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A moving story for all ages.
on 5 July 2011
"The Little Ships" is a combination of fact and fiction. It takes an all to real event, the evacuation of Dunkirk and portrays it through the eyes of a fictional child. The book is written by Louise Borden, who has written a number of books I would call "historical fiction for children", for want of a better word. She also written about such real life heroes as The Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, and Bessie Coleman. The illustrator, Michael Foreman will be more familiar as the illustrator of many Michael Morpurgo Books. The combination of Borden's expertly written text in the first person and Foreman's lifelike illustrations make you feel as if you are actually present, during the evacuation and witnessing events as they unfold.
We never learn the name of the main character in this story, a young girl who dresses in her brothers old clothes to help her father on their small fishing boat as they join the rag tag armada, dubbed "The Cockleshell Fleet", going to rescue as many British soldiers as time will allow and bring them home. The young girl is especially hoping her brother will be among those waiting for safe passage home, but I do not want to give away too much of the story itself. I will say this, both of my sons, ages 2 & 6 sat wide eyed through the reading of this. To my surprise, my husband turned down the volume on the television and came over and sat beside us, seemingly as wrapped up in the story as the children. The only interruption was as the boys scanned each illustration, carefully checking the insignia of the aircraft, hoping to see their beloved Spitfires. To their disappointment, the only aircraft visible bear the iron cross, and one can almost hear the howl of stuka as the planes dive toward the little ships below.
There is sadness in this story, which is unavoidable, but no direct mention of death, only a reference to some who "would not be coming home". The illustrations show smoke and flames and bandages, but nothing especially gory, so I do believe this book is acceptable for children. I think this book gives children a sense of national pride, and of respect without being terrifying, and strikes a very good balance in just how much to show. I also think history becomes much more real and memorable to children when presented as a story. It makes history alive and exciting rather than stuffy and boring as many describe history classes. This book wins my full recommendation.
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