Katie Fitzgerald recommends a trilogy of vintage children’s books about American family life during World War II.
My three oldest girls, ages 9, 7, and 5, love read-alouds about families. Recently, I introduced them to the first book in a vintage series by Catholic convert Hilda Van Stockum that had them all giggling and begging for just one more chapter: The Mitchells: Five for Victory.
The first volume in a trilogy about a large Catholic family, this story follows the five Mitchell children—big kids Joan, Patsy, and Peter, toddler Angela and baby Timmy—during their father’s deployment during World War II. Van Stockum based the characters on her own children, and it shows. These fictional kids feel very real because they act, think, and talk just like real kids. Angela, especially, is the most believable fictional toddler I have ever encountered.
Throughout the story, the five young Mitchells have a variety of small adventures, from forming a club to help the war effort and befriending a refugee girl who moves in with a family down the street, to interacting with boarders taken in by their mother and inadvertently helping their Uncle Jim find love. These experiences provide insight into what it was like to live through this time in history, but they also portray family life in a way that is relatable across generations.
Though this is a children’s book, it surprised me by including some wonderful insights into the mind of a mother as well. Mrs. Mitchell is a loving mother, but she’s not perfect, and some of the mistakes she makes in this book felt like situations I could find myself in. Right from the opening scene in the book, set in the train station at the time of Mr. Mitchell’s departure, Mother is shown to experience the challenges of managing many children. Sometimes she does it well; other times she is ill-prepared for their unexpected hijinks. The patient way she handles trying situations is inspiring, but it’s also easy to sympathize with her when she makes mistakes or becomes overwhelmed. I loved reading about her and felt she was a kindred spirit.
The Mitchells: Five for Victory is a wonderful book for modeling harmonious family relationships, especially during trying times, and a beautiful tribute to the daily work of mothers. The sequels to this book are Canadian Summer (in which the war is over, there are now six Mitchell children, and the family relocates to rural Montreal) and Friendly Gables (in which twins join the family and a nurse looks after the older children while Mother recovers.) All three books are available in paperback and ebook as well as audiobook format, and they are not to be missed!
Copyright 2023 Katie Fitzgerald
About the Author
Katie Fitzgerald is a former children's librarian turned stay-at-home, homeschooling mom. She and her librarian husband live in Maryland with their five children, the youngest of whom are boy/girl twins. She has published two textbooks for librarians, and she writes about homeschooling, books and the reading life from a Catholic perspective at ReadAtHomeMom.com and on Instagram @read.at.home.mom.