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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

DIEPPE, written by Hugh Brewster. Scholastic, 2009. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"Dieppe was one of the several French
ports targeted for possible raids early
in 1942. Only 107 kilometres across the
Channel, it was thought to be lightly
defended and to have beaches suitable
for landings. An important enemy radar
station stood on the cliffs west of the town.
Perhaps 500 commandos could knock it out?"

If you know little about Dieppe, or Canadian history in fact, you need to meet Hugh Brewster. Well, through his books at the very least. I have come to know much more than I once did by reading and talking about his fine books with teachers and students. Many Canadians are not even sure in which war the raid on Dieppe occurred. This book will surely change is filled with sadness as it explores the role played by Canadian soldiers overseas during WWII. It is a book written for young people, while being equally of interest to adults. I read it and that is why I am telling you about it here.

Nothing has been omitted. The raid is detailed from the planning to its execution, the abject failure and the resulting consequences for those who survived. In 2007 the sixty-fifth reunion was observed and is described. The accuracy in the telling is admirable and the author has filled its pages with maps, timelines, photos, numerous quotes and informative sidebars. Once started, I could not put it down. As you might imagine, stories of war are not my usual fare. The writing is so personal and attentive to detail that I found myself wanting to know more. In the reading I became a more informed Canadian, and that is a good thing!

Each double page spread offers an important part of the plan for Dieppe. The plan was made, the training done, maps presented and the raid put into action. In the end:

"Of the 6,090 men who took part in the Dieppe landings, 4,384 were killed, wounded or missing - a loss of almost three-quarters of them. Of the 1,027 who were killed, 907 were Canadians. All the equipment landed on shore was lost. The Royal Navy lost 550 men and 34 boats."

The time following the Dieppe raid brought more heartache for the men who were imprisoned and fought daily to maintain their spirits, their health and their unwavering belief that the war would come to an end and they would return home to their families.

"The people of Dieppe have never forgotten the Canadians and their sacrifice. Every August 19, Dieppe's streets are festooned with Canadian flags, and memorial services are held on the beaches and at the Canadian War Cemetery."

There is an index, a glossary, a selected bibliography, a list of websites for further learning, and a section about 'Dieppe Veterans' which highlights some of their post-service lives.

If this is your introduction to historian Hugh Brewster, I trust it will lead you to look for some of his other books. These include: On Juno Beach (Scholastic, 2004), At Vimy Ridge (Schoalstic, 2008), Anastasia's Album (Little Brown, 1996), To Be a Princess (Scholastic, 2001) and The Other Mozart (Abrams, 2006).

As I signed off tonight and checked my email, I found an announcement that Dieppe has been named the Honour book for Information Book of the Year by the Vancouver Children's Literature Roundtable. Congratulations to Hugh for that!

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