Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Protagonist is female in Canuck war novel

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The Road to Afghanistan (NorthWinds, 32 pages, $20 hardcover) by prolific Toronto author Linda Granfield is a sensitive tribute to the Canadian troops who have served in this war.

Told from the viewpoint of a female soldier whose family has a long history of military service, this honest young-adult novel recounts tragedy, sacrifice and fear, as well as courage and pride.

The book is illustrated by Toronto artist Brian Deines' large and striking paintings, done in a muted, unfocused style, which suits the subject matter. Aimed at ages seven and up, this book might well be used to explain the Afghanistan conflict to the youngest readers.

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Peterborough, Ont., author Julie Johnston received the Governor General's Literary Award for her first two books, Hero of Lesser Causes and Adam and Eve and Pinch Me. Her latest young-adult novel, Little Red Lies (Tundra Books, 352 pages, $22 hardcover) is also memorable.

It is 1946, and 13-year-old Rachel can hardly wait for her brother, Jamie, to return from the war. She has plans for all the things they did together before he left.

But when he arrives back home, she finds Jamie changed. He is older, quieter and less fun-loving. Her parents seem worried and distracted. When Jamie is diagnosed with a serious illness, it's just one more thing Rachel has to deal with.

Meanwhile, she has a serious crush on one of her teachers and believes he returns her feelings. Should she run away from her problems?

Johnston writes powerfully about the emotions and challenges of her young readers. Written for ages 12 and up, Little Red Lies is another impressive book by a superior Canadian author.

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Former Vancouver (now Portland, Ore.) writer David Ward has also tackled the theme of Canada at war, but this time his period is the First World War and the main character is a pilot who participates in famous dogfights over enemy territory.

Fire in the Sky (Scholastic Canada, 216 pages, $15, hard cover) is a good read for ages 10 and older.

Coming from a farm near Winnipeg (Ward makes the mistake of calling it a "Winnipeg farm," rather than a Manitoba farm), Paul Townend is fascinated by the new "flying machines" and joins up in 1916 as soon as he turns 19.

Ward captures the enthusiasm and excitement of flying that Paul (or Stich as he's nicknamed) feels. His delight is tempered by his anger and grief over the loss of friends and fellow pilots as they take part in frequent missions in unfamiliar planes. He even has a memorable encounter with the Red Baron, as they engage in dramatic aerial combat.

An added bonus of this small book, part of the I Am Canada series, is Ward's obvious familiarity with the aircraft of the era. Photographs of the planes are included in an appendix.

While Ward -- whose previous books have been hockey themed -- does not ignore the terrible toll the war takes on both the fighting men and their families, he manages to keep the outlook hopeful.

Paul forms a relationship with young woman when his plane crash-lands in a farmer's field, and his letters and sketches home to his young sister, Sarah, remind us of better times ahead.

Helen Norrie is a former teacher-librarian who has taught children's literature at the University of Manitoba. Her column appears on the third weekend of the month.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 16, 2013 A1

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