Lest we forget – ANZAC children’s book reviews

And the Band Played Waltzing MatildaA couple of months ago I revisited an iconic song by Eric Bogle, finding new breath in Bruce Whatley’s picture book, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. Bogle found the words and Whatley the images that profoundly capture all the raw emotion, loss and resilience that epitomises the Great War of 100 years ago.

This collection of titles does the same. All commemorate actual events of WWI. Many embrace the incredible ANZAC legacy. Each is a significant work of art and testimony to real-life heroes who gave their youth, their souls, and tragically, their lives in the quest to protect sovereignty and country.ANZAC Ted Hero Plain as Day

‘Not everyone wins medals, some heroes never do’, but this small collection deserves your attention as absolutely as those we’ll be commemorating during the 100th year Anniversary of World War One (and the Centenary of the Landing of Gallipoli this year). Because they should be remembered.

Ride Ricardo RideAs the war first erupted in Europe, so we begin with the picture book, Ride, Ricardo, Ride! by Phil Cummings and Shane Devries. A young Italian boy’s love for riding his bike under the clear quiet skies of his village is shattered when the shadows of war appear. Devries’ splendid illustrations saturate the pages of Cummings haunting tale of human endurance. Evoking eloquence and beauty out of destruction and despair.

Omnibus Books March 2015

1915Mid-primary reader series, Australia’s Great War landed last year with Sophie Masson’s, 1914 and is followed this year by Sally Murphy’s, 1915. Each honour events specific to that time in history in spirited, easy to read novels that unite an absorbing mosaic of factual occurrences with engaging fictional characters typical of that era. Thoroughly engrossing with further releases due each year until 1918, this series provides an awesome framework for primary students to become intimately acquainted with the machinations and characters of the First World War.

Scholastic Press 1914 – 1918

the-last-anzacOur oldest living ANZAC, Alec Campbell may no longer be able to march but the true-life story of his meeting with a young boy a year before his death is perceptively depicted in Gordon Winch’s picture book, The Last ANZAC. Alec ‘the kid’ Campbell’s encounter with James, is faithfully portrayed with the help of Harriet Bailey’s expressive illustrations, alternating back and forth from the deserts of Cairo and trenches of Gallipoli to present day suburbia. Ideal for the expanding minds of 5 – 7 year-old history scholars. Visit Romi’s full review, here.

New Frontier Publishing March 2015

ANZAC Ted and Belinda ANZAC Ted is the debut picture book of author illustrator, Belinda Landsberry and encompasses two of my great loves: teddy bears and beautiful picture books for kids.

Landsberry uses gorgeous water coloured illustrations to complement a gently rhyming tale of a little boy’s beloved toy. But, Ted is a teddy bear of rather diminished appeal having survived the ANZAC campaign with the little boy’s digger grandfather. Worn, torn, and scary looking, he may score zero cute and cuddly points in the Toy Show at school but he is and was the unsung hero and much cherished mascot of the Gallipoli diggers who more than earns a place in this little boy’s heart. ANZAC Ted gets my vote too. Perfect for reading aloud with someone you cherish or soaking up the atmospheric sepia illustrations alone.

EK Books 2014

The ANZAC PuppyThe Anzacs of course included the New Zealander’s so it is only fitting that popular Kiwi author, Peter Millet and illustrator Trish Bowles are able to share their remarkable picture book story based on another real life war hero, Freda.

The ANZAC Puppy is a tender rendition of the interwoven lives of Lucy, WWI solider, Sam and Freda, a harlequin Great Dane puppy who grew into a loyal and much loved good-luck mascot of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade 5th Battalion. Sam’s tale brought tears to my eyes and will warm the cockles of your heart. It parallels ANZAC Ted in many ways thanks to the stirring sensitivity the creators use to express these tales of nostalgia. My primary-schooler is always a bit dubious about reading ‘another wartime story’. Thankfully, picture books like ANZAC Ted and The ANZAC Puppy have assured her that not all conflict ends in tears and heartache.

Scholastic NZ Mach 2014

My GallipoliThe majority of these Anzac tales will suit primary aged readers. My Gallipoli by Ruth Starke and Robert Hannaford is an exceptional picture book with more sweeping appeal.

This phenomenal, clothbound presentation marries fictional characters with direct accounts in an epistolary chronological description of the months immediately before the first landing at ANZAC Cove to the Allied retreat in 1915, then onto to present day commemoration ceremonies.

Starke is genius at capturing the moment even if it did take place a hundred years ago. She masterfully connects the reader to all those touched by the doomed campaign to capture the Dardanelles: the diggers, their families, the Turkish countrymen, the nurses, the COs and, the war correspondents. First person recollections plunge us into their places of battle and pain with powerful precision. Hannaford’s  fine charcoal, watercolour, and gauche portraits anchor their thoughts with tangible identities.

My Gallipoli reaffirms the futility of war but also underlines the courage, the tenacity and the hope that were crucial to the survival of thousands of men (and women) at that time.Each page, each Gallipoli recollection is a complete superb story unto itself.

My Gallipoli is a picture book of substantial implications for students of history and art and a glorious record of our inglorious past. My pick for in depth and animated Centenary discussion.

Working Tile Press March 2015

 

 

Review – The Last Anzac by Gordon Winch and Harriet Bailey

The Last Anzac, Gordon Winch (author), Harriet Bailey (Illus.), New Frontier Publishing, March 2015.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. For this significant Anzac Centenary, a myriad of children’s books have been released to teach our young ones about the physical, emotional and historical impact of war, and to celebrate our war veterans; our heroes.

the-last-anzacOne such picture book that does just that is ‘The Last Anzac’, written by Gordon Winch and illustrated by Harriet Bailey. And this one is certainly special. It is based on the real life experience of a young boy’s meeting with Alec Campbell in 2001, who served in Gallipoli in 1915. Having being enlisted at the tender age of 16, at the time of the interview Alec was the last living Anzac at the ripe age of 102. Amazing!

The last anzac pic endpaperEndpapers with original letters, photos and stamped envelopes set the scene for the historical journey we are about to encounter. Alternating between past and present, we are told of the day that the young boy, James, and his father stepped off the plane in Tasmania to visit and interview the last Anzac, Alec Campbell.
He, too, was young and small, nicknamed ‘The Kid’ at the time of the Great War (1914 – 1918). Alec was a noble and brave teenager, having endured treacherous experiences in Anzac Cove. In comparison, whilst in the comfort of Alec’s present home, James nibbles on biscuits as he asks the veteran questions about his responsibilities, fears, safety, living conditions and health during the war.

The story retells Alec’s six weeks worth of dodging bombs and escaping firing gun bullets, eating tinned bully beef and hard biscuits, and the celebratory treat of oranges when leaving Gallipoli. An image of young and old hands touching war medals portrays the sheer dedication of this man in his short service, but also a reminder for children (and adults) to respect and honour all the soldiers who fought for our country long before they were born.
Alec was sent back to Australia after suddenly falling ill; now a Gallipoli veteran – at the age of seventeen. As boy and veteran bid farewell, it is this serendipitous moment that James realises he is in the presence of a true hero.
(Alec lived to the age of 103, passing the year after James’ interview.)

The last anzac picHaving had done extensive research on the subject, New Zealander, Harriet Bailey has illustrated this book with precision and sensitivity; appropriate for the given era. There are enough details to depict the harshness and trepidity of the wartime, but without any graphic or shocking images. The same is felt about the gentle nature of Gordon Winch’s text; the story provides basic information that is suitable for younger children to understand and digest. The juxtaposition between the 1915 retelling and the 2001 meeting is cleverly highlighted in the pictures with bold, earthy tones of khaki and burnt orange for the past, and softer, pastille shades for the present.

‘The Last Anzac’ is a beautifully written true account of this exceptional and humble soldier, Alec Campbell during World War 1. Its non-confronting and meaningful approach, and significant historical value make this resource engaging and suitable for early primary students.
Teaching notes are available at http://www.newfrontier.com.au/depot/item/898-20150317102244-The-Last-Anzac.pdf

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———-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