Posted on November 1st, 2016 by pajamapress
“…Based on her mother, Gerda’s, childhood memories, author Michelle Barker tells the story of their family’s farm in Germany and of the French prisoners of war who were sent to help run it while their own men were away soldiering.
Little Gerda has a tender heart towards these seven men, who are supposed to be treated as prisoners. Her mother also has a hospitable heart, yet even inviting the men to eat indoors on a severely cold night, rather than in the pig kitchen, brings accusations from snoopy neighbors, a visit from the police, questioning at headquarters, and threats of imprisonment for any further kindness.
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.”
Click here to read the full review
Posted in A Year of Borrowed Men | Tagged book-review, germany, michelle-barker, picture-book, POW, prisoners-of-war, renne-benoit, World-War-II, wwii
Posted on March 9th, 2016 by pajamapress
“A Year of Borrowed Men tells a story from World War II that will be unfamiliar to many readers, but is nonetheless a moving part of the history of the German-Canadian community. The author writes from her mother Gerda’s recollections, bringing to life the engaging voice of the younger Gerda, whose family hosted three French prisoners-of-war on their German farm in 1944.
World War II from the German perspective remains some what problematic: how do we reconcile decades of erroneous equation of “German” with evil, with the real experiences of many Germans during the war? While the topic is dealt with effectively in some texts—Roberto Innocenti’s Rose Blanche (1985), Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief (2005), John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas(2006), among others—it will take so many more stories for truth to overcome the stereotypes. 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.
Gerda’s father was “borrowed” by the German army, and in his place the government sent three French prisoners—Gabriel, Fermaine, and Albert—to work the land. Gerda’s innocent narrative perspective ensures that the dark reality of Germany’s forced labour policy is not brought out. With the egalitarianism of young children, Gerda cannot understand why the three must live with the animals, and eat in the “pig’s kitchen,” where the slops were prepared. That was the rule though: these men were prisoners and were to be treated as such. Inviting them in to dinner one night almost sent Gerda’s mother to prison herself, yet the family could not deny their fundamental humanity. Despite regulations, in the face of threats, Gerda and her mother find little ways of making the Frenchmen’s lives more tolerable: extra butter on their bread, catalogues to cut into elicit decorations at Christmas, sneaking treats for them to eat. The men reciprocated with affection for their little German freunde: “I couldn’t keep the borrowed men here,” Gerda observes at the end of the war, “but we were friends—and I could keep that forever.” The story is made more powerful by the fact that Gerda did indeed keep that friendship alive: enough that her daughter has retold their story for her grandchildren’s generation to learn.”—Resource Links
Posted in A Year of Borrowed Men, Michelle Barker, Renné Benoit, Reviews | Tagged 1944, a-year-of-borrowed-men, compassion, French, German, germany, humanity, memoir, michelle-barker, prisoners, prisoners-of-war, renne-benoit, wwii
Posted on January 22nd, 2016 by pajamapress
“A tender memoir of human decency during wartime as seen through the eyes of the author’s then-8-year-old mother. The setting for Barker’s story is rural Germany toward the end of World War II. Her mother’s family has been sent three French prisoners of war to help at the farm, as German menfolk were in short supply. These are the borrowed men. “When the war was over, we would have to give them back.” This sentence, early on, conveys the youthful sense of fairness that permeates the book: the Frenchmen should be treated with respect, fed well, allowed to celebrate holidays. Barker’s grandmother did just so and quickly learned she would be imprisoned if she continued….Readers will learn some French and German, get a look at life on a farm during wartime, and get the slightest bitter taste of how war changes people: the village policeman used to be kind, ‘but since the war began, he had changed, and we knew enough to be afraid of him.’ An author’s note reveals that Barker’s grandfather would not return from war, nor would her uncle, who is an important character of the story. The addition of old family photos from that time is poignant. This heartfelt picture book helps readers appreciate wartime’s toll.”
Posted in A Year of Borrowed Men | Tagged a-year-of-borrowed-men, germany, michelle-barker, non-fiction, nonfiction, picture-book, renne-benoit, war, wwii
Posted on October 20th, 2014 by pajamapress
“…Wilm himself is a teen with a profound sense of responsibility. So many things that occur during the story aren’t really his fault, but he is his harshest critic and holds himself accountable even when he doesn’t need to. He also has a well-developed reflective nature which leads to powerful insights into his true nature and the situation of his friends and family. As a result, he’s an excellent choice for a narrator.
There’s a lot to love here and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what I could have written. But when it comes to the story of Wilm what I loved the most was how Bass was able to make each character complicated, hard to completely admire or condemn. They all seem to have complex motivations for their actions which made for an intense and thought-provoking read.
Both an eye-opening piece of historical fiction and a page-turning, suspense-filled story, Graffiti Knight is an enlightening read that’s hard to put down.”
Click here to read the full review.
Posted in Graffiti Knight | Tagged amy-mathers, fiction, germany, graffiti-knight, historical, karen-bass, marathon-of-books, Novel, Review, teen, war, wwii, ya
Posted on August 21st, 2014 by pajamapress
“Just as multicultural literature for children and young adults allows readers to understand and appreciate the world around them, international and global books can help them understand the history, languages, and culture of nations around the world…For this week’s book reviews, members of the International Reading Association’s Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) examine some recent international and global favorites that caught their attention.”
Graffiti Knight by Karen Bass
“…The book makes it clear how war and its aftermath touch everyone, even [the protagonist’s] sister. Incidents such as the Soviets’ allowing much-needed butter to spoil in the sun due to incompetence or a lack of concern help readers understand Wilm’s anger. The book offers a fresh perspective on life for the Germans after WWII.”
—Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman
Click here to read the full review and see this week’s full list of multicultural books from the International Reading Association website, Reading Today Online.
Posted in Graffiti Knight | Tagged germany, global, graffiti-knight, historical, international, international-reading-association, ira, karen-bass, multicultural, Novel, teen, war, ya
Posted on June 7th, 2014 by pajamapress
Pajama Press is proud to once again congratulate Karen Bass for her award-winning novel Graffiti Knight. On June 6th the historical YA novel was awarded the R. Ross Annett Award for Children’s Literature at the Alberta Book Awards Gala in Calgary. Administered by the Writers’ Guild of Alberta, the award recognizes an Alberta author each year for excellence in writing for young audiences.
Graffiti Knight has already won the Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book Award and the CAA Exporting Alberta Award. It has also been an Ontario Library Association Best Bet, a Best Books for Kids & Teens Starred Selection, and a Resources Links “The Year’s Best” selection.
We are humbled by the reception this novel has received and honoured to work with Karen Bass.
Posted in Graffiti Knight | Tagged alberta, award, east-germany, exporting-alberta-award, germany, graffiti-knight, historical, karen-bass, Novel, r-ross-annett, teen, World-War-II, writers-guild, ya
Posted on May 1st, 2014 by pajamapress
“It is 1947, and life is hard for 16-year-old Wilm and his family. The city of Leipzig, in southeast Germany, is controlled by the Soviets, who are brutal masters. The Germans are constantly hungry because the Soviets have significantly reduced their food rations. Even worse, the German police, Schupos, are puppets of the Soviets. Wilm and his friends like to skulk around and pretend to battle the enemy, but the war becomes real when he experiences just how powerless his community really is against them…The last quarter of the book is nonstop action…Wilm is a flawed but engaging protagonist, prone to headstrong actions, and he matures believably over the course of the story…Bass does a fine job of opening readers’ eyes to the harsh realities that so many German civilians faced after their country’s defeat, regardless of whether they had supported the Nazi regime.”
—Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Posted in Graffiti Knight | Tagged book, fiction, germany, graffiti knight, Historical Fiction, History, karen bass, Novel, teen, war, world-war-two, wwii, ya
Posted on April 11th, 2014 by pajamapress
Pajama Press is proud to announce that Graffiti Knight by Karen Bass has been nominated for the R. Ross Annett Award for Children’s Literature.
Administered by the Writer’s Guild of Alberta, the R. Ross Annett Award was established in 1982 in honour of the author of the popular Babe & Joe series.
A historical novel about a young man struggling to find his voice in Soviet-occupied East Germany in the years after World War II, Graffiti Knight is the winner of the 2014 CLA Young Adult Book of the Year Award. It was also chosen as a 2013 Ontario Library Association Best Bet and a 2013 Resource Links “The Year’s Best” selection.
Posted in Graffiti Knight | Tagged fiction, germany, graffiti-knight, historical, History, karen-bass, r-ross-annett-award, soviet, teen, world-war-two, wwii, ya, young-adult
Posted on February 20th, 2014 by pajamapress
Excerpt from the article “Exploring History through Fiction” by Rachel Seigel, Canadian Children’s Book News Winter 2014
“History is the succession of events that shape our present and our future, and one of the best ways to engage children in learning history is through historical fiction. Good historical writing offers insights into people and events from the past, and helps children to understand how the world we live in has been shaped by those events…
The last book, Graffiti Knight by author Karen Bass, takes readers to Soviet-occupied Germany in 1947, and is a riveting page-turner that readers will find impossible to put down.
Sixteen-year-old Wilm and his family live in Leipzig, Germany, a town scarred heavily by WWII and now occupied by the Soviets who are brutal and oppressive. The war has also left its scars on his family, but Wilm is finding his voice, sneaking out at night to leave messages on police buildings. What he’s doing is dangerous but exciting, and Wilm feels justified considering how much his family has suffered. When one mission goes too far, Wilm finds he’s endangered the people he’s tried most to protect, and he’s forced to take drastic action to keep them safe.
The setting is detailed and richly drawn, and Bass successfully creates an atmosphere of tension and fear. Wilm’s family are no strangers to Soviet brutality, and after witnessing a group of soldiers terrorize his crippled father, he decides it’s time to act.
His minor acts of rebellion give him a sense of power and control that he lacks in his daily life. The more he succeeds in angering the police, the more his game escalates, until it culminates in one final act that puts him and his family in a life-or-death situation.
The spelling of ‘knight’ in the title is a clever play on words, as Wilm’s acts take place under the cover of night and, at the same time, implies heroism. Wilm is a complex and fascinating character and readers will be left to decide whether his actions are heroic or simply reckless.
A skilled storyteller can bring history to life, and while the four highlighted books span different countries, cities, and historical periods, all effectively present these events through the eyes of the children living in them, and more deeply connect readers to the past.”
Posted in Graffiti Knight | Tagged canadian-childrens-book-news, ccbn, east-germany, fiction, germany, graffiti-knight, historical, History, karen-bass, rachel-seigel, Review, soviet, teen, World-War-II, wwii, ya
Posted on January 27th, 2014 by pajamapress
“I thoroughly enjoyed the pace and historical details in this novel. Karen Bass—the author, gave me a sense of the difficulties of living in a communist, post war Germany in 1947. I learned many details and now I have even more questions about life after World War 2.”
Click here to read the full review.
Posted in Graffiti Knight | Tagged blog, communism, communist, fiction, germany, graffiti-knight, historical, karen-bass, library, ms-j, Novel, Review, world-war-two, wwii, ya