Book: Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion
Author: Chris Barton
Illustrator: Victo Ngai
Age Range: 7-10
Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion is a non-fiction picture book about a strategy that Great Britain and America used during World War I in an attempt to prevent supply ships from being torpedoed. Author Chris Barton provides a brief introduction to World War I before outlining the risk to Great Britain of losing the war because its citizens were at risk of starving (due to the loss of supply ships). A Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve lieutenant-commander named Norman Wilkinson came up with the idea of basically reverse camouflaging the ships, painting them with patterns that would "dazzle" the German submarine crews into not being able to determine the ships' directions of movement. A desperate British navy actually followed this plan, as did, later, America's navy. Ultimately more than 4000 ships were "dazzled", though Barton reports that evidence as to the specific success of the dazzle ships is unclear.
Dazzle Ships is a fascinating window into a little-known story about World War I. 100 years later, Dazzle Ships gives gives kids background information about the war and also provides an example of the power of creativity in problem-solving. Or, as the book concludes:
"Times change. Technology changes. Torpedoes get faster, submarines get computerized, challenges of all kinds get replaced by new ones. But a willingness to tackle problems by trying the unlikely, the improbable, the seemingly bonkers will always be needed."
I especially love "the seemingly bonkers".
Dazzle Ships is quite text-dense. And, of course, it's about ships being bombed, with reference to people starving. This is certainly a picture book for older kids, something one would put in a second grade or higher classroom or a school library.
Visually, Dazzle Ships is stunning, particularly Victo Ngai's rendering of the dazzle ships themselves. She uses a mix of digital and analog media that works particularly well in conveying backgrounds, like the waves of the ocean, and golden skies. A page spread illustrating the concept of camouflage is sure to both entertain and educate young readers, while a futuristic image at the end is inspiring.
Dazzle Ship is a nonfiction picture book for older readers that educates and informs, captures an incident most adults won't be familiar with, and has eye-catching illustrations. I will not be surprised to hear more about this one come Cybils-time. Recommended!
Publisher: Millbrook Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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