Friday, October 21, 2011

The Little Ships

The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II
by Louise Borden
illustrated by Michael Foreman
McElderry Books, 1997, 32 pages

In May of 1940, half a million British and French soldiers were trapped in on three sides by German forces. They had their back to the sea, and the Germans seemed intent on pushing them right into it. But then the call went out all over the English coast for ship owners to come bring their boats to save these stranded soldiers. And they came, by the hundreds. In total 861 ships set sail for the shores of France, for the beaches of Dunkirk, including hundreds of small fishing boats and pleasure craft. This is one of the most stirring examples of courage, in a war that was filled with them, because this the most ordinary sort of courage - ordinary courage  these were ordinary men the soldiers' old neighbors, their fathers and hometown friends heading out into danger simply because they were needed. They brought back more than 300,000 soldiers.

That's the story this little picture book sets out to tell, and it is quite a story. The author tells it from the perspective of a fisherman's daughter, who, because she is a seasoned sailor, goes along with her father and their little ship, the Lucy. This is a read-out-loud book, as the author Louise Borden lays out lyrical sentences - this isn't poetry, but it has a clear cadence and rhythm that springs up from the page.

The illustrations are water colors, which ably captures the mood and the scene, but the pictures themselves are not that eye catching - the colors are all muted. That's one reason I think this book may have to be read twice to be appreciated: it is a book about quiet courage, and the pictures are quiet too. But the text, read aloud, and the somber tones of  the illustrations have a cumulative impact. It really hits you in the end. But the worry is that children might stop after only a few pages.

So to conclude, this is a great book for a teacher to read out loud to their class. There is a fair amount of text per page, and the intense story line also makes this a book best suited for Grade 2 or older, and while they may not be wild about it at the start, I'm confident they'll appreciate it, and the courage of these hundreds of ordinary men, by the time they get to the end.

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