Pajama Press

School Library Journal calls A Year of Borrowed Men a “precious gem”

Posted on April 19th, 2016 by pajamapress

A Year of Borrowed Men | Michelle Barker & Renné Benoit | Pajama Press“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