Josef Holub. An Innocent Soldier. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2005.
Genre: Young Adult War Fiction
Audience: 14 and up
Read Aloud: Watch it
Summary: An Innocent Soldier is about a boy who is tricked into joining Napolean’s Grand Armee by the farmer he works for. The farmer tells the troops that the farmhand is his son, which causes the farmahnd to be taken into the army even though he is underage. He is mistreated and thought of as stupid because he does not respond to the name that they have for him at first. Later he becomes the servant of a Lieutenant that is of similar age. They become good friends and both must struggle to survive the starvation and cold winters as they travel to Moscow to fight the Russians with Napolean’s largest army ever.
Themes: A theme from this book is survival. Because the army is so big, they have trouble coming up with enough food to feed all of the soldiers. They are also facing attacks from the enemies and must endure harsh winters with little shelter in the vast plains of Russia.
Another theme in this novel is friendship. The Lieutenant and the farmhand must work together in order to survive. Each of them save each other’s lives numerous times, and without their friendship neither would have survived the war.
Connections: This book could be taught in a class if there were a historical fiction unit in the class. The book does a great job of depicting the Napoleanic Wars and the harsh reality of fighting in the early 1800s. There is a lot of good imagery of the death and malnourishment that was taking place during Napolean’s campaign on Russia, so students would be able to get a good sense of what it must have been like to fight in such a violent war.
Reactions: I really enjoyed this book. At first I was insanely bored because I thought it was going to be full of action and danger because it was about the Napoleanic Wars. Eventually though, I realized that this is more of a survival story than a war story. The text focuses more on the lesser know horrors of war such as men fighting each other for food and pillaging civilian houses for shelter and supplies. I enjoyed the ending too because the characters manage to beat impossible odds and come out of the war alive.
Reception: A review I read by Robert Burnham praises the fact that this book does not stay with the usual plot of an old war book. Usually the readers follow an officer and his trusty servant, but An Innocent Soldier follows the servant as he and his master try to survive the war. He also agrees with me that this book would be great to recommend to a student that is interested in this time period, because there are few historical inaccuracies and the description of the war is done well.