Posts Tagged ‘First World War’

As we commemorate 100 years since the end of the First World War, it is timely to look at two new war-themed books by much-loved author, Michael Morpurgo. While written for children, these books really are for everyone.

Poppy Field

By Michael Morpurgo

Illustrated by Michael Foreman

ISBN 9781407181424

Scholastic

Poppy Field
Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman are well known for their partnership over many  award-winning children’s books. This time they have teamed up with the Royal British Legion to tell an original story that explains the meaning behind the poppy and why we wear it still.

Morpurgo skilfully tells the story of young Martens whose family live on a farm in Flanders Field. 

A poor girl out selling eggs one day meets a soldier as he sits on his own trying to write a poem for his dead comrades; in particular, his best friend, whom he has just buried. He doesn’t want eggs or even the poppies she offers him, but upon his request, she places some poppies on the dead soldier’s grave. In return, she takes a crumpled up scrap of paper with the draft of a poem he was working on. The poem is eventually framed and handed down through four generations of the young girl’s family. The poem is In Flanders Fields.

While the story speaks many truths, it is a work of fiction but more important than that, it is a reminder of who we are and where we come from. it shows us that there is hope and a future because of those who fought before us and for us.

The story is beautifully illustrated in soft greys, blacks and browns, with the only colour being the red poppies which stand out, symbolic and proud.

The Afterword about the history of the poppy and why it is still worn 100 years later, however, is in full colour. The contrasting colours between the story and the Afterword only adds to the haunting quality of the story. A  story that needed to be told. 

Teacher notes can be found here.

 

 

Our Jacko

By Michael Morpurgo

Illustrated by David Gentleman

ISBN 9781406366136

Walker Books

 

There is an old scruffy tin hat which has always been in Michael’s house for as long as he can remember.  It has been used as a toy, a feeding bowl for the hens and even a hanging basket but no one can remember where it comes from. Michael hates it, always has, especially the hole and what the hole likely means. Somewhere, someone wearing that helmet must have died in the war. A school trip and project about the First World War is what changes Michael’s mind when he discovers the hat belonged to his great, great grandfather, Jacko, who never returned from the war. Our Jacko, as the family used to call him, died in Ypres in 1915. Michael and his family discover Jacko’s old diaries and learn so much about life in the trenches, fighting during the First World War. 

Michael Morpurgo takes us on a journey of discovery and the realisation that no matter how awful and tragic the war was, we do need to remember it. We do need to remember those who died and the impact of those losses on everyone and how it changed the world. Peace came at a cost, and we need to remember those who paid the price. 

This is a special book aimed at the 8-12 year olds,  perfectly timed for Armistice Day, the end of the First World War, the war to end all wars.

 

 

 

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The ANZAC Violin: Alexander Aitken’s story

By Jennifer Beck

Illustrated by Robyn Belton

ISBN 9781775433910

Scholastic NZ

 

 

“A true story of a rescued violin and an extraordinary musician, Otago’s Alexander Aiken”

Author Jennifer Beck and illustrator Robyn Belton have previously worked on a number of picture books before. Each book has been first-rate and their latest collaboration is no exception. The story based on the true accounts of New Zealand solider Alexander Aitken, take us through his time in the trenches during World War One. They were harsh and difficult times, full of danger, death and desperation. In 1915 a former schoolmate of Alex’s won a cheap violin in a shipboard raffle. Unable to play music himself, he gave the violin to Alexander who had some musical ability. It didn’t take long before Alexander was playing everyday and getter better and better. Amid the chaos of war Aleaxander Aikten brought music to fellow soldiers and gave them hope for better times ahead. As the story unfolds  we soon learn more about Alexander and his violin. 

 

The violin becomes important to all the soliders, many help to hide it from authorities, protecting it from harm and damage. 


I love this double-page spread. The reflection of the soldiers in the sea has a haunting, almost mourning quality to it . The violin in its black case stands out, reminding us that despite the dark days there is always hope.

“The violin was my companion in this dug-out; I slept with it by my side.”

The end pages with their photos, maps and writing are very much in journal form and it feels familiar, like we are sharing the diary of an old friend. The colours have a warm yet earthy feel with sepia tones reminiscent of the times. The layout with all its details brings us closer to Alexander and supported with photos Alexander becomes very real to the reader.

Having the real life story of people played out in picture book format makes them and their history accessible to a younger reader.  The sophistication of the story, the historical facts and the wonderful illustrations make this a must have for any library or home collection. A truly wonderful, thought-provoking picture book set during World War One where the focus is music and hope and not just the war itself.

1917 Machines of War

Kiwis at War series

By Brian Falkner

ISBN 9781775432807

Scholastic NZ

It is 1917 and the Great war is a jagged scar across the face of Europe. Soldiers cower in mud-filled trenches, hurling bullets across the war-torn landscape. Above them flies 17-year-old New Zealander Bob Sunday, of the Royal Flying Corps. Before long, Bob finds himself flying against the great German air aces, including the infamous Red Baron, as their warplanes whirl above the battlefields of Arras, Passchendaele and Cambrai.

Over the years, I have read many children’s and young adult war war books but none have focused on war from a pilot’s point of view. It is illuminating to see how World War 1 played out in the skies above the battlefields, from the eyes of pilot Bob Sunday. There were so many things I didn’t really know about. I was surprised by the debate over parachutes which becomes part of Bob’s many conversations. The descriptions of the different planes and the people involved provides a well-researched account of the events at the time.

It is great how we get to see the impact of war from pilots from different sides of the war. Enemies at times, showing a sense of respect for each other as they battle for the skies.  Bob Sunday arrived fresh from New Zealand with revenge in his heart but over the year you can see his growing maturity and change of ideals.  Author Brian Falkner tells it straight but I did find myself smiling a few times over clever and witty dialogue. We know from our history books that war was brutal and a tragic waste but through Bob Sunday’s eyes we see it first-hand.

A smell began to assail my nostrils. An unbreathable stench of death and decay. I held my breath as long as I could, trying not to gag, but eventually I had to breathe in and waves of nausea and dizziness almost overwhelmed me. I don’t know what I was crawling through …

Bob is a believable and likable protagonist facing up to his fears and living in incredible times.

I think this would make a great read for a novel study for older students or a book club choice. Do make use of the teacher notes here.

This is the fourth title in the Kiwis at War series with a final book to be published in 1918. Each book looks at a different year of the First World War.

Torty and the soldier : a story of a true WW1 survivor

By Jennifer Beck

Illustrated by Fifi Colston

ISBN 9781775434849

Scholastic

 

 

 

Meet Torty! Shes one tough little tortoise with a beat-up shell and some missing toes. Torty survived a great war that raged in Europe 100 years ago. Torty was rescued back then by a young Kiwi soldier. She is a World War One survivor.

This is a beautiful and impressive picture book but it goes beyond a simple read. Jennifer Beck tells us the story of an injured and very lucky-to-be-alive tortoise rescued during World War 1. The fact that this tortoise is still alive today, over 100 years later is remarkable, especially as she endured many more brushes with death over the years.

This is a story of longevity and how something good came from such a terrible time. New Zealand Soldier Stewart Little first met the tortoise when he watched in horror as she was being run over by a French gun wagon. His rescue of the tortoise, which he later named Torty, began a relationship which would last decades. As somewhat of a stowaway, Torty arrived in New Zealand where she had even more dangerous and almost deadly adventures.

This is also a story of hope and how one little act of kindness can change lives.

The illustrations are simply beautiful. The cover impacts on the reader immediately with nurturing hands reaching out and cradling Torty so we know she is the focus of the story. The cover layout is reminiscent of a headline from a newspaper declaring something important, something we all need to know. The end pages hold maps showing us the voyage from Salonika to New Zealand shores, adding a touch of sophistication to the picture book. I love the mix of full-page illustrations and those with lots of white space. This creates a mixture of illustrations capturing certain moments throughout Torty and the soldier’s lives. The sepia tones at the beginning with more colour added as the story moves through the years is a great way to show children and students how time moves on, emphasizing the remarkable fact that Torty is still alive today.

This really is a stunning book and even though young readers can read and enjoy this story on their own, I feel it will reach a much wider audience as it will open up discussion on so many levels.

Check out there teacher notes here. Well worth a look. I will be using this book and the teacher notes with my year six book club later this term.

Love it.  A must-have for any school library.