The Little Ships: The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II

Overview

In May of 1940 — the early days of World War II — half a million British and French soldiers were trapped in France. Weak and wounded, they needed aid. Help came in the form of countless small craft, steered by brave young men, in the legendary armada of "little ships" that sailed aross the English Channel. Many people wanted to be a part of the rescue mission. Here is the story of a girl who was so determined to help that she disguised herself as a boy to blend in with the men ...

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Overview

In May of 1940 — the early days of World War II — half a million British and French soldiers were trapped in France. Weak and wounded, they needed aid. Help came in the form of countless small craft, steered by brave young men, in the legendary armada of "little ships" that sailed aross the English Channel. Many people wanted to be a part of the rescue mission. Here is the story of a girl who was so determined to help that she disguised herself as a boy to blend in with the men as they sailed toward Dunkirk.

A young English girl and her father take their sturdy fishing boat and join the scores of other civilian vessels crossing the English Channel in a daring attempt to rescue Allied and British troops trapped by Nazi soldiers at Dunkirk.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A girl joins her father in his small boat to travel in a five-mile-long convoy from the coast of England to Dunkirk, where nearly half a million Allied soldiers have been trapped by Germans. PW called the book "rousingly illuminating." Ages 9-up. (Feb.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Borden Albie the Lifeguard rousingly illuminates one of the most extraordinary maneuvers of WW II. On the last day of May, 1940, the narrator joins her fisherman father in his small boat to travel in a five-mile-long convoy from the coast of England to Dunkirk, where nearly half a million Allied soldiers have been trapped by the Germans. Proprietors of these "little ships," as English poet laureate John Masefield was later to eulogize them, worked alongside military vessels to rescue 338,226 men in nine days; Borden humanizes these numbers with her imaginative projection of her narrator's thoughts and feelings. Foreman brings to the art the same warmth and sensitivity to his subject as in his War Boy. His interpretation of the text, however, is not always literal, and the enormity of the undertaking does not entirely come through. For example, the illustration paired with a description of the beach at Dunkirk as covered by hungry, thirsty men, barking dogs, horses running loose and "the wild mess of an army on the run" shows orderly lines of men filing toward the small craft awaiting them. On the other hand, Foreman, like Borden, wholly succeeds in portraying the narrator and her father and, by extension, their comrades as ordinary people propelled unself-consciously into heroism. This well-conceived volume benefits also from a foreword by a former lieutenant who commanded a British warship at Dunkirk; excerpts from Winston Churchill's speech following the evacuation; and an author's note, which strikingly concludes, "This story is part truth, part fiction. It could have happened. Maybe, indeed, it did." Ages 9-up. Apr.
Children's Literature - Melinda M. Sprinkle
In May of 1940, Englishman Martin Gates, along with his young daughter, took their fishing boat, the "Lucy," and traversed the turbulent waters of the English Channel to the shores of Dunkirk. She disguises herself as a boy in her brother's clothing and braves the rough sea to help save soldiers trapped by German troops. As part of the armada, they rescue men and ferry them to larger ships. The miraculous story is based on actual events but it is fiction. Borden's extremely moving text allows the reader to share the courage and strength of both the "little ships" and those who braved the danger to save the lives of their soldiers. Told from the point of view of the young girl, this book would be an exceptional read-aloud for units focusing on World War II. Author's notes are also included.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5Through this fictionalized account, the incredible story of the evacuation of Dunkirk in May, 1940, is brought to life. Borden provides the facts through the voice and eyes of a young girl who, with her fisherman father, joins the rescue effort, hoping to find her brother, John, somewhere among the thousands of men who have been fighting in France. Foreman's watercolor paintings add to the drama, excitement, and poignancy of the narrative. The flowing transparent hues of the scenes are just right for the watery setting, and the artist adds a stronger concentration of pigments to evoke the terror of beaches and ships under attack. Foreman provides panoramic views of the ragtag fleet of boats, the burning beaches, and thousands of men fleeing; then he moves in for a stirring close-up of a floundering soldier pulled over the side of the fishingboat. He also adds the visual story of a little dog, clutched in the arms of that near-drowning soldier, and then held tightly by the young narrator as she waits anxiously for word of her brother. The book ends with further facts about the evacuation and an excerpt from Winston Churchill's stirring speech ("We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds..."). The story should prompt children's curiosity about an event that for them is part of a far-distant past and stir their hearts with this family's courage.Barbara Kiefer, Teachers College, Columbia University, NY
Kirkus Reviews
A moving, fictionalized account of the "miracle of Dunkirk," in which an armada of 861 ships ferried to safety across the English Channel over 300,000 Allied soldiers who had been trapped in northern France by the Germans.

Added to the inherent historical drama of the story is the piquancy of its narration by a young girl from the English village of Deal, who dons her older brother's clothes to aid her father on the family's fishing boat, the Lucy. Spare, expressive text and Foreman's illustrations, as sullen in hue as the sky over the Channel, combine to bring the heroic story vividly to life: the uneasy chill of the "silent parade" over the waters to the sandy, flat beaches of Dunkirk, the thousands of soldiers waiting for rescue; the "mess of an army on the run"—loose French horses, barking dogs, abandoned equipment. Safe at home later, the girl listens to a broadcast of Churchill's thundering "We shall fight" speech (an excerpt appears under the author's note) and is "glad that Mr. Churchill didn't keep his words in his hands and in his eyes in the way of Deal fishermen." An eloquent ending to a book that makes a near-mythical event of WW II real and deeply personal.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689853968
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • Publication date: 2/1/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 799,623
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: AD690L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Louise Borden graduated from Denison University with a degree in history. She taught first graders and preschoolers and later was a part-owner of a bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to writing children’s books, she also speaks regularly to young students about the writing process. Her books include Good Luck, Mrs. K!, which won the Christopher Medal, and The A+ Custodian. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and you can visit her at LouiseBorden.com.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2013

    This is my one of my three favorite books of all time.  (The ot

    This is my one of my three favorite books of all time.
     (The other two are The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico and The Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde). 
    The characters are fictional, but the historical event is real and one of history's most inspiring events.
    We read it to my grandson when he was about six and he sat motionless with eyes wide open. 

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