12.10.2021 Books

I Saw a Beautiful Woodpecker: The Diary of a Young Boy at the Outbreak of World War II

by Michał Skibinski, with illustrations by Ala Bankroft.

It is the summer of 1939 in Warsaw, Poland and Michal is an eight year-old boy just finishing his school year. In order to improve his handwriting, Michal’s teacher gives him a simple assignment: keep a journal, writing one sentence a day. Eighty years later, Michal’s diary has been gorgeously illustrated with beautifully atmospheric paintings. Eloquent in its simplicity, the journal is a remarkable artifact that captures the innocence of childhood and the trauma of war. The journal starts out with a typical boy’s observations: “July 15: I went to a stream with my brother and teacher.” “July 23: I found a caterpillar.” However over the course of weeks, menacing details emerge. “July 27: A plane was circling over Anin.” “September 1: The war has begun.” “September 3: I hid from planes.” “September 14: Warsaw is bravely defending itself.”

These haunting entries are interspersed with visits from relatives, a football game, a trip to a park, an ice cream cone. Photographs of pages from Michal’s original diary enhance the poignancy of this simple record—an ordinary holiday interrupted by war; a life changed forever by an extraordinary moment in history.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
MICHAL SKIBINSKI was 8 years old and a student at Warsaw Primary school when he wrote this diary in the summer 1939. Today he lives in a retirement house for elderly priests. ALA BANKROFT is the pseudonym of the Polish painter, photographer and film animator Helena Stiasny. Her illustrations for the book I Saw a Beautiful Woodpecker received a special mention in the OPERA PRIMA category at the BolognaRagazzi Award 2020 from the Bologna Children‘s Book Fair.

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