November 28, 2014

How to be a spy

The Real Spy's Guide to Becoming a Spy
by Peter Earnest

Former CIA operative Earnest debunks the myths about working as a spy and reveals the truth (or as much as he's allowed). He provides a brief background about the history of spying and talks about the training involved and the types of work agents do. Readers will also get a crash course on planting bugs, spotting or evading surveillance, and working undercover. The book is a surprisingly quick read even though the terms and acronyms can get a bit repetitive, and there are not enough behind-the-scenes stories. Still, it offers a good overview of how what it's like to be a real spy.


November 26, 2014

American spies

The Dark Game: True Spy Stories
by Paul B. Janeczko

It's too bad that books like these aren't included in school curriculums. Their stories are far more interesting than some of the dry textbooks that students are forced to wade through. In The Dark Game, readers are introduced to some notorious American and international spies, whose exploits abound with excitement and intrigue. There's George Washington who organized the first spy ring in the United States, Virginia Hall who evaded the Nazis despite having a wooden leg, and Juan Pujol aka Garbo, who became an amazing double agent. There's also a fascinating story about the sabotage of U.S. munitions factories during World War I. Janeczko also talks about the evolution of spy communication, from complex codes to high tech satellites.

Highly recommended for middle grade and high school readers.

November 24, 2014

Spy girls

In Disguise! Undercover with Real Women Spies
by Ryan Ann Hunter

Throughout history, women have worked as spies. They were good at it. Young women organized spy rings, carried secret messages, became double agents, and trained resistance fighters. Short two to four page biographies are interspersed with even shorter ones about individual spies, along with fun spycraft activities like how to make codes and invisible ink, hone covert observation skills, or create disguises.

For adventurous girls everywhere.

November 21, 2014

Wartime spies

Ultra Hush-Hush: Espionage and Special Missions
by Stephen Shapiro and Tina Forrester

James Bond aficionados will definitely find much to enjoy in this book about spies and saboteurs, especially since all of these stories are true! Young readers will be amazed at the talents of Jasper Maskelyne and his Magic Gang, master illusionists who fooled the Germans with fake armies and explosives. Then there were the Italians, who rode underwater torpedoes to blow up British ships, a daring SS officer who rescued Mussolini from a mountaintop prison, and Navajo code talkers who mystified the Japanese.

Enlivened with full-colour illustrations, photographs, sidebars, and maps.

For even more exciting stories, read the companion book Hoodwinked: Deception and Resistance.

November 19, 2014

War rescue

Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan's Rescue from War
by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Last Airlift describes the Canadian airlift operation that brought 57 Vietnamese babies and children from Saigon to Toronto on April 13, 1975. One of these children was eight-year-old Tuyet. Through her eyes, readers share in her experience of living in an orphanage and going on a strange and frightening journey. Her gradual adjustment to a new city and a different culture is described with humour and respect.

An emotional and worthy read. 

November 17, 2014

War essays

War Is... Soldiers, Survivors and Storytellers Talk about War
edited by Marc Aronson and Patty Campbell

The essays, interviews, letters, news articles, play, and story compiled here reveal truths about war that are rarely talked about, but should be. Especially troubling is the Recruitment Minefield, which details the lengths that the U.S. military will go through to enlist impressionable teens into lifetime service. Also of note are the writings by Vietnam veterans which capture their states of mind after combat, Helen Benedict's Women at War which depicts lives lived amidst constant danger and sexual harassment, and the vivid articles by the late war reporter Ernie Pyle.

A good book for any teen who is thinking of a career in the armed forces.

November 14, 2014

Internment camps in Canada

Righting Canada's Wrongs: Italian Canadian Internment in the Second World War
by Pamela Hickman & Jean Smith Cavalluzzo

After Italy allied with Germany at the beginning of World War II, Canada immediately declared that all Canadians of Italian descent were enemy aliens. Any Italian Canadian suspected of being a security risk was to be interned. Italian Fascists were especially condemned, leading to a witch hunt similar to that which occurred in the United States, when Communists were rounded up. Unlike Japanese Canadians, where entire families were interned, only Italian men were imprisoned. However, since they were often the sole bread winner of their families, their absence led to great poverty among their wives and children.

A well-written and informative text, with many photographs, historical documents, and first-person accounts. An important book.

Righting Canada's Wrongs: Japanese Canadian Internment in the Second World War
by Pamela Hickman & Masako Fukawa

Many books have been written about the internment of Japanese Canadians; those geared to children are often in fiction or picture book format. That's why this book is both important and notable. Important because it doesn't shy away from describing the extreme suffering endured by the Japanese-Canadian families and notable because it reveals many details that are not widely known.

Highly recommended.

November 12, 2014

Battle at sea

Sink and Destroy: The Battle of the Atlantic
by Edward Kay

Part of the I Am Canada series published by Scholastic, this is a work of fiction, but it contains so much information about life in the Royal Canadian Navy that it deserves a mention in this blog. 

Sixteen-year-old Bill O'Connell is a new recruit who braves the rough Atlantic waters onboard a convoy escort ship. Escort ships protected the merchant ships tasked with delivering supplies of food, fuel, and ammunition to Britain. They had to be on constant lookout for German U-boats and their deadly torpedoes.

Filled with descriptions of training exercises, ship duties, storms and sinkings, O'Connell's diary gives readers a view of a key war battle that is seldom mentioned. Worth reading.

November 10, 2014

Persecuted for being gay

Branded by the Pink Triangle
by Ken Setterington

Berlin in the 1920s was a liberal and accepting city where homosexual culture thrived. Although German law prohibited sex between men, the law was rarely enforced. That all changed with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. Anyone suspected of being gay was imprisoned, tortured, or sent to concentration camps. He was also forced to wear a pink triangle sewn onto his prison uniform.

Through compelling first-person accounts, Setterington shines a light on a dark period of human history that must not be forgotten.

November 7, 2014

Canada's pivotal role in World War I

From Vimy to Victory: Canada's Fight to the Finish in World War I
by Hugh Brewster

Brewster traces the movements of Canadian troops as they fought their way through France during the FIrst World War. Their victories in Lens, Ypres, Passchendaele, Amiens, and Arras helped pave the way to peace.

An excellent commemoration of all Canadian soldiers.

November 5, 2014

Poetry from the First World War

Poems From The First World War
selected by Gaby Morgan

An emotional collection of poetry written by soldiers, nurses, mothers, and sweethearts. Poets include W. W. Gibson, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas, May Cannan Wedderburn, and John McCrae.

Speaking of John McCrae, here is a poem (not in the book) by Stella M. Bainbridge, a Montreal poet:


Across the fields of Flanders
The snow lies as a pall,
And moaning o'er the wasted land,
The winds arise and fall;
But he, who sang in Flanders fields,
Has passed beyond their call.

The spring will come to Flanders,
And poppies bloom again-
As when he marked them sentinel
Upon the cross-strewn plain;
And they will breathe of love and life
Triumphant over pain.

And when we dream of Flanders-
Torn land of griefs and fears-
We shall recall his memory
Through all the coming years;
When silence broods o'er Flanders fields,
And peace enshrines our tears.

November 3, 2014

World War I

Desperate Glory: The Story of WWI
by John Wilson

A nice clean typeface and layout make this book very attractive, as do the many photographs and maps. But what makes this book a standout is Wilson's clear, concise prose that summarizes the complex issues of the First World War in an easily understood manner for its young audience.

Highly recommended.