CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 10. . . .November 5, 2010.
Ghost of Heroes Past.
Vancouver, BC: Ronsdale Press, 2010.
168 pp., pbk., $10.95.
World War, 1939-1945-Canada-Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1914-1918-Canada-Juvenile fiction.
Collishaw, Raymond, 1893-1976-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.
Review by Inderjit Deogun.
Exactly as the soldier-ghost predicted, the creeping barrage stopped when the advancing soldiers closed in on the enemy positions. A hail of gunfire immediately erupted from the German lines. Many of the men, who had broken into a run, dropped to the ground. But none of those left standing stopped. They poured across the open ground, through gaps in the barbed wire guarding the trenches or scrambling over it until they disappeared into the enemy trenches, from which emanated shouts and curses mixed with gunfire and screams of pain.
One group heading for the ridge was already scrambling up the slope when Johnny felt a touch on his shoulder and found himself standing on top of the hill looking down, as the soldiers surged upward. Another deadly hail of bullets came from the trenches, and many of the soldiers on the slope fell.
Two machine gun posts were exacting a particularly heavy toll, and the soldiers caught in their fire began to falter. Suddenly, one man from the Canadian side rose and started running toward the two posts, crouching low and weaving from side to side. Miraculously, the hail of bullets missed him and he reached the posts unharmed. Pulling a grenade from his belt, he yanked out the pin and flung the grenade into the first machine gun dugout. He followed it with another, which flew into the second dugout. Two explosions erupted almost simultaneously, and both machine guns fell silent. With a loud cheer, the soldiers further down the slope got to their feet and charged up the rest of the hill, pouring into the main enemy trenches behind the machine gun posts, the solder who had silenced the two machine guns leading the charge.
Johnny Anders can’t stand the thought of spending his fourteenth birthday attending the Remembrance Day Parade. He unwillingly relents to the idea when his attempts to persuade his parents otherwise fail miserably. Johnny’s still depressed when he gets into bed and falls asleep thinking his birthday will be ruined.
Everything changes when Johnny is awoken by a bitter smell, only to find a figure standing in the darkness. He follows the soldier-ghost through his bedroom wall and finds himself in Hong Kong, December 1941. Thus begins Johnny’s journey through the wars of our past. With Casey’s help, Johnny learns what some Canadians simply don’t know.
Charles Reid takes on the important task of showing the realities of war. Although Johnny’s reactions to what he’s witnessing seem muted at times, Reid doesn’t shy away from bringing the cruelty and dehumanization to life. But in the darkest of moments, he also illustrates bravery and courage in its many forms. Reid doesn’t zoom in on one reality of war but paints the big picture. Canada’s racist policies, difficulties of warfare, the role of women are all touched upon to show the whole truth. Even though Johnny doesn’t make a conscious decision to use what he’s learned in the end, he does come full circle in understanding the importance of remembering Canadian soldiers past and present. In the pages of Ghost of Heroes Past, readers will find a history lesson that they won’t soon forget.
Toronto’s Inderjit Deogun is currently pursuing a career in publishing with a particular interest in children’s literature.
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