A Year of Borrowed Men

Barker, Michelle. A Year of Borrowed Men. Toronto: Pajama Press, 2015.
Another brilliantly written story by the award-winning Michelle Barker. Set in World War 2 and based on her mother’s childhood, this picture book tells the story of three French prisoners of war sent to help on a farm in Germany. Despite the dangers from spying neighbours and stern policemen, the family treats the prisoners with care and kindness until the end of the war. Told from the point of view of a seven-year-old girl, there are bits of ironic humour that only older readers will notice: the village police officer is known for having become someone to fear; the invading Russians open all the barn doors and set even the animals free, leaving the family without any cows for milk and butter. The flowing language, the font of the text, and the design of the pages combine to create a story ideal for reading aloud. Tenderly illustrated in water colour and coloured pencils by the award-winning artist Renné Benoit and supplemented by an afterword and five black-and-white photographs, this picture book is highly recommended for readers 7 years old and up.

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My Long List of Impossible Things

Barker, Michelle. My Long List of Impossible Things. Toronto: Annick Press, 2020.
The second world war is ending in Germany, but that does not mean safety for Katja’s family. The Soviets are invading. Katja’s father has already been long gone, killed in the war, so Katya, her older sister Hilde, and their mother are on their own, travelling by foot through forests and along dangerous roads, seeking refuge farther west.
Told from the first person point of view of Katya, a teenager who tends to speak impulsively and frequently unwisely, this extraordinary story provides a glimpse of life after the war. All the complexities, all the dangers, are vividly portrayed by an award-winning Canadian writer. Due to some of the language and some of the scenes, this novel is most suitable for readers 13 years of age and older. Highly recommended for adult readers, as well as teenagers.

Teachers: this is an excellent novel for analyzing character development. It would also be greatly enjoyed as a small group novel as it would be sure to provoke discussion.

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Arthur Who Wrote Sherlock

Bailey, Linda. Arthur Who Wrote Sherlock. Toronto: Tundra, 2022.
Everyone knows the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. But who is Arthur Conan Doyle? A quiet man who lives alone and stays indoors writing stories? No. Definitely not. Arthur Doyle loves sports – all sports – and is a superb storyteller. When he completes his schooling, he travels the world as a ship’s medical officer before coming back to Scotland to open his own practice. While he waits for patients to arrive, he writes stories, all of which are rejected by publishers. No one wants them. Until he writes about a detective, and Sherlock Holmes is born! (Arthur also marries twice, has five children, does more travelling, and does all he can to make sure people are not mistreated.) This biography – written in present tense – is a delight to read! It flows beautifully: perfect for reading aloud to younger students, excellent for teaching style to older students. And the liveliness of the writing and the humour of the illustrations (by Isabelle Follath) make it fun for any age. Outstanding!

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