A tender memoir of human decency during wartime as seen through the eyes of the author’s then-8-year-old mother.
The setting for Barker’s story is rural Germany toward the end of World War II. Her mother’s family has been sent three French prisoners of war to help at the farm, as German menfolk were in short supply. These are the borrowed men. “When the war was over, we would have to give them back.” This sentence, early on, conveys the youthful sense of fairness that permeates the book: the Frenchmen should be treated with respect, fed well, allowed to celebrate holidays. Barker’s grandmother did just so and quickly learned she would be imprisoned if she continued. Benoit’s artwork is a touch sentimental and doughy; still, it is the world of an 8-year-old. Readers will learn some French and German, get a look at life on a farm during wartime, and get the slightest bitter taste of how war changes people: the village policeman used to be kind, “but since the war began, he had changed, and we knew enough to be afraid of him.” An author’s note reveals that Barker’s grandfather would not return from war, nor would her uncle, who is an important character of the story. The addition of old family photos from that time is poignant.
This heartfelt picture book helps readers appreciate wartime’s toll. (Picture book. 6-9)