Work Title: Christmas in the Trenches
Work Author(s): John McCutcheon; Henri SØrensen, illustrator
Color illustrations, 32 pages plus audio CD, Hardcover $18.95
Children's Picture Book
Reviewer: Karen McCarthy
It's Christmas Eve, 1914, on the Western Front during World War I. British forces are lined up in trenches on one side of a battlefield in occupied France; German forces on the other. "No Man's Land" stretches in between. A silent, sparkling night falls.
Suddenly, says the author, a lone, clear voice is heard, singing a Christmas carol in German. English voices answer with a verse of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." The Germans then begin a familiar tune---"Stille Nacht"---and the British soldiers join in: "Silent Night..." One German comes bravely across the enemy line, carrying Christmas peace: "In one hand he held a white truce flag and in the other a Christmas tree shining with candles."
Gradually, the two armies creep towards each other, to share holiday cheer. They exchange chocolates, show photos of their families, make music, and play a moonlit game of soccer. For a few hours, until dawn sends them back to their trenches, they aren't enemy soldiers; they are just human beings, young men far from home trying to make sense of the world.
This "Christmas Truce" actually happened, up and down the Great War fronts. According to McCutcheon, "As many as 100,000 may have participated in the unofficial truces that Christmas." McCutcheon is a renowned folksinger, songwriter, storyteller, and instrumentalist who plays more than a dozen instruments, including banjo, autoharp, and hammered dulcimer. He has released dozens of albums, and his song "Happy Adoption Day" was also rendered as a children's book. He composed Christmas in the Trenches originally as a song. After he heard the story, he says, the song came to him whole; he simply wrote it down, an act of spiritual connection as deep and significant as the truce itself.
In this superb book, McCutcheon expands on history, creating a present-day English family whose grandfather, Francis Tolliver, is the song's protagonist. Tolliver tells his grandchildren, in simple, rhythmic prose, the story of his favorite Christmas, when "for just one night, yes, we were all heroes."
The illustrations---full-color oil paintings---portray a cozy Christmas, with flames dancing in the fireplace, the detritus of present-opening under the tree, and grownups chatting...