London Blitz.

Hidden written by Loïc Dauvillier; illustrated by Marc Lizano; colored by Greg Salsedo; translated by Alexis Siegel

A young girl wakes in the night and leaves her room with her doll.  She finds her grandmother awake in the living room and crying.  She asks if her grandmother has had a nightmare, ‘You know when I have a nightmare, I tell mommy about it and that makes me feel better.”  And she persuades Elsa to tell her.

“It was a long time ago.  Grandma was a little girl.  I must have been around your age.”  So she tells her about living in Paris, with her mother and father, a WWI vet, and her daily life hiddenof going to school with her best friend Catherine.  But one night her father tells her she will have to wear a sheriff’s badge to school.  Of course, it is really the Jewish star she must wear, but she doesn’t know.  When Dounia arrives at school her friend will not play with her and the teacher moves her to the back of the room and tells her she’s lucky she’s allowed to be in school.

Jews are arrested in the streets and anti-Semitic graffiti painted on buildings.  As the situation gets gloomier and she leaves school, the pictures become darker.  One night the police bang on the apartment door and her father hides her in an armoire with a lid over her.  They tell  her they love her and to keep quiet until an adult comes to help her.  Down is brought by neighbors in the building to live with them.  Eventually though they are told by the resistance that they must bring her to a building where she will be picked up and taken to the country.  On their way out of the building, Dounia is recognized and the janitor calls for the police.  Mrs. Pericard and Dounia arrive at their destination and are taken to a farm house where they stay with Germaine for the remainder of the war.  It surprised me in Daovillier’s book that the farmer’s wife takes Dounia, now called Simone, and Mrs. Pericord to church, as it would have provoked questions among the town’s people and could be dangerous for Germaine as well as the two people she was hiding. 

The story is told through dialogue in word balloons, but also running narration in first person in boxes.  The illustrations by Marc Lizano are excellent, showing a somewhat naive young girl who all too quickly becomes fearful, sad and terrified.  There is a mix of closeups, as when Dounia is hidden in the armoire, and long shots.  There are many details in the illustrations that are important to take in.   The coloration is reminiscent of the cover of Coraline the graphic novel illustrated by P. Craig Russell with a lot of browns, blacks and grays, but other colors too. 

This is a very personal story the way it is written and illustrated but is is also the story of thousands of children who were given new names and religions and sent to hide on farms or apartments throughout Europe.  Those who rescued them also endangered themselves and there families and they are called righteous gentiles.  My husband was two when he was sent to stay with an older couple in the outskirts of Paris in a place called Vert Gallant. Previously he had been stayed with them during the week while his parent worked, but when the war started, he stopped going to be with his parents on weekends.  He stayed in Vert Gallant for five years, rarely going outside, never going to school or playing with other children.  Like Dounia, he called his rescuers Maman and Papa.  And like Dounia, there was confusion about who the woman who came to get him after the war was.   He continues to think of all of them as his parents. 


Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Image “Why?
Why did everything get turned upside down? Why did my mom have to die? Why am I following Early, with his endless stories of Pi, on a crazy bear hunt?” [p.150]

Following the death of his mother, at the end of World War II, Jack Auden is sent away from his home in Kansas to a boarding school in Maine by his Navy officer dad.  His dad had been gone during the war, and Jack hardly knew  him when he returned for the funeral, but he had gone to the school in Maine and insists that Jack leave everyone he knows to go there.

Feeling lost at the school, Jack meets Early Auden, an eccentric boy, an orphan who occasionally comes to math class, who wants to go on a quest to find a great brown bear on the Appalachian Trail. Early is also searching for his brother, fisher.  Fisher had been a hero at the school, a champion rower, and a war hero who died with his squad in France.  Woven in to all this is the story of Pi and his quest for the Polaris and then to return home to the Great Mother Bear.

At night when all of the school has left for break and Jack’s father hasn’t been able to come get him as had been planned, Jack finds Early packing up to go on his quest.  He too gets drawn in and they set out in Fisher’s boat, the Maine on Early’s quest.

The story of their quest, at times surreal, dreamy, action packed and pain filled alternates with stories of Pi’s quest to return home.  Subtle humor  surfaces occasionally like the scene where they are going fly fishing and Jack tells Early to wait so he can help Early put on his waders, while he, Jack stumbles around, only to look over and see Early “in full gear , already out in the middle of the stream…”

On this adventure, both boys discover difficult truths, but though it is Earl’s quest, Jack is the one who in many ways is redeemed.   Navigating Early is an amazingly layered book, so artfully woven together. The two boy’s personalities are so different yet they mostly support one another and bring out the best in each other. The supporting characters are so varied and imaginative; they seem to be part of a film.   While I sometimes got bogged down a bit during the Pi sequences with their mythic overtones,  they felt essential to the workings of the story. This is a moving book of great tales and stories.

“How do you take another step when you can’t see the path in front of you?  But wasn’t that what I’d been doing all along my journey with Early?  I put my foot out where I could picture Early putting his, took a deep breath, and leaped.  I landed on solid ground.” (P. 232)

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia


Delphine, Vonetta and Fern return to Brooklyn after a visit to their mother, Cecile, who’s a member of the Black Panther Party, in Oakland, Ca. When they arrive in their Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood they find there’s been changes, though their grandmother, Big Ma,is still as strict as always and expects Delphine to keep everything in line. Their father, who seems happier and was whistling during the car ride home, has a new lady friend, Miss Marva Hendrix, and the new group, The Jackson Five, will soon be performing at Madison Square Garden.

Big Ma doesn’t really approve of either. After much pleading, the girls win the right to go to the concert if they save half the money by doing chores and Miss Hendrix, whom Delphine doesn’t really like, volunteers to take them. Soon Uncle Darnell returns from Vietnam, but he’s really changed. His presence brings joy then pain to the family. Delphine also has to contend with changes at school where she is the tallest girl and sometimes on the outs with her best friend Frieda. Also, she’s surprised to find that she has a different teacher than the one she expected, and he is also strict.

I love the title of this book. It is from the postscripts of letters from her mother, telling her to act eleven and not try to be older, even though she wants to spread her wings. Delphine writes to her mother regularly with her problems and receives spare, poetic replies and reminders that she is not grown and to be who she is.

I like the way williams-Garcia sets the mood through rather spare vignettes, by not belaboring points. We get a good sense of Delphine’s class mates, who she’s tight with and who not so much by watching them in action, not by explication. I now want to read the first in the series, One Crazy Summer, about their summer in Oakland.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

I just read the netgalley version of Rose Under Fire.  Afterwards I spent lots of time researching Ravensbruck, mostly because of some reviews on Good Reads that really annoyed me.  So this review is kind of a mix between a review of the book and some of the research I found.

ImageRose Under Fire is a companion book to Code Name Verity and takes place in the last few months of the WW2 on the European front.  Rose an American girl has been raised in Pennsylvania flying planes with her dad, and somehow gets her British uncle who is high up in the Royal Engineers to pull strings to bring her to England as part of the Air Transport Auxiliary, women and other noncombatants who flew planes or pilots to where they were needed for combat.   

Following the liberation of Paris, Rose flies her Uncle Roger to Reims, via Paris, where they fly over the Eiffel Tower.  After landing, Rose is to take a Spitfire back to Southampton, but instead she sort of falls off the face of the earth.  Following are letters from her aunt and her friend Maddie trying to trace her but we learn that on her way back Rose tried to come up behind a flying bomb, got lost and then encountered armed enemy planes which forced her into Germany and took her to Ravensbrück.  
The story of her six months in Ravensbrück are told through in the form of a memoire after she has gotten out of Ravensbrück, how we don’t know, but she is now in the Paris Ritz, afraid of leaving her room, but writing her experiences down.  It’s all kind of murky.  The story is intense and the author Elizabeth Wein, did a great deal of research into the topic.  Some may ask, as I did, why there are so few Jews mentioned.   About 20% of the inmates were Jews.  [According to Rose Seidel, a scholar who has written a lot on Ravensbrück, “an estimated 26,000 Jewish women passed through or were murdered at this camp.”]  It turns out that Ravensbrück was a concentration camp set up for political prisoners though many died from diseases as well as from “selections.’  In all about 92.000 women died there. Most of the prisoners were sent out to do labor in factories as was Rose.

Rose, or French political prisoner 51498, was put in block 32 with a mixed group, though mostly Poles, along with women who had been experimented on, known as Rabbits, because their legs had been experimented on, and they become the focus of her story. These Polish women, there were seventy-four of them, and in Rose Under Fire, as in reality, there was a real struggle to hide and protect the Rabbits so that their story would be learned.  Rose becomes friends with several Rabbits, in particular, Róża and Karolina. Rose’s barrack decides that they need to learn all the Rabbits’ names and Lisette suggests “a poem for a mnemonic.  Make yourself another counting-out rhyme.”[p202]  

I had not read much about Ravensbrück and doubt that I am alone.  Ravensbrück was in East Germany so it was not well documented after WW2. It also was a camp for women and therefore has not been studied to the extent of other concentration camps. In the end this story is so packed full of information about Ravensbrück and different crimes that went on there, and about part of the Nuremberg trials as well as making Wein’s characters truly come to life.  Elizabeth Wein did a great job of bearing witness to the horrors that went on at Ravensbrück as well as imagining the type of response a girl like Rose would have had to this experience.  Some have criticized Rose but that is to forget the post-traumatic stress that she must have endured.  I particularly liked the Afterword / Declaration of Causes where Wein quotes Primo Levi that the “true witnesses to the atrocities…were the dead’ and then goes on to say that “Rose’s testimony is even further removed because [she] made it up.”  Like the first, this is a book that bears rereading because it is so complex.

Flora by Gail Godwin

ImageIsolated on a North Carolina mountain top in the summer of 1945, in the rather shabby home of her grandparents called the “Old One Thousand,” the narrator, eleven-year-old Helen and her mother’s cousin Flora are waiting till summer ends and Helen’s father returns. Helen’s mother died when she was three and her grandmother Nonie has just recently died, so much to Helen’s annoyance, her father called upon Flora, a naïve young woman to be Helen’s companion while he goes away for the summer to do war work at Oak Ridge, TN.

For the first week, before Flora arrives, Helen had a choice of three friends with whom to stay and chose the one with the huge house, pool and a cook over her friend Brian who wanted to be a classical actor and was taking elocution lessons with an English lady. She would have had more fun with Brian and when he contracted polio during the week, for going to a swimming hole, she felt an enormous amount of guilt. But as her friend Annie later tells her, “Other people don’t exist when we’re not with you. We’re toys or something. You play with them and examine them and then you put them on a shelf and go away. We don’t have lives, we’re just your playthings.”[p.104]

Reading Flora is disturbing despite the beautiful writing. Helen seems to not feel any guilt for ridiculing Flora, who seems like an inconvenience in her life, especially after her father calls and orders them not to go out or have visitors. Helen who had an “irreproachable grandmother” [p 99] writes, “I was reminded afresh that my biggest fear concerning Flora was how her lack of reserve would reflect on our family.” In the middle of the book the issue of remorse comes up, before we even know what is to become of the characters on the mountaintop. “When did remorse fall into disfavor? It was sometime during the second half of my life.” Helen states, “Remorse is wired straight to the heart… it went out of fashion around the same time that ‘Stop feeling guilty,’ and ’You’re too hard on yourself.’ And ‘You need to love yourself more’ came into fashion.” [p. 152]

In the end I was left grieving for Helen and the harm she caused as well as with many questions.  Gail Godwin has long been one of my favorite authors.  She didn’t disappoint with this novel; in fact it was full of surprises as most of her books.  In the end I was left grieving for Helen and the harm she caused as well as with many questions.   Helen’s tale is told from the point of view of an old lady looking back with remorse and written for her, Flora Waring.

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

In 1665 a young Indian man from Martha’s Vinyard graduated from Harvard College and upon this fact Geraldine Brooks has created a dramatic account of two worlds engaging and colliding. Bethia Mayfield is growing up in Great Harbor (Martha’s Vineyard) where her widowed father is a tolerant preacher and where she has time to wonder the island.   In her wonderings she meets an Indian boy, Cheeshahteaumauck, whom she will later call Caleb.  While Bethia  is a committed Christian, she also craves knowledge in a way beyond her time and the Wampanoag rituals fully resonate with her.  Caleb is a complex character, for he too attempts to stay true to his culture while learning from the English.

After his family dies from smallpox and his uncle fails to protect them with his magic, he and another Wampanoag boy, Joel, eventually come to live with her family and study with her father. It is at that time that two more tragedies strike and Makepeace, her brother, along with Caleb and Joel go to study at Cambridge. Her wealthy grandfather offers her as an indentured laborer to the school master in order to pay Makepeace’s fees.

Eventually Joel and Caleb will attend the Indian College at Harvard College and distinguish themselves as scholars of Latin, Greek, Hebrew all for the study of the Bible. While Bethia is prohibited from learning, she listens in to all their lessons, even getting a job at the buttery at Harvard after her brother leaves school so that she can follow the lectures and keep an eye on Caleb and Joel.  Though they excel at the school and later Harvard, both boys and Bethia as well, lose their health and vigor from living in Cambridge, a cramped unhealthy place, and from the separation from their beloved island and its fresh air.

Brooks uses archaic terms and turns of phrase and a formality that give authenticity to what she calls her diary. It is written towards the end of her life, looking back at these personal stories and historical events that surrounded them.  What incredibly beautiful writing, I haven’t loved reading/hearing language like this in a long time. I listened to the  audio book produced by Penguin Audio.  Jennifer Ehle gives a careful reading, timing it as a woman might have spoken in the 1660’s.

This is a great book for high school students as well as adults.