Sunday, November 30, 2008


Thunderstruck is Erik Larson's most recent book. Previously, he has written among others, The Devil in the White City, which I have not read, and Isaac's Storm, which I have read and which I highly recommend to anyone interested in history and/or natural disasters.

I similarly recommend Thunderstruck. Larson adopts a particular story-telling stratagem which does take a little getting used to, but it does work in the end. He has two stories to tell, one of the development of wireless telegraphy by Guglielmo Marconi and the second of a mild mannered wife murderer, Dr. Hawley Crippen. Larson tells these two stories as separate but interleaved tales and for the first half of the book this is a little distracting but as you approach midway, the logical connection becomes more compelling. It works. Larson is a storyteller in the old fashioned, strong narrative style of Walter Lord.

I have had this book for some while, repining in various stacks around the house. I kept putting off reading it because I have in the past read two, three or maybe even four chapter length accounts of Dr. Crippen's crime and I knew of its significance in terms of wireless telegraphy. I am glad I did eventually pick up Thunderstruck and begin reading though. Larson is a masterful story-teller and brings to life this fascinating period of technological progress and social change. A sample paragraph of his very evocative writing style:

Despite the war Hawley enjoyed a childhood of privilege. He grew up in a house at 66 North Monroe, one block north of Chicago Street, at the edge of an avenue columned with straight-trunked trees having canopies as dense and green as broccoli. In summer sunlight filtered to the ground and left a paisley of blue shadow that cooled the mind as well as the air.

Frontiersman and Native American Interactions

American children's literature is rich in stories about the interaction between early settlers/pioneers and the Native American peoples already in place. What makes this arena of storytelling so fascinating is that we have not collectively yet settled on a narrative structure. We don't know how the story goes or even how we want it to go.

It is easy in hindsight to believe that our present is the ineluctable result of the past. It did not appear so to those at the time though. Some of our most popular narratives, current and recent past, are simply poor didactic fictions crafted from an inability to imagine what life was like then.

Folktales, biblical stories and classical texts were more deeply and pervasively known then than now and helped shape an interpretation of all new encounters. On the other hand, current information of what was going on around them was notably sparse and slow to disseminate. In fact, the population of knowledge was pretty much just the opposite of today when one can count less and less on people sharing a common literary or cultural knowledge but can anticipate much greater awareness of the score of last night's game or the latest twist in some Hollywood celebrity's love life. We bring to our view of people of the past an expectation that we know how they thought and judge them by our current standards without allowing for our privileged position of knowing how particular stories ended.

In the very earliest days of the settlement of the America's there was a tendency to demonize Native Americans. They were the element out there beyond the settled boundaries where danger lurked. They raided settlements, butchered settlers and carried off women and children. They were savage and unpredictable.

Later, by the middle of the last century, these savage devils had morphed in popular representation into two dimensional characters in head-dresses and smoking peace-pipes. No longer relevant or a present danger, they were not represented in a malicious way or demonized; simply dismissed as quixotic, amusing, and irrelevant.

In the past twenty-five years, this imaging has morphed yet again, this time, either intentionally or accidentally, representing Native Americans as victims of a concerted ethnic cleansing. There is a greater inclination to attempt to understand this period of history from the Native American perspective, which is a worthwhile counterbalance to what came before which was mostly from the pioneers' perspective. It is ironic, though, that this contemporary storytelling is as ethnically insensitive and stereotyping as its predecessors but equally blind to that fact. In the modern telling, the Native Americans still lack agency - the capacity to demonstrate that they are individuals responsible for themselves and capable of crafting a life of dignity that may or may not, like everyone else, be marked with the outward trimmings of success.

It is all in how you view things. Most people are now aware that Leif Ericson and other Vikings made it to North America in 1000 AD and established an early, albeit in the event, temporary, settlement in Newfoundland. In fact, temporary settlements scattered along the northwestern coast of Canada continued for more than a decade before contact eventually dwindled away. While there were many likely reasons that this initial European discovery of and early settlement in North America failed, one significant reason is clear from the Vikings own writings; the resistance of the native skraelings, Native Americans. I think most people simply dismiss this first interaction as a simple false-start of settlement by Northern Europeans and think no further of it. The other way of considering this particular historical interlude is to view it as the first successful defeat of a new migratory invasion into North America. The Vikings were at the tail end of horrendously long "supply" line of several thousand miles. The technology differential between Native Americans and Europeans was not as dramatically wide in 1000 as it would be in 1500. Never-the-less, the Vikings were no pushovers. Viking raids, conquests and settlements extended over much of Europe (the British Isles, Russia, France, Germany, Poland, into Spain, etc.). The resistance and effective casting out of the Viking invaders from North America is a little recognized accomplishment in the pioneer history of North America.

The later discovery and settlement of North America by Europeans was a messy and uncoordinated affair with many cultures (on the European side) encountering many cultures (on the Native American side) and elements within each group seeking to align with elements of the other to wrest advantage over their traditional enemies: British seeking alliances with Native American tribes to contest incursions by the French and vice versa. Likewise between the British and the Spanish. Various elements of the Algonquin tribes sought alliances with the British against other traditional Native American tribes. Everyone viewed the other players as pawns to continue the battles with which they were already familiar.

Further, there was the complication of not only nationality but religion also. Protestants versus Catholics in this New World and even sect against sect such as Protestant Calvinists versus Church of England Protestants. The interaction between Plains Indians and settlers was not simply that between Native Americans and Europeans but the still more ancient contest between nomads and farmers.

Native Americans were decimated by the hidden enemy of new pathogens introduced into the continent by the new arrivals: smallpox, tuberculosis, diphtheria, cholera, measles, etc. all took their massive toll. The technological gap was a gulf this time around compared to the 1000s. The numbers were different too - and they had to be for history to have taken the course it took.

We too quickly forget the simple numbers. Mortality rates of 10-30% per voyage by the early settlers were not unusual. Annual mortality rates in most settlements were 30-70% in the early years. Native American tribes, devastated as they were by diseases, were frighteningly effective in their early and continued resistance. They demonstrated remarkable flexibility in trying to navigate the tumultuous political waters created by the new invaders. The Indian Massacre of 1622 (resurrected in Ivan Noel Hume's book, Martin's Hundred), fifteen years after the settlement of Jamestown, repulsed English settlement in the vicinity for another generation.

King Phillip's War in 1675, effectively a coordinated alliance between numerous previously contentious Native American tribes to reverse the tide of immigration, was disastrous for both sides, but might easily have succeeded given slightly different circumstances. Native American raids on New England settlements were still occurring with some regularity into the middle 1700s.

Similarly, we lose perspective on time as we move west. Custer's Last Stand is so iconic that it is hard to realize that it occurred in the lifetime of grandparents of people alive today. The last Native American to come out of the hills, Ishi, did so as recently as 1911.

The interactions between Native Americans and Pioneers/Frontiersmen were complex and occurred in vastly different circumstances and time periods. When you begin thinking about it, we have all sorts of sub-narratives including:

* The almost completely overlooked but frequently fascinating interactions of Native Americans and the Spanish in the 1500 -1700s in the Southeast and Southwest

* The traditional New England fighting and trading in the 1600 and 1700s

* The cooperative but delicately contentious interactions of the mountain men and fur traders in the 1700s

* The contending but respectful foes a la Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett in the 1700 and 1800s

* The often overlooked frontiers and settlers of the Midwest in the 1700 and 1800s and,

* All those corresponding interactions in Canada, Mexico and Central and South America.

The history of the world is one of different groups of people intruding themselves for various reasons into the territories of others. The consequences of those intrusions span the spectrum of obliteration of the invader or the invaded, the establishment of both groups in some tense but stable symbiosis, the peaceful absorption of one group by the other (it not always being predictable as to which will occur; think of the successfully conquering Vandals in Spain and North Africa or the Normans in Britain, each militarily successful but each being subsequently subsumed by their conquered population), etc. The globe is a big place and the corners only finally got filled up in the past five hundred years or so (with the Maoris settling in New Zealand in the fourteen hundreds as being perhaps the last significant land mass to be reached.)

The world has been filled for centuries with contiguous migrations within continents but that is a somewhat different affair. The cultural, technological, political, economic, and biological (pathogens) differences are more a matter of degree than of kind when the migration is from within a confined area. The less familiar and difficult story to tell is that more recent one of the past five hundred years where migration has been freed from contiguous movements of people to the transformative shifts in populations from continent to continent and where the gulf of differences can be so great. We have some fascinating object lessons out there such as Abyssinia, Lesotho and the Kingdoms of Swaziland and of Thailand all managing to maintain their independence in the face of European colonization when others all around fell. We have seen some migrations (Europe into North America, South America and Australasia) succeed while corresponding movements into Africa and South Asia failed.

This is fascinating material from an historical and sociological perspective. Fascinating, in part, because we still don't know quite what to make of it. Who were the "good" guys, who were the "bad"?

So we continue to struggle collectively to figure out what kind of story to tell our children of our own past. We now know that European settlement into North America succeeded at the expense of the Native Americans but it was not always obvious that it would succeed and many had reason to believe that it couldn't succeed.

The three major trends of describing Native Americans (and particularly their interactions with pioneers), characterized as demonization, shallow stereotyping and victimization, all have deep flaws, most especially that they do not capture anywhere near the diversity and particularity of those interactions.

Below are a number of stories in which we hope a flavor of some of that variety of experience comes through. Reading about particular periods such as Thanksgiving, Westward Expansion, the Colonial Period, all have elements that capture some of the complex interactions between pioneers/frontiersman and Native Americans. This booklist is an attempt to gather some of that wide range into a single place to give a bit of the feel of complexity that actually existed.

Let us know which books you might recommend for children to learn about and experience through their imagination this particularly fascinating event.

Picture Books

A Picture Book of Sacagawea by David A. Adler and illustrated by Dan Brown Suggested

Children of the Wild West by Russell Freedman

This Land Is My Land by George Littlechild Suggested

Independent Reader

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink Highly Recommended

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder Highly Recommended

Paddle to the Sea by Holling C. Holling Recommended

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare Recommended

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George Recommended

Pocahontas by Joseph Bruchac Recommended

Geronimo by Joseph Bruchac Suggested

Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla Suggested

Morning Girl by Michael Dorris Suggested

Guests by Michael Dorris Suggested

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich Suggested

The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich Suggested

The Life and Death of Crazy Horse by Russell Freedman and photographs by Amos Bad Heart Bull Suggested

Indian Chiefs by Russell Freedman Suggested

The Talking Earth by Jean Craighead George Suggested

Death of the Iron Horse by Paul Goble Suggested

The Ledgerbook of Thomas Blue Eagle by Gay Matthaei and Jewel Grutman Suggested

Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw Suggested

Rachel's Journal by Marissa Moss Suggested

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell & Ted (ILT) Lewin Suggested

Streams to the River, River to the Sea by Scott O'Dell Suggested

Standing in the Light by Mary Pope Osborne Suggested

Mr. Tucket by Gary Paulsen Suggested

Sequoyah by James Rumford Suggested

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith Suggested

Trappers & Mountain Men by Anastasia Suen Recommendation

Bound for Oregon by Jean Van Leeuwen and photographs by James Watling & James Suggested

Night of the Full Moon by Gloria Whelan and illustrated by Leslie Bowman and Tony Meers Suggested

Young Adult

The Unredeemed Captive by John Demos
Highly Recommended

A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz Recommended

Give Your Heart to the Hawks by Winfred Blevins Suggested

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brown Suggested

Jim Thorpe, Original All-American by Joseph Bruchac Suggested

Across America on an Emigrant Train by Jim Murphy Suggested

Native American Testimony edited by Peter Nabokov Suggested

Crooked River by Shelley Pearsall Suggested

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Edward Eager

Born 1911 in Toledo, Ohio

Died October 23, 1964 in Stamford, Connecticut

Edward Eager is a most peculiar assortment of contradictions and surprises. His brief, decade-long span of writing children's books was almost a side line to his real calling, writing for the theater and yet it is for his children's books for which he is remembered. His writing style was inspired by Edith Nesbit and while in some ways he exceeds his idealized model, he never outshines her. The plots of his books center around perfectly ordinary children caught in extraordinary situations. His books remain among the favorites of 3rd-7th graders even fifty years after they were written and were well regarded on their initial publications but have never received any major awards.

Eager was born in 1911 in Toledo, Ohio where he lived for much of his childhood with a brief interlude in Australia and in later childhood a move to Maryland. Summers were spent in Indiana in the country. He attended Harvard University but became a critically successful playwright/lyricist while still a student with the production of his first play, Pudding Full of Plums, in Cambridge. Inspired by this success, he left university without a degree to pursue the bright lights of Broadway and moved to New York City.

He married his childhood sweetheart, Jane Eberly, and they had a single son, Fritz. With a young child, and while continuing to be commercially successful writing plays, lyrics, screenplays for television and radio, etc., the Eager family moved to New Canaan, Connecticut where Eager was able to introduce his son to the wildlife and nature that he had himself so enjoyed as a child.

It was through reading to his son Fritz that Eager took it into his mind to write children's books. His first book, Red Head, came out in 1951, and was a collection of poetry (Fritz was a red head). It was followed in 1952 by Mouse Manor. Through his reading to Fritz, Eager came across the stories of E. Nesbit (Featured Author of February 15, 2008) for the first time. He was inspired by her writing style and determined to create books of a similar ilk.

In 1954, he published Half Magic, his first work in a series of four books that were to become loosely known as the Half Magic series (the other titles in order of publication are Knight's Castle, Magic by the Lake, and The Time Garden). It is not a traditional series in the sense of one book leading to another but more in the nature of C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia where characters or their children show up from one book to another but all encountering and trying to address the challenge of managing magic which always seems to yield something different from what was offered (the common theme with Nesbit). In addition to the four Half Magic books, Eager wrote a further three fantasy book. Magic or Not? and The Well-Wishers go together and are stories in which it is never perfectly clear whether the protagonists are really dealing with magic or are instead simply experiencing improbable but not impossible coincidences. Seven-Day Magic is a standalone magical fantasy novel unrelated to any of Eager's other works.

The quartet of children protagonists in Half Magic are Jane, Mark, Katherine and Martha. The setting is the Toledo, Ohio of his Eager's own youth (circa 1920s). Daunted by the prospect of a long boring summer, the lives of the four siblings suddenly become remarkably lacking in boredom when they discover a magical talisman shaped like a coin. The drawback of this particular wonder is that it only grants half a wish with little to predict quite what half will be granted or what the consequences might be. One of the girls wishes that their cat could speak. With her wish, the cat does indeed become capable of speaking but only in a halfway feline pigeon English. The cat's attempts at communication become one of the many humorous interjections running throughout the story. As the cat describes them apropos something else, the children are "Idgwits! Foos!" when it comes to responsibly managing their magical gift. When Jane tries to undo the trouble, and being mindful that only half the wish will be granted, wishes that the cat will only in future be able to say Music, her good intentions are undone when the hapless cat, instead of being able to say mew, mew, mew, can only say sic, sic, sic.

Knight's Castle moves the adventures forward but through two sets of cousins, the two children of Martha and the two of Katherine. Magic by the Lake returns to Jane, Mark, Katherine and Martha, while The Time Garden revisits the cousins.

Across this series there are several things that stand out. One is just the plain antic humor sometimes verging on, but never quite falling over into, farce. It is a type of humor that seems to particularly appeal to children of this age and brings back a genuine smile of recognition from somewhat jaded adults. A second feature of the books is that they lend themselves to read-alouds at an age where a sea-change is happening. Children are able to read on their own but there is still an instinctive appeal of being read to. You want books with more substance than your typical read-alouds and the Half Magic books fill the bill. Each chapter is a reasonably self-contained episode that makes for a natural reading session.

A third feature of Eager's writing is that he constantly and exuberantly plays with words. He has rich but not overdone prose descriptions. More importantly he always, as part of the humor, has a running set of word plays and puns going on. Again, it is something that is well pitched to children of this age who have mastered basic vocabulary and reading and are thrilled to find a writer who does not talk down to them but assumes that they will get the humor as they go along.

For children who are from a reading home, who have been read to extensively and are in turn bitten by the reading bug, there is yet a further pleasure in Eager's books. Not only does he not write down to children, he pays them the compliment of assuming they know more than they might actually know. He constantly pays tribute to reading in his books. The children always have books with them, books are not infrequently a key part of the plot and there are many allusions and references to other authors, stories and plots running throughout the narrative. The works of Edith Nesbit in particular make frequent appearances by one means or another. The result is that children with some framework of literary knowledge suddenly realize they are being invited in to that community of readers by an author who is assuming that they know something about that rich extra-corporeal world of literature; that they will get glancing allusions to Little House on the Prairie, to the works of Sir Walter Scott and Lewis Carroll, to references to Robinson Crusoe and Little Women.

From a parent's perspective, these books are also wonderful for the image they put across of family dynamics. The children occasionally bicker and disagree with one another in a very familiar way. None-the-less, they look out for one another's best interests and respect one another in a very reassuring way. There is little that is dark or ambiguous or corrosive in these books. The children do things that are not always well planned out, are shocked by the consequences and then work to manage the consequences - all with good humor and a positive (though concerned) cast of mind.

Where to start? Definitely with Half Magic. There are proponents for one or another of the subsequent books as being Eager's best but it all starts with Half Magic. Magic or Not? and Well-Wishers are interesting books. They are separate from the Half Magic series though they still are based on the actions and activities of a group of children. The chief difference (other than having a different cast of characters), is that it is never perfectly clear in either of the books whether there is actual magic going on or whether the events are just the consequence of possible but unlikely consequences.

The Time Garden has its apostles, but it is definitely for slightly older Independent Readers. There is a progression in reading maturity reflected in the transition from the four Half Magic books to the ambiguous pair (Magic or Not? and Well Wishers) and finally to the stand-alone Seven-Day Magic .

These are great books that can be enjoyed by young readers and adults alike. They are natural precursors of later fantasy writers for slightly older readers, writers such as Susan Cooper, Madeleine L'Engle and J.K. Rowling.

Enjoy these books and if your kids won't let you read the books to them, snag them and read for them your own pleasure.

Independent Reader

Half Magic by Edward Eager and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker and Jack Gantos Highly Recommended

Knight's Castle by Edward Eager and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker Highly Recommended

Magic by the Lake by Edward Eager and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker Recommended

The Time Garden by Edward Eager and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker Suggested

Magic or Not? by Edward Eager and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker Recommended

The Well-Wishers by Edward Eager and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker Suggested

Seven-day Magic by Edward Eager and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker Suggested

Edward Eager Bibliography

Pudding Full of Plums written by Edward Eager (Play) 1943

Dream with Music written by Edward Eager (Play) 1944

The Liar written by Edward Eager (Play) 1950

Red Head written by Edward Eager and illustrated by Louis Slobodkin 1951

Mouse Manor written by Edward Eager and illustrated by Beryl Bailey-Jones 1952

The Gambler written by Edward Eager (Play) 1952

Half Magic written by Edward Eager and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker 1954

Jacques Offenbach, Orpheus in the Underworld written by Edward Eager (TV Adaptation) 1954

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro written by Edward Eager (TV Adaptation) 1954

Playing Possum written by Edward Eager and illustrated by Paul Galdone 1955

Knight's Castle written by Edward Eager and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker 1956

Adventures of Marco Polo: A Musical Fantasy written by Edward Eager (Play) 1956

Magic by the Lake written by Edward Eager and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker 1957

The Time Garden written by Edward Eager and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker 1958

Magic or Not? written by Edward Eager and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker 1959

The Well-Wishers written by Edward Eager and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker 1960

Seven-Day Magic written by Edward Eager and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker 1962

Call It Virtue written by Edward Eager (Play) 1963

Gentlemen, Be Seated written by Edward Eager (Play) 1963

Rugantino written by Edward Eager (Play) 1964

The Happy Hypocrite written by Edward Eager (Play) 1968

Monday, November 17, 2008

British and American Favorites

As an inveterate list-keeper, I am always interested in comparisons between one time period and another, and between one place or culture and another.

In the past year a major establishment newspaper in the UK and one in the US both, within six months of one another, asked their readers a slight variant on the basic question - What were your favorite childhood books? The UK paper, The Daily Telegraph, ran their question January 17, 2008 and the US paper, The New York Times ran its question July 19, 2007. The Telegraph had 189 commenters leaving one or more suggestions. The New York Times had 1,031. The Telegraph readers identified 430 separate books that they recalled fondly from their childhoods whereas the larger number of Times' readers mentioned 977 separate titles.

The results are of course completely unscientific but, as is often the case, the less rigorous the method, the more interesting the speculative discussion arising. The Telegraph and the Times both occupy similar societal/journalistic positions as papers of record and probably are reasonably similar in terms of the income/education/professional occupation profiles of their readers. The Times' responses might have a slightly greater emphasis on fantasy and science fiction as the question was asked in the time period around the release of the final instalment of Harry Potter.

OK; enough caveats. Below are the results from the readers of the two papers. Listed first are the top twenty individual titles specifically mentioned by the readers in each country. There is then a second list of authors where readers indicated something along the lines of "All of Roald Dahl" or "Everything by Louisa May Alcott."

There are four titles that show up on both the UK and the US lists; The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and Charlotte's Web. There are also four cross-over authors; Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, Enid Blyton and Isaac Asimov. I am amazed that Enid Blyton made it onto the top twenty list of authors on the Times' list. I can only speculate that a good number of Canadians must have snuck across the internet frontier to put in some votes. None-the-less it is interesting that the four cross-overs should represent two quintessentially American and two quintessentially English authors. Other surprises - Poe, Alcott, Milne, Nesbit, Andersen, Dickens, Kipling, Verne and C.S. Lewis each show up on only one list, and not even necessarily on that of their country of origin. Hmmm.

Top Twenty Titles in the UK and US

(The Daily Telegraph)

(The New York Times)
The Chronicles of NarniaNancy Drew
Swallows and AmazonsLord of the Rings
Alice in WonderlandThe Chronicles of Narnia
Peter RabbitThe Little House on the Prairie
Treasure IslandThe Hardy Boys
The HobbitA Wrinkle in Time
Lord of the RingsAnne of Green Gables
Wind in the WillowsLittle Women
Black BeautyTom Swift
Winnie-the-PoohThe Hobbit
The Magic Faraway TreeThe Wizard of Oz
Robinson CrusoeThe Phantom Toll Booth
Famous FiveCharlotte's Web
The Silver SwordThe Bobbsey Twins
Harry PotterBlack Stallion
BigglesThe Secret Garden
Lord of the FliesThe Dark is Rising
Aesop's FablesThe Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
The Diary of a Young GirlThe Boxcar Children
Charlotte's WebDr. Dolittle

Top Twenty Authors in the UK and US

(The Daily Telegraph)

(The New York Times)
Enid BlytonJudy Blume
C.S. LewisRoald Dahl
Arthur RansomeBeverly Cleary
Beatrix PotterRobert Heinlein
Roald DahlIsaac Asimov
AesopJules Verne
Rudyard KiplingDr. Seuss
Willard PriceRay Bradbury
William ShakespeareEnid Blyton
Charles DickensJack London
E. NesbitLouisa May Alcott
Hans Christian AndersenMark Twain
Malcolm SavilleAlbert Payson Terhune
R.L. StevensonMadeline L'Engle
Captain MarryatEdward Eager
Dr. SeussL.M. Montgomery
G.A. HentyA.A. Milne
H. Rider HaggardAgatha Christie
Isaac AsimovEdgar Allan Poe
Jacqueline WilsonJohn Bellairs

Saturday, November 15, 2008

World War II

What was a great river of memories is narrowing to a stream, soon to be a creek and then to dry up completely. What has been called the greatest generation, those that lived through the Second World War, experienced the privations of the home front or served on its battlefields, is slipping from our grasp leaving only the books and the family stories. But what stories they are.

It is difficult to comprehend the encompassing and titanic nature of this conflict, which for our children today, seems to be almost ancient history. After all, it is way before the War on Terror, or the earlier Gulf War or even that distant conflict the Vietnam War. Putting the Second World War into numbers and facts can at first seem to be too clinical and almost desensitizing or even demeaning. Without those facts and numbers, though, it is too easy to lose hold of the magnitude and consequence of this conflict. There have been earlier "world wars", specifically World War One (of which it is often claimed that World War Two is merely an extension), and then earlier, the Napoleonic Wars (1790's to 1815).

So how do we quantify this as a World War? First there is simply the magnitude of the human impact. In martial terms, it was the largest conflict ever, involving 100 million soldiers (16 million in the US military). Nearly 100 nations were involved either because of battles or operations in their territories (fifty-five countries) or as members of either the Axis or the Allies.

70 million people were killed, the majority, nearly 50 million, being civilians and the majority of those (28 million) being civilians in China and Russia. In fact China and Russia accounted for 43 million (civilian and military) of all deaths in World War II. In terms of mortality, after Russia (23.1m representing 13.7% of the population) and China (20m representing 3.9% of the population), the countries next most affected by World War II were Germany (7.3m dead, 10.5% of the population), Poland (5.6m and 16.1% of the population) and Japan (2.7m and 3.8% of the population). The US and UK respectively suffered 418,000 and 450,000 deaths during the war, overwhelmingly military deaths though the UK did lose 68,000 civilians to the extensive bombing of Britain early in the war. US civilian deaths (just over a thousand) were individually tragic but comparatively minor in number, consisting primarily of citizens interned by Japan during the war but also including 68 civilians in Hawaii as a result of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and, generally little known, 6 civilian deaths from the balloon bombing campaign conducted by Japan against the mainland US.

The major countries involved in the conflict were, among the Axis; Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Romania, (and at various times the Soviet Union, Finland, Thailand, and Iraq). Among the Allies were the US, UK, the Commonwealth, France, China, USSR, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Central America, Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, and towards the end of the war virtually all the countries of South America.

Land battles occurred in all inhabited continents save South America and even there, there were instances of sabotage and intrigue. Little in Europe remained untouched by the destruction of war and North Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, South East Asia, and the Pacific all saw extensive and prolonged military campaigns.

The duration of the war, while not of the scale of, say, the Napoleonic wars, still was prolonged. For China, with Japan's invasion in 1936, the war lasted eight and a half years, for the UK for six and a half years, and for the US three and a half years.

The range of the conflict is part of what is so astonishing and is often the source of some startling and little known tales of the conflict. Among the lesser known and more remote corners touched by the war were the Azores Islands, Iceland, Madagascar, East Timor, the Aleutian Islands, Greenland, etc.

During the war there were all sorts of peculiar twists and turns in alliances. The Soviet Union was an ally of Nazi Germany at the beginning of the war with the invasion and partition of Poland, but then became the victim in turn of German invasion and consequently an ally of the Western Alliance. Western-oriented Finland became an ally of Germany as a consequence of being opportunistically invaded by the Soviet Union and having to turn to Germany for support (the subsequent Winter War being one of the most remarkable David and Goliath contests ever). The Kingdom of Thailand became an ally of the Japanese as part of the effort to throw out the colonial powers from South East Asia. Vichy France fought against the Allies in North Africa, Madagascar, the Middle East and elsewhere. An independence group in India, the Indian National Army, mustered troops to fight with the Japanese.

At the end of the war, countries disappeared completely (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Manchuria) or had their boundaries substantially redrawn (Poland, Soviet Union, and Germany), or were called into existence (South Korea, East Germany, etc.).

The economic, scientific, political, cultural and philosophical ramifications of World War Two continue to unfold even today. Just as after the titanic contest of the Napoleonic Wars, there was nearly 100 years of peace, increasing prosperity and a tighter binding together of the regions of the world, so there has been so far sixty odd years of global peace (at least among the major powers), increased prosperity, and integration of the peoples and economies of the globe. Long may the trend continue.

Out of the massive destruction of World War Two and consequent rebuilding, (Europe and Japan lost much of its existing capital of factories, shipping, and transportation and had to replace nearly all of it; the US created a vast industrial infrastructure in the space of three years that had not existed before), came new prosperity and productivity. Whole fields of science were exponentially expanded (physics, medicine, surgical technology, chemistry, materials engineering, electronic measurement and detection, etc.) and industrial engineering and management techniques were either newly pioneered or applied to a whole different magnitude (the coordination and transportation of materials to support the manufacture of tens of thousands of tanks, planes, ships, etc. in a short time frame) and remarkable feats of engineering and manufacturing were accomplished such as being able to produce a completed (Liberty) ship forty days after laying the keel.

In politics and philosophies, the idea that the various forms of totalitarianism and the naïve hope that centralized decision making could be a force for good took a heavy knock, reinforced forty years later with the fall of the Iron Curtain. It took some thirty or forty years to throw off some of the constraining regulatory regimens put in place for war purposes around the shipping, trucking, railroad, airline, telecommunication, and financial industries. Who was it that said that there is nothing so permanent as a temporary government program?

For our purposes, World War II also saw an explosion of cultural productivity particularly in terms of writing. These ranged from straight-forward autobiographical accounts such as William Manchester's Goodbye Darkness, E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed, George MacDonald Frazer's Safely Quartered Out Here to biographical vignettes about specific adventures in the war such as W. Stanley Moss's Ill Met by Moonlight and Ted W. Lawson's Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. There is some magnificent history to be had in first-person reporting such as John Hersey's Hiroshima or from historians such as Cornelius Ryan and his A Bridge Too Far and The Longest Day. Regrettably, as the years have advanced, some of those wonderful accounts by actual participants and direct observers have drifted out of print.

There are some wonderful contemporary books of those distant events. Louise Borden's The Little Ships: The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II, illustrated by Michael Foreman is a great example of momentous occurrence rendered in a fashion comprehensible and also moving to young minds. Carmen Agra Deedy's The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark, illustrated by Henri Sorenson, is another example. There are many, many perfectly adequate Independent Reader level fictional renditions of actual events; it intriguing though that they should be so popular currently when the actual accounts are even better without the transmogrification through the stereotype blender and the stock-plot cooking pan.

The real treasures remain among the books at the advanced Independent Reader and the Young Adult levels and those that were written nearer to the time of the events. Twenty and Ten; Run Silent, Run Deep; The Great Escape, The Snow Goose; The Caine Mutiny; Going Solo; the list is wonderfully long.

As always when reading of war, there is the treacherous path to tread - attempting on the one hand to honor the service and recognize the courage and heroism of those caught in the circumstances of war while at the same time attempting not to glorify the tragedy that is war. For some sensitive spirits, these events are too much. There are shadings as well - I enthusiastically enjoy World War II literature but find Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl almost impossible to re-read. Once was enough. Not because it is badly written. On the contrary, it still feels almost contemporary and I find the enormity of the tragedy almost overwhelming.

The literature of the Holocaust warrants its own list booklist. There is a disproportionate plethora of books, many of them of solid quality, covering the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war. We have included a sampling of both these specializations in the list below. Our main objective though, is to cover the broader picture of this horrifically awesome event which affected a whole generation of people across the globe. People who are grandparents and great-grandparents today. In particular, by bringing attention to their stories, we seek to acknowledge the debt we collectively owe to so many who served, and who served heroically.

Let us know which World War II stories you share with your children.

Picture Books

The Little Ships by Louise Borden and illustrated by Michael Foreman Highly Recommended

The Yellow Star by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Henri Sorensen Highly Recommended

The Greatest Skating Race by Louise Borden and illustrated by Niki Daly Recommended

Across the Blue Pacific by Louise Borden and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker Suggested

Sadako by Eleanor Coerr and illustrated by Ed Young Suggested

Journey To Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida and illustrated by Donald Carrick Suggested

The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida and illustrated by Joanna Yardley Suggested

Independent Reader

Run Silent, Run Deep by Edward Latimer Beach Recommended

Twenty and Ten by Claire Huchet Bishop and illustrated by William Pene Du Bois Recommended

The Greatest Skating Race by Louise Borden and illustrated by Niki Daly Recommended

Going Solo by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake Recommendation

House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert De Jong Recommended

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico Recommended

Lily's Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff Recommended

Collins Atlas of World War II by John Keegan Recommended

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr Recommended

Thirty Seconds over Tokyo by Ted W. Lawson Recommended

Day of Infamy by Walter Lord Recommended

Good Night, Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian Recommended

Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier Recommended

The Cay by Theodore Taylor Recommended

The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen Recommended

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak Recommended

Graveyards of the Pacific by Robert D. Ballard and Michael Hamilton Morgan Suggested

The Journey That Saved Curious George by Louise Borden and illustrated by Allan Drummond Suggested

Spying on Miss Muller by Eve Bunting Suggested

Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene Suggested

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry Suggested

Young Adult

Hiroshima by John Hersey Highly Recommended

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. Hornfischer Highly Recommended

Goodbye, Darkness by William Raymond Manchester Highly Recommended

Empire Of The Sun by J. G. Ballard Recommended

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley and Ron Powers Recommended

Flyboys by James Bradley Recommended

The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill Recommended

Das Boot by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim Recommended

Memoirs of the Second World War by Winston Churchill Recommended

Halsey's Typhoon by Bob Drury and Thomas Clavin Recommended

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler Recommended

The Great Escape by Anton Gill Recommended

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller Recommended

We Die Alone by David Armine Howarth Recommended

The Second World War by John Keegan Recommended

Incredible Victory by Walter Lord Recommended

Love & War in the Apennines by Eric Newby Recommended

A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan Recommended

The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan Recommended

With the Old Breed by E. B. Sledge Recommended

Mila 18 by Leon Uris Recommended

Iron Coffins by Herbert A. Werner Recommended

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk Recommended