Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Walter Dean Myers
Historical Fiction
For ages 13 and up
Scholastic Press, 2013   ISBN: 978-0545384285

Not that long ago Josiah “Woody” Wedgewood was an art student living in New York City learning his craft. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor he went back to his hometown in Virginia and enlisted in the army. Unlike many of his brothers in arms, Woody does not feel a compulsion to kill the enemy, but he does feel that he needs to do his duty by his country. He wants to do what is asked of him and then go home.

Woody has now been in England for eight months. It is May, 1944 and everyone knows that soon the allied forces will be launching an offensive against the Nazis in an effort to take back France. The invasion is imminent and the soldiers have been training hard so that they will be ready for it. Woody and the other soldiers in the 62nd infantry division have been practicing climbing down rope ladders from transport ships into LCVPs so that they can do it quickly and efficiently. They are ready and eager to be off, but they have to wait until General Eisenhower decides that the time is right.

On June 5th they load up into the transports yet again, not knowing, yet again, if they will be sent back to land to wait. This time though they wait at sea for the weather to clear. Maybe this time it will be the real thing. Woody and his friends talk about what is going to happen when they get to France, and all of them believe that this is going to be a “mop-up operation” and that the Nazis will run in front of their advance. The Germans are, after all, stupid and it will to easy to defeat them.

Finally, early in the morning on June 6th the boys in the 62nd climb down those ladders and into the LCVPs which carry them towards the French coast. They have been told about the obstacles that the Germans have put in place to prevent landing craft from pushing up on the beach. They have been told about the barbed wire, and they know what they have to do as soon as they hit the water. What they don’t expect when they get to their destination is that the German’s will ruthlessly pick them off in the boats, in the water, and on the beach. Woody watches in horror as his comrades fall all around him. The fact that he makes it to the beachhead in one piece is pure luck. By the time he and a handful of other soldiers make it inland for a short distance the young men are terrified, traumatized, and suddenly aware that the war they dreamed off is nothing like the real thing.

The survivors of the landings are brought together to form groups. Woody finds himself in a “fighting unit” with a few of his friends along with survivors from other companies. Led by an officer they do not know, Lieutenant Milton, Woody and his fellow soldiers do what they are told. Their orders often don’t make sense but they follow them, terrified out of their wits. When they are told to cross fields that are bounded by thick hedgerows no one is happy. As they cross the fields they are exposed and the Germans sheltering under the hedgerow ahead of them can easily pick them off. The Germans are using the hedgerows to slow the Americans down so that they have the opportunity to bring reinforcements into the area. They cannot be allowed to do this, which means that Woody and his fellow soldiers have to keep pushing on. They cannot slow down and regroup, and they are facing a determined enemy of soldiers who are skilled, well supplied, and prepared. The Germans are not stupid and they are not going to give up easily.

In this harrowing story we experience, through the eyes of a young man, what it was like to land on the beaches in Normandy on D-Day. Like so many young soldiers before and since that time, Woody does not have a realistic sense of what war is really like, and when he finds himself in the middle of the chaos and carnage he is deeply affected.

Walter Dean Myers tells Woody’s story with honesty and sensitivity, giving his readers a story experience that is powerful and memorable.