Don't You Know There's a War On?

Don't You Know There's a War On?

4.5 12
by Avi

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World War II is on everyone's mind and in every headline, and Howie Crispers has a hunch that his school principal is a spy. With a little snooping around, Howie finds out something even more alarming. Principal Lomister may not be a spy, but he is plotting to get rid of Howie's favorite teacher. Howie's dad is fighting Nazis overseas, and his mom is working hard


World War II is on everyone's mind and in every headline, and Howie Crispers has a hunch that his school principal is a spy. With a little snooping around, Howie finds out something even more alarming. Principal Lomister may not be a spy, but he is plotting to get rid of Howie's favorite teacher. Howie's dad is fighting Nazis overseas, and his mom is working hard to support the war effort, so Miss Gossim is the only person Howie can depend on. With the help of his friends, and a plan worthy of radio show superhero Captain Midnight, Howie intends to save Miss Gossim!

Editorial Reviews

Children’s Literature Newletter for Adults
“Well crafted dialogues zip with brevity and will keep readers grinning.”
School Library Joumal
“This quick–moving, easily read story will be enjoyed by many readers.”
Children's Literature Newletter for Adults
"Well crafted dialogues zip with brevity and will keep readers grinning."
ALA Booklist
“…fast dialogue and lots of lively detail.”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Fast–paced, conversational and full of surprises.”
Queens Parent
“Chock full of details from the 1940s home front.”
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)
“A realistic slice of life from America’s war years.”
Children’s Literature Newletter for Adults
“Well crafted dialogues zip with brevity and will keep readers grinning.”
Howie's a character with considerable warmth and heart....Pair this with Bunting's Spying On Miss Muller for different takes on homefront espionage.
Publishers Weekly
The 16-year-old narrator juggles everything from failing math grades and air raid blackouts to a crush on his teacher and worries about his merchant marine father crossing the North Atlantic, in this "poignant, funny coming of age tale set in Brooklyn during WWII," said PW in a starred review. Ages 8-12. (Feb.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Sixteen-year-old Howie Crispers narrates Avi's (The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle) poignant, funny coming-of-age tale set in Brooklyn during WWII. For the facts, readers can consult Stephen E. Ambrose's excellent volume (reviewed below), but for a flavor of everyday life on the homefront, they will appreciate Howie's recollections of his experiences as a fifth grader during one pivotal week in March 1943. The hero juggles everything from failing math grades and air raid blackouts to a crush on his teacher and worries about his merchant marine father, criss-crossing the North Atlantic. Howie also suspects his principal of being a Nazi spy, and follows him into a brownstone one morning where he overhears plans to fire his beloved teacher, Miss Rolanda Gossim (he thinks of her at night when fear overtakes him: "She was my emergency brake, my life raft, my parachute, my own private rescue squad"). How he "saves" Miss Gossim makes for a smashing story enlivened by the added emotional texture of a boy dealing with wartime realities (particularly the death of his "bestest" friend Denny's father) and romance (Miss Gossim is actually married to a missing airman and pregnant). Howie's voice, firmly rooted in Brooklyn ("You'd feel worse than a Giants fan in Ebbets Field," he says of disappointing Miss Gossim), takes on the inflections and slang of the era. The novel ends on an upbeat note, with 16-year-old Howie celebrating the end of the war and still carrying a torch for Miss Gossim. Ages 8-12. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Buying a book by Avi is probably a given for most libraries, and this one does not disappoint. Eleven-year-old Brooklynite Howard narrates the sad but exciting days on the home front during World War II. Howie and his best friend, Denny, both have fathers who are away fighting·war, and the boys do their part by collecting scraps for the war effort. They spend their school days reading comic books, sharing a crush on their teacher, Miss Gossim, and imagining that certain people, especially their principal, are Nazi spies. Then Howie tails the suspicious principal and discovers while eavesdropping that he is planning to fire Miss Gossim. He soon uncovers the reason for her dismissal and learns that she sorely misses her husband, also in the war. As good-hearted Howie struggles with math tests, follows the war in the newspaper, and joins his friends for the Saturday matinee, he also is determined to save Miss Gossim's job. A plan soon emerges, and there are many surprises, both poignant and happy, before the end of the novel. Avi has written more than twenty books for children and young adults, and in this one he creates a realistic slice of life from America's war years. It should prove both entertaining and educational to upper elementary and middle school readers. PLB . VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, HarperCollins, 208p, . Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Kevin Beach SOURCE: VOYA, June 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 2)
Children's Literature
"During the was us kids who had the job of trying to keep things normal." These are the words of sixteen-year-old Howie looking back five years to his life at Public School Number Eight in Brooklyn in 1943. The ordinary memories of the 40s—Junior G-Men, the Brooklyn Dodgers, Ovaltine¾are juxtaposed with not-so-ordinary war headlines, the necessity for scrap metal collection and the threat of unwelcome telegrams. Howie's innocent lust for his beautiful teacher is as timeless as the home front setting is specific, giving the worries of wartime a refreshing perspective alongside the daily predicaments of being eleven. Howie is an honorable and likeable kid who stumbles on a secret that is just too good to keep, though he tries mightily. His voice is fresh with the wholesomeness of 40s slang and the ageless irreverence of just being a boy. Especially well-crafted are lifelike dialogues that zip with brevity and wit that will keep readers grinning. As Howie schemes to prevent the firing of his favorite teacher, readers will discover how different it was growing up in the wartime 40s, and delight in the things that have remained the same. 2001, HarperCollins, $15.95. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Betty Hicks
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-Howard Bellington Crispers looks back from his 16-year-old perspective to 1943 when he grappled with issues of friendship, fear, love, and loss. At age 11, Howie and his friend Denny share a crush on their teacher and they suspect their principal is a Nazi spy. However, in a sleuthing expedition, Howie learns that the principal's real perfidy hits closer to home-he is urging the firing of Miss Gossim. Howie visits his teacher and she tells him the reason for her pending dismissal-she is secretly married to an army pilot and is pregnant. Taking up her cause and disregarding his promise to keep her secret, Howie circulates a petition to stop the firing, embarrassing the young woman but securing her a reprieve until the end of the school year. Avi packs the story with authentic details of World War II in Brooklyn, NY, augmented by newspaper headlines. He peppers it with funny scenes, lots of slang dialogue between the boys, and a keen sensitivity to the adolescent psyche. Layered into the plot is the drama of the boys' absent fathers. Howie's returns but Denny's is killed, and the bittersweet ending reflects the protagonist's regret over losing Denny's friendship when his own family moves to Long Island. Though lacking in originality, this quick-moving, easily read story will be enjoyed by many readers. A more serious, complex, and in-depth treatment of a similar theme can be found in Janet Taylor Lisle's beautifully wrought The Art of Keeping Cool (Atheneum, 2000).- Marie Orlando, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.41(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

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Chapter One

I was late that Monday morning because my shoelace broke just as I was leaving for school. Meant I had to use some string. Now, you might think string would be easy to find, but it wasn't. String was something you gave away for the war effort. Besides, my sister had already left for school and my mother was at her job at the Navy Yard. Those days me and my family lived in Brooklyn. During the war. When I was eleven.

Like I was saying, I was supposed to be going to school. Class Five-B, Public School Number Eight. P.S. 8, we called it. The school's real name was The Robert Fulton School, but I never heard no kid call it that.

Anyway, by the time I finally got going down Hicks Street, I was so late no kids were there. Just grown-ups wearing big coats and dark hats. Me? I was dressed in my regular school outfit: bomber jacket, brown corduroy pants, plaid flannel shirt, and a snap-on glossy red necktie that almost reached my middle. Hanging round my neck was what we called a dog tag. Sort of this tin disk with your name and address stamped on it. All us kids had to wear them. You know, in case the enemy attacked like at Pearl Harbor and people wanted to know who your body was.

The name on my tag was Howard Bellington Crispers. But the thing was, the only person who ever used my full name was my mom. And see, she only did when she was mad at me. So mostly people called me Howie. Which worried me, because it wasn't on my tag. I mean, how were they going to identify me if my name wasn't right? By my looks?

Back then I wasn't very tall. But my ears were big, plus I had the same old blue eyes and carrot-colored hair. Though Mom wasalways making me brush that hair down, it never stood flat. And no matter how much I was in front of the bathroom mirror pressing my ears back, they didn't stay flat neither. These days, being sixteen, I'm taller, but to tell the truth, the hair and the ears, they haven't changed much.

The other thing, that morning it felt like it was going to rain. Which meant my shoes--with the string lace--might get wet. Not so jazzy because, like everybody, we had ration coupons for only three pairs of shoes a year. For the whole family. The point being, you did what you had to do because in those days, no matter what happened, you could always say, "Hey, don't you know there's a war on?" See, it explained anything.

So anyway, there I was, going down Hicks Street carrying my pop's beat-up wooden lunch box. Inside was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white Tip Top bread wrapped in paper, plus a graham-cracker snack and this dinky bottle of Borden's chocolate milk. My left hand was holding a canvas satchel with my schoolbooks.

This Hicks Street was narrow, squeezed tight by three-story brownstone houses with stoops. The neighborhood also had some old wooden houses, plus apartment buildings. My family lived in one of them apartments, a narrow third-floor walk-up with four small rooms. That included the kitchen complete with a few of your regular Brooklyn cockroaches. Didn't bother me. Everyone had 'em.

Them days, go along Brooklyn streets and you'd see tons of little flags with big blue stars in front windows. The flags were saying your family had someone in the war. Some windows had more than one star. There were gold stars too. Gold meant your someone had been killed.

There was this blue star in our window because my pop was in the merchant marine. He sailed in the convoys going 'cross the North Atlantic bringing war supplies to our troops and allies. That meant we never knew where he was. When he wrote--wasn't often--his letters were censored. Which was because, like people said, "Loose lips sink ships." And let me tell you something--it was true too. Tons of ships were torpedoed by German subs. Wolf packs, they called them. And sailors--gobs of 'em--drowned. So I worried about Pop. A lot.

Oh, sure, I'd see him for a few days every couple of months. But it was always a surprise when he came. He'd be dirty, red eyed, needing a shave, and you wouldn't believe how tired. Most of his leave he just slept, except when he got up to eat apples. He loved apples. Ate 'em like they'd just been invented. Core and all, only spitting out the pips.

When his time was up, he'd sail off. We didn't know where. I don't think Pop knew. Anyway, we weren't supposed to ask.

Still, I was better off than my best friend, Duane Coleman, who we called Denny. This Denny, he never saw his pop 'cause his father--a tailor--was an Eighth Army GI. That's General Infantry. The Eighth was fighting Rommel, the Nazi general, in North Africa. No saying when Mr. Coleman would be home. If he came home. All us kids were scared of getting one of them telegrams from the government that began, "regret to inform you that..."

Now, I was small, but Denny was smaller. I mean, the guy was waiting for his growth spurt like Dodger fans waited for a pennant. You know, "Wait till next year!"

Denny always had this serious look on his face. Maybe it was his wire-frame glasses, which not a lot of kids wore. Or his slicked-back black hair. Or the white shirt and the bow tie he was always wearing. Red suspenders too. Straps, we called them...

Don't You Know There's a War On?. Copyright © by John Avi. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Avi is the award-winning author of more than seventy-five books for young readers, ranging from animal fantasy to gripping historical fiction, picture books to young adult novels. Crispin: The Cross of Lead won the Newbery Medal, and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Nothing But the Truth were awarded Newbery Honors. He is also the author of the popular Poppy series. Avi lives outside Denver, Colorado. You can visit him online at

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
December 23, 1937
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
University of Wisconsin; M.A. in Library Science from Columbia University, 1964

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Don't You Know There's a War On 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Cai-C More than 1 year ago
"Don't you know there is a war on?" is a really good book. I first found this book when I looked in my sister's pile of old books she bought. I decided to look at the book since I saw the authors name because I heard Avi is a really good author. It is a good thing I picked this book up because it was worth reading!  It is very realistic book and it is suspenseful. This book is about an 11 year old boy named Howie who is living during World War II in Brooklyn. Howie's father is an American soldier who is serving the country by fighting the Nazi's and his mother works at the Navy Yard doing her best helping during the war.  While everyone is preoccupied with the war, Howie is spending most of his time paying attention to his secret crush which is his teacher Ms. Gossim! With a little of spying he thinks his principal is a spy and that Ms. Gossim is going to be fired! He doesn't know why but at all cost he doesn't want Ms. Gossim to be fired.  What he doesn't know is that his friend has a crush on Ms. Gossim too. My favorite scene is when he was going to buy milk at a store and there was a blackout. During the blackout a soldier caught him outside. Back then there was a curfew. The soldier told him to go back home but instead of going home, he went to Ms. Gossim's house since it was close by. He rang her doorbell and went inside her apartment. They talked for a little while. Then he tells her that he knows she is going to be fired but since he doesn't know why his guess was totally wrong. Ms. Gossim tells him the actually reason why she is getting fired is because she is now married a pregnant. During that time teachers who are married are not allowed to teach anymore. The book is told by his 16 year old self. I would recommend this book to a friend! 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
“Don’t you know there’s a war on?” is the title of the book I had just read. The authors name goes by AVI which his sister called him at young age and stuck with him ever since. His real name is Edward Irving Wortis, he never understood why his sister Emily gave him the name AVI.  He was born in New York just like the setting of the book and around the same age as the main character Howard or known as “Howie Crispers”.  The book is based in the WWII era (approximately 1943-1945) with the an eleven year old kid as the main character, Howard Crispers living in Brooklyn, New York with his mom, and sister. His father is in the war fighting over in Europe, Howie is constantly thinking of him. He goes to school at Public School Number Eight “P.S.8” The Robert Fulton School was the actual name, just the kids going there named it that and it stuck. Howie has a best friend more like a ‘brother’ named Denny and his dad is also in the war only fighting in Africa. Howie only likes to go to school for two main reasons, his friends and “crush” Miss. Gossim.  Just like any other young kids that age and era believed in everything, especially that all the adults they don’t know or hate are spies. One day Howie is on his way to school already late as it is gets in to some worse trouble being a curious kid like we all once were. He decides to sneak into his Principals house to snoop around since the chute for the coal was open. When he enters he did not expect to hear what any kid wants to hear about his favorite teacher, especially if he has a “crush” on her. Ever since that moment he decided to enter the principals house, he got into problems that he shouldn’t have to deal with at all. Now he doesn’t just worry about his dad now, but his teacher and problems at his house.  When I read this book, I had a visual image of like the “Sandlot” kind of feel to it when I read it. It was just a pretty detailed life as a kid living during WWII in New York. Gave a good sense of how things used to be seventy years ago. AVI was just writing about a fictional character in a fact fiction lifestyle, since he grew up during that time. This book was actually interesting to me, being in an older setting than modern time was nice. I really liked it how kids used to be smart without the need of technology. The Saturday night movies every week was pretty cool to be with all your friends packing a movie theatre would be great! Walking around your neighborhood with a red little wagon looking for scrap to help with the war effort was a daily thing and to me was pretty awesome. I wouldn’t mind doing that everyday just to get out the house. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in WWII novels, this book in the eyes of a kid was really good. When reading this book you’ll notice how they use code words like “you really are a sad Sam”. And other sorts of sayings that you don’t understand at first but will catch on to later on. One thing is this book is pretty easy to read through quickly, so If you want something to last longer this isn’t your kind of book.      
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really liked the book, it was very interesting. The genre of the book isnt one of my favorites but it was a great book. The main character Howie Crispers was a very funny kid and I like how he has a huge crush on his teacher Miss Gossim, its very funny how disciptive he is when hes talking about her. Howie and best friend Denny sound like a bounch of crazy kids, I like how they think there principle is a spy. Then Howie sneaks in and over hear him talking about Miss Gossim his secret lover.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had to read it with my class for a novel study it was 'One of those books you can't put down' I enjoyed this book because of Howie being so clever
Guest More than 1 year ago
Don¿t You Know There¿s A War On? Austin Willie. The book, Don¿t You Know There¿s A War On?, is so awesome you will jump out of your socks every time you turn the page! Do you like books with settings from World War II? In this book there is an amazingly accurate detailed description of those lives affected by the War. AVI has done it again! With realistic characters so descriptive you will see the story just like a movie that you¿re watching at an I-MAX theatre! Howie and Denny worry about their dads because they never know where they are. Headlines and letters only make matters worse. This mindspinding story will make you laugh, cry, and keep you guessing until the very end. When Howie is faced with a choice to sneak into his principal¿s house, he falls into a coal chute and is covered in coal dust. Howie and Denny¿s dads are in the Pacific Islands and there is nothing they can do about it. And with Miss Gossim getting fired, the boys have a lot on their minds. Everything in this story is not all that confusing. This book will astound you with its amazing tales of heroism, bravery, and a little bit of stupidity, but as they say ¿Don¿t you know there¿s a War on?¿ This story makes you guess until the very end. And when you reach the end your head will still be and spinning and you¿ll still be guessing! So, with all the action and turning points, you never know who or what is next! Okay so you¿ve heard my opinion, now it¿s time for your own opinion! So what are you waiting for get that lazy caboose away from the computer and go buy this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
From the moment I picked up ¿Don¿t You Know There¿s A War On?¿ by Avi (Scholastic Inc., 2001, apx. $5.95), there was no way I could put it down! The protagonist in this fascinating novel by Avi, is Howard Bellington Crispers, Howie for short. Howie is an 11 year old boy in 1943, during World War II, in Brooklyn. Daune Coleman (who goes by Denny) is Howie's best friend. Howie and Denny go through many changes and challenges, including writing a petition to save their favorite teacher from getting fired. The news articles, that Avi brilliantly wrote into the book, give this hypnotizing historical fiction book originality. 'Don't You Know There's A War On?' is a must read for all children ages 9-12.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Dont you know their is a war on' is a great book anyone would enjoy. It is a intense drama and comedy. The book is about a boy who falls in love with his teacher and trys to keep her from getting fired. Also has some interesting information on the war. You will fall in love with the characters!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was the best thing I had ever read. It was manly about a kid and his friend in a war. But don't let that stop you from getting it because the rating for this too big to put in words.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great! I loved the expressions and Avi's way of putting things together! Put it on your list. It may not sound good, but I finished it one night with a candle for light and couldn't put it down.
indyflyer More than 1 year ago
I am an 11 year old boy from North Carolina. I loved this book by the wonderful and great Auther Avi,to anyone who wants to read a great war story, that could have taken place during "any war in America."I think it is during WWII, becuase it is in the 1940's, when WWII was on.I read this all the time, bus,school, and home. I reccomend this great book to anyone who wants a great and interesting war story! READ THIS BOOK!! -indyflyer