In preparing this review I read many excellent books dealing with the devastation caused by war.
Here are some books by Canadian authors for middle-grade readers that will help kids to understand why we have a holiday called Remembrance Day.
For an approachable overview of the Second World War, Canada at War is a great choice. Subtitled "A Graphic History of World War II," its colourful format will appeal to a wide audience. I did not know what fu-go balloons were until I read about them here! Interestingly, the list of further reading includes online as well as print resources.
Exiles from the War by Jean Little is a new title in the highly regarded Dear Canada series produced by Scholastic Canada. Little is one of Canada's most beloved authors with more than 50 books to her credit. Each Dear Canada book is written in diary format and is centred around a fictional child living through significant events in Canadian history. In Exiles from the War, Charlotte Twiss is looking forward to the arrival of a war guest. These "guests" were English children who were sent to various Commonwealth countries to keep them safe from the bombing in Britain. Often, their stay lasted for several years and they suffered from loneliness and alienation. Luckily, Charlotte's war guest had a relatively good experience with a loving family. Through the year that Charlotte keeps the diary it is clear that she is forming a bond with Jane and the other children who arrived in Canada in the same group. Offer this book to readers who enjoyed Kit Pearson's wonderful War Guest trilogy.
Another new title is The Road to Afghanistan by Linda Granfield.
Beautifully illustrated by Brian Deines, this is a picture book for all ages. The narrator (a young soldier whose gender is only revealed at the end of the book) describes a family that has served its country through several generations. The text is poetic and moving. The author says she watched the caskets of Canadian soldiers being brought to Toronto along the Highway of Heroes and was inspired to write about the Canadian families that suffered such terrible losses. Granfield also deals with the topic of war in Where Poppies Grow and In Flanders Fields, two books that have had enduring popularity with Canadian educators.
Jean Booker's novel, Still at War, is a gripping sequel to Keeping Secrets. It describes life in a post-war small British town where anti-German feelings run high and a British girl is dealing with the fact that she helped a German POW to escape during the war.
The author drives home the fact that war has lingering and unpleasant consequences for both the victor and the loser.
In the book In My Enemy's House, Carol Matas tells the story of a Jewish girl who masquerades as a Polish citizen and survives the war by working as a servant for a Nazi family. This is a paperback reissue of a title first published in 1999. Matas is a brilliant writer of historical fiction and this book is a chilling and realistic account of the way some people survived the Second World War.
Marsha Skrypuch chronicles the tale of Nadia, a young Ukrainian girl stolen from her parents by the Nazis as part of their Lebensborn programme.
This programme was established in 1936 by the SS to increase the number of Aryan children and help proliferate the German so-called master race. Nadia is brainwashed into thinking the German family who take her in are her real parents and it is only post-war when she has settled in Canada with a refugee couple that she begins to have troubling dreams of a different past. Her older sister's story is told in the newer title, Making Bombs for Hitler.
Wendy Halperin, an American author, offers a soothing antidote to grim wartime tales with a paean for world peace simply titled Peace. In a lovely picture book she echoes the question asked in the Tao Te Ching - how can we bring peace to the world? A series of pictorial storylines are accompanied by quotes regarding peace and Halperin explains that world peace must begin with peace in our hearts. Upbeat and positive and full of hope.
The titles recommended here are:
- Canada at War: A Graphic History of World War II by Paul Keery (Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver) $24.95
- Exiles from the War: The War Guest Diary of Charlotte Mary Twiss (Scholastic Canada, Toronto) $14.99
- In My Enemy's House by Carol Matas (Scholastic Canada, Toronto) $8.99
- Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin (Atheneum, New York) $19.99
- The Road to Afghanistan by Linda Granfield (North Winds Press, Toronto) $19.99
- Still at War by Jean Booker (Scholastic Canada, Toronto) $6.99
- Stolen Child by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (Scholastic Canada, Toronto) $8.99
Fran Ashdown was the head of the children's department at the Capilano branch of the North Vancouver District Public Library. She will be thinking of her father, an RAF radio officer, on Remembrance Day. For more information, check your local libraries.