Beth and Chrissi Do Kid-Lit- Number The Stars

Number the Stars

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war. It’s now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are “relocated,” Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family. Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen’s life.

Thoughts:

I absolutely adore historical fiction based in World War II. I don’t know why, but I just seem to have a fascination with stories based in that time period. It’s not that they excite me, I don’t mean that. I’m just always utterly compelled by that era. I’m always horrified by the things that happened. ūüė¶ I think it’s really important that children/young adults learn about this time period too which is why I’m thrilled that¬†Number The Stars¬†exists.

Number The Stars centres around the Danish family of Annemarie Johansen. Annemarie and her family helped hide their Jewish friends. This story focuses on how the Danish helped smuggle the Jewish people into Sweden which was a free country, thus saving them from an almost certain death.

This book is just long enough to keep the attention of middle graders. It also has the perfect amount of historical detail. A book aimed at middle grade/teenagers doesn’t need to be bogged down with historical detail. That could potentially turn a lot of readers off. This has the right mix in my opinion. It’s also got some very likeable characters within its pages. Our main protagonist Annemarie is a sweetheart and I loved her friendship with Ellen. I absolutely adored how strong and brave the Danish were and how they looked after their neighbours.

I have to admit, that I didn’t know much about Denmark during World War II, so it was a really educative experience to read this book, even as an adult. I think there’s so much to be enjoyed in this short book. I really did enjoy it!

For Beth’s wonderful review, please check out her review HERE.

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!

Next up in the Beth and Chrissi do Kid-Lit Challenge (December):
Time Travelling With A Hamster- Ross Welford

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Banned Books #53- King & King

Welcome to this month’s edition of Banned Books. This month, Beth and I read¬†King & King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland.

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Synopsis:

Once there lived a lovelorn prince whose mother decreed that he must marry by the end of the summer. So began the search to find the prince’s perfect match and lo and behold……his name was Lee. You are cordially invited to join the merriest, most unexpected wedding of the year. KING & KING is a contemporary tale about finding true love and living happily ever after, sure to woo readers of any age.

First published: 2000
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2003 (source)
Reasons: homosexuality

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: I was surprised to see there was only a single reason for this book being banned. Not because I think there should be multiple reasons for challenging it but because they normally come up with a few reasons, no matter how ridiculous to back up why it should be removed from a certain surrounding, like a library or a school. Now I could POSSIBLY imagine why homosexuality could be used as a reason one hundred years ago (not that I agree with it!) but to use that as a reason in the year 2000. We certainly do not live in the age of enlightenment.

CHRISSI:¬†Like Beth, I can see why this book may have banned possibly way back when…but not 2000. That’s only 18 years ago. Why? It actually makes me really cross that this book is challenged. It’s nothing explicit. Just a gentle love story. The fact that it is challenged gives the impression that there’s something¬†wrong¬†with having homosexual characters. No, just no. That’s telling young children that a homosexual relationship is wrong. What if their parents are homosexual? Argh. It just makes me cross.

How about now?

BETH: Sigh. First of all, why are people challenging picture books for children? Like another of the picture books that we have read in our Banned Books series – And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, books set in this format for the younger reader are often hugely helpful in bringing an important message to younger ears in a way they can understand and find fun. So no, I don’t agree with challenging/banning it because of homosexuality either eighteen years ago or right now. Why should sexuality be a reason to ban a book, no matter what age it is aimed at? Surely that’s more likely to enforce prejudices rather than accept the diversity of people?

CHRISSI:¬†Definitely not. I feel so strongly about this book being challenged. ūüė¶ I think it’s sad that in 2018, this book can’t be accepted by all. There’s nothing vulgar or explicit in this story. It’s such a gentle love story. I would have absolutely no problems reading this to young children. I think it explains that love is love no matter who you end up loving.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: As with other picture books I have read, King & King was quick and easy to read and I really appreciated the message it was trying to get across. The art was gorgeous and I found there was so much to look at, I could imagine children staring at the pages for a while, enjoying all the bright colours on offer. It felt for me like a quirky style where you could almost imagine you were seeing different fabrics – newspaper, cotton, silk etc and I can imagine this would be an interesting experience for youngsters too.

CHRISSI:¬†It’s a gorgeous picture book with a wonderful, heart-warming message. I think it’s a lovely book to read to any child.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

Banned Books #52- Beloved

Welcome to October’s slightly delayed Banned Books post, where this month we read Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Beloved

First published: 1987
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2006 (source)
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: I can imagine this book being quite the force to be reckoned with with it was published in the late 1980’s. Its dark elements, tragic history of black slavery and quirky, fantastical moments make it quite a unique read but as always with many of our banned books, I’m struggling to understand the reasons why it has been challenged. As you may already know by now, I do understand offensive language isn’t for everyone and I respect people’s views on that. In fact, I don’t like to use bad language in my own reviews but that’s just my own personal thing, I don’t mind it when I see it in other bloggers reviews. However, I don’t think that you can challenge/ban a book based on this reason. After all, we can’t help but be exposed to offensive language, no matter how much we may try and avoid it – on the streets, on the television, interacting with strangers in normal, social instances….you get the picture. And for me, there wasn’t a single incident in this novel where I thought the language was extreme enough to warrant this challenge.

CHRISSI:¬†Like Beth, I can see that when this book came out in the late 80’s that it would have been quite a challenging and ground breaking book. Personally, I don’t think there’s any point in banning a book because of offensive language. Goodness knows, I know some of my children in my class hear offensive language so often at home that it is almost like a ‘normal’ word to them. So to have it in literature, it doesn’t bother me too much? I didn’t think anything was overly offensive. Sure, some of the language isn’t what I’d call decent language but it’s not that vile to warrant a challenge in my opinion.

How about now? 

BETH: If I don’t agree with challenging or banning Beloved back in the 1980’s, I certainly don’t agree with banning it now. ESPECIALLY for the reasons noted. Yes, sexual acts are alluded to but it’s never explicit or grossly indecent and as for “unsuited to age group” I wonder who this book is actually marketed for because I was under the impression that this is an adult novel or at least able to be read by young adults? And if it was written for the young adult market, I really don’t think there’s anything in there that the younger generation wouldn’t be able to handle. In fact, it could be a vitally important read for those wanting to learn a little something about African-American slavery.

CHRISSI:¬†I don’t agree with it being challenged now. Language is heard so much more these days that some of the words don’t have as intense of a meaning as they do back then. I’m not sure who this book is aimed at, if it was teenagers I don’t think I’d use it educatively, but for young adults/adults, I really don’t see a problem with it. It touches on some very important moments in history so it SHOULD be read in my opinion.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: I’ve already read two books by Toni Morrison – A Mercy before I became a blogger and The Bluest Eye, (which Chrissi and I covered on our Banned Books series way back in 2015!) the latter of which I thoroughly enjoyed. As a result, I was really looking forward to Beloved, particularly when I discovered the subject matter, a topic which I’m always happy to educate myself on a bit further. I’m sad to say that I have really mixed feelings about this book. There were points when I wanted to rate it four stars, others when I wanted to rate it two stars and generally, I was left somewhere around the middle. There were heart-breaking parts of the narrative and some moments of truly beautiful writing but overall, I was just left feeling a bit confused and underwhelmed. I’m not sure if the more fantastical side of the story really worked for me personally and consequently, my enjoyment of the novel as a whole suffered.

CHRISSI:¬†I have to admit that I didn’t quite ‘get’ this book which does make me feel sad as I know that so many people love Toni Morrison. Like Beth, I did think there were brilliant moments, but on the whole I felt a little flat after reading it. There’s no denying that this is a beautifully written book and I can see why Toni Morrison is a popular author. I just didn’t feel like there was enough going within the story line to keep me enthralled. I am certainly a reader that loves a plot driven story and I feel like¬†Beloved¬†is more character driven. I didn’t connect with the characters like I wanted to and this affected my enjoyment of the story.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Maybe!

CHRISSI: It’s not for me!- I wasn’t blown away by this book. Perhaps my expectations were too high?

Beth and Chrissi Do Kid-Lit- Nightbirds on Nantucket (The Wolves Chronicles #3)

Nightbirds on Nantucket (The Wolves Chronicles, #3)

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Previously reviewed by the same author:

Synopsis:

Shipwrecked Dido Twite, picked up by a whaling ship, finds herself many miles from home and facing deep troubles. Sinister Miss Slighcarp, the governess from Willoughby Chase, makes a reappearance, this time is cahoots with Hanoverian plotters who have a dastardly plan in mind.

Thoughts:

We’ve read the previous two books in this series and I was happy to revisit the series for our October read.

It centres around 10 year old Dido, she wakes up from a ten month coma aboard a whaling ship. When Dido feels better, she is asked by Captain Casket to make friends with his daughter who refuses to leave her cabin. Dido teaches the daughter, Pen, to let go and have fun. Eventually, Pen becomes confident to leave the cabin and have some adventures with Dido. Captain Casket is on a mission to find a pink whale. He leaves Dido and Pen with Aunt Tribulation whilst he searches for the pink whale. Aunt Tribulation is pretty awful forcing the girls to do chores and wait on her. Dido teaches Pen to stand up for herself against Aunt Tribulation!

This series has some fabulous characters and there’s a lot of characters to explore. I think young children will enjoy the main character, Dido. She’s brave and forward. She’s a little bit cocky, but in a loveable way.

I wasn’t a massive fan of this book although I can definitely appreciate that most children will enjoy the adventure. I just wasn’t sold on the moments on the ship. It didn’t capture my attention as much as the previous books have. I felt like it was very over the top and whilst I recognise that this series is a little over the top, I didn’t connect with the story as much as I have in the other two books. That being said,¬†Nightbirds on Nantucket¬†is an adventurous, quick read. I don’t think you necessarily need to have read the previous two books to read this one. You can step into the story and enjoy.

For Beth’s wonderful review, please check out her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:
Yes!

Next up on the Beth and Chrissi do Kid-Lit Challenge (End of November):
Number The Stars- Lois Lowry

Talking About ‘The Tattooist Of Auschwitz’ with Bibliobeth!

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

How did I get it?:
I borrowed it!

Synopsis:

The Tattooist of Auschwitz¬†is based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov, two Slovakian Jews who survived Auschwitz and eventually made their home in Australia. In that terrible place, Lale was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – literally scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. Lale used the infinitesimal freedom of movement that this position awarded him to exchange jewels and money taken from murdered Jews for food to keep others alive. If he had been caught, he would have been killed; many owed him their survival.

There have been many books about the Holocaust – and there will be many more. What makes this one so memorable is Lale Sokolov’s incredible zest for life. He understood exactly what was in store for him and his fellow prisoners, and he was determined to survive – not just to survive but to leave the camp with his dignity and integrity intact, to live his life to the full. Terrible though this story is, it is also a story of hope and of courage. It is also – almost unbelievably – a love story. Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer – it was love at first sight, and he determined not only to survive himself but to ensure that Gita did, too. His story – their story – will make you weep, but you will also find it uplifting. It shows the very best of humanity in the very worst of circumstances.

Like many survivors, Lale and Gita told few people their story after the war. They eventually made their way to Australia, where they raised a son and had a successful life. But when Gita died, Lale felt he could no longer carry the burden of their past alone. He chose to tell his story.

CHRISSI: This book has sensitive content. We’ve both read books about WWII before. How does this book compare to others in its genre?

BETH: I think any book about World War II and the atrocities of The Holocaust is always going to be difficult to read but it’s actually one of my preferred periods of history to read about. I like hard-hitting topics that make me think and appreciate my own life a bit better and generally, whenever I read a book in this genre, I find out something brand new every single time. I thought it was a fascinating story that was all the more poignant for being based on real-life individuals. It was all the more unique for being told from the perspective of a character who was forced to tattoo those terrible numbers on the prisoners in Auschwitz. If I compared it to other books based around the same period like The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as the Boyne but it’s still an excellent read in the genre.

BETH: Had Gita and Lale met in a more conventional way, would they have developed the same kind of relationship? How did their circumstances change the course of their romance?

CHRISSI: Hmm. A really interesting question there. I’m not so sure they would have developed such an intense relationship. I feel that the environment they were in pushed them together and made them feel deeper than they may have done if they had met in a conventional way. They pretty much felt a connection instantly and didn’t really have outside influences that could change the course of their relationship.

CHRISSI: Did this book make more of an impact on you because it was based on a true story from that time?

BETH: For sure. I hadn’t realised when I first read the synopsis that it was based on people that actually existed and when you realise this as a reader, it automatically makes the novel even more moving and impactful. However, I think I was touched most by the extra parts of the novel i.e. the afterwords written by the author after the story ends. In particular, she talks about how she met Lale and what his drive was for getting this story published. To meet the man behind the character was a touch of brilliance and very emotional to read.

BETH: In what ways was Lale a hero? In what ways was he an ordinary man?

CHRISSI: I personally think that any person that experienced the Holocaust is a pretty heroic individual to me. I think Lale’s story is impressive because he tried to help those in need even though he was in a high place compared to others in the camp. I do think that Lale was quite selfless and wanted to improve lives of others that were struggling, despite the fact that it could get him into trouble. As for being an ordinary man? I think he had inner strength like many of us do, it’s just hidden sometimes.

CHRISSI: How did you feel about Lale when he was first introduced, as he arrived in Auschwitz? How did your understanding of him change throughout the novel?

BETH: This sounds terrible to say but I didn’t really like Lale when he was first introduced in the novel. He seemed quite cocksure and I didn’t particularly gel with his attitude towards women. He didn’t have a bad attitude, I hasten to add. In fact, he loved all women unreservedly. However, it was the way in which he was keen to share this with the reader that I didn’t really buy into. As he progresses through the novel, we see how much he suffers, watch him falling in love (even though it was pretty instantaneous and I wasn’t too sure about this part) but it’s his selflessness and determination to make life better for all other prisoners that I really ending up admiring and respecting about his character in the end.

BETH: How does this novel change your perceptions about the Holocaust in particular, and war in general? What implications does this book hold for our own time?

CHRISSI: I’m not so sure that it’s changed my perceptions of the Holocaust. I still think it was an awful, awful time (even though I do like to read about it!) What I did like about this book was that it gave a different, more hopeful approach. The fact that Lale went above and beyond for those suffering really made my heart happy. I love acts of kindness. I certainly think we could all learn from those acts of kindness that were carried out in recent times.

CHRISSI: Discuss some of the small acts of humanity carried out by individuals in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. How did these small acts of kindness have greater implications?

BETH: I don’t think any of us in the present time can ever imagine what it was like to be in a Nazi concentration camp and how difficult and brutal the conditions were for the prisoners. One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel was the risk certain individuals took, especially considering that they could have lost their own lives in the process just to make another person more comfortable or safe. The viciousness of the German guards never fails to shock and appal me but it’s through these tiny acts of kindness that you start to see hope for the human race in the future. It’s amazing how such tiny things can make a world of difference to someone suffering and it was truly heart-warming.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I think so. I did enjoy the author’s writing style and I tore through it!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: Yes! 3.5 stars

CHRISSI: Yes! 3.5 stars

Talking About ‘Three Things About Elsie’ with Bibliobeth!

Three Things About Elsie

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Previously reviewed by the same author:
The Trouble With Goats and Sheep

Synopsis:

There are three things you should know about Elsie.
The first thing is that she’s my best friend.
The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.
And the third thing… might take a little bit more explaining.

84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?

From the author of THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP, this book will teach you many things, but here are three of them:
1) The fine threads of humanity will connect us all forever.
2) There is so very much more to anyone than the worst thing they have ever done.
3) Even the smallest life can leave the loudest echo.

CHRISSI: We both read The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by the same author. How do you think this book compared?

BETH: I really enjoyed The Trouble With Goats and Sheep but for some reason, it wasn’t a five star read for me like I know it was for so many other readers. I wasn’t expecting to be completely blown away by Three Things About Elsie at all. I knew I would probably enjoy it as I thought with her first novel, Joanna Cannon had a very engaging writing style and wrote fantastic characters but I still wasn’t prepared for how much I would end up enjoying this. It was an emotional. poignant and stellar piece of fiction that had a huge impact on me.

BETH: Without spoilers, how fitting did you think the title of this book was?

CHRISSI: I thought it was a very fitting title to the story. Throughout the story, we know two things about Elsie and there’s something else about her too…which I can’t spoil. I think the title was a good match and there was lots of reference to it within the story which was a lovely touch.

CHRISSI: What feelings did this book evoke for you?

BETH: SO many feelings. In her first book, Joanna Cannon chose to focus on two young girls as protagonists, with Elsie she has gone to the other end of the spectrum and we see the lives of Florence, Elsie, Jack and many others in a retirement home. I loved the relationship between Florence and Elsie in particular but also liked that this novel had a hint of a mystery about it regarding the re-emergence of a character from their past and why it evokes such feelings of fear in Florence as a result. This novel also touches on memory loss and dementia which was quite hard to read about and heart-breaking in points but ultimately, I think the author handled it very sensitively and it was an intensely moving read for me.

BETH: Did Florence’s failing memory change your understanding of events at Cherry Tree? Does it make her a less reliable narrator?

CHRISSI: I do think that Florence’s failing memory did make her a less reliable narrator for sure. I wasn’t sure if she was talking to herself, remembering things wrong or hiding secrets that she wanted to keep locked away. The story really did unravel slowly, with a very mysterious element, it took me a while to understand what was going on.

CHRISSI: Did you feel engaged with the story all the way through?

BETH: I honestly did. I adored the way in which we got little throwbacks to Flo and Elsie’s past as the mystery of the new resident at the retirement home continues to unravel but I think my favourite parts about this novel were the little pearls of wisdom that Joanna Cannon throws in, some of which really spoke to me on a personal level and I even tweeted about, I felt so strongly at the time! For example: “Sometimes you go through an experience in life that slices into the very bones of who you are, and two different versions of yourself will always sit either side of it like bookends.”

BETH: What do you think makes Florence ultimately realise that she HAS lived an extraordinary life, in the end?

CHRISSI:¬†I think when Florence is lying reminiscing about what she does remember of her life, her memories with Elsie make her realise that her life has been quite remarkable. She is forced to think of secrets that she’s kept hidden. It is her interactions with Elsie that makes her think about her life and all of the events that have happened to her.

CHRISSI: Did you have a favourite character? If so, who?

BETH: I loved all the characters to be honest, even the ones who were meant to have a more malevolent side to them! Obviously, I had a soft spot for our leading lady Florence and often wanted to be there having a chat, a cup of tea and some Battenberg cake with her but I also really enjoyed the character of Jack who is so supportive to Flo that it made my heart burst a little bit. Handy Simon is also a fabulous character and I found myself really rooting for him to find happiness all the way through the novel.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I’m not sure. Personally, I don’t think I gel with this author’s writing style. It’s nothing against Joanna Cannon’s writing. I can see and appreciate that she’s a talented writer. It just doesn’t work for me. I found this book to be a little drawn out and I lost interest in it. Don’t get me wrong, there were some lovely moments within this story and some very quotable moments. I was extremely busy when I was reading it (so may not have invested as much in it as I wanted to) and I enjoy a faster paced story. I feel really bad because I know so many people love this book. However, we can’t love them all and the blogosphere would be very boring if we all agreed.

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: Without a doubt!

CHRISSI: Yes!

Banned Books #51- Taming The Star Runner

Welcome to this month’s edition of Banned Books. This month we read¬†Taming The Star Runner¬†by S.E. Hinton.

Taming the Star Runner

Taming The Star Runner by S.E. Hinton
First published: 1988
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2002 (source)
Reasons: offensive language

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: As one of the older releases on our list this year, you might hope that opinions and prejudices about certain things in books diminish as we become more enlightened as a society. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. I think there are always going to be a group of individuals that are easily offended, over-protective of children’s sensitivities or sometimes, they just want something to complain about. There could be valid reasons for monitoring children’s reading, within reason, if they may be reading something a bit too adult for them and this is a decision parents and librarians can make but challenging/banning books for a silly reason? I don’t agree with that at all. Back in 1988, our use of profanity wasn’t that different from what it is right now so I don’t think the reason for challenging this book was the right one either back then or now.

CHRISSI:¬†I really don’t understand the reasons why this book is banned. Offensive language? Hm. Yes, there is some bad language in the story, but nothing worse than children might hear on TV, from peers or even from parents. It wasn’t as if this book was written in a time where bad language wasn’t used as frequently as now. I actually thought it might have been the drug mention that tipped this one into a banned/challenged book, but I was wrong.

How about now?

BETH: The reasons for challenging/banning a book ALWAYS manage to surprise me and that’s one of the reasons why I don’t look at the reason until I’m writing this review so that I can try and guess what might be so offensive myself. In Taming The Star Runner, I thought – “Okay, they might have a problem with underage teenage drinking, the smoking and the incidence of violence in the novel.” Then I went to the website (link above) so certain I was right and saw one reason only – offensive language. I just can’t call this anymore, it’s far too unpredictable! As the book was challenged in 2002, which feels relatively recently in my eyes it’s obvious some people will pick on anything and have issues with the smallest things. I don’t remember any incidents of offensive language in this novel but if there was, I feel like it was very minor? Furthermore, I think this is a book aimed at the young adult market who would probably be hearing a lot worse language in everyday life than what they read in this book!

CHRISSI:¬†I have to agree with Beth, there are far worse incidences of language in everyday life than in this book. It’s actually a bit of a joke for me, to know that this is challenged due to its language. Really?! Children/young adults here much worse than what was in this book. *sigh* I feel like most of the books that we read have ridiculous reasons for banning a book. I feel like we need to be more open minded and accepting that children/young adults are exposed to much worse things than in some of these challenged choices.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: I enjoyed it for the most part. I thought it was an engaging story with an interesting male lead who was so broken at the start of the narrative that I was constantly compelled to read on, invested in his journey to become a writer and deal with his personal issues. I have to admit, I didn’t like the “horsey” bits as much but I think this is a personal preference, I’m not really a “horsey” girl. I feel like the story would have been just as good without the inclusion of Star Runner but I do understand why he was there, as the animal representation of Travis.

CHRISSI:¬†I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would. It didn’t take me long to read at all and I was interested enough in the story to keep turning the pages. Again, like Beth, I wasn’t keen on the horse elements of this story. I’m not a horse fan.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Probably!

CHRISSI: Yes!