Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Book Review: Boys of Wartime: Michael at the Invasion of France 1943, by Laurie Calkhoven (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012)
Release date: February 16, 2012
Check out my interview with author Laurie Calkhoven on February 16!
Twelve-year old Michael, a half-American, half-French boy living in Paris, has to grow up quickly when the Nazis invade France in this fast-moving historical fiction novel about World War II. His brother's been captured and is in a German POW camp, and his father is in England, leaving Michael the man of the house for his mother and little sister.
Despite having to deal with hunger and the intense cold, Michael is determined to fight the Nazis in whatever way possible, and soon is a member of the French resistance. Michael's assignment is dangerous but important--helping to guide Allied pilots to safe houses so that they can escape and continue to fly missions against Hitler. But when the Gestapo discovers their cell of resistance fighters, will Michael be able to get his American flier and his family to safety?
This is the third in Calkhoven's excellent historical series Boys of Wartime (the first two novels were set during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War). Told in the first person, the suspenseful story grabs the reader from the start, and I found the novel difficult to put down. Michael is a well-rounded character, filled with doubts about his ability to live up to his father's expectations, yet brave and quick on his feet. The narrative is peppered with telling details of the difficulties of life for ordinary Frenchmen under the Germans, from having to sleep in the Metro station because it was marginally warmer underground to breeding rabbits in the bathtub to have additional food to eat and to trade on the black market.
The author provides a prologue setting the scene for the story, providing easy-to-understand background on the beginnings of World War II and Hitler's Blitzkrieg. A historical note at the conclusion provides further information on resistance groups, the role of children in the French Resistance, a timeline of the war, a glossary of unfamiliar words, suggestions for further reading about World War II, and brief biographies of some of the historical figures who are mentioned in the novel, such as Charles de Gaulle and Marechal Petain.
While there are many novels for young people about World War II, Calkhoven concentrates on a different angle--the rescue of American and allied airmen who were shot down in German-occupied airmen. This was a subject I had never read about, and it made a very appealing narrative for young readers, full of danger, suspense, villains and heroes. I would highly recommend this novel for collections for elementary school students and even for middle school. The book, while clearly aimed at boys, would appeal to young girls as well who are looking for a story with plenty of action and adventure.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.