Sunday, November 11, 2018

100 Years Ago Today

Today is November 11th, 2018 one hundred years-to-the-day that World War I ended with the signing of the armistice.

The Vimy Oaks: a Journey to Peace by Linda Granfield tells the true story of a young Canadian soldier, Leslie Miller, who fought in France during World War I.  Based on his field journals, Granfield extracts snippets of text that describe his observations and experiences as he goes about doing his job as a member of the Signals Corps.  Many of the excerpts are descriptions of the landscape noting the beautiful woods and large trees or the terrible devastation wrecked on the countryside by the constant bombardment from both sides.  On April 9, 1917 the battle for Vimy Ridge began and while fighting in this area, Leslie Miller collected a number of acorns that had been blasted from oak trees, mailing them home to Canada.

After returning to Ontario, he started life again as a farmer. Miller planted the acorns he had sent home during the war. This becomes significant in 2004 when Monty McDonald, a family friend to the Millers, traveled to France and Belgium to see the battlefields of both wars. He noticed, while visiting the National Vimy Memorial, that the landscape, though green and forested again, was missing oak trees. He wondered if the trees that grew in Canada from the acorns collected by Leslie Miller could be used to re-establish the oaks at Vimy Ridge.
The Vimy Oaks Repatriation Project was launched with the intention of having oak trees once again growing at Vimy Ridge in time for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, November 11th, 2018. The book describes the process by which the Canadian oaks are being propagated and then taken to France or planted across Canada.
The book has been illustrated by Brian Deines but also contains numerous photos of people, places and things from that time period. I especially love the photo of Leslie Miller’s field journal that shows a couple of sketches he did of the trees he admired and his beautiful cursive penmanship. It provides lots of context that will help readers understand what was happening and some of the significance of those events. The connection between the past and the present is perfectly encapsulated here. 
Also included are a glossary and index.
I recommend this book for the middle grades when doing units about trees, Remembrance Day, Canadian history, World War I but also looking at topics of peace. The planting of these oak trees is such a wonderful symbol of healing, peace and remembrance.
“They will call upon us to remember the past – and a Canadian soldier who once held hope and rebirth in the palm of his hand.” (p.33)


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