Author: Mariko Nagai
My rating: 5 of 5
Mina Tagawa was born in the U.S. She sees herself as an American just as surely as her best friend Jamie Gilmore is American. Sure, her family speaks both English and Japanese in the home, eats miso soup as well as potatoes, it’s never mattered. Until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 and suddenly everyone in her hometown looks at her like she’s the enemy. Until she and her family are forced from their homes into camps like war criminals in their own country.
Dust of Eden was a hard book to read. I can only imagine how hard it was to write. I feel that Mariko Nagai chose a very important but difficult topic in depicting the internment camps the government forced many Japanese Americans into during the second World War. And I do feel that she handled this topic with grace and respect. Mina is a beautiful character, and her loving family and supportive friend Jamie do a lot to soften the story without diminishing the unfairness and wrongness of the situation. The entire story is written in verse from Mina’s perspective, and Nagai’s poetry is truly beautiful and moving–a style that reminds me greatly of Helen Frost’s work in that it is poetic and elegant without ever stooping to being rhyme-y or cheap. I ended up crying through a large portion of the book; it’s that sort of story. I found Dust of Eden in the children’s section, and it’s appropriate for younger readers although I would recommend an adult reading the story first and being available to discuss it. But this is a book that breaks age barriers and speaks an important memory to adult readers as well.
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5
Like many other children in 1939, Vivian Smith is on her way to the countryside to stay with her cousin while the bombing is going on in London. Only, she never quite makes it to meet her cousin. At the train station in the country, she is abducted by two boys who snatch her away (through a wall in the train station, no less) into what might as well be another world: Time City, a place set apart from time and ordained to govern over it. Only, things are going wrong, and the two boys, Jonathan and Sam, heard rumor that the Lady of the City–Vivian Smith–was going to be at that train station in 1939, so the went to get her. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that they have the wrong Vivian Smith. But they can’t just take our Vivian back to her own time, not now that she’s seen the City. So Jonathan, who thinks himself very clever, thinks up a plan to pass her off as a cousin of his, visiting from history (i.e., every time that isn’t Time City). Which is all a bit much, but Vivian’s quick to adapt. Unfortunately, they’re still left with that small, nagging problem of all Time coming to pieces around them. . . .
I love stories about time travel, and I absolutely adore Diana Wynne Jones’s writing, so I suppose I was pretty much fated to enjoy A Tale of Time City. It’s wonderful! And I don’t just mean that in the sense of it’s being “great” or “amazing”–it’s full of all sorts of wonders that surprise the reader at every turn. If I could do so and return safely home, I would love to get to tour Time City myself. I’d love to meet Vivian, too. She’s the perfect balance of a credible but remarkably spunky girl. Not to mention inordinately adaptable! She would stand out more but for the fact that the whole book is just full of lively, interesting people. And, as is so typical with Jones’s books, the plot is intriguing from beginning to end. The pacing is excellent, drawing the reader along comfortably but with enough ease to enjoy the setting and the characters as you go. And there are certainly surprises at the end, but ones that just seem to fit perfectly once you encounter them, like they were inevitably but you just never realized it. I would give A Tale of Time City high recommendations, especially to those who love a good fantasy and to those who are intrigued by the idea of time itself–because it’s just fascinating, isn’t it?
Author: E.L. Konigsburg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When Amedeo moves to the suburbs for his mom’s work, he’s not really sure what to expect; everything’s so different from the city life he’s used to. What he is sure about is that he wants an adventure–to discover something that’s been hidden, some sort of treasure. As he helps his new best friend William Wilcox and his mom Mrs. Wilcox out, he gets the opportunity he’s been waiting for. These three are helping Amedeo’s eccentric, flamboyant neighbor, Mrs. Zender, get ready to move, pricing and sorting all the items she can’t take with her. There’s sure to be something interesting buried among all the paraphernalia of the once-wealthy, right? And regardless of the outcome, Amedeo is making sound friendships in his new home and experiencing a kind of life he’s never before imagined.
I admire E. L. Konigsburg’s writing deeply. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler has been a favorite of mine ever since I was in elementary school, and I feel that The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World well lives up to the standard. It’s full of life and a keen observation of character. The people involved are unique and interesting–full of unexpected quirks, yet completely unassuming and natural in the way they’re written. I believe I could meet any of them on the street, they’re that sort of character, in the best sense. Furthermore, as with so many of Konigsburg’s books, this story places a significant emphasis on art–in this case the Modern, or Degenerate, Art that was spurned by the Nazis during the second World War. The connections drawn between art, history, humanity, and the present day are tasteful, touching, and completely credible. I was truly impressed. I think my only warning regarding this book is that, while it is definitely a children’s book (the main character’s something like 10), it doesn’t artificially protect readers from things like swearing, violence, and homosexuality; it’s beautifully, painfully honest, but in a way that protective parents might find problematic. Whatever. I absolutely give high recommendations to The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World for readers young and old.
Note: This book is connected to Konigsburg’s other book The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. You certainly don’t have to have read that one to enjoy The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World, but it’s a neat extra for those who have.
Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toshio Suzuki/Music by Joe Hisaishi
Ever since he was young, Jiro Horikoshi has dreamed of the sky and the aircraft that inhabit it so gracefully. He would have loved to be a pilot, but due to his poor eyesight, that dream would never come to pass. Realizing this early on, he takes a note from his hero, the Italian airplane designer Caproni, and pursues a career in aircraft design. A combination of innate talent and unflagging work keep him on the path, designing better and better planes, always pursuing the ideal craft that exists only in his dreams.
Over the years, I have come to expect great things from Studio Ghibli, and from Hayao Miyazaki in particular–and I must say The Wind Rises is something special indeed. It is, at its core, nearly a documentary on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero–a plane used by Japan during the second World War. Yet Miyazaki transforms this young man’s life story into something beautiful and spectacular. Jiro deals, throughout the story, with the impossible question: would you pursue your dreams, even knowing what you create may be used in war, or would you live in a world where you abandon your dreams and refuse to create? The telling of the story itself is fascinating–you are given snapshots of various important events in the life of Horikoshi, but each is filled out in great detail, enough to give a good idea of who the characters are. I love that Miyazaki included Jiro’s brief, fateful relationship with Nahoko his beautiful, sickly wife (although I find Nahoko herself a strikingly Mamoru Hosoda sort of heroine). All the aircraft that are included only serve to emphasize that this is a Hayao Miyazaki movie–they’re kind of his trademark. The art is classic Studio Ghibli–breathtakingly beautiful. I think the inclusion of certain rather surreal elements, particularly in Jiro’s dreams, adds a lot to the story as well. I think my favorite Miyazaki movies will always be his fantasies like Spirited Away and Howl, but The Wind Rises is pretty incredible as well–you should check it out, especially if you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli or of older planes.
Author: Ransom Riggs
Ever since he was little, Jacob has been regaled with his grandfather’s stories of being pursued by monsters and finding refuge on a remote Welsh island with a bird and a collection of exceedingly unusual children–he even had seemingly impossible photographs to substantiate his stories. Of course, Jacob realized as he got older that the photos had to be fakes and the stories were figurative–a way of discussing the horror of being a Jewish child pursued by the Nazis and driven to find refuge in a foreign land. Still, when his grandfather dies suspiciously, Jacob finds himself haunted by the old man’s dying words–to the extent that he is driven to journey to his grandfather’s Welsh isle in hopes of discovering the truth.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an eerie, thrilling, eccentric story . . . something of a Twilight Zone meets Gakuen Alice meets Lovecraft meets Peter Pan, to be honest. It’s part chilling thriller, part whimsical fantasy, part WWII historical fiction, with some achingly sweet romance thrown in–a nice mix, if unusual in the extreme. The characters are well crafted and fit nicely in the plot; I found myself particularly drawn to the invisible Millard with his easygoing yet slightly OCD personality. The inclusion of numerous extraordinary old photographs–or one might say rather , the outpouring of the story from said photos–makes an already intriguing book quite outstanding. My one complaint is that it has a cliffhanger ending–you’ll have to read the following volume(s) to get any kind of satisfactory conclusion. Still, I think I’d generally recommend Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to anyone who enjoys thrillers and who is okay with a fantasy element in the mix.
Author: Karen Hesse
Illustrator: Wendy Watson
This picture books is a beautiful, touching story of a young Jewish girl living in hiding outside the Ghetto in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. She and her older sister want to smuggle food into their friends still trapped inside the Ghetto, but the Gestapo is using dogs to sniff out any food brought into the area. And so, the girl devises a brilliant, brave plan: they put a number of street cats, all of whom are her dear friends, into baskets and bags and let them out at the checkpoint to distract the dogs, allowing them to get the needed food in to their friends.
The Cats in Krasinski Square is a story as brave and touching as its young heroine. Basing her story on an actual historical event, Karen Hesse describes a WWII story that is both aching and sweet. It doesn’t gloss over the atrocities of that time, but it shows a slice of that era that even younger children could grasp. The illustrations are lovely–clearly showing the darkness of the place, yet soft and sweet and homey at places. The Cats in Krasinski Square is a touching story for audiences of all ages, although I would recommend parental involvement and conversation for younger children–I think it’s a great place to start an intentional conversation with them.