Monday 17 August 2015

The amazing tale of Ali Pasha by Michael Foreman

The amazing tale of Ali Pasha by Michael Foreman (Templar, 2013)

9 chapters; 128 pages with numerous beautiful colour illustrations

Subjects: World War One, Gallipoli, Egypt, Navy, animals, tortoises, junior fiction (Year 5-8)

Ali Pasha 1

I tracked down this title after reading an article in the Guardian that asked well-known authors, “What are the best first world war books for children?” This book was Michael Morpurgo’s pick.  

On the cover, it is subtitled “a story of fear, friendship and courage”. The story, based on fact, is that of Henry Friston, a 21-year-old seaman on the HMS Implacable. In April 1915, the Implacable sails to Gallipoli and Henry and his gunner mates are sent on shore at X Beach (one of the five landing beaches at Cape Helles) to act as stretcher bearers. Sheltering after a shell blast, he finds a tortoise and determines to take it - against orders - back onto the ship with him. Soon afterwards the Implacable leaves for Egypt and Ali Pasha becomes a companion and good luck totem for the four friends who keep his existence on board a secret.

The author describes these events through the eyes of a young reporter, Trevor Roberts, who in turn hears them from Henry himself as an “old man” (actually not that old – only 59! – but presumably seemed so to the reporter!)

The endpapers contain family photographs of Henry as a young boy at school, a 13-year-old in his first job at the “Big House”, a sailor in his Navy uniform, and after the war as a bus driver, tram conductor, father and (really) old man. There is an afterword by the author explaining how and when he met Henry, his son Don and Ali Pasha himself.  

The final pages show some media coverage of Ali Pasha (who made The Times and even got to appear on the BBC’s Blue Peter show) and tell of how he outlived Henry by  ten years and died, aged at least 90 but quite possibly over 100, in 1987. By then, he had lived with the Friston family for 72 years.

You can see some of the beautiful illustrations from the book in Ali Pasha in pictures.  

Books for Keeps says that “most stories for this age group about the Great War concentrate on the trenches and the Army fighting in France, and it is refreshing to hear of the Navy’s part in the campaigns and especially of the part it played at Gallipoli.

Info on the author: 
Michael Foreman is primarily an illustrator, but his book War boy : a wartime childhood tells of growing up (he was born in 1938) in an English fishing village during World War Two. It is followed by After the war was over.

There is a lovely article about him here in the Guardiancelebrating the 50th anniversary of his first book.

Other books you might like:
Anything else written or illustrated by Michael Foreman about war (or peace), including War game, War boy : a wartime childhood and The General and also The little ships by Louise Borden. 

NZ connections:
A number of tortoises made it back to New Zealand after World War One - not all of them alive. One of the exhibits at the National Army Museum in Waiouru is a tortoise shell from Gallipoli

This tortoise didn’t enjoy the same long life as Ali Pasha, but there was another Gallipoli tortoise that did – in fact, Torty is still alive and living in Hawkes Bay. (Tortoises have been known to live to over 200 years old.) 

PRONE TO WATER: Ninety-one years after coming to New Zealand in a Gallipoli veteran's backpack, Torty is as limber as ever.
KATHY WEBB/ The Dominion Post

The tale of the Anzac tortoise by Shona Riddell, illustrated by official Defence Force artist Matt Gauldie, was partly inspired by the story of another tortoise which was given to a nurse by a wounded soldier and lived out its life on the Kapti Coast.
Official NZ Defence Force artist Matt Gauldie and Shona Riddell have created a children's book about a time-travelling war tortoise.
Matt Gauldie
Have you read it?
Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

Wednesday 5 August 2015

The Belgian twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins

The Belgian twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins (Houghton Mifflin, 1917)

18 chapters; 192 pages

Subjects: World War One, Belgium, refugees, twins, families, junior fiction (Year 5-8)

This is quite exciting as I’ve been wanting to read some older books, which can be hard to access in print, but I’ve just realised that they are accessible online, for example on Project Gutenburg. This title even seems to be on youtube as an audiobook. 

Jan and Marie are twins (as we know from the title), 8 years old, living on a farm in Belgium. It’s summer, harvest time; everything is peaceful and idyllic. There are rumours of a German army at the borders, but Belgium is neutral and surely she will be protected.

The men of the village are called away to join the army and it is hard for the women and children to know what is happening. (“There were no daily papers in Meer, and now there were no young men to go to the city and bring back the gossip of the day, as there had used to be.”) Then news comes that the Germans have crossed the eastern border and want to cross into France. That night their mother fastens a locket around Marie’s neck, and tells her, “You must wear it always… and remember that your mother's name is Leonie Van Hove, and your father's name is Georges Van Hove. If by any chance—which God forbid—we should become separated from one another, keep the locket on your neck, and our names in your memory until we meet again; for if such a thing should happen, do not doubt that I should find you, though I had to swim the sea to do it!"

When the “great tidal wave” of “a long gray line of soldiers on horseback” approaches the village, their mother hides the twins and the dog in the vegetable cellar. When they venture out again, the house has been ransacked for food and their mother has disappeared. In fact “there was not a human being but themselves in the entire village; all the others had been driven away like sheep, before the invading army.”

The children are brave and appealing and never lose faith that their mother will find them. The dialogue is realistic and often funny - here are a few examples:
  • "I think I could be braver if I had some breakfast," sobbed Janke.
  • "I don't see anything to laugh at," said Jan with dignity; "it might have happened to any man."
  • "She said no matter what happened we should never despair, and here we are despairing as hard as ever we can."

Marie and Jan go in search of their mother and join a flood of refugees on the road to Antwerp and safety in Holland. On the way they are taken in by an old woman, then a family on board a barge who take care of them and protect them from noticing too much of what is happening (burning houses and villages) but they can’t help seeing all the German soldiers.  Just in time they escape the siege and bombing of Antwerp and reach Rotterdam where they are placed in the care of the British Consul and put on a boat going to England, then taken to a large country house set aside for homeless Belgians.

“At night they and the other homeless children slept in little white cots set all in a row in a great picture gallery… Every day more Belgians came, and still more, until not only the big house, but the stable and outbuildings were all running-over full of homeless people.”

The next stage of their journey is by sea to New York to live with a childless Belgian couple who have offered to look after them. “They had chicken for supper, and, after that, ice cream! Jan and Marie had never tasted ice cream before in their whole lives! They thought they should like America very much.”

The last chapter is called THE MOST WONDERFUL PART, so you can guess it has a happy ending. It does seem coincidental, but the Preface says that “this story of two little Belgian refugees is based upon the actual experience of two Belgian children, and the incident of the locket is quite true." I tried to find proof of this, and couldn't - it would be fascinating to know the background to the sorry.  

You can read a short, but very early, review of this book in the New York Times for December 9, 1917. 

Booksylvania posts reviews by 11-year-old Lucy: "This book is inspired by the actual events in Belgium, of two Belgian children. I loved this book because of the truth in it."

About the author
Lucy Fitch Perkins (1865-1937), American author, educator and illustrator, wrote the popular Twins series of books. Born in Maples, Indiana, she studied at the Fine Arts School in Boston, then worked as a book illustrator with the an educational company and taught at art school. In August 1891, she married Dwight Perkins, an architect and teacher. Her first book (The Dutch Twins) was published when she was 48, and she kept writing one or two books a year from then on, wanting to give children "a correct idea of life in other countries" and to encourage "a spirit of friendliness and good will for children of other nationalities."

You can find a list of all her twins books hereWhat is quite astonishing is that this book was published while the war was still going, so that (as the Suggestions to teachers says) “American children who have been giving their pennies to help take care of little Belgian children will find this new "Twins" book one of the most appealing that Mrs. Perkins has ever written.” The French twins (1918) was also written in war time.

Things I didn't know
I didn't know anything about Belgian refugees in England and recently came across this article about the thousands who fled across the Channel when the Germans invaded. Many of them settled in a refugee community in Elisabethville, near Durham. Both of these articles feature some fascinating facts and photographs.

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