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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Victo Ngai. Millbrook Press, Lerner. Thomas Allen & Son, 2017. $28.99 ages 9 and up

"The sinking of ships - especially non-fighting ships - without any warning was new too. In the early years of the war, Germany limited which ships its U-boats attacked. But in early 1917, it saw a chance to win the war by starving Britain, its strongest opponent. Britain tried different ways to stop the submarine attacks."

I had never heard about dazzle ships. So, I found this book to be both fascinating and beautiful, as you can see from the accompanying artwork.

Submarine attacks by German U-boats were increasing during World War I. Never before had ships been attacked so relentlessly. When Germany saw a chance to starve Britain by sinking supply ships, the British knew something had to be done. Many suggestions were made and discarded.

"And a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve lieutenant-commander named Norman Wilkinson had another suggestion. It was unlikely. It was improbable. It may have even seemed bonkers. His idea was to camouflage the ships."

Fooling the enemy was what they were looking to do. Others had suggested camouflage. Perhaps its time had  come. Desperate, the government agreed. Hoping to cause confusion for the enemy, the ships were painted. Could it work?

Artist Victo Ngai uses mixed media to create beautifully designed pages to explore color and 'dazzle' in full page spreads. They are striking and worthy of attention. More than 4,000 ships were painted; in the end, there was no real proof that they had done what they were meant to do. This nonfiction book does provide a engaging look at an unusual and relatively unknown side of the war effort.

"Times change. Technology changes. Torpedoes get faster, submarine targeting systems get computerized, challenges of all kinds get replaced by new ones. But a willingness to tackle problems by trying the unlikely, the improbable, the seemingly bonkers will always be needed."

Fascinating stuff, indeed.

Notes from both author and illustrator are included in back matter, as well as a timeline with archival photos, and a list for further reading.

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