My Secret War: The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck, Long Island, New York, 1941 (Dear America Series)

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In a diary that brings to life the dramatic happenings on the home front during World War II, Madeline Beck is living in a boardinghouse with her mother while her father is on an aircraft carrier guarding the Pacific Coast. After discovering that a German U-boat has landed near her home—a little-known, true incident on Long Island—she and her classmates form "Kids Fight for Freedom" and participate in the home front war effort.

Thirteen-year-old Madeline's diaries ...

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In a diary that brings to life the dramatic happenings on the home front during World War II, Madeline Beck is living in a boardinghouse with her mother while her father is on an aircraft carrier guarding the Pacific Coast. After discovering that a German U-boat has landed near her home—a little-known, true incident on Long Island—she and her classmates form "Kids Fight for Freedom" and participate in the home front war effort.

Thirteen-year-old Madeline's diaries for 1941 and 1942 reveal her experiences living on Long Island during World War II while her father is away in the Navy.

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Editorial Reviews

Madeleine and her mother are living in a boarding house by the sea after Madeleine's father leaves for action in the Pacific in 1941. Madeleine keeps a diary, the format for this most-successful series, in which she pours out her loneliness, her fears for her father, her gradual acceptance in the town, her dedication to the war effort. She starts a club at school called Kids Fighting for Freedom—and the students get organized to do whatever they can find to do to support their country. They start victory gardens, they have furniture drives for the servicemen's club, and they collect scrap metal. And Madeleine and her friend-becoming-boyfriend Johnny patrol the beach at night looking for German submarines, even though they have to sneak out to do it. One night Madeleine finds something suspicious enough to report to the FBI. All her enthusiasm for the war effort is quashed when she and her mother receive a telegram that her father is gravely wounded. The long wait for news of his condition is horrible. This short novel works well to give an exciting picture of life on the home front during WW II. Secondary characters of a nineteen-year-old German-Jewish refugee and her mother, who also live at the boarding house, help to add another dimension to tell young readers what the war was all about. Madeleine and her friends use terms like "jeepers," and "holy smokes." Their yearning for acceptance from their peers as well as a connection to the larger world is universal, and today's YA readers will understand Madeleine well, even if her world is quite different. Osborne's own father served in the Pacific during WW II, and she dedicates this book to him. A historical note (with photographs)at the end of the novel helps to put the fiction in the right context. (Dear America) KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2000, Scholastic, 192p, illus, $10.95. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; July 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 4)
In September 1941, the war rages in Europe as thirteen-year-old Madeline Beck and her mother move into a boardinghouse in Long Island, New York, while Madeline's father, a Navy fighter pilot, is on duty in the Pacific. Madeline's diary records her attempts to fit in at her new school and incidents in her daily life, offering fascinating glimpses into those turbulent days when the United States was suddenly plunged into war. Madeline and a handsome classmate, Johnny Vecchio, become good friends and get involved in patriotic war efforts. They patrol beaches watching for enemy submarines when German U-boats are spotted close to the shores, and a life-threatening situation develops when the spunky young girl discovers explosives smuggled ashore by German saboteurs. When the telegram arrives with the dreaded news that her beloved dad has been critically wounded, Madeline's world is shattered. Fortunately her father survives, but now Madeline and her mom must move to the West Coast to be near him as he recuperates in a hospital there. This prospect is bittersweet, as Madeline has become deeply fond of her best friend, Johnny. In this entry in the Dear America series, Osborne has concocted a page-turner that skillfully captures the spirit of the day with authentic details of wartime events, intriguing situations, likeable characters, and an easy narrative. Historical facts and dramatic photographs at the end of the book are informative and add special interest. This absorbing novel should have wide appeal among young adults, particularly history buffs. It might even hook reluctant readers. Photos. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal withpushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, Scholastic, 192p. PLB $10.95. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Delia A. Culberson

SOURCE: VOYA, December 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 5)

School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Maddie Beck, 13, lives with her mother in a Long Island boardinghouse while her lieutenant-commander father is stationed in the Pacific. Her mother rapidly fits in to their new community, but Maddie finds it difficult to make friends, until classmate (and crush) Johnny Vecchio learns that her father is in the Navy. After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Maddie and Johnny organize a student group to sell war bonds, gather scrap metal, collect newspapers and used books, and make first-aid kits for the Red Cross. One restless night, Maddie takes a walk on the beach and encounters someone with a heavy accent and another threatening character. This night leads to more mysterious events that finally prompt her to call the FBI, which leads to the arrest of four Nazi agents. Then the Becks get a telegram that Maddie's father has been injured, and they prepare to move to San Francisco where he is to be hospitalized. Osborne has done an excellent job of capturing the feelings and anxieties of the time coupled with the concerns and uncertainties of young people. An excellent companion novel to Carolyn Reeder's Foster's War (Scholastic, 1998; o.p.).-Debbie Feulner, Northwest Middle School, Greensboro, NC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In September 1941, Maddie Beck and her mother move to a rundown boardinghouse on Long Island. Maddie's dad is somewhere in the Pacific on an aircraft carrier, and Maddie takes hope in the fact that the United States is not yet at war. But a pair of German-Jewish refugees who also live in the boardinghouse hint at horrors yet to come. By the time of Pearl Harbor in December, Maddie is trying to transcend her desire to be accepted, her longing for penny loafers, and her dislike of the gap between her front teeth into what young people can actually do for the war effort. She takes Eleanor Roosevelt's words to heart, and soon she's organizing ways of collecting scrap, bacon fat, and other items to be recycled. She's working alongside Johnny Vecchio of the sparkling brown eyes, and wonders if they could be more than pals. Osborne (Adaline Falling Star, p. 62, etc.) has captured perfectly the cadences of 1940s speech and music in Johnny and Maddie's conversations. The historical discovery of Nazi explosives on the shores of Long Island in June 1942 is used in this fictional diary as a catalyst to their story, and is made both plausible and engaging. Maddie is as self-dramatizing as any young teen, but her circumstances are dramatic, especially after her father is wounded. Historical notes and photographs close the text. Young readers with grandparents and great-grandparents who lived through these times will be especially intrigued. (photographs, notes, appendices) (Historical fiction. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780590687157
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/28/2000
  • Series: Dear America Series
  • Pages: 208
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 740L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.42 (w) x 7.88 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Pope Osborne
Mary Pope Osborne
Mary Pope Osborne has channeled a lifelong love of exploration and travel into one of the most popular children’s book series of the past two decades. With her fantastic Magic Tree House series, Mary Pope Osborne keeps the good times rolling for kids all over the world.


Ever since 1992, Mary Pope Osborne has been thrilling kids everywhere with her delightfully exciting Magic Tree House series. The globetrotting escapades of time travelers Jack and Annie are brimming with adventure and magic (not to mention some subtly placed lessons on history and geography). With a life like Osborne's, it's only natural that she would be capable of bringing such wondrous stories to life.

Osborne was brought up in a military family, and her parents' work led to a lifestyle marked by constant change. "By the time I was 15," she says on, "I had lived in Oklahoma, Austria, Florida, and four different army posts in Virginia and North Carolina." While many kids would probably feel disoriented by such constant change, Osborne wouldn't have had it any other way. "Moving was never traumatic for me, but staying in one place was. When my dad finally retired to a small town in North Carolina, I nearly went crazy with boredom. I craved the adventure and changing scenery of our military life."

And adventure is exactly what Osborne got! After college, she embarked on a series of daring treks across the globe that would surely give Jack and Annie a run for their money. "For a while I camped in a cave on the island of Crete," she said. "Then I joined up with a small band of European young people heading to 'The East.' We traveled through 11 Asian countries and nearly lost our lives, first in an earthquake in northern Afghanistan and then in a riot in Kabul."

Following an illness she contracted in Katmandu, Osborne returned home to the U.S. trying her hand at a vast variety of jobs: window dresser, medical assistant, Russian travel consultant, waitress, bartender, and an assistant editor at a children's magazine. Although Osborne had unconsciously moved closer toward her ultimate career, she says that her first attempts at writing seemed to come without warning. "One day, out of the blue, I began writing a story about an 11-year-old girl in the South," she recalls. "The girl was a lot like me, and many of the incidents in the story were similar to happenings in my became a young adult novel called Run, Run Fast as You Can. Finally, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up."

She sure did! Since then, Osborne has penned a slew of stories, including picture books, chapter books, middle-grade biographies, and young adult novels; but she is indisputably best known for her wonderful Magic Tree House books, a happy hodge-podge of history and mystery with a time travel theme kids find irresistible. No doubt inspired by Osborne's own highly adventurous life, these exiting expeditions have attracted droves of children and pleased educators by combining compulsively readable storytelling with useful facts about geography and history.

As was written of the series in Children's Literature, "Mary Pope Osborne provides nicely paced excitement for young readers, and there's just enough information mixed in so that children will take away some historical fact along with a sense of accomplishment at having completed a chapter book." As much as Osborne has certainly pleased her readers (not to mention their parents and teachers), perhaps no one is quite as pleased as she. "I'm one of those very lucky people who absolutely loves what they do for a living," she explained. "There is no career better suited to my eccentricities, strengths, and passions than that of a children's book author."

Good To Know

A few fascinating outtakes from our interview with Osborne:

"One of the most defining experiences of my life was traveling overland in an old van through the Middle East and Asia in the early 1970's. One day, when a small group of us were camped in a remote part of northern Afghanistan, we saw a woman riding horseback over the sloping plain. Her long brown hair floated on the wind and she wore a bright gypsy-style dress. When she got closer, I realized she was one of my roommates from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill! Though I didn't even know she'd left the U.S.—and she didn't know I was in Afghanistan, we weren't that surprised to come upon each other. That says a lot about the times we were living in then."

"After 26 years of living in New York City, my husband Will and I now spend most of our time in Northwestern Connecticut, living in a house that overlooks a lake. We kayak and hike with our two Norfolk terriers, Joey and Mr. Bezo. Will's learning Italian, and I've been working with a tutor for two years trying to understand Dante's Divine Comedy. One of my biggest hobbies is reading philosophy and theology. We spend lots of time, of course, on our work. After writing three shows for the Morehead Planetarium in North Carolina, Will's writing a musical based on the Magic Tree House series. I'm writing book # 38 in the series. I also spend a lot of time with my sister Natalie Pope Boyce who works on the Magic Tree House Research Guides. Natalie and our nephews and some of our best friends live nearby in the Berkshires Hills of Massachusetts, so we're up there a lot, too. My only complaint is there is not enough time to do all I want to do. For instance, I'd love to take drawing classes and I'd love to paint the lake we're living on. And I'd love to bird watch and become a better cook and learn about classical music. Maybe sometime in the future...."

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    1. Hometown:
      Goshen, Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 20, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Fort Sill, Oklahoma
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of North Carolina
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 33 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 14, 2012

    Great Book!

    I love all the Dear America books, but this is WONDERFUL! You could call it romantic, and the epilogue is AMAZING! If you haven't read it you should, and not just from the library, you'll want to keep it for all times! It might just be my HUGE love for History; but this book is one of the BEST; so much that ANYONE would love it! Great Historic point-of-view, also.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2011

    Highly Recommended.

    My Secret War
    Historical Fiction made exciting.
    5 stars.

    The book My Secret War is a fictional story based on the time period of World War 2. This book is one of the many from The Dear America series. These books are fictional stories that relate to important times in history.
    My Secret War is a story about a young girl named Madeline who lives during the time of World War 2. Madeline is first picked on at school by her classmates until she meets Johnny. He is a boy that is very impressed by Madeline's Father's line of work as an Air Pilot in the Navy. They soon become very close. The two of them start a club and begin to investigate sine things that they hear about the war. They believe that what they know could help America win World War 2. Madeline and Johnny do all they can to help with the war efforts. They soon become more than friends because of their similar interests about the war. After finding out that her Father had been injured during the war, Madeline finds herself lonely thinking about her troubles. After the safe return of her Father, Maddie finds she is happy again. Throughout the story Madeline meets a new friend and becomes more confident in herself and her interests.
    I was very interested in this book and found it very enjoyable. I am very interested in history and historical fiction books such as My Secret War are some of my favorites. This book is a very entertaining and interesting to readers. Anyone interested in things about the war would really like to read this story. It is very informative on what life was like for children during the war, but also is a lot of fun to read. I was very happy to now know how a daughter of a soldier felt during the war. I was very impressed by this book and I'm sure many others would feel the same.
    In conclusion, My Secret War is a great historical fiction book that would be enjoyed by many people, especially anyone interested in the time of World War 2. It is very exciting, entertaining, and enjoyable. I would recommend this book to anyone.

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  • Posted March 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great book!

    This book is really good! I suggest reading it, it teaches a lot about World War 2, and it teaches good life lessons as well!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Book!!!

    this is a REALLY intriguing book!!! I started to read it and I could not stop!!!I have probably reread this book like five times!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2008

    the worlds number one book ever!

    I have read many dear americas , but out of all of them this one was my favorite! it is about a girl named maddie that always is the new girl because she moves a lot, and one day she moves to a new place. then she does not meet a lot of friends but soon some kids at her school find out that her dad is in the she becomes friends with a boy that likes the histroy of the war. they start a club about helping the war and every night they would watch the beach for german u boats. then when maddie is on the beach by her self at night someone comes up to her and says she did not see any thing there and they would put her in jail if she told anyone she say them at the beach . find out what happens to maddie !! this is the best book ever so read t today!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2006

    Read This Book!

    I love this book! It is both Happy with a little romance,And the Epilogue was really good.FYI someone gets married!Well really two people do but you get the picture.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2006

    Future Navy Nurse and Huge World War 2 fan at 19 loves it!

    I absolutely LOVED this book and this series because I'm very much into World War II and seeing what it was like back in the earlier times. I loved the characters very much, especially Maddie and Clara. Very accurate.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2005

    A Story of Sticking Together, Hard Times, and Romance.

    When I read this book, in my eyes this was one of the best diary books I have ever read. When I was finished reading this I thought about how interesting it was to know a persons real life story during World War 2. This book was a good story to read because it was very informational about World War 2, it was very fun and thrilling, but also at the same time there was some romance going on too. The author uses plenty vivid language to describe the setting and characters. Therefore it had good imagery. It makes you actually feel like your in the story and your in the characters shoes. It feels very real to me, it¿s amazing. It uses good similes to make the book more interesting. I definitely would suggest this book to readers that like books that are more chick-flick books with some action too. It is also one of those books that want to make you cry. In this story, a young girl, Maddie Beck lives in a boarding house with her Mom, Clara, Mrs. Hawkins, Theo, and Mrs. Rosenthal. Maggie¿s father is in the World War 2 in 1941 as a Navy fighter pilot. The setting is in Long Island, New York. He (Maggie¿s father) is stationed in the Pacific Ocean and Maddie is extremely worried about him. Additionally with all that going on she finds it hard to make friends and fit in around school. That is until the class hunk finds out her Dad is involved in the war and they become good friends. After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Maddie and Johnny started getting involved in the patriotic war effort by setting up a club for kids that want to help out with the war. One day Maddie and the people she lived with got a telegram. A telegram tells military families that one of their loved one has been killed or has been wounded. The telegram Maddie and her mother received said that Maddie's father was wounded and in critical condition. After all that had happen, Maddie had been scared more than ever. So one night she decided to take a walk on the beach during a restless night when it was prohibited. She had by caught by but who were supposedly where beach guards. She had been caught and told to go home and not to speak of this night otherwise she could be sent to jail. Now Maddie was scared out of her mind. If you want to find out what happens, I suggest you read the book to find out. I hope you get a chance to read this book it is not very long, but it is very good. I guarantee you will like this book and like the ending. I would suggest you read the epilogue, because it helps you understand what happens after the book. This book makes me realize how lucky I am to have everything I have, also to treasure everything I have because it can be taken away from me at any moment. I would recommend this book to mostly Junior High students, ages 11-16. I would give this book a 4 star rating, because at points it does get a tad bit boring, but otherwise you will enjoy it. It¿s an exceptionally good book and I really hope you get a change to read it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2005

    The best DA book!

    This book is my favorite DA book! Its thrilling, suspenseful, and has romance in it. Its the best way to learn about WW2.! I think that Maddie Beck and Johnny Vecchio are perfect for each other.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2005

    Great book

    this was a really good book. i checked it out from the library b/c i needed a book so i randomly picked one. It turned out to be really good and that is what got me into reading journals and diaries.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2005

    Best WWII Diary I've Read

    This is one of my favorite books; I can read it over and over again! I first read it when I was 13 I think, and now I'm 16 and still enjoy it. The adventures of Maddie Beck capture your heart, with thrills, scares, and romance. It's so cool to see what it was like during that time period, and there are even some similarities between what the US faced when at war then, and what we face now. Maddie struggles with fitting in at a new school on Long Island, and making friends, and especially with her father being away at war. She meets a wonderful new friend however, who turns out to be more than just a good pal (awwwww so cute!) and together they do what they can to assist the war effort, including getting the entire class involved. Definitely read this one, it will keep your attention for hours, you won't be able to put it down!!! 5 stars!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2004

    A great book

    This is a very good book about a 13 year old girl named Madeline Beck who lives in a room they rent from Mrs.Hawkins in Long Island, New York. This book describes very vividly what life was like during the beginning of World War 2. When you read this book it feels like your there with Madeline, sharing in her many experiences- her growing feelings for her school friend Johnny, her fears for her father who is over seas, and her friendship with the shy girl Clara Rosenthal who lives in the same house as Madeline and her mother. When I read it I couldnt put it down. This is truly an excellent book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2004

    Amazing Book - Please Read

    This is an amazing book. It is happy,sad,funny,stupid everything you could want in a book! I read it a little bit after September 11 , 2001....Bad mistake,it made me cry.It is soo much like sep 11. people diying..But overall it is a very good moving book.Easy to read - at least for me!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2003

    the best

    Madeline moved to a mansion in LondIsland. She goes to skool and she has a normal skool life until she meats Johnny they both fell in love and they discover about the war alot of things and they make a club to help the war she worries alot about her dad she seperates with johnny beacause she had to go and lie in sanfrancisco but then shes in highskool and she goes to long island again to visit wen she sees Johnny and then they get married I think this is the best book ivee ever read!!!!!!!!!!!!§§

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2003

    What I thought about my secret war

    This book was fun to read. It has alot of great stuff in it. I was glad to read it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2003

    The Best Book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I love this book! This definitely is my favorite book! I would recommand this book to any one who likes WWII books!I love this book! Its the greatest book I have ever read! You need to read this book! Email me if you find any other great WWII books!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2003

    Don't Keep This Book a Secret

    I really liked the book, My Secret War. One of the reasons I enjoyed this historical fiction journal so much is because it was suspenseful and exciting. Something new seemed to happen all the time. This novel was a real page-turner. Another reason why it was worth it to read this book is because it taught me so much about history. I learned many new and interesting facts. Now, I don't feel that history is just dates and places, it's about people just like us dealing with different problems. The narrator of the book- Madeline Beck also inspired me. She did so many extraordinary things for her country. Her efforts not only helped her community, but she created new friendships and had a great time. I recommend this book to any girl who wants to read an exciting book about war, sorrow, and romance.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2003

    world war 2

    I would say a definet read. It's about a girl who struggles with her social status, boys and to top it off world war 2.If you like to read history related books you will enjoy this book!I know I did!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2002

    Very relistic

    I know my dad isn't in WWII right now, I don't live any where near Rhode Island(what i am I talking about, i don't live by anywhere by Rhode Island, or an ocean for that matter)and i haven't moved a lot because my dad's in the army, but she goes through the same thing i do with boys, but she has it a lot easier.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2002

    My Secret War: You need to read this book!

    This book is so realistic! It's like your there. It's also like your sneaking into your big sisters room and reading her diary. It is sad and romantic. A very thrilling novel for young readers.

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