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