Murphy's (A Savage Road to Thunder) account of the causes and first months of WWI offers a poignant and sometimes graphic introduction to the “war to end all wars.” While a few of the sepia-toned photos and artwork portray haunting imagery (including one of dead bodies in a trench), the six-chapter narrative doesn't bog down in gloom and hopelessness. Instead, its focus—the Christmas truce that occurred along Western Front trenches in 1914—leaves readers with hope in the human spirit and a sense of the folly and futility of the Great War. The grainy pictures of the truce, taken with soldiers' own cameras, show combatants standing shoulder to shoulder, often smiling or exchanging gifts. “German soldiers noticed that a wooden board was being held up by British soldiers with the words 'Merry Christmas'.... Several miles away, another board appeared on the German side that read, 'You no fight, we no fight.' ” Myriad quotations from young men on both sides (often taken from letters home) set a very personal tone. An extensive time line and additional source material wrap up this moving history lesson. Ages 9–12. (Oct.)
Gr 6–10—World War I was notable for incredible carnage, the complete senselessness of which was noted by both foot soldiers and such savvy statesmen as Winston Churchill. Murphy begins this history of the Christmas truce of 1914 by limning the buildup to the war. Anyone who has ever felt confused by the connection between the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the conflagration that followed will be vastly enlightened by Murphy's explanation, extended in the comparison, drawn in the epilogue, of Europe in 1914 to the United States just prior to attacking Iraq. The author's descriptions of the fatal collision between 19th-century battle tactics and 20th-century weaponry leave no national high command looking the least bit competent. Given this background, it is quite clear why, in December of 1914, troops (both German/Austrian and Allied) simply ceased fighting. Soldiers fraternized across the barren No Man's Land between trenches, sang together, and exchanged gifts. In some places, the truce lasted until late into the spring. Murphy's research is impeccable, and his use of primary sources is both seamless and effective. Frequent black-and-white photographs and period drawings extend the readable text. The source notes and accurate index add to the usefulness of a volume that seems designed as much as a teaching tool as for general reading. An excellent addition to middle and high school libraries, this affecting book has a place in history curricula as well.—Ann Welton, Helen B. Stafford Elementary, Tacoma, WA
"Every Who / Down in Who-ville / Liked Christmas a lot . . . / But the Grinch, / Who lived just north of Who-ville, / Did NOT!"Christmas books started arriving last spring-imagine opening a box in May and finding it full of red, green, gold and sparkles. The mad rush to wring a few more bucks out of every passing Christmas is enough to set my Grinch fingers drumming. This season, we'll see two Nutcracker picture books, a couple of Night Before Christmases, a few Nativity tales and Tyrannoclaus, which marries two can't-beat-it concepts for kids-dinosaurs and acquisition (imagine that elevator pitch)-among many, many others, all rounded up in our September 15 issue. There are a few nods to "multiculturalism," with a scant handful of Hanukkah books, one lonely Kwanzaa title and a very funny anti-consumerist Solstice book, but it's clear that Christmas is the moneymaker holiday of the year, and the sheer volume of Christmas books has me plotting Grand Theft Who-hash to a Boris Karloff soundtrack: "You're a mean one . . . "But then I open a box containing Truce, by Jim Murphy (Scholastic, Oct. 1, 2009, $19.99, 9780545130493), and I think that perhaps I might sing another tune. Murphy takes his epigraph from Winston Churchill, who wondered in a November 1914 letter to his wife, "What would happen . . . if the armies suddenly and simultaneously went on strike and said some other method must be found of settling the dispute?" The "dispute," of course, was the Great War, the War to End All Wars until it became the First World War. And the truce of the book's title is that magical, spontaneous Christmas truce of 1914, when peace broke out all along the Western Front.
Opening with a cogent recapof the state of Europe prior to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that focuses on those moments when war might have been averted (if Kaiser Wilhelm had read his mail on time, for instance), the author gracefully moves to the horrific conditions of battle that established the static madness of trench warfare-a madness that, oddly enough, led to enough fraternization across No Man's Land that both British and German High Commands feared what eventually happened. Drawing on a wealth of primary sources, from letters home, diaries and recollections of combatants to archival photographs and prints, the author allows the principles to speak: "Altogether we had a great day with our enemies," wrote one British private, "and parted with much handshaking and mutual goodwill."That goodwill didn't last-though in one spot in the Belgian woods the truce lasted almost till Easter-and Murphy takes readers through to the exhausting endgame that spawned the next war, but also he leaves kids with the provocative thought that war need not be inevitable, that the truce "offered reassurance that a kinder, humane spirit could prevail . . . " And if that doesn't make even the Grinch-iest heart grow at least three sizes, then nothing will. Who-pudding, anyone?-Vicky Smith