My Inspiration for A Less Than Perfect Peace
When I met with school children or with librarians and others to talk about Annie’s War, they had so many questions about Annie and her immediate family. Although Eddie Howard is a central presence in the novel, we don’t meet him until he returns and the Howards are reunited at the very end. I wanted more of Annie’s relationship with her father to be explored. What kind of adjustments would they need to make to accommodate Eddie Howard’s blindness? What would life be like for a young girl whose fun-loving, beloved father returns blinded in the war, dependent on others for his well-being and bewildered by a wife who has become fiercely independent? Where would Annie’s loyalties lie?
Over the past few years the toll war takes on families has been in the news a great deal. How do children cope? Like Annie, do they assume that the return of a parent means their lives will return to normal? In Annie’s War, I explored the invisible wounds of war and the ways in which Annie responded to her Uncle Billy’s battle with his own demons. In A Less Than Perfect Peace, I continue that exploration and also look at how children caught up in war are affected as well. In addition to relating Annie’s experience trying to make sense of it all, I introduce the sixteen-year-old twins, Johannes and Elisabet Vonderveld, Dutch refugees from the war-torn Netherlands. The character of Johannes is inspired by two friends who were Dutch refugees. One I met in junior high and knew through high school and another I met in grad school.
Annie faces more family tension when she’s sent to recuperate at her grandma’s house. Grandma has taken in a new tenant, Miss Gloria Jean Washington, a young black woman fleeing discrimination and her own sad past. Annie’s Uncle Billy, a bitter WWII veteran, is furious because he doesn’t want “colored” so close to home.
Most of the research I did for this book had to do with authenticating the experience of a blinded soldier in WWII. I talked with Walter Werkhoven, the VIST Coordinator at the VA Puget Sound Health Center, American Lake Division, WA. I also exchanged emails with Tom Miller, the out-going Executive Director of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA). I also read a number of articles on their web page. I also researched the history of the P-51 Mustang airplanes flown at the time Annie’s father would have been in Europe, and I read excerpts from some of the diaries of WWII pilots who had flown them. I also looked at the history of Old Avon Farms Army Convalescent Hospital in Connecticut, where recovering soldiers started the BVA in 1945. (I have the hospital as the location of Eddie Howard’s convalescence.) Lorri Bernson, Media and Community Liaison at Guide Dogs of America, Sylmar, CA, was a source of information about guide dogs.
The source of the back story for the war experiences of Johannes and Elisabet are inspired by the stories my high school friend, Herman Van Zonnerveld, told about being in the Dutch Resistance as a child. Some years ago at a Stadium High School reunion I had a conversation with a high school friend who was his sister-in-law. She verified that my memory of Herman’s experiences was accurate. Sadly, Herman had already passed away. My friend Jon Prins and his late mother are the source for a picture of the general atmosphere of that time. The Netherlands “Hunger Winter” of 1944 is well-documented and the role tulip bulbs played in the diets of the Dutch during that winter is well-known. I also watched the Dutch film “Winter in Wartime” (2008), Director, Martin Koolhoven.
Many books for young readers exist about WWII and afterwards. Most of them have to do with the Holocaust or with the internment of the Japanese. Most of the post war books take place in Europe. Except for the many books about Ann Frank, I am aware of only The Greatest Skating Race by Louise Borden and illustrated by Niki Borden (Margaret McElderry Books, 2004) that talks about the experience of Dutch children. Captain’s Command by Anna Meyers, (Walker & Co, 1999) contains a main character who has been blinded in the war. Richard Peck’s On the Wings of Heroes portrays a family during wartime and a brother away at war. And Dean Hughes series “Children of the Promise” covers a wide range of experiences about men at war and their families at home.
However, I have been unable to find any novels for young people that reflect a particular family’s post war experiences in exactly the way the Howards’ story does: Eddie Howard is having trouble adjusting to post war life, difficult enough for most soldiers, let alone those who have lost their eyesight. Dorothy Howard has become independent by necessity and struggles to protect that independence. Annie is caught between finding ways to get her father out in the wider world again and mediating the tension that is growing between her parents. When she meets the Dutch refugees Jon and Elisabet, she comes to understand that it isn’t just the adults who feel the effects of war but also the children of war, who will carry those memories for a lifetime.
PAPERBACK; Published: 3/28/2014