Welcome to Nonfiction Monday.
This is a weekly round-up of blogs about children’s literature. Through this venue, I’ve learned about some amazing resources over the last couple of years. Please browse through the list following my posting and perhaps you, too, will find a book or two of interest. If you wish to have your blog listed for today’s event, please leave your information in the comments box. I have attached a Mr. Linky's Magical Widget for those of you who would rather use that (hopefully it works) and to be listed immediately.
My posting today is for Two Generals by Scott Chantler (940.5421 ChT 2010).
What a gem!
Right from the get-go, we are invited as readers to engage with this book as if it is/was someone’s personal journal. The red ‘leather’ cover and black elastic band holding the covers together suggests that this is a field journal. The title and cover illustration, two men (waist down only) in uniform, suggest a military story and the cemetery in the background tells us that this story will have grave and dire consequences. This will be about war.
This nonfiction, graphic novel is an account of Scott Chantler’s grandfather’s experiences during the Second World War, as an officer with the Highland Infantry of Canada. We see a little bit about where Law Chantler comes from, what the 1920s and 30s were about (big band era, in case you’re wondering) and how it is that he comes to be fighting in a war halfway across the world. Early on we meet Jack Chrysler, Law’s best friend who also enlists as an officer.
The story itself follows what most of us know about a soldier’s experience in the army at this time. Hitler’s advance into
galvanized many young men into enlisting. Law marries before shipping out. Once in Poland it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, in between a lot of intense and dangerous training preparing Law and Jack for Operation Overlord, “the largest military operation in history, the greatest display of might the world has ever known.” (p.59) It’s big and it’s bloody. This is the battle to retake the French town of England . Buron
The end notes tell us how Scott Chantler came to write this narrative and the research he did to depict his grandfather’s experiences. Mostly, it’s based on primary resources such as his grandfather’s journal from 1943, letters written by his friend Jack to Jack’s wife, the War Diary of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada for tactical information, various interviews with veterans and relatives of veterans, in addition to various secondary sources.
So, from all this great research comes the ‘story’ of one Lieutenant. There is an ebb and flow to the narrative, starting with a war scene which suggests a battle having just been fought. An element of suspense is created as we see a lone officer standing in a body-strewn battlefield, his back to us, leaving us in doubt as to who has survived and who has not. Between the training exercises we see lots of letter writing to those in
, establishing the importance of family, and hanging out with army buddies, playing cards, watching movies or chasing girls. The battle scenes are fraught with tension which is intensified by the colour red introduced whenever someone is injured, killed or in danger. Canada
The illustrations are brilliant. The colour scheme is almost monochromatic (black, white and military khaki) until Law begins to experience some of the violence to be expected in a war. As mentioned above, red is used to underscore and convey the visceral impact this had on Law. Time and again, we see him remembering different ‘bloody’ incidents, so we know he must have been haunted by them. Perhaps, Law reflected on this in his journals or it may be that his grandson has taken the liberty of imagining how Law was affected by the war, as it turns out that Law never spoke to his family about his wartime experiences.
I think this kind of book, used in secondary classrooms, has great potential to bring home the ‘story’ of a soldier’s life during World War II, what was damaged and lost forever, in addition to illustrating what historical thinking is all about. The research feels personal and obviously was important to the author. This in itself is important – remembering our personal stories.