Title: The Little Ships: The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II
Author: Louise Borden
Illustrator: Michael Foreman
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1997
Genre: Picture Book, Historical Fiction
Age Range: 2-5
Summary: In the beginning of WWII, there were about half a million soldiers stranded in Dunkirk. They had been trapped on three sides by the German military. The only way to save them was by the sea. A little girl and her father own a small boat called the Lucy. They decide to sign up, she has to make herself look like a boy, and join the efforts to go and save the soldiers. They are a part of 861 boats that go and save men. When they arrive they see men who are hurt and dying, as well as their animals. They took thousands of men from the shore to the larger ships, each time she was looking for her brother John. As they were leaving, stray bullets were hitting their ship, and the city of Dunkirk was going up in flames. When they arrived home, the learned that a man traveling with them had died, so they took his dog in as their own. Soon she heard news that her brother was safe. They listened to the words of the Prime Minister, and heard that they had helped to save over 338,000 men in Dunkirk.
Response: I have not heard very much about Dunkirk in my studies, other than it was a massive rescue attempt. It was interesting to read in the author's note about all the animals that were rescued, along with the men. She also adds in some of the speech from the Prime Minister who talks about fighting the war with Germany until the end. He said that the rescue at Dunkirk was not necessarily a victory, but a miracle that they were able to save so many men. These are great tools of information, and the foreword in the front from the captain of a ship also adds to the authenticity of the story. There is nothing but bravery and courage spoken from the little girl who travels with her father. The story seems to be written in almost a free verse poem, as it is written in stanzas on the pages. Her words are very realistic and the vocabulary seems to match that of a young child. She is very descriptive in talking about the soldiers, and their very desperate condition. I think it is very interesting to note that she would be able to help pull these men into the ship, being very young. She says that her hands were raw inside the gloves she wore. She saw things that many people would not dare to speak of. Soldiers in Dunkirk were hurt and had no help. Thousands of men owe their lives to this massive armada of ships that came to help them. The illustrations in the book are done with water color. There is no real bold colors until you see Dunkirk and the fires and things in it. The pictures of the boats traveling are very dark and gray. There is a hazy sort of feel, as if they are about to approach a major storm. Some of the details are a bit blurred, showing just how much was going on at the time. I think it shows that details were forgotten by those there because they were so focused on the rescue at hand. The most important picture, in my opinion, shows a man being pulled on to the sip, after he has fallen into the water. he is hanging onto one side of the boat, with his dog paddling beside him. They are all reaching out for him, to save his life. But at the same time, the water is enveloping him, and the white crests are almost like weapons coming after him. Both he and the little girl are wearing blue, which brings them both together. Also, the dog in this picture is the dog she ends up taking home with her. She is their rescuer. She also talks about not showing her fear of the war. Of course, it was the beginning, but this war was perhaps one of the greatest tragedies in history. The holocaust killed well over 6 million people. Stories like this give hope because at this time the world was consumed with so much hate and violence.
Teaching Ideas: This follows with a study of WWII, or even talking about heroes. This little girl is a hero, well, she was fictitious but perhaps young people helped out at this time. Children can talk about how it would be to go through something like this in war. I would use this book in part with other books, such as Milkweed, Aleutian Sparrow, and Weedflower that give students a wide array of things that were going on at this point in time.