This is the third book in Laurie Calkhoven’s series Boys in Wartime, having previously published Will at the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 and Daniel at the Siege of Boston, 1776. I picked up Michael at the Invasion of France, 1943 one night simply because it was on the table by my side, I started to read and I didn’t put this book down until I finished it later that night. That is how exciting and interesting this novel is.
It is 1943, and the Nazis have been occupying northern France since June 1940. Life is hard, people are hungry and cold, but all supplies are sent by the Nazi occupiers back to the Germany. So when his friend Jacques shows up on his fire escape one night holding the hand a little Jewish girl during a Nazi roundup of Jews in Paris, 13 year of Michael Durand begins to realize that Jacques in involved with the French Resistance and, indeed, Jacques manages to get the little girl and her brother to safety. Now, Michael wants to join the Resistance, too.
With the help of Jacques and his older brother, François, 16, Michael soon learns the ropes of resistance work. Once he has proven himself capable and trustworthy, he is given the job of helping downed Allied pilots escape France. And the fact the Michael is half American on his mother’s side and speaks English comes in very handy, at least with his Resistance work. Not so with the Gestapo, who watch the Durand family after they are brought in for questioning about his father’s whereabouts.
Helping to bring downed Allied aviators to a safe house until they can get forged documents and make their way to Spain with a guide goes very well for Michael - that is, until the day things go wrong and he must make a decision that will put his mother and younger sister, Charlotte, in danger.
As a young protagonist, Michael is a bundle of emotions. Even before the war, Michael knew that his father favored his older brother Georges, to the point where he basically ignored Michael. And to make matters worse, Michael is also plagued with a guilty conscience, blaming himself that Georges, was arrested by the Gestapo when the Nazis swept into Paris in 1940, arresting French soldiers in the wake of France’s defeat. Georges was sent to a German prison camp, and no one knows if he is now dead or alive. Now, with Georges missing and his father having escaped to London and working with General Charles de Gaulle for Allied victory, Michael desperately wants to do something that will make his father proud of him. And, of course, Michael is angry that his beloved France is now in the hands of Nazis. The French Resistance offers Michael a way to cope with these feelings while doing important work and, with the help of an Allied aviators from America, a way of learning about himself in the process.
This is a thrilling, action packed story. Since it is told from Michael’s point of view, the language is straightforward, and his narration makes some of the more complicated material of war and resistance very clear and understandable. The text is supplemented with historical notes, including Children’s Roles in the French Resistance and on the real-life people who are mentioned at length in the book. There is also an in-depth timeline of the events in World War II, a useful glossary of unfamiliar word and suggestions for further reading. Maps to help the reader understand some of the escape routes used by the Resistance to help Allied aviators escape France.
I like historical fiction in general, but when I learn something new in the process, I like it even more. I always knew that aviators carried escape kits, but didn’t know what exactly they contained. Well, now I do - photos for pasting into fake IDs, compasses and silk maps, pills to keep the awake and currency for each country they flew over, and, of course, chocolate bars (Hershey bars to be exact.)
And though Michael at the Invasion of France, 1943, is part of a series called Boys in Wartime, kind of making it sound like a ‘boys book,’ I think it would have equal appeal to girls who like history and/or exciting novels.
Laurie Calkhoven has written a number of historical books for young readers, both fiction and non-fiction. To learn more about Laurie and her books, be sure to visit her website.
This book is recommended for readers age 8 to 12.
This book was an ARC provided by the publisher.
Michael at the invasion of France, 1943
Dial Books for Young Readers
February 16, 2012