“About one hundred years ago, the whole world went to war. The war was supposed to last months. It lasted years.” This story about Pierre, a World War I French soldier, is told with spare narrative and is illustrated using antique military miniatures, photographed to create stunning moments.
Pierre is a young French soldier who quietly left his regiment for two days to celebrate Christmas with his mother. Upon his return, he is imprisoned for desertion and awaits execution. As he waits, he looks back on his life as a soldier: his choice to sign up, his dreams of glory, and the horrific truth of the battlefield. He remembers sharing coffee with German soldiers who were tired of fighting, and of spending what would be his final Christmas with his mother. His friend, Gilbert, comes by to bring him food and wine, and makes a promise to carry Pierre’s letter to his mother.
The Good Son is not a picture book for young children; it’s for middle schoolers and up. The use of miniatures brings home the scale of war: seeing the lines and lines of soldiers going into battle looks impressive, but turned becomes chilling when you understand that young men, not toys, headed to battle. There are beautiful and horrifying shots of battlefield explosions and war machines; pensive portraits by firelight as Pierre waits for word from the colonel. The text is heart aching, as we read about a young man’s struggle to understand how to be a good son and a good soldier. An author’s note and a note on the photography process provide a deeper look into the creation of the book and offers some further insight into Pierre’s story.
Beautifully written and photographed, this is a story that will provoke thought and discussion. A good book group choice.