cover image There Come a Soldier

There Come a Soldier

Peggy Mercer, , illus. by Ron Mazellan. . Handprint, $17.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-1-59354-192-7

Based on the author’s father’s reminiscences of his Army service during WWII, including the Battle of the Bulge, this somewhat theatrical tribute also sends a message that all men are brothers. In a dual framework, Mazellan’s (The Longest Season ) representational, dramatic paintings and Mercer’s (Ten Cows to Texas ) admiring text alternate between showing “Papa” as a soldier on the front (no actual battle scenes are depicted) and as a boy on his sharecropper family’s Georgia farm. Each wartime scenario triggers a flashback to the soldier’s boyhood, underscoring the foundations for his physical stamina, courage and loyalty. In the childhood sequences, each introduced with the words, “For he was a boy once...,” he leaps from a barn hayloft and eggs on his siblings and friend Ruthie to follow suit, “although it took a right smart of coaxing” (this memory precedes a description of Papa’s parachuting into occupied France), rises “’fore the rooster crowed” to pick cotton and listens to his mother’s counsel, “Always be a brother.” Papa heeds this “gift” in an imagery-laden encounter: taking refuge one night in a cold barn, he finds himself shoulder-to-shoulder with exhausted soldiers from the enemy army. A “ray of light” filtering down through the barn’s rafters forms a “wide and perfect ring” around the boots of the sleeping soldiers, who huddle together “against this winter, against this war.” Discharged from the army with a Purple Heart, he returns to the theme of the circle at the end: “The circle holds. And when enemies [come,] let ’em in.” Ages 5-up. (Oct.)