War Stories of Children

This is a free excerpt from the book, Threads of Music, Cords of War, by Martha Brabant Pritchard

Meet Eva and Hans. They lived in Germany during WWII. This story takes place in September 1939. Germany had invaded Poland, and France and Great Britain declared war on Germany because Poland was their ally. Eva and Hans are too young to worry about war. They just want to figure out an easy way to do their chores.

Here are some German words you might want to know: Mutti (rhymes with “look-ee”) and means Mommy. Hans (the vowel sounds like “hot”). It’s the German name for John. Dörte (sounds like dirt-a). It’s a nickname for Dorothy. Herr (sounds like hair) and means Mr. and Frau (fr-ouch ch) means Mrs.


Most families in our village raise a pig in the backyard every year. We feed scraps from our table and we kids go out into the fields every day, even when it rains, and pick large armfuls of grass and carry it to the pigpen. It’s a lot of work! One day when my brother is about nine and I’m ten, we get it into our heads to take the pig to the grass, rather than going to all the trouble of taking the grass to the pig. Let him do the work for a change!

We should ask Mutti but we want to surprise her. Dörte is a baby and our mother is so tired. We know better than to ask our grouchy grandmother. She always says no.

We tie a long rope to the pig’s head, right behind his ears. It’s hard to tie anything to a pig’s neck because the head goes right into shoulders – it’s almost impossible to find his neck.

My brother and I are pretty strong and our pig is smaller than Hans. This should be easy – and it is – at first. As soon as the gate opens, the pig gets his snout down and really smells the earth. He makes a long, deep, happy grunt and that sweet gentle nose immediately turns into an earthmoving machine. Who would guess that he can gouge a trench all the way from our yard to the neighbor’s yard without lifting his head for air?

Hans and I dig in our heels. We’re sure we can stop him. We can’t. He’s like a plow with an engine. From his path through the neighbor’s yard he heads to the street. Now, the street is pretty solid, but it doesn’t mean anything to our super-pig! His trench keeps growing as his nose digs right under the street surface. It’s lucky that he runs into the foundation of the house across the road or I think he would have dragged us to Braunschweig, four miles away!

By this time, our neighbors notice – how could they not. Everyone is concerned about our mother and the new baby. Herr Fischer grabs hold of the rope in front of us and wraps it around his strong hands. “Let go, kids. I’ve got him. You go find another rope so we can get him home.”

This neighbor used to be a prizefighter and he looks a little like our pig – he doesn’t have a neck either and he’s really strong. Frau Dampf knows what pigs like better than dirt and she comes out with a pan of slop she was just getting ready to feed to her own pig. Our pig snorts, sticks his nose in her dishpan, and happily burbles his way through the new flavor. By the time Hans and I find another rope, Herr Fischer is gently holding on as Frau Dampf walks swiftly ahead, leading our pig with his head in the food. Like magic she steps aside and the pig walks right into his pen. Herr Fischer tells Hans to get the rope off. This is a gentle pig and it isn’t his fault we didn’t know that his snout is really a digging machine.

Papa has to be told because he has to pay for the road repair. The neighbors don’t want Mutti to know and I don’t think she ever does. But Herr Fischer tells us to check with him next time we come up with a great idea for our pig.


Welcome to the official website of Martha Brabant Pritchard.

Martie with friend, Bright

Martie, as she is known to friends and family, retired from a thirty year teaching career to pursue writing as a second career. She stumbled upon a group of reluctant historians at Leisure Village and put aside other endeavors in order to encourage them to reach out to the community with their amazing accounts of life in Aroostook County in the early twentieth century. Martie is also the author of War Stories for Children and facilitator of the books A Gift to the Future from the Leisure Village Writers and More Gifts: From the Leisure Village Writers and Friends. Read more about the author…

Another project currently in progress by Author Martha Brabant Pritchard is the book Threads of Music, Cords of War. One story per week will be made available free of charge for children. The first story is available, below. Please check back for updates on the status of this book, which is in the final editing stages.

Return from Storytelling

Wheels Down

I just got back from a heart-whirling weeklong visit to Winthrop Grade School. Telling my mother’s stories of Germany to children from kindergarten to fifth grade was more valuable to me than any graduate course I could have found. As in the completion of such a course, I am left with a feeling of fulfillment mixed with anticipation. Wow! and What?
Wow! I was damn good at that. I now know that when I look toward an invisible jar of raisins on my left, the children’s eyes follow. When I pause and whisper, they lean into my words. When my arms reach wide they “feel” the magnitude of the image my words paint. When I crinkle my nose and screw up my mouth they taste the over-salted French fry I’m guiding them toward.

What? What am I going to do with all this? I left Winthrop physically and emotionally exhausted. I spent every ounce of me on that week of storytelling. At some point, I had to admit to myself that I’m too old to do this very often. Or at all . . . again? At another point, Nathan Hale appeared on my shoulder spouting his words before being hanged, “I regret that I have but one life to give to storytelling.” Then there was Patrick Henry on the other shoulder, “Give me storytelling or give me death.” And Bookaboo, the story-dog-puppet, “A story a day or I just can’t play!”

Seriously, what am I to do? The kids responded and I thrived. But is this anything I can use in writing? I mentioned to my long-suffering husband Jim that I think I’ll rewrite WAR STORIES FOR CHILDREN, moving from the immediacy of first-person written storytelling to third-person, which is the only authentic way to tell Mom’s stories orally. He, of course, thinks I’m nuts. He tried to tell me that when he wrote procedure manuals for starting up power plants he always wanted to go back and try to clarify his work but there was a point where he had to call it good.

I gracefully exploded. “You were writing material that people HAD to read, I’m writing stuff that people have to WANT to read. Your work was mechanical; mine is supposed to be a work of art!” He put on his hat and headed to the barn to shovel horse manure for relief from what he sees as my foolishness.

How does one go about finding a beta reader for a book like this? Memoir. History. Middle Grades. Do I try to hire somebody? The definition of a beta reader is one who is not paid.

So wheels down. Quit flying around in the clouds. Try planting this on the Blog. Maybe . . .

Fun with Owls and Monkeys Bread

owls and monkeys bread

Recipe Owls and Monkeys

Proof 1 T. dry yeast in ½ cup warm water  and 1 T. sugar
1 egg room temp.
½ cup melted butter
2 cups warm water
1 ½ t. salt
½ cup molasses
¾ cup brown sugar (sugars may be altered according to taste, could use honey, white sugar, maple syrup etc.)
7 to 8 cups King Arthur unbleached white flour

Mix, and knead, as for any bread recipe. Allow to rise about 2 hours in warm, draft-free spot covered with damp paper towel or tea towel.

To shape Owls and Monkeys: imagine the dough in about 11 sections. One section is rolled flat. You’ll have about 5 monkeys and 5 owls. With shot class cut 10 ears. With small wine or juice glass cut 5 wing circles slice in half for wings, from scraps make 5 long skinny tails.

Each blob of dough is formed into a kind of elongated dinner roll shape. Pinch small top section (head) and then twist small section around and around again.

Lay this flat in a section of parchment (or greased cookie sheet) and imagine the body and head of either an owl or a monkey. (parchment “cradles” are arranged on cookie sheet – don’t crowd if you can avoid)

For monkey = lift head and lay ears behind – press together. Tuck tail under back and bring forward around tummy. Gently press into place.

For Owl = wet underside of wings and lay across tummy, round side outward as if at rest. Wet raisins (eyes) and dry apples or other fruit or candy for lips or beak.

Place in cold oven. Turn to 400 degrees for 15 minutes/ turn down to 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Have an egg wash ready (beaten egg with a little water) as hot bread comes out of oven. Brush with egg wash and immediately sprinkle with sugar if desired.