Thursday, January 18, 2018

Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army by Enigma Elberti and Scott Wegener

I reviewed the first book in this series, Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring, last year. I've since bought multiple copies (for use with classes and book clubs and not because the pieces have gone missing!) and I've had, to be honest, mixed responses from the kids. In general, the more reluctant and lower level readers enjoy it the most. As I'd suspected, fans of Magic Treehouse are a big audience. The more fluent readers I've offered it to haven't been as interested - the brief story seems to not be of much interest to them (I also had one complain that the different-sized fonts made it confusing, but I put that down to an episode of extreme sassiness at book club that night).

So, the next title is out now (or will be in about five days - I've ordered it so that counts as out to me!). I had a galley and a finished copy from the publisher and have already preordered two more copies.

This book focuses on Victor Dowd, a member of the Ghost Army of World War II. This was a tactical deception unit, which focused on misleading the German army. Their history was only partially declassified in the 1990s and there's been a recent surge of interest, especially in children's literature.

The story focuses mainly on the movements and tactics of the unit, only using Dowd as a generic framing device. Having never seen combat, like most of his unit, they are moved into the aftermath of D-Day and spend several exciting, dangerous, and miserable months using all their artistic ability and imagination to mislead the German army. Confused orders, mistakes, and unexpected dangers befall the unit, but they finally triumph in the final invasion into Germany, their tactics saving the lives of thousands of American troops.

Additional information about the unit and their tactics is included throughout the book. An envelope pasted in at the beginning includes codebreaking clues; a sheet of red vellum, a coding wheel, and several other clues. Readers can follow clues throughout the book (explained in a sealed section at the back) to find the secret message. I freely admit I skipped that part - I've never had any patience for clues.

On the one hand, I always have a lot of kids wanting WWII information and this is a new and interesting story. On the other hand, I was disappointed - I had hoped to see more minorities in this series, not just another white soldier. Several of the illustrations, including a "photo" of soldiers at the end show what appears to be an African-American man. In the photo he's simply labeled as SG. I want to know more about him! Did he really exist? What was his name? How did an African-American end up as part of a unit when the army wasn't desegregated until 1948?

Verdict: This is a fast-paced and interested work of historical fiction. It will definitely grab the interest of Magic Tree House and World War II fans who aren't ready for more intense fair. I'm a little disappointed by the questions I was left with after the story, but that will just get kids to do a little research on their own, hopefully. (I still want to know who SG is though!). I've had no problem with the pieces disappearing - you can still enjoy the story without them and if you circulate the -Ology books these have fewer pieces and less issues in my experience so far.

ISBN: 9780761193265; Published January 23, 2018; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library; Two copies purchased for the library

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