Monday April 03, 2017

How Linda Granfield keeps history alive

Linda Granfield has written a picture book based on the true story of Leslie Miller, a Canadian soldier who mailed a handful of acorns home from the front lines of Vimy Ridge.

Linda Granfield has written a picture book based on the true story of Leslie Miller, a Canadian soldier who mailed a handful of acorns home from the front lines of Vimy Ridge. (Scholastic Canada)

Listen 14:20

Award-winning author Linda Granfield has penned over 30 history books for children about Canada's contribution to the world's most significant wars and conflicts. Her latest book, The Vimy Oaks: A Journey to Peace, tells the story of Leslie Miller, a man from a small Ontario farming community who left his teaching job when he was 25 year old to fight with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in England and France. 

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a pivotal moment for Canada in the First World War. This April will mark the 100th anniversary of what is considered to be one of the greatest and most celebrated military victories in Canadian history. While fighting on Vimy Ridge in 1917, Miller collected a few acorns from the ground and mailed it home to Canada where they were planted on his family farm, eventually growing to be enormous, majestic oak trees. 

Sounds of the battle

In the tunnels, you sit there and they warn you and they say, "We're going to shut the lights out for about 30 seconds." And they shut the lights out and you can't even see the person next to you. I remember holding my hand up in front of my face and I could not see my hand, but I could feel my cold breath coming off, bouncing off. It's so quiet you can hear the birds outside above you and you're underground. Imagine being a 20-year-old soldier standing in that tunnel in 1917. There was one way into the tunnel and one way out. And you were going to come out onto the battlefield. They wouldn't have been listening to birds. They would've been listening to war. 

Power of storytelling

I found out that they're being used a lot of times by new Canadian citizens, who then in turn start talking about their war experiences if they've left a country where there is war going on. I've already heard of stories where I went into a classroom and after I left, the teacher informed me that a child from Bosnia stood up after I left and started talking about her experience and her family's experience in Bosnia. The power of being allowed to tell your story  — it's that power, the power of story that keeps our whole national story and our individual family stories alive.

Linda Granfield's comments have been edited and condensed.