This will come late to anyone hoping to plan something for the classroom or library, but, honestly, these books are good enough to haul out whenever you are discussing war, peace, poetry, history, and the lives of children here and there. I have just emerged from a very long book project and this was the earliest I could get to making this post, but these titles have been a diversion in the past for weeks for which I've been very grateful.
Linda Granfield, one of the finest non-fiction writers in Canada, has one new book out this year: Remembering John McCrae: Solidier, Doctor, Poet and, from last year, there is The Unknown Soldier.
I suspect that almost every child in Canada can recite at least the first few lines of "In Flanders fields, the poppies grow / Beneath the crosses, row on row...". Granfield's book brings depth to this poem as we learn the story of John McCrae, the man who scribbled it on a scrap of paper in honour of his friend, Alexis Helmer. This is just the kind of book I love—a running story line supported by a plethora of photos, paintings, journal excerpts, ephemera (even a photo of bone forceps) which adds graphical, and textual, interest to the pages. I can imagine a child browsing through the book, being drawn in by these images. Quotations from McCrae's letters and journals allow us to hear from McCrae himself.
This book is many things, but one thing that struck me after I finished is how it helps bring context to poetry. I think poetry if often intimidating to people, young and not so, and there is somehow a feeling of inadequacy when trying to "understand" it. But poetry is a source of expression — be it of joy or grief — and this book helps give context to that expression and somehow, I hope, make poetry — or at least the idea of poetry — more accessible to everyone.
Here's a review from Canadian Materials.
Apropos to this book, there is a show discussing Remembrance Day on the radio and one of the hosts just said that one of the greatest sorrows of veterans is to be forgotten. Was is such a tragic waste of life — usually young life — and with each death, a bit more of the human potential is lost. Memorials to the Unknown Soldiers help to remind us of those who were lost, and, tragically, never repatriated. These monuments give a place for people to remember all of the men who died and buried on the battlefield.
The Unknown Soldier also brings us to "The Unknown" monuments throughout the world as Granfield describes the monuments in 15 countries. The traditions surrounding these monuments was most interesting to me. In Moscow, for instance, it is a wedding tradition for newlyweds to leave flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Being one who enjoys visiting graveyards — they always seem very beautiful to me — I also enjoyed the spread explaining the symbols on gravestones. These sorts of details may be the perfect conduit to bring children into this book. The Unknown Soldier is another valuable addition to any bookshelf.
Here's a review from Canadian Materials.
Finally, the book Too Young to Fight: Memories From Out Youth During World War II compiled by Priscilla Galloway. I suspect this book is out of print now as it was first published ten years ago and, its publisher, Stoddart, is no longer with us. It is a gem, however, so worth searching for. (Wait! It's been republished by Fitzhenry and Whiteside!) Books about war are almost always about people fighting the war, but there were many ways in which people were affected. Perhaps a parent went to the battlefield, or your town was bombed, or you were interned because of your ethnicity. This book includes the remembrances of 12 Canadian writers who "were too young to fight." I'll confess that it's awhile since I've read this book, but it's on my stack for later today.
I'm not sure exactly how to sign off, but I can't help but remember a childhood friend of my sister's who brought my parents a "Happy Remembrance Day" card. Perhaps she didn't quite have the sentiment of the day right, but it was certainly memorable!