A Year of Borrowed Men cover

By Michelle Barker & Renne Benoit

A Year of Borrowed Men

The true story of one family choosing kindness in a time of war and fear

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? World War II was a time of great suffering in Europe and beyond. Millions experienced the horrors of the Holocaust, the carnage of battlefields, the devastation of invasion, and many other atrocities.

In A Year of Borrowed Men, author Michelle Barker shares one true story of the tenacity of humanity and friendship in a time of suspicion and fear. 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).

“A tender memoir of human decency during wartime….The addition of old family photos from that time is poignant. This heartfelt picture book helps readers appreciate wartime’s toll.”—Kirkus Reviews

Available In


Ages 6-9
ISBN: 978-1-927485-83-5
List Price: $21.95 CAD / $18.95 USD
Hardback with picture book & reinforced binding & with printed dust jacket
Trim Size: 10.00 x 9.00 inches / 25.4 x 22.86cm
Pages: 40

Distributed in Canada by University of Toronto Press

Distributed in the U.S. by Ingram Publisher Services

Carton Quantity: 25

About this book

Awards and Honours

  • 2016 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award (Short-listed) (Canada)
  • 2017 Chocolate Lily Book Award (Short-listed) (Canada)
  • 2016 Best Books for Kids & Teens selection (Winner) (Canada)
  • 2017 Golden Oak Award (Short-listed) (Canada)


About A Year of Borrowed Men

2016 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award shortlist

2017 Golden Oak Award shortlist

2017 Chocolate Lily Book Award shortlist

2016 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Books for Kids & Teens selection

“Benoit’s watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations…combine precise details…with a softness and warmth that convey the tenderness of memory. She strikes a tone of gentle sweetness…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.'”—The Horn Book Magazine

“A tender memoir of human decency during wartime….The addition of old family photos from that time is poignant. This heartfelt picture book helps readers appreciate wartime’s toll.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Based on a true story, this precious gem evokes compassion in a way that is sure to resonate with young audiences…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!”—School Library Journal

“The story, it turns out, is not about prisoners or the ravages of war so much as it is about kindness and humanity – a powerful message equally relevant today….[A]t its heart, this family tale is a tender evocation of empathy, bravery, and friendship.”—Quill & Quire

“A Year of Borrowed Men contributes positively and significantly to our understanding of the compassion of some of the German populace who placed themselves in an almost untenable psychological and ideological situation.”—Resource Links Magazine

“Benoit’s realistic watercolour, coloured pencil, and pastel illustrations employ an earthy palette that brings this heartfelt story to life…[T]he overarching theme of kindness in a time of mistrust and suspicion gives the story a universal appeal that will likely spur many thoughtful discussions. Highly Recommended.”—CM Magazine

“Based on her mother’s childhood memories of Germany during World War II, Michelle Barker’s book is a poignant account of one family’s brave acts of kindness in an atmosphere thick with fear and distrust…Renné Benoit’s watercolour, coloured pencil and pastel illustrations convey a pastoral environment imbued with the bleakness of war.”—Canadian Children’s Book News

“A simple story which can teach young children to see the humanity of people at war.”—Youth Services Book Review

“This story shares that no matter the situation, kindness and friendship can be shown to those around you…Recommended.”—School Library Connection

“A fine story of ‘borrowed men’ and their effects evolves in a story seldom told for this age range.”—Midwest Book Review

“Ontario artist Renné Benoit’s gentle paintings help show compassion is possible even in times of war.”—Winnipeg Free Press

“This story reminds us that friendship has no borders. Beautiful watercolour drawings and original photographs make this a great book for youngsters.”—Calgary Herald

“If you like books that inspire lots of questions from your kids, this is a good one.”—Victoria Times Colonist

“Although the story covers the year the POWs were at the Schlottke’s farm, because of the number of pages devoted to Christmas, it makes a nice holiday story, as well. There may not have been Peace of Earth at that time, but at least on one farm there was Goodwill towards men.”—The Children’s War

“This story of kindness, friendship, and a loving family is illustrated realistically with watercolor, colored pencils, and pastel to evoke the warmth of the situation at a time when there was little hope for many. The addition of family photos and an author’s note add clarity. This is a story to be shared…at a Remembrance Day Service…or at Christmas, a time of giving and for being kind and thankful.”—Sal’s Fiction Addiction

“Read this brave, kindhearted story with children ages 4 and up. Warm, homey illustrations strike a gentle tone throughout. An Author’s Note tells more about the harrowing war experiences of the author’s mother.”—Orange Marmalade

“The text is clear and accessible to young readers. The narrative is interesting for reading aloud….I have no hesitation in recommending this book for families, meetings, and schools….This book reminds me that…friendship is a precious fruit of peace that requires eternal vigilance and attention to the little things.”—Friends Journal

“[T]his book is a very human look at hard times in European history. Full of tender and sweet moments and the harsh realities of suspicion sand cruelties of war.”—There’s a Book for That

“A beautiful, poignant story that subtly introduces humanity during times of war.”—Books for the Curious Child

“[A]nother beautiful book, both in words and illustrations…”—Book Time

“I enjoyed this story as I didn’t know this happened….The illustrations by Renne Benoit are also beautiful and I loved the author’s note, and family photos, at the back.”—Newmarket Today

Additional Resources


Teaching Guide

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