Nonfiction That Makes the Grade: The Battle of the Bulge by Bill Cain
The Rosen Publishing Group has established themselves as publishers of a wide range of nonfiction books for the elementary and middle school reader. Their new series, Graphic Novels of World War II combines the long-term appeal of the subject of World War II with the current popularity of the graphic novel with middle and young adult readers.
I've just had an opportunity (not easy, since bookstores often don't carry much in the way of children's nonfiction) to examine one title in this series, The Battle of the Bulge: Turning Back Hitler's Final Push (Graphic Battles of World War II).
Author Bill Cain offers a conventional text overview of World War II on his contents page and lists the "key commanders" of the Allied and German forces, with thumbnail drawings of Omar Bradley, George S. Patton, Josef Dietrich, and Hasen von Manteuffel. A four-page introduction, "D-Day and Beyond" and "Prelude to the Bulge" competently hits the major events leading up to the historic battle, also known by the Allies as the Battle of the Ardennes and by the Germans as Wacht am Rhein. He also includes an afterword, "After the Battle," which points up the significance of this battle in the outcome of the war, also illustrated with sepia-toned photographs from the period.
The bulk of the book is a full-color comic-book portrayal of this significant battle, day by day, beginning with the Allied generals' sense of complacency following their breakout from Normandy and Hitler's top-secret plan to throw all of Germany's land army into an attack to split the British and American armies and force a treaty favorable to the Third Reich. Illustrator Dheeraj Verma adapts the retro look of classic action-adventure comics, with plenty of burning tanks, flashing rifles, and grimacing soldiers and an occasional "BOOM," and "AARRGGHH!" along the way.
Along with the major events of the battle, Verma throws in some classic anecdotes, including General Omar Bradley's being held at gunpoint while he tries to convince a rifle-wielding sentry that he is not a German imposter and that the capital of Illinois really is Springfield, not Chicago, and General McAuliffe's famous "Nuts" in reply to the German commander's call for his surrender at Bastogne. He also includes stories of individual heroism by medal winners and accounts of high-ranking strategists as they struggle to hold their front against the surprise attack. To their credit, both Cain and Verma do not slight the immense toll of the casualties of this bloody battle.
For reluctant readers who find long pages of text daunting, this series has a great deal to offer. Both authors provide background, motivation, and basic facts of the battle in an appealing format. Backmatter includes a good glossary, a short "Further Reading" section (albeit weighted toward Rosen's and their English partner Osprey's books), and index. An additional feature is an online umbrella site which promises to keep an updated list of websites related to the subject at http://www.rosenlinks.com/gbwwt/babu.
Other titles in this series are The Battle of Guadalcanal: Land and Sea Warfare in the South Pacific (Graphic Battles of World War II), The Battle of Iwo Jima: Guerrilla Warfare in the Pacific (Graphic Battles of World War II), The Battle of Midway: The Destruction of the Japanese Fleet (Graphic Battles of World War II), D-Day: The Liberation of Europe Begins (Graphic Battles of World War II), and Pearl Harbor: A Day of Infamy (Graphic Battles of World War II).
Reading levels for this series, according to Accelerated Reader, range from grade 5.6 to 6.6.