Mercer, Peggy. There Come A Soldier. Illus.Ron Mazellan. New York: Handprint Books, 2007,
Peggy Mercer contacted me last week to suggest her book There Come A Soldier, for Book Review Wednesday. I’m so glad she did.
Peggy’s book tells the story of a father who fights in World War II. He draws his strength from childhood memories growing up in rural Georgia. When he learns to be a paratrooper, he remembers times jumping out of the hayloft “although it took a right smart of coaxing.” When he has to hold “still as a tombstone,” he remembers the time he was treed by a bear.
The author’s regional storytelling voice rings true throughout alternating scenes. In one scene the reader learns about father’s calls to service, training or mission in the military. Next, the author flashes back to Georgia and how father prepared for the service as a boy. The text is longer than what most editors are acquiring these days and I am so glad. The writing is lyrical and at times melancholy. Tension grips the reader in the middle of the book and propels him, along with the alternating flashbacks, towards the conclusion of the story which delivers hope and courage for young readers.
The illustrations by Ron Mazellan are painterly and evocative of Norman Rockwell. I say this with some reluctance. I don’t want you to think that they are campy or photorealistic. Instead, I mean that the reader is treated to an artist skilled in the human figure and portraiture. The painter’s signature technique is the use of white to dapple and fog portions of the images creating movement and emotion. Mazellan uses the darkest values to contrast with the white, providing depth of space and feeling.
There are no notes about the medium so I’m just giving it my best guess. Originally I thought the images were oil paintings as the under painting peaks through and seems to be mixed wet on wet. However, some of images are more translucent almost like watercolor. In these images the viewer is treated to remnants of the gestural charcoal under drawing. Both acrylics and gouache could be the medium used in this dynamic way.
When she contacted me, Peggy Mercer probably didn’t know that I’m a Navy spouse but that really doesn’t matter. There Come A Soldier is less a book about the military or war and much more a book about the bravery and determination it takes to serve. At the core of any service is a love and respect for nation. This book is about how our past friendships, connections, and experiences are forged out of sturdy stuff. How these links encircle us for our whole lives. As we approach Thanksgiving, this book is an excellent discussion starter of what we are thankful for and how we can serve others.