Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Eleventh Hour written and illustrated Jacques Goldstyn

Contains Spoilers

Since the last book I reviewed here was a WWI story, I thought it would be a good time to look at The Eleventh Hour, a WWI picture book for older readers (7+). It is the story of two friends who ultimately find themselves on the battlefield, and give the poppy on the cover, I assume they fought on Flanders Field.

Jules and Jim are born in the same town on the same day in a small Canadian town. Jim is born first, followed by Jules two minutes later, setting a life long pattern of Jim being on time, Jules being late. Because they are next door neighbors, the boys play with each other as babies, and become childhood best friends. They like to do the same things, but it is always clear that Jim is the leader: '...Jim always took the lead. He was faster and stronger than Jules, but since they were friends, Jim always looked out for Jules. Everyone agreed: Jules and Jim were an odd pair."

The two remain best friends as they grow up and when Britain and Germany go to war in 1914, Canada also goes to war (at the time, Canada was a British dominion). Both Jim and Jules enlist in the army. And just like always, Jules is a little behind Jim, who gets the best fitting uniform, does better in basic training and sails to Europe in a big new convoy ship. Showing up two minutes late, Jules ends up in an ill fitting uniform, spends basic training peeling potatoes, and misses sailing to Europe in the same ship as his best friend.

War isn't exactly what they expected, but they do their duty in the trenches, fighting the Germans, the wet cold, the lice, and the rats in the trenches and obeying orders. Jules and Jim never really understood the war and even envy prisoners, for whom the war is over. The war gets much worse before it gets better, but finally, on November 11, 1918, an armistice is signed and the cease fire is scheduled to happen at 11 o'clock that morning. At 10:58 AM, following an order to attack, Jim is killed on the battlefield and Jules is devastated.

Jules returns home without his best friend, and tries to live a normal life, but can't stop thinking about Jim. After trying all kinds of jobs, Jules becomes a watchmaker, and although his watches work well, they nevertheless always run two minutes behind.

Originally written in French (Jules et Jim: frères d'armes) and skillfully translated by Anne Louise Mahoney, who never loses the wry humor or the poignancy of the story, The Eleventh Hours is an incredibly sad book. Each time I've read it, it brings tears to my eyes, but it is also an incredibly powerful anti-war story. It is based on a true story and dedicated to the memory of George Lawrence Price, the last Canadian to die in WWI, when he was killed at 10:58 AM, just two minutes before WWI ended.

Goldstyn is a political cartoonist and is quite adapt at creating a strong story with one illustration. And The Eleventh Hour is not different. Despite the economy of words and spare line and watercolor illustrations, Goldstyn nevertheless paints a full picture of more than a life long friendship, and life in the trenches, he also manages to include what life was life on the home front, giving a well rounded picture of how war impacted life during WWI, and from which one can easily extrapolate that these tragedies and hardships are same realities of war in general.

The Eleventh Hour is a book that will appeal to historical fiction fans, those interested in WWI history, and definitely to pacifists like myself.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Sunday, January 13, 2019

From the Archives: A Patriotic Schoolgirl by Angela Brazil

I've had another bookcase collapse, and so I'm done with Ikea bookcases and am now using industrial shelving, which I don't like one bit, but luckily it's just a temporary solution. My Kiddo has been home since Thanksgiving and helped me put things back in order, and in the process, we found a bunch of books that had been shelved behind other books. These were old copies of books published for girls just before and during WWII that I had used for research years ago. There were also a few older books from WWI. And sure enough, I got pulled into rereading Angela Brazil's WWI book A Patriotic Schoolgirl. Published in London in 1918 by Blackie & Son, it is just one of many of Brazil's boarding school books.

A Patriotic Schoolgirl begins just as Marjorie Anderson, 15, and her sister Dona, 13, are about to be sent off to boarding school. Marjorie is an energetic, outgoing girl but one who is prone to acting impulsively. She's already been to boarding school before, so she's looking forward to being at Brackenfield College, playing hockey and making friends. Dona is much shyer and reserved, content to live in Marjorie's shadow, has no interest in sports, doesn't make friends easily, and would much rather continue to be home schooled. As for the rest of the family, they are described as "a large and rambling family." Father is a soldier serving in France; older sister Nora is already married; Bevis is in the Navy on board the HMS Relentless; Leonard is serving in the trenches somewhere in France; Larry has just been conscripted and is going into training; Peter, 11, has been away at boarding school for three years and is returning there again; Cyril is also off to boarding school, and only youngest Joan will stay at home.

Due to her own work, Mrs. Anderson must send the girls to Brackenfield alone on the train. After missing their connecting train to London, making them 2 hours late, they meet a kind soldier who helps them with their unwieldily belongings. Unluckily, when they part at Euston Station and the teacher meeting them sees them speaking with a soldier, Miss Norton takes an immediate dislike to both girls.

Put into separate houses at school, at first "life seemed a breathless and confusing whirl of classes, meals, and calisthenic exercises, with a continual ringing of bells and marching from one room to another." Eventually, however, Marjorie and Dona find their way. Marjorie makes friends with the other girls in her dormitory, even convincing them to pull a few pranks, while Dona finds herself attracted to the more solitary study of Natural History and Photography.

A Patriotic Schoolgirl is basically the story of Marjorie's overcoming her impulsive nature and assimilating into boarding school life. She really loves a good prank, which usually gets her into trouble. But one episode involving a letter she impulsively writes to a soldier has some serious consequences, including a near expulsion. She is told that she has broken school rules and "transgressed against the spirit of the school" with her 'vulgar correspondence." Marjorie has always been extremely patriotic, she "followed every event of the war keenly, and was thrilled by the experiences of her soldier father and brothers. She was burning to do something to help - to nurse the wounded [as her older cousin Elaine does], drive a transport wagon, act as secretary to a staff-officer, or even be telephone operator over in France." Marjorie just wants more than anything to do her bit for her country, which is why she wrote the letter to a soldier in the first place, never dreaming he would write back.

When a new girl, Chrissie Lang, arrives after the Christmas break, Marjorie finds a new best friend in her. Chrissie is overly interested in hearing about the soldiers in Marjorie's family, as well as learning about the nearby P.O.W. camp. When suspicious happenings in school are noticed, it appears there might a spy in the school. But is it Miss Norton, aka the Acid Drop, who has her own secret, or could it be someone else. And Marjorie is determined to find out just who it is.

I really love a good boarding school story and, for the most part, this one really suited me. A Patriotic Schoolgirl is a marvelous window into the requirements, customs, and rituals that surround boarding schools at that time. Brazil goes into great detail about these things and, I have to be honest, just reading the requirements of what each girl was expected to bring with her boggled my mind.

And Brackenfield College is a strict school with a hard-nosed headmistress, one that for most of the book feels like a good fit for Dona, but definitely not for Marjorie. In the end, though, Marjorie learns to adhere to school values and principles, to comport herself accordingly, and to find a more gentlewomanly outlet for her patriotism. I do wonder at this message, however.

It was fun to revisit A Patriotic Schoolgirl and if you would like to read it, too, you can download a copy at Project Gutenberg, along with 27 other books by Angela Brazil.

Going through all those books, I also found a copy of Five Jolly Schoolgirls, a 1941 WWII book by Angela Brazil that I also haven't read in years, so maybe it's time to revisit that one, too.

You can read more about Angela Brazil, her life and her books HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Saturday, January 5, 2019

A Look Back at 2018

WOW! 2019 will be my 9th year blogging at The Children's War and I have to be honest, I didn't think it would last so long. I've had lots of fun over the last 9 years, reading and participating in different bookish events. And each year, I am surprised at the number of new books published for young readers about WWI and WWII. This year, for the first time, I've picked 10 of my 2018 favorites, chosen because each offers a unique window into little known events and/or a great story:

Here are the links to my reviews of each book:
The Book of Pearl by Timothée de Fombelle
Jazz Owls: A Novel about the Zoot Suit Riots by Margarita Engle
The Prisoner in the Castle (Maggie Hope Mystery #8) by Susan Elia MacNeal
Skylark and Wallcreeper by Anne O'Brien Carelli
Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story by Marc Tyler Nobleman
Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood
Island War by Patricia Reilly Giff
A Kingdom Falls (Book Three of the Ravenmaster Trilogy) by John Owen Theobald
The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix
Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in World War II by Sally Deng

My Kiddo has been home since Thanksgiving Day for an extended visit and it has been so much fun having her here. She's just waiting for her visa now and then she's going back to China to teach sometime this month. Meanwhile, we've been doing lots of things together, which is one of the reasons I haven't been around so much lately (but I have been reading):

At Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas Tree
I've also been the Cybils category chair for Middle Grade Fiction this year, and, as you can see, our wonderful, hard-reading Round 1 panelists have come up with seven award contenders for Round 2 judges to read and deciding a winner will not be an easy task:

I also completed by Goodreads challenge 9 books over my goal, so that was satisfying. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi was my largest book and it was also by far my favorite Speculation Fiction book of 2018.
This year, my goal is still 250 books, but subject to change.

Now, I am really looking forward to what 2019 will bring.