Wednesday 11 March 2015

An unexpected hero by L.P. Hansen

An unexpected hero by L.P. Hansen (CreateBooks, 2014)

ISBN 978-0-9941102-7-5

12 chapters; 145 pages

Subjects: World War One, New Zealand, conscientious objectors, pacifism, Archibald Baxter, schools, bullying, farms, junior fiction (Year 5-8)

Matt Turner, 12 years old, faces a move from the big city to the country for family reasons. Instead of living with his parents, he has to stay on the farm with his grandparents and attend the same small country school where his father once went.

First chapters can be tricky when then there is a lot of information to get across, but Linda Hansen’s opening chapter does a fine job of introducing Matt, his grandparents and the farm, explaining why he is there, showing us how difficult it can be for kids on that first day at a new school and hinting at some of the major themes to follow (local war history and Matt’s struggles with public speaking).  

At Matt’s new school, the annual Year 8 farewell speeches are a big community event, and he has arrived in time to be a part of it. Matt’s family has never made a big deal about war, so he doesn’t know who to choose for his “war hero”. Even worse, he hates speaking in public (a fact that his grandparents don’t know about him) and is terrified that he will stutter, blush and totally mess up.

The book follows Matt’s journey both in thinking about the nature of heroism and in taking steps towards a victory of his own. I liked the way that the author shows us Matt struggling with both of these issues, and getting help from other people, but ultimately finding a way towards his own resolution of them.

Bobs book blog (always an excellent resource) gives the book a very good review and calls it “an excellent short novel …for primary and intermediate children and a timely reminder that it takes courage to refuse to fight

Free Teachers’ Resource kits are available from the publisher here.

Who would you choose as your war time hero?
(I’m currently taking my first ever MOOC (Massive Open Online) course on “Changing faces of heroism”,  and this is one of the first questions we were asked.)

About the author
Linda Hansen is both a storyteller and a writer. In 2012, she won the Jack Lasenby Children’s Writing Award for ‘Socks in the Library,’ a story about homelessness.

Linda developed her writing skills by working in places like Radio New Zealand and then in Parliament where, as the deputy director of one of the Research Units, she researched and wrote for politicians. During her time at Volunteer Service Abroad, she learned about countries where the volunteers worked and wrote handbooks about them.

Other books you might like:
Other books that deal with the topic of pacifism are Evan’s Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood, Remembrance by Theresa Breslin and My brother’s war by David Hill. 

Things I didn’t know
I did know something about Archibald Baxter and I‘ve read his classic memoir We will not cease, but I didn't know anything about the developments in the country that Matt uses for the basis of his speech. I don’t want to spoil the plot but it is worth searching online for the idea of “changing rifles into notebooks”.

You can find more info about Archibald Baxter on Te ara, NZ history or the site Lest we forget – "remembering peacemakers on Anzac Day".

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

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