The Librarian of Auschwitz: The Graphic Novel adapted by Salva Rubio

4.5 stars Graphic Novel Middle School/YA

Edita loved her books, an adoration that would lead her on quite a journey in her life.  As a young child, Edita enjoyed reading and was a sponge, immersing herself into books, as she wanted to know everything. With her parent’s encouragement, Edita was on her way.  Edita’s greatest fear was time.  Edita feared was that she wouldn’t finish all the books that she wanted to read, in her lifetime.  I can totally relate to how Edita felt.  The adults in her life had other fears they were dealing with which were now starting to hit closer to home.  The troops were beginning to march in.  Whispered conversations were now the norm, schools started shutting down and stars were being stitched on clothing.  Edith was lucky as she used her stories to help her get through the days.  When the family is finally forced out of their home, Dita can’t decide which books she wants to take with her.  With her ONE suitcase limit, this is a difficult decision.  NONE!?! 

Now, that was crazy talk!  Dita leaves with her family, carry no books inside her suitcase.  The family is shuffled and pushed around like cattle, following all the other individuals who are forced out also.  They’re lost, scared, and nervous.  What is happening?  The illustrations do a terrific job showing the feelings and bleakness of this time period as the individuals try to grasp exactly what is happening in their lives. Now is not the time to be modest or arrogant, Edith’s family knows they need to do what is expected of them to survive. When they finally stop drifting around, the camp they find themselves in, is trying to organize itself.  They’re utilizing the talents of each of the prisoners, to benefit themselves.  Dita’s special talent of reading is one that I didn’t think she realizes how special it was.  With her ability to read different languages, Dita is able to assist many other prisoners and she becomes the secret librarian.  Dita takes this job seriously but there were other important roles that she had.  Fourteen-year-old Dita, taking risks that some adults were afraid of taking, and putting herself out there for the benefit of others: that’s one strong teen forced to live in a concentration camp.

This is based on the true story of Dita Kraus, an Auschwitz prisoner in WWII.  A graphic novel adaptation is from Antonio Iturbe, The Librarian of Auschwitz.   I found that this graphic novel touched on the important topics of Dita’s life and that the story moved quite quickly.  Given that this book covers only 120 pages and Iturbe novel covers over 400 pages, Rubio did a great job showing the highlights of Dita’s life and how important she was. Having read both books (I loved Antonio’s novel!), and knowing that this is a graphic novel adaption, a lot of the details of the original book had to be left out.  The author did include in his Epilogue some great information that I feel is important to this book and should be read.  4.5 stars

Yonder by Ali Standish

5 stars Historical Fiction Middle School

Jack was a hero.  Jack jumped into the racing floodwaters and rescued the two girls from downing while the rest of the congregation stared as the raging waters carried the girls away.  If you ask Jack though, he’ll tell you a different story as Jack doesn’t want the attention and the glory. Jack just wants to be Jack.  Jack is street smart which is working out for him but the truancy officer thinks Jack needs to be book smart too so he hunts Jack down and tries to make him attend school.  Jack doesn’t learn much from the books in school but he does learn about the individuals inside the building. 

Danny is the book’s narrator and he attends school with Jack.   Like Jack, Danny also delivers the newspapers around town while Danny’s mother keeps the newspaper running.  Danny’s mother has an important job and I liked that she was honest with her son as this helps Danny.  It’s June of 1943, the war is raging and segregation is occurring.  Danny’s father has enlisted while Jack’s father has returned home from the war, bringing home with him parts of the war which overshadow his life.  Two teen boys: they’re the same, yet they’re different. 

I liked the relationship of Danny and Jack.  They could be themselves and they enjoyed being around each other.  They liked to have fun together and they were able to talk freely without worrying about what they were saying.  When Lou showed up, they tried to include her.  Danny had led a sheltered life but when his eyes were opened, we got to see his world through his eyes now. 

There seems to be some mysteries popping up in the book when Jack disappears and Danny takes it upon himself to find him.  Lou has a different mystery that she wants to solve.  I feel that Jack’s disappearance is based on Jack’s solving his own mystery and perhaps, Jack will never find him.  Will anyone solve their mystery?  I liked how Danny started to take an interest in the war besides just collecting his scrap metal for school.  Jack feels comfortable around Danny and talks to him about some personal issues.  I loved hearing the excitement in Jack’s voice as he talked about and wondered about Jack’s disappearance.  

This is such a fantastic book.  A book about war, bullying, friendship, family, and love.   

White Bird by R.J. Palacio

3 stars Middle School Graphic Novel

I liked the story behind this book but I thought that the book was slow at times.  It took about 4 days to finish this book as I just had a hard time getting back into it once I put it down.  I had a hard time liking Sara as I thought she acted selfish yet I liked the friendship she had with Tourteau.  I thought he brought out her good qualities which she needed in my opinion.  My heart was in it for Tourteau as I thought he really was just a good person and he tried to keep his emotions out it.    The text was easy to follow and the illustrations were okay. White Bird by R.J. Palacio

I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944 (I Survived Graphic Novels #3) by Georgia Ball

5 stars Middle School Graphic Novel

Another great I Survived graphic novel for children.  Addressing the Nazi Invasion of 1944, there’s nothing like reading how a family is forced apart and the young siblings try to outsmart their enemy, to get your blood flowing late at night.   I know from reading previous stories about the Nazi’s and hearing personal stories, that this period in history is one of the darkest but each time I read one of these stories, I still shake my head.  To allow someone to have that much control and then, all the individuals that followed every one of his commands.  I think it’s so sad.

It’s bad enough that families have been pulled out of their own homes and placed into a ghetto with who-knows how many other displaced families.   Just when they think this might be their new home, they’re yanked out and their lives are rearranged again.  For Max, he had his sister Zena and his Papa nearby until the Nazi’s decided they could use Papa elsewhere and they took him away.  Now, it’s just Max and Zena, and they’re trying to survive.  Can they do it alone?

I really enjoyed the illustrations in this graphic novel, the use of color was fantastic.  The action was nonstop as this family was pulled from their surroundings and became one of many.  If you haven’t checked out this graphic novel series based on the I Survived series, I highly recommend that you do.  

We Are Wolves by Katrina Nannestad

5 stars Middle School

Such a wonderful, heartfelt story.  When father is called up to serve, 2 months later he is MIA.  When I read this, I kept thinking that he fled and was coming back to be with his family.  As I read, I kept searching and waiting for his return.  

They leave their home and flee with their loaded down wagon and their horse Mozart traveling West away from the Red Army.  Joining into the line of traffic of young and old travelers, they fit right in.  There are walkers, riders, and a combination of both- everyone just wants to get away.   Finding refuge in a farmhouse, they discover that it hasn’t been ransacked by the Russian soldiers and it’s well-stocked. 

I liked how they were taught by their Papa to recite their relatives’ names.  The desperation of foraging while on their journey, their encounter with the Russians and how the family stayed together were key highlights of this book which I enjoyed.  The ending was not what I expected and wanted.  Another great historical middle school read.  5 stars

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Ari Folman

4 stars Graphic Novel

I remember reading the original version of this story many years ago in school so I’m somewhat familiar with the storyline.  It’s a daunting, sad story but one that I feel is important for its historical value and the impression that it leaves behind. When I saw this graphic novel adaptation, I was excited to see exactly what they had done with it.

Graphic novels…….graphic novel adaptations…… this world is just exploding! As a former substitute teacher, I’m all for graphic novels. Whatever you can do to get someone reading, I’m all for it! In one of my classes for my education degree, we had to read a variety of children’s books and discuss them. I remember one hot discussion was about graphic novels and whether they were actually “reading.”  I definitely think they are “reading” now but at the time, the selection in graphic novels was fairly limited, so some individuals thought “reading” comic books wasn’t reading.  So, I wonder what they’d think now, with all the different titles available.  Perhaps they’d see that graphic novels are reading; they have a lot of different subject matter now.  I think of the example: Margie wants to read the graphic novel of a book that was assigned.  She reads the graphic novel, understands it and whether or not, she likes the book, she read it and was able to follow it.  Had you only offered Margie the fiction or nonfiction version of that book, Margie would’ve struggled to read it or she wouldn’t have read it at all, she would have failed. She wouldn’t have gained anything.  Actually, she would’ve lost a bit of herself for she now knows that she doesn’t like that book and she can’t read it.  It’s funny actually but this argument is still an issue today. 

There are some good points and some difficult issues with this adaptation.  Again, this is a sad, depressing story but I liked the flow of this story.  The author did a great job showing the conflicts the characters face and how Anne’s emotions come into play.  As an author, you can’t have too much doom and gloom yet most individuals know that this is part of this important story.  This story also covers a lot of time and there was quite a bit of narrative in the picture boxes but I figured there would be to keep the timeline moving. There were times in which the author devoted a whole page to narrative language but it was creative and wasn’t overwhelming.  I thought the illustrations were wonderfully done, with precise details and colors and they complimented the text wonderfully.

The story begins with a page devoted to a Cast of Characters, which is helpful.  The characters are grouped and I liked that under their illustration, they had their name and who they were in the story.  The story begins on June 12, 1942 when Anne is celebrating her 13th birthday and she receives the important diary, Dear Kitty.  In Dear Kitty, Anne writes down everything important to her: her thoughts and feelings and the events that occurring in her life.  When Anne and her family are forced into hiding, they never imagined they would be hidden for years.

I think after reading this, I need to read the original story again as I feel that I don’t remember everything about this book.  I remember the ending being abrupt in the original and again, the ending left me hanging.  I do remember Anne growing as a character but I was surprised how forthright Anne becomes in this book. She’s almost too blunt and too brass for me.   As Anne becomes a woman, her sexuality becomes important and she’s definitely frank and direct in this area also. I think the wake-up call for me was when Anne sat Peter down at a desk and she got out her pointer stick.  Using her stick, Anne begins to explain to Peter the illustration on the wall. I don’t remember that from the original story and I even asked a few friends if they did. You’d think that as a teen, I’d remember something graphic like that.   So, now I think I need to reread the original to see if my memory is correct or if I actually forgot part of this classic.

With other incidents pertaining to sexual content, I don’t feel this graphic novel is appropriate for younger readers.  Overall, I thought the author did a great job and the illustrations were fantastic. This is one that you’ll definitely need to check into, if you get the chance.  4 stars   

In a Flash by Donna Jo Napoli

4.5 stars Middle School

Once I got onboard with the story, I enjoyed the journey that these two sisters took. I was having a hard time understanding some of the choices that their father made but I wasn’t walking in his shoes so perhaps I didn’t know the complete story.  I knew that he was trying to provide the best life for his daughters and money was key to this success but still, money can’t always be your driving force.  His daughters were wonderful and considering everything that they endured, their relationship emerged stronger than before. 

Papa accepts a new position in Tokyo, Japan, leaving his mother-in-law and the grandma to his two small children behind in Italy.  With a bump in salary, a 1–2-year commitment in Italy (that Papa feels will be sufficient), and other benefits for his children, Papa feels this is a great opportunity.  Enrolling 8-year-old Simona in public school, was a great financial decision until he realizes how important the private schools are, for helping foreign children learn the Japanese language.  Little Carolina is brought to work with him each day as she will have someone there, about the same age as her, that she can play with. 

It’s not all perfect in the beginning but over time, things change and the girls begin to love Japan.  It’s hard to believe but time passes so quickly and although Papa’s “sufficient time period” is over, Papa and the girls aren’t ready to go back home to Italy. I’m wondering now, should Papa stick with his 1–2-year time period?  Just because his children are not ready to return home, does that matter? Papa wasn’t doing anything fantastic besides what he was doing from Day #1 so basically life was just going on smoothly and the girls were settling in. Do you stay based on their opinion or go back?  Time to do more reading.

There had been talk of war but now, the realities of it were hitting home.  Papa is worried about Italy; will it be taken over? What will happen to their family and friends back home?  Pearl Harbor has been attacked by the Japanese and tension is mounting, elsewhere.  Hostility against foreigners is intensifying as the officials begin to gather them for relocation.  As Papa and his girls are rounded up, the girls get separated from their father. Now what?  They’re too young to be by themselves and I visualize Papa digging ditches or I don’t want to think where else Papa could end up at.  The girls never give up hope of being reunited with their Papa as they take on different roles to survive as the world, enters WWII.

Wow, I really enjoyed this book but I thought it was sad.  I liked how the sisters kept trying to find their father and how they accepted life.  I liked how they took on a variety of identities to survive and they didn’t let their emotions control their lives.  Their curiosity, bravery and support from each other helped them get through another day.  A very eventful book that gave me a different view of this time period.

The Only (Endling #3) by Katherine Applegate

5 stars Middle School

Is this really the end? This is the third book in this series, supposedly the last book, yet I feel that the journey is far from over for some of the species in this book.  It has been quite an adventure and as I read this book, the struggle became more intense and determined than it had ever been.  Assigned to a mission, they knew that success was the only answer, and drawing from all sources, they gave it all they had.

I feel Byx and Tobble have come a long way from when I first met them in The Last and now, they’re responsible for gathering recruitments for the Army of Peace. The Army hopes that a peaceful agreement can be obtained amongst all the world’s species before the two most powerful groups come head-to-head and engage in war.  I thought this was a lot of responsibility for these two friends to take on, considering their lack of experience and all the risk that was assigned to this task.  They each had a skill but would that keep them alive?

I enjoyed this series and I would like to reread it now, that all the books have been written. I did cry reading this last book (it wasn’t when I closed the last page), it was when the two friends were with one another and their friends were close by, and that is all I am saying about that moment.  This was a wonderful journey, created with great imagination and unique characters.  I enjoyed the friendships that were created and how they developed.  The characters encouraged one another and they believed in teamwork.  I was surprised though, in this final book, at the difficult vocabulary used and the way that the author described the last scene.  I thought the author used some challenging words in this book which, if you’re able to decipher words, is fine. Sometimes though, it was hard to decipher a few of those words and I had to use the dictionary.  This is not a bad thing, it’s just something that caught me off guard.  The final scene though, I thought it might contain too many details for some students.  The confrontation that occurs gives some descripted details which to some students might be okay while to others, they would be fine with, “his xxxxx would never be the same.”  A great series that I highly recommend.

“I think being brave means being afraid and still doing what you must do.”

Links to trailers for Book 1 and Book 2

BOOK 1
BOOK 2

All He Knew by Helen Frost

4.5 stars Historical Fiction

I started to get all frustrated and concerned as I began reading this book.  I felt so helpless as I read about Henry.  He had begun his life alone and misunderstood.  The label they slapped on him, became a wall.  I felt some relief that Molly had never forgotten her brother, although he wasn’t living with her.  She loved him whether he was physically present or not.  The author’s creative way of expressing this factual event makes this a very powerful story. 

Henry was four when he becomes deaf after falling ill. They had hoped that Henry could get his education at the State School for the Deaf.  Needing to pass a test, Henry arrives for the test but he is unable to understand the tests’ directions.  Failing the test, he can’t attend the state school and they label Henry, “unteachable.”  With WWII on the horizon, they soon decide to place him in Riverview, a school for mentally disabled individuals.  Talk about sad! Little time and effort are spent on the patients and Henry sinks further down.  If I could just reach into this book and grab him out, I and I think plenty other readers would have.

As I read Henry’s thoughts, his hopes and his sadness, it’s beyond sad.  I’m wondering how the other patients feel about life in Riverview.  Molly is the only bright spot until I hear Victor’s footsteps mark the halls of Riverview.  Is Victor a real person or is he an angel? Where did he come from?  It’s sad to think that, finally one professional, seems to care.   

With short chapters, this true event story is a story that will definitely make your think.  Told through verse, it’s a fast read about this time period in history.  

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

5 stars Historical Fiction

What a fun novel to listen to.  It took a few chapters for things to get situated but then, I really enjoyed the history, the relationships and the idea behind this book.  I liked that the female relationships inside the book took more precedence than the male/female relationships, which was what I was hoping would happen. I didn’t want a romance to spoil this drama.  This was a great package:  a historical fiction story, centered around a cooking competition consisting of diverse characters with an uplifting ending.

It’s the popular BBC broadcasting of the British Show, The Kitchen Front with Ambrose as the show’s host.  The show has decided that they need a female co-host and has launched a cooking competition to find her.  Located in Finley Village, England, are four women who are supposedly using their war rations to make the winning entries and to prove to Ambrose that they should be his co-host.  Here are four women who desperately need this position. These four women come from such different situations and circumstances in their lives.  These four women give this competition everything that they have. And who do I think should win it?   Nell? The kitchen maid at Finley Hall who started the competition so timid that she can hardly talk but she can cook.  Lady Gwendoline?  She married into money but does money buy happiness?  Audrey?  Lady Gwendoline sister, a war widow with 3 children who is trying to keep her head above water.  Zelda? A previous London chef who is now pregnant (and unmarried).

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I enjoyed listening to these ladies’ stories.  How their lives were before the war and how their lives have changed since the war began.  It was fascinating how they created their recipes using their war rations and how some of them used nature to help them spread their rations even further.  Their resourcefulness really shined.  What started out as a competition for these ladies, as they lifted up their dome lids and everyone marveled at their creation hidden underneath, ends in another type of celebration as the winner is selected.   I highly recommend this novel.