Monday 15 December 2014

Truce: the day the soldiers stopped fighting by Jim Murphy

Truce : the day the soldiers stopped fighting by Jim Murphy (Scholastic Press, 2009)

ISBN 978 0 545 13049 3

6 chapters; 116 pages with maps, photographs, posters, paintings and a timeline

Subjects: World War One, France, Christmas, truce, football, non fiction (Year 4-8)

The story of the Christmas truce of December 1914 is well known, but here it is presented in a large format, easy-to-read non-fiction book with plenty of illustrations.

Jim Murphy describes the events leading up to the declaration of war in August 1914, the terrible battles in the latter part of 1914 and the beginning of trench warfare all along the Western Front before he introduces the Truce itself. Seen in context like this, the Christmas Truce underlines the futility of men being sent to war to kill other men with whom they had no personal quarrel, and whom, in fact, they could easily get on with. 

There are some amazing photographs of German and British officers and soldiers mingling in No Man’s Land. “No army photographers were present during the Christmas Truce, so most of the photos of the event were taken by amateurs and are dark and a little out of focus.” (pg 74).  

There are excerpts from several reviews on Jim Murphy's website hereand a fuller review on The Children’s War blog: “Truce is a wonderful book that not only tells the story of the unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914 during World War I, but also gives a coherent, thorough history of the events leading up to the hostilities and just what those terrible first months of war was like in the trenches. “

Author’s website
Jim Murphy is the author of more than 30 books about American history. You can read more About the Author on his website

There are also some Questions and answers (What were you like as a kid? Did you know you wanted to be a writer when you were growing up? Where do your book ideas come from?)

Other books you might like:
War game by Michael Foreman and When the guns fall silent by James Riordan both cover the story of the Christmas truce and football games. 

NZ links
There have been many re-enactments of the Christmas truce football games planned for the centenary in December 2014. In Wellington, young players from schools across the city gathered for a tournament in the presence of the NZ Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, the British High Commissioner and representatives from the German and French embassies. 

The British High Commissioner said that such events were taking place all over the world, "like a giant Mexican wave". He also made the interesting comment that it was rare for representatives from the British, German and French governments to gather together to commemorate the war.

Of course another re-enactment occurs in the Sainbury's Christmas ad - which also raises interesting questions about whether it's appropriate to merge marketing and commemoration like this - or whether it's to be commended as a way of helping people to remember (with profits going to charity.) 

Remember the peace makers
Or do we? Read a thought-provoking article here about Why no one remembers the peace makers

Sainsburys Christmas ad

Tuesday 2 December 2014

The story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

The story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson (first published by Viking Press in 1936; published Picture Puffins 1977; reprinted numerous times)

About 70 pgs with large print on one side and charming, full page black and white illustrations on the facing page

Subjects: peace, pacifism, Spain, animals, fable, picture books (Year 2-6)


I've included this title because I think that the topic of children’s war books should also include children’s books about peace – and the story of Ferdinand is one of the most famous, as well as the most charming!  

(From the Wellington City Libraries catalogue record)
“A true classic with a timeless message, The Story of Ferdinand has enchanted readers since it was first published in 1936. All the other bulls would run and jump and butt their heads together. But Ferdinand would rather sit and smell the flowers. So what will happen when our pacifist hero is picked for the bullfights in Madrid?”

This School Library Journal review lists it amongst the top 100 picture books and includes a number of the illustrations, as well as a clip from an Oscar-winning Disney cartoon short (1938). 

It is also listed in 100bookseverychildshouldreadbeforegrowingup. (Pause here while you count how many of the 100 you have read.) 

The Story Philosophy site uses it as a starter for discussion on animal rights, violence, conformity and obedience to authority. 

About the author
Munro Leaf (1905-1976) was an American teacher, football coach and author of over 30 books for children. The story of Ferdinand was his most well-known and has been translated into over sixty languages.

This author profile contains a lovely description of how the book came to be written:
“Munro Leaf and his friend, award-winning artist and writer Robert Lawson, had been talking about the kind of book they would want to write if they could get past the publisher’s ideas of what made a good book. It took him less than an hour - “25 minutes on a rainy Saturday” - to scribble down the story on a yellow pad of paper. With Lawson’s illustrations, the beatific bull was on his way to becoming internationally famous for his peaceful message in 1936--a time when the world was coming apart in war.”

About the illustrator
Robert Lawson (1892-1957) studied at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, served in WW1 designing camouflage and illustrated for books as well as magazines. He once said: "I have never, as far as I can remember, given one moment's thought as to whether any drawing that I was doing was for adults or children. I have never changed one conception or line or detail to suit the supposed age of the readers." (Hornbook, 1940)

Other books you might like:
My brother’s war by David Hill is a fictional treatment of pacifism, seen through the eyes of two brothers who sign up and refuse to sign up for WW1 at the same time.
Other fables about war and peace include The duck and the gun by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Robyn Belton and The general by Michael Foreman.

What was happening in 1936
  • George VI was crowned king of England after his brother Edward’s abdication.
  • The Spanish Civil War was being fought.
  • It was 18 years since the end of WW1, and the start of WW2 was only three years away.
  • Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany in 1933
Despite these events, and the looming threat of war, Munro Leaf always denied any political intentions; he said, "it’s 'a happy-ending story about being yourself.'”(Source: School Library Journal)