Captain Rosalie


‘Captain Rosalie’ sits unnoticed at the back of the classroom beneath the coats. Every morning, after she’s eaten ‘bread and butter knotted into one of her father’s big handkerchiefs‘, Rosalie makes her way there with her mother, who is headed to the factory. Although she collects the charcoal for the classroom fire, only Edgar, the older boy, always in trouble, sees Rosalie. One day, considers Rosalie, ‘she will make him her lieutenant.

When a letter arrives that destroys her mother, Rosalie must spring into action. Her time has come. She arrives at the  point that the mystical symbols written by the boys, and read in despatches by the school master each morning, make sense. What will Rosalie discover when she takes down the metal box from the kitchen box? Furthermore, what of the letter in the blue envelope inscribed ‘Ministry of War’?

This is a tall task for Captain Rosalie but it is time for the truth. She wants to know. What will the young Captain learn?

Timothée De Fombelle and Isabelle Arsenault have created a heart-wrenching, revelatory, meaningful tale of war and truths. Bookwagon recommends this beautiful book to readers of all ages.


Captain Rosalie

Timothée De Fombelle, illustrated by Isabell Arsenault

(Walker Books)

‘Captain Rosalie’ has a secret. While others in the class consider she is drawing or dreaming, she is ‘a soldier on a mission’. Although she is disguised as a little girl, Rosalie has a spy corner station at the back of the class. There, she watches the pupils, especially Edgar, and listens to the schoolmaster’s news from the war.  She considers the symbols drawn by the schoolmaster, that are in her head. Edgar recognises Rosalie, thus justifying her determination that he should be her lieutenant.
At the end of the day, when her mother has completed her shift at the factory, Rosalie returns from school. She listens to letters from her father, away at war held in a metal box. She compares the symbols on the page to those on the classroom blackboard. ‘When I get home, I will take Rosalie fishing’….
The weeks are very alike’ until the evening that a gendarme knocks on the window. Thereafter,  there is ‘A cry that is very long and very low, a cry that is part stifled.‘ Nothing is as it ever was. Rosalie lives ‘in memory of that night in the snow.’ Mother becomes a shuffling, retreating shadow. Captain must ‘act quickly.’
Suddenly the classroom fog lifts. The symbols make sense. Although Rosalie is motivated to attack in order to understand her situation she is prevented by the school master. However, Edgar offers, ‘I’ll go with her’. What happens when she takes down the box to ‘push open the lid’?
‘Captain Rosalie‘ is a perturbing, monumental, soul-scorching book. We learn the truth of her situation and that of her parents in one afternoon’s discovery. The smell of mud, the scorch of red, the stench of fear, the wet of tears, the black of print, the need for truth…. this is a powerful narrative.
Isabelle Arsenault’s pictures are glorious. They include symbolic colours, shadows, light, flares of red, promises of assorted violets. Like Kate Milner’s It’s a No-Money Day, ‘Captain Rosalie‘ is an essential, classic title.


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