A 20th Century Pioneer

In these days of an enormous to-read list on goodreads and an online library reserve system, I don’t spend a lot of time browsing the stacks any more.  Though I probably stop by the library about once a week, I truly get in and get out.  On Saturday, the same song was playing on the radio when I got back to the car!  But a few weeks ago, I felt like browsing.  My branch library is less than a year old, so browsing is a true pleasure–all the books are bright and shiny!  It was there that I found Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson.

207798Two things convinced me to check it out: a homestead story from 1918, past what people assume is the “pioneer” era and the fact that the book is based on the author’s family history.

Hattie is a wonderful character–just 16, she’s an orphan that has been shuffled from home to home.  Her aunt has found her a job at a boarding house, so tells Hattie that it’s time to quite school and move out.  And then a letter arrives–an uncle has died and left her his homestead, though she has to “prove up.”  So, she heads to Montana.

Those first few chapters about her life in Montana are amazing.  Here’s a girl that has left a community with running water, cars, and other “creature comforts” and is now living in a shack.  She is grateful that her aunt had refused to upgrade her stove, so she knows how to cook on a wood stove.  She arrives in the dead of winter–on the first morning, her hand freezes to the water pump.    Can you imagine going back in time that way?

In our tendency to generalize about the past, we forget how long the frontier era lasted, and how long it took for modern technology to reach all the corners of the United States.  I applaud this book for reminding us that the West wasn’t settled as soon as the Pa Ingalls decided to settle down.

Throughout the novel, Larson weaves in the bigger story of World War I (Hattie is writing a friend from school who is serving abroad) and anti-German sentiment (her closest friends are German).  It’s a solid, engaging novel and none of the extra bits of history seem tacked on.

Hattie also has a close, personal relationship with God.  When she’s alone, working her land, she talks to God and I’m so glad these conversations became a part of the novel.  I adore this passage:

To keep myself company, I’d taken to conducting chore-time conversations with God.  My self-imposed rule was that each conversation must start on a thankful note.  Sometimes that kept the discussion from really getting going.  I lifted my petticoat out of the wash basket.

“Lord, I do thank you for that warm wind and the promise of spring.” I bent for another clothespin to secure the petticoat.  “And I am very thankful that my wash load is small.”  Here I thought of Perilee, washing for her family of five.  “I count it a true blessing that there are no diapers in my wash.”  I shuddered to think of that.  “Now, you know I’ve been working on keeping a sunny lookout on life, but I must speak to you about Violet, who is more devil than cow.”

How can you not fall in love with a character that has that kind of spunk?

But there is one thing about this book that just breaks my heart.  It’s this passage, from the author’s bio:

Thanks to her eighth-grade teacher, Kirby Larson maintained a healthy lack of interest in history until she heard a snippet of a story about her great-grandmother’s homesteading by herself in eastern Montana.  Efforts to learn more about Hattie Wright’s homesteading felt like detective work; why hadn’t anyone told Kirby research could be this much fun?

Sigh.  I do wonder what this teacher did that turned her off so much.  But at least Larson shared her new-found love of history in a delightful book.  Hopefully, she’s been able to convert a few more folks into history lovers.

Story first, history second

Perhaps I was a wee bit prejudiced as I started reading.  Friends that I trusted had very mixed reviews, but I didn’t quite believe them.  After all, the book had won the 2011 Newbery award.  And it was set in 1936, flashing back to 1917 and 1918.  Quite possibly one of my favorite time periods.  I should have loved Moon Over Manifest, but generally speaking, the friends were right.  I became annoyed within the first 50 pages, and downright upset not long after.  And I continue to be puzzled as to how this book rose to the top of children’s fiction in 2011.

Moon Over ManifestFor those not familiar with the book, it’s the story of a 12 year old girl, sent to a small town in Kansas in 1936.  During her summer there, she uncovers the town’s past, with frequent shifts in narrative to 1917 and 1918.    Abilene is a lovely little girl, but she doesn’t have as strong a voice as many other narrators in similar books.  But this wasn’t what bothered me.  What bothered me was the history.

I’ve talked before about the historical fiction trap that so many modern writers fall into: that habit of trying to pull as many historical threads into a story as possible.  You know, to teach children about the past.  It very, very rarely works, and usually annoys folks that have any knowledge about the period in question (The Hope Chest springs to mind).  But very, very rarely does a book inspire me to scurry over to google to check facts in the middle of a chapter.  Here’s the sentence that did that: “Alcohol was against the law then as much as it was in 1917, but folks could usually get a bottle of the stuff here or there.”  Now, I had just finished Ken Burns’ new documentary, Prohibition, and I was pretty sure that the 18th Amendment wasn’t passed until 1920, but FDR had repealed it in 1933.  Some quick checking revealed that Kansas didn’t repeal until 1948.  Plus, prohibition laws got started in Kansas in the 1880s, and the “Bone Dry Act” passed in 1917.  In going back through the book before starting this post, I did see a mention of the Bone Dry Act that I had forgotten about that occurred earlier in the book than the above sentence.  Technically, everything Vanderpool wrote is perfectly correct.  But it clashed with everything in my fairly well-educated historical head, and I just couldn’t get over it.  And I don’t recall anything being said that might have explained that Kansas was different from other states.  And the prohibition thread is a pretty important one for the story.  We’re not talking about a minor, nit-picky detail.

So what does it matter?  After all, the target market for this book isn’t public historians in their 30s.  It’s kids that have probably never heard of prohibition.  They’re not going to be confused by the timeline the way that I was.  I guess my annoyance happens on a couple of different levels.  First, this confusion could very easily have been solved.  Abilene had traveled throughout the country and was new to Kansas.  Couldn’t she have made a comment or asked a question about Shady and his still?  A brief explanation, and the story continues.  Problem solved!  And yet, not even the author’s note (which is quite possibly one of the weirdest author notes ever) mentions the fact that Kansas was one of the last states to repeal prohibition.  I just don’t know how that wasn’t mentioned somewhere. 

But my real issue is this: generally speaking, we as a society are not very well educated about the past.  Whenever I ponder historical accuracy issues in films or books, I tend to look at the big picture.  If the big ideas–the things that people will actually remember a few months after they’ve read the book or seen the movie–are correct, I’m okay.  If people won’t be completely confused if they look something up later, I’m okay.  But I don’t think that tenet holds true for this book.  I must have looked up Kansas liquor laws three or four times while I read this book.  Kind of interrupts the narrative flow, don’t you think?  And can you imagine trying to teach this book?

My other issue with this book is that it seems to have taken every big historical headline from 1917/1918 and made sure the issue happens in that tiny town.  The immigration stuff totally made sense, and I was happy to the stuff about the relationship between the town and its people.  (It made me think of Thurber, TX, a very similiar town).  But throwing in the KKK?  Technically, the KKK did revive itself in 1915, but it wasn’t a huge thing again until after WWI–the whole soldiers coming back and wanting a better life thing caused a bit of strife.  And I don’t think this small incident did anything to move the story along.

And of course, there’s WWI drama, a brief visit from Woodrow Wilson, war deaths, and the big 1918 flu epidemic is foreshadowed for almost the whole book and then barely discussed.  It’s just all a very strange mish-mash of history.

Honestly, I think this would have been a stronger, tighter book if the flashback portions of the book were set in the 1920s.  Yes, much of the WWI stuff would be left out, but the flow of the narrative would have worked better.  And timeline issues would have been solved. 

The best historical fiction are the works that put the story first and history second.  And yes, I’m saying this as a historian.  But I’m saying this as a historian that wants people to like history and get wrapped up in it, and books like this just won’t do it.  The narrative is the important thing, and the history behind it just deepens the story.  In this book–and there’s nothing I’ve found either in the author’s note or on her website to contradict this–she found some cool tidbits about the past and then built a story around it.  And it just doesn’t work for me at all.

In celebration of Rilla

There are some stories that never quite let you go.  My love for Rilla of Ingleside has been mentioned here more than once.  That love led me to my senior thesis and, more recently, to my most recent publication on the Dallas homefront during WWI.  So is it any wonder that I was thrilled that Benjamin Lefebvre and Andrea McKenzie were coming out with a new edition of one of my favorite books?  And that I was also just a wee bit jealous?

9687998There are many, many things that thrill me about this book.  Finally, all your major questions sparked by the history in this book are answered within it!  The original text is restored, after having been “silently” cut decades ago.  And it’s just a pretty book.

But my biggest thrill is that I finally have proof that people besides me value this book and realize how important it is–to both literature and history.  When I was doing my research for the article on Dallas clubwomen during WWI, I knew I wanted to focus not on the extraordinary–the women who worked outside the home, went to France as nurses, or did any number of remarkable things.  No, I wanted to focus on what most women would have done–fit war work into existing lives.  Those lives were stretched, but not completely undone.  And as I wrote that paper, I desperately wanted to quote Rilla, though I just couldn’t quite justify it.

If I had to pick just one book to explain my whole thesis about kidlit history–that there is some history that is be found in children’s literature and can’t be found anywhere else, this book would be the one I would pick.  Primary sources on the emotions and daily lives of the women that watched and waited are hard to find.  We tend to document the extraordinary.  Though these women were living in extraordinary times, I don’t think they realized how much their lives were changing.

Montgomery knew she was telling the story of the masses of Canadian women that worked at home and waited.  She wrote “In my latest story, ‘Rilla of Ingleside,’ I have tried, as far as in me lies, to depict the fine and splendid way in which the girls of Canada reacted to the Great War–their bravery, patience and self-sacrifice.  The books is theirs in a sense in which none of my other books have been: for my other books werew written for anyone who might like to read them: but ‘Rilla’ was written for the girls of the great young land I love, whose destiny it will be their duty and privilege to shape and share.”  Lefebvre and McKenzie go on to say “Rilla of Ingleside thus pictures, as no other war novel of its time does, a uniquely Canadian perspectie about the women and families who battled to keep the home fires burning throughout this tumultuous era.”

Frankly, I can’t think of another novel, from any country, written so closely after the war that takes the time to talk about the home front.  So, I lift my glass to Montgomery for writing this wonderful book in the first place.  And I lift my glass to Benjamin Lefebvre and Andrea McKenzie for working so hard to put this book in a wider context and give it the attention it so richly deserves.

For now, United States readers have to order this book directly from Canada.  Here’s hoping that one day it will be easily available in the United States.  The good news is that the exchange rate is currently almost even.  Trust me–you need this book in your personal library.

From the other side

The Singing Tree (Puffin Newbery Library)Following the recommendation of a dear reader, I picked up The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy.  For those unfamiliar with the book (like I was), this is a sequel to The Good Master.  It’s the story of two cousins,Kate and Jancsi, growing up in the Hungarian country side during the early part of the last century.  I very rarely jump ahead in series fiction, but the whole WWI setting of the sequel caused me to skip to the good stuff (so to speak). 

First, some things that I loved about the book:

1.  It’s set in Hungary.  Which means this is a story about WWI from the other side.  Bonus: the war is also not an ocean away, making certain aspects of life on the homefront much more immediate.  They take in Russian prionsers of war to work on the farm.  They take in orphans from Germany.  They create a whole community–made by war, but as expected in a children’s book, they all find common ground and become a big family.

2.  The illustrations.  Though I will admit that the crayon portraits Kate and Jancsi freaked me out a bit.  But the charcoal?  pencil?   (I am bad about artistic mediums–I only know crayon because it says so right there on the page) are amazing.  Soft and lovely and evocative.  I just wanted to soak them up.

3.  Wonderful characters.  Kate is a little spitfire (though I wish there had been a bit more about her, somehow).  Uncle Moses is a wonderful character too–the way his mind works in his store!

4.  Beautiful imagery.  Near the beginning of the book, the kids are told the story of hte poplar lane.  There’s a monument there to the 1848 revolution.  Kate’s father explains to the children: “Your great-grandfather Marton Nagy was one of the last great feudal landlords.  Moses Mandelbaum, grandfather of Uncle Moses, was one of the first Jews who opened a store under the new laws.  And this avenue of trees’ –he pointed ahead into the green lane–‘had been planted in March 1848, one tree by every one of those whose names you have just read.  The former master, who was one of his people now, all the peasants, who were now his equal in rights, and Moses Mandelbaum, they each planted a tree.  A green, living thing to grow and remind them always that they were brother Hungarians, first and last.”  It’s a simply beautiful scene, even with the shadow of war hanging over it.  And then the image of the Singing Tree itself at the end of the book.  Well, I’ll let you discover that yourself.

5.  A taste of Hungary.  There were lots of little mentions of cultural traditions that I really enjoyed.  The description of the wedding traditions was fascinating (and sounded quite exhausting!).  Children’s books are such a great, non-threatening way to introduce other cultures. 

All that being said, I didn’t love this book.  Oh, I liked it.  But the emotion that’s in Rilla or even Betsy just wasn’t there.  And I admit it–I like emotion with my history.  The war certainly affects them–fathers go off to war, a neighbor runs away from the army to see his child (and must be hidden), young people are forced to grow up more quickly.  But something is just missing.

I did a small amount of digging on Kate Seredy, trying to figure out where history and biography overlap.  Some of the connections are pretty obvious (hello!  Kate and Kate!).  In real life, her father was also a teacher.  She spent time on the land.  But what kills me is that she was a nurse during WWI.  She had been studying art in Budapest (the fictional Kate is still at home) and according to the online biography at University of Oregon (which holds almost all of her Caddie Woodlawn illustrations–another kidlit history connection!): “When World War I interrupted her studies, she served as a nurse and studied anatomy sporadically “between bouts of patching up anatomy.”  Now what an amazing book that would have been!  Kate would have been quite young when the war broke out (she was born in 1899)–can you imagine a coming of age story with battlefield nursing as the central plot?  I think I would find the emotion I was perhaps missing in The Singing Tree.

There were certain aspects of the book that seemed heavy-handed–the “we’re all really the same–this disagreement is not between the people, but the rulers. . .”  Which is to be expected from a book written by a former “enemy,” now living in America.  But there’s even more resonance to this theme when you flip to the front of the book and see the original publication date: October, 1939.  As Seredy was writing, war was again brewing.  In 1940, as war was raging, it was named a Newbery Honor Book.  This extra bit of context makes the story all the more meaningful. 

Not enough to make me fall in love with Seredy, but definitely enough for me to respect her.  And add her to the list of Kidlit Historians.

Emotional history

Rilla of Ingleside

 

I finished my reread of Rilla of Ingleside the other night.  I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this book over the years, but it’s one that still gets me.  Every. Single. Time.

When I read, I’m not one to cry or even laugh out loud often.  I think part of it is that I read so quickly.  And for a long time, I rarely cried at movies.  Growing older has softened me up a bit, but I’m pretty sure Rilla was the first book that ever made me cry.  It may have been Walter’s death, but I’m also pretty sure it was the story of Dog Monday.

On this read, I teared up often.  When Jem enlisted.  When Jem came home and Dog Monday greeted him.  Strangely enough, not when Walter dies.  But the part that got me the most, the part where I had to reach over to my nightstand to find a kleenex, was when Bruce Meredith brought Anne the first mayflowers.  I can’t resist sharing the scene with you:

The mayflowers bloomed in the secret nooks of Rainbow Valley.  Rilla was watching for them.  Jem had once taken his mother the earliest mayflowers; Walter brought them to her when Jem was gone; last spring Shirley had sought them out for her; now, Rilla thought, she must take the boys’ place in this.  But before she had discovered any, Bruce Meredith came to Ingleside one twilight with his hands full of delicate pink sprays.  He stalked up the steps of the veranda and laid them on Mrs. Blythe’s lap.

“Because Shirley isn’t here to bring them,” he said in his funny, shy, blunt way.

“And you thought of this, you darling,” said Anne, her lips quivering, as she looked at the stocky, black-browed little chap, standing before her, with his hands thrust into his pockets.

“I wrote Jem today and told him not to worry ’bout you not getting your mayflowers,” said Bruce seriously, “’cause I’d see to that.  And I told him I would be ten pretty soon now, so it won’t be very long before I’ll be eighteen and then I’ll go to help him fight, and maybe let him come home for a rest while I took his place.”

So often, we grownups assume that children don’t really see the world around them.  I have long argued that children “get” a lot more than we give them credit for.  Bruce’s gesture and thoughtfulness were completely unexpected, but at ten, he definitely understands that this war has been going on for a while and there’s no sign of it ending.  And his willingness and confidence that he would go–in eight long years–just kills me. 

Though this is far from a perfect book, it’s the emotion of it all that made such an impact on my life.  You feel the ache and pain as the folks at home wait for news.  And though this book is largely about Rilla, it’s as much about Susan, the Blythe’s housekeeper.  I’ve always loved Susan, but I fell in love with her all over again in this read.  She went from only being concerned about her backyard to carefully studying the world situation.   I love that she kept asking how to pronounce these distant places as she struggled to keep track of troop movements.  As Dr. Blythe comments towards the end of the novel, “Susan, you’ve been a real brick.”

Part of the reason that kidlit history makes such an impact on our lives is this emotion.  There are so many wonderful stories in history–and there are also quite a few historians who, while fabulous researchers, can’t write in a way to attract a general audience.  Montgomery followed the war very closely–she agonized over the war news, as any reader of her published journals becomes keenly aware.  She began writing Rilla in March 1919–less than six months after armistice.  Though she never says it explicitly, I feel that she knew she was writing a history of the war years.  There is this journal entry, from March 1921:

Ewan said a letter had come from Stokes complaining that “Ingleside” was “too gloomy,” and wanting me to omit and tone down some of the shadows.  Also, subtly intimating that I had not “taffied up” the U.S. enough in regard to the war–this last being the real fault, though they did not like to say so bluntly.

Well, I didn’t and I won’t! 

In my opinion, Montgomery wrote one of the first histories of the war years.  She used her journals, she used first person accounts (many her own), she used news accounts to check her facts–she was a historian.  But I’m not sure how many see it as that.  All I know for sure is that if my first exposure to WWI had been in an average classroom, I wouldn’t be returning to it as a topic of interest over and over again. 

Have any of you had a similiar experience–where a book leads to a completely new interest? (historical or not!)

Opening Shots, Part 2

For a very different look at the first days of WWI, look no further than Betsy Ray.  In Betsy and the Great World, she is almost, but not quite, in the middle of all the action, traveling through Europe in 1914.  When books are set in certain years (1861, 1914, 1939), you just something historic and bittersweet will happen. 

She has spent time in Germany and France and has gotten to know some locals.  Like Rilla, Betsy hears of the murder of the Archduke, but did not worry.  Instead, “she had amused herself as the train sped through the night by plotting a romantic novel full of titled corpses, spies, and intrigue.”  She is spending some time in France, doing many of the tourist things.  She visits Napolean’s grave and notices a wreath with the banner: “Let no French soldier rest, while there is a German in Alsace.”  She thinks, “The French and German really hated each other.”  Foreshadowing much?  There is more foreshadowing later, when she sees the first batch of English soldiers.  She notices: “They were very young and slim, with fresh pink cheeks.  The German soldiers had been so big and capable!”

When war does break out, Betsy is in England.  She is staying in a boarding house, with a cast of characters.  As the war news develops, Lovelace in a few brief sentences explains the alliances that were such a contributer to the War.  Betsy thinks “this was too complicated to follow.” 

But Betsy has a special concern–if England declares war, how will she get home?  She is grateful to be in England, as Americans were fleeing the Continent.  Plans among her crowd are changing rapidly, and very soon, her father sends her a telegram, urging her to come home. 

When England declares war, they stay up all night, waiting for the clock to strike midnight.  There is a cheer and then the crowd breaks into “Rule Britannia.”  As the news settles in, “presently, as before, her ears caught a change.  The singing became words, two words, intoned ove and over.  Newsboys were running up and down crying them.  “War declared!  War declared!”  Finally it was fused into one word.  “War! War! War!”  Betsy did the only thing she could do at such a moment.  She got down on her knees.”

The last chapter of the book concerns her stuggles to book passage (along with the best romantic cliffhanger in kidlit, but that’s another blog). 

For Rilla, the war doesn’t affect her right away, but Betsy is thrown into it immediately.  I love this portrait of Europe before it’s torn apart, and the turmoil when war begins.  When history books talk about the beginnings of war, it’s usually about armies and navies mobilizing.  But what do you do if you’re traveling and suddenly the country you’re visiting is at war?  How does your mind get around the fact that someone you’re friends with is now your enemy?  These are the kind of personal experiences that so often have to be left out of the history books (especially military history, which usually misses the social history aspect completely), but they make the war so much more real for those of us who weren’t there.

In these opening shots of the war, Rilla and Betsy are very alike.  Their primary concern is how these events will affect them personally.  In some ways, you can tell Betsy is a few years older, as she makes some of those connections regarding What It All Could Mean much more quickly than Rilla.  But wouldn’t you love the two of them to have a conversation in 1920, talking about their war experiences?

* * * * *

As I’ve been thinking about this blog, I’ve been trying to decide whether to jump around a bit in topics or to dive in deep to certain historical themes.  Obviously some subject, such as WWI, are going to be easier than others to do this with.  I’ve also thought about taking one key author at a time and exploring all of there books.  Just not sure, and it may be that I should just let the writing be my guide.  But, do you have any thoughts?

* * * * *

I know many of my readers (well, at least based on the comments) know this, but just in case I have a few that are not on the BT List-serve, did you know the marvelous Betsy-Tacy books are being re-issued?  And they are gorgeous?  And it’s the most exciting thing to happen in the kidlit history world, since, well, probably the BT convention?  For more information or to order your very own copies, check out the Betsy-Tacy Society.

Opening Shots. . .

For years now, I’ve had a strong interest in World War I.  Not the battles so much, but the social changes surrounding the Great War.  And I can place the blame firmly on Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery, since I certainly didn’t learn much about WWI in school.

I must have read Rilla for the first time shortly before the first Gulf War, because I certainly remember making all kinds of comparisons in my head about the two.  In my mind, this was the smallish thing that was going to turn into WWIII.  In a way, it almost has, since we’re still embroiled in the Middle East (but that’s all for someone else’s blog).

As I became more interested in history, I was always (and continue to be) surprised at how little mention is made of WWI in American history classes.  I know that much of this is because we really weren’t involved for very long, and a generation of young men wasn’t wiped out.  But I had grown up on Rilla, and it seemed to me that this was the war that had changed everything–when the 20th century had truly begun.  I remember being highly incensed during my US since 1875 class in college in which we spent about 15 minutes on WWI.  I made up for it later though, with my thesis that used the war years a centerpoint.  Since then, I’ve also done some research on Dallas clubwomen and their efforts during WWI.

The other night, I got out Rilla again, for the first time in years.  It was time to revisit PEI and figure out why I had never been able to let go of my interest in this war. 

For those that aren’t familiar with Rilla, this is the final book (chronologically, not the final book published) in the Anne series.  Though Anne is certainly in it, it’s really about Rilla and coming of age during the war years.  Somehow it’s always felt like a separate book from the rest of the Anne series, perhaps because there is such intrusion by the “real” world on the almost too perfect world of Avonlea and Glen St. Mary.

In fact, I was surprised at how quickly the war was mentioned.  On page 2: “There was a big, black headline on the front page of the Enterprise, stating that some Archduke Ferdinand or other had been assassinated at a place bearing the weird name of Sarajevo, but Susan tarried not over uninteresting, immaterial stuff like that; she was in quest of of something really vital.  Oh, here it was–“Jottings from Glen St. Mary.”  Ferdinand was killed on June 28, 1914. 

In the following pages, there is much foreshadowing about what is to come.  Gertrude Oliver, a family friend, has a terrifying dream that involves waves of blood lapping at the Ingleside porch.  But Rilla is a teenager, and much more focused on the possibilities of her first real dance and being considered a real “grown up.” 

I’ve always thought the scene where everyone learns that England declares war on Germany would make an excellent opening for a movie (we will not discuss the abomination of the 3rd Anne movie, set during WWI, except to say it was a truly horrible Anne movie and an almost equally bad WWI movie.  I might have thrown things at my television).  The scene is set at a lighthouse–crowds of young people are dancing the night away.  It’s Rilla’s first party, and she’s asked to dance over and over again, including by someone she just might have a long-time crush on.  And then: “There was a little disturbance among a group of boys crowded around the door; a young fellow pushed through and halted on the threshold, looking about him rather sombrely. . . . ‘Ask him —  ask him,’ she said feverishly to Allan Daly.  But somebody else had already asked him.  The room grew very silent all at once.  Outside the fiddler had stopped for a rest and there was silence there too.  Afar off they heard the low moan of the gulf–the presage of a storm already on its way up the Atlantic.  A girl’s laugh drifted up from the rocks and died away as if frightened out of existence by the sudden stillness.  ‘England declared war on Germany today,’ said Jack Elliot slowly.  ‘The news came by wire just as a I left town.'” 

And just like that, everything changes.  Some are thrilled at the prospect of war, others are terrified at what it could mean.  Many think that it will last just a few months.  Walter, Rilla’s brother argues: “Do you think a war for which Germany has been preparing for twenty years will be over in a few weeks?” said Walter passionately.  ‘This isn’t a paltry struggle in a Balkan corner, Harvey.  It is a death grapple.  Germany comes to conquer or die.”

In just a few pages, Montgomery outlines all the major themes that I’ve read over and over in my study of WWI–no one realizing how prepared Germany is and how unprepared England and France are.  Surprise that war is even possible in such a “modern” era.  Gender roles that emerge during war time.  And thus, I got hooked.

I’ll be spending some time on WWI in the coming weeks, looking at Rilla, but also looking at the final two books in the Betsy-Tacy series.  Are there any other children’s books that use WWI as a backdrop?