________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 2 . . . . September 12, 2008

cover The Unknown Soldier.

Linda Granfield.
Toronto, ON: North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada, 2007/2008.
38 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
ISBN 978-0-439-93558-6.

Subject Headings:
War memorials-Juvenile literature.
Soldiers’ monuments-Juvenile literature.
Unknown military personnel-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up.

Review by Thomas F. Chambers.

*** /4


ITALY, A NEUTRAL COUNTRY when the Great War broke out in 1914, joined the Allies in 1915. In the summer of 1921, officials decided that an unknown soldier, one of the nearly six hundred thousand Italian soldiers who died in the First Word War, would be buried in Rome with all possible honours. The ceremony would take place on November 4, Victory Day (now known as National Unity Day). There was much to be done and little time to prepare, but with great passion and patriotism, a unified nation buried one special son and mourned all of its fallen on the appointed day.

Maria Bergamas, a woman from Trieste who had lost her son Antonio in the war, was asked to select one of eleven coffins. She reportedly dropped her black veil upon her choice. The other caskets were buried in the Cemetery of the Heroes in Aquileia. Bergamas was also buried there in 1954.


Few people in most societies are likely to believe that war is a good thing. In spite of that, wars continue to be fought. That countless young men, and now women, volunteer to fight their countries’ wars, believing them to be just, is admirable. What is sad, apart from the fact that they have to fight at all, is that many soldiers who have been killed are buried in unknown graves. Given what wars are like, this is understandable. The Unknown Soldier tells the story of how 15 countries have dealt with this emotional issue.

      The Unknown Soldier has 18 chapters, the majority being only one page long. The book deals with the history and traditions regarding unknown soldiers from the First World War to the 21st century. Each page is illustrated with functional photographs in both colour and black and white. In addition, the book has an index, a useful glossary, and “Significant Events,” a timeline from 1914-2004. A map showing the location of the countries mentioned would have been useful.

      Of special interest to young readers are two pages titled, “Symbols Often Seen On Tombs And Gravestones.” These show pictures of symbols, such as a palm branch and fruit and flowers, found on the tombs of unknown soldiers. Also of considerable interest is the discussion of how the bodies of unknown soldiers can now be identified by DNA testing. The bodies of Canadian Herbert Peterson, killed near Vimy in 1917, and American Michael Joseph Blassie, shot down over Vietnam in 1972, are given as examples. Without the ability to check DNA, these remains would still be those of unknown soldiers.

      Before The Unknown Soldier, author Linda Granfield had written 25 books. These cover a variety of topics, but war seems to be one of her favourite subjects. Her most popular books include High Flight: A Story of World War II and Where Poppies Grow: A World War I Companion. Her history of unknown soldiers is well researched and accurate. The text is sophisticated and may be a challenge for some younger readers. The glossary will help, but it omits some terms such as fascism, crusader and tyranny, which may be unknown to some children.

      An innovative teacher will find numerous ways in which to use The Unknown Soldier beyond Remembrance Day, and its contents will provoke many questions from eager young minds.


Thomas F. Chambers, a retired college teacher, lives in North Bay, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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