Black Dove, White Raven

by Elizabeth Wein
First sentence: “Sinidu told me I should aim for the sun.”
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Content: There’s a smattering of violence, and some insinuations, but it’s not nearly as intense as Wein’s other books we have in the store. I’m torn between leaving it where it is (in Teen, grades 9+) and moving it to YA (grades 6-8), where it really fits better, subject and content-wise. Thoughts?

I know Wein has written other books about Ethiopia, but I didn’t know they existed, really, until this one came out and I started hearing the buzz. And so I really didn’t know what to expect with this one.

Many of the elements I have enjoyed about Wein are there: women pilots, in this case two: a white woman, Rhoda, and her black friend, Delia,  learned to fly in France and go around the States in the late 1920s/early 1930s with their barnstorming act. There is also World War II: after Delia’s accidental death, Rhoda takes their two children, her daughter Emelia and Delia’s son Teo (whom Rhoda has taken as her own) to live in Ethiopia, which was Delia’s dream.

The book is a long letter written to the emperor of Ethiopa by Emelia. It’s in the middle of World War II, and the Italians have invaded Ethiopia. Because of their precarious legal situation: Teo is not legally Rhoda’s son, they’re not really legally in the country, and because Teo’s father was Ethiopian, it means that their position in the country, especially with the Italians there, is a precarious one.

Emelia recounts history and how their little family ended up where they are. Teo contributes some, writing journal entries and flight logs — Rhoda eventually teaches both children to fly — and so you hear his voice as well as Emelia’s.

There’s a lot going on in this book, and yet, I felt like the conflict didn’t really pick up until the last third. It’s a quieter book than her previous two WWII books, one that felt more vignette-driven as well. (Though typing that, and thinking back to Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, I’m not sure that’s true.) The characters were definitely younger in this one, and perhaps that’s what I’m feeling. I did like how Wein rounded out most of the characters in the book, but especially the female ones (the male ones, aside from Teo, were basically set dressing, there to move the plot along). Wein also touched on a lot of cultural issues for the time: segregation in the US, slavery in Ethiopia, the war, the limitations of women at the time. Even though it didn’t feel like much, plot-wise, there was enough to hold my interest and carry the book.

I’m not sure I love it as much as I do the other books I’ve read by Wein, but I did thoroughly enjoy it.

Rose Under Fire

by Elizabeth Wein
First sentence: “I just got back from Celia Forester’s funeral.”
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Content: there were a lot of f-bombs (I didn’t count them) that came up once at the concentration camp (understandable) and other mild swearing throughout. Also a number of disturbing images and content (Nazi concentration camps don’t make for Light Reading). It is most definitely one I wouldn’t hand to a kid under the age of 13 or 14 (depending on their maturity handling Difficult Situation), whether or not they were on the reading level, so it’s shelved in my Teen section (grades 9-12) at the bookstore.

I don’t quite know where to start with this one. Once I discovered it was a Holocaust novel (as opposed to just a WWII novel), I put off reading it. I don’t like Holocaust novels, mostly because I don’t like being confronted with the evil things the Nazis did. But, because it was Elizabeth Wein, and because it’s a companion to Code Name Verity, I bravely gave it a shot.

And I found myself sucked into the world of women pilots, of strong, resilient women who know how to survive. It’s odd to say this about a Holocaust book, but I loved it.

Rose Justice is an American who has pulled strings to get enlisted as a transport pilot for the RAF. She’s doing her duty, blissfully unaware of the evils of the Nazis. Sure, they’re the Enemy, but the can’t be as horrible as they all say, right? Then, on a mission, she chases after a flying bomb (German pilotless planes loaded with bombs), gets lost over enemy territory, and ends up in Ravensbrück.

Even I, who actively avoids anything Holocaust, know about the horrors of Ravensbrück.

And yet, even though Wein captures the horrors, and the crimes, and the terribleness (I can’t seem to find a word strong enough) of Ravensbrück, it isn’t a hopeless, dark book. Even though Rose is changed permanently by her six months (only six measly months! How did people survive years there?), she retains her will to survive. And Wein has created a cohort of strong, amazing, wonderful (again, there is no word strong enough) women who do just that: survive. It’s amazing — and inspiring — to read.

I’m so glad I did.

Code Name Verity

by Elizabeth Wein
ages: 14+
First sentence: “I am a coward.”
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Things this book is:
A World War II book.
A book about friendship, between two young women, specficially.  Funny.
A book about torture.
A book about the Resistance.
A book about women pilots.
A book about things a person will do to save their skin.
An amazing example of voice. Seriously, the characters leap off the page.
Unputdownable. (Yeah, I know. Still, it fits.)
Freaking awesome.

Things this book is not:
Another Holocaust book.

In other words: if you haven’t yet read this story about Maddie and Verity, and been captivated by their story, you are missing out.

And yes, it really is just as good as “they” all say.

Amelia Lost

The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
by Candace Fleming
ages: 9+
First sentence: “On the morning of July 2, 1937, the coast guard cutter Itasca drifted on the Pacific Ocean, waiting… listening…”
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Like many people, I think, what I knew about Amelia Earhart was limited to her legend: she was the first woman pilot, and her plane was lost on her attempt to fly around the world.

What I didn’t realize was how much more there was to the story.

Fleming is a brilliant non-fiction writer for kids; she keeps the information simple without being simplistic, and manages to capture the nuances of her subject without ever wandering into territory that a 9-year-old couldn’t comprehend.

Which means that this book was absolutely fascinating. The chapters alternated between Amelia’s past and that fateful day when her plane was lost. Fleming really did her research, pushing past the legend and the fame to come up with a different portrait of Amelia Earhart. One of the things that most fascinated me was how, well, unqualified she was. She flew not really because of skill — often she didn’t take the time to learn things thoroughly — but because of determination. She was a feminist: she believed that just because she was a woman didn’t mean she shouldn’t do whatever she wanted to do. Including flying. She resisted the boxes that the time period wanted to put her in, and literally soared. No, she wasn’t the most talented, or even the most skilled, but she was determined, and that made up for a lot.

The other thing that fascinated me was how much she was famous for just being famous. She and her eventual husband, George Putnam, worked really hard at keeping her name in the papers, keeping her on the lecture circuit. Being famous was a full time job for them. I also didn’t realize how much of her image was done on purpose to create her image. She hid many things, and re-imagined others. I guess it goes to show that nothing is ever quite what it seems.

An excellent introduction to the life and legend of Amelia Earhart.


by Sherri L. Smith
ages: 12+
First sentence: “It’s a Sunday afternoon, and the phonograph player is jumping like a clown in a parade the way Jolene and I are dancing.”

Ida Mae Jones has always wanted to fly. Ever since she was put behind the wheel (is it a wheel?) of her daddy’s Jenny and taught how, she knew that this was what she was born to do. Except, she’s an African American (yes, I am being politically correct here), and lives in the outskirts of New Orleans. Not only can she not get a pilot’s license because she’s a woman; she can’t get one because she’s the wrong color.

It’s only when her younger brother spies and article about the Army’s WASP program (that’s Women’s Airforce Service Pilots), and that there was a Chinese-American woman in it, that Ida gets an inkling of an idea. She forges her daddy’s pilot’s license, and since she’s light enough skinned to pass for white, she applies. And gets in.

The part in the program is what interested me the most about Smith’s book. I thought that while the conflict between black and white, and Ida’s internal conflict about lying about who she really is, was interesting (and probably worth some thought), I really liked Ida learning how to fly military planes. I liked the challenges posed by the program, the obstacles she had to surmount in order to succeed in a man’s world. It was not only historically interesting, but had a universal appeal: what woman hasn’t faced the “you can’t do it because you’re a girl” and fought her way to success in whatever that is?

It’s books like these that make one grateful for the pioneers, the women who were courageous enough to break the race, sex, or whatever barrier, and achieve their dreams. And it’s good to have a book like this to remind us of it. As well as being a cracking good story.