Friday, December 25, 2009


Anyone awake yet?  If so, may I be among the first to say happy holiday!  I thought I'd celebrate the holiday with a serious (but moving) information book.

Murphy, J.  (2009).  Truce.  New York:  Scholastic Press.


103 pages

Appetizer:  While considering the events that led up to and ended World War I, as well as the fall-out after, Murphy focuses in on December 24th and 25th, 1914, when soldiers on both sides of the war along the Western front, disobeyed their commanding officers and instead of fighting celebrated the holiday together.

Initially, Truce felt a little more textbook-y than I like my middle grade information books to feel.  While there are quite a few names and dates early on, Murphy is certain to accommodate the knowledge people had going into the war as well as the knowledge that only came long after the war had ended.

To help bring the text alive, Murphy includes a lot of first person accounts from the diaries and letters of soldiers, and a few are quoted more than once, but he doesn't follow any one for too long, which may have reduced the textbook feeling a little.  It was, however, difficult not to be emotionally stirred to chapters four and five of Truce, which share the events of late December 1914.  Murphy does an excellent job of showing how extraordinary the short-lived peace between some of the British and German soldiers was.  He also demonstrates how human all of the soldiers truly were despite propaganda and assumptions about who was right or wrong.  He describes the reluctance many soldiers showed to begin fighting again after the holiday had ended.

I like the number of photos the information book includes--mainly of soldiers in the trenches.  However, when I happened upon one of the several page spreads that didn't have any photos, it really made me pause, wondering if now would be a good time to take a break.  Chances are good, middle grade students won't want to read those pages either.

Personally, reading Truce was a very nice refresher for me.  Since I haven't extensively studied World War I since, like, the fifth grade.  Frankly, I was impressed by how much I remembered that I remembered anything about the war.

Dinner Conversation:

"On July 29, 1914, the world's peace was shattered as the artillery of Austria-Hungary began shelling the troops of the country to its south, Serbia.  What followed was like a row of dominoes falling over, as one European country after another rushed into war."

"None of these young men realized that their leaders had lied to get them to fight in a war that did not have to happen.  Nor could they know that on December 25, 1914, they would openly defy their commanding officers and meet on the battlefield in what can only be described as a Christmas miracle."

"Only those at the highest levels of government knew that the war could have been avoided."

"When these soldiers rushed to enlist, they brought with them nineteenth-century ideas of what warfare would be like.  Most men believed that battles were fought under gentlemanly (if unwritten) rules...Unfortunately, now they were using twentieth-century weapons with truly terrible destructive powers" (p. 22).

"In a few places, something remarkable took place.  Soldiers from both sides got out of their trenches and cautiously walked into No Man's Land.  Meeting in the middle, they would shake hands" (p. 61).

To Go with the Meal:

While this book (or several pages here and there) would be natural to incorporate into history lessons on the first World War, Truce could also be paired with Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan if a teacher used that book as a read aloud.

I am by no means recommending Truce as a feel good Christmas story.  Nonetheless, it would be an excellent book to incorporate at least a few chapters into a segment on World War I.  And if a teacher can negotiate it so students will be reading said chapters in mid-December, all the better.

Tasty Rating:  !!!

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