Monday, 4 June 2018

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Enemy camp by David Hill

Enemy camp by David Hill (Puffin, 2016)

260 pages (in diary format)

Subjects: World War Two, New Zealand, Japan, Prisoners of war, young adult fiction (Year 7-10)

Image result for enemy camp david hill

Synopsis
“When of hundreds of Japanese captives arrive at Featherston POW camp, the tiny town is divided. Tensions run high and then, on 25 February 1943, disaster strikes. Three boys witness it all.” (Publisher’s blurb)

Ewen lives in the small town of Featherson, where his father works as a guard at the POW camp. His diary covers the months between October 1942 and February 1943 and describes everyday life in wartime, school, the summer holidays, the attitudes of local people to the Japanese and the gradually increasing tension between some of the prisoners and guards. Together with his best friend Barry and Barry’s younger (polio-affected) brother Clarry, Ewen starts taking Japanese lessons from one of the officers, and this provides a great way to show a positive side of Japanese life and culture that many of the townsfolk have no idea of.

David Hill skilfully builds in many other aspects of 1940s life: the ever-present fear of polio, food shortages, barbed wire on the beaches, the blackout, the Home Guard, American GIs handing out sticks of gum, practice air raids, school milk, ink wells, picnics, the movies and dances. He has a wonderful way of capturing a 12-year-old boy’s voice, in Ewen’s remarks on the progress of the war (“So yeah, we’re going to win”) as well as the progress of his friendship with “snobby Susan Proctor” (“And – I’m still trying to believe this – I spent most of the time talking to Susan Proctor”). 

It’s also a refreshing change to read about a boy who reads and likes writing, and wants to be an author when he grows up, and about a warm and close, even if undemonstrative, father-son relationship.  

Reviews:
Bobs book blog says: "Superbly written in short diary entries that primary and intermediate students can easily read, coupled with David Hill’s easy style and you have great historical fiction. The account of the event itself with the boys looking on is sensitively done. A very readable novel." 

Another review by Siobhan Harvey calls it "both an enjoyable read and an imperceptible history lesson" and notes that "importantly, Hill personalises the demonised foe, allowing young readers to see Japanese captives as much victims of war as anyone fighting on the Allied side." 

About the author
David Hill is one of NZ’s best loved authors for young people. Here is an article in which he talks about the book: 
"I'm not preaching any themes. I want them to have a story first. I hope they like the people, especially Ewen the young protagonist. If they see attitudes that they agree with and some they disagree with I'll be very happy with that." 

There's another interview here on Radio NZ. I also enjoyed this interview and David Hill's comments about writing about war ("War is wonderful to write about because it involves conflict - physical, mental and internal") and why he likes writing for and about this age group ("because they're coming across ideas and experiences for the first time. They're surprisingly sophisticated, they have a good vocabulary and understand a lot. They;re a lovely mixture between naivety and sophistication.")   

Links
You can read more about the “Featherston incident" here
And if you are ever driving on SH 2 between Featherston and Greytown, look out for the roadside memorial to the POW site.

Have you read it?
Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

Monday, 23 April 2018

The red poppy by David Hill, illustrated by Fifi Colston

The red poppy by David Hill, illustrated by Fifi Colston (Scholastic, 2012)

Also published in te reo as Te Popi Whero. 

Subjects: World War One, France, poppy, dogs, animals, picture books (Year 3-6)


The Red Poppy (Book and CD)

Synopsis

Jim McLeod is a young soldier like any other, waiting in the trenches as the time of attack draws nearer. Nipper is a stray dog, found in an abandoned French  village, whom the soldiers have trained to act as a messenger dog, carrying messages in a leather bag around his neck (and he was a good rat-killer as well).

The only patch of colour is a cluster of poppies amidst the grey mud. Jim, an "enemy" German soldier and Nipper are about to see their paths meet - and the poppies have a role to play as well.

There's a CD at the back of the book  (and lyrics on the back page) featuring an original song (Little red poppy) written by Canadian musician Rob Kennedy and performed by Giselle Sanderson. (David Hill says in the acknowledgements that the song "started everything off".) Little red poppy has now been sung at commemoration services around the world and you can listen to it here on You tube.

You can also listen to The red poppy on Radio NZ's Treasure chest.

Reviews:
My bestfriends are books interviews David and Fifi about family history, writing this book and what it meant to them. 
Kids' book review calls it "a breathtaking and deeply moving book. It’s about a man, a war, and the basic concepts of humankind. It’s about a dog, an unlikely friendship and the iconic red poppy used to commemorate our fallen". 
You can find teacher notes from Scholastic here

About the author:
David Hill is one of New Zealand's best (and best loved) writers for children and young adults. You can read more about him on the NZ Book Council site or the Christchurch City libraries site. 
His other books with a war theme include Enemy camp and Flight path.  (Interestingly, he says in this newspaper interview that he started writing war stories because "it became embarrassing for an "old guy" to try and write contemporary teenage slang ".)

About the illustrator:
Fifi Colston has a great website with this page about her children's book illustration (including The red poppy).  

Other books you might like:
Caesar the Anzac dog and The Anzac puppy are both stories about dogs in World War One.

Links
Dogs were used for many different purposes in World War One (there was even a War Dog School Of Instruction). This article has some interesting facts about "four-legged fighters". 
This one has a picture of a dog wearing a gas mask. 
More pictures and info here and here

Have you read it?
Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The duck in the gun by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Robyn Belton

The duck in the gun by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Robyn Belton (Walker Books, 2009; first published 1969)

32 pages with delightful colour illustrations

Subjects: peace, ducks, animals, picture books (Year 2-6)

Image result for The duck in the gun by Joy Cowley

Synopsis
For the last post of the year, it seems appropriate to feature a book about peace -
“The General and his men are about to fire on a town they are at war with. But the Gunner has bad news for the General – they can’t load the gun as there is a duck nesting inside it! Determined to not let a single duck stop an army, the General visits the Prime Minister of the town he is preparing to fight to resolve the situation. Can one duck put an end to the war?” (Outline from Walker Books)

This book won the NZLA Russell Clark Award and was also one of ten children’s books selected for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. You can see the 1984 Shortland Educational Publications edition online at the International Children’s Digital Library.

Activities
Lots of good classroom ideas here.

Questions
There are some very good questions in Walker Books’ list of classroom ideas (shown above), including these ones:
“What does ‘peace’ mean to you? 
Do you have a favourite place that makes you feel at peace, or a person that makes you feel peaceful? 
Draw a place, person (this can be imaginary or real) that makes you feel this way.”

About the author
One of New Zealand's best-loved writers, Joy Cowley needs little introduction. 

About the illustrator
RobynBelton is also well known for her many prize-winning children’s books. 

I love the illustrations in this book. One of my favourites is the picture of the General  relaxing over his newspaper while his men are painting houses in the town (that's the town they are supposed to be at war with!)

Other books you might like:
Other anti-war books for children include The story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, The general by Janet Charters, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Bravo! by Philip Waechter and Moni Port and Thebutter battle book by Dr Seuss.

Things I didn’t know
In the brief bios at the back, Robyn Belton says she added a dog that wasn’t in Joy’s text, to act as a “mirror” - “amplifying the gestures and expressions of the girl”. 
Joy says that the book grew out of her “feelings of distress” about the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, combined with a heart-warming news story about a duck that made its nest on a building site in Chicago and halted construction for three weeks.   

Have you read it?
Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

Monday, 30 October 2017

The war that saved my life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The war that saved my life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial Books, 2015)

46 chapters; 316 pages

Subjects: World War Two, London, evacuees, family, junior fiction (Year 5-8)

Image result for The war that saved my life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Synopsis
I’ve always been fascinated by stories about World War Two evacuees, as it’s not part of the New Zealand war story at all. This author takes a different approach. The main character Ada is already damaged by a childhood of emotional and physical abuse by her mother, who seems to hate Ada for her disability (a clubfoot, which could have been easily fixed) and never lets her go outside. (The local children, who only ever see her waving from their window, think she is simple, not disabled.)

Ada is about ten years old, although she doesn’t know for sure. Despite being kept indoors for her whole life, she is smart and determined, and she gets her chance when her little brother Jamie comes home from school and announces that they are being sent to the country because of the war. Ada manages to escape to the train with him and as nobody else wants the two of them, they are reluctantly taken into the home of a childless woman, Susan Smith.

WW2 forms a backdrop to the story, with the neighbouring airfield and the danger of spies, and it provides several important plot points, especially at the end. The book traces the developing relationship between Ada and Susan, but also Ada’s growing sense of her own self-worth, which has been almost destroyed by her mother’s treatment of her.

Because she has lived such a restricted life up until now, Ada has never been to school, and can’t read or write.  The fact that she doesn’t know what everyday things like shops or banks are, or the meaning of many common words, is potentially tricky for a writer but Kimberly Bradley handles the challenge very skilfully.

This is a memorable story and I especially liked Susan as a character. Her life story is only hinted at, never fully described, but enough is hinted at to make it understandable, at least for older readers.      

I didn’t find Ada’s mother quite as convincing. She was so utterly malevolent that she seemed less believable, although the scene when Jamie finally realised the truth about her (which he had always been shielded from before) is very sad.

Reviews:
There are many glowing reviews of this book, such as this one on NZBookgirl
Kidsreads calls it “an unforgettable gripping story, one that is not only earmarked to be an award-winning novel, but also has the potential of becoming an all-time classic.”
The School Library Journal describes it as “Anne of Green Gables without quite so much whimsy” in which “hope, in whatever form it ultimately takes, is the name of the game.” “Enormously satisfying and fun to read, Bradley takes a work of historical fiction and gives the whole premise of WWII evacuees a kick in the pants.”
And this from Kirkus Reviews: Set against a backdrop of war and sacrifice, Ada’s personal fight for freedom and ultimate triumph are cause for celebration.”
You can also find lesson plans here

About the author
You can find Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's website here
In this review on book reporter, she describes how she was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, studied chemistry at college and married her high school sweetheart, and now lives on a 52-acre farm, with ponies, dogs, cats, sheep, goats, and lots and lots of trees in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.

Other books you might like:
Other books about evacuees include: Lord of the nutcracker men by Iain Lawrence, When the siren wailed by Noel Streatfeild, Ronnie’s war by Bernard Ashley, The dolphin crossing by Jill Paton Walsh, Carrie’s war by Nina Bawden and Uprooted: a Canadian war story by Lynne Reid Banks.

Have you read it?
Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Hiroshima no pika written and illustrated by Toshi Maruki

Hiroshima no pika written and illustrated by Toshi Maruki (translation of the same Japanese title; New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1980)

48 pages with colour illustrations, sometimes full page double spreads

Subjects: World War Two, Hiroshima, atomic bomb, anti-war books, Japan, picture books (Year 6-8)

Image result for Hiroshima no pika

Synopsis

This is based on a first-person account that the author heard when he was holding an exhibition of pictures about the atomic bomb in a small town in Hokkaido.

It begins with a cloudless blue morning in Hiroshima, with streetcars picking up people on their way to work and the seven rivers flowing quietly through the city. Seven-year-old Mii and her parents are breakfasting on sweet potatoes “brought in the day before by cousins who lived in the country” when the bomb falls at 8.15am on August 6, 1945. Mii’s mother carries her injured husband on her back across the city, across rivers and all the way to the coast, where they stay for days until he is taken into a makeshift hospital: “no doctors, no medicine, no bandages – only shelter.” 

The illustrations are stylised but portray a powerful sense of the horror of the event, and the consequent suffering, partly through the lurid and unnatural colours of the skies and surroundings.

This is a terrible event, and parts of the text would be upsetting to younger (or even older) children: the mother carrying a dead baby, the floating bodies, the wasteland of the city, Mii’s father’s death, the glass slivers that poke their way out of her scalp in years to come.

Look out for the red chopsticks that Mii clutches for days after the Flash, until her mother manages to prise them from her grip. It’s a clever way to identify her on each page, but also hints at the hidden trauma she has undergone.

The book feeds in some factual details about the atomic bomb and ends with the lantern memorial service held each year on the seven rivers. I couldn’t see a translation of the title anywhere – maybe I missed it – but it means The Flash of Hiroshima.  

Reviews:
An entry in Kirkus reviews is always prestigious. “Japanese artist and antiwar activist Maruki manages to avoid the opposing perils of giving children nightmares and belittling the horror.”

About the author
Toshi Maruki (1912–2000) was born in Hokkaido and studied Western art at the Joshibi Women's School of Art and Design.
“I am now past seventy years old. I have neither children nor grandchildren. But I have written this book for grandchildren everywhere. It took me a very long time to complete it. It is very difficult to tell young people about something bad that happened in the hope that their knowing will help keep it from happening again.”

Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels, established by husband and wife Iri and Toshi Maruki, "is famous for its message for peace all over the world". The artist couple went into Hiroshima city just three days after the bombing and spent 30 years painting the 15 panels.

Other books you might like:
Sadako by Eleanor Coerr, illustrated by Ed Young, also tells of a young girl in Hiroshima. 

Things I didn’t know
I didn’t know that other Japanese cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya had already experienced air raids, so the people of Hiroshima were readying for them by storing water and making evacuation plans. There is a sad poignancy in the statement that “Everyone carried small bags of medicine and when they were out of doors, wore air-raid hats or hoods to protect their heads.”

Have you read it?
Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

Thursday, 24 August 2017

A winter’s day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik

A winter’s day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik (Scholastic, 2013)
24 chapters; 285 pages
Subjects: World War Two; Poland; family; evacuees, refugees; junior fiction (Year 7-10)
Image result for A winter’s day in 1939

Synopsis
I should have reviewed this book before, because it is so good and has collected lots of awards and shortlistings: Storylines Notable Book 2014, Finalist 2014 NZ Post Book Awards, Finalist 2014 LIANZA Esther Glen Junior Fiction Award, Winner Librarian's Choice Award 2014 LIANZA Children's Book Awards

Melinda explains in the foreword that A winter’s day in 1939 is based on the story of her father, Leszek Szymanik, who was 12 when the Soviet Red Army invaded his homeland of Poland in 1939. His family was transported from Poland to a Russian labour camp in 1940.

The family in the book are Adam, his parents, older brother Tomasz and younger sisters Zofia and Maria. They live on a small farm, growing crops (tobacco, potatoes) and raising cows, pigs and chickens. Tragedy strikes the family at the very start of the story, followed by uncertainty and worry as Germany invades Poland – and then the Russian tanks arrive. Their farm is requisitioned (taken over by the Russians) and they are given a week to leave and find a new home - one room in a house  in a village 15km away.  

Things get worse, not better, and more long hard journeys, and much sadness, lie ahead of them.

Melinda includes a historical note, a map of the family’s journey, glossary, bibliography and a postscript about what happened next. Her foreword ends: “The past is filled with stories like these, of people who suffered terrible conditions and overwhelming sadness but remained hopeful and survived, despite everything. It is up to us to honour their memories and remember this stories to make the world a better place.”

I’m lucky to have a signed copy, and Melinda has written this in the front of my book: “We have to know the past to make a better future.”

Reviews
Booksellers NZ comments that “Melinda is a very skilled observer of family relationships, and this is what really brings the book to a higher level”.
Hooked on NZ books has links to a whole collection of reviews.
Teacher notes from Scholastic here.
About the author
Melinda has a great blog where she talks about all sort of writing issues and the writing life. In this blog post, she talks about how she came to write the book.
You can read more about Melinda here  
Other books you might like:
Stefania's dancing slippers by Jennifer Beck tells another story of a Polish refugee family in picture book format. 
New Zealand connection
Of course there is a very real NZ connection in this case, because Melinda’s father ended up here, and so did over 700 Polish children who came out by ship and went to the Polish children’s camp at Pahiatua. It’s hard for us as an island nation to imagine what it must be like to live in a country that is surrounded by other nations and has been the site of conflict for centuries.
Links
In November 2014, there was a series of events to mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Polish children at Pahiatua. You can read more about the "Polish Week" anniversary here.    
Have you read it?

Have you read this book? Let me know what you think.