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Monday, December 20, 2010

The best Christmas present in the world, written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Michael Foreman. Egmont, Raincoast, 2004. $12.50 ages 8 and up

"I should like to be able to tell you that
we began it. But the truth, I'm ashamed
to say, is that Fritz began it. First someone
saw a white flag waving from the trenches
opposite. Then they were calling out to us
from across no-man's-land, 'Happy
Christmas, Tommy! Happy Christmas!
Wheh we got over the surprise some
of us shouted back, 'Same to you, Fritz!
Same to you!"

This quietly eloquent book is mostly told in letter form, written from the front during World War I. It was sent by Jim Macpherson to his beloved Connie in December 1914 and tells an amazing story. The letter itself is found in an old second-hand desk, bought in poor condition many years after the end of the war.

Jim tells Connie of the wonderful events that transpired on Christmas Day 1914 between the British and German forces. We know it as the Christmas Day Truce. As the troops spent the morning standing in the trenches, a white flag waved from across no-man's land, and a German soldier lead his troops up and over the side of their trench, inviting the British troops to do the same. It seemed they had schnapps and sausage and were willing to share. The British soldiers followed Private Morris toward their 'enemy':

"In the middle of a war we were making peace."

Once introductions were made, they shared their rations...rum and sausage, and stories of home and family. They even shared a cake Connie had sent. And then, they played football. Game done, food eaten and well wishes shared, the troops returned to their trenches and from across the way sang alternating carols throughout the night.

I get goosebumps reading this story and cannot imagine the joy and relief when the two sides realized that each wanted the war over as quickly as possible. They each longed for peace.

The ending offers up another Christmas present to a woman who has forgotten much about her past, but never the love she felt for her own true love, Jim Macpherson. It is poignant and oh, so memorable. Michael Morpurgo creates rich and believable characters, and sets their stories within the context of history. Here he creates a story of love and remembrance, based on a page from the world's story.

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