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When We Were Young and Brave–kindness in the midst of despair
When We Were Young and Brave
by Hazel Gaynor
During our current tumultuous times, When We Were Young and Brave was somewhat of a difficult read for me, but I’m glad it is now a part of my personal reading journey. Hazel Gaynor’s latest book relates a fictional version of the events following Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor as they play out for the students and teachers at the China Inland Mission School in Chefoo, China. With Japan’s invasion of China, the Japanese seize and occupy the school, later interning the residents in the much larger prison camp known as the Weihsien Civilian Assembly Center where sanitation facilities are disgusting and meals are meager, nutritionally inadequate for growing children, and almost inedible. Despite the harsh conditions, the teachers protect the children as best they can while rallying them with insistence on routines, cleanliness, and a hearty “chin up” attitude. Of particular note is the role of their Girl Guide troop and standards that help the students in maintaining a positive outlook.
The last sections of the book, “Liberation” and “Remembrance,” are remarkable in the beauty of the skillful writing that describes the impact of the American liberation on the camp residents. They gain relief from the fears that haunted them daily, but endure the substitution of new anxieties and questions for the future. Where will they go and what will they do? Is anyone waiting for them at home?
The story is told by alternating narrators. Elspeth is a competent, well-organized, and kind teacher who has a special motherly feeling for Nancy, the daughter of missionaries in China. Their relationship is always teacher and student, but as months of internment become years, Elspeth takes on increasingly more of the commitment for safe care that she made to Nancy’s mother as they departed by boat to sail to the school, both as first-timers. We view their ordeals from both Elspeth’s and Nancy’s points of view.
There are a lot of themes in the book including resilience, relationships, releasing the past, and looking to the future. Symbolism is also important in the kingfisher that becomes the emblem of the new Girl Guide patrol and the sunflower which holds a special meaning for teacher and students.
The characters emerge as three dimensional figures as they are well developed. Realism comes into play with descriptions of the harsh conditions; no one’s story is fairytale like or even positive. The setting is well-executed with vivid word pictures. As the Chinese workers slosh through the camp, the odor of the filth of “honey-pot” buckets they pull from the latrines makes an unforgettable olfactory experience. There are also more pleasant descriptions of the beauty outside the camp, but glimpses are rare for those interned. The last two sections make the book a winner for me, but the first sections are also well written and essential to the success of this historical novel.
Category: Historical Fiction
Notes: There is a very informative section at the end of the book that describes the author’s research and thought processes and some historical background. The author has also included a brief history of the Girl Guides as that organization plays an important role in the girls’ lives. Other additions are a list of books and websites for further reading, including original source documents found at weihsien-paintings.org, and some questions for discussion.
Publication: October 6, 2020—Harper Collins
When she was cross, Miss Kent spoke in a way that reminded me of brittle twigs snapping underfoot on autumn walks. I felt my cheeks go red. Without giving me a ticking-off, she’d done exactly that.
I knew the smile she gave us that morning was the sort of “we must be brave” smile adults use when they’re trying to pretend something awful isn’t happening.
But, as I’d come to realize about life during a war, nothing stayed the same for long. Just when you thought you’d adjusted and adapted and found a way to cope, the situation changed.
My Teacher’s Not Here!–read this to your class!
My Teacher’s Not Here!
written by Lana Button
illustrated by Christine Battuz
My Teacher’s Not Here! is an endearing story designed to help children adapt to change, particularly the fear of a substitute teacher in the early childhood years. In so many cases, teachers become substitute parents and much more as they guide twenty or more students through a specially designed routine and know the needs of each student.
The teachers and children in this book are adorably depicted as a variety of animals. The story is told in predictable rhyming patterns from the viewpoint of a cute, apprehensive kitten. Their loving teacher has left a note for the children saying she is counting on them to help Mr. Omar (a giraffe), and so the little kitty overcomes her fears and does everything she can to be helpful.
I highly recommend this book for reading to a classroom. It will help allay anxieties and prepare students for that inevitable time when the teacher will be absent. Although the illustrations depict a preschool classroom, students in K-2 would also enjoy the message and the rhymes.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kids Can Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Ages 4-8
Publication: April 3, 2018—Kids Can Press
Smiling Miss Seabrooke should be here to meet me.
But my teacher is missing and NOT here to greet me.
Someone is standing
in MY teacher’s spot.
He’s ginormously TALL.
Miss Seabrooke is not.
Mother’s Day, Muffins, and Murder–a cozy teachers will love
Mother’s Day, Muffins, and Murder
by Sara Rosett
Mother’s Day, Muffins, and Murder is a thematic shoe-in for me, and it surpassed my expectations. The setting is Georgia, but the author grew up in and currently lives in Texas. The action occurs at an elementary school which is the unlikely scene of a murder. Except for the murder and mayhem, this could have been the elementary school I taught at for a few years in Leander, Texas. The details are perfect for a middle class school where parent participation is high, students wear an assigned color T-shirt for field day, and the Teacher Appreciation Week is five days of food, small gifts, and recognition for hard-working, appreciated teachers.
The main character is Ellie Avery, an Air Force wife, mother of two children, part-time organizing consultant, and very active volunteer at her children’s neighborhood school. The amiable Ellie finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. She tries not to actively involve herself, but others look to her for help because of previous associations with a murder. Later, someone takes the threat to her doorstep, potentially endangering Ellie and her children.
This mystery is a fun, “don’t put me down” kind of read. The plot has twists and turns that keep the reader engaged and wanting more. The characters are interesting and there is a subplot concerning a competing organizer in town which enhances the appeal. If you like cozy mysteries, you will love Mother’s Day, Muffins, and Murder.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #10 in the Ellie Avery Mystery Series, also called the Mom Zone Series. I enjoyed it as a standalone.
2. The book also includes “Organizing Tips for PTA Moms” placed at the end of some chapters so as not to be intrusive into the storyline. They are practical and are approved by this former teacher who also volunteered with my school’s Parent/Teacher Organization.
Publication: March 28, 2017–Kensington Books
“Yes, that is my favorite way to relax, supervising twenty-two eight-year-olds hyped up on sugar at eight in the morning.”
I wished the rest of the school year could be more like the end of the year. The end of the year–when the standardized tests were over–was when the kids got to do all the fun stuff, instead of studying for the standardized tests. Why couldn’t the kids do more hands-on activities like this throughout the year?
We rush through our days so quickly and have so many little rituals that we do, day in and day out, but then a moment like that last day of school comes along. It’s a milestone that makes a definite break in the continuum and emphasizes that one phase is ending and another beginning.
Another Way to Help Teachers
Here’s a thoughtful way for book lovers to help teachers and their students.
Ritter Ames--USA TODAY Bestselling Author of the Bodies of Art Mysteries & Organized Mysteries
We know teachers are the lifeblood of our education system. However, each year they must spend more out of their own pockets for classroom supplies they cannot get from schools’ depleting budgets. In the past, I’ve given teachers gift cards to office supply stores to help, but last week I found another way I’d never thought of before. Our small town has a wonderful and thoughtful used bookstore. I turned in a bunch of books and received an $80 credit for my efforts–but I’m not going to buy any books. Instead, I’ve turned over my credit to any of the county’s teachers who’ve signed up to receive children’s fiction books for their classrooms.
So, rather than refilling my bookshelves, my credit will help fill classroom libraries for students instead. I can’t think of a better way to promote reading for young people. Yes, I could have bought books and donated…
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