Remembrance Day

Every year teachers are looking for picture books to share with their students about Remembrance Day. I thought I would share a few that were popular in the schools I taught and some newer titles (and yes, all are Canadian authors with the exception of the last book).

A Bear In War written by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat & illustrated by
Brian Deines (2009). 

Based on a true story, A Bear in a War tells the story through the eyes of a teddy bear sent as a holiday gift to protect the father of ten-year-old Aileen. Sadly, Teddy returns, but Aileen’s father was killed in the battle of Passchendaele. A moving and sensitive story of the impact WWI had on one family. In 2002, a suitcase full of letters that were sent back and forth from the family and Teddy and now are part of The Canadian War Museum.

Captain Rosalie written by Timothée de Fombelle & illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (2019)

Captain Rosalie is a five-year-old girl who lives in France with her mother while her father, a soldier, is off to war. Her mother works every day and arranged for Rosalie to stay at the school despite being too young. She arrives and sits in the back of the room and declares herself as Captain Rosalie. Rosalie is on a mission, but it is top secret, and the reader is given clues via the illustrations. In the evenings, her mother reads the letters from her father, but Rosalie is beginning to think that there is something not quite right, and Rosalie knows her mission will soon come to an end.

I enjoyed reading Captain Rosalie and the stunning illustrations that helped created the sombre tone and yet had moments of hope by Canadian illustrator Isabelle Arsenault. There is a lot to unpack in this novella and short enough that older grades may appreciate the depth of the book more than students in younger grades.

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear written by Lindsey Mattick & illustrated by Sophie Blackall (2015) 

Captain Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian, is leaving to take care of horses overseas during WWI when he rescues a bear cub, who he names Winnie after his hometown of Winnipeg. Once overseas, Colebrourn realizes the war is no place for the young cub and donates Winnie to the London Zoo. It is here where Winnie meets his friend Christopher Robin. The story written by Lindsay Mattick is the great-granddaughter of Coleburn, who shares the story with her son Cole, named after her great-grandfather. Another book with stunning illustrations and photographs to share the back story of the most famous bear.

The Lady with the Books: A Story Inspired by the Remarkable Work of Jella Lepman  written by Kathy Stinson & illustrated by Marie Lafrance (2020)

Anneliese and her brother Peter scour the streets of Munich during WWII looking for food when they stumble upon an exhibit. When they go inside, they find all kinds of books and meet a lady who talks and shares different books in different languages. The children return and listen to the story of Ferdinand the Bull, resulting in Anneliese deciding to help clean up the area around their library. The back matter includes more biographical information about Jella Lepman and how she requested books from around the world in various languages and travelled around Germany to connect stories with children. She also organized a conference which led to the foundation of the International Board of Books for Young People (IBBY) that exists in 75 countries today. A different spin on how one person can make an impact through stories.

Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion written by Jane Barclay & illustrated by Renné Benoit 

A perennial favourite because of its suitability for the youngest of children. A grandson and grandfather are getting ready for a Remembrance Day Service, and the grandfather explains the war to his grandson using animals. Using a variety of smilies, the grandfather shares how he was proud like a peacock to wear his uniform, busy as a beaver going across the ocean and brave like a lion going into battle. At the service, the little boy sees an elephant in the mist, and he quietly whispers to his grandfather, elephants never forget. The book comes to an end with the grandson and grandfather walking off hand in hand. A beautifully illustrated book that will get you every time you read it.

Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War written by Mireille Messier  &
illustrated by Kass Reich (2019)

Based on a true story, this is the tale of how a goat from Broadview Saskatchewan, becomes part of the Fifth Canadian Battalion platoon during World War I. A group of men befriend a goat before they are off to train as soldiers. The small girl who owns the goat allows them to borrow the goat on the condition they return him to the farm after the war. As the men train, the bond between the goat now known as Private Billy grows, and the platoon decides that Billy is now a valuable member of the platoon and sneak Billy onto the boat to travel across the ocean. As the story unfolds, we learn of all the remarkable things that Billy experienced from training camp, living in the trenches, to encouraging the men. Sgt. Billy even saves some of his friends by head-butting them into safety as a shell explodes. Finally, he returns as a decorated war hero back into the hands of the small girl on the farm. Kass Reich’s illustrations are well balanced, shifting back and forth between moods of humour and sombre using olive army greens and browns that depict this era of time. Included are photographs of Billy and more information about this piece of lesser-known Saskatchewan history. This book will allow primary students an appropriate introduction to WWI in an engaging format that will provide knowledge without the horrible details. With few books for younger readers and students, this is an invaluable addition to libraries and classrooms.

Yusra Swims written by Julie Abery & illustrated by Sally Deng. (2020)

Told in verse, readers will learn about Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini. A competitive swimmer living in Syria before the war until the pool where she trains gets bombed. Her father arranges for her and her sister to leave for Germany, and we follow her journey right up to her swimming for the Olympic Refugee Team in Rio de Janeiro. An informational fiction book told in rhyme allows students to be aware and recognize the wars that affect people today and not just in the past.

I hope that this list will help you prepare to honour and remember the soldiers who fought for our freedom and continue to fight for freedom and democracy. Please let me know if you have a book that you use that I have missed.

Laurie