Category Archives: war

John Boyne talks about Stay Where You Are And Then Leave

The day the First World War broke out, Alfie Summerfield’s father promised he wouldn’t go away to fight – but he broke that promise the following day. Four years later, Alfie doesn’t know where his father might be, other than that he’s away on a special, secret mission.

Then, while shining shoes at King’s Cross Station, Alfie unexpectedly sees his father’s name – on a sheaf of papers belonging to a military doctor. Bewildered and confused, Alfie realises his father is in a hospital close by – a hospital treating soldiers with an unusual condition. Alfie is determined to rescue his father from this strange, unnerving place

I’m loving John Boyne’s latest book, Stay Where You Are And Then Leave. Here’s John talking about the book

Stay Where You Are And Then Leave is out in bookstores and libraries now.

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2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards Finalist: My Brother’s War by David Hill

My Brother’s War by David Hill is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  This was one of the books that I hadn’t read at the time it was released, but I read it recently as part of my challenge to read all of the 2013 finalists. 

I’ve been a huge fan of David Hill since I was a kid.  I remember See Ya Simon being read to me at school in Year 6, laughing out loud one minute then crying the next.  One of the things I love about David is that he hasn’t stuck to one type of story.  He’s written historical stories, hilarious school stories, thrilling adventure stories, and even some science fiction (Bodies and Soul is one of my favourites).  David is a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards with his novel, My Brother’s War, which offers a different perspective on the Great War and the New Zealanders who went to fight.

My Dear Mother,

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’ve joined the Army!

Don’t be angry at me, Mother dear. I know you were glad when I wasn’t chosen in the ballot. But some of my friends were, and since they will be fighting for King and Country, I want to do the same.

It’s New Zealand, 1914, and the biggest war the world has known has just broken out in Europe.

William eagerly enlists for the army but his younger brother, Edmund, is a conscientious objector and refuses to fight. While William trains to be a soldier, Edmund is arrested.

Both brothers will end up on the bloody battlefields of France, but their journeys there are very different. And what they experience at the front line will challenge the beliefs that led them there.

My Brother’s War is a compelling story about two brothers who have very different opinions and experiences of the First World War.  William feels very strongly that he needs to play his part in the war and so he enlists in the army.  The people in his town commend him for being brave and doing his part.  He believes he is doing what is right to protect his country and the people he loves.  He can’t understand his brother and thinks that his refusal to enlist is ‘wrong and stupid.’  His brother, Edmund, is a conscientious objector who believes it is wrong to go to war and kill other people.  The story switches between their two points-of-view so you see the huge differences in their experience of war.  The story is mainly told in the third person, but each of the characters write letters to their mother which gives more of an insight into their thoughts and feelings.

You experience the build up to the fighting and the horrible conditions of the battlefield through William’s story, but it was Edmund’s story that shocked me.  I knew a little about conscientious objectors before reading this book but Edmund’s story really opened my eyes to how horribly they were treated.  Conscientious objectors like Edmund were labeled cowards and treated like second-class citizens.  Edmund constantly refuses to obey army orders, but in the end really has no choice.  He’s put on a boat and taken to France where he is forced on to the battlefields.  In the training camps he is locked away with little food and water, and he also faces excruciating punishment for not following orders.  Edmund is incredibly strong-willed though and stands by his principles.

A quote from Edmund towards the end of the book sums up war perfectly , ‘I never knew some men could do such dreadful things to one another, and I never knew some men could be so kind and brave.’

My Brother’s War presents a view point of war that hasn’t been dealt with before and it’s a story that all older children should read.  It would be a great book to share as a class text in Year 7/8 as it would create a lot of discussion.

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The Day My Father Became a Bush by Joke van Leeuwen

Before he becomes a bush, Toda’s father is a pastry chef. He gets up at the crack of dawn to bake twenty different sorts of pastries and three kinds of cake. Until, one day, everything changes. Fighting  breaks out in the south and Toda’s father has to go there to defend his country.

Luckily he has a manual called ‘What every soldier needs to know’. This tells him how to hide from the enemy by using branches and leaves to disguise himself as a bush.

Toda remains in the city with her grandmother but even there it’s no longer safe. She is sent to stay with her mother who lives across the border. Toda’s journey is full of adventure and danger. But she doesn’t give up. She has to find her mother.

The Day My Father Became a Bush is a touching story about war told from the unique perspective of a girl who is caught in the middle.  The war that is taking place in the story is not identified as a specific war, only that the north is fighting the south.  The events of the story, including families being split up, fathers going away to fight, children being sent away, and a dangerous journey to get to safety are applicable to any war though, which makes Joke’s story universal.

As in some of the best stories about war, this story is narrated by a child (Toda) who is caught in the middle of this horrible event.  Toda is one of those characters you can’t help but love because she has a unique way of looking at things.  It’s her view of things that bring some humour to the situation she is in.  When Toda is hiding in the forest waiting for the coast to be clear, she finds the best thing to do is to give her brain something to do.  She lists her favourite foods (including her father’s pastries), her classmates, and then she lists things in alphabetical order (from Ape to Zebra).  I love the way that Toda describes different things too, like the way that she feels.  When an old couple take her in to their home and offer her some food she says, ‘My stomach was full of homesickness.  There was no room for anything else.’

On her journey, Toda meets some strange and interesting characters too.  There are some families who come to the public welfare home to give books and toys to the children, but then end up taking them away as they seem ungrateful, there is a room of old women who want to adopt her as their granddaughter, a strange old couple who try to kidnap Toda, and a captain who has deserted the army because he can’t command.  This captain was one of my favourite characters because he gives you a different perspective of the captains who give the orders during war.  One of my favourite quotes from the book came from this captain.

“I couldn’t command,” he said. “When I had to call out, ‘Open fire!’ I said instead, ‘Perhaps we should try shooting now, as long as it’s not too dangerous and not too much trouble for anyone.’”

Special mention needs to be made of the wonderful translation of Joke’s story by Bill Nagelkerke (recent winner of the Margaret Mahy Medal).  You really get the sense that Bill has remained true to the tone of the story while carefully choosing language that is beautiful to read.

The Day My Father Became a Bush is the best war story I’ve read that is told with so few words.  There is more emotion and character packed into this little book than some authors put in to 300 pages.  It can stand alongside John Boyne’s The Boy in Striped Pyjamas and Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword as a must-read war story.

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Guest Author: Melinda Szymanik on A Winter’s Day in 1939

Today I’m joined by the wonderful Melinda Szymanik, author of the powerful new book, A Winter’s Day in 1939.  Based on her father’s experiences during World War II, A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a story of family, the harsh realities of war, and the fight for survival against the odds. Melinda has written a really interesting post for My Best Friends Are Books about why and how she wrote A Winter’s Day in 1939.

Why and How I wrote A Winter’s Day in 1939

When the Soviet soldiers come and order them out, Adam and his family have no idea where they are going or if they will ever come back.  The Germans have attacked Poland and the world is at war. Boarding a cattle train Adam and his family embark on a journey that will cover thousands of miles and several years, and change all their lives forever. And mine too. Because Adam’s story, the story told in my new novel A Winter’s Day in 1939, is very much my Dad’s story.

I often heard fragments of this story from my dad when I was growing up.  It was shocking, and sad, and amazing.  My Dad’s family was forced out of their home and taken to a labour camp in Russia. It was freezing cold, and many people died from disease or starvation. Even when the Soviets finally let them go, they spent weeks travelling around the USSR , were made to work on Soviet farms and were still hungry and often sick, with no idea of where they might end up next.  As a child growing up in a peaceful place like New Zealand it was hard to imagine the real dangers and terrible conditions my father experienced.

I didn’t get to know the full story until I was grown up with children of my own and was regularly writing stories for children.  I wrote a short story, also called A Winter’s Day in 1939, based on a single event I knew fairly well  from my Dad‘s childhood – when Soviet Soldiers first come to order them off their farm, the only home my father had known up till that point in his life. The story was published in The Australian School Magazine.  I showed the short story to the publishers Scholastic who liked it too. They wondered if I could turn it in to a novel.  This was a chance to tell my father’s story. By now I knew it was an important story that should be shared

Luckily my Dad had made notes about his life during World War Two; about twenty pages all typed up.  However I know people’s real lives don’t always fit into the framework of a novel and I knew I would have to emphasize some things and maybe leave other things out.

I read and researched to add the right details to the story. And asked my parents lots of questions. How cold was it in Poland in January 1940? Who or what were the NKVD? What were the trains like? What are the symptoms of typhoid? How do you make your own skis? Some information was hard to find. Some of the places that existed in the 1940s aren’t there anymore. And people didn’t keep records about how many people were taken to the USSR from Poland or what happened to particular individuals. But what I wanted to give readers most of all was a sense of how it felt to live that life.  So this then is the story of a twelve year old Polish boy in the USSR during World War 2 that all started on A Winter’s Day in 1939.

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A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik

When I was a teenager I went through stages of reading nothing but war stories.  I was fascinated by them because I couldn’t believe how people, especially children, could survive such a horrific event.  These stories put me in the shoes of teenagers in another time, taught me empathy and taught me a lot about the survival instinct of humans.  The thing that always gets me with war stories is that you know these horrible things happened, but you struggle to accept that anyone can be that cruel.   In her latest book, A Winter’s Day in 1939, Melinda Szymanik introduces us to a Polish family who do everything they can to stay together and stay alive.

Taken from their home, forced to leave their country, put to work in labour camps, frozen and starved, Adam and his family doubt that they will ever make it out alive. Even if they were to get away, they might freeze to death, or starve, or the bears might get them. For the Polish refugees, the whole of the USSR becomes a prison from which there is seemingly no escape.

 

A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a story of family, the harsh realities of war, and the fight for survival against the odds.  Adam and his family are ripped from their safe, comfortable life in Poland and transported to prison camps in Russia, in freezing conditions and with little to eat and drink.  They get transported in dirty, stinking train carriages with a stove and a pipe as a toilet, live in cramped barracks with many other families, and are forced to work for the good of Russia.  People die of exposure to the freezing conditions and disease is rife.  In these conditions you need to have to will to survive, and for Adam and his family, this is what is keeping them going.

The story is narrated by Adam, so you see everything through his eyes.  You feel how much he wants to survive and how important his family is to him. You get a real sense of how desperate their situation gets as time goes by, especially when it comes to food.  When a clerk at one of the evacuation centers apologizes to Adam for the lack of food, Adam says ‘He sounded sorry about it but that was no help to us.  You couldn’t eat ‘sorry.” You want so much for Adam and his family to survive the war and be able to return home, but you don’t know if their story will have a happy ending.

One of the things that stands out in Melinda’s story is the sense that Adam, his family, and the other refugees around them, hadn’t done anything wrong, yet they’re treated the way they are.  Adam says this himself, ‘We were being punished but I hadn’t done anything wrong.  None of us had.’ These people have been thrown out of their homes and sent to prison camps for no reason what so ever.

A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a great addition to any home or school library.  It’s a war story that hasn’t been told before and it will have an affect on readers of all ages.  Stories like Melinda’s help us to remember all those people who died during this horrific period of history and I’ll certainly remember Adam’s story for a long time.

4 out of 5 stars

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Win A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo

A Medal for Leroy is Michael Morpurgo’s latest book.  It’s a story of war, love and family secrets from this master storyteller.  If you haven’t read a Michael Morpurgobook you don’t know what you’re missing.

Thanks to everyone who entered.  This competition is now closed.

 

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Metawars: Fight for the Future by Jeff Norton

Sometimes it would be nice to be able to escape your own life and pretend to be someone else.  What if you could connect yourself to a virtual world, where you could do exactly that and look completely different.  You could have a different face, a different body, and you could even be a unicorn or a dragon.  In this virtual world, everything is clean and bright, and you can work, shop and play.  Enter the world of the Metashpere in Jeff Norton’s new book, Metawars: Fight for the Future.

Jonah Delacroix can’t stand the real world – so he lives most of his life inside a global computer-based virtual world called the Metasphere, where everyone is represented by an avatar. When he discovers the avatar of his dead father, and assumes his online identity, a series of events are unleashed that compel Jonah to race across the real world with a secret society to protect the freedom of all mankind…

Fight for the Future is the first book in Jeff Norton’s action-packed science fiction series about the fight for cyberspace.  The real world has fallen into ruin and humans now spend most of their lives in the Meatasphere, a virtual world full of life and colour, where people work, go to school and socialise.  There are two warring factions fighting for what they believe is right.  The Millenials believe that the Metashphere should be controlled, but the Guardians believe it should be free.  Matthew Granger, the creator of the Metasphere and leader of the Millenials has just escaped prison and will stop at nothing to take back his creation, one piece at a time.

The main character is Jonah Delacroix, a teenager who lives on a bus in the real world with his mum, but like most people, prefers to spend his time in the Metashpere.  His father, who was once Matthew Granger’s personal pilot, was killed when a Guardian bomb blew up the airport.  Jonah knows where his loyalties lie, but these loyalties are constantly tested in the story.  Who do you trust when everyone thinks they’re right?  One thing I really liked about the story was that there are no clear villains.  They may seem like villains but they’re only fighting for what they believe is right.  Matthew Granger’s character was really interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing how Jeff develops his character in the next book.

Metawars is a real boys story and the perfect book to hook reluctant readers.  There are heart-stopping action sequences, spies, terrorists and cool characters. It’s sure to grab those video game addicted teens as they’ll understand the allure of wanting to be constantly plugged into the virtual world.  To hook them in, all you need to tell them about the book is it’s like Alex Rider crossed with The Matrix.  Once they’ve read Fight for the Future they’ll be hooked and eagerly awaiting the sequel The Dead Are Rising.

4 out of 5 stars

 

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Shirley Hughes talks about Hero on a Bicycle

Hero on a Bicycle is the first novel from children’s literature legend, Shirley Hughes.  I grew up with Shirley Hughes’ wonderful picture books about Alfie and Annie Rose, so I can’t wait to see how she writes for an older audience.  Hero on a Bicycle is out now from Walker Books.

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My favourite Anzac novels

In my other Anzac posts I’ve highlighted some great new Anzac books from New Zealand authors.  In my last Anzac post I want to tell you about a couple of my favourite Anzac books, The Ghosts of Iron Bottom Sound by Sandy Nelson and A Rose for the Anzac Boys by Jackie French.

The Ghosts of Iron Bottom Sound by Sandy Nelson

What would you do if the ghosts of World War Two were stuck inside your head and wouldn’t leave you alone?  Paddy is an ordinary New Zealand kid who becomes obsessed with a book that he gets from the library about the wrecks of warships sunk in World War Two at Guadalcanal.  This book is special – the ghosts of men who were killed in these battles are trapped inside and they want everyone to remember why they died.  The ghosts call out to Paddy but only he can hear their voices.  Whose voices are they and why are they reaching out to him?  The ghosts tell him he has to ask his grandfather about the battle at Guadalcanal, but his grandfather has never talked about the war so how will Paddy get him to tell him his story?

The Ghosts of Iron Bottom Sound is a fantastic and unique book about the horrors of war and how it affects people.  The ghosts of the war talking to Paddy is a really interesting way to tell the story and Sandy Nelson makes you really care about what happens to the characters.  This is now one of my favourite war stories. Sandy Nelson joined us on the Christchurch Kids Blog in 2011 to talk about her book and the research she did before writing her story.  Her posts are really interesting and well worth checking out.

A Rose for the Anzac Boys by Jackie French

The ′War to end all Wars′, as seen through the eyes of three young women

It is 1915. War is being fought on a horrific scale in the trenches of France, but it might as well be a world away from sixteen-year-old New Zealander Midge Macpherson, at school in England learning to be a young lady. But the war is coming closer: Midge′s brothers are in the army, and her twin, Tim, is listed as ′missing′ in the devastating defeat of the Anzac forces at Gallipoli .

Desperate to do their bit – and avoid the boredom of school and the restrictions of Society – Midge and her friends Ethel and Anne start a canteen in France, caring for the endless flow of wounded soldiers returning from the front. Midge, recruited by the over-stretched ambulance service, is thrust into carnage and scenes of courage she could never have imagined. And when the war is over, all three girls – and their Anzac boys as well – discover that even going ′home′ can be both strange and wonderful.

Exhaustively researched but written with the lightest of touches, this is Jackie French at her very best.

The reason I love A Rose for the Anzac Boys is because it tells history from a female perspective.  In this case it tells the stories of a group of Australian girls who travel to France to do what they can for the war effort.  Jackie French is an amazing writer and she always tells a good story. Jackie also provides detailed historical notes at the end of the book so you can see how historically accurate her story is.

  • I’m currently reading David Hill’s My Brother’s War and Ken Catran’s Earth Dragon, Fire Hare, both of which are shortlisted in the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  I’m sure I will be able to add these two to my list of favourite Anzac stories too.

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Win a copy of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse

I’ve been a huge fan of Michael Morpurgo for years.  Every single book of his that I’ve read has been brilliant.  His book, War Horse, was one of them that I hadn’t read until recently but I wanted to before I saw the movie.  I’m one of those people who has to read the book before I see the movie otherwise the book is ruined for me.

I can’t wait to see the movie because it looks like Steven Spielberg has stayed true to the story and the cast looks amazing.  Just watching the trailer nearly made me cry so I’m sure the movie will be a tear-jerker.

I have a copy of the movie tie-in edition of Michael Morpurgo’s book to give away.  All you have to do to get in the draw is tell me what is your favourite kids/family movie based on a book?  Just leave a comment on this post with your name and email address (so I can contact you if you win).

Thanks to those who entered.  The winner of the copy of War Horse is Clare.

If you haven’t seen the trailer yet check it out:

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