WWII Reading Challenge


Because of the Holocaust phase I seem to be going through this year I managed to get a head start in the War Through the Generations WWII Reading Challenge, without setting out to accomplish it.

Thanks to Anna, who commented on one of my reviews to let me know about the challenge.

The War Through the Generations WWII Reading Challenge runs from January 1, 2009, to December 31, 2009.

Here are the challenge rules:

To participate in the WWII Reading Challenge, you must commit to reading at least five books throughout the year.  We plan to read more than that, and feel free to do the same!  The books can be fiction or non-fiction, and they can be about any aspect of WWII.  WWII should be the primary or secondary theme, and it doesn’t matter whether the book takes place during the war or after the war.   Children’s literature is acceptable!  (Please visit the WWII Reading List page for some recommendations.)  You can count books you are reading for other challenges, so long as they meet the aforementioned criteria.

You can decide which books you’d like to read right away, or you can choose them during the course of the challenge.  However, when you sign up, we ask that you set a reading goal for the challenge.  At the end of the challenge, those who met or exceeded their reading goals will be entered in a drawing (prizes to be announced later).

Continue reading “WWII Reading Challenge”

If you liked Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief… (Holocaust review series)

You’d probably like these:

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Book #15 for 2009
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
Book #16 for 2009

Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief was one of my best reads for 2008 (read in October). I waited it a bit to read it because it was really hyped about for a while, and I’m glad that the hype turned out to be well worth it. It was such a charming novel and I loved every bit of it, and I was crying buckets (rivaling the amount of tears I cried while reading Deathly Hallows) throughout the last third of the book.

The characters were so alive, and so lovable — Liesl, Rudy, Papa, Mama, Max — that you can’t help but feel for them. The most compelling thing I found about it was that it was told from the point of view of Death, which was so amazing — an abstract thing, personified! I never thought I’d feel sorry for Death, but in this book I did, especially in the parts when Death was saying he didn’t necessarily like taking lives, that it was just something he had to do… I’m getting sniffy just thinking about it.

I used to avoid Holocaust-themed books because I knew they’d i nevitably be sad, but The Book Thief got me into a Holocaust phase and I ended up getting other books with similar themes.

While not as lengthy or as deep-seated in emotion as The Book Thief, the three books in this selection are also well-written young adult novels, and offer additional insight into the Holocaust.

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas (read last December) is actually subtitled “A Fable,” and it reads like one too, with a matter-of-fact tone. It is the story of nine-year old Bruno, son of a Nazi commandant, who is bewildered at having to move to a new neighborhood because of his dad’s new assignment. They move to a strange place, where their house is the only house for miles. But when Bruno looks out his window, beyond the chain-link fence, he sees thousands of people in blue striped pyjamas. Unbeknownst to his family, Bruno befriends Shmuel, a boy from the other side of the fence, and life is never the same again for Bruno.

I liked this book because of the truly ironic and ohno-ohno-ohno-inducing twist (I swear!), and the innocent naivete of Bruno is heartrending amidst the terrible events happening around him.

Now they’re making it into a movie — David Thewlis as Father, egads! — I’ve got to stock up on the tissues!

Number the Stars is a Newbery-award winning book by one of my favorite authors, and it does not disappoint either. Annemarie and Ellen are best friends in WW2 Denmark, which was trying in vain to resist the Nazi invasion. Ellen’s family is Jewish, and when the hunt for Jews begin, Annemarie and her family must do what they can to help their friends escape.

The book was not as sad as I thought, and it was in fact quite positive and hopeful — unexpected for a Holocaust novel. It seemed different from Lois Lowry’s Anastasia series, and I appreciate that Lowry could write books outside of the series, and win a Newbery while she was at it.

Finally, the biggest surprise came from Milkweed. I’ve never read any books by Jerry Spinelli, although I knew his work is highly acclaimed. I used to think his works were too street, but this one seemed different so I decided to give it a try (not to mention it was P10, hardbound, at Book Sale).

Like The Book Thief, it’s hard to explain Milkweed in a few sentences. Insert deep breath here. I would say it’s a hard-hitting story of friendship, hope and survival about an orphan with no clear identity, who grows up in Nazi-occupied Poland. I can’t explain much more than that, because it gets complicated, but it was like a precursor to The Book Thief (Milkweed was published 2001)– a blend of whimsy, poignancy, and stark reality — and I couldn’t put it down once I started it. I ended up reading most of it in the car on my way to a meeting in QC and then back again to the office (sometimes traffic has its benefits).

The Holocaust is one of the most popular topics for both fiction and non-fiction, but I’m glad there are more books about it in the young adult genre, as its target readers do not usually see history beyond textbooks and classroom lessons. This way, they see history from another person’s point of view, and share the reality that the victims and survivors of that time experienced.

My copies: The Book Thief, paperback mooched from the UK, upgraded into hardcover bought for P160 at the NBS booth at the MIBF; The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, bought for P40 at Book Sale, upgraded to hardcover with dust jacket from NBS Booksak Presyo sale bought for P100, paperback on its way to the US (mooched from me); Number the Stars, paperback, received as a bonus mooch; Milkweed, hardcover, bought for P10 at Book Salei

My ratings: The Book Thief 5/5 stars; The Boy in Striped Pyjamas 4/5 stars; Number the Stars 3.5/5 stars; Milkweed 5/5 stars

Phew, four books in one review!

Books 2 & 3 for 2009: Zooman Sam and All About Sam by Lois Lowry

I, like thousands of readers all over the world, am a big fan of the wacky Krupnik family from the Anastasia series, whose books are among the American Library Association’s 100 Frequently Most Challenged Books, because (according to Wikipedia) of “references to beer, Playboy magazine, and a casual reference to a character who wanted to kill herself.” Apparently it was also criticized for one of the funniest books in the series, “Anastasia at this Address,” where Anastasia replies to a personal ad and lies about her age (and invents a fantasy life too) to an older man — it sounds bad but it’s actually quite innocent and funny as hell.

After 9 Anastasia books (I wish there were more), Lowry moves on to a series featuring Anastasia’s younger brother, Sam, starting with All About Sam. Zooman Sam is the most recent
addition to the series.

Aside from most of the Anastasia books, I have both Attaboy Sam, and See You Around, Sam!
on my shelves, and I was glad to get both All About Sam and Zooman Sam in one weekend
(Book Sale and then Chapters and Pages).

All About Sam is about Sam’s life story told from his point of view, mostly featuring events that happened throughout the Anastasia series. Meanwhile Zooman Sam is about Sam’s Future Career day and how he wants to be a zookeeper.

They’re short reads (not very short — they’re still chapter books but one-sitting short), and
although I miss Anastasia’s whacked out (and sassy!) point of view, Sam’s candidness and own whacked-out point of view are endearing too. It’s also delightful to see that Anastasia and Steve Harvey are getting on very well, and Myron and Katherine Krupnik are still the coolest parents ever!

My copies: both Dell paperbacks

My rating: All About Sam 3/5 stars, Zooman Sam 4/5 stars

Photos courtesy of Barnes & Noble