CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2005
What We Remember is a collection of six short stories about the war experiences of Canadian children. They are based on true stories. The first piece, “The Ship,” tells the story of John Hassell, 12, who is sent by boat from England to Canada to spend the war in safety. His ship is sunk, and he is forced into a lifeboat that takes him back to Scotland from where he is shipped out once again the following week. Author Lesley Anne Airth's telling the story as John experienced it makes it exciting and very accessible to children. We don't know why the ship sank. We are told only that John was awakened after midnight, told to put on his slippers and housecoat and to hurry to the lifeboats because the ship is sinking. Once in the lifeboat, he is afraid of the darkness and afraid because he does not know how to properly use the oar that has been placed in front of him. This story, which reads like an authentic child's memory of trauma, includes an almost-full-page, full-colour illustration showing the ship going down and John in his red housecoat standing in the lifeboat. There is also a smaller illustration of a wartime poster and a photograph of the 12-year-old John Hassell. Children will be engaged by the exciting story, their closeness in age to the main character, and the close connection of the illustration to the text. The story also contains a “fact box” which briefly tells the story of the Dutch Royal family's coming to Canada during World War II and the continuing gift of tulip bulbs sent to Ottawa each year. At the story's end are two discussion questions.
The remaining five stories are organized in a similar format. Each contains a story about a child who is between the ages of six and 11 and a memory of wartime. The stories are five to six pages long and contain a large full-colour illustration, some smaller ones and a “fact box” which relates the subject of the story (rationing, spying) to Canadian history. There are photographs of the children whose stories these are and of others who feature in the stories. Discussion questions are found at the end of each story.
None of the remaining five stories place the children in the battle itself. The rest of the stories are about adults as related to, or by, children connected to the lives of these adults. In “The Medal,” eight-year-old Malcolm finds a medal in a box. His mother explains that the medal is a Military Cross and that it was awarded to Malcolm's father for heroism. She then goes on to tell him (and the reader) the story of Malcolm's father's heroic act in World War I. In “The Photograph,” events in the story surround six-year-old Bill's anticipation of his father's return from overseas.
At the end of the book, Airth includes sources for her fact boxes. Her acknowledgments page includes thanks to the principal characters and relatives of each of the stories, thanking them for sharing their memories.
What We Remember is a book that will interest children. Although the time periods and events are outside most children's reading experience, the author has taken great care to write about what children care about, from John Hassell's inability to row a boat, to little Graham's wondering how long he has to wait after the playing of “The Last Post” at a Remembrance Day ceremony, before he may talk. The children will also be interested in the actual photographs of these children who are the characters in the stories.
Children will most likely have this book read to them. Some of the vocabulary is difficult, and children will have many questions. Some may be answered by the “fact box,” but older children may be spurred on to read further or to re-read this book on their own.
Robert Groberman is a grade one teacher at David Brankin Elementary, Surrey, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.