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Remembering through literature

A Soldiers Sketchbook WEB

Remembering through literature

By Jane Muller

Books can bring about discussion and understanding around difficult subjects including war. The following is a selection of books for children age 5 and older that skillfully approach the subject through real and imagined characters and events.

The Vimy Oaks: A Journey to Peace
By Linda Grandfield, illustrator Brian Deines
More than 100 years after the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the legacy of the Vimy oaks continues here in Canada, all thanks to Leslie Miller and a handful of acorns that he mailed home in 1916. Generations have enjoyed the oaks that grew from those acorns and today trees are still being propagated from the originals in honour of the soldiers who served in the First World War. Grandfield, who specializes in books related to war and remembrance, does a wonderful job of making this amazing story accessible to children. Ages 7 to 12 –– Publisher, North Winds Press – $19.99 hardcover

A Soldier’s Sketchbook
By John Wilson, illustrator R. H. Rabjohn
Just as the title suggests, this unique First World War diary is illustrated with more than 100 authentic and stunning pencil sketches by soldier Russell Rabjohn. Award-winning author John Wilson uses his skills as a historian and researcher to curate the diary and provide context to tell the story of Private Rabjohn’s war. A trained artist, Rabjohn was assigned to draw dugouts, map newly captured trenches, and sketch the graves of his fallen comrades. He defied army regulations and drew everything he saw, from the captured pilot of a downed German biplane; the horrific Flanders mud; a German observation balloon exploding in midair; and the jubilant mood in the streets of Belgium when the Armistice is finally signed. This informative and riveting book is Ideal for children learning history and also for adults interested in a new perspective on the War and authentic wartime artefacts. Ages 10 and up – Publisher Tundra Books – $22.99 hardcover

In Flanders Fields, the Story of the Poem by John McCrae
By Linda Granfield, illustrator Janet Wilson
The 100th anniversary edition of this award-winning book that was originally published in 1996, came out in 2014 and features new cover art and a new introduction. The original text weaves the poem with fascinating information about the First Word War, details of life in the trenches and accounts of McCrae’s experience in his field hospital. Ages 8 and up – Publisher – Fitzhenry & Whiteside – $24.95 hardcover $12.95 paperback

Where Will I Live?
By Rosemary McCarney
It can be hard for a young child to imagine what it’s like to flee from his or her home to escape terrible danger. Using amazing photographs (taken by UNHCR—the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), this book introduces children to the plight of child refugees all over the world and their search for a safe place to live. It also shows that in spite of everything, child refugees can find time to laugh, play, and make friends. And most importantly, they have hope that somewhere, someone will welcome them to a new home. Written by Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Where Will I Live? will help children whose lives are not directly affected by this crisis think about the importance of home, and what life is like for a child refugee who does not have a permanent, safe home. Ages 5 to 9 – Publisher, Second Story Press, $19.95 hardcover

Renato and the Lion
By Barbara DiLorenzo
Great art is memorable and it’s one of the factors that make this touching tale memorable. The watercolour illustrations set the magical tone for the story of a boy in a war-torn country who is rescued by a stone lion. Set in Florence, Italy amidst the beautiful buildings, fountains and statuary, Renato and his family must leave the country as the war progresses and leave behind the stone lion that is his favourite. His connection to the lion and his homeland makes for a compelling plot line and an interesting glimpse into the life of a family at that time and place in history. Ages 5 to 7 years – Publisher Viking – $17.99 hardcover

One Peace: True Stories of Young Activists
By Janet Wilson, illustrator
The stories of young people who have been refugees from war, injured by land mines, or learned about the consequences of violence through other means are interspersed with children’s poems, quotes, artwork, and photographs. The brief, powerful accounts document how these children ages 8 to 15 worked for or became symbols of peace. Most of them work with or have founded peace organizations to help spread their message. Ages 8 to 13 ­– Publisher, Orca – $19.95

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain
By John Boyne
A powerful new novel from the author of the highly acclaimed “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”, readers will be compelled to finish it one sitting. The story begins in Paris where sweet little Pierrot lives with his parents until he is orphaned and taken in by his Aunt Beatrix, who is Adolf Hitler’s housekeeper. Residing at Hitler’s mountain-top Berghof, the boy is seduced by Hitler and Nazism, an indoctrination that takes him down a dark road of secrets and betrayal. The transformation of Pierrot illustrates how minds are corrupted and how it happens as well as the terrible pain, guilt and regret our decisions can cause. This vivid account of the time of Hitler’s rise and fall is worth a read, no matter your age. Ages 12 and up – Publisher Doubleday Publishing – $22.99

Every Day is Malala Day
By Rosemary McCarney with Plan International
After being shot by the Taliban for simply going to school in her native Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai has become an international girls’ rights crusader and the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. This book is written from the perspective of girls around the world who share her belief that every girl has the right to go to school. Illustrated with beautiful photographs from non-profit Plan International. Publisher Second Story Press – $18.95 hardcover

Child Soldier
By Jessica Dee Humphreys & Michel Chikwanine, illustrator Claudia Davila
How can a book about child soldiers be accessible to middle grade readers? It’s possible by presenting a true story, told in the first person, as a graphic novel with images that evoke instead of depict the violent aspects. It addresses issues like social justice, conflict and children’s rights through the voice of Michel Chikwanine. Abducted at age five in the Democratic Republic of Congo and forced to become a soldier, he escapes and finds his way back to his family but he was never the same again. After immigrating to Canada, Michel was encouraged by a teacher to share his story and help raise awareness about child soldiers. Ages 10 to 14 ­ – Publisher Kids Can Press ­– $18.95 hardcover

Walking Home
By Eric Walters
This award-winning Canadian author has taken on a challenging topic in this story about a brother and sister’s brave journey to find a place to call home. After their life in a Kenyan village is wiped out by political violence that resulted in the murder of their father and destruction of their home, the pair flees with their ailing mother to a refugee camp. The story follows their escape from the impossible conditions there, and their trek hundreds of kilometres to find their remaining family. Juvenile Fiction – Publisher Doubleday Canada – $12.99 paperback

Bunny the Brave War Horse
By Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrator Marie Lafrance
Based on the true story of a police horse named Bunny and his riders, brothers Bud and Thomas Dundas, this poignant picture book brings to life a piece of World War I history. It follows Bunny to the European front where he joins the 9th Battery Canadian Field Artillery and explores the difficult challenges endured by the soldiers. The author has included a brief historical recap to provide context for readers. Ages 6 to 8 – Publisher, Kids Can Press – $18.95

When I Get Older: The Story Behind “Wavin’ Flag
By K’naan, Sol Sol Guy
You know the song, which has become an international anthem. Now its creator K’naan, shares, through this 32-page picture book, the story behind it. Written in simple, conversational style, the story follows 13-year-old K’nann, his mother and three siblings from leaving their home in Mogadishu when the Somalian Civil War broke out in 1991, to their ultimate arrival in Toronto and their refugee experience in between. A story that will inspire and encourage young readers. The lyrics and sheet music of “Wavin’ Flag” are included. Publisher, Tundra Books – $19.99 hardcover

Three Day Road
By Joseph Boyden
Beautifully told, although at times gruesome and explicit, this is a story of two Cree young men who find themselves in the First World War fighting in the trenches of France as snipers using the hunting and shooting skills they learned in the bush growing up near James Bay. Xavier Bird returns from the harrowing experience gravely wounded and addicted to morphine. His story merges with that of In part inspired by the legend of Francis Pegahmagabow, the great Indian sniper of World War I, Three-Day Road is an impeccably researched and beautifully written story that offers a searing reminder about the cost of war. In part inspired by the legend of Francis Pegahmagabow, the great Indian sniper of World War I, Three-Day Road is an impeccably researched and beautifully written story that offers a searing reminder about the cost of war. Niska, the last Oji-Cree woman to live off the land, who paddles her canoe on a three day journey to bring Bird, her last surviving relative, home. Boyden’s first novel, it won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the CBA Libris Fiction Book of the Year Award, and the in Canada First Novel Award, and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction.
Ages 16 and up – Publisher, Penguin Random House – $17 paperback