So today is my birthday!! Eek!! So I wanted to blog about a very special book for a special occasion. I’ve already covered two of my all time favourite picture books The Bear and the Piano and Dogger, but what about my all time favourite series of books? I recently wrote a blog for the brilliant Story Snug here: https://storysnug.com/2017/12/christmas-truce about The Christmas Truce written by Hilary Robinson, illustrated by Martin Impey and published by Strauss House Productions.
As I love this book, and this series of books so wholeheartedly, I decided to pop it onto Book Monsters too for my Christmas Advent. Hilary and Martin are the creative team behind a series of picture books based on World War 1, aimed at helping younger children understand and identify with the effects of war, but also fantastic for older children and even adults. These books span an incredible range of ages, and therefore uses too. But the fundamental importance of these books is their emotional impact. They are truly stunning.
This is a historical non-fiction story taking us back to the trenches in World War One. This book continues the story of Ray and his best friend Ben (who you may recognise from the fantastic book Where the Poppies Now Grow) two young soldiers fighting in World War One, in a re-imagining of a remarkable true story. We are taken straight to an area torn apart by war, surrounded by barbed wire, as cold and frightening as it gets. But this isn’t a story about fighting, it is a story about peace. We see the soldiers on both sides celebrating Christmas in the best way they can in the trenches, with modest Christmas trinkets … all they have. Ben and Ray’s enemy soldiers sing Silent Night across the fields, and as a result the two sides (for a short while at least) find peace in No Man’s Land. They shake hands, play football together, sing and celebrate as best they can as equals, men stuck fighting, risking their lives, missing their families and homes.
The Christmas Truce is expertly written in a similar style to Where the Poppies Now Grown and Flo of the Somme, in that it is poetry, which gradually, page by page, line by line reveals the full story. Hilary manages to use few words, perfectly chosen and placed to tell a story that is poignant and so very touching. I found The Christmas Truce in particular, incredibly beautiful to read. If the break in the poem, for one special line doesn’t get your heart beating and emotions welling, then nothing will!
Martin’s illustrations again compliment Hilary’s words so perfectly. The colours reflect the cold crisp air and minute details show both the awfulness of the soldiers’ situation (barbed wire, rats, explosions), along with the beauty of it in the small Christmas tree, their smiles and of course the beautiful dove and her olive branch. Yet on the last page we see the temporariness of this moment of peace. We can never truly understand what it was like to experience life, Christmas, in the fields of WW1, but Martin’s illustrations suck us into that World so effectively that you will feel and imagine it as closely as you ever could.
I love that The Christmas Truce doesn’t focus on the usual bright fuss of Christmas, toys, Father Christmas, and huge decorations. It takes us to a true story where the main importance of the Christmas is that it’s a time of peace, and friendship and forgiveness. This book is not only beautifully lyrical to read and stunningly atmospheric to look at, but it offers huge educational value too. A beautiful book that shows the real simple joy of Christmas time. The Christmas Truce is Incredibly hopeful yet sad at the same time. It’s heartfelt and so superbly executed by Hilary and Martin. This is a Christmas story which celebrates friendship, kindness, and the power of the human spirit.