Book review: Milan’s Great War, Patrick Lagrou
In 2014 it will be 100 years ago that World War I, the Great War, started. It is therefore not surprising that numerous books have been written as part of the commemoration of this historic event. Patrick Lagrou, a well-known youth writer, also jumped on the cart. He wrote “Milan’s Great War” in 2013. The story of a boy who, together with his grandparents, goes in search of the story of their ancestor Emile Bernaert and ends up in the middle of World War I.
Technical data of “Milan’s Great War”
- Title: Milan’s Great War
- Author: Patrick Lagrou
- Year: 2013
- Publisher: Clavis Publisher, Hasselt, Amsterdam, New York
- Cover photo: Shutterstock
- Cover design: Studio Clavis
- Reading level: AVI 9
- Age: from 9 years old
- Category: war
- Language: Dutch
- With many photos, plans and maps of the Westhoek
- ISBN: 978-90-448-1861-1
Milan can go to the Westhoek for a weekend with his grandparents. They go after their ancestor, Emile Benaerts, who died during World War I. Grandpa Miel even owns a photo of him and a letter written by a certain Arthur. Milan is really looking forward to it and thinks it will be fun. Initially it is different. They go from one museum to another and walk from one boring place to another. The weather is bad and every time it gets exciting, his grandmother throws a spanner in the works. Until Milan at their residence, the old castle farm Vicogne (now the Viconia farm), discovered a mysterious corridor. When he explores at night, he ends up in the middle of the battlefield of World War I. Will he meet Emile? Will he meet Arthur? And what was the role of Ivan, Emile’s little brother?
The author: Patrick Lagrou
The Flemish author Patrick Lagrou was born in Bruges on 1 October 1949. Already at a young age he traveled around America, Europe and North Africa. He even stayed in the Bahamas for two years. Later he gave film and slide shows about this. In the 1980s he started writing children’s books. His first youth book was “Het Dolfijnenkind”. This book was to be part of a first series. Then followed a series of horror stories and a series about the climate. Patrick Lagrou is now bitten by World War I and the Westhoek.
The origin of the story
The story pays tribute to the author’s two grandfathers, Jerome Lagrou and Alphonse Lagae. Both experienced World War I and sometimes told about it. Patrick Lagrou uses some of their stories in his book. Private Emile Benaerts really existed and his life served as a common thread.
As mentioned, the book is divided into two parts. The first part, in which Milan visits the region and the museums with his grandparents, is rather boring and very pedantic. My 12-year-old son, who read the book for school, literally said “I didn’t get it.” It is very historical, with many place names, maps, technical data about the army and dates. It is necessary for the rest of the story, but it is much too dry and difficult for a child of twelve.
The second part, when Milan itself ends up in the Great War, is well written and exciting. How he got to 1914 may be a bit unrealistic, but that’s what books are for. In general you understand what was explained with so much effort in the first part. Yet you still miss many details, or you would have to constantly look at the maps and mention the division of the army. And that cannot be the intention when you want to relax and read a book, especially not for young children. The story itself is liked, but in my opinion a bit too technical and detailed.
The photos from the past and now are very interesting. You can compare what the war broke down and how it was rebuilt afterwards. You can see that Patrick Lagrou is really fond of the subject and that he knows a lot about it. Perhaps he thinks that is why everyone can immediately remember and appreciate all the details. It may be obvious for people from the Westhoek itself, but a bit more difficult for people from further afield. And especially for the target group, children around the age of twelve.
Website, lectures, walks and geocaching
Following the book, a website was created by Patrick Lagrou. A very nice website, with even more details, photos and maps. Patrick Lagrou is happy to give lectures in schools or on site on request.
On the website you can also see that a number of walks have been worked out with the road that Emile and Milan have taken. Very nice to do with the class or with the family. This way you will understand the book even better, because you can see everything with your own eyes.
For enthusiasts you can also go geocaching. This way you get the most from young and old.
In the meantime, a book has also been published with more old and comparative photos and explanations about the region. The book is called “The iron front: From Diksmuide to Nieuwpoort, then and now” and is published by De Lantaarn.