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[Nonfiction Wednesday] When Desperate Times Call for Dazzling Measures

"Dazzle Ships: World War I And The Art Of Confusion" by Chris Barton Illustrated by Vikto Ngai.

Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2018 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.

Our current reading theme also includes stories that deal with soldiers, the navy, the airforce – not just cops and robbers. When I learned of this title which talks about World War I, and navy officers using strategies of dazzle and deception, I immediately reserved it from our library.


Dazzle Ships: World War I And The Art Of Confusion

Written by Chris Barton Illustrated by Vikto Ngai
Published by Millbrook Press (2017)
ISBN-10: 151245110X (ISBN13: 9781512451108)
Literary Award: NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor Book (2018)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

While I know a fair bit about WWII, I realize that my knowledge of WWI is quite limited. This narrative tells the story of how the UK’s nonfighting ships were being torpedoed by Germany’s submarines, known as U-Boats. This is a brilliant ploy by Germany to cut off Britain’s resources and starve them to death by sinking its ships.

The submarine attacks by Germany were successful and consistent despite UK’s attempts to protect their ships. A Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve lieutenant commander named Norman Wilkinson, came up with a bold and creative suggestion to address the seemingly-insurmountable problem.

Since it was impossible, at the time, to make the ships invisible, he thought he would make use of optical illusion to confuse the German U-boats as to where the UK ships were going. At the time, the word “camouflage” was not that common yet, but Wilkinson utilized the concept to its fullest advantage.

While the author was candid in sharing that there was no way of definitively attributing the decrease in the German attacks to the “dazzle ships,” the important thing to take note here is the boldness and courage of the vision and its execution. There is the willingness to try unconventional, off-center strategies to ensure that something is being done to ensure the safety of the ships and its cargo. What was also fascinating for me was the fact that there were women who assisted in crafting the design of “Dazzle Ships.”

Of course, Wilkinson couldn’t do all this on his own. Two dozen young women who had been to art schools did a lot of work. They painted designs onto wooden models, and then they copied the best designs onto paper.

It was also fascinating to read Barton’s Afterword which detailed the amount of research that he needed to do to write this brilliant piece of work. Victor Ngai also shared his experience in illustrating this engaging nonfiction title. Definitely a worthy addition to a school or personal library.


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1 comment on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] When Desperate Times Call for Dazzling Measures

  1. I loved this book, thought the story was so well told in text & illustrations. I first read about this idea, however, in Double Cross by Paul B. Janeczko. You might want to take a look at that book, too, Myra. Happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

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