On the occasion of Remembrance Day (November 11), our Outreach Coordinator, Leena Desai, recommends some books that may help teachers have a discussion with their students about a difficult subject like war.
World War II remains one of the darkest chapters in human history and talking about it with kids whose current experience is so far removed from events of that time is not easy. But with the help of books like Masters of Silence children might be able to imagine just how perilous the situation was for some kids back then. The book tells the story of two Jewish siblings Helen and Henry in 1940s Germany, whose mother makes the tough decision to send them to France to live with strangers, because she fears for their lives in Germany. In France, Helen and Henry live in a convent and pass off as orphans, their only source of joy being visits from a local mime. These visits especially help Henry who has become a selective mute after the traumatic experiences he has witnessed. Unfortunately, Helen and Henry’s true identity is given away by a Nazi informer and the siblings are forced to flee once again. This time, it is the mime that comes to their rescue and who risks everything to save the children. Masters of Silence is based on a true story and the mime was none other than Marcel Marceau who worked heroically for the French Resistance and saved hundreds of children from Nazi concentration camps and death during WWII.
The Princess Dolls is also set in the 1940s, but right here in Vancouver, and serves as a reminder that even in Canada some children were the victims of hate and racism. This is conveyed through the story of two best friends Esther and Michiko. One day, in the local toy store window, the two girls spot the beautiful Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret dolls—in vogue at the time—and they long to get them for their shared birthday, but only Esther gets the doll, Michiko doesn’t and their friendship starts to unravel. The story is set against the backdrop of an atmosphere of increasing hostility and racist attacks upon the Japanese community—culminating in the Internment. Michiko is sent away to an Internment camp with her family and she and Esther are left to their own devices as to how to mend their friendship. The Princess Dolls is a tender story of friendship that also serves as a tool for teachers and parents to have a frank discussion with children about privilege and bigotry.
November 11 as Remembrance Day has been observed since the end of the First World War. It was on 11th November, 1918, at 11am, that the Armistice was signed in France between the Allies of World War I and Germany to cease hostilities on the Western Front of World War I. The Eleventh Hour is the story of that day told through the moving friendship of Jim and Jules. They are best friends who were born on the same day in the same village in Canada. But all their lives, Jim has been first — born two minutes before Jules, always faster, always stronger. When the First World War breaks out in Europe, the two young men enlist in the fight with 30,000 other Canadians. Even in battle, Jim is the first to attack. Jules is always two minutes behind: lagging in drills, missing the boat, handed chores instead of honors. On November 11, 1918, Jim and Jules are sent out to fight one last time. Jim, always first over the top of the trench, is shot and dies at 10:58am, two minutes before the Armistice takes effect at 11am. This is a tender story inspired by true events that are serious and grim, but author and illustrator Jacques Goldstyn imbues the story with humour and warmth that children might appreciate, while they also learn about a landmark event in history.