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

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

Sydney Writers’ Festival: Saturday

Ah… the joys of non-ticketed events. I’d hoped to squeeze my way into four events, but only managed to get into two (apologies to e-newsletter subscriber, Amanda, who didn’t get her request…).

Research and Writing requested by e-newsletter subscriber Lisa
Paul Ham, Catherine Jinks and Babette Smith were shortlisted for ‘The Nib’: CAL Waverley Library Award for Literature, which recognises excellence in research. They joined Ashley Hay, a former literary editor of The Bulletin in discussion.

It was an interesting session. I’m not a big history buff, so I wasn’t expecting to have the time of my life or Vietnamanything, but I was pleasantly surprised. The three speakers were great – informative and entertaining.

Memorable moments

Paul Ham detailed how he went about interviewing former Vietnamese soldiers for his Vietnam: The Australian War. To get them to stop repeating the party line they’d been towing for forty years, he joked that he would “ply them with Jacobs Creek until they conceded defeat.”

The Reformed Vampire Support GroupCatherine Jinks on writing her first real protagonist in her historical fiction, The Dark Mountain: “She was real, and she has descendants who post on my message board… I live in fear of retribution.”

Ham mentioned the two conflicting forces acting inside him when he finds a great, entertaining historical story to write about – the academic push and the journalistic pull. On the one hand, the academic thing to do is to push really interesting stories aside, because it means these might be represented with more emphasis than they deserve, because you’re captured by how entertaining it is. On the other hand, there’s the journalist inside of him saying, “That’s a great story, put it on the front page!” Writing non-fiction is about “finding the correct conAustralia's Birthstaintext for a great story in history.”

Babette Smith revealed and shattered some of the distortions and myths about convicts in Australia… I’d go into more detail, but I don’t want to spoil Australia’s Birthstain for you.

Overall, three very entertaining speakers. Plus, I caught up with Catherine after the session, and it looks like she’ll be stopping by for an author interview next month. 🙂

Craig Silvey In Conversation requested by… well, me.
Craig Silvey’s blindingly successful first novel, Rhubarb, sold over 15,000 copies and saw him acknowledged as one of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists. He talked about his second novel, Jasper Jones with Daniel Stacey.

Jasper JonesAfter catching Craig yesterday, I wanted to see him again. He was in the same room as Research and Writing, just after it finished, so I took it as a sign and stayed put. He read the opening of his book, and spoke about his influences a little more than he did yesterday, but I’m going to sit on those details for a little bit, and save them for our interview with Craig next month.

Memorable moments

Craig: …What, you seem… you seem disappointed by that answer. Wasn’t it good?
Daniel: No… it was fine. It’s just… I was worrying [looking at clock on the wall showing there’s 35 minutes left in the session]. I’ve only got one question left…