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Lewis, J. Patrick AND THE SOLDIERS SANG NF/NF. (Creative Editions: 2011). For children 8 to 12 years. Plentiful photographs and period illustrations. 32 pages.

Timed to coincide with Armistice Day, this solemn graphic narrative recalls Christmas 1914, when British and German soldiers called a fleeting truce. American children's poet laureate Lewis, who worked with Kelley on Black Cat Bone, composes grim first-person prose. Leaving it to readers to decode the WWI colloquialisms, Lewis writes from the viewpoint of a fictive Welsh infantryman, Owen Davies: "In December, lying doggo each morning in my serpentine cellar, I wrote in [my] gilded daybook.... The frozen ground above became a bone orchard for soldiers running on raids-and falling like ninepins quick with lead." On Christmas Eve, Owen hears a "baritone singing Stille Nacht-Silent Night"; an accomplished tenor himself, he responds with "The First Noel." Tentatively, the rival sides approach each other for an unprecedented and brief Christmas celebration. Kelley conjures the muddy trenches and frigid European winter in his brooding, earth-tone pastels. His contorted soldiers, surrounded by bare-limbed trees and barbed wire, evoke the disturbing sketches of Egon Schiele. Concluding in tragedy, it memorializes a century-old war and a snuffed-out glimmer of peace. Ages 9-up. (Nov.)


Murphy, Jim. TRUCE: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting NF/NF. (Scholastic Press: 2009). For children 8 to 12 years. Plentiful photographs and period illustrations. 32 pages.

Two-time Newbery Honor Book author Jim Murphy writes a stunning nonfiction masterpiece about a Christmas miracle on the Western Front during World War I. On July 29th 1914, the world's peace was shattered as the artillery of the Austria-Hungary Empire began shelling the troops of the country to its south. What followed was like a row of falling dominoes as one European country after another rushed into war. Soon most of Europe was fighting in this calamitous war that could have been avoided. This was, of course, the First World War. But who could have guessed that on December 25 the troops would openly defy their commanding officers by stopping the fighting and having a spontaneous celebration of Christmas with their "enemies"?

From Kirkus Reviews: "...Opening with a cogent recap of the state of Europe prior to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that focuses on those moments when war might have been averted (if Kaiser Wilhelm had read his mail on time, for instance), the author gracefully moves to the horrific conditions of battle that established the static madness of trench warfare—a madness that, oddly enough, led to enough fraternization across No Man’s Land that both British and German High Commands feared what eventually happened.
~~~ Drawing on a wealth of primary sources, from letters home, diaries and recollections of combatants to archival photographs and prints, the author allows the principles to speak: “Altogether we had a great day with our enemies,” wrote one British private, “and parted with much handshaking and mutual goodwill.”
~~~ That goodwill didn’t last—though in one spot in the Belgian woods the truce lasted almost till Easter—and Murphy takes readers through to the exhausting endgame that spawned the next war, but also he leaves kids with the provocative thought that war need not be inevitable, that the truce “offered reassurance that a kinder, humane spirit could prevail…”


Weintraub, Stanley, SILENT NIGHT: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce. The Free Press, 2001. Hardcover with dust jacket, in new condition except for black remainder mark on bottom edge of book. Drawings, engravings, photographs, 19-page essay on Sources, index, 206 pages.
~~~ It was one of history's most powerful - yet forgotten - Christmas stories. It took place in the improbable setting of the mud, cold rain and senseless killing of the trenches of World War I. It began when German soldiers lit candles on small Christmas trees, and British, French, Belgian and German troops serenaded each other on Christmas Eve. Soon they were gathering and burying the dead, in an age-old custom of truces. But as the power of Christmas grew among them, they broke bread, exchanged addresses and letters and expressed deep admiration for one another. When angry superiors ordered them to recommence the shooting, many men aimed harmlessly high overhead. Silent Night, by renowned military historian Stanley Weintraub, magically restores the 1914 Christmas Truce to history.


If you have not yet had an opportunity to watch the opera, SILENT NIGHT, by Kevin Puts, based on the original event, and the 2005 French film “Joyeux Noël,” try to do so this Christmas. Check your local PBS listings, or buy the DVD (when it comes out: it apparently hasn't been released yet).

SILENT NIGHT played a sold-out premier run in 2011 at the Minnesota Opera, and won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for music. The set is powerfully evocative, the details grittily realistic and historically accurate, and the music nothing short of glorious, as can be seen in the brief segment below:

Watch the Minnesota Opera perform the song "Sleep" from SILENT NIGHT

German Invasion of Belgium, 1914

First Marne, 1914

Christmas Truce

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