CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 34 . . . . April 8, 2011
“Crabtree Connections” series all deal with some aspect of World War II. In two instances, Who’s Who in WWII and WWII Survival Tips, the books’ titles are somewhat misleading. My first response to the words “Who’s Who” in a book’s title is the assumption that the book before me will deal with the most important figures in a particular area, and the photographic cover art of Who’s Who in WWII definitely reinforced my initial impression as it portrays both Adolph Hitler and Winston Churchill, pivotal figure of WWII. However, the 18 people included in Who’s Who in WWII range from those who played major leadership roles in the conflict, the aforementioned Hitler and Churchill, plus Allied leaders Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin and the two other Axis leaders, Benito Mussolini and Hideki Tojo, to individuals, such as Andrew Mynarski (the volume’s only Canadian) and Vernon J. Baker (one of seven African American servicemen to have received the U.S. Medal of Honor) who are among the “Who’s Who” because of single acts of heroism.
Young readers may be familiar with Oscar Schindler because of the movie about his WWII actions and Holocaust victim Anne Frank via her published diary. A few middle schoolers who saw the now “ancient” movie Reach for the Sky on a movie rerun TV channel might even be aware of Douglas Bader, the legless RAF flier, and a few might possibly even have heard of Robert Oppenheimer, the leader of the project that resulted in the creation of the atomic bomb. However, Who’s Who in WWII includes many unfamiliar names: Alan Turing, a British code breaker, Violette Szabo, a 23-year-old British secret agent executed by the Nazis, Lydia Litvyak, a Russian female fighter pilot, Roger Bushell, the South African who directed the POW escape that formed the basis for the movie The Great Escape, and Ruth Foster, a German Holocaust survivor. One of the more interesting “unknowns” is Chiune Sugihara [see the excerpt above]. While many people are aware of the exploits of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg (who is not included in this book) in saving lives of Jews during WWII, I had never before heard of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who carried out similar humanitarian acts involving Jews in German occupied Lithuania.
Each of the 18 people in Who’s Who in WWII is treated in one or two pages. Why some “minor” individuals, such as Douglas Bader and Roger Bushell, merit two pages while other, more significant figures, like US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, are limited to just one, is never made clear. The order of appearance of the book’s subjects seems to be entirely random. Each entry begins with an “identifier,” such as “Secret Agent” or “American Soldier”, plus the person’s nationality. A brief paragraph then highlights the person’s major “exploit(s).” For example: Lydia Litvyak In World War II, women were rarely allowed to fight. But Soviet pilot Lydia Litvyak (1921-1943) was an exception. The remainder of each entry briefly fleshes out the contents of the opening paragraph. Entries conclude with a timeline that is specific to the person being profiled.
I’m not quite certain what I expected the contents of WWII Survival Tips to be when I first looked at this book’s title and cover art. While my eyes initially focused on the four-engined bombers and the person I thought to be a member of an aircrew, I should have paid more attention to the black and white photos of people dancing and sitting in the rubble of destroyed buildings. In retrospect, I should have also recognized that the mask the person was wearing was a gas mask and not an aircrew oxygen mask. I do know that I thought that the book could possibly be “survival tips” for members of the military, perhaps those avoiding capture by the enemy or escaping from POW camps. However, upon opening the book, I found that I was being asked to roleplay being a civilian during WWII, likely one residing in Britain, and that I was to treat the book as a manual. With each pair of facing pages being a “chapter,” my manual provided advice on dealing with air raids, responding to evacuation orders, recognizing air raid signals, building and equipping personal air raid shelters, responding to blackout rules, poisonous gas, bomb damage, incendiary bombs, rationing of clothing and food, plus growing “Victory Gardens.”
Reports from the Front in WWII consists of 16 “headlines” connected to major war related events of WWII. Organized chronologically from Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 2, 1939, to the surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945, the events are treated in either single pages or via pairs of facing pages. Eleven of the “chapters” deal with the European front (none with the Italian or North African campaigns) and the remaining five focus on the Pacific theatre of war (attack on Pearl Harbor, fall of Manilla, capture of Iwo Jima, atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, and Japanese surrender). Written newspaper style, the entries are quite brief, and a note on the copyright page acknowledges that “Some of the quotes in this book are fictional and are designed to illustrate what it might have been like to experience the events recorded.”
As expected of Crabtree titles, the three books are generously illustrated and make use of numerous black and white period photos. A bit more attention could have been paid to the photos selected for WWII Survival Tips wherein Allied bombing aircraft are used in the sections warning Allied civilians about air raids. All three books contain the expected glossary of words that had been bolded in the text, a brief webography/bibliography and an index.
While none of this trio of books could be considered a “core” resource for the study of World War II, if the events of this global conflict form part of your curriculum, then one or more of these books could pique students’ interest in going beyond just the dry facts of this period of history.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.