Monday, January 9, 2017

MMGM: My Secret War

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

My Secret War, 1941,
 part of the Dear America series
Dear America
My Secret War,
The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck

Written by Mary Pope Osborne
Scholastic Books, 2000
Grades 4-8, 740L
165 pages, 26500 words

Historical fiction, War, Growing up, First Love, Life on the Home Front World War II

Dear Diary,
       A cold rain is falling. The wind blows hard from the Atlantic Ocean, rattling our window pane.
       Mom and I have been living here in Mrs. Hawkins's Mansion-By-the-Sea for a week now, The name's misleading. Really, it's just a run-down old boardinghouse. Mom and I share a drafty room with heavy wooden beds, dusty oil paintings, and a ratty Chinese rug.
       The other people living here are positively grim. Tonight Mom left me to have supper alone with them in the dining room while she volunteered at the Presbyterian Church, knitting sweaters for people bombed out in Britain.
       Mom is good at making new friends. Unfortunately, I'm not. All week the girls at my new school have shown no interest in me at all. I don't know what to do to break the ice.

If you aren't familiar with the Dear America series, they are each written in diary form and feature a main character from a different historical time period. Each has an epilogue telling what happened to the mc after the events of the story, though of course even that is fictional. But the books are full of interesting historical details. Plus the back matter uses photos and reproduction  memorabilia to tell fact from fiction, and to give a concise historical account of the chosen time period.

My Secret War focuses on fall 1941 to summer 1943. The plot centers on the little known landing of German U-boats on Long Island and the Florida coast. The main character, Maddie, is a typical pre-teen of the time. Her dad serves in the Pacific theater while she and her mom sacrifice for the war effort. Maddie must learn to adjust in a new school, making friends and finding first love. She must deal with conflicting emotions: mixing longing for her father with pride over his service, hope with reality, patriotic duty with hatred of war. She meets others who face similar predicaments. The plot is not all emotion. It contains action and intrigue as well.

I found this a moving portrait of the 40's, reminiscent of the stories I'd heard from my parents. It is not heavy-handed, but I did feel it was authentic. I'd recommend this as entertainment for kids, but also as a supplement to historical studies. Despite the romantic elements, It's great for boys or girls.

 1. If you enjoyed My Secret War, don't miss the other books in the Dear America series. My favorites include, Winter of the Red Snow, A Picture of Freedom, and Coal Miner's Bride. Mary Pope Osborne has written two more: I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly and Standing in the Light, as well as numerous volumes in the My America series for younger readers.

Written by Patricia McKissack
Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

2. You might also like the Royal Diaries and My Name is America. Both these series are also from Scholastic. The Royal Diaries feature historical characters from around the world including Cleopatra, Kaiulani, and Anastasia. My Name is America books feature male main characters. Authors include Laurence Yep, Kathryn LaskyJoseph Bruchac, and Walter Dean Myers.

3. Mary Pope Osborne is the author of dozens of books in the Magic Treehouse series, but middle grade readers may enjoy Adaline Falling Star or her Tales From the Odyssey books. For more stories from the homefront, try Richard Peck's fabulous book, On the Wings of Heroes.

Adaline Falling Star,
 by Mary Pope Osborne
On the Wings of Heroes, by Richard Peck
Cover art by Charles Pyle

4. Other MMGM reviewers suggest
Paper Wishes, reviewed by Heidi at Geo-Librarian.
The Last Cherry Blossom, reviewed by Patricia on Children's Books Heal
A Tiny Piece of Sky, reviewed by Jess of The Reading Nook Reviews
The Watcher, also reviewed on The Reading Nook Reviews
Number the Stars, reviewed by Mtrna on Night Writer
Greenhorn, reviewed by Laurisa on her blog
The Bicycle Spy, reviewed by Andrea on That's Another Story
And Karen has compiled several lists of WW II related books on Mrs. Yingling Reads.

Have you reviewed a Marvelous Middle Grade Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations for January 9, 2017.

MMGM started way back in 2010 by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of Lost Cities. Each week, participating bloggers review our favorite books for ages 8-12. Why not join us?


  1. Thank you for introducing me to the Dear America series. I love historical fiction and this series offers short stories about different periods of history from a child's POV. Will check it out. Thanks for mentioning my review/link. We were on the same wave length.

    1. We were. Thanks. There are several books in this series which I think would fit the needs of your blog readers. Enjoy the search!

  2. This is a wonderful series... fun to read for kids of all ages (including some of us big kids)

    1. I know what you mean. It had been more than a few years since I last read one of these, but reading the Titanic story reawakened my desire to dive back into them. Thanks, Sue.

  3. I've not read any of the books in this series but they sound very endearing. I'll be looking for them in the coming weeks. Thanks for the introduction.

    1. Some are better than others, of course, and reading about a favorite time period makes it that much more interesting. I sobbed after reading Voyage on the Great Titanic and Color Me Black send me into a flurry of additional research. I hope you find some you like. Thanks.

  4. I've read this book and I couple others in the series. I really enjoyed it! Thanks for the review!
    - Vi

    1. Thanks. I loved this book because of the connection to my mom, but I couldn't believe I'd never heard about the U-boat incident either.

  5. This book sounds great! Thanks for the review!

    1. I've read it a couple of times. The author does a great job of slipping information into the journal entries without sounding like an info dump or a history lesson. I admire that. Thanks for reading!

  6. I always loved those Dear America books when I worked at the (now-closed) bookstore, but I haven't read this one. As for WWII books, in 2012, I reviewed A Diamond in the Desert, about the Japanese-American internment camps in California. Here's the link:

    1. Thanks, Joanne. I guess I missed that review. I'll check it out. Thanks for including it for other readers.

  7. I love books written in a diary format, and I especially love this series. Sounds like a winner.

    1. The more epistolary novels I read, the more I realize the intricacies of writing them well! Thanks for stopping by.

  8. The Dear America books are such a wealth of information for kids reading about history! Thank you for sharing. As for beloved WWII books, two I love are Odin's Promise and Bjorn's Gift, both set in German-occupied Norway. Beautiful books that tell important stories in a way all kids can handle!

    1. Oh, yes. I saw your reviews and bookmarked them. Sorry I forgot to mention that series. Here's the link to your review of Odin's promise.
      And I understand there's a third book on the way? I'd better get reading. Thanks again.

  9. This is such a great series! My daughter loved the Dear Canada books. It's funny that there's such a trend towards historical fiction on MMGM today!

    1. Wow! These Dear Canada books look great. I'm going to have to get my hands on a few of them. Here's the link to learn more:

  10. I am familiar with this series. It was always very popular in my library in Monaco. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. I think the format draws readers, but the content keeps them coming back. Lots of kids I know love series books because because they don't want to take a chance on an unknown. Thanks for reading.


Thank-you for taking time to share your thoughts!