Real experiences bring book of peace
Marty Elkins was inspired to create something to help him teach his students about the Second World War.
The result is the historical fiction novel Leave Us In Peace, which follows the lives of eight characters -- including one from Owen Sound -- as they fight to survive during the war.
"I wrote the book initially for Grade 7 and 8 as for 'here's what happened through the whole thing'," said Elkins, a teacher at Beaver Valley Community School in Thornbury. "It's a pretty in depth look at the whole war overall."
Elkins said that he has always had an interest in history, and he thinks that makes him a better teacher because he can tell stories to his students in an exciting way.
The idea for the book arose when Elkins brought guest speakers in to talk to his students about the Second World War. When the students started to ask the speakers questions, Elkins noticed that not all the students had a basic understanding of the war.
"Five or six years ago I used to bring speakers in for Remembrance Day, veterans and Holocaust survivors, specifically there was this one man who would come and talk to my school," Elkins said.
That man is Harry Kozuch. Leave Us In Peace is dedicated to him.
"He lived in Owen Sound. He would come down to my school and talk on stage. It was such a riveting talk and everyone would be hanging on his every word as he went through his experience as a survivor of the Holocaust and Poland in 1942. Then afterwards the questions from the students were so earnest and they wanted to know and they were so basic."
Elkins was heavily influenced by Kozuch and met with him many times.
"He's the one who's still alive, lives in Owen Sound, was a Holocaust survivor who grew up in Poland in the '40s and had a very terrible experience," Elkins said.
Elkins said that Kozuch was the main speaker at Remembrance Day assemblies and while he talked to the students about his experiences, Elkins began thinking about being able to tell the story further.
Elkins began a history club, which would meet at recess, for students who wanted to learn more. He would tell them the story of the war to give them an idea of what occurred during that time.
When the club ended due to extracurricular activities being cut, Elkins decided to keep teaching his students in a different way.
"I've got to continue this, I've got to get this down because kids want to know, they want to know what happened, they want to be knowledgeable," said Elkins.
Elkins did an "enormous amount" of research to help create this book. He wanted to make sure that his facts were correct.
"Every single thing that happens in the book is true. The characters are obviously made up, but every event is real. The dates are accurate, everything," said Elkins.
The novel uses many perspectives to show both sides of the war, as well as the different battles that were fought.
"I wanted to tell the whole story of the war and World War Two is largely like five or six, if not 20 different wars being fought at the same time all over the world," Elkins said. "Using one character would have been impossible because there was no way for a character to be in 10 places at once."
Elkins hopes to see his book teach others about history and be on as many bookshelves as possible.
"Sometimes history is super boring when its taught in schools and it doesn't have to be. I hope from this book kids find that history can be interesting," Elkins said.
Elkins will be at the book launch for Leave Us In Peace at 7 p.m. tonight at the Ginger Press in downtown Owen Sound. Everyone is welcome.
Sydnie Walker is an OSDSS student on co-op placements at The Sun Times