Friday 17 June 2016

Pandemic: Spanish flu 1918 by Sally Stone

Pandemic: Spanish flu 1918 by Sally Stone (Scholastic, 2012; part of My New Zealand story series)

159 pages, written in the form of diary entries

Subjects: World War One, influenza, armistice, New Zealand, junior fiction (Year 5-8)

This book follows the fictional diary format of the My New Zealand story series. Eleven-year-old Freda Rose starts her diary after a falling-out with her best friend Pearl. She lives with her parents and grandmother on a farm and her older brother Bobby is serving overseas as a stretcher-bearer in World War One.

The story is primarily about the influenza epidemic, but I’ve included it here as the epidemic was so closely linked with the war and the armistice celebrations, and because Freda’s diary also describes the homecoming of her brother Bobby, and how they all (Bobby included) struggle to cope with how changed he is.

There is a short historical note at the back, a description of what to do in a pandemic and some historical photos.

Bob Docherty in his invaluable Bobs book blog says that the author "gives an excellent portrait of life in these times that will astound today’s kids". 

Teacher notes are provided here

About the author
The Scholastic blurb says that Sally Stone lives in Queenstown with her husband and three children. This is her first book with Scholastic; she has previously written school journals for Learning Media.

Other books you might like:
Black November by Geoffrey Rice (Canterbury University Press, 2005) provides the most comprehensive coverage of the influenza epidemic in New Zealand.

My book Armistice Day also includes a section on the influenza epidemic. 

Things I didn’t know
I did know this, but I always forget the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic. 
So here's a definition from Info please: An epidemic occurs when a disease affects a greater number people than is usual for the locality or one that spreads to areas not usually associated with the disease. A pandemic is an epidemic of world-wide proportions.
Excellent info and photos of the 1918 influenza pandemic here on the NZ history site. 
And also on the Christchurch city libraries site and Te ara.

There's an amazing story on Puke ariki about a four year old boy from Inglewood who survived by chance when it was discovered in the morgue that he was still breathing.

Friday 3 June 2016

Stay where you are and then leave by John Boyne

Stay where you are and then leave by John Boyne (Doubleday, 2013)

14 chapters; 247 pages

Subjects: World War One, England, London, hospitals, shell shock, conscientious objectors, junior fiction (Year 5-8)

Alfie Summerfield is five years old, living on an ordinary London street called Damley Road, when the war starts. His father, Georgie, signs up almost straightaway. Four years later, Alfie is nine, the war is still going on and there is no word from his father. His letters have stopped arriving and all Alfie knows is what his mother Margie tells him: that his father is on a secret mission for the Government, and that’s why he can’t write any more.

The community of Damley Road is a close-knit one, and we find out what happens to a number of its other occupants during these four years. One of the most powerful moments is when two men in military uniform knock at the door to (slight spoiler alert here) deliver the news of a soldier’s death. Margie’s emotions skip from shock to horror to outrage as she realises they have the wrong house, and every other woman along the street stands in fear on her doorstep, waiting to see where they go next.  

Money is tight and Alfie decides to help out by skipping school (except on the days when they have history or reading) and working as a shoeshine boy at King’s Cross Station. This is where he finds out where his father actually is, and where he starts to dream up a plan to get him home again.

The Guardian review points out some of the coincidence in the plot, and there are some events that stretch credulity. I found it hard to believe that Alfie could get around the hospital without being detected, or that he could escape so easily when finally spotted. But it is still a story that pulls you along, and John Boyne does an amazing job of telling it from the point of view of a young child – for example, the way that Alfie views anyone aged 21 or over to be unimaginably old. There are some lovely insights into the nature of loyalty and friendship, especially that shown by Georgie’s oldest friend, Joe Patience, who is ostracised by everyone else in the street for being a conscientious objector. And I loved any scene with Mr Asquith in it!

The Guardian book review (mentioned above) says "There may be a fairytale feel to this wartime tale of a boy's quest to find his father, yet it's a solid, engaging read." 
The Pretty Books blog also comments on the fact that "it is fascinating to see the world through the eyes of a child." 
Finally, the reviewer in The Book zone for Boys loved the book and says it is "much more than just a story about a victim of shell shock" and which "really brought alive the everyday travails of the people left at home".

About the author
You can read about John Boyne on his website, which has a special page for this book (although this older link is also quite amusing). 

About the illustrator
The chapter titles were hand lettered by Oliver Jeffers

Other books you might like
I can’t think of many similar books to this one. The way John Boyne gets into the head of a five-year-old, then a nine-year-old is hard to replicate. If you haven’t read The boy in the striped pyjamas, you should definitely read that.

NZ connections
Only to say that I heard John Boyne speak a year or so ago and was fascinated by his account of how he wrote The boy in the striped pyjamas in about three days, virtually non-stop. You can read about it here in this transcript of a talk with Dublin Public Libraries

Things I didn’t know
I didn’t know much about shoe shine boys, but now I've found out that the Shoeblack Brigade set boys up as shoeblacks in London in 1850. More than a dozen brigades were formed, each with their own uniform, and the boys often lived in hostels. The Shoeblack Brigades had mostly disappeared by the start of World War One. “Shoe shining continued as a London street trade for many years” but had virtually vanished by the 1960s.
You can see more of Frederick Wilfred's evocative photos of London here

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