Up Periscope by Robb White

According to Jan Bloom’s Who Should We Then Read, Volume 2, author Robb White’s books are “high action, well-written adventure yarns peopled with realistically drawn, likable characters in plausible yet exciting situations.” This particular yarn is a World War II submarine adventure that takes place in the South Pacific. Kenneth Braden, lieutenant (junior grade), U.S. Naval Reserve, volunteers for an unnamed job while he’s in Underwater Demolition School, and he soon finds himself in Hawaii, Pearl Harbor, talking to an admiral about doing something “hard, lonely, and dangerous” somewhere in the Pacific. Ken can take the job or back out. Of course, he decides to go for it.

I won’t spoil the story by telling what Ken’s job entails, but it does involve a great deal of time on a submarine. Both Ken and the readers of the novel learn a lot about submarines by the time the story is over. I knew almost nothing about submarines and submarine warfare when I started reading, and now I know . . . a little, not because there’s only a little information in the book, but mostly because I could only take in and assimilate so much. Readers who are really interested in submarine warfare will find the story absorbing and informative, and I assume the details are accurate since Mr. White served in the U.S. Navy himself during World War II. Suffice it to say I enjoyed this action tale, and World War II buffs or submarine aficionados will enjoy it even more than I did.

Apparently, the book was popular in its time, or else Robb White had connections in Hollywood. The novel was published in 1956, and it was made into a movie, starring James Garner, in 1959. White’s memoir, Our Virgin Island, about the Pacific island he and his wife bought for $60.00 and lived on before the war, was filmed as Virgin Island in 1958. The movie starred John Cassavetes, Sidney Poitier, and Ruby Dee. (White did write for Hollywood, so I guess he had connections.)

The author is just about as fascinating as his novel. He was born in the Philippines, a missionary kid. He learned to sail at an early age, graduated from the Naval Academy, and loved the sea. But he also wanted to be a writer, and he wrote magazine articles, screenplays, three memoirs, and more than twenty novels. His novels were mostly marketed to what we would now call the young adult market, but Up Periscope at least is not about teens, but rather adult men, fighting in an adult war. The only reason it might be considered a “children’s” or “young adult” novel as far as I can see is that there is a distinct lack of bad language and sexual content, a welcome relief from modern young adult novels. I counted only one “damn”, and on the flip side, several instances in which the men pray in a very natural, fox-hole way for God to save them from impending death. There is some war nastiness and violence, but that’s to be expected in a war novel. I think anyone over the age of twelve or thirteen could appreciate this thrilling story of espionage and submarine derring-do.

Only a couple of Robb White’s books remain in print; the rest are available at wildly varying prices from Amazon or other used book sellers. On the basis of just having read this one (and Jan Bloom’s recommendation) I would recommend his novels for your World War II-obsessed readers, and I would be quite interested in reading Mr. White’s three memoirs: Privateer’s Bay, Our Virgin Island, and Two on the Isle.

Gaff by Shan Correa

The combatants, aptly referred to as gamecocks, are specially bred birds, conditioned for increased stamina and strength. The comb and wattle are cut off in order to meet show standards of the American Gamefowl Society and the Old English Game Club and to prevent freezing in colder climates. Cocks possess congenital aggression toward all males of the same species. Cocks are given the best of care until near the age of two years old. They are conditioned, much like professional athletes prior to events or shows. Wagers are often made on the outcome of the match. While not all fights are to the death, the cocks do endure physical trauma that may result in death. Cockfighting was at one time considered to be an accepted, traditional sporting event in the United States. . . . In some regional variations, the birds are equipped with either metal spurs (called gaffs) or knives, tied to the leg in the area where the bird’s natural spur has been partially removed. ~Wikipedia, Cockfight

Yes, I’ve heard of cockfighting before. No, I’ve never seen a cockfight (thank goodness). I thought it was a mainly rural/Hispanic sort of thing. I had no idea cockfighting was big in Hawaii, where the book Gaff by Shan Correa is set. In the story, thirteen year old Paul Silva and his friend Sal Salvador are fascinated by the roosters their fathers raise for sale. Then, when the two boys actually attend their first cockfight, Paul is horrified by the violence to the beautiful birds, and he vows to find a way for his father to make a living that doesn’t involve training birds for fighting. Unfortunately, that way may involve moving the family away from their Hawaiian country home to a condominium. Is it worth it when someone else will take their place in the cockfighting and breeding business anyway?

The Wikipedia article goes on to say that cockfighting is illegal in all fifty states of the United States. In forty states and in D.C. it is illegal to be a spectator at a cockfight. However, it is not illegal to train birds for fighting or to raise them for the purpose of being fighting birds.

Correa’s book has descriptions just vivid enough to convey the nastiness of the “sport” but it remains appropriate for a middle grade audience. If the ending is a little bit too hopeful, it’s hard to find fault when I was rooting for Paul and his family to find the perfect way out of the cockfighting business and into a better way of making a living. The detailed descriptions of life in Hawaii and the occasional taste of pidgin English gave the book a regional flavor that was lots of fun. And the story does a good job of showing the different perspectives of the characters on cockfighting without either condoning the violence and cruelty or preaching against it.

I wasn’t sure going in that I would like this one, but I did. I liked the way the parents and family were involved in all aspects of the story. And I also liked the way the Catholic faith of the families in the story became a natural part of their lives and of the the plot of the the novel.

I would end this review with my “other takes” feature, but the only place I can find this book even mentioned is, appropriately enough, at the Hawaii Book Blog. And even there it hasn’t been reviewed yet. Hawaiians and others should love this island story of a boy growing up and learning to trust his own convictions.

Henderson’s Spear by Ronald Wright

Olivia, a British Canadian filmmaker, is writing to the daughter she gave up for adoption at birth. She’s writing from the jail in Tahiti because the French authorities suspect her of spying on nuclear testing in the Pacific, perhaps even murder.

Olivia, in turn, shares her own story and the story of the ancestor of a friend of the family, Henderson, who as a young man accompanied the Prince of Wales on a trip through Polynesia and the Pacific islands. When he was a bit older Henderson had a nearly deadly encounter with some Arabs in North Africa, and he came to believe that his treatment in North Africa was somehow connected to the secrets he learned while travelling with Prince Eddy through Polynesia.

I didn’t feel as if the plot strands in this book came together well. I didn’t much care for the oh-so-liberated Olivia who was mourning, twenty or so years later, both the loss of her father and of her daughter. Henderson, the other main character in the book, was a bit of a Victorian prig, stereotypical, yet he accepted certain events that I think would have appalled any man of his time and background.

I give it about a C+.

LOST Rehash: The Glass Ballerina

If you have not watched this second episode, third season, of LOST and you don’t want to know what happens, don’t read.

1. I don’t like Sun so much anymore. She managed to get her lover killed, get mad at Jin for obeying her daddy (for her sake), lie to Jin, and shoot somebody. Will the Others really “become” the enemy now? I think, that despite protestations to the contrary, they’ve been doing a pretty good enemy imitation all along.

2. Sayid is a little over-confident in this episode. He’s going to take two of them as hostages and kill the rest —single-handed? I like Sayid; I think Sayid’s the best offensive player the Lost team has, but he needs a reality check. Maybe he got one tonight.

3. What was the name of the girl who got shot? Colleen? Carrie? Is she dead?

4. Did you hear Hurley talking to Desmond at the end? “Uh, the hatch blew your clothes off!” 🙂

5. Why do Sawyer and Kate get a sentence of hard labor while Jack gets to lie around in his cell and have soup and sandwiches brought to him on a platter? Are they trying mind games with Jack because they think he has a mind? And Sawyer and Kate are fit only for breaking rocks and making plans that are monitored over the intercom? Shouldn’t they have some clue that their discussion might not be so private?

6. Did Ben introduce himself as Benjamin Lyons? As in, he’s a LIAR? I believe they have contact with the outside, but I don’t believe they can get off the island or out of its magnetic field or whatever it was that brought the raft back to the island. She-Who-Was-Shot-By-the-Glass-Ballerina wasn’t worried about the Losties escaping in their sailboat; she was only worried that they might find Other City.

7. Sun’s daddy is a bad guy. A really bad guy. Is Sun stupid or willfully blind? I guess she’s willfully ignoring and avoiding the subject.

8. Maybe all the Losties are somehow Enemies of Dharma, and so Dharma sent them to crash on the island/prison where they can’t get out and do any more damage to Dharma. And Sun’s dad, along with Desmond’s girlfriend’s dad, is a Dharma Director. It’s all some kind of criminal syndicate.

9. However, there are other things going on, too. The Dharma people only know that the Island is a convenient place to send unwanted people. But it’s also a healing place and a place where odd things happen to people. And the Others are just as confused about the real purpose of the island as anyone else.

10. Who pushed Sun’s special friend out the window? Or did he jump?

11. Is Sun really pregnant? Or is it a false pregnancy? Or another lie?

Anyone else see anything interesting or illuminating tonight?

Week 6 of World Geography: South Pacific Islands

Ludwig Beethoven—Ninth Symphony
Ludwig Beethoven and the Chiming Tower Bells–Wheeler

Mission Study:
1. Bold Bearers of His Name: Kiayi Palus Tosari
2. BBOHN: Ruatoka & Tungane
3. BBOHN: Joseph Kam
4. BBOHN: Deu L. Mahandi
5. Window on the World: Indonesia

Rime of the Ancient Mariner–Coleridge


Nonfiction Read Alouds:
KIDS Discover: Equator

Fiction Read Alouds:
A Question of Yams–Repp
Born in the Year of Courage–Crofford

Picture Books:
Come to My Place: Meet My Island Family–Kamikmica

Elementary Readers:
Call It Courage—Sperry
Twenty-One Balloons—duBois
Kensuke’s Kingdom—Morpurgo
Island of the Blue Dolphins—O’Dell
Kaiulani: The People’s Princess–White

South Pacific
Father Goose

Any other suggestions? Do any of you know of any really excellent books for children that are set in Indonesia, the Philippines, Fiji, Samoa, or any of the other 30,000 islands of Polynesia, Melanesia or Micronesia?