Tag Archives: World War I

Women at War

28 Jun

WWI changed society in a myriad of ways, one of which was the role of women. This video, And We Knew How to Dance: Women in WWI


by the National Film Board of Canada  shows how Canadian women aided the war effort. It’s World War I, and many of the country’s men have gone into battle. Twelve Canadian women, aged 86 to 101, recall their entry into what had been a male world of munitions factories and farm labour. Their commitment and determination helped lead the way to postwar social changes for women.

And this book,



tells the story of approximately 100 nurses who were captured during the Japanese attack on the Philippines, which happened only 9 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Mary Cronk Farrell’s Pure Grit is the story of how those nurses not only survived, but also how they continued to care for the sick and wounded with dwindling medical supplies and food. Over the course of their three years in captivity, the nurses lost weight because of the starvation-level rations they were given. some developed beriberi, others dengue fever and/or bouts of malaria and tuberculosis. Cronk uses interviews and lots of primary source material to create a highly readable and fascinating book that sheds light on an aspect of war that is still rather unknown.

Backmatter includes a glossary, list of nurses, timeline, endnotes, bibliography, websites, and an index.

Cronk also provides a teacher’s guide on  her website.

This is an excellent addition to any library or classroom in which World War 2 is taught.



The War at Home

27 Jun


Tomorrow we mark the event that set the dominoes of the First World War in motion: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

In John Boyne’s Stay Where You Are & Then You Leave,  we see the effects of war throughout the eyes of you Alfie Summerfield. He’s only 5 at the beginning of the book and 9 by the end, but John Boyne really captures how a boy of that age would view and understand the world and the crazy event going on around him. I love that he thins at 21 he’ll need glasses to read and will want to go to bed early because he’s so tired.

This is the best of what historical fiction should be: details woven into the fabric of the story so naturally we don’t even realize that they are historical facts. We get a real glimpse of what life was like for people left at home and the consequences the war had on society. We learn about shortages, deportations, conscientious objectors, white feathers and shell shock.

Alfie’s father went off to war. At first the letters were funny, then serious, then confused. Then they stopped. Alfie’s mother tells him his dad is on a secret mission, but Alfie thinks his dad is dead. While working as a shoeshine big, Alfie comes across some information that set him on a secret mission of his own to rescue his dad.

This book is a real gem. It was more like Michael Morpurgo’s  War Horse than Boyne’s most famous book,  The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.  It would be an excellent novel to read as kids learn about WWI.

Alas, I couldn’t help but do the math. Alfie  is 9 in 1918. That means he’ll be 30 in 1939 when the next World war breaks out. It broke my heart to think about that. The fact that I care is a testament to the quality of the writing that created the character of Alfie.

WWI @100

25 Jun

On Saturday we mark the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the trigger that set off the maneuvering that became the First World War. Or the Great War, as they called it. They didn’t know then that they were supposed to number them. The Wall Street Journal has a wonderful collection of legacies of WWI that you can see here. It is well worth looking at.

When I go to Canada later this summer, we will visit Ottawa and I am very excited to see the Canadian War Museum. I haven’t been to Ottawa since our grade 10 trip in 1980, and there are a number of museum that have been built in the decades since my last visit there.

There are a number of WWI related books out now, and no doubt, some more to come over the next four years. I hope to tell you about many of them. Today’s book is the story of a war dog.


Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog is written by Anne Bausum and is published by National Geographic.

From the Publisher: Stubby, the stump-tailed terrier, worked behind enemy lines, and gained military honors along the way. Private Robert Conroy casually adopted the orphan pup while attending basic training on the campus of Yale University in 1917. The Connecticut volunteer never imagined that his stray dog would become a war hero. He just liked the little guy. When Conroy’s unit shipped out for France, he smuggled his new friend aboard. By the time Stubby encountered Conroy’s commanding officer, the dog had perfected his right-paw salute. Charmed, the CO awarded Stubby mascot status and sent him along with Conroy’s unit to the Western Front. Stubby’s brave deeds earned him a place in history and in the Smithsonian Institution where his stuffed body can still be seen. Almost 100 years later, Stubby’s great deeds and brave heart make him an animal hero to fall in love with and treasure all over again.

The book is well researched and full of photos and quotes. Backmatter includes an afterword, timeline, research notes, bibliography, resource guide, citations, and index. It would be an excellent means of introducing kids to the details of WWI, which many of them know very little about.

Soldier Dog by Sam Angus

12 Nov


I mentioned this book in my post yesterday. I picked it up almost by accident when I was at the library a few days ago. It was displayed on the new book shelf. I even considered not checking  it out because it seemed to be too much of an echo of  War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. It is reminiscent of the book, don;t get me wrong, but it is certainly worth reading, too.

Stanley’s older brother has gone to fight in the Great War and his father is prone to sudden rages after the death of his wife. Stanley devotes himself to taking care of the family’s greyhound and puppies. One morning Stanley wakes to find the puppies gone. Determined to find his brother, Stanley runs away to join an increasingly desperate army. Assigned to the experimental War Dog School, Stanley is given a problematic Great Dane named Bones to train. Against all odds, the pair excels, and Stanley is sent to France.

If you enjoyed War Horse, you will enjoy this book, too.

Lest We Forget

11 Nov


In Flanders Field

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae
I memorized this poem years ago, not on purpose, but through hearing it sung for years at Remembrance Day services in the community room above the arena in New Hamburg. We all wore poppies.  Tied in my memory with the song is the sound of the lone trumpeter playing The Last Post. I get teary eyed just thinking about it. I remember old man, standing straight, hands at their sides. Some had tears in their eyes, too.
This day was chosen because it was the day the armistice ending the First World War was signed. So I have a couple of lists today: my favorite Canadian novels of WWI and kid books about WWI.
My Favorite Canadian novels of WWI 
The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart
Three Day Road  by Joseph Boyden
Deafening by Frances Itani
Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
The Wars  by Timothy Findley
 Children’s Books about WWI (fiction & non-fiction)
Truce  by Jim Murphy
War Horse  by Michael Morpurgo
Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
Lord of the Nutcracker Men by Iain Lawrence
Knit Your Bit by Deborah Hopkinson
In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
Crossing Stones by Helen Frost
Soldier Dog by Sam Angus
And the Soldiers Sang  by J. Patrick Lewis

The Things that Haunt Us

16 Jul

Today my summer school program is being audited by the Migrant Education program. Well, not just mine, the whole summer program that my school district is running with MEP funds. I thin there are 3 elementary, one middle & 2 high school programs. That means they might come, or they might not. It will haunt me today. I’ll be looking over my shoulder all day wondering when the flock of inspectors will swoop down upon us.

This is not exactly how Mary Shelley Black feels in In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, but there are some parallels.


The first thing I love about the book was the setting. Rarely anymore do we see books about the first World War, which has almost become a forgotten war. I guess we can thank  Downton Abbey, in part for reminding people about “the war to end all wars” . And the centenary of the 1914 armistice is only a little more than a year away. In any case, this book is set in 1918, as the war is ending and the flu pandemic is taking its toll. The story is a marvelous combination of themes of the time: science, spiritualism, flu and war.

Mary Shelley is a logical science-minded girl who is sent from Portland, to live with an aunt in San Diego, when her father is arrested as a traitor. An old family friend is involved in spiritualist photography, which Mary holds in great disdain. Her aunt and many who have lost loved ones, seek out spiritualist photographers and mediums to have one last connection to those they’ve lost. When a good friend of Mary’s dies,and she becomes haunted by his spirit, Mary uses her logical powers to help him find peace.

What I loved about Mary is the reality of her reaction to the tragedy around her. It makes me think about all the buzz around PTSD  and what it takes to “recover”. Some people manage better than others, but no matter what, their pain is real.

Winters weaves historical fact into her narrative in a natural way and her extensive research makes the novel ring true.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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