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06 Feb, Monday
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Montreal Families

Books depict the role Canadians played in WWI

On February 21, John Babcock, Canada’s last living World War I veteran, passed away at the age of 109. His death reminds us of the finite time we have to learn about our past from older generations. Certainly World War I — often referred to as The Great War — was a defining event in Canadian and world history.

This war ushered in a period of social and political experimentation as old monarchies were swept away and replaced by democracy, fascism and communism. The war also changed the way Canada, then a young nation still tied to Britain, would come to see itself. 
With the bravery demonstrated by young soldiers during the war’s horrific battles, Canadians began to be recognized (and to recognize in themselves) a new courage and a willingness to assert themselves as their own people.

Understanding the Great War and Canada’s role in it provides young readers with a deeper sense of what makes a country and a people. Books documenting the war also serve as a reminder of the sacrifices a generation of men and women made to ensure that many of the freedoms we enjoy today — and that we far too often take for granted — would exist in the future.

Here are some books, geared for ages 6 and up, to help young readers learn about this important period in our history.

Eyewitness World War I
(Dorling Kindersley, $19.99) – Ages 6-9

The Eyewitness series, by publisher Dorling Kindersley, always provides an excellent introduction on any topic, and its title about World War I is no exception. This well-illustrated book gives the historical context surrounding the start of the war — the triggering event being the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand — and then takes readers through the many fronts on which the war was fought, including the Middle East and Africa. The book also looks at the role women played in the war and some of the new technologies that were emerging at the time, which changed the nature of battle.

As with all Eyewitness books, the use of photographs from that time period permit the reader to feel immersed in the experience. Children will feel like they have a mini WWI museum right in their laps, giving them the opportunity to visualize what the world felt and looked like at that time.

War Stories by Paul Dowswell
(Usborne Books, $15.95) – Ages 9-12

This book, filled with true stories about the battles of World War I, takes readers into the minds of those facing situations that would change their lives forever. For example, young people learn what it is like to fly Zeppelins, airships used as bombers. The book was created in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum in London, one of the most comprehensive war museums in the world. The research is accurate and the stories are raw. Readers aren’t spared the gruesome aspects that come with war which, while unsettling, reminds us that many of the young men who were on the frontlines of these battles and the female nurses who cared for them were not much older than the young readers the book is intended for.

The book also includes stories from World War II, which allows readers to see the continuity of the two wars and compare them to see what had changed and what stayed the same.

Passchaendale by Norman Leach
(Coteau Books, $19.95) – Ages 10-14

Military historian Norman Leach draws an unforgettable picture of this devastating battle, which took place near West Flanders in Belgium. He takes readers through the many steps leading up to the battle, where soldiers find themselves in a field of mud with artillery raining down upon them. Leach shows how propaganda and patriotism were used to help recruit men for the army and describes the training the soldiers underwent before being shipped out to battle. What makes Leach’s book particularly powerful is its Canadian connection. The battle was eventually won thanks to the bravery of our soldiers and Leach shows the key contribution made by Canada in this battle and many others.

Brothers Far From Home: The World War I Diary of Eliza Bates by Jean Little
(Scholastic Books, $14.99) Ages 6-10

Part of the popular Dear Canada series from Scholastic, this book focuses on Eliza Bates, a young girl from Ontario who has one brother in Europe fighting in the war and another about to enlist. Her diary describes the worries and woes of her family as they wonder every day if their loved ones will return home. The constant worry takes over the family’s life. The book neatly shows how the impact of war extends far beyond the borders of where it is being fought. It makes the inhumanity of war all the more plausible for the reader, especially in this day and age, where war and conflict are images on a television screen in far and distant places.


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