cover image And the Soldiers Sang

And the Soldiers Sang

J. Patrick Lewis, illus. by Gary Kelley. Creative Editions, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-56846-220-2

Timed to coincide with Armistice Day, this solemn graphic narrative recalls Christmas 1914, when British and German soldiers called a fleeting truce. American children’s poet laureate Lewis, who worked with Kelley on Black Cat Bone, composes grim first-person prose. Leaving it to readers to decode the WWI colloquialisms, Lewis writes from the viewpoint of a fictive Welsh infantryman, Owen Davies: “In December, lying doggo each morning in my serpentine cellar, I wrote in [my] gilded daybook.... The frozen ground above became a bone orchard for soldiers running on raids—and falling like ninepins quick with lead.” On Christmas Eve, Owen hears a “baritone singing Stille Nacht—Silent Night”; an accomplished tenor himself, he responds with “The First Noel.” Tentatively, the rival sides approach each other for an unprecedented and brief Christmas celebration. Kelley conjures the muddy trenches and frigid European winter in his brooding, earth-tone pastels. His contorted soldiers, surrounded by bare-limbed trees and barbed wire, evoke the disturbing sketches of Egon Schiele. Concluding in tragedy, it memorializes a century-old war and a snuffed-out glimmer of peace. Ages 9–up. (Nov.)