Lest We Forget – New Picture Books

The amount of empathetic, engaging titles that surface each year to commemorate ANZAC Day never fails to impress me. Touching, sympathetic stories like those below permit young children to open their hearts and minds to the true essence of courage and sacrifice, allowing them to connect with a history that for the sake of humanity, we should never forget. There is a huge number of praise-worthy picture books to share with your youngsters this ANZAC Day. Here are a few newer titles that are also excellent for classroom inclusive discussion.

Message In A Sock by Kaye Ballie and Narelda Joy

Thousands of care packages were sent to our Aussie Diggers during the Great War of 1914. Dozens upon dozens of hand-knitted socks made up a part of these packs not only providing warmth and comfort for ‘war-weary feet inside heavy boots’ but reminding our troops that their loved ones at home were thinking of them.

Tammy learns how to knit socks to send overseas. She tucks special messages into the toe of each sock for the soldiers to find. One message, written especially for her Daddy serving at the warfront, returns with a reply from Lance Corporal A McDougall who was the recipient of her heartfelt gift. His reply connects her with her father, fills her with pride and instills a hope that someday soon he will return safely to her.

This story highlights the female wartime effort in the most glorious and tender way. Baillie’s narrative is affectionate and informative; addressing younger audiences in a way that is both direct and appealing given that many of them might struggle to understand the concept of caring for others in such an express, person-to-person way. Joy’s collage inspired illustrations are a mosaic of love and charm, layered with texture and colour so persuasive and rich, you’ll want to reach out and stroke each golden strand of Tammy’s hair. It’s this depth of sensory allure that draws you back to this story again and again, making it the perfect book to honour the centenary of the end of WWI. A must share.

MidnightSun Publishing 25 April 2018

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Amazing books for ANZAC Day – Picturebook reviews

Occasionally a thing that you witness, a song that you hear or a line that your read manifests itself indelibly within you, seemingly forever. Sometimes, not always, you remember the exact time and place and occasion that these erasable impressions mark your memory for the first time. Often this phenomenon occurs when you are still young in years and free in thinking. Memorable moments can be fortifying but also confronting and Along the Road to Gundagai shocking, which is why books like these, Along the Road to Gundagai and Gallipoli, constitute essential reading for young people.

Perhaps, had I been exposed to more picture books like these that introduced history and invited discussion and explanation, I may have been less shocked by the brutality of humans at war. Who knows? It was all in the past…

As ANZAC Day approaches urging us to remember the past, it’s difficult to know what to reach for when trying to share the meaning of these particular commemorations with your children. Unless they observe or participate in ceremonies or have relatives that do so, school is often the first place youngsters encounter terms like ANZAC Cove, the Great War, and diggers.

War is messy and cruel. It is horrid and scary but it is also about bravery, ingenuity, mateship, and perseverance. Along the Road to Gundagai and Gallipoli are picture books that capture the bitter essence of war in a way that is non-threatening but hauntingly real.

Jack O'HaganPenned by Australian musician, Jack O’Hagan in 1922 Along the Road to Gundagai has an almost anthem quality to it. It is not the first time a well-known song or verse has been purposely presented as a picture book but like others before it, the coupling of well-known lyrics with evocative images serves to anchor our appreciation and deepen our understanding of the story behind the words.

It is essentially a lament by the young men of the Great Wars; of their yearning to return to their youth which was so irrevocably spoilt by war.

Award winning Aussie illustrator, Andrew McLean, ironically ventured into the world of digital art to portray this poignant piece of history. The recollections of our narrating lad’s ‘old bush home and friends’ are all succinctly framed; captured moments matching the lyrical text, soft yet glowing.

Along the Gundagai Horses illoConversely, scenes from the scarred battle fields imbue entire pages with dark, sombre, desolation. Particularly arresting for me was the contrast of sunny skies over the Murrumbidgee and the gas-filled atmosphere of battle where even the horses wear gasmasks; the whites of their eyes betraying their confusion and terror.

All of us have a road to Gundagai we’d like to revisit. This powerful picture book rendition of an Aussie classic allows readers young and old to do just that.

GallipoliPicture books about the ANZACs of WWI abound. Many succeed thanks to the legendary intensity of the subject matter, the sensitive translation of emotions through illustrations and the poetic rendering of a brutal period of modern day history. Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood and Annie White delivers all these and more.

It is simply the story of Gallipoli. It is Dusty and Bluey’s story told through the eyes of Bluey’s great grandson. But before you say, not another ANZAC tale, look again; at the sepia-coloured end pages depicting wartime and post war snap shots of our two mates. Be swept along on their adventure, across vast oceans and scorching deserts and No Man’s Land. Feel the hunger, the terror and the relief shared by these two young men whose unbreakable friendship withstands time and war.

Kerry GreenwoodGreenwood leaves no stone unturned in the retelling of this infamously failed military campaign, however 7 year olds and above could easily master and enjoy this account themselves because it reads as fluidly as fiction. There are few dates to stumble over and enough storyline to accommodate a myriad of historical revelations including; the futile charges, trench survival, Simpson and his donkey(s), and the Roses of No Man’s Land.

White never belittles the enormity of Bluey and Dust’s situation. Her illustrations show mortar attacks and bleeding wounds in full colour yet are neither cheerless nor grim. Subdued sepia photographs are ‘stuck’ on every page like an old well-loved album guiding the reader from the past to present day remembrance.

Stirring, significant and worth sharing, especially with school-aged children.

War is certainly not joyful but it was special to sit and read these with my 8 year old and by some strange twist of intent, it was she who helped me through the more emotional bits.

Along the Road to Gundagai

Omnibus Books February 2014

Gallipoli

Scholastic Press March 2014

 

 

 

 

Review – Drongoes

I was never the highest jumper or the fastest sprinter at school, and standing in the middle of a netball court surrounded by a pack of short-nailed, indomitable girls with only a thin bib between them and my trembling heart filled me with terror. No, sport and I don’t really gel well. I lacked that flame of desire to cross the line first; unlike Jack, the newest hero of Scholastic’s Mates-Great Aussie Yarns series.Drongoes cover

Christine Bongers’ freshly released, Drongoes, is a magic little yarn about confronting fears, surmounting obstacles like Corby Park Hill, true grit and above all friendship, and is faintly reminiscent of the classic fable, the Hare and the Tortoise in so much as the unexpected outcome leaves us with an immense and satisfying sense of victor victorious.

Christine BongersIt’s Jack’s last year to beat ego-inflated Rocket Robson in the Year Five cross-country race at the athletics carnival. It’s also his best mate, asthma-stricken, Eric’s chance to simply finish the race. All of Eric’s previous attempts have been thwarted by over-anxious intentions and Eric’s inability to breathe.

Eric however excels at best-mateship and together, he and Jack embark on a determined training program consisting mostly of encouragement, patience and the ubiquitous presence of a flock of spangled drongoes.

In true slow and steady style, they compete against Rocket Robson against all odds, with surprisingly hilarious and touching results.

I’ve been a fan of this ripper series for some years now. The short, Aussie flavoured stories showcase some of Australia’s finest and funniest children’s writers. Christine Bongers’ contribution is no exception.

There are dozens of little things I liked about Drongoes: the title for one – the re-emergence of a classic slice of Aussie vernacular, the strong undercurrent of mateship, the timely message that pride (and too many pies) comes before a fall, and the subtle reference to Eric’s ethnicity and Jack’s personality through their nicknames; Puff the Magic Dragon and Drongo. But it was the ultimate act of selflessness on Jack’s part that made me want to stand up and whoop along with the cheering crowd in the end. I actually shed a tear or two instead!Spangled Drongo 2

What I love about this series is how each powerful storyline is supported by equally fabulous illustrations, in this case aptly provided by Dan McGuiness. Each page is smothered in pictures, with complimentarily themed page borders and interesting fonts; perfect for magnetising the interest of 6 – 8 year olds taking up chapter books for the first time. The explanatory text at the end is a Dan McGuiness illustratorlovely informative bonus.

I still don’t have much time or talent for sport. But I do adore spangled drongoes, who fortunately frequent my backyard too. What Drongoes did for me was to bring the two unexpectedly and effortlessly together so that the resulting spark almost ignited that flame to jump up and race off into the sunset – almost.

A genuine winner.

Scholastic Mates Series 2013