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Canada at War: a graphic history of World War II

by Paul Keery, illustrated by Michael Wyatt
176 pages, 2012

Halfway through Canada at War, I realized it was filling in an odd gap in my education. I had read about the Dutch experience of World War II in great kids’ books like Anne de Vries’ Journey through the Night and Piet Prins’ Scout series, and a love of classic war films like Casablanca and Twelve O’Clock High had given me a good sampling of the American perspective. But I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the war through Canadian eyes.

Canada at War is a “graphic history” – otherwise known as a comic – but it would be a mistake to dismiss this as fluffy kids’ stuff. It is weighty and well-researched and would be best understood as an illustrated history textbook. It includes chapters on:

  • Canada before the war
  • Canada’s early defeats defending Hong Kong from the Japanese and attacking German-held Dieppe, France
  • The creation and impact of Canada’s Air Force
  • The Canadian Navy’s seemingly impossible task of protecting the Atlantic supply chain from U-boat attacks
  • The costly lessons our Army learned in Sicily and Italy
  • The joint invasion of Europe
  • The Canadian role in the liberation of the Netherlands and the final defeat of Germany

Author Paul Keery, and illustrator Michael Wyatt do a masterful job of explaining, in just 176 pages, how Canada went from having next to no military to, in the space of just five years, becoming the third most powerful fighting force in the world. And they give readers a good understanding of just how much we owe the 1 million men who served.

Cumulatively the pictures are worth many thousands of words. Descriptions can’t quite convey the information available in a picture of a sailor waste deep in water on a leaky Corvette assigned to protect otherwise defenseless supply ships on their way to Britain. There is also a lot packed into a single frame, when we see a bomber pilot relaxing at his home base, happy to have survived another bombing run, but knowing that he has only a 1 in 4 chance of living through to the end of his tour.

The style of the visuals is also striking: it’s a mix of quite realistic computer animation and solid simple lines. Illustrator Michael Wyatt shows us action and lots of it, including planes being blown apart and submarines being sunk. However, Wyatt uses great restraint, showing the results of war – the blood, death, and destruction – without dwelling on the gory detail. This bloody detail is most often muted, either by being obscured (oftentimes by making use of silhouette images) or by being skipped right over. For example, in one exchange we see a soldier with blood on his face, but only learn how it happened from the caption.

But as should be expected in a “graphic history” of World War II, there are a few “graphic” frames. That said, Canada at War is intended for a young adult readership, and these pictures are unlikely to shock them. I’ve included a few of these frames immediately below this review so that parents can evaluate the visuals for themselves.

This is an impactful book that will give this generation a far better understanding of what their grandparents and great-grandparents endured to give them the Canada they see today.


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Book Reviews, Graphic novels

A Family Secret

by Eric Heuvel 2009 / 64 pages It’s Queen’s Day in the Netherlands, and the celebrations include nationwide rummage sales. So young Jeroen heads to his grandmother’s house to see if she might have anything she’s willing to give him to sell. And like grandmothers everywhere, she is quite obliging to her young grandson and sends him upstairs to the attic to let him see what he can find. In his searching Jeroen discovers his grandmother’s old scrapbook… and while paging through it uncovers a secret she has kept to herself for more than 60 years. His grandmother then tells him the story of how World War II divided her family. She was best friends with a Jewish girl named Esther, and along with her mother and one brother didn’t want anything to do with the Germans. But while this brother fought in the resistance - the Dutch Underground - her father chose to work with the Nazis, and her oldest brother decided to go fight for Germany on the Russian front. This is an amazing graphic novel, drawn in the style of Tintin, and published by the Ann Frank House and the Resistance Museum of Friesland. It’s gripping enough for adults, but for children, this is an absolutely amazing way to teach them about World War II, the Dutch Resistance, and the Holocaust. I'd particularly recommend this as a book for grandparents to give their grandchildren. Every year we set aside a day to remember the sacrifice of those that fought for our freedom. Giving this book to a grandson, and talking with them afterward about the war - about why some fought the Nazis, why some did nothing at all, and why some even joined them - is one very good way to ensure we never forget. There is a sequel of sorts called The Search in which we learn more about Esther. It is also very good, but if you are only going to buy one, should get A Family Secret.   I'd recommend it for 11 and up. ...


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