The War Below by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch and Code Word Courage by Kirby Larson

Thanks to @kidlitexchange  for these review copies. All opinions are our own! 

The War Below by Marsha Forchuk SkrypuchIMG_5865 (1)
(April 24th 2018 ~Scholastic Press)

Photo and review by Jennie N.~ Originally on Instagram

Luka is taken from his home in Ukraine and forced into a Nazi labor camp in this graphic middle-grade historical fiction tale. Based on real events that were of course, violent, this wouldn’t be an excellent choice for younger readers. I feel like it was realistic and there aren’t a lot of books for this age group that covers what the Nazi’s did in the Russia/Ukraine areas. Particularly chilling was a part of the story where the Nazi’s are counting people by religious faith so that they can re-open the “right” amount of Churches and Synagogues. The Jews, who showed up when summoned, were immediately shot.

Luka is just twelve years old while this is taking place and he fights bravely in the resistance, escapes, gets captured by the Soviet resistance and escapes again. Eventually, he ends up emigrating to Canada with some help from the Red Cross. The entire story is nonstop depressing action. I ended up just being happy that he had a happy ending.

And here’s another review!

Photo and review by Laura G. ~ Originally on Instagram

Fascinating non-stop action is how I will be describing this book to students. It’s a IMG_5867 (1)companion novel to MAKING BOMBS FOR HITLER, which was a big hit at our recent book fairs. This book follows Luka as he escapes a Nazi labor camp and joins the underground, secret Ukrainian Insurgent Army. I was biting my nails through the last 100 pages and couldn’t stop reading. Students are going to love this historical fiction book! The author’s note at the end is a welcome explanation of terms used in the book and adds a great deal of context. Highly recommended!

Code Word Courage by Kirby Larson
(April 24th 2018 ~Scholastic Press)

Photo and review by Katie ~ Originally on InstagramIMG_5866

Eleven-year-old Billie and her older brother Leo have lived with their great-aunt Doff since their mother died and their father left them. Now Leo is headed to fight in the war, and Billie has one last weekend at home with him before he ships out. At first she is disappointed when Leo brings his friend Denny home with him, but she quickly warms to Denny and especially the wounded dog he brought with him. Denny teaches Billie how to care for her new pet, which they’ve named Bear, and shares with her a little bit about his Navajo roots.
The novel is told from Billie’s and Denny’s points of view (Bear even sneaks a chapter or two in there). We learn of Billie’s challenges navigating 5th grade when her best friend has abandoned her and she misses her brother and worries about him terribly. We also learn of Denny’s experience becoming a Navajo code talker and WOW what an amazing story that is!
This was a great middle grade coming of age, World War II novel about friendship and loyalty. It checks both MG boxes for me: I really liked it and I know my son will, too. The characters are real and interesting and I quickly fell for sweet, tender Billie. I loved the little bit I learned about the Navajo code talkers (make sure you read the author’s notes at the end) and it definitely inspired me to learn more. Apparently no one knew about their amazing, heroic feats during the war until much later; they were told not to discuss it and took their assignment very seriously.
I loved this book and think it will appeal to a wide audience of older elementary and younger middle school kids.

And here’s another review!

Photo and review by Laura G. ~ Originally on Instagram

IMG_5868I have students who are super interested in war and I have students who are also really interested in the history of Navajo people serving as code talkers (sometimes those kids overlap 😉). All those kids, PLUS my dog-loving bookworms are going to devour this new book from @kirbylarson. It’s a quick, compelling read with two characters you’ll immediately fall for. Larson has done a great job depicting Billie—a friendless, orphan whose beloved brother is off at war. The other main character is Denny, a code talker in the Army who reminisces on the prejudice he has faced his entire life, including in boarding schools designed to erase his Navajo heritage. Everyone’s favorite character will likely be Bear, however. 🐕 (except imagine the dog is black—Larson explains Bear is a Belgian Shepherd in her author’s note). I recommend this for grades 3+. The other dogs of WWII books in this series by Larson are popular in my library, so I will get this one, too.


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