CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 15 . . . .April 1, 2005
This book, published as part of the "Amazing Stories" series from Altitude Publishing, gave me goose-bumps just looking at it. The muted but hyper-real colours of the hand-tinted D-Day photograph on the cover caught my eye. Drawn in by the details, I noticed that the soldiers struggling through the dull grey-blue water were carrying bicycles. I was hooked. Flipping through the near-newsprint pages of the book revealed well-laid-out text with roomy margins and generous leading between the lines, occasional black-and-white photos, and a series of appendices presenting definitions of military terms and descriptions of Canadian weaponry. Scraps of breathless prose leapt off the page at me, calling to be read. I was gone. Turning to the beginning, I found three pages of prologue, printed in italic, giving a hard-boiled, war-is-hell description of the brief, final meeting of two buddies before they charge ashore, one of them never to return home to Oshawa. It fairly compelled me into the thick of the book.
If all historical non-fiction could be written with the verve and presented with the visual panache displayed here, getting kids (or adults, for that matter) to read non-fiction would be easy as whistling "Lily Marlene." Author Tom Douglas writes with breezy confidence and a sure sense of narrative, providing loads of illuminating detail and plenty of stories. Like filaments of wool twisted into yarn, the book's principal narrative is built out of smaller narratives, incidents and stray facts.
"High interest" writing like this offers an alternative to the current surge in Eyewitness-style non-fiction, which draws on the layout and graphic design of Web pages, with text broken into info-nuggets and accompanied by colourful illustrations on a neutral background. Instead of accommodating short attention spans and non-linear reading habits by breaking up text and eliminating narrative, Douglas strives to hold readers' attention with urgent prose and passionate descriptions of the heroics and tragedies of soldiers in battle. Whether Douglas succeeds in this will depend upon his readers. Those already interested in military history will thrill to this style of writing, and will be nonplused by the statistics and technical terms spiked into the narrative. Douglas' strength is to tell military history as an adventure story; therein lies his book's chief weakness, too. This book will not inspire much reflection. Douglas does not engage with the larger issues of the war, nor does he attempt to humanize the battlefield enemies of the Canadians and their allies. The moral analysis of the campaign is as black-and-white as a contemporary photo, with Douglas taking the perspective of Tommy in the trenches and Johnny Canuck on the boats. The book can be disconcerting in its willingness to make use of the scandalized and sanctimonious tones of wartime propaganda.
D-Day: Canadian Heroes of the Famous World War II Invasion belongs in every Canadian young adult collection. This smart, well-written and well-designed book is an excellent entry-point into the history of the period, and is sure to spark lively discussion.
Greg Bak is an information specialist with the Canadian Coordinating Office for Health Technology Assessment.
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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.