Franklin and Winston by Douglas Wood

Lynn: Growing up, I was fascinated by my parent’s stories of WWII.  My father could always be coaxed into talking about the history and politics of the time and I’ve never lost my interest in the period.  There was always high demand for books on WWII in my middle school library.  However when I saw Franklin and Winston:  A Christmas That Changed the World (Candlewick 2011) I wondered if there was an audience for a picture book on a pretty esoteric aspect of that subject.  The book chronicles the Christmas 1941 summit between Churchill and Roosevelt and their staffs where critically important but thorny issues were negotiated concerning how the war would be managed.  The military leaderships of the two countries distrusted each other, priorities for initial placements of American troops were different, supply chain decisions were in dispute and much more.  The war was going badly everywhere and even the alliance itself was tenuous.  Fortunately for the world, these two extraordinary men understood how critical their partnership was and not only forged a working alliance but a solid friendship that would see them through some of the world’s darkest days.

Wood does an outstanding job of making an event crammed with complex details understandable by focusing on the two monumental personalities at the heart of the story.  Using well-documented incidents, humor and revealing quotations, he brings the two men to vibrant life for young readers.  An equal partner in the effort is Barry Moser whose full-page illustrations pulse with energy.  Based on photographs, the illustrations also intensify the sense of pivotal drama in the story.

So – will kids like it as much as I do?  I’ve only had a chance to try it on the focus group.  We sat down recently to read the book together.  They were a bit skeptical about it but humored me and happily were won over immediately by the opening which describes Churchill’s journey to the conference through a Force Ten gale.  They loved the illustrations and our favorite, hands down, is the picture of a pink rotund cigar chomping Churchill wrapped in a towel by the bathtub.  Their overall verdict?  “These guys were really awesome!”  The book led to many questions about WWII and I think it would make a fabulous discussion starter in a classroom.  I recently listened to One Christmas in Washington:  Roosevelt and Churchill Forge the Grand Alliance by David Bercuson and Holger Herwig (Blackstone Audio 2006) and I was fascinated by how closely Wood’s book paralleled the adult book.  Try this in a secondary classroom and ask students to identify issues that would continue to plague the alliance.  Or have them take another aspect of WWII and have them describe it for younger students – something that will help them to distill the critical components of the events.

Check out other Nonfiction Monday choices at The Children’s War.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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