Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book Review: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood by Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood by Nathan Hale

Here's another round of joke-filled, mostly accurate history by Nathan Hale, present day writer and illustrator. He has Nathan Hale, 18th century American spy, tell the history of World War I to his hangman and the British officer presiding at his execution (there's a whole back story where Hale falls into a history book and comes out with knowledge of future events, just the sort of plot contrivance you need to have an American War for Independence patriot narrate historical events after his death). The officer wants the whole war described, a tall order for World War I; the hangman wants cute animals and jokes, a tricky problem with the grimness of World War I (see the title of the book). Hale's tale starts with the political landscape of Europe in the 1910s and the small circumstances that blew out of proportion, starting off World War I. To satisfy the hangman, Hale depicts each nationality as an animal, often a national symbol (like the Russians are bears and the Germans are eagles). This system works surprisingly well for keeping track of who is which nationality and for making jokes about nations (since Belgium is represented by lions, the British have to be bulldogs. What's worse, since Germans are eagles, Americans are depicted as bunnies!). The story concentrates mostly on the ground action on the western front, but the air war and the Russian and Ottoman fronts are referenced when significant events happened there.

Even though the book covers four or five years of history and many different battles all over Europe, even without a central character to follow through the conflict, the history of the war is still engaging while depressing. The use of trenches, gas attacks, and frontal assaults that were tantamount to suicide raids are depicted but not in such detail as to make the book kid-unfriendly. The overall humorous tone of the book (which is never in bad taste) takes the edge off as well.

This book is a great introduction to World War I for kids and a nice review for adults.

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