Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion

Chris Barton
Illustrator:  Victo Ngai 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Millbrook Press, 2017   ISBN: 978-1512410143

When World War I broke out, the military establishment thought that they would be fighting the way they had done in the past. It turned out that this was not the case. This time around people had airplanes to bomb targets with, tanks, and submarines. For Britain, the German submarines soon became a very big problem indeed. Ships that were bringing much needed food and other supplies to the island nation were getting blown out of the water by the German U-boats. The country was faced with the prospect of having “to surrender so that its people could eat.”

This could not be allowed to happen. The British came up with all kinds of ideas to try to protect their supply ships. The ships traveled in convoys and that were guarded by armed vessels, which tried to blow the submarines up using depth charges. These tactics helped, but would they be enough?

Then Lieutenant-Commander Norman Wilkinson, who was in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, came up with the idea of camouflaging the ships. How could one do such a thing? There is no way to paint a ship so that it blends in with the water. How about if they did the opposite instead? How about if they painted the ships in bold colors and startling patterns so as to “dazzle” the enemy. The patterns would confuse the Germans so that they would have no idea which direction the ships were going in, and it would therefore be very difficult for them to target the cargo ships with torpedoes. After all, a torpedo has be fired at the place where the ship is going to be in a few minutes, not where it is now. If you cannot tell where it is going to be, you cannot successfully attack it.

Wilkinson came up with a dazzle design for one ship, and the Royal Navy like what he had done so much that they asked him to paint more of the supply ships. Who knew that something so “seemingly bonkers” could actually help fight a war.

This wonderful picture book celebrates the way in which creative and out-of-the-box ideas really can be applied to real world problems; even if they seem completely crazy. Taking such steps can be particularly appropriate in times of trouble. Sometimes you have to be brave enough to do things that you would not normally do; for the good of all.

With gorgeous artwork that delights the eye and lifts the spirits, and a story that is deliciously interesting and just a little quirky, this is a book that readers young and not so young will enjoy.