This lovely picturebook, a sequel to Where the Poppies Now Grow, is a celebration of the historical moment when men reached out the hand of friendship to the enemy and found peace on Christmas Day 1914. A beautifully touching story highlighting the power of hope and friendship in dark times, this book is wonderful at any time but especially at Christmas.
It is Christmas Eve 1914 and in the German trenches a group of soldiers start singing “Stille Nacht”. The British soldiers spot the lights appearing in the distance and, hearing the voices, join in with “Silent Night.” The next day, on Christmas Day itself, both sides briefly put down their weapons and approach each other in No-Man’s Land where, led by Ben and Ray and Karl and Lars, they reach out the hand of friendship to each other. Enemies briefly become friends and join together in a friendly game of football.
One hundred years later this historical event seems scarcely believable but yet it still has a poignant significance and demonstrates that the human spirit can be a power for good even in these dreadful circumstances. This very special book has captured that spirit perfectly for children. Hilary Robinson’s poetic text flows with an ease which makes it a joy to read aloud. I like the way the repetition builds gradually as the story unfolds adding to the sense of climax at the key point in the story. The illustrations by Martin Impey are wonderful with so many details for children to pore over and spot. They show the reality of the situation with the barbed wire and explosions but also glimpses of joy such as the Christmas robin and the dove of peace. The soldiers look young, as most of them were, and the smiles and hopeful expressions as the two sides come together for the historic meeting are extremely moving. There are thoughtful touches such as the photo of a wife and baby clutched in one of the German soldier’s hands. All of this adds to the sense of these being people plunged into a situation not of their making.
As an adult it’s impossible not to be moved by this and despite the sense of loss this is very much a celebration of the triumph of humanity at a time of despair. This stunning picture book will introduce children to this theme in a sensitive and thoughtful way and this would be a valuable addition to primary school shelves.
Strauss House Productions have created a beautiful video linked to this book which will give you a taste of what it is like. You can watch it here.