May 13, 2016
A Year of Borrowed Men by Michelle Barker, illustrated by Renne Benoit
A Year of Borrowed Men
by Michelle Barker
illustrated by Renne Benoit
Gerda knows that her family is lucky to live on a farm – they have enough to eat and a roof over their heads. But it is still hard when Papi has been sent to war. Her teenage brother, Franz, does his best but there is a lot of work for one teenage boy, his mother and four younger sisters. Then they are allowed to borrow three men.
The three are French soldiers, POWs, and Gerda’s family is expected to use them as labor and treat them as prisoners. But its hard to be cruel to someone you see every day, who works alongside you, and, in spite of being a prisoner, treats you kindly. But when Gerda’s mother allows the men to come in out of the cold for one meal, she is reported. Do it again, and you will be sent to prison.
Still the family doesn’t use this as an excuse to be unkind. They are simply more stealthy in their kindness.
With so many World War II stories around, it is hard to come up with one that is unique but this one truly is. This is a family story, something that happened to the author’s mother although some details have been changed in creating a fictional tale.
Renne Benoit’s illustrations are created with water colors, colored pencil and pastels. They caught my attention because they are the colors of my grandmother’s Hummel figurines and give the story an old feel.
The one thing that I would have appreciated is a bit more differentiation between the three prisoners. They are given names but, in spite of being called friends, feel somewhat distant. This is probably, in part, a product of the form. Picture books are short and allow for only so much story development.
Still, this is something that should be widely read. It is a great jumping off point for discussions not only on World War II but in how we interact with others and what truly makes someone our enemy.