War of the Eagles

160 pages,
ISBN: 1551430991

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Children`s Books
by Jeanette Clark

Eric Walters has what every politician would kill for: name recognition. Here's a guy who's won the Silver Birch Award twice, and as everyone knows, it's kids-38,000 of them this year who vote for the winners-not adults who know what's best. His latest book doesn't have the pace and suspense of Trapped in Ice, his contender for the 1998 Ruth Schwartz Award, but it has lots of action and some wonderfully authentic vignettes of life on a big army base, clearly culled from the memories of the author's father, who was stationed in Prince Rupert during the war, when this story takes place.

Jed is the son of an English father (away flying Spitfires in the "real" war overseas), with whom he identifies racially. He and his Haida mother and Tsimshian grandmother are very close, but Jed is reluctant to acknowledge his Native heritage even to himself. He and his best friend, Tadashi, work on the base in Rupert, a town that grows from 6,000 to 21,000 during the war, with his mother, who is the camp cook. The story concerns the relationships among Jed's family, Tadashi and his family, and the military, on the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Their interaction and their response to the banishment of Tadashi from the base and ultimately of all the Japanese from their villages give the reader a very good close-up look at the fall-out from the Canadian government's decision to intern the Japanese. This is the great value of this book. By focusing on the close relationship between the two boys, Walters allows kids to better understand what that decision really meant to the people involved.

That Jed is part Indian adds another element to this racial mix. It's difficult to pick a politically correct route through this minefield and still have a good story. The accepted stereotypes of the time are perhaps unavoidably part of the thinking of young Jed, who is struggling to be true to himself, to his friend, and to his father.

This book will be invaluable to teachers and parents who are trying to give children an understanding of this episode in Canadian history. It would be interesting for the kids to compare the points of view in War of the Eagles with those expressed in Joy Kogawa's Obasan. It will provide a good jumping-off point for discussion on racial stereotyping, and it will offer some fun and adventure at the same time.

And what about the Eagles? Eric Walters describes how an eagle in a photograph from his father's army days gave the spark for this story. The book's title suggests a more magnificent creature than poor old Eddy, wounded by soldiers and forced, like the Japanese, to live in captivity until, at the end, a well-aimed shot from Jed shocks this great predator into flight and freedom. Kids aren't likely to notice, more's the pity, but the adult reader is sometimes jolted out of the story by a phrase or sentence that's awkwardly put together, sometimes even grammatically wrong. Look at this: "I felt a wave of relief wash over me which I tried to keep off my face." Editors take note. You need to keep an eagle eye out for this kind of thing. 

Jeanette Clark is a teacher-librarian who takes special delight in bringing together young people and books that will suit them. She herself was raised on a diet of Enid Blyton, Angela Brazil, and School Girl Comics.


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