A young child undertakes a “secret mission” while her father is away at war.
First published from a French original in the 2015 collection The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War but presented here in a small, neatly formatted volume with new illustrations, the tale features 5½-year-old Rosalie, who spends her days at the back of the one-room school while her mother is off at work. The older children and the teacher, a veteran who’s lost an arm, think she’s just dreaming and drawing pictures, but she’s actually engaged in a mission: “One day I’ll be awarded a medal for this. It’s already gleaming deep within me.” The nature of that mission comes clear one day when she sneaks home and discovers that she can finally read for herself the letters her father had been sending from the front—but instead of the optimistic, loving missives her mother had been “reading” to her, she discovers them to be dark cries of anguish and despair. That very day a final letter arrives…from the Ministry of War, with a medal enclosed. Rather than end with that crushingly ironic twist, though, de Fombelle leaves Rosalie smiling, through her tears, at a friend and regarding the medal not as a dead thing but something alive. The bright red hair of Rosalie and her mother seems to glow in the gray, wintry light of Arsenault’s village scenes, likewise offering hints of life and warmth even in the face of terrible loss. Everyone in view is white.
A spare tale likely to engender deep, complex responses. (Historical fiction. 10-14)