GREENAWAY MEDAL WINNER – 1989
by Michael Foreman
Pavilion Books, 1989
Interests: history, war, World War II, autobiography, England, airplanes
Next (also by Foreman): War Games: Village Green to No Man’s Land, After the War Was Over
Related Movies: Hope and Glory
I woke up when the bomb came through my roof. It came through at an angle, overflew my bed by inches, bounced up over my mother’s bed, hit the mirror, dropped into the grate and exploded up the chimney. It was an incendiary. A fire-bomb.
Thus begins illustrator Michael Foreman’s story of his childhood in a small English village during World War II. In a series of anecdotes and recollections, Foreman paints a clear picture of all the fear, wonder, excitement and fascination that war can hold for a small child. He grew up in a village on the coast, right in the path of the German bombers. As a result they saw a lot of destruction but were also inundated with friendly troops from many nations.
And they had fun. After describing the direct hit on their home, and a terror-filled dash to their dug-out shelter, Foreman goes on to tell about planes, games and jokes, pillboxes, how the Morrison shelter was good for ping-pong, and gas masks were excellent for making rude noises.
Unsentimental but still poignant and heart-felt, the text and glorious watercolours of this book perfectly depict what life was like for children during the war. The focus is both on details (favourite candies, a boy’s fascination with the minutiae of bombs and planes, the games played on the village green) and dramatic incidents (the church fire, troop manoeuvres in a nearby field, air raids, and bonfire celebrations at war’s end).
This is a marvellous picture of childhood, of village life, and of life in wartime: the dramatic as well as the banal. It should really bring home to readers what life was really like, and provide a counterbalance to the many WWII accounts of battles and destruction. It leaves the larger issues and events of the war out entirely, sticking instead to the daily local events, and showing how people can quietly, simply, and with great humour adapt to the most trying circumstances.
One result of the bombing was that millions of seeds would be blown out of gardens and showered around the district. The following spring and summer, piles of rubble burst into bloom. Marigolds, irises and, best of all, potatoes sprouted everywhere.