It's hard to imagine a book more timely or poignant than Iain Lawrence's new historical novel for young readers. "Lord of the Nutcracker Men" tells the story of a London toymaker and his son during World War I.
To 10-year-old Johnny, "the war really began on the day the butcher vanished," along with all of his other German friends and neighbors.
When Britain joins the war, his father proudly enlists in the Army, but he doesn't forget the son or the toys he left behind. Every few days, Johnny opens a new letter from his father and finds an intricately carved soldier to join the ranks of his nutcracker army.
After only a few days at the front, Johnny's father writes, "The truth is, Johnny, that I'm crouched in the mud like an animal and the man at my side is crying and holding himself, and there is nothing between us and the Boche but 50 yards of the most haunted ground I have ever imagined."
His father vows to tell only the truth, and the letters and soldiers he continues to carve and send become increasingly more disturbing. Johnny begins to notice that the letters eerily seem to describe battle scenarios just like the ones he has enacted with his toys.
Not all of the letters are grim and harsh. One includes a beautifully written account of the Christmas Truce of 1914. Each ends with a reminder of his father's enduring love.
Johnny learns not just about war's horrors, but also much about friendship, forgiveness, and the power of hope.
The publisher recommends the book for readers age 10 and up, but more sensitive readers will appreciate discussing the book with an adult. Both will appreciate the richness and beauty of this story.