‘In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer’: nonfiction young adult book


Rating: 5 stars

In “In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer” by Irene Gut Opdyke, readers will learn about the Holocaust from the eyes of a young Polish girl who at the age of 17 had to endure horrors most children only dream about in their worst nightmares.

Opdyke (her married name) tells of growing up in a close-knit Polish family proud of their Polish heritage and living in a house where kindness was encouraged. Hurt animals were brought home and healed, dogs were loved, and the sisters were close. When Irene was 17, she decided she wanted to keep helping people by becoming a nurse. It was while she was in school, far from her family, when World War II broke out.

The story relates the horror of how the Russian soldiers abused the women they found, including Irene. Irene got lucky when her German looks and her ability to speak German helped her get a position working for the Nazis in a hotel. The hotel backed up to the ghetto, and Irene saw firsthand the horrors of what was happening there. It was obvious that the Germans wanted to kill all the Jews. And the German officers talked freely in the restaurant about the goal of making the town free of all Jews. The man in charge of the kitchen was kind and looked the other way when Irene started helping the Jews.

First it was simply putting food in a metal box and shoving it into the ghetto through a hole she made under the fence. That escalated when she got Jews to help in the laundry room. She would pass on news she heard from the officers about deportations to her friends — because the Jews working in the laundry became friends. When she learned about the last final “action” to rid the town of all Jews, she knew she had to do more.

That’s when the book really becomes almost incredible — reading about the risks that Irene took on behalf of people she barely knew. She risked her life, she did whatever she had to to make sure that the Jews she saved remained safe. The book is written beautifully with the help of author Jennifer Armstrong, whose writing beautifully brings out the beauty of the human spirit and the cruelty of which humans are capable — all in the course of a few pages.

This nonfiction book should be included in any study of World War II from middle school through high school. While there is mention of rape, it is not graphic. It’s unusual in that most WWII memoirs are written from a Jewish perspective. This one is written from the perspective and voice of a Polish, Catholic girl.

‘Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks’ by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

The Ninja warrior animals return courtesy of Corey Rosen Schwartz and coauthor Rebecca J. Gomez. Dan Santat’s colorful and heavily stylized illustrations accompany the rhyming fairy tale.

The two sisters have trained at the local dojo and worked diligently on their ninja skills. Their mother was stolen away and when their father disappeared, they found suspicious fox tracks around. Following the tracks, they left a trail of breadcrumbs so they could find their way back in the deep dark woods.

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‘Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery’ by Jenny Colgan


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery” by Jenny Colgan is the sequel to “Little Beach Street Bakery.” Colgan carefully begins the sequel with enough background information for a new reader to feel up-to-speed on the backstory. But really, why not just get the first book and read it and then read the sequel.

Both books are well worth reading, even if just for a light summer book to read poolside or, better yet, at the beach. Of course, after reading the books, most of us wish we were in Cornwall, on the beach, reading the books. Also, be forewarned: This book may encourage you, even force you, to eat many many carbs. The descriptions of the aroma and taste and texture of freshly baked bread will drive any bread lover crazy. This reviewer can’t eat gluten, so it was especially torturous.

The story is what makes the books so enjoyable. And the story consists of many lovable characters — the most lovable of whom is Polly. Polly, in the first book, loses her business and her man. She has no money and no job, but just enough to rent a tiny apartment over an abandoned bakery on an island with a causeway to the mainland. Because of the tides, the causeway can only be crossed at certain times of day which makes going anywhere off the tiny island require planning.

To make the time pass, Polly does what she loves and bakes bread. The aroma of the baking bread ends up making most islanders secretly buy her bread since they all hate the factory white bread that is sold in the island’s bakery. Nothing is actually baked in the bakery, and the owner is a sour old woman.

In this sequel, Polly is happily baking bread and running two bakeries on the island. When Mrs. Manse, the owner of the bakeries, dies, her sister inherits everything and send her son, a miserable human being, to run them. Polly, in the time between the two books, has bought the old lighthouse on the island, and she and Huckle, the honey-man from the first book with whom she fell in love, live there with their puffin, Neil.

Colgan’s stories work so well because she is wonderful at creating fascinating characters. They are real and filled with good and bad. Some are funny and some are tragic. All make mistakes, and all — even the bad guys — have at least one redeeming quality. It may be hard to find, or it may show up almost after the book has ended, but it’s there.

It’s the richness of character and characters that keep the reader turning the pages. It’s also the fabulous characters that make the reader want to read the sequel. Of course, there is also the fact that within the pages of each book the reader will encounter death, tragedy, romance, humor, wonderful food and the beauty of the Cornish countryside.

Enjoy yourself, and treat yourself to both books.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by William Morrow, the publisher, for review purposes.

Dogs tortured then killed after ‘free to good home’ ads

Three of the dead dogs pictured here were listed on local Facebook pages as “free to good home.”

The remains of 4 dead dogs -- at least 3 died horrible deaths-slide0
Mary Metze
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Please share to help stop other dogs from being killed

Mary Metze

The dead husky has a story. She was found dead, wrapped in a shower curtain. She was listed as “free to good home,” and the notice stated that she was purebred and great with kids. In spite of that endorsement, the family “couldn’t” keep her because they were having a baby. She was found dead within weeks of that posting. The person who shared these pictures wrote:

This poor girl has had her face literally peeled from her body and there are deep puncture wounds between her front legs. I do not know what caused them but I can say with CERTAINTY she did not die quickly or peacefully.”

When a local rescuer called the woman who had placed that ad and given the husky to its killer, the woman blamed the local rescues for the dog’s death — not the sadistic killer who tortured the dog before killing it. “It’s the rescue’s fault because they won’t help the average Joe. So I couldn’t get a rescue to take the dog.” She didn’t want the dog to go to the local shelter to be killed, so she gave the dog to a stranger.

The dog died a horrific death. The person who took the picture shared that, “It looked like the face had been surgically removed.” If the owner had taken the dog to her local vet to be killed, it would have been a kinder end.

The two dogs laid out next to each other (see slideshow pictures) were also listed on a local Facebook page as “two bonded pits free to good home.” It appears that they suffered greatly before dying. The poster wrote, “There are bite wounds and lacerations all over their bodies. They’ve been here, dumped like garbage after obviously having been fought. They were most likely dumped still alive and left to slowly bleed out. If they were lucky, they got to pass out before succumbing to death.” When the former owner of those dogs was called, even after repeated calls, there was no response.

The last picture doesn’t even look like a dog. It’s the bones of a dog who died anonymously and whose body was disposed of as if it were a thing of no consequence, a piece of garbage. There were multiple broken bones in the garbage bag, but the body was there so long that it’s impossible to determine how the dog died. But the person who found the remains says, “I’d be willing to bet money it was a ‘free to good home’ baby as well.”

This all took place and still takes place in Kilpatrick, Alabama, where the dead and dying dogs are dumped. Animal rescuers go there to try to help those who are still alive. The local law enforcement is no help at all. Unless there is proof that a dog was dumped alive, there is no crime. Dumping a dead dog — no matter how it died — is just against a local ordinance and punishable by a fine. This is in the area where the local animal control officer shot two dogs instead of catching them last year according to WHNT19 News.

Free to good home? There is no such thing.

When you get a “free” dog or cat, it’s not really free. That’s because responsible pet owners have their dogs seen by a veterinarian, vaccinated, and kept on preventatives (like heartworm and flea preventatives) to keep them healthy and happy. Responsible owners don’t give their animals to strangers.

Free to good home?

If someone isn’t willing to pay a rehoming fee, run away. If you MUST rehome a dog or cat, demand a veterinary reference. Most vets will provide that, especially if the prospective adopter gives permission. Make sure that current or past pets were kept up-to-date on vaccinations and were spayed or neutered. If people can’t afford to give their dog proper medical care, they shouldn’t get your dog. And if they can’t give you any references (personal and/or work), don’t give them your dog!

Your pet is helpless and dependent on you for its life, security and happiness. You owe it to the creature that depends on you to make sure that you are delivering it into a safe home. Instead of allowing someone to take the dog or cat home, insist on bringing the pet to the potential new home yourself so you can see where it will live. Also, call and check on how the new situation is working out. Make the adopter(s) sign an agreement that if they ever don’t want the pet, they will call you and give the dog or cat back to you first.

There are just too many animals who are passed from family to family, confused and scared, and who end up chained outside, unwanted, unloved. There are too many cats who are dumped to fend for themselves in hostile environments — cats who once were loved and petted and now dodge stones thrown by ignorant children.

If you know anyone who needs to rehome a pet, please share this information with that person. There are many rescues that will do a courtesy posting of animals in need of homes. The rescue might even be willing to help with references and to make sure that the animal is going to a good home. Your pet is depending on you — don’t let it down!

The original Facebook post can be found here. Some of the groups who help areFurever Friends of the South K9 Rescue and 2nd Chance Shelter.

‘The Cat with Seven Names’ by Tony Johnston and Christine Davenier


Rating: 5 stars

Sometimes a picture book is so perfect, it begs to be shared and discussed and read over and over again. “The Cat with Seven Names” is just such a picture book. Tony Johnston is the talented author who writes about community and urban settings with aplomb. Her “Any Small Goodness” is also a wonderful book for 4th and 5th graders.

In “The Cat with Seven Names,” the reader is hooked from the first page. “A cat came to my back door one day. Gray, with white paws. Nobody visits me much. I put down the book I was reading (I am a librarian), and I let him in.”

Immediately, Johnston sets the story. Here is someone who is lonely (“Nobody visits me much”) who opens the door for the cat. This pattern is repeated with different people — all of whom share a bit of loneliness; all of whom benefit from the company of a slightly fat cat; all of whom feed the cat; and all of whom are very different in terms of nationality, age, and situation.

First comes the librarian. Next the cat visits an older gentleman whose family is “grown and gone.” The next house is that of un señor who talks partly en español, in Spanish. He also lives alone and loves the idea of a cat to keep him and his dog company. The list goes on, including a war veteran who is homeless. Johnston tactfully tackles this subject, opening the door for discussion of PTSD and homelessness for those readers of appropriate age.

There are so many wonderful aspects of this book in terms of teaching that they will not all fit into this review. A few highlights would be to use this book to teach point of view (POV). Each of the characters, all of whom tell their story in first person, has his/her own style of narration, even a particular language style. What a great way to teach students about character and personal voice.

The book is also a great tool for discussing social issues like growing old, immigrants, homelessness, and the lasting effects of war on veterans.

This review would not be complete without a mention of the stunning watercolor artwork throughout the book. Davenier’s illustrations are simple but incredibly effective. The bright colors bring happiness to the pages while the illustrations showing the homeless veteran are of a cooler, bluer palette. His face is in shadow for two of the pictures, but in the final illustration of him with the cat, he is holding the cat in his arms, and the picture is lighter with warmer colors. Throughout, there is wonderful use of white space to focus the eye on what is important.

This picture book is one that could be used for a wide range of ages and purposes. It’s great for students of all ages. Younger students will just enjoy the stories and the happy ending. Older students can study the author’s craft and analyze why it works. They can also try their hand at creating their own books about different characters finding a stray dog or cat and what happens to each.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Charlesbridge Publishing, for review purposes.

‘Night on Fire’ by Ronald Kidd: Middle grade fiction about civil rights

night on fire

Rating: 5 stars

“Night on Fire” by Ronald Kidd is a middle grade historical fiction novel about the Civil Rights Era. It’s told from an unusual perspective, that of a thirteen-year-old white girl living in Anniston, Alabama. Her family is not wealthy. In fact, her father was demoted (a fact this is alluded to) and her mother had to go to work. There is a baby brother and a black nanny/maid, Lavender.

Billie is satisfied with the way things are in her town. There is the “tradition” that blacks don’t shop at the same stores as whites, and they don’t live on the same side of town. Her friend and neighbor Grant McCall comes from the North. His father is a journalist, and Grant wants to be a photographer.

Billie’s father treats Lavender, whom Billie considers a second mother, with contempt, and he is openly disrespectful to her. Billie also is present during the state spelling bee, where the students from the black high school, Cobb, challenge the winner to face their winner in a contest. They are booed down, and the black protesters begin to chant and spell words like liberty and prejudice. Mr. McCall steps up and quells the emotions by proposing that next year, all students be allowed to participate. The judge says “We’ll consider it.”

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‘The Total Package’ by Stephanie Evanovich: Romance and football

total package

Rating: 4 stars

Stephanie Evanovich has a thing for love and male athletes. In her latest novel, “The Total Package,” Evanovich creates a romance between two unlikely characters, a football player with a moral compass set in the wrong direction, and a headstrong woman who fell for him once but isn’t likely to make that mistake again.

Tyson Palmer is a football player who had it all — until he didn’t. Tyson graduated into the big leagues but he lost his way when drinking and drugs became a way of life instead of practicing. But in the end, Tyson’s talent saved him, and he was given a last-ditch offer to enter rehab and get his act together.

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‘The Year We Turned Forty’ by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

the year

Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“The Year We Turned Forty” by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke is the third book by this writing duo, who happen to have been best friends forever in real life. Like their other two novels, in this one there’s a bit (actually a lot) of magic.

The three best friends they write about in this story are like most people — they’ve made mistakes that they regret, and they wonder what they might have done differently to change their lives. When celebrating their 50th birthdays together, they get an offer that is pure magic. What if all three of them — and it has to be all three together — get a chance to go back ten years and relive the year they turned forty?

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