Thursday 22 August 2013

Twenty and ten by Claire Huchet Bishop

Twenty and ten by Claire Huchet Bishop, as told by Janet Joly (Viking Press, 1952)
Also published as The secret cave (Scholastic, 1969)

5 chapters; 76 pages with black and white illustrations by William Pene du Bois

Subjects: World War Two, France, Jews, children, schools, junior fiction (Year 3-6)

This book was a delightful discovery. I'd never heard of it before finding it on a Storylines list of books about the World Wars.

The story is told by a 13 year old girl called Janet, looking back two years to 1944 when she was one of “twenty” fifth grade French school children. Along with their teacher, Sister Gabriel, they agree to hide the “ten” Jewish children in their boarding school up in the hills. At first the two groups of children don’t get on, partly because they have to share rations so everyone is hungrier.

One day Sister Gabriel walks into town for supplies and doesn’t come back; instead, two Nazi soldiers arrive on bicycles. All the children have to use their wits, courage and ingenuity to protect the ten Jewish children, and a hidden underground cave they find during their games becomes a vital hiding place.

The cave is shown on one version of the cover: 

The first chapter might be slightly confusing for any readers who don’t know the Biblical story of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus fleeing King Herod in the Flight into Egypt. The reason it is there seems to be to draw a parallel with the plight of the Jewish children in the war; also it plays a part towards the end, when it looks like the 4-year-old brother is going to spill the beans.

The story is based on real life events in France during the Nazi occupation. It was adapted for a 1986 movie, "Miracle at Moreau." The book also seems to be available online at various sites.

Teachers’ notes:
There are a number of teaching units online, for example here and here.

What was at risk for the Jewish children when the Nazis arrived? 
What was at risk for the French children? (In other words, what might happen to them?)
What are the differences between the 20 and 10 children? How are they the same?

Info about the author:
Claire Huchet Bishop (1899 – 1933) grew up in France. In 1924, she opened France's first library for children, L'Heure Joyeuse (The Joyous Hour). She moved to the United States after her marriage. After her first book, a retelling of a Chinese fable  - The five Chinese brothers - she wrote about 30 others, several of which won awards. 

Pancakes-Paris (Viking, 1947) was about food scarcity in France after the war. Two American GIs reward a boy called Charles with a box of pancake mix for giving them directions. Charles wants to make crepes for his family, but he's not sure how to follow the instructions because they are written in English

This short biography includes the tantalising information that she was "active during the Second World War in the cause of European Jews," but doesn't give any further details.   

Her obituary in the New York Times also mentions how "the persecution of Jewish friends in France in World War II" prompted her to start writing on different issues. 

Who was Janet Joly?
There is an interesting blog posting here about the words “as told by Janet Joly” on the title page.

“Janet Joly” is presumably meant to be the original narrator - the young girl, Janet, who passes on the story to the author - but in fact she doesn't exist. She seems to be part of the story, a fictional character used to make it seem more real. The funny thing is that you can Google her and she comes up on sites like Goodreads as a real author. 

Info about the illustrator:
William Pene du Bois (1916-1993) was an American writer and illustrator. He lived with his family in France from the age of 8 to 14, and he also died in France (in Nice.)  

Thursday 8 August 2013

Archie’s war: my scrapbook of the First World War 1914-1918 by Marcia Williams

Archie’s war: my scrapbook of the First World War 1914-1918 by Marcia Williams (Walker Books, 2007)

45 pages with masses of illustrations

Subjects: World War One, France, England, Christmas, Edith Cavell, the Red Baron, Lusitania, evacuees, diaries, letters, armistice, junior fiction (Year 6-8)

In 1914, Archie Albright (10 years old, as it says on the cover) is living with his family in London’s East End and he gets this scrapbook as a birthday present from his uncle. Using the format of Archie’s scrapbook, the author includes newspaper cuttings, printed casualty lists, cigarette cards, letters and postcards, stamps, photographs, jokes, diary entries and comic strips, as if Archie has stuck or drawn them in.
The time period allows us to trace the progress of the war from the initial enthusiasm to dark days, injuries and deaths, food shortages, Zeppelins and the first German bombers. Some news relates to Archie’s family, friends and local neighbourhood, but there are bigger stories, like those of Edith Cavell, the Red Baron or the sinking of the Lusitania. Archie’s uncle, father and brother all sign up and his mother goes to work in a munitions factory. Later he goes to live in the country. It’s an amazingly detailed and very believable account of what it must have been like to be a child growing up through World War One.

This book might not be so good for reading aloud, because there is so much information on each page, but it would captivate any child who enjoys comics, or the sort of book where you can lift up flaps and envelopes to discover what's hidden inside.

Here is a review from the Historical novel society. I hadn't heard of them before, but apparently they are a literary society devoted to promoting the enjoyment of historical fiction. They are based in the USA and the UK, but welcome members - both readers and writers - from all round the world. 

This review from The Bookbag calls it "a real gem of a book".

What would it have been like for a 10 year old growing up in NZ during World War One? How would his or her experience be the same as Archie’s, and how would it be different?
What happens to the Schoenfelds who own the grocery in Archie’s street? 
Did anything similar happen in New Zealand?
(Find out about the history of Somes Island.) 

Author's website:
Marcia Williams has a brilliant, funny, eye-catching and colourful  website. You can find it here.

She has also written a follow-up, or companion volume: My secret war diary by me, Flossie Albright (2008), written by Flossie when her dad (Archie) goes off to fight in World War Two.

Other books you might like:
Lord of the nutcracker men by Iain Lawrence also tells the story of a ten -year-old London boy whose father goes to war, and who gets sent to live in the country.

New Zealand connection:
Further to the mention of Somes Island above, this photograph shows one of the internees on the island (people of German, Italian and Japanese descent) in World War Two. They often used their spare time to make objects for sale- this man is making something from paua shell.  

‘Enemy aliens’ on Somes Island
David Green. 'Citizenship - 1840–1948: British subjects', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 15-Nov-12 
You can see examples of the sort of things they made on the Te Papa website.

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German-born Hans Hansen decorated this box while he was interned as an 'enemy alien' on Somes/Matiu Island during World War I.