cover image The Little Ships: The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II

The Little Ships: The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II

Louise Borden. Margaret K. McElderry Books, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80827-2

Borden (Albie the Lifeguard) rousingly illuminates one of the most extraordinary maneuvers of WW II. On the last day of May, 1940, the narrator joins her fisherman father in his small boat to travel in a five-mile-long convoy from the coast of England to Dunkirk, where nearly half a million Allied soldiers have been trapped by the Germans. Proprietors of these ""little ships,"" as English poet laureate John Masefield was later to eulogize them, worked alongside military vessels to rescue 338,226 men in nine days; Borden humanizes these numbers with her imaginative projection of her narrator's thoughts and feelings. Foreman brings to the art the same warmth and sensitivity to his subject as in his War Boy. His interpretation of the text, however, is not always literal, and the enormity of the undertaking does not entirely come through. For example, the illustration paired with a description of the beach at Dunkirk as covered by hungry, thirsty men, barking dogs, horses running loose and ""the wild mess of an army on the run"" shows orderly lines of men filing toward the small craft awaiting them. On the other hand, Foreman, like Borden, wholly succeeds in portraying the narrator and her father (and, by extension, their comrades) as ordinary people propelled unself-consciously into heroism. This well-conceived volume benefits also from a foreword by a former lieutenant who commanded a British warship at Dunkirk; excerpts from Winston Churchill's speech following the evacuation; and an author's note, which strikingly concludes, ""This story is part truth, part fiction. It could have happened. Maybe, indeed, it did."" Ages 9-up. (Apr.)