I was so happy to receive this book review from a retired Army Occupational Therapist, Gwen Buteau (written with her daughter, Gail). Gwen served in the Army in the 1950s and was also an Army wife for her husband’s full career. She was kind enough to share some pictures from her training  at Walter Reed Hospital in the 1950s. (You can click on the pictures to see them better.) 

Gwen has reviewed Mary Pope Osborne’s My Secret War: The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck from the “Dear America” series (similar to the “American Girls” series, but without the dolls!). I read the book myself and thought it was just perfect for girls in the 4th – 9th grade range; it’s a sweet and exciting coming-of-age tale of an eighth-grade girl, Madeline Beck, who’s living on Long Island in 1941. Madeline’s father is a Naval officer who is at sea during the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She describes homefront efforts such as victory gardens, rubber and tin collections, and women entering the work force (“if you have ever sewed a button on a shirt, you can be a spot welder!”). The excitement comes in when she inadvertently witnesses Nazi operatives who’ve made it into Long Island Sound on a U-boat and are burying explosives on the beach. With the urging of her childhood-friend-turned-sweetheart, Johnny, she reports what she’s seen to the FBI, and saves the day.

Thank you so much, Gwen, for contributing this review!

For more on women like Gwen who served in the 1950s, see this interesting historical web site.

— Andria


My name is Gwen Buteau. The military has always been an important part of my life. I served in the Army in the mid-1950’s as an Occupational Therapist. Here I am as a new 2nd Lieutenant during training at Walter Reed Army Hospital.


My husband, whom I met at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, was an Army Infantry officer, and later went on to serve until retirement in the Army reserves.  My brother grew up to be an Army Airborne Ranger. My father was a Navy man, serving first in his youth as a yeoman writing the ship’s newspaper on the USS Nevada, and then again during World War II as a commissioned provost marshal.

I would like to recommend the young reader’s book My Secret War – The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck by Mary Pope Osborne to your blog followers and their children, especially their daughters. [Readers might be familiar with Mary Pope Osborne from her popular “Magic Tree House” series — so popular, in fact, that when we were stationed in Virginia, “Magic Tree House” audio books were given out with Chik-Fil-A kids’ meals! – editor]


It is part of a larger grouping of fictional history books in the “Dear America” series published by Scholastic Inc. In them, young girls talk about their lives in diary or journal style during critical moments of our nation’s past, such as the Civil War or the Oregon Trail crossing. Each book ends with a brief epilogue and then a short chapter featuring pictures, charts, songs, maps, etc.  illustrating American life during the time of that book.

My Secret War was important to me because I really related to the protagonist, Madeline Beck. I was the same age as her in 1941 and I experienced many of the very same things she talks about in school and at home before and after the Pearl Harbor bombing. I kept a diary just like her, and also followed the unfolding of the war very closely like her, cutting and pasting front page newspaper articles into big scrapbooks I still have today.

Madeline’s father was a Naval officer serving overseas in the book, and so was mine. My dad was gone so much in fact that when he returned home he barely recognized my brother and I because we had grown so much! As I read her entries, I was reminded of the emotions I felt about missing him and wanting so much to be a part of the war effort on the home front as a way to help him. Letters to and from Madeline’s father are a major focus of her writing, and I felt the same about my dad and have saved many of his letters from then.  I think young girls today whose fathers (and mothers!) are serving away from home will be able to relate to this too, and that could help to make Madeline’s touching story even more personal, meaningful and relevant.


Reviewer Gwen Buteau. Are you eating your hearts out over those classy uniforms, gals??! 

I believe the book’s author, Mary Pope Osborne, does a good job throughout of speaking in the honest voice of a young WWII-era girl who, on one hand,  is dealing with the tender challenges of youth and first love, while on the other hand tries to comprehend and be strong in the face of the frightening world event into which her family is thrown. One criticism is that I wish the author would have woven in more stories about all the important volunteer efforts local communities were organizing and participating in to support our service men and women abroad. Still, I think military families today will appreciate this tale and the author’s portrait of life’s struggles at home while a parent is away, and the family bonds that can be deepened in the effort.

I love this, Gwen! It’s so true — deployment can be a trial for families, but it can have a deepening effect overall, too. Thank you so much for sharing this.