Monday, November 8, 2010


If you're looking for excellent Canadian non-fiction to share with elementary-aged children this Remembrance Day, please seek out the works of Linda Granfield. In numerous books over a 15 year span, Granfield has brought forward lives and losses from the First and Second World Wars and has provided historical insight into two key war poems that were penned by young men serving Canada.

In In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae (1995), Granfield intersperses biography, historical account and archival photographs/artifacts with a picturebook retelling of McCrae's famous WWI poem (illustrated by Janet Wilson). Despite its heavy subject matter, the book is suitable for younger children, ages 7-11.

High Flight (1999) is an illustrated biography of John Gillespie Magee, Jr., a pilot for the RCAF who died in a training exercise in World War II when he was just 19 years old. Few know about the teen who wrote the poem, but most have heard "High Flight's" opening lines: "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth/ And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings." The poem is not about war but about the joy of flight. That its author died in a fiery crash to earth at such a young age is one of the bleak ironies of war. The book is illustrated by Michael Martchenko and is also suited to an elementary-aged audience, 8-12.

Where Poppies Grow (2001) provides an overarching background to WWI from the Canadian perspective. Rather than going into the details of individual battles, the book focuses more on the day-to-day lives of the soldiers and many of the socio-cultural experiences of war, such as the role of propaganda and the child's experience of war. Once again, Granfield makes excellent use of archival photographs and artifacts from the time period.

The Unknown Soldier (2008) looks at circumstances in individual 20th Century conflicts that lead to the burial of unidentified soldiers on the battlefield. The book then outlines the efforts of many different countries to repatriate these soldiers either literally, symbolically or both.

In Remembering John McCrae: Soldier, Doctor, Poet (2009), Granfield uses her now familiar visual archival retelling to take a more in-depth look at the biography of the man who penned "In Flanders Field," from his childhood in Guelph, Ontario, to his death from pneumonia while serving as a military doctor overseas in 1918.

While not specific to the war experience, Granfield's Pier 21 (2000) tells the story of Canadian immigration as it flowed through Halifax's Pier 21 from 1928-1971. The historical scope of this book extends beyond 20th-century conflicts, but much of the material does focus on people who have fled international wars to make a home in Canada.

Granfield also has a work of non-fiction for the adult reader entitled Brass Buttons and Silver Horseshoes: Stories from Canada's British War Brides (2002)--you know, if you simply need to read more for yourself.