Miss Morgan's Book Brigade cover

By: Janet Skeslien Charles
Published: April 30, 2024
Publisher: Atria
Historical Fiction

5 stars

One of my favorite books of 2021 was Skeslien Charles’ novel, THE PARIS LIBRARY. So, I was thrilled to hear she had a new novel also about books and war. This time the setting is France during WWI with ties to real historical people and events.

Miss Morgan refers to Anne Morgan, the daughter of well-known financier, J.P. Morgan. Even though she was part of one of the wealthiest families in the world, she still was a staunch supporter of women’s rights and was the founder of the American Committee for Devastated France, an international group that helped rebuild French communities that were along the front lines of the war.

The Book Brigade refers to Anne’s hiring of Jessie “Kit” Carson, a children’s librarian from the New York City Public Library to come to France and establish libraries. This may have been her original purpose, but she also served in many other roles during her service in France. After ambulances were no longer needed, she turned them into bookmobiles, traveling into Red Zones to bring books to families returning to their homes or what was left of their homes.

Even though this is a work of fiction, this book is based on these two real people and others. An extensive author’s note at the end of the book explains these real people and their tireless work to bring books, food, and healing to those in France during WWI.

This dual-timeline story begins in January 1918 in Northern France with Jessie Carson just arriving in France after being summoned by Anne Morgan to bring books to children in areas devastated by war in France. Jessie is very green when it comes to living in a war zone but is determined to get to know the families and children by sharing a love of books. She is soon conducting story hours and traveling in dangerous areas to deliver books and other crucial items to families who refuse to leave their homes.

But Marcelle reminded me that books were a lifeline. In the devastated zone, I vowed to make sure every child had the much-needed pleasure, spark of imagination, and escape that books brought. I would lead story hour and create a library. The only question was how.

In alternating chapters, we meet Wendy, an employee of the NYPL in 1987, who works in Remembrance, photographing, scanning, and cataloging documents for future generations to easily access and read. While working she comes across a story about the women of Anne Morgan’s CARD organization and is interested in learning more. Wendy is currently attending college to be a writer and wonders if this is the story she should be writing. As Wendy learns more about Anne Morgan and Jessie Carson, readers are taken back to WWI to learn more about their story.

I appreciated learning about this little-known group of women who worked tirelessly to keep families along the dangerous war front fed, educated, cared for, and loved. As the fighting became closer, they also worked in make-shift hospitals helping the wounded soldiers, offering a comforting hand or a listening ear, or working alongside the nurses and doctors to save the wounded.

Many may think that setting up libraries while a war was raging nearby may seem frivolous. But books and reading can be a balm to those who have suffered a loss, for those who are in pain, or for those who need to feel transported to someplace new. Reading books is an important part of learning for children of all ages. A library is an important place in any community whether it is a small town, a neighborhood, a city, or a war front. The author Janet Skeslien Charles stated this:

“Libraries are the foundation of democracy. They are among the few places where people may enter for free and enjoy culture, whether through books, author readings, games, classes, computers, films, or music. I urge you to support your local library and librarians by raising your voice about the importance of reading and accessibility to books and culture.”

I couldn’t agree more. As a lover of historical fiction and a staunch supporter of books and libraries, I highly recommend this story of a little-known group of women who fought the war in a much different but important way.

Janet Skeslien Charles is the New York Times bestselling, USA Today bestselling, and #1 international bestselling author of The Paris Library, Moonlight in Odessa, and Miss Morgan’s Book Brigade. Her essays and short stories have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Sydney Morning Herald, and Montana Noir. Her work has been translated into 38 languages. Janet was born and raised in Montana. After graduating from the University of Montana, she got a job teaching English in Ukraine. She later went to France, intending to teach for a year, and has been there ever since. Place is at the heart of every story she has ever written. She loves traveling, spending time with friends and family, and researching stories of forgotten people and places. She is currently working on the final installment of her library trilogy. Check out her website, HERE.

To purchase a copy of MISS MORGAN’S BOOK BRIGADE, click HERE.

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Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to make a purchase through the above links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase.

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