From The Record August 4, 2017
We have reached that delightful time of the summer when the days seem to stretch out endlessly before us, with the distant call of work and school barely touching our mental state. The beautiful long days of cottage times, of canoe trips, and camping. The lazy hazy days of summer popsicles and BBQs and beach wear. I love summer and all of its sparking, bustling activity, and I notoriously over-plan my weekends. I try to max out the fun summer day activities our family can enjoy. This leaves an unfortunately small amount of time left for pleasure reading. But, we have had our fair share of rainy days this summer and more will surely follow. There is still time to head to your local library and choose some great books to bring a long for the road trip, or to have in your back pocket for the day after the exhausting visit to the zoo or local theme park. We all need time to rest and to curl up with a good book. I think it vital for kids to get the feeling that vacation can be about exploring and engaging with a great story. Every day of summer shouldn’t be chock-a-block full of special activities, because entertaining yourself, and working against boredom is an important life skill.
After the screen time has been maxed out, and the play date is done and all the toys become dull, there are always books.
I read the Guests of War trilogy by the perennially excellent young adult author Kit Pearson for the first time when I was 11, after receiving the first installment as a birthday gift from my Aunt Sue. I recall enjoying it greatly, and reading the subsequent two books in my 6th grade class, and buying them for myself with Christmas money. These are the kind of stories which one can sit in a good chair all afternoon reading. Kit Pearson weaves a complex setting of Second World War English countryside, transatlantic travel, and bustling Canadian city life.
The first book, The Sky is Falling (Lennoxville Library), sets the scene for Norah and Gavin, as they must leave their comfy village cottage for the distant and scary world across the ocean, in order to be safe from the conflict of World War II. Many commonwealth nations took in children and youth displaced from parts of England during the blitz. These children journeyed across the sea to spend months or years apart from their families, in order to escape the German bombs. The Sky is Falling narrative continues over the course of a year as they settle into their foster home, a setting very different from what they know. The children must grow and learn to adapt to the massive change and trauma that circumstance has presented them. The story of the two siblings continues in the two subsequent novels, which bring us through the war and onto new and different challenges and tragedies for the family. This story, a work of historical fiction, was inspired by the author hearing tales of the “war guests” from a Toronto storyteller and librarian who actually volunteered during the war years to spend time reading to children as they waited to be cleared to head to their foster families in Canada.
I have read the trilogy three times, once as a child, once as an older teen, and more recently as a mother. Each time I felt very different about the adventures of these children, plucked from their homes in a way which saved many lives, but which also created many challenges. Our world has changes so much, but stories of displaced children in times of war are sadly still extremely relevant. While these books do contain sadness and difficult circumstances, ultimately they are stories of growing up, of family and of childhood adventures. The emotions and trials of youth have not changed over the generations. Kids still deal with sibling rivalry, the awkwardness of budding puberty and navigating the world of adults as a teenager.
This vivid slice of Canadian history is written beautifully by the great Kit Pearson. This series of books is definitely a wonderful way to spend time on a glorious summer day.