44. Exiles from the War by Jean Little

Exiles from the War: The War Guests Diary of Charlotte Mary Twiss, Guelph, Ontario, 1940 by Jean Little (Canada)
Dear Canada series

Pages: 243 pages
Ages: 8+
Finished: Mar. 11, 2010
First Published: Jan. 2010 (Canada only)
Publisher: Scholastic Canada Ltd.
Genre: children, historical fiction
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

George phoned me long distance at six o'clock this morning to wish me happy birthday.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Scholastic Canada.

Reason for Reading: I am in the process of reading the whole series. I am particularly fond of WWII stories and this one takes place near where I grew up, Fergus, ON and we went to Guelph many, many times.

Comments: As per all books in the Dear Canada series, this is written as a series of diary entries that cover the span of one year. Charlotte receives the diary for her twelfth birthday and the book finishes a few days after her thirteenth birthday. The book focuses on a family and their close neighbour who both receive War Guests from England. A brother and sister who have been evacuated from London and sent to live in Canada for the duration of the War. When the family picks them up from Toronto they are sent off by two other children they sailed over with a little 5yo girl and a much older teen boy.

Through Charlotte's eyes we experience life on the homefront for a family who has a son in the army and a Jewish family who worries about what is happening to their relatives in Europe. Many horrible things are reported in the papers and on the radio that terrify Charlotte but some things she cannot comprehend and her father explains many things to her but when it comes to her questions about the Jews he is unable to give her answer telling she must wait till she is older, his reason being that he himself is unable to explain the inhumanity of the Nazi's hate.

Through Charlotte's eyes we see the adjustments the children from England must make in their new homes. The terror and shock they have experience from the bombings and air raid alarms, their worry for their parents and the gradual settling in with a new family who has foreign ways but treats them lovingly and as a member of their own family. We also get to see the flip side of other War Guest children when they meet the little five year old girl in town and see she is being neglected (by her own aunt at that) and how the boy receives regular letters from the older boy he met on ship telling him how much he hates the family he is with, how he wants to runaway, go home and please may he come to visit him.

In this modest appearing book Jean Little manages to capture so many experiences from differing peoples that one gets a very diverse view of life both on the homefront and the life of a War Guest. She even manages to mention recurringly about the treatment of a German shopkeeper in town. I found the book to have covered all the issues I could think of and they came with the naivete of a child's point of view and the innocence with which a child can blurt out the simple truths. The story is highly entertaining and informative. Things are not all war, war, war either; there are plenty of happy times and a wonderful first-hand glimpse into 1940s wartime life for children and in general is portrayed. Since I've lived in the area it was fun to hear mention of places I knew: my own Fergus a couple of times, the quarry and Belwood Lake to name a few dear to my heart.

I really enjoy the Dear Canada series, but of course the quality of each depends on the author and when Jean Little's name is spied on the title page you just know you've got a winner in your hands. As usual the book ends with a chapter telling us what happened to the characters in the future, then an historical note that tells the real history behind the story and is finally followed by a section of related photographs. This book would make a great introduction to reading about the War as many feelings are dealt with but war details are not graphic. Highly recommended.


  1. I've only read one book set in Canada during WWII, Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas. This one sounds worth checking out. Thanks for the review.

    I hope it's okay that I linked to your review on the Book Reviews: WWII page on War Through the Generations.

    Diary of an Eccentric


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