Hidden Gold by Ella Burakowski

I find Holocaust memoirs to be somewhat variable in quality and readability. Maybe the memoirist’s memories are not that detailed or reliable. Sometimes the person who has undertaken the task of writing the stories down is just not a great writer. Sometimes the reader may be the problem: I’m not immune to the chilling effect of a jadedness produced by too many horrific World War II stories, too many atrocities, too much suffering and starvation for a person to read and assimilate.

Hidden Gold is an excellent example of a Holocaust memoir that is sharp, well-written, detailed, and narrative. I was absorbed by the story of young David Gold and his family and their survival in hiding in Poland, written by Mr. Gold’s niece and based on Mr. Gold’s memories of 1942-1944 when he was twelve to fourteen years old. “David Gold’s memories of his formative years during World War II are as vivid and compelling under his niece’s pen as if they happened yesterday.” (from the blurb on the back cover of the book)

The Gold family–David, his two older sisters, and his mother–survived in hiding on a Polish farm because they were rich, because they were smart and initially healthy, and because they were lucky, or perhaps preserved by a miracle form God. Even though the memoir is woven from David Gold’s memories, David’s older sister Shoshanna, who later became the mother of the author, emerges as the heroine of the tale. Shoshanna is the one who negotiates with outsiders on behalf of the entire family because she has blue eyes and speaks Polish without a Yiddish accent. Shoshanna is the one who encourages the family not to commit suicide when it seems that choice is the only one left to them. Unfortunately, Shoshanna Gold Barakowski died at a relatively young age in 1972, while the author was still in her teens, and the other sister, Esther, also died (of cancer) in 1984, long before Ms. Burakowski began to write this book.

I did wonder how much the author embellished or assumed as she told of the thoughts and motivations of her family members, most of whom were not available to vet the text or give their own take on events. Still, most memoirs are a mix of fact and fill in the blank, and I give the author credit for filling in, if she did, in a way that reads as authentic, coherent, and literary. I read and believed, and I was reminded that hatred and prejudice and bravery and human endurance are all a part of our shared human history as well as evident in the present day “holocausts” that continue to be perpetrated on the innocent and the unprotected.

[T]he memoir as unfiltered actuality is a myth. Fickle and unreliable memories must be reconstructed and made coherent; a story’s assembly, style, and characterization will inevitably compromise any strict retelling. Emphatically, this does not mean the work is less autobiographically or historically valid—–only that it is never pure autobiography or history, and has to be understood and embraced thus. Truth isn’t synonymous with historicity, and infidelity to the latter isn’t necessarily betrayal of the former. ~”The Holocaust’s Uneasy Relationship with Literature” by Menachem Kaiser, The Atlantic, December 2010

Unlikely Warrior by Georg Rauch

Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army by Georg Rauch.

Because Austrian Georg Rauch had a Jewish grandmother, making him one quarter Jewish blood (whatever that means), he was not made an officer in the army of the Third Reich. However, Rauch’s Jewish ancestry didn’t prevent him from being drafted into the German army and sent as a radio operator to the Russian front. Rauch wasn’t a Nazi nor was he in sympathy with Hitler’s political views or his plan for European domination. But that lack of patriotic enthusiasm didn’t keep nineteen year Georg Rauch from being expected to serve the Fuehrer and fight for the cause of Germany.

It must be World War 2 week here at Semicolon; it seems I’ve unintentionally been reading quite a few books set during that cataclysmic war. On Sunday I reviewed FDR and the American Crisis by Albert Marrin. On Monday, I told you about my pastor’s World War 2 novel, We Never Stood Alone, about the inhabitants of the English village of Stokeley and their more personal crises during the first years of the war. Yesterday I wrote about the young adult adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand best-selling and eye-opening biography of Louis Zamperini, Unbroken. And now today we’re headed for the eastern front, in Ukraine and Romania, where the cruelties and atrocities were, according to Mr. Rauch, just as abominable as the things Zamperini had to endure in Japan and in the South Pacific. (Comparisons are odious, but sometimes inevitable.)

By 1943, again from Rauch’s point of view, the average German soldier on the eastern front knew that the Germans were losing the war. Rauch just hoped to survive long enough to be sent home when the Germans finally surrendered. Unfortunately for him, as the war was ending Rauch was captured by the Russians and spent a good year or more in successive Soviet labor camps before he managed to finagle a place on a train back to his homeland of Austria.

As I read this book and Zamperini’s story in Unbroken, I found it difficult to believe that men could survive such horrors and emerge sane or even alive. Many did not survive, and many more did not survive in spirit. I wonder if I have what it would take to survive in such horrendous circumstances, and I really doubt that I do. If I were ever confronted with such a crisis as the Christians of Syria and Iraq are living through now, I would have to depend on the Holy Spirit to sustain me or the Lord would have to take me, because I certainly don’t have it within me to endure such persecution.

I’m rather amazed that anyone does. Unlikely Soldier is a good book about a bad time. I recommend it to adults, young and old, who are interested in an unflinching look at the horrors of war from a unique perspective, that of an unwilling conscript in Hitler’s army.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive, Adapted for Young Adults by Laura Hillenbrand.

I first read Unbroken, the life history of Olympic runner and prisoner of war in Japan, Louis Zamperini, in 2011, about four years ago. I was astounded and moved by this man’s story then, and as I’ve read more about him since then, I continue to be an admirer of and and an advocate for Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken.

So, I read the young adult adaptation of one of my favorite books with both a desire to see it succeed and with some trepidation. It helps that this version of Unbroken was in capable hands, the hands of the original author Laura Hillenbrand herself. And honestly, although I could tell that the book had been shortened and that the text had been somewhat simplified, I couldn’t pinpoint anything that was left out. That makes for an excellent adaptation.

It also means that if you were looking for a book that leaves out all the violence and cruelty and general horror of Louis Zamperini’s stay in various Japanese prisoner of war camps, this book doesn’t do that. The book also doesn’t leave out Louis’s struggle with PTSD and his healing after the war as the movie version did. So, if your young adult, age twelve and above, wants a less intimidating version, i.e. fewer pages and no footnotes at the end, that still tells the whole story, this book will do the job. If your child is not ready for an introduction to the horrors of man’s inhumanity and cruelty, this book definitely won’t be a good choice.

Two of my own children read Unbroken (the adult version) while they were still in high school, and they found it accessible and absorbing. However, if your teen struggles with reading long books or just is in a time crunch, this young adult adaptation is well written and perfectly adequate. It’s not dumbed down, and the writing is still beautiful, detailed, and vivid.

I recommend Unbroken, either version, to just about anyone who’s interested in history or war or survival or World War 2 in particular or inspiring biography or the aftermath of war and the possibility of forgiveness. I’ll be looking for a copy of this young adult version to place in my library for younger teen readers.

We Never Stood Alone by Bob DeGray

If you like both World War II fiction and Christian fiction, We Never Stood Alone should be your next read, for sure. My pastor wrote the book, so maybe I’m prejudiced, but I found it absorbing, impeccably researched, and also full of spiritual and practical truth. I certainly can’t say all three of those things about many books that I read.

The novel is set in the fictional village of Stokely on the Thames River in south central England in 1939 as war clouds loom on the horizon. Free Church pastor Lloyd Robins, worrying over the continual drumbeat of bad news from the continent and the ringing in his bad ear, is trying to remain faithful to the Lord he came to know in the last war and hopeful in the face of the coming storm. His wife, Annie, is his support, but she has her own struggles and storms to walk through. Both Lloyd and Annie, as well as the other members of Stokely Free Church, must learn to sense the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as they necessarily depend on Him in a time of profound danger and uncertainty.

Yes, there are those many, many other members of Stokely Free Church and other inhabitants of the village of Stokely. You almost need a list of characters to keep them all straight, and obliging author that he is, Mr. DeGray has provided just such a list on his blog, World War 2 Christian Fiction. Consult the list when you read, as needed.

When I read good books, I am usually reminded of other good books or movies or even TV series. We Never Stood Alone reminded me both of Downton Abbey and of Jan Karon’s Mitford/Father Tim books. The Downton Abbey connection is, of course, found in the sheer British-ness of the setting and characters as well as the intertwined stories of all the village people in community. Community is a central theme of the book as is the daily efficacy of prayer and Scripture, two Christian disciplines which also intertwine to keep us in community and in Christ’s presence. In this theme of Christian community among broken and average people, the village and people of Stokely in We Never Stood Alone most resemble Jan Karon’s Mitford community of normal, everyday people in the process of being transformed by a loving and immanent God.

To learn more about the book or the author or both, visit the author’s website,

To purchase your copy, either as an ebook or in print, try Amazon.

FDR and the American Crisis by Albert Marrin

History professor Albert Marrin has been writing nonfiction narrative history for quite a while: his first book for young adults was Overlord: D Day and the Invasion of Europe, which was published in 1982. He has written more than thirty history narratives for children and young adults, including Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy, a National Book Award finalist.

In his latest book, Marrin returns to the World War II era and to the Great Depression and to the president who shepherded America through both of those crises, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR was a complicated character, and Mr. Marrin presents him—warts, strengths, and all—in the context of the events and attitudes of his time. FDR and The American Crisis is, above all, a comprehensive and balanced vision of Roosevelt, what he did for the United States and what he did to change the country, for better and for worse.

In addition to my appreciation for its even-handedness, I was most impressed with the personal tone of Mr. Marrin’s very detailed, yet broad, narrative. Mr. Marrin is 79 years old. Born in 1936, he actually remembers some of the events of Roosevelt’s presidency and of the second World War. And he’s not afraid to gently insert himself into the narrative with an “I remember” or a “we all wonder if” statement. In addition, Marrin isn’t reluctant to share his own informed opinion when it’s appropriate:

“Critics branded Hoover a ‘do-nothing’ president who let Americans suffer due to his commitment to old-fashioned ideas. It is untrue.”

“The media developed a teenager’s crush on the Red Army.”

“Convinced of his own virtue and wisdom, he (FDR) thought too highly of his personal charm and powers of persuasion. He misjudged the murderous Stalin.”

“Those who praised him (FDR) as a saintly miracle worker are as wrong as those who bitterly cursed him as a monster.”

Bottom line, I learned a lot from reading FDR and the American Crisis—and I learned it in a throughly pleasant and absorbing read. Mr. Marrin once said in an interview, “Kids are very bright. I’m not going to write down. If anything, I’ll have them read up to me.” This book is not dumbed down, nor is it a breezy hagiography of a famous president. Any high school, or even college, student looking for both an in-depth and readable introduction to FDR and his presidency could not do better than to read Mr. Marrin’s book first.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman’s 1997 book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures won her literary prizes, national attention, particularly from the medical and social work communities, and many similar accolades. I read that the the book is required reading for first year medical students in many American medical schools, and I am convinced after reading the book, that it should be required reading for all doctors and medical students. It should also be required for spiritual “doctors”, missionaries and pastors, especially those who relate to refugee populations or who attempt to minster cross-culturally.

The book tells the story of a Hmong family from Laos and their difficulties with the medical system in Merced County, California, as it related to their epileptic daughter, Lia Lee. However, the story is much more than just a history of tragic misunderstandings across cultures. Ms. Fadiman also intersperses a great deal of the history and folklore of the Hmong people, and she explains some of the deep cultural differences between the Hmong and the Americans who welcomed them into this country. The story of Lia Lee and her family shows how those differences became insurmountable walls that led to Lia’s eventual “living death” of entering into a persistent vegetative state for the final twenty-six years of her life.

Hmong spiritual practices such as shamanism and ritual sacrifice clashed with modern medical practice. Hmong beliefs in patriarchy and demons causing sickness conflicted with doctors who believed that their authority and medical education entitled them to prescribe what treatment Lia should get. The doctors expected Lia’s parents to trust them and follow their directions. Lia’s parents expected the doctors to “fix Lia” and then leave them alone to care for her as they saw fit. Neither the doctors nor the parents were listening to the other, partly because of the language barrier, but even more because of a cultural barrier that made them disrespect and distrust one another. As a result of miscommunication and stubbornness on both sides, Lia became “quadriplegic, spastic, incontinent, and incapable of purposeful movement. Her condition was termed a persistent vegetative state.’

My thoughts about this story tended toward the spiritual, even though the very few brief mentions of Christians or Christianity in the book are uniformly disparaging. How would I talk about Jesus or share His love with a Hmong neighbor? To begin to communicate the love of Christ to a person of a very different background and culture would take what Eugene Peterson called “long obedience in the same direction.” (The phrase actually comes from Nietzsche, of all people.) I would have to put myself and my own feelings aside and live my life before God as a loving and patient and understanding neighbor, always being ready to give a reason for the hope within me. In fact, that’s what we are going to have to do more and more as our culture moves away from a Christian consensus such that there’s a deep cultural chasm between Christians and almost anyone else that we try to love and evangelize. We have to be patient and kind and persistent and faithful.

And we have to be willing to fail, and leave the ending to God and His mercy.

Lia Lee 1982-2012
Lia Lee died on August 31, 2012. She was thirty years old and had been in a vegetative state since the age of four. Until the day of her death, her family cared for her lovingly at home.

The Envoy by Alex Kershaw

The Envoy: The Epic Rescue of the Last Jews of Europe in the Desperate Closing Months of World War II by Alex Kershaw.

On Saturday morning, I went to this protest at Planned Parenthood, Gulf Coast, the site of the largest and most lucrative abortion facility in the United States. On Saturday afternoon and evening, I read The Envoy, the story of the final months of World War II in Hungary and the genocide organized by Adolf Eichmann as a “final solution” to the “Jewish problem” in Hungary. Even though, as Jen Fulwiler writes in this piece, the analogy between the Jewish Holocaust of World War II and the abortion holocaust of the United States (and much of the developed world) is not complete or tidy, the parallels are obvious and undeniable. In both cases, a class of people were/are “dehumanized”, spoken of and then treated as less than human, unworthy of basic human rights and protections. (Bob DeGray on The Christian Response to Dehumanization)

The more I read about World War II or about Hitler’s Holocaust, the more I realize that I have huge swaths of ignorance about what took place during that time. Did you know that during the summer of 1944, when it was becoming clearer and clearer that the Germans were losing the war and that the Russian army was headed toward Budapest, Eichmann insisted upon continuing his program of exterminating the Jews of Hungary? During that summer, from May to August, over 500,000 Jewish men, women and children were transported to Auschwitz, mostly from Hungary’s provinces, outside of Budapest itself. The deportations were suspended in late August because the Romania had surrendered, putting the Russian army only weeks away from Budapest. However, after the Germans blackmailed Hungary’s puppet regent, Miklas Horthy, into resigning by kidnapping his son and holding him hostage, the Arrow Cross, Hungary’s viciously anti-Semitic Nazi party, took over the government. “The pogroms began that evening. Hundreds were pulled from their homes or off the streets and slaughtered in plain sight in the first hours of the Arrow Cross regime.” (p.160)

Then, Eichmann returned to his pet plan for liquidating the Jews of Budapest. When he couldn’t get trains to transport the Jews to Auschwitz, he forced them to march to the Polish border on foot, by the thousands. Many died on the way, and others were killed as soon as they reached Poland. Even though Eichmann (and everybody else) knew that the Russians would soon take Budapest, he was intent on killing as many Jews as possible before the Nazis were defeated.

All these details were things I didn’t really realize about the Holocaust, not set in context as they are in The Envoy. I had heard of Raoul Wallenberg; I read an account somewhere of his using his Swedish diplomatic immunity and his ingenuity to save Jews. However, The Envoy puts Wallenberg and his heroic work to rescue the Jews of Budapest into perspective. I was amazed at Wallenberg’s courage and that of many others during the latter half of 1944, and I was surprised and saddened to learn of Wallenberg’s fate after his work in Budapest was over. Probably, Wallenberg never knew that many of the Jews he rescued with fake diplomatic protection did survive the war, and he may very well have thought that no one knew or cared about his attempts to rescue at least a remnant of Hungary’s Jewish population.

Reading the story of Raoul Wallenberg and the Jews of Budapest made me remember that many of us, maybe most of us, will never know in this life the results of our attempts at kindness, courage, truth-telling, and goodness. Sometimes those actions bear fruit many years later. Sometimes Satan deceives us into thinking that our actions don’t really matter, that no one is listening, nothing is changing, no one cares, and evil wins. But God wins, and goodness outlasts and extinguishes evil, and our actions, for good or for ill, do matter. One man, or even a group of men, may not have been able to save all the Jews from the evil that was Hitler’s and Eichmann’s final solution, but one man and his co-conspirators made a difference. And I am determined to use my one voice and my one life to do whatever I can to make a difference for truth and justice, too.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose.

The Newbery honor and National Book Award winning author of Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, Phillip Hoose, has chronicled the fascinating true story of a group of Danish boys who jump-started the resistance to the Nazis in Denmark during World War II. Knud Pedersen, a pastor’s son, joined with his high school buddies to harass and subvert the Germans who were occupying Denmark. They stole guns, burned German vehicles, confused signage, posted graffiti,and cut phone lines, among other acts of sabotage and resistance. And they acted when almost no one else in Denmark was resisting the Germans at all. Pedersen says they did it because they were ashamed of Denmark’s easy capitulation to the Nazis and the collaboration that characterized the Danish response to the German occupation.

“I kept asking myself: How on earth could I lie on the beach sunning when my country had been violated? Why were we not as brave as Norway? Had Denmark no pride?”

Eventually, the boys, who after all were just boys with no military or resistance experience, were arrested and imprisoned. But they became an inspiration to the adults of Denmark who began their own resistance movement. Mr. Hoose credits Knud Pedersen and his Churchill Club with “setting the ball in motion” and making Denmark “a hotbed of resistance.”

I would have liked to have read more about the religion “ghosts” (hints about a religious or Christian influence that aren’t fleshed out) in this story. Pedersen’s father was a pastor, but we are never told what denomination or what that fact meant to Knud Pedersen. Pedersen tells how the boys decided that they would have to be willing to kill Germans in order to form an effective resistance cell, but he never says anything about how they reconciled the violence they were willing to commit with their Christian background or faith. In fact, it is hinted, but never stated, that perhaps Knud Pedersen and his brother, who was also involved in the Churchill Club, didn’t have much faith or Christianity to reconcile. However, perhaps they did, but the author doesn’t tell us about it. Pedersen is filled with hatred: for the Germans, for the Danish collaborators, and for his jailers. A struggle with what to do with such hatred in a Christian context is never mentioned.

Religion ghosts in the text:

“Holy Ghost Monastery . . . would host Edvard Pedersen’s Danish Folkschurch and provide living quarters for the Pedersen family.” Folkschurch?

Most of the boys of the Churchill Club attended Aalborg Cathedral School, presumably a Christian private school?

Knud Pedersen: “Each Sunday morning Jens and I practiced shooting the guns in the gigantic open loft at the top of the monastery during father’s church services. We would lie on our stomachs, waiting for the music to swell, and when it did we’d blast away, firing at targets positioned in the hay on the other side of the loft.” So the boys didn’t attend church services?

Pedersen on Christmas in prison: “I wanted to cry, but I had forgotten how. I finally discovered that by softly singing Christmas songs in my cell at night I could make the tears flow down my cheeks. I sang every song I knew and wept the whole next day.”

Knud Pedersen, describing the end of the war for him: “Father distributed hymnals. I ended the war at the monastery chapel just a few meters away from the room in which the Churchill Club was born–singing hymns with the men of my K Company group. I was eighteen.”

Knud’s brother, Jens, “struggled with depression.” “He died in a hospital after a very unhappy life.”

After the war, Knud Pedersen wrote a memoir about the Churchill Club. His father, “Edvard Pedersen, arranged to have a secretary type the finished manuscript, but—unbeknownst to Knud and his club mates–he had the typist cross out all the curse words just before publication. This angered the group when they finally saw the book.”

These ghosts/hints are interesting for what is not mentioned: no prayer, no consolation from remembered Scripture or Biblical truth, no Christ or Christian commitment. Judging from a quick skim of his blog, Mr. Hoose himself seems to have Buddhist sympathies, so it’s understandable that he would not be as interested in the Christian underpinnings or lack thereof of the Churchill Club and its members. But I was. Unfortunately, since Mr. Pedersen died in December of last year, 2014, I can’t ask him whether he rejected or found strength in the faith of his parents or what exactly that faith was.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler is a book about teen heroes, young men who decided that if the adults wouldn’t do anything for the honor of Denmark and the confusion of her enemy, the German invaders, they would. As such it’s an interesting and exciting portrait of youthful zeal and even foolhardiness which can sometimes trump an adult over-abundance of caution and planning. I just would have liked to know more about the boys’ foundational thinking, about what motivated them and sustained them, or didn’t sustain them, through prison and life after the war.

Down Ryton Water by E.R. Gaggin

Down Ryton Water is a 1942 Newbery Honor book about the Pilgrims–published back when children’s books were really meaty and challenging reads. It’s 369 pages of pilgrim wanderings and family building and moving and rearranging and traveling and birthing and marrying.

The (sainted) Pilgrims come across as real people with personalities and foibles and humor and salty language (nothing that’s shocking for nowadays) and full lives. The book focuses on the Over family: Mother Orris Brode Over, a gardener and herbalist; Father Matt Over, a farmer; Young Matt, five years old as the story opens in Scrooby, England; and baby Remember, “the damp woman child” as Young Matt calls her. The family soon grows: Young Matt’s young uncle John Brode, an adopted orphan child named Winifrett, a new baby boy born in Holland and named for the Dutch St. Nicholas, and later a young Native American teen named Wisset, all join the Over family.

It’s a book about family and about continuity of that family amidst pilgrim upheavals and separations and reunions. I found it encouraging and full of wisdom nuggets:

Orris to Young Matt upon the occasion of the Overs leaving Scrooby for Holland: “Strangers and pilgrims on the earth. That’s what we are . . . Because pilgrims, my lad, are strangers in a strange land. And so will we be–and my poor simples! Pilgrims wander about the earth in search of the blessed vision that keeps ever out of reach, just ahead of them. . . . Our vision is a place to live where we may have freedom to think, freedom to worship, and freedom to dig in the muck once more.”

Uncle John, when the Pilgrims are leaving Holland: “Freedom must be earned; it must first be understood and then fought for. It must be forever guarded, lest it slip away. It is the most precious thing in life.”

William Bradford at the first Thanksgiving: “We have been in a race for life. But a halt must be made in such a race sometime. A halt to consider what has been accomplished with God’s help, and to give thanks to Him for His blessings. A halt for–for–well, for laughter and feasting and pleasantry. Both young and old need a bolus of merriment now and then to keep them in good health.”

When Young Matt is building himself a house, his uncle John tells him: “Get some beauty into the design! No dwelling is too simple for beauty! There’s a correctness for every need. In building, as in garments.”

This fictional family of Pilgrims, the Overs, shows young (and old) readers the vicissitudes of life in colonial America as the first Europeans came to settle in the New World. It would make a good November read aloud book for upper elementary or even middle school children. And for skilled readers in that age group who are interested in history, this book would also be a fascinating and challenging independent reading choice. The book is long and descriptive passages abound, so patience and a tolerance for such is required. I found it a good antidote to the internet-based reading that I often get accustomed to and have to wean myself from in order to read deeply and enjoy fully the reading that I do.

The Wonderful Year by Nancy Barnes

I found this book at a local public library, and I was rather surprised to discover it in the middle of the vampires and the magical worlds and the middle school angst: a realistic, turn of the century setting story, published in 1946, about an only child, Ellen, who travels from Kansas to Colorado with her lawyer father and her adventurous mother to start a fruit-growing farm. The family is also in search of a rest cure and healthy situation for Father, who has been prescribed fresh air and exercise to alleviate the pain in his neck. Ellen, who is a worrier like her father, is reluctant to leave her friends in Kansas, but Mother is excited about the the new venture and soon talks Ellen into joining in her eager anticipation.

Ah, I see now why the book is still on the shelves at the library; it won a Newbery Honor in 1947. And I would say the honor was well-deserved. The pace and atmosphere of the story is reminiscent of Ruth Sawyer’s Roller Skates or of the Betsy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, especially the older Betsy books in which Betsy goes to middle school and high school. Ellen is eleven as the story begins, and she has her twelfth birthday near the end of the book, but as only children tend to be, she’s somewhat mature for her age. One of the themes of the novel is about growing up and staying a child and not growing up too fast nor being too impatient to leave one’s childhood behind. Ellen makes friends with a fifteen year old boy, Ronnie, who lives nearby, and there is some understated tension about whether the two can remain friends and comrades in adventure when Ronnie is so much older and interested in girls his own age while still enjoying Ellen’s company as a friend. The interpersonal give and take is very well written, and I would love for my early teen and pre-teen girls to read the story and then discuss the possibilities that are suggested about boys and girls being friends and not having to get jealous of one another or have crushes.

Another area for discussion would be the “sexist” and “feminist” stereotypes that the characters seem to take for granted. Boys don’t cry. Girls need to be more like boys, tough and hardy, if they are to be seen as equal partners in adventure. It’s important for a girl to “find her own place, stand on her her own two feet, and not cling to anyone.” Are these true lessons? How is Ellen “like a girl”? How is she “like a boy”? Are these really even useful descriptions?

At the risk of being sexist myself, I would recommend The Wonderful Year for girls ages eleven to thirteen who want to read more about girls in other times and places. Fans of Betsy-Tacy, the Little House books, the American Girl series, or other girls-in-history realistic fiction should enjoy this coming of age story. And Colorado readers would especially enjoy this look at the history of Colorado settlement and farming. The illustrations in the book are by author and illustrator Kate Seredy, and they are quite lovely in their own right. Pen and ink, or perhaps pencil, drawings show Ellen and her family and friends in the thick of their homesteading experiences, and the expressive faces and captured actions add a lot to the story.

I would love to have a copy of this book for my library, and I’ll be adding it to my wishlist, which is growing much too long for the available shelf space in my library.