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When Christmas Comes Again

I’ve mentioned before how much I love the Dear America series. Well, it’s equally true that I shouldn’t be allowed to read war stories. Or real accounts, because I cry and cry and cry. And When Christmas Comes Again is certainly no exception. I’ve cried sad and happy tears with this one.

When Christmas Comes Again tells the story of privileged 18-year-old Simone Spencer during 1918. She has recently graduated, and the war in Europe is raging. She’s looking for a little bit of adventure and, more importantly, to help the war effort. Then, the perfect assignment comes along. General Pershing is looking for young women who are fluent in French to help translate messages . . . along the front lines! Simone is even more eager now to do her part.

In Europe, Simone’s story is one part fascinating and two parts tragic. She finds that her brother, Will, is at least temporarily safe and sound, which is relief in and of itself. But work as a Hello Girl is pressing. It’s imperative that every single word be translated correctly or the orders along the front lines will get confused. A lot rests on the shoulders of the Hello Girls. But hard work isn’t the extent of Simone’s tragedies. Her best friend Alice takes sick. Will and Sam Cates are sent to the front. And worse.

Simone isn’t over in Europe a year before the war is wrapping up, and though the Armistice should bring happiness to Simone’s life, she can’t help but remember those she lost. She returns home to find that Will has made it home safe and sound, but that life at home is, well, hard. But as Christmas does come again, life brings a sweet surprise to Simone. One too sweet to spoil.

Some people seemed to be confused by the title, thinking this was a Christmas story. But readers of Dear America should know that these stories often cover one or more years. In this case, the title refers to the common idea that the war would be over when Christmas comes again. We’ll be home and the War to End All Wars will be over. They thought that in 1914, and were wrong. By 1918, they were desperate for it to be over.

Is Simone’s story the most riveting story out there? Well, no. However, it was the first I had learned about Hello Girls. No one much acknowledged what they’d done until the 1970’s. So, Simone’s story is a little-known story of how young women played a vital role during the Great War.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Classification: Children’s

Era: WWI

Goodreads: When Christmas Comes Again

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The Winter of Red Snow

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777

This is the first Dear America book I ever read, and the descriptions of the winter of 1777-78, of the snow stained blood red with the footprints of shoeless soldiers has stayed with me for 20 years. It’s a horrifying description, especially to readers of this age group. But it taught us something. That of the suffering of those soldiers. These men of the American Colonies who were fighting for their friends. And for our freedom.

In 1777, our military was basically a ragtag group of men with zero military experience. But that harsh winter in Valley Forge hardened our men into a tough military with the might to beat the Red Coats and gain independence. That winter, half the soldiers were without shoes, many without trousers, if you can believe that. They were starving, they were freezing. It sort of makes our complaints and discomforts seem . . . well, a bit insignificant, doesn’t it? What with our central heating, and whatnot.

The Winter of Red Snow, while maybe not as brutal as the following winter, helped to shape our army. That harsh winter in Valley Forge made them stronger; they’d spent those months drilling and training and suffering and by the spring, they were ready to face the Red Coats and win the war of Independence.

As with all of the Dear America books, Abigail’s diary feels like a real diary. You actually understand what it feels like to live in her home, to witness the soldiers’ suffering, and oh yeah, doing Mrs. Washington’s laundry – because both George and Martha Washington make appearances in this diary!

Abigail’s story is important because it reminds us of why America fought for independence in the first place. It reminds us of what sacrifice looks like; it’s not always pleasant to behold. But some would say that it’s well worth it. Freedom always is.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Classification: Children’s

Era: Revolutionary War

Goodreads: The Winter of Red Snow

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Number the Stars


Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen lives in Nazi-occupied Denmark. She knows what a world is like with soldiers on every street corner. And she knows simple things about how to avoid detection, such as not running through the street. Nazi soldiers on every street corner is scary enough … but Nazi soldiers banging on the front door is much, much worse. See, it wasn’t until her parents took in her best friend, Ellen Rosen, that Annemarie realized just how scary Nazi soldiers could really be. But one night, they did come knocking, leaving the Johansen’s to pretend that Ellen wasn’t really Jewish, but another daughter. Then, the real danger began as the family has to risk everything to get Ellen’s family out of Nazi-occupied Denmark and into the safety of neutral Sweden.

Just as In My Hands was presented in the Polish Resistance post instead of the Poland in WWII post, so Number the Stars finds itself being presented in the Danish Resistance post. And, as mentioned in Danish Resistance post, for those of us who grew up in the 1990’s, Number the Stars was likely amongst our introduction to the horror known as the Holocaust.

But if that worries you some, don’t be. First off, this is a novel written for grade school children. And, it tells an important story about a very important period in history. Furthermore, teaching history at an early age if of supreme importance.

As touched on briefly in our One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping post, my first experience with historical fiction was way back in 1st grade, when my mom bought me a box set of the Meet book for each American Girl that was out at that time. Now, back then, American Girl/Pleasant Company was about teaching school-age girls what it was like to live in different time periods. The books were the center of the universe and the dolls just companions. Like those books, Number the Stars teaches us what it was like to be a little girl under Nazi (or Soviet in other cases) oppression.

It gave us, as young children, the understanding the Gestapo and SS – or Nazis in general – were to be feared, but there certainly was not the terror found in YA or adult novels.

Really, though, Number the Stars is a touching picture of one family who risks their lives to get a Jewish family out of Nazi-occupied Denmark and into free Sweden. It taught us that even little children can resist against oppression.

Number the Stars is a well-written novel about what it was like to live in Denmark in the 1940’s. If you want a novel about what it was like to live in Denmark without the horror you may find in books for older age groups, than Number the Stars is a good place to start.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Classification: Children’s


Featured in Danish Resistance

Goodreads: Number the Stars


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One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping

The second book featured in the History Series. One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping, Dear America diary by Barry Denenberg.

Summary: Julie Weiss is a Jew living in Vienna, Austria. Through her diary entries, she tells of the experiences of being one of the few Jews in her class. Her family, like so many other hard-working Jewish families, is well-off, living in a fancy apartment. But once the Nazis occupy her beloved Vienna, the changes are sweeping. Her family endures being kidnapped in the night to remove pro-Austrian signs of sidewalks. And worse. But mercifully, Julie is sent to New York to live with her aunt and uncle. But she most go alone and make a new life for herself.

When I was little, I loved the Dear America series. Back then, you could go to Barns ‘N Noble or your local library, and pursuing the shelves, you could find any number of historical novels. Today, I get excited if I can find one historical novel that I haven’t read yet (One, that is, that’s actually about the War and not just a love story).

My mom was a fan of the Revolutionary War period, but as with the American Girl books my favorites were always the Depression and WWII stories (Hence, my favorite girls were Molly & Kit).

One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping, may not have been the first WWII/Holocaust children’s literature I’d ever read, but it was probably the first . . . shocking one I’d read. This was the first one that really scared me.

Oh, I’d read simple books like Behind the Bedroom Wall or Number the Stars, but those, while still Holocaust stories, were, well, tamer.

Reading about Julie’s experience with the Nazis showed me, for the first time, the truth about Nazi oppression. And it’s much more horrid than we even learn about in our History classes.

The great thing about any Dear America story is that it’s told in diary form; that gives it a much more personal feel. You’re getting a much better feel for how the protagonist feels. And as Julie’s world crumbles around her, she shares her thoughts and fears. Actually, you feel with Julie. Especially that night when the Nazis come knocking on the flat’s door and drag away her parents. Then, we feel Julie’s complete and utter hopelessness . . .

But then, Julie’s aunt and uncle send for her and Julie suddenly finds herself able to escape Nazi occupied Austria for America. But she has to go alone. We adjust to America with Julie. We feel her helplessness vanish as she experiences the theatre and, in one of my favorite scenes, the automat.

Eventually, America and her Aunt and Uncle becomes her new home.

One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping, is to this day one of my favorite WWII children’s novels. And, like all Dear America books, it ends with a “Life In . . .” section, which contains notes, explanations, and pictures. In other words, children learn an awful lot about history through Dear America books and One Eye Laughing.

Note: There are some intense moments, as it is a Holocaust novel.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Classification: Children’s

Era: Pre-WWII (1938)

Featured in Austria in WWII

Goodreads: One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping

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