Saturday 24 September 2016

Grandad’s medals by Tracy Duncan, illustrated by Bruce Potter

Grandad’s medals by Tracy Duncan, illustrated by Bruce Potter (Reed, 2005)

32 pages with colour illustrations

Subjects: grandparents, Anzac Day, picture books (Year 1-4)

The first half of this picture book shows a young boy’s relationship with his grandfather. They go fishing together, fly kites and gather pinecones (accompanied by the dog). They stack wood for fires on winter nights when Grandad tells stories “about the old days”, and sometimes the boy plays with the medals he got when he was a soldier in an (unnamed) war, “a long time ago”.

All this leads up to Anzac Day, when the boy and his mother (and the dog!) get up early and go down to the RSA hall to watch his Grandad – wearing his medals - march in the dawn parade. There is a simple description of the service, seen from the boy’s point of view: songs, speeches, the Last Post, the silence, the national anthem, laying of wreaths and a cup of tea and a biscuit afterwards. The boy notices that some familiar faces are missing this year, including Grandad’s best friend, and how all the soldiers are getting older.

At the end, the boy and his grandfather sit and look at the medals for a while, until Grandad puts them away, and then they go fishing again - which is a nice ending. 

As a writer, I was intrigued by the way in which the medals of the title act as a focus or a symbol through which to tell the story, even though they are only mentioned on three pages in the text (but appear more often in the illustrations). You can tell by the cover illustration that the young boy is fascinated by their “shiny silver faces”.

Have you ever been to an Anzac Day dawn service? Was it like this one?

About the author
Tracy Duncan is an artist and writer who lives near Nelson. She has written and illustrated many books in both te reo Māori and in English.

About the illustrator
Bruce Potter has also illustrated The Donkey Man by Glyn Harper, Grandad's Medals text by Tracy Duncan, Soldier in the Yellow socks: Charles Upham: Our Finest Fighting Soldier text by Janice Marriott and My Grandfather's War text by Glyn Harper

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

Friday 2 September 2016

True Brit: Beatrice - 1940 by Rosemary Zibart, illustrated by George Lawrence

True Brit: Beatrice - 1940 by Rosemary Zibart, illustrated by George Lawrence  (Kinkajou Press, c2011 - thanks to the publishers for sending me this book to review)

20 chapters; 205 pages with black and white illustrations

Subjects: World War Two, England, United States, evacuees, junior fiction (Year 5-8)
12-year-old Beatrice lives in London with her upper-class family: mother, father and older brother. When the bombs start falling on London in September 1940, her parents decide to send her as far away as possible to be safe. The Children’s Overseas Reception Board says there are no more places available in Canada, but a public nurse in New Mexico has offered to take a child - and that is where Beatrice is sent, all by herself, by boat (first class) and then train.

Her father, whom she adores, gives her a red leather notebook so she can record her observations as if she is a lady explorer, like Mary Kingsley, and these notebook entries are a clever way of showing Beatrice’s impressions of her new surroundings.

Santa Fe in New Mexico couldn’t be more different from London, and Miss Clementine Pope is hard working, practical and down to earth, the complete opposite of Beatrice’s mother. Beatrice has led a sheltered life; she is used to being waited on by servants and having fine clothes and everything she wants, and to her new friends Arabella, Esteban and Ana, she comes across as faceta (spoiled, stuck up and a “little princess”). She is determined to prove them wrong, and after several months, and one big adventure in particular, Clem says “you showed us that you’ve got quite a bit of starch for a gal your age.”

This book is the first in a series (Far and Away) about children in WW2, with its own facebook page. You can read the first chapter here, and also see a book trailer – filmed on location at the Lamy train station where Beatrice first arrives in New Mexico! 

(I especially like the opening line: “Only Great-Aunt Augusta spoke up against the plan”. And I was tickled by the reference to the four children – 2 boys and 2 girls, one named Lucy, waiting on a railway platform to be sent to their great-uncle’s house in the country. Many readers don't realise that the Pevensie children in The lion the witch and the wardrobe were also WW2 evacuees.)

Chapter 16 review website is impressed by “the attention to detail, from descriptions of mud homes and pinon trees to ‘A-okay’ American slang”.

Can you imagine being sent away from your family for such a long time – without any of today’s ways of communicating, like texts or emails or even phone calls – just letters to keep in touch! What would you miss the most about where you live?  

About the author
Rosemary Zibart lives in Santa Fe. She describes herself on her website as a storyteller and writer who has written “film scripts, magazine and newspaper articles, picturebooks, middle-grade and young adult novels, essays, plays, screenplays and most recently websites”.

About the illustrator
You can read about George Lawrence here

Other books you might like:
Carrie’s war, Archie’s war, Lord of the nutcracker men, When the siren wailed and Ronnie’s war all cover different aspects of the evacuee experience. Uprooted: a Canadian war story by Lynne Reid Banks gives a Canadian perspective.
Also mentioned here (but not fully reviewed) is Evacuee by Gabriel Alington (Walker Books, 1988) which tells the story of a timid English girl, Frances (or Fanny) sent away to the USA to live with “Aunt” Bird and her adopted daughter, Pepper. It also treats the subject of the debate within the United States as to whether or not they should join WW2.

Things I didn’t know
I didn’t know anything about Santa Fe or New Mexico so I really enjoyed the description of the landscape and town. A historical note at end says that children did come to Santa Fe in WW2, some of the thousands who were sent to Canada, the US and Australia to escape the war.

There is an excellent article on Operation Pied Piper and the evacuee children here, with some great photos.

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