World War II is a conflict that has been the subject of many books in recent years. Many of these books – both adult and children’s – are about life in Europe during that conflict. Fewer paint a picture of what life was like here in the United States. Although the fighting was far away, the ugliness and prejudice wars create landed right on our home shore. It’s a valuable story for children to read about and, in the case of the middle grade novel A Tiny Piece of Sky by Shawn Stout (Philomel Books, January 2016), a funny and warm family story, as well – in spite of the raging war.
The determined, feisty voice of the narrator, eleven-year-old Frankie Baum, comes across loud and clear. It’s not bad enough that she’s the youngest of three girls and always in hot water with her mother. Her oldest sister Elizabeth is called Princess by their parents, while her favorite sister, Joan, is headed to the country for the summer, which means Frankie will lose her closest confidante and partner-in-crime. She’ll also be the one who ends up working in their father’s new restaurant for the entire summer. No fair! All of this means that Frankie’s already feeling dejected when, suddenly, things get worse: the war on the other side of the ocean moves into the town of Hagerstown MD, where the Baums have always lived in harmony with their neighbors. The thing is, Baum is a German name and Germans are the enemy.
When Frankie’s father is accused of being a German spy (even though he was born and raised in the United States), many of the town’s people turn against them and the family’s livelihood and happiness are threatened. In a story both poignant and funny, Stout has created a little piece of important history, one that resonates with the times.