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A Year of Borrowed Men
Contributor(s): Barker, Michelle, Benoit, Renne (Illustrator)

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ISBN: 1927485835     ISBN-13: 9781927485835
Publisher: Pajama Pr
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Binding Type: School And Library
Published: May 2016
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Annotation: When World War II “borrows” the men in seven-year-old Gerda’s family, the German government sends them three new men in return: Gabriel, Fermaine, and Albert, French prisoners of war who must sleep in an outbuilding and work the farm until the war is over. Gerda knows they are supposed to treat the men as enemies, but it doesn’t seem fair. Can’t they invite them into the warm house for one meal? What harm could it do to be friendly?Writing from her mother’s childhood memories of Germany during World War II, Michelle Barker shares the story of one family’s daring kindness in a time of widespread anger and suspicion. Renné Benoit’s illustrations bring warmth to the era, showing the small ways in which a forbidden friendship bloomed: good food, a much-loved doll, a secret Christmas tree. Family photographs and an Author’s Note give further insight into the life of Gerda, the little girl who proved that it isn’t so far from Feinde (enemies) to Freunde (friends).
Additional Information
Library of Congress Subjects:
World War, 1939-1945; Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1939-1945; Prisoners and prisons; Juvenile fiction.
Prisoners of war; France; History; 20th century; Juvenile fiction.
BISAC Categories:
- Juvenile Nonfiction | History | Military & Wars
- Juvenile Nonfiction | History | Europe
- Juvenile Nonfiction | Social Issues | Friendship
Dewey: [E]
LCCN: bl2016002242
Academic/Grade Level: Grade 2-3, Age 7-8
Book type: Easy Non Fiction
Physical Information: 10.75" H x 11.75" W x 0.75" (1.05 lbs)
 
Descriptions, Reviews, Etc.

Reviewed by Horn Book Guide Reviews (Horn Book Guide Reviews 2016 Fall)
Three French prisoners of war arrive to work on seven-year-old Gerda's family farm. The story, based on Barker's mother's childhood in WWII Germany, is told in simple, conversational phrases. Benoit's illustrations combine precise details with softness and warmth that convey the tenderness of memory. The book raises interesting questions, such as the complicated idea of who is an "enemy." A closing note and photographs included.

Reviewed by Horn Book Magazine Reviews (Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2016 #3)
erda likes the "borrowed men" and protests their having to sleep in the smelly "pig kitchen" outbuilding, but her mother explains, "We're supposed to treat them like prisoners." The story is told in simple, conversational phrases that sound like someone sharing her memories, with the occasional French or German word included either with a translation or in context. Highlighted incidents are child-centered, such as when Gerda visits the men on Christmas to show them her new doll (and accidentally melts the doll's hands on the stove), or when Gerda invites the men in to her own kitchen on a particularly cold day and a neighbor reports the family to the authorities. Benoit's watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations use a little pastel so that the pictures combine precise details such as the wrinkles in Gerda's stockings at her knee with a softness and warmth that convey the tenderness of memory. She strikes a tone of gentle sweetness in her depictions of the people and farm animals that, like the text, is never sappy. Children will find many things to notice, and the book raises some interesting questions, such as the complicated idea of who is an "enemy." A closing note and additional photographs reveal more about Barker's mother's childhood. susan dove lempke

Reviewed by School Library Journal Reviews (SLJ Reviews 2016 May)

Gr 1–3—Based on a true story, this precious gem evokes compassion in a way that is sure to resonate with young audiences. Told from the perspective of seven-year-old Gerda, the tale explores the warmth that can exist among individuals whose countries are at war with one another. Gerda's "borrowed men" are three French prisoners of war during World War II. The men have been sent to work on her family's farm in Germany at the same time that her father has been sent into battle. The generosity and human kindness shown by Gerda's family—especially by the little girl herself—are contrasted with the cold, punishing actions of the village policeman, Herr Mohlen. On a particularly cold night, Gerda's mother invites the French POWs (who normally eat, sleep, and live in the pig kitchen, where meals for the pigs are prepared) inside for dinner. The next day, Herr Mohlen "borrows" Gerda's mother and threatens her with prison. The child narrates that a neighbor must have seen them (the author's note explains the promotion and practice of neighbors spying on one another). But friendly bonds are formed in spite of the formidable authorities, and when the war is over, Gerda is just as sad to say goodbye to her amis as they are to leave their little freunde. The concept of "borrowing" in wartime—first introduced by Gerda's mother when explaining the sudden appearance of the French POWs ("She said we were just borrowing the French men") and peppered throughout the text—is sure to spark conversation about the so-called rules of war, especially with the reveal in the author's note that Gerda's father (also referred to as "borrowed") and, later, her brother Franz die in combat. Photos preceding and following the text document what Gerda, her family, and the farm looked like. Illustrations done in watercolor and colored pencil, with a touch of pastel, create a beautiful backdrop that darkens and lightens with the tone of the narrative. VERDICT Purchase where nuanced portrayals of family during World War II are needed. Keep the tissues close by!—Gloria Koster, West School, New Canaan, CT

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