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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Jean-Louis Besson
Age Range: 12+
Jean-Louis Besson is seven years old when the Second World War begins and German soldiers occupy his native France. From 1939 through to the end of the war in 1945, Jean-Louis describes his day-to-day life.
The Besson family evacuate to Brittany to avoid the anticipated bombing of Paris, but then return home to the city where they remain for the rest of the war. Jean-Louis watches the Germans' trucks and motorcycles as they roll into town to take up occupation. He learns to ride a bicycle and hates the look and smell of his gas mask. He chronicles how his family struggle with the rationing making do when the only plentiful food is rutabagas (big turnips used to feed livestock), illegally listens to British broadcasts, endure the air raids and how he helps his parents to make fake ration tickets. Jean-Louis witnesses the persecution and deportation of Jewish friends and neighbours, watches planes being shot down over Paris, and receives chewing gum from the American soldiers when the city of Paris is finally liberated.
Besson's detailed memories are understated and the charming cartoon-like line-and-watercolor illustrations that appear on every page provide subtle humour. In the foreword, Besson acknowledges ‘This book is neither the story of the German occupation of Paris, nor that of the Second World War, told for children. Rather, it is as faithful a recollection as possible of what a little boy in France saw and heard during those years’. Although not a book written for children, nevertheless this is a delightful illustrated memoir of an account of the war in occupied Paris seen through the eyes of a young child that will appeal to children and adults alike.