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Books in Brief: Krysia by Krystyna Mihulka; Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina

MEMOIR
Krysia, A Polish Girl’s Stolen Childhood During World War II,
by Krystyna Mihulka with Krystyna Poray Goddu; Chicago Review Press, 168 pages $17.99. Ages 8 to 14.
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Krysia Mihulka, daughter of a judge in Lwow, then southeastern Poland, was nine years old when the Germans invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. This harrowing memoir of her “stolen childhood” tells the fascinating, little-known story of Polish families who were deported during the war and held prisoner on remote work farms in the then-Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. The author offers vivid memories of early childhood before the war, loving parents and extended family, walks in the park, delicious pastries from the bakery, sledding in winter, the terrifying principal of her elementary school. Then came war, her father forced into hiding, the family forced to share their home with a Soviet officer’s family, then Krysia, her mother and younger brother forced at gunpoint from their home and put on a cattle car for transport to the far reaches of Soviet Asia, where they battled starvation and the elements and uncertainty about the future. Krysia’s mother emerges as the hero, as, time and again, she uses her wits to bargain for the family’s survival. (Krysia recalls that her mother had a number of prophetic dreams, an interesting detail.) The child’s voice offers a heart-wrenching perspective on the evils inflicted by Nazism and Stalinism along with the suffering the family endured – her mother gave birth to a stillborn child in Kazakhstan, a beloved cousin died of typhus. The family’s odyssey eventually took them across the Caspian Sea to Iran where they lived in a refugee camp, and then to Africa. The author emigrated to the United States in 1969 and now lives in California.

Children’s

Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina; Candlewick Press, 89 pages $14.99. (Ages 7 to 11)

Juana loves ice cream, Brussels sprouts, drawing,  reading, soccer (futbol) and the city of Bogota Colombia.  This entertaining and original book - liberally illustrated with Medina’s marvelous cartoons  and incorporating Spanish words in a fun and natural way –offers a lively picture of  young Juana,  her trials at school and her loving family circle all set against the vivid backdrop of one of the world’s biggest cities. Author-illustrator Juana Medina, who teaches at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University, was born and grew up in Bogota and, we are told, “got in trouble for drawing cartoon versions of her teachers.” Juana tells the story in her own inimitable way (of her furry amigo, her  dog Lucas, she says: “Some say Lucas is neurotic. I do not think so. He is actually quite calm, especially while sleeping.”)  Young readers will relate to Juana’s misadventures, as she gets into trouble on the school bus for blowing chewing gum bubbles, then  accidentally breaks her kitty and rabbit lunch box (“the yogurt inside of it has explotado”), which makes her so sad she can’t solve the math equation at the blackboard (“my day is going downhill faster than an elefante on a skateboard.”)  She loves playing soccer at recess even though she has to wear her itchy school uniform with its heavy blazer and itchy skirt. Then comes the bad news: In Mr. Tompkins’ class, she will have to learn English with its impossible pronunciation and confusing spellings so unlike Spanish.  It seems impossible, until her beloved grandparents give her a good reason to learn the language, promising a trip to Florida and a meeting with her hero, Astroman. The book is introduced as Juana’s “first adventure” and we look forward to many more.

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