Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Juvenile Novels of World War II by Desmond Taylor

Title: The Juvenile Novels of World War II
Author: Desmond Taylor
Publication: Greenwood Press, hardcover, 1994
Genre: Nonfiction/Reference
Description: World War II significantly impacted the lives of children who grew up during that time. From the start of World War II to the present day, many novels have been written on this subject for children and young adults, and these novels typically depict the impact of the war on the lives of young people. This bibliography cites and annotates more than 400 juvenile novels about World War II written or translated into English from 1940 to 1992. Only books that had been written in or translated into English were included. In addition, they had to use WWII as a substantial part of the action or use the war as background to make the cut. The author previously compiled adult novels about World War II in The Novels of World War II (1993).

My Impressions: World War II fiction has interested me for as long as I can remember and I came across this book by accident when researching something else. I would have preferred more narrative than the 9-page Introduction, as it turned out the book was really a bibliography with synopses/comments. It was fun to browse and I definitely discovered titles that intrigued me but I found the author’s attitude puzzling. He was obviously keenly interested in books about this period but most of them did not seem to live up to his expectations. It was rare for him to actually praise one of the 400 books he scanned for this project and I wished he had enjoyed his work more! The books were organized by publication year.  Here are some highlights:

Cherry Harvest, Eileen Helen Clements (1943)
"An insignificant homefront romance set at an English girls’ school in the Cotswolds. The war and the local scene is viewed through the eyes of the harassed headmistress. During the four day break between school terms, several members of the RAF arrive for an unexpected visit. By summer time at least one spy has been caught in the little village. This is a low key, slow paced tale of extremely limited appeal."  Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow liked it better than Desmont Taylor but still says "
ultimately it was rather like a batch of cherry jam that's perfectly tasty but doesn't quite set properly." Okay, so I'm not going to rush out and buy this one but I still think Sue Sims might be interested for the next time she updates her 3-volume work on School Stories
Orange on Top
, Henrietta van de Haas (1945)
"A story for young juveniles about the German occupation of Holland. The narrow focus of the plot is upon three intrepid Dutch children and their courageous efforts to protect and to save a small Jewish girl from the Nazi roundup of the Jews. The larger emphasis is upon the general Dutch resistance to the Nazi rule. There is an obvious propaganda aspect to the story."  This is a book my mother owned and remembers fondly, and I never opened or read it because I didn’t like the cover. Now I am sorry and wonder what happened to it!

Elephant Bridge, Jeffrey Potter (1957)
"Although the identity of the enemy and the war is not specified, it is undoubtedly World War II. The juvenile hero is from a small Burmese village who wishes he was old enough to go to war with his two older brothers even though war is evil. He decides to make a trek to the war zone and on the way is adopted by a herd of elephants as one of their own. This is a rather simple-minded account of his adventures with the herd and how he uses these gigantic beasts to make a devastating attack on a vital enemy bridge. It is difficult to see how this fantasy tale would really benefit any child unless a romantic misconception of life in Burma is the objective."

Taylor is also quite scathing about A Strange Enchantment by Mabel Esther Allan which is one of the books I treated myself to during the pandemic! It’s about a girl who lies about her age so she can volunteer for the British Women’s Land Army: “The plot is a well worn formula approach that emphasizes the daily details of farm work. The war itself seems very distant and has little direct effect on the daily lives of the characters. . . It is not difficult to believe that this novel will only appeal to young girls.” Well, I gave it 5 stars; so there!
I may not be much of a fan of Cherry Ames (but, of course, read all the ones in my library because why not), but he seems unnecessarily harsh about Cherry Ames, Army Nurse (1944): "The inspirational element does not make up for the absence of literary style or accomplished writing ability."

Occasionally, there are a few he likes:

Katrina, Maria Gleit (pseudonym)(1945) 
"Katrina, a young girl, is invited to live with her uncle and aunt in occupied Luxembourg (1942-44). After the walks the fifteen miles to their home, she soon is involved in assistant an old pastor to organize a prohibited pilgrimage to the religious shrine of Our Lady. In the process, she becomes involved with the Resistance and finds herself in one exciting adventure after another. There are brushes with Nazi troops, mob scenes, and a general atmosphere of how uncertain life can be under an occupied army for such a long time."
The School With a Difference, Yvonne Meynier (Un Lycée Pas Comme les Autres) (1962, 1964)
"Set in occupied France during World War II, this story is told in letters between two sisters at an evacuated school in the country and their mother and younger sister who are in the town of Rennes. Based on the author’s experiences and fears living in enemy-occupied area during the war, it received the Grand Prix de la Literature pour les Jeunes in France and is highly regarded."   This is another I thought would interest Sue Sims.  It would have been more fun to read in high school than Huis Clos!

All the Children Were Sent Away, Sheila Garrigue (1976)
"This is a sensitive and well-written juvenile story about the evacuation of children from England early in the war. Sara Warren, just eight years old, is sent with a shipload of other English children to live with relatives in Canada . . . . The boat is attached by a German sub and nearly sunk. This and the other experiences of the crossing to Newfoundland are seen through the eyes of Sara who lives the war years with her uncle and aunt in Vancouver."  This is one I just read recently and realized the author was the mother of a college classmate.

Secret Places, Janice Elliott (1982)
"A juvenile tale about the effects of war on the students of Albert Lodge School for Girls, an English school near air-raid shelters and a POW camp housing German and Italian soldiers.  Patience, an English girl, and Laura, a refugee from Germany and new to the school, are the main characters. The families of both girls are separated due to the war . . .  Laura as an outsider only has Patience as her friend.  She serves as the scapegoat for the fears and frustrations of many of the other girls, and even some of the faculty.  This is an impressionistic, sensitive, and witty view of adolescent emotions and schoolgirl attainments, especially during family separations caused by the impact of the war on England."  This is another that may interest Sue Sims.  There are three copies in Massachusetts libraries so I have requested via ILL.

Taylor does seem to appreciate Kitty Barne, Kate Seredy, and Noel Streatfeild, thank goodness!

Links: WorldcatAmazon, Bookfinder

Source: Library, but I have now ordered a copy.


Katrina said...

Some of these do sound interesting. I'll have to see if I can track down a copy of Katrina at least.

Bettina said...

There was a film of Secret Places too, from about 1985. I loved it as a teenager! I have read and enjoyed The School with a Difference and would like to track down a copy.

CLM said...

I'd like to read The School with a Difference too! Not sure my French would be up to it in the original.

I just got a copy of Secret Places from InterLibrary Loan. Very curious! Although I now have too many library books out at the same time and all due at once.