LITTLE SOLDIERS is about being small in a large world. It is about a vast, ghastly piece of history, and the feeling of being subject to forces beyond your control. And it is sad.
But it transcends mere sadness. Its original style taps into one of the fundamental insights of childhood, especially related to conflict and complexity: when we play with figures, dolls, models, and small things, we participate in them, as the mover and creator and combiner. To play in miniature is to experience things with knowledge and security, even when those things are difficult. This is a series whose originality creates the perfect environment for learning difficult things. For rehearsing, yes, but also for the formation of a historical and moral consciousness.
Little Soldiers – The Series
From the romantic and colourful enthusiasm of the beginning of the war to the nightmarish black and white hell of Verdun, from the flamboyant whirlwind of the fighter planes to the muddy grey despair of the trenches, these four books present an historically accurate depiction of the First World War on the Western Front, chronologically from 1914 to 1918.
Pierre, Jacques, Roy, Rainer, Paul, Norman or Louis, the “ little soldiers” of these stories all submit to dramatic events. Each, in his own way, is waging his own war. French, English, German or American, formerly artist, teacher, doctor or photographer, these participants are also witnesses. They are not heroes. Just poor little soldiers who do their duty, suffer and die. Their true heroism is in the way they retain their humanity amongst it all.
Book one – The Good Son
While in prison, we learn of Pierre’s journey—how he became swept up, how he surged with patriotic joy. How he came to make a friend, how that friend saved his life for no reason beyond brotherhood. Pierre writes to his mother and tells her of the time he captured some German soldiers and how they were just like him. And he waits.
He is not saved, and he does not escape. Instead he thinks about Christmas, and freedom, and his mother. He is visited by his friend, who brings him food and drink. We see him begin to understand his own story. We see that even the littlest character has a world inside of him, and how that world can be a safe harbor when life beyond is unfair and dangerous.
This is a story loosely based on real events. It will include a special historical section for further reading.
Book two – The Hunter
A French soldier named Jacques is sprinkling seeds for a pigeon. It is summer 1915, and he is one of a multitude of dirty, smelly and sweaty soldiers who are trying to survive, burrowed in trenches.
We discover some aspects of trench warfare. A grind in which time is turned upside-down. At night, the soldiers are busy working, while daytime is for sleep, rest and relaxation. Except for Rainer – the stalker, the hunter…
We are at the junction of the British and French armies where they communicate through homing pigeons. We learn that Jacques, who is translating messages into English, becomes friends with Roy, an English pigeoneer. How Rainer, a German sniper, is on a mission to disrupt communication between the French and English units by stalking and bringing down their messenger pigeons.
Always somewhere in the background, a stray cat has been patiently watching. Roy and Jacques are very fond of the pigeon and always feed him extra seeds. The pigeon spends more and more time on the ground. The cat gets closer and closer each time…
About one hundred years ago, the whole world went to war. They called it the Great War, but it was fought by little soldiers. It was won or lost by little soldiers like Jacques, Roy and Rainer.
And sometimes by a scrawny stray cat…
Book three – The Artist
A French officer named Paul is leading his platoon along a desolate landscape towards a rumbling, erupting volcano of fire and gas. It is June 1916 and the Battle of Verdun has been raging for 5 months.
We learn that before the war Paul was an artist. Not very good with words, he uses drawings to express his feelings and to take refuge from the surrounding apocalypse, to remove himself from the terrible reality surrounding him. He makes a drawing every day to be sent to his wife.
When Paul finds himself injured and shellshocked in a military hospital, he befriends Norman, a cheerful American pilot. He is invited to meet the American pilots of the Lafayette Squadron and they take him for a ‘joyflight’. To thank them, he draws what will become their legendary insignia, the head of a Sioux Indian.
Inspired to escape the horror of the trenches into the skies, Paul obtains his pilot’s licence. The 23rd of August 1917, the day of his first combat mission, is also the day when a new German prototype plane is tested in combat. A triplane painted in red, flown by a certain Manfred von Richtofen aka The Red Baron…
Paul Laroubine’s drawings that appear in book 3 are an homage to the work of artist/soldier Mathurin Maheut. The original drawings created for his story have been drawn in the style of Mathurin Maheut by Junona Balash, an artist from Moscow.
Book four – The Photographer
The photographer is a military doctor and humanist with a great eye. We follow him as as he roams the front looking for subjects of interest. He is captured by the Germans during their 1918 Spring offensive, is freed by the american “Doughboys”, and is witness to an amazing charge by tanks and horses combined.
Through his adventures, his photos and the historical vignettes they recount, this final story will resume the four years of war and portray the beginnings of documentary photography, the industrialisation of the war and the arrival of the Americans.
For this last book, the images of miniature little soldiers will become more and more like true archival images of the war.
Jules Leiser, the main character of book 4 is loosely inspired by Frantz Adam, an Alsacian military doctor and amateur photographer.