CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 1. . . .September 3, 2010
Prisoner of Dieppe: World War II. (I Am Canada).
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2010.
222 pp., hardcover, $14.99.
Dieppe Raid, 1942-Juvenile fiction.
Canada-Armed Forces-History-World War, 1939-1945-Juvenile fiction.
Prisoners of war-Canada-Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1939-1945-Prisoners and prisons, German-Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1939-1945-Canada-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 4-10 / Ages 9-15.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof.
My Lee-Enfield and bayonet and two bandoliers of bullets lay against the bulkhead where I'd left them. The other men in the platoon were sitting quietly; there was none of the usual joking and chatter. Tea and a washtub of sandwiches had been put out for us, but nobody seemed hungry. A few were still writing letters that would return with the Astrid.
I sat down next to Mackie. He passed me two metal hand mirrors.
"Put one in each pocket," he said quietly, pointing to the breast pockets on my battle jacket. "A little extra protection."
"What about you?" I asked. He just smiled and looked away. I took one and put it in the pocket over his heart.
For a decade, middle school-aged Canadian girls have had access to series historical fiction featuring Canadian girls who shared their diaries via the "Dear Canada" series. In 2006, Scholastic provided the nation's middle school boys with selected titles reprinted from Scholastic UK's "My Story" historical fiction series that largely featured young Brit males in wartime settings. Now, with Hugh Brewster's Prisoner of Dieppe: World War II and Paul Yee's Blood and Iron: Building the Railway, Scholastic Canada has launched the "I Am Canada" series that highlights young Canadian males who are engaged in a significant event in Canadian history. Unlike the "Dear Canada" series, the books in "I Am Canada" will not necessarily utilize a diary format.
Hugh Brewster is eminently qualified to have authored Prisoner of Dieppe, given that he previously researched and wrote the nonfiction book Dieppe: Canada's Darkest Day of World War II. Prisoner of Dieppe begins with a "Prologue" that is dated May 26, 1996. In it, the book's narrator, Alistair "Allie" Morrison, writes to his teenaged grandson, Lachlan, reminding him that, as a grade 5 or 6 student, Lachlan had video interviewed him about World War II for a school project. At the time, Alistair had not wanted to be reminded of this period of his life, but his wife had insisted that he assist his grandson. "She reminded me that I was always saying that the younger generation needed to know what war was really like." Alistair also promised his wife that he "would write it all down. So here, in my own words, is what I remember of what happened on that terrible morning of August 19, 1942, on the beaches of a French town called Dieppe. And on all the miserable days that followed."
Alistair's story of his involvement in the war actually starts prior to the war's beginning, with the opening chapter being dated June 14, 1929. Brewster uses this opening chapter to establish how the friendship between Allie and his brother-in-arms, Hamish McTavish "Mackie" McAllister, came about and how it was Mackie's actions which led to the two young Torontonians enlisting in the Royal Regiment.
The remaining "dated" 14 chapters span the period from August 12, 1940, to the conclusion of the European portion of World War II and Alistair's repatriation to Canada. Readers follow the two young men as they go through basic training in Canada, are shipped to England where their training continues, participate in the Dieppe Raid, are captured and then spend the rest of the war in German prisoner of war camps. The book's time span is much longer than is normally found in juvenile fiction, and, although Brewster must treat some portions of this five year war period somewhat briefly, his lively writing style will, nertheless, maintain reader interest throughout.
Readers must be certain to read the "Epilogue" which takes the form of a letter, written to Lachlan on August 19, 2007, the 65th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. Kept with Alistair's will, the sealed envelope bore the instruction, "NOT TO BE OPENED UNTIL AFTER MY DEATH." The Epilogue begins by explaining that Alistair had died on September 9, 2009, and readers will be surprised to find that the letter's contents explain how Mackie had really died while a POW.
End materials include a "Historical Note," seven pages of black and white photos relating to the Dieppe Raid and the POW period, a map of Europe with a blow-up insert of the French coast at Dieppe, and a three-page "Glossary" of military terms. In part, Brewster uses his concluding "Author's Note" to explain what portions of Prisoner of Dieppe were fictional.
Prisoner of Dieppe is a fine introduction to this new historical fiction series that is directed principally at a young male audience.
Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor and a WWII buff, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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