Marching Forward – Remembering Bravery Reviews

Remembering, honouring, commiserating, – learning. When recently reading ANZAC titles to my maturing primary schooler, she asked, ‘Are there still wars, going on?’ I had to reply that yes, sadly there were. However, by sharing the past and gradually exposing children to the realities of it, hopefully they become better equipped to care enough to avoid and prevent future conflicts. It’s a reality I’d like to hope for. These titles perpetuate that hope while escorting young readers through the historical past.

Forward MarchForward March by Christobel Mattingley Illustrated by David Kennett Picture Book

This is a curious ANZAC picture book, more of a compilation of ANZAC Day emotions, colours and locations commiserating the loss of our war veterans and the sacrifice they made. The opening page appears sombre and cold at first; pre-dawn on ANZAC Day morn. Look closely though and you’ll notice a pale yellow light entreating hope and promise. It represents one of the many war memorials across Australia where keen crowds gather to remember not only our great-grandads, dads, sons and grandsons, but also the grandmas, mothers, daughters and aunties, all those affected by battles they never ever wished for nor properly understood.

Mattingley’s sparse yet rousing statements honour all those who left their families and land to serve abroad whilst also acknowledging those who stayed behind and kept the country ticking over, ending with the rising of the dawn, the Last Post and a pledge to never forget.

What really captivates though are Kennett’s painted and drawn illustrations clustered in muted sepia-coloured vignettes that resemble the type of photo album your grandmother might have kept. Although an eyeful to take in all at once, these spreads tell of life on the battlefields in ways that leave words gasping. Several international conflicts are depicted including the Boer War, both Great Wars and the Vietnam War giving children wider scope and deeper meaning to exactly what we are remembering when standing at the cenotaph on ANZAC Day.

Ideal for prompting discussion of past world commemorative events amongst early primary schoolers presented with respect and restraint.

Omnibus Books March 2016

Socks Sandbags and LeechesSocks, Sandbags & Leeches Letters to my Anzac Dad by Pauline Deeves Illustrated Fiction

This hardcover illustrated tribute to those who served in the First World War is uniquely different to other children’s books drawing on this theme. Significantly, it is told through the eyes of a twelve-year-old child, Ivy whose father has left to fight overseas.

Deeves executes the same breezy epistolary style used in Midnight Burial to inform readers about life back in Australia whilst great chunks of her population were, in many ways, coerced to fight overseas. Through a series of letters written over a period of four years to her father who is first posted to Gallipoli and later France, Ivy describes how she and her mother had to move house, live with their Aunt Hilda and succumb to the restrictions of life during wartime.

Ivy’s voice is delightfully informal and intimate, eliciting strong young reader appeal and interest. She mentions various modernisations and several vagaries of life over 100 years ago that our tech –imbued children of today might well find absurd. I particularly appreciated Ivy’s illustrations included in her letters.

Socks Sandbags and Leeches illos spreadDeeves flourishes fact with fiction in a way that imparts a lot of new and interesting information. Although essentially a story about Socks, Sandbags & Leeches, readers can locate various topics about Conscription, the Retreat from Gallipoli and what school was like for example from the headings listed in the Contents. Scrapbook type pages crammed with authentic sketches, prints and excerpts of the time enhance the appearance of Ivy’s collection of letters and serve to reinforce the information she is relaying to her absent father.

A fascinating storytelling approach and account of the First World War for readers nine to fifteen.

National Library of Australia NLA February 2016

Dreaming the EnemyDreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen YA novel

I have to include this new novel by master story teller, David Metzenthen, tackling the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress associated with one of our more recent political conflicts. Immersing readers into hot sweating jungle warfare and solider psyche, makes for a challenging read, not for the faint hearted. There’s a possibility it will create lasting impressions but not because of any insensitive gratuitous horror (there isn’t any) rather because it’s narrated in a somewhat disconnected way, from deep inside the head of a returned Vet and his erstwhile Viet Cong nemesis.

If you think you have difficulties getting your head around this psychological battle, spare a thought for the main character, Johnny Shoebridge. His tale of post-Vietnam traumatic anxiety is as wrenching and spellbinding as it is complicated and beautiful. Johnny has left the battlefields but has brought home a dread of living and the ghost-fighter, Khan who relentlessly dogs him. He knows he will remain forever at war if he can’t find a way to lay this phantom to rest.

Metzenthen has woven an elegant web of infinite detail, spinning tragedy and despair with hope and healing, undoable finality with incomplete futures, expanding on the truism that a solider may leave the battlefield behind but that the battle may never truly leave him.

‘Death never ended for the living.’

Wit and plenty of ribald reality checks temper Metzenthen’s breathtaking use of language and meticulous description while characters so real you can literally hear and smell them give you a great sense of tangibility. By the end of it, we come to acknowledge the awful truth we’ve suspected all along just like Khan and Johnny, that war is never really about wanting to kill or having a choice about it. Dreaming the Enemy decries this ultimate tragedy with a force so powerful it leaves your heart heaving.

Older teen readers will gain immeasurably from this stirring read as will the rest of us. Stunning and faultless.

Allen & Unwin 2016

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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