This is my first time joining Kidlit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge and I am beyond excited to share these two amazing nonfiction picturebooks. As with other Nonfiction Wednesday posts, we would be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year. For the months of July and August, we are focusing on Scarred Souls & Bloodstained Memories: Tales of War & Poetry, Refuge & Peace. Last Monday, I shared the works of James Thurber and Marcia Williams that presented life during the war through drawings, comic strips, and scrapbooking. Today, we will explore more images of war as seen through the eyes of children.
Written by: Nancy Amis
Illustrated by: Orphans of La Maison du Clos
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Book borrowed from Wayne County Public Library.
Dedicated to her great-aunt Agnes “Aggie” Fulton Amis, Nancy Amis presents the incredible story of the orphans from La Maison du Clos, a French home and school for girls whose parents could no longer take care of them or had died. Aggie was a French teacher living in America. The girls’ story came from a small package sent to Aggie by her friend, Yvonne Lescure, a directress of a school in France. The package contained photographs of children, a small child’s dress, and an illustrated journal about a group of orphans from Normandy caught in the middle of World War II.
“The Clos, on the banks of the Orne, near Caen, welcomed little girls who were orphans without homes, and prepared them, in a homelike atmosphere, for life. The large estate of twenty-five acres included… the residence: kitchen, dining room, dormitories, bathrooms, dressing rooms; the school buildings: kindergarten, primary school, trade school, and workrooms.” — Nicole Folliot, 13
There are 20 illustrations included in the book, drawn and signed by girls between the ages of 10 and 19. The illustrations were rendered in colored pencil on newsprint. Each drawing included a text, and an English translation of the text is provided on the opposite page.
The drawings were arranged in chronological order, telling the details of the girls’ experience before, during, and after wartime. The first few pages described the girls’ lives at the Clos, their routines and school activities. A twelve-year-old girl named Hélène Han drew a picture of the girls during playtime, swimming in the cool water of the Orne. The Clos reminded me of the Catholic boarding school in Paris from Ludwig Bemelmans’ beloved children’s series, Madeline.
On the fateful nights of June 5 and 6, 1944, the girls were awakened by vibrant lights and unusual noises outside their window. The girls saw planes flying overhead, and heard the sound of bombs exploding and guns firing. Carrying only blankets, little white flags, and some bread, the girls followed Mademoiselle LeVallios and the other teachers to a mine half a mile from the Clos. The mine served as the girls’ shelter from the bombing, and kept them safe until the day the German soldiers forced them to evacuate the mine. This was the start of their incredible journey to safety.
The little girls were no longer just orphans but nomads because moving from one place to another became their way of life. Danger lurked everywhere, especially if friendly planes would mistake them for enemy soldiers and shoot them by accident. The girls and their teachers walked one hundred and fifty miles until they found their safe haven in the town of Beaufort-en-Vallée. The drawings that the girls made reminded them of their happy life at the Clos, the terrors they experienced in war, and the triumph that awaited them.
Written and illustrated by: Children of former Yugoslavia
Published by: HarperCollins (1994)
Book borrowed from Peninsula Library.
The trauma and stress brought about by war can negatively affect children. Because children are naturally creative, art therapy can be used as an outlet for children to express their feelings and help deal with issues in their lives. The Healing Through the Arts organization identified 8 expressive arts of healing, namely: joy, visual arts, music, photography, poetry, harmony, and health. Visual arts and poetry were used in this collection of drawings by the children of former Yugoslavia. Art therapy and counseling will help these children heal some of the traumas of war through their shared experience of art, poetry, and dreams of peace.
In his preface, Maurice Sendak beautifully writes,
“The children know. They have always known. But we choose to think otherwise; it hurts to know the children know. The children see. If we obfuscate, they will not see. Thus we conspire to keep them from knowing and seeing. And if we insist, then the children, to please us, will make believe they do not know, they do not see. Children make that sacrifice for our sake — to keep us pacified. They are remarkably patient, loving, and all-forgiving. It is a sad comedy: the children knowing and pretending they don’t know to protect us from knowing they know.”
The book is divided into four chapters: 1) cruel war; 2) the day they killed my house; 3) my nightmare; and 4) when I close my eyes I dream of peace. There were a total of 32 artworks and 17 lyrical texts shared by children between the ages of 5 and 14.
Some artworks had minimal design, while others were bursting with colors and imagery. All have titles and are a reminder of their harrowing past. Perhaps the most interesting part in the book is the chapter called “My Nightmare.” Because it is named as such, this chapter contains the most perplexing images and portrayal of war. One artwork in particular entitled, “Ghosts and skeletons in my closet” showed a room full of red-and-blue-colored ghosts. In the middle of the drawing is a big, half-open wardrobe with a red skeleton inside. On the floor were two skeletons lying on a pool of bright red blood. It was like a scene from a psychological thriller. One can only imagine the real-life terror that war brought to these children.
“We are children without a country and without hope.” — Dunja, 14, from Belgrade
Last Friday I shared a young boy’s vision of peace, which I believe is represented on the book cover. The last chapter of the book sends the clear message of every child’s dream of peace. In a kaleidoscope of hopeful messages and drawings, the children of former Yugoslavia celebrate their desire for peace and friendship. The book ends with the words of a twelve-year-old girl from Sarajevo:
“No film can adequately depict the suffering, the fear, and the terror that my people are experiencing. Sarajevo is awash in blood, and graves are appearing everywhere. I beg you in the name of the Bosnian children never to allow this to happen to you or to people anywhere else.”