________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 9. . . .October 30, 2015


A Year of Borrowed Men.

Michelle Barker. Illustrated by Renné Benoit.
Toronto, ON: Pajama Press, 2015.
40 pp., hardcover, $21.95.
ISBN 978-1-927485-83-5.

Subject Headings:
World War, 1939-1945-Prisoners and prisons, German-Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1939-1945-Children-Juvenile fiction.

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Kay Weisman.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


I was seven when the French prisoners of war arrived at our house.

It was 1944. Mummy told us the government had sent them because all our men were gone to war, and someone needed to keep the farms running. She said we were just borrowing the French men. When the war was over, we would give them back.

I was glad they were here, because the war had already borrowed Papi. We were a big family: five children plus Mummy. But Franz was the only boy and he was still just a teenager. We needed the help. We had cows, pigs, 150 chickens, and six horses to pull carriages and help with the work in the field. We were lucky compared to the others in our German village. We had milk and butter, meat, eggs, and produce to sell to people in the nearby city. But it was a lot to take care of.


In this picture book based on real events, young Gerda recalls the year her German family took in three French prisoners of war during the final months of World War II. Gerda and her family consider these men “borrowed”—sent to help them keep their farm operating because Gerda’s father and brother have been “borrowed” by the German army. Mummy and her daughters are supposed to treat Gabriel, Fermaine, and Albert as the enemy; instead, they choose kindness, making sure the men are well fed and enjoy some special treats such as a Christmas tree. The prisoners must live in the pig kitchen (a cold, smelly room where potatoes are cooked for the pigs), and the one time the family invites them inside the house to share a warm meal, someone alerts the police who angrily interrogate Mummy. After the war ends, the three soldiers gladly return to their homes in France, but it is clear that the kindness shared by the Schlottke family and the soldiers has made a terrible situation somehow more bearable.

     Based on the childhood memories of Gerda Schlottke, the author’s mother who immigrated to Canada after the war, the text is augmented with family photographs and an appended note. The choice of Gerda as narrator adds to the story’s appeal for Gerda is unaware of the many horrors associated with this war; for her, it is simply a difficult time without her father. Benoit’s realistic watercolour, coloured pencil, and pastel illustrations employ an earthy palette that brings this heartfelt story to life. This makes A Year of Borrowed Men a natural choice for Remembrance Day story hours, but the overarching theme of kindness in a time of mistrust and suspicion gives the story a universal appeal that will likely spur many thoughtful discussions.

Highly Recommended.

Kay Weisman works as a youth services librarian at West Vancouver Memorial Library and chairs the Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada’s Information Book Award.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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