Picture Books to Celebrate the ANZAC Centenary

In just a couple of days we commemorate the legacy of the brave soldiers and the tragic events of World War 1 that occurred one hundred years ago. A beautiful selection of ANZAC books for children have been reviewed by Dimity here, but here’s a few more that certainly captured my heart with their touching themes of heroism, love and dedication.  

9781921720628Once a Shepherd, Glenda Millard (author), Phil Lesnie (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

Gorgeous in its lyrical prose. Devastatingly provocative. Stunning imagery. ‘Once a Shepherd’ is a war story of love and loss, sure to break its readers’ hearts.
It tells of a young shepherd, living amongst a backdrop of emerald green beauty. “Once Tom’s world was all at peace.” He marries his sweetheart, and all the world seems right. Until he is called to war and he bids farewell to his wife and unborn child. A stranger veteran calls upon Tom’s home once the war had ended, only to share the shattering news of his heroic fall with a now grieving widow. Of the hand-stitched coat she once darned, now a new toy lamb is mended for Tom Shepherd’s baby boy. And the world is at peace once again.
‘Once a Shepherd’, with its carefully crafted verse and exquisite watercolour images of greens and browns, is a powerful, moving tale of the heartbreaking reality of war and the inherent hope for peace.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.  

9781921977718Midnight: The story of a light horse, Mark Greenwood (author), Frané Lessac (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

A foal born at midnight; black as coal, eyes glimmering in the moonlight. She is Midnight, the Australian Light Horse trained by Lieutenant Guy Haydon and gracious in her charge in the last great cavalry.
The first port of call for the soldiers is four months in the trenches at Gallipoli without their horses. Reuniting once again in Cairo, the relationship is further bonded as the pair endure the harsh conditions of the heat, scarce water supply and flying shrapnel. But still, soldier and mare commit to their duties, and to one another. In a devasting final battalion (Beersheba, August 1917), riders tumble and horses fall. Guy and Midnight are both struck; a heartbreaking yet poignant moment as the pair share their last breath side by side.
The succinctness of the text reads almost poetically, and the continual references to the affectionate bond between Guy and his beloved Midnight make this war story more of a tender account of their time on the battlefield. The gouache illustrations by Frané Lessac compliment Greenwood’s evocative words and capture the starkness of each war scene.
With notes referencing background information on the Light Horse and the details of Beersheba, ‘Midnight’ makes for a terrific resource for studying the war, as well being as a heartrending tale of love and dedication.    

9781742833477Anzac Biscuits, Phil Cummings (author), Owen Swan (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2013.

This book is probably my favourite of the Anzac stories. ‘Anzac Biscuits’ poses a lovely contrast between a child’s warm and safe home, and her father battling the cold and dangerous conditions out in the trenches.
Rachel and her mother spend time together baking Anzac biscuits. As pots and pans bang and crash to the floor, the soldier lays low as shots bang around him. As Rachel sprinkles oats like snowflakes, the soldier turns his back to the bitter cold. The little girl loves the smell of burning red gum in her stove, but the soldier will never forget the choking gun smoke drifting across the fields. Despite the treachery that the soldier has faced, we are given a heartwarming ending we can cherish; the soldier – Rachel’s father – loved the biscuits made just for him.
An endearing story of affection, commitment and sacrifice, with equally warm and gentle illustrations, ‘Anzac Biscuits’ is a beautiful way to introduce the topic of wartime to young children. They will also find little clues in the pictures upon revisiting the book, which make for wonderful discussions about what life was like for both the soldiers and their families at home (and the significance of anzac biscuits).  
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2014 Awards.
 
resized_9781743317235_224_297_FitSquareI Was Only Nineteen, John Schumann (text), Craig Smith (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

The words versing the iconic song about the Vietnam War, ‘I Was Only Nineteen’ tells of the devasting loss, sacrifice and emotional impact an elderly man is reliving of his time as a teenager at war.
We travel with this veteran from the moment he set sail, to inhabiting a firey, orange scrub, battling for hours and weeks amongst bullets and grenades and watching mates hit by the blasts. No-one told him about the mud, blood, tears, rashes and chills that would haunt him until he was old.
These memories of the war, through these unforgettable words, have been beautifully illustrated by Craig Smith, rendering warmth and respecting the spirit of our soldiers – the fallen and the survivors. I love the clever connection between the past recount and the present with a touch of army green evident in each scene showing the veteran and his grandson.
‘I Was Only Nineteen’ is a poignant rendition of a groundbreaking song by John Schumann, with great historical significance and plenty of scope for wartime study.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.

LEST WE FORGET

Doodles and Drafts – Waltzing with Bruce Whatley

 

In just a couple more months, Australia commemorates the Centenary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli. Dozens of new titles are already marching forward to mark the occasion with heart-rending renditions of tales about ‘bloodshed, death, ruin, and heartbreak.’ This is how singer/songwriter, Eric Bogle views the futility of war.

And the Band Played Waltzing MatildaIt’s a timely message that fortunately more and more schoolchildren are gaining a deeper respect and understanding for through historic picture books like this one, And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

Bogle’s iconic lyrics make your chest heave with anguish at the awful waste of life, yet rippling beneath the waves of depression, is an undercurrent of pride and admiration, perhaps borne from a determination to never ever let this happen again; and yet we do.

One wonders how so beautiful and wrenching a tale could be visually resurrected to deliver the kind of visceral impact young people will appreciate and gain from. Easy, you get a master with the surest of touches and the purest of hearts to illustrate it. You allow his colours to bleed across images that tumble across the pages, injured and torn, dirty and forlorn. You watch until your skin prickles with emotion and your eyes burn with tears.

Today, I am honoured to have that master at our draft table. Please welcome, Bruce Whatley. Here’s what he had to say.

Who is Bruce Whatley? Tell us one thing about yourself we are not likely to find on a web site.

If it wasn’t for my Mum I would not have the use of my right arm. Injured at birth, the damage to my right shoulder was such that she was told it would whither and be useless. Fortunately she refused to believe it and after nearly three years of massaging I held a spoon in my right hand for the first time. Since then I think I’ve held a brush as that’s the hand I’ve made my living with.

You’ve penned and illustrated many children’s stories. What aspect of children’s book creation do you prefer? Which do you regard yourself more proficient at and why?

When I write and illustrate it isn’t as if I write first then think ‘How am I going to illustrate this?’ It comes together like a movie in my head and I don’t really separate the text from the images. That’s why the text and images are so reliant on each other in my books, they compliment and bounce off one another to tell a more complex story.

I guess I think of myself as a better illustrator than writer because that is my background but I am enjoying writing more and more and as I get more confident am working on longer manuscripts. Doing both means if I hit the equivalent of writer’s block when illustrating I can put down the brushes and write for a while.

Can you name one title you feel exemplifies your work the best? Is it the title you are most proud of, or is that yet to come?

The book I’m working on now I am most proud of. This is the book I would give up all others to have published. It is a story I’ve written and though the illustrations use the simplest of mediums – the medium I am most comfortable with – lead pencil – they comprise extensive use of 3d programs to create a unique world and environment. This book will have no compromises. This will be the best I can do. ‘Ruben’ approx. 120 page picture book.

Bruce Whatley and Jackie FrenchRecent picture book collaborations with Jackie French have focussed on dramatic occurrences such as natural disasters. And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, is no less powerful. What attracted you to take on and to fulfil a project of this emotional magnitude?Wombat

Because they were of such emotional magnitude. Success with wombats and ugly dogs had the potential to pigeon-hole me as a particular type of storyteller. I am always looking at ways of growing as an illustrator, looking for new ways of expressing the narratives. These books also enabled me to explore what I had discovered using my left hand. That I produce far more expressive and emotional images drawing with my other hand. Matilda is by far the most emotional book I have illustrated.

Did you ever feel emotionally challenged at any point of this book’s production (because of its heartrending subject matter)? If so why?

I based my illustrations on original photographs taken in Gallipoli at the time. Even though I needed to adapt what I was looking at I wanted the images to be based on reality as much as possible. When using photos this way especially when drawing details it is a bit like those ‘spot the difference’ puzzles you get in newspapers and magazines – you flick your eyes from one to the other to spot the differences. Similarly when you are copying an image you flick from the photograph to your drawing to make sure you are getting the right shape and size etc. It’s not so much about what you are drawing you are concentrating on lines, shapes and position.

I was doing this on one of the illustrations. It wasn’t until I completed the piece I realised what I thought was a rock was the hand of a dead soldier. I lost it at that point.

Matilda illo spread 2This was symbolic to me as it highlighted that we look without seeing. We watch the old veterans march and wear their medals. Old men. But we don’t see the 19 year old that watched their mates get their legs blown off. We do forget. And we still send our children to war.

You are enviably competent in a number of illustrative mediums and styles. Describe those you used and incorporated into Matilda.

As I said I’m always looking for new ways to illustrate. Matilda was done with my left hand – which has a mind of its own!!! I can’t write with my left hand and really I have very little dexterity when I use it – but depending on your definition I draw better with my left than with my right. I used a waterproof felt tip pen for the line work then an acrylic wash over the top. Using acrylics instead of watercolours meant I could work in layers without dragging the colour from underneath.

The predominant colour scheme throughout this book is one of solemn sepia hues stained with splashes of red. What mood are you trying to convey with this palette choice?

I guess it was influenced by how we normally see this period but also I wanted to reflect the mud and despair. Bright colours suggest hope and laughter – I don’t think there was much of that.

Waltzing Matilda 4-5Your use of perspective at the start and end of this tale is both visually arresting and choking with emotional impact. Was this your intention? How do close up views influence the feel of a picture book story when compared to flowing landscape illustrations?

Faces are amazing things and I often have my characters looking directly out at the reader. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I think that last close up opens that window a bit. (Interestingly I could not have achieved that intensity with my right hand.) Being so close also means it’s in your face literally. After watching from a distance suddenly you are confronted with the reality of the consequences.

What’s on the draft table for Bruce Whatley?

Ruben is my main focus but there are more books coming out soon I’ve written with my wife Rosie and illustrated with my son Ben. And there are always wombats waiting in the wings.

Just for fun question – You illustrate with both hands. Have you or would you ever consider or attempt to illustrate with your feet?

I haven’t but would if need be. The question would be ‘Which?’ Left or right???

Bruce & RubenIndeed. A hundred thanks Bruce!

I could wax lyrical all day about And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, but urge you to experience this amazing story for yourselves. Read it. Sing it. Share it. Do not forget.

Allen & Unwin January 2015

 

The Forgotten Works of Australian Poet C. J. Dennis

I recently stumbled across the works of Australian poet C. J. Dennis (1876 – 1938) and have been enjoying his poetry and writing from The C.J. Dennis Collection – from his forgotten writings edited by Garrie Hutchinson. You may have come across his most well known work, a humorous verse novel called The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, first published in 1915. Selling an astonishing 65,000 copies in the first year of release, Dennis was the most prosperous poet in Australian history.The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke cover C. J. Dennis

In 1922, he began writing for the Herald in Melbourne, and wrote daily pieces until his death in 1938. He wrote about the bush, farming, small towns, cricket, horse racing, football, local crime and of course politics. Dennis wrote a prolific variety of poems and prose, many of them about ordinary Australians and which included slang and phrases of the day.

Reading his work now, it does take a little while to acclimatise to his phonetic spelling, particularly his work through the character Ben Bowyang, “rural filosofer and spelin reformer… from the bush.” (Page 5 of The C.J. Dennis Collection edited by Garrie Hutchinson). Having said that, once you adapt your reading to his writing style, you’ll no doubt find his rhyming verse addictive.

Dennis clearly had a love of words and language and was an impressive storyteller, capturing every day characters with humour and precision. His work around the ANZACs and ANZAC Day (such as A Song of Anzac and A Message) is touching and really captures a time gone by.

C. J. Dennis also wrote for kids, including A Book For Kids and A Bush Christmas, still funny today.

During his career, Dennis worked with Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, and despite being just as successful, his name isn’t as well known as his two contemporaries. If like me, you’d like to re-discover the works of this legendary Australian, you can begin with The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (click here to purchase), or with his children’s books mentioned above (each in print and available for purchase).

For some of his more obscure writings though, you might need to do some digging. I managed to source The C.J. Dennis Collection – from his forgotten writings edited by Garrie Hutchinson (published in 1987) through my local library. Your efforts will be well rewarded, I guarantee.

Do you remember reading books by C.J. Dennis as a kid? Do you have any of his books on your bookshelf at home? Let me know if you have your own connection to this ‘lost’ Australian poet.

Not a Review – A Reflection of An ANZAC Tale

An ANZAC TaleConfession: The day I received Working Title Presses’ latest release, An ANZAC Tale, I was assailed with nostalgia and immense trepidation.

How does one do justice to one of the most unjustifiable periods of human history? Ruth Stark and Greg Holfeld have done it and done it admirably well. The result is a meticulously researched and presented graphic picture book that possesses the unique duality of being both breathtakingly beautiful, and poignantly tragic.

It is almost that time of year when we gather as a nation to commemorate and reflect on one of the most fiercely contested campaigns of WWI, the battle of Gallipoli. But how does one pass comment on the interpretation of the tenacity, stupidity, bravery and strength of spirit of humanity without sounding trite or conceited? I wasn’t sure I could manage it as masterfully as the Stark Holfeld team. So I didn’t try.

Instead I revisited the tale, and with each turn of the page, was transported back to a time over two decades ago, when I gazed across the benign azure waters of Suvla Bay and ANZAC Cove, on the European side of Turkey’s Gelibolu Peninsular. Sunshine bronzed my already travel-tanned shoulders and the smell of the Aegean Sea filled my lungs. Nothing permeated the silence that engulfed us, not even the cry of sea birds. I stared at the impossibly steep cliffs looming up from the beach and shivered in spite of the heat.Landing spot ANZAC Cove

I remember standing in the trenches of The Nek and Second Ridge, shallow now, scalloped smooth by time. A pine scented breeze played about my neck. We stood unmoving, listening to it whisper through the pines; the sound of a thousand souls sighing around us. And tears seared my eyes, blurred my vision of the honey coloured earth as I struggled to imagine it stained vile by the colours of war and battled to comprehend the futility, the valour, the discomfort, and the stench of human corruption.

GeliboluWe were led about by our Turkish guide with quiet reverence, not because he thought we were special, but because we were Aussies. We had already earned his respect and our right to be there. We felt that as absolutely as the heat pulsating up from the baked earth.

I remember visiting Chunuk Bair, Lone Pine; standing in front of the walls of names, searching, too many to read through; I’ll be here all day, I thought. Compared to whom? I found a pine seed from that tree and slipped it into my pocket, (just as Ray did for his mate Wally). When the afternoon sun lost its sting, we slipped away quietly from the trenches and had Turkish Dondurma (ice-cream) to temper the memory of what we had seen and felt; acutely aware of enjoying a pleasure and a respite that would have been denied to the ANZACS.

My brief sojourn to Gelibolu makes me no more of an expert on the event and the place than the next Aussie backpacker. Yet it has created an indelible memory with which An ANZAC Tale resonates profoundly.Ruth Stark

The enormity of the ANZAC’s story is handled with remarkable lightness of touch and told by Ruth Stark with a respectful, quintessential Aussie jocularity. It is never sentimental or laboured but simply follows best mates Ray Martin and Wally Cardwell as they experience the first landing at ANZAC Cove on the 25th April 1915. What followed became a battle of endurance and wits sadly resulting in thousands of deaths on both sides.

RoosThe popular comic-style graphic format is dominated by the illustrations of Greg Holfeld that are brutally faithful to the moment without depicting gratuitous guts and gore. The last charge in particular rips with chaotic movement, terror and finality but not in a way that traumatises the reader.

Ruth Stark and Greg HolfeldWally, Roy and their new, fortune-seeking mate, Tom, head an anthropomorphic cast of Aussie characters. They are buck Roos, who rub shoulders with Kiwis (the birds) and various other national fauna. The Drill Major is a raucous bossy cockatoo. Egyptians are depicted as cats. Wily and resourceful magpies represent enterprising privates and Johnny Turk is portrayed as the ‘black eared’ caracal lynx, from the Turkish word karakulak. This cat is described as being fiercely territorial which accurately translates to the Turks’ indomitable fighting spirit.

An ANZAC Tale not only chronicles a significant period of history difficult for young people to fathom in a way that they (young boys and reluctant readers in particular) will find enthralling and exciting but also takes us on a deeply moving journey (tears were never far away for me) through the vagaries of Australian society in the early twentieth Century and the complexities of warfare. All this is brilliantly supported with maps, notes and a timeline.

‘Why would any Australian want to come to Gallipoli?’ Ray asks Tom as they evacuate under the cover of darkness on the 18th of December 1915. You don’t need to turn the last page to find the answer to that poignant question, but you’ll be touched when you do.Bugler

If you haven’t yet been or are unlikely to get the family to Gallipoli any time soon, An ANZAC Tale is an outstanding armchair substitute. Beautifully bound and twice the length of a normal picture book, it will appeal best to older aged primary children and those who’d rather reflect than analyse.

Working Title Press 2013 Available now

The men behind the myths – Scott Bennett on Pozières: The Anzac Story

In 2003 Scott Bennett visited the Great War battlefields in France and Belgium to retrace the steps of his great-uncles, who had fought there. What he found led him to examine and question the Anzac legend, the battle of Pozières and the stories of his own family’s heroes. In Pozières – The Anzac Story he draws on the letters and diaries of the men fought at Pozières to tell their story, shedding light on the people behind the official history and the legends that grew up around them.

Pozières is a very moving book – how did you find the process of researching it? Did it affect you?

Reading the handwritten letters of parents who had lost sons at Pozières always moved me.  Now I have children, I can only imagine the grief that consumed them. There are still sections of the book that, despite reading numerous times, still affect me. At a military cemetery on the Somme one Australian had written in a Visitor’s Book– ‘Please never again’ – just three simple words that sum up the reality of war.

This book was prompted by interest in your own family who had fought at Pozières – how have they reacted to the book?

My mother’s family was like so many of the families of soldiers in the first world war, who grew up believing, and being told, that their son, brother, father, uncle, grandfather or great uncle was a hero.  Maybe, because I am more removed, I have been surprised by my mother’s sensitivity to what I discovered and have written about her uncle, Ernie Lee, even though it almost 100 years ago.  He enlisted as a 14 year old and while being portrayed a courageous young soldier, was actually charged with threatening to shoot his corporal.  She does not see the purpose of revealing the darker elements of his past and to be honest, I’m not sure whether I would have had the courage to expose his past if my grandmother was still alive.

The Anzac legend is something you talk about a lot. How did you feel when you first realised that you would be writing a book that saw it and the Australian soldiers from a different perspective?

One of the issues that prompted me to write the book was I felt many portrayals of the Anzacs were one-dimensional – the typical rugged, square jawed young man from the bush, relishing the chance to charge into battle.  When you read the soldiers first-hand account of what it was really like and how the soldiers really felt, you realise that there was so much more diversity. I was keen to present a more rounded and textured view of the Anzacs – to me that was much more interesting.

Your background is in management – has writing always been a passion of yours? Did you always plan to publish this story?

It was not so much that writing was a passion, but the challenge of being able to distil something complex into a clear and persuasive story.  I have to do this on a regular basis in my work life, and when I started to research Pozières and discovered the many challenges and issues that the Anzacs faced I was intrigued to find the real story. It really started as a hobby.  In 2003, I finished my MBA studies and suddenly had all this spare time. After reading dozens of books on the Somme, and visiting Pozières and being deeply moved by it, I thought that writing a book on it would be a challenge. My goal was to complete a manuscript that I was satisfied with – getting it published was always a bonus.

What do you hope readers will take from Pozières?

I hope that readers develop a deeper understanding of the complexity of war and this particular battle, an appreciation of the many challenging and sometimes impossible issues that officers and commanders (of all nationalities) grappled with, as well as the broad range of (and less mythical) experiences of the soldiers on the front line.