by Christina Van Starkenburg
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: June 2019
On June 6, 1944, the Allied troops landed on the coast of France and began to push across the country. By the end of August all of France was free, and the following year World War II ended. This month’s selections honour those who fought in the war and those who suffer from the effects of war.
The first story is The Cat Who Lived with Anne Frank by David Lee Miller and Steven Jay Rubin and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (Philomel, 2019). This story brings Anne Frank’s journal to life and gently introduces young readers to the horrors of war by telling the story through Mouschi’s—the cat’s—eyes.
Unlike Anne and the other “Yellow Stars” who are forced to hide, Mouschi is able to get out of the attic and see what is happening. Through his eyes, readers are introduced to Hannie, a resistance fighter, who helped smuggle over 600 Jewish children to freedom, and the brave zoo workers who entertained Nazis while hiding more than 300 Jews in the storage rooms. For ages 4 to 8.
The Day the War Came by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb (Candlewick Press, 2018) is also inspired by a real event. In 2016 Davis learned the United Kingdom refused to provide refuge for 3,000 unaccompanied children, and that one refugee child was turned away from school simply because there wasn’t a chair.
The story follows a young girl from her breakfast table, across the waters in a leaky boat, through a refugee camp and city streets, to a school that turns her away because there isn’t a chair for her. But because even on the darkest of days there can still be hope, Davies story ends with one of the young boys in the class bringing her his chair and he is not alone. For ages 5 to 8.
The third story is Up In Arms by Amanda Spottiswoode and illustrated by Molly March (Heritage, 2017). During World War II hundreds of children were evacuated from the UK and sent to Canada. Up In Arms is a fictional tale that follows some of them: the Phillips and MacTavish children.
The friends spend some time in Victoria, then head up Island with Captain Gunn. During their travels they see a cougar nearly drown, and learn about an artifact, a mask, that was stolen from a village. When they find the mask in the house of a police officer they must decide whether they should leave it where it is, or return it to its rightful owners. For ages 9 to 12.
A Blinding Light by Julie Lawson (Nimbus, 2017) is set in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1917. The story starts with 12-year-old Livy Schroeder and her 15-year-old brother, Will, mourning their father who died in a boating accident six months earlier. Livy is responding by acting out any way she can to get her mother’s attention. She ends up breaking her mother’s favourite vase and letting their servant girl, Kathleen, take the blame.
After she admits it was her, she is sent to the North End to beg forgiveness and ask Kathleen to come back. But while she is there, two ships collide in the harbour and explode, leveling the North End. For ages 9 to 12.
The fifth story is an enchanting tale about Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War by Mireille Messier and illustrated by Kass Reich (Tundra, 2019). Like the story about Anne’s cat, this tale softens your child’s introduction to war by focusing on an animal, in this case a goat named Billy.
Billy was the mascot for the Fifth Battalion and he took his role very seriously. He was with the troops for every one of their failures and victories. He captured an enemy guardsman, was arrested for treason, and saved the lives of three members of the Fighting Fifth. The text and beautiful images don’t shy away from the horrors of war, but Messier and Reich are able to keep the story at a good level for their young readers. For ages 4 to 8.
The final story is A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker (Candlewick Press, 2018). This book is not about war, but it is about grief. This beautifully illustrated tale captures the stages of grief as a young girl mourns the death of her dog.
This book is rather unique in that it tells the story without using words. However, the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” rings true in this book. The illustrations bring about such depth of emotions, that the readers do not need words to recognize the turning point in the young girl’s grief. For ages 5 to 9.
Here in Canada it is easy to forget that wars still rage on in other places of the world and that these wars divide families and cause so many to lose those close to them. But, as we take time this month to remember the beginning of the end of World War II, we can also remind ourselves to think of others. To be compassionate, empathetic, and kind. To make room for those who are mourning, scared, or lonely. And to do what we can to make this world a better place, not only for ourselves, but for everyone.
Christina Van Starkenburg is a freelance writer and mother of two young boys. You can read about their adventures at thebookandbaby.com.
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