Sunday 11 November 2018

Armistice Day 2018 and The Telegram

I've been keeping this blog all through the World War One centenary commemorations. I had no idea there were so many children's books about war and there are many more I could review, both contemporary and from the past. These books are wise, thoughtful, exciting, moving, often very sad; their heroes and heroines are brave, scared, courageous, resourceful and inspiring.

I have loved reading them. But Armistice Day 2018 seems like a good time to draw this project to a close. It is wonderful to read about the many joyful projects being planned to mark the centenary of the end of World War One.

And this is my own project, due out in March 2019.

Sunday 24 June 2018

My grandfather’s war by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

My grandfather’s war by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (EK Books, 2018)

32 pages with full page colour illustrations (hardback edition)

Subjects: Vietnam, grandparents, veterans, picture books (Year 3-4)

My Grandfather’s War tells the story of 8-year-old Sarah and her grandfather Robert, who lives with her family and looks after her before and after school. The pair have a close relationship and Sarah is sensitive to her grandfather’s occasional spells of sadness. The family doesn’t talk about these, except to tell Sarah that he is thinking about a war in a place called Vietnam.

When Sarah summons up her courage to ask her grandfather why he feels sad, he tells her about his time in Vietnam. The flashbacks of his memory present images of a war which was “not like other wars” and he also tells Sarah about the difficulties the troops faced when they returned home, from anti-war protesters and the after-effects of chemicals.

This is a reworked version of an earlier book, now with the added magic of Glyn Harper’s collaboration with Jenny Cooper, whose illustrations show the warm bond between grandfather and grandchild. 

Another thing I really liked about this book is how it models (to both children and adults) how to handle difficult conversations. Sarah is nervous about asking her question but summons up the courage to do so because she loves her grandfather. She tells him that she’s scared and he acknowledges that with a serious, concerned expression (that picture is one of my favourites). Her grandfather doesn’t fob her off and answers carefully but truthfully. The conversation doesn’t make his sadness go away but now Sarah understands it better.

Kids book reviews calls it "the perfect mix of narrative and history" and "a gentle educational tool, highly recommended" for classrooms. 
Teacher notes are available here and include some thoughtful comments from Jenny about how she approaches the subject of war as an illustrator.

Author’s website
Glyn Harper is Professor of War Studies at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand. He is Massey's Project Manager of the Centenary History of New Zealand and the First World War. A former teacher, he joined the Australian Army in 1988 and after eight years transferred to the New Zealand Army, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Glyn was the army's official historian for the deployment to East Timor and is the author of numerous history books. (From the Penguin website)

Info about the illustrator
Jenny Cooper is a wonderful artist who has illustrated more than 70 children’s books. Read more about her on the Book Council site or Christchurch City libraries or Storylines.

Other books you might like
This is the sixth book that Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper have worked on together. Their previous titles are Roly the Anzac donkey, Jim’s letters, Le Quesnoy: the story of the town New Zealand saved, Gladys goes to war and Bobby the littlest war hero.
There aren’t many books for young readers about Vietnam. Memorial by Gary Crew and Lest we forget by Feana Tu’akoi both touch on it. Other books are Vietnam diary by Mark Wilson and I was only nineteen by John Schumann.
Books about the grandfather-grandchild relationship include Grandad’s medals by Tracy Duncan.

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

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

“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.  

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.")   

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)


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.

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.

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

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.

Lots of good classroom ideas here.

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

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.

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!