Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

A Year of Borrowed Men

Barker, Michelle (Author)
Benoit, Renné (Illustrator)
Pajama Press 2015. 40 pages
First published: 2015
ISBN: 9781927485835 (hardcover)
Original language: English
Book type: Picture Book

Text Elements:

character, setting, structures and features

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL Intensive & Enriched
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

With the men in her family away at war, Gerda’s mother is sent three French prisoners—Gabriel, Fermaine and Albert—to take their place on the farm. Under strict orders from the German government, they are kept in a small, cold space that smells of manure. Seven-year-old Gerda wants the French men to join them at the table and to be friendly. But neighbours are suspicious and report their behaviour to German soldiers, who reprimand the family. The little girl soon finds ways to show kindness that do not attract outside attention.

Reflecting the experience of the author’s mother in Germany during WWII, the first-person voice is matter-of-fact, yet intimate, as though recounting a memory: “When the borrowed men ate, they sat on wobbly chairs in the pig kitchen and used a big box as their table.”

The gentle, earth-toned illustrations in watercolour, colour pencil and pastel capture the feeling of a distant era, with the wide-eyed facial expressions of young Gerda and the hushed finger-to-lips gestures of her mother showing the tensions under which they lived. Sweeping landscapes on the farm contrast with the confined quarters of the French prisoners of war, yet there is sweetness to all the imagery, as seen through a child’s eyes.

This sensitive portrayal of difficult subject matter includes real photographs from the author’s mother’s childhood, adding depth and context.

  •  Discuss what it means to be a prisoner of war.
  •  

    From the cover, make predictions about the story. What are borrowed men?

  •  

    Go for a picture walk of this book, and then another walk through Dieppe: Canada’s Darkest Day of World War II by Hugh Brewster. How are the pictures and tone similar or different from one book to the next?

  •  

    Consider how the author has constructed her story and note what elements make this a memoir (a story of personal experience over time). Write your own memoir using some of the features you just noted.

  •  

    From the cover, make predictions about the story. What are borrowed men? Go for a picture walk. How are the pictures similar to or different from those in other books about WWII?

  •  

    The back cover explains that families must not treat their borrowed men with special favours or acts of kindness. What might such favours or acts of kindness be?

  •  

    Draw a mind map of the story. Use your knowledge of WWII to set this story in a historical context. When and where does it take place? What is happening in Germany? In France?

  • To construct his/her identity
  • To exercise critical judgment
  • To use information
  • Citizenship and Community Life