Wednesday, 23 April 2014

My Australian Story: Kokoda

My Australian Story: Kokoda by Alan Tucker (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-205-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Written in diary form, Kokoda tells the story of World War II from the perspective of a young boy living in Townsville. With two older brothers on the battle front – Harold in the 2/14 Battalion, and Des in the 2/39th Militia Battalion – Archie is updated regularly on the action taking place off Australian soil from their letters home. Des (with Harold’s Battalion joining later) is sent to Port Moresby where his militia battalion has the task of defending the Kokoda Track from the advancing Japanese army.

This is a World War II story with a strong Australian feel. There is much focus on Archie’s life, and what it was like to live in the north of Australia during the war years. Townville was a base for the Americans and many of the local resented this. American soldiers enjoyed comforts local were unable to obtain due to rationing – even water was rationed at times. They lived in fear of Japanese invasion and bombing did occur occasionally in the parts of the Northern Territory and Queensland.

The diary entries show clearly how lack of information caused rumours to run rife. No-one really knew what was happening in the overseas theatres or where family members may be stationed at any given time. All this is recorded by fourteen year old Archie, through whose eyes everything seems a little exciting as well as a little frightening, but he is eager to learn about everything. And throughout the uncertainty of war, home life goes on and he has to deal with school, being the new kid, bullies, and getting a job.

This is a fascinating look at Australia’s war involvement between 1941 and 1942. It touches on peripheral subjects too, such as segregation in the US military and questions whether the Aussies treated Aboriginal recruits any better. It also raises the issues of leadership and what makes a good leader. 

While the focus is on Townsville and the Kokoda campaign, this is set in the context of the rest of the war. Mention is made of the Fall of Singapore, the Bombing of Darwin, Anzac Day services, the Battle of the Coral Sea and other relevant historical events as they happen. 

There are ten pages of historical notes at the end which help to explain the facts the author has drawn on to create this ‘darn good yarn’. Throughout the story, Australian humour, slang and values such as mateship and family shine through.


From the My Australian Story series, this story about the Kokoda campaign and Australia’s battle for the home front is a great tale for any child, ten years and up. The writing is very accessible, easy and entertaining and will suit those interested in war stories, adventure or Australian History. It is an absorbing coming of age journey, particularly for boys.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Gallipoli

Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood, illustrated by Annie White (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-129-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Anzac Day honours the Anzacs who, among other campaigns, fought for a small area of land on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. Written by Kerry Greenwood, Gallipoli tells the story of Bluey and Dusty, close mates who are among the lucky ones to make it home at the end of the campaign. 

This is a well-written and wordy story which explores the issues of bravery, hardship, fear, humour and mateship. With much more text than is usual in a picture book, this is suitable for primary aged children. It includes interesting detail such as Simpson and his donkey Duffy, the Roses of No Man's Land (nurses), and the battles at Gaba Tepe and Lone Pine. 

The writing creates a little distance between the events and the reader. The story is more about what happens than a more personal account:

In between the fighting, an unexpected bond began amongst the exhausted enemies. They worked together to bury the dead and swapped gifts instead of gunfire.   The diggers offered bully beef, and the Turks gave fruit and sweets in return.

The emotion is in the pictures. Annie White's illustrations are watercolour, unusually soft and gentle for depictions of war. And it is the people who dominate these illustrations. Here, human emotions are beautifully expressed and shine strongly through. As well as full paged illustrations, White has painted sepia photographs, complete with photo corners, which run throughout the story, creating a feeling of a personal photograph album. These begin inside the front cover and continue all the way to the end pages where more recent photos of family round out a life story.


Between the text and the illustrations, a story of Aussie mateship, humour and stoicism is portrayed, making this a tale of Australians at Gallipoli with memories which can be shared with younger children as well as older.    

Monday, 21 April 2014

Archie’s War: My Scrapbook of the First World War

Archie’s War: My Scrapbook of the First World War by Marcia Williams (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781406352689
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Archie Albright receives a scrapbook from his uncle for his tenth birthday in April, 1914.The entries end when he is 15 years old, in 1919. Full of fold-out cards and letters, clippings from newspapers, and posters of the era, we get a view of the First World War through Archie’s life, and his family members’ experiences.

Archie’s love of comics inspires the comic characters and drawings that make up this amazing scrapbook. It’s funny, clever, and imaginative. The humorous captions and banners present the harsh reality of war in a light-hearted (if possible) way. It allows children to learn the history of the war; the conditions the men fought in, and at the same time experience visually and verbally, how difficult life was for the people left behind at home in London.


This book won the UKLA (United Kingdom Literacy Association) Book Award. It is a reissue of the 2007 publication, and is suitable for all ages. The illustrations are highly detailed. The entire presentation is exceptional. Marcia Williams excels at creating books that appear like personalized journals and scrapbooks. She is the author of the outstanding Lizzie Bennet’s Diary.

Jack’s Bugle

Jack’s Bugle by Krista Bell, illustrated by Belinda Elliott (Windy Hollow Books)
HC RRP $25.99
ISBN 9781922081292
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Innocent about the meaning of war and looking for adventure along with so many others, Aidan Jackson, known as Jack, sets out for Gallipoli with his bugle. He becomes best mate to Harry, who later brings Jack’s bugle home.

This book is a salute to the men at Anzac Cove. It’s a hymn to the mateship and camaraderie shared in the sands of Egypt, and the trenches. And amidst the bullet fire, it’s always mates looking after mates with loyalty and sacrifice.

Ever present in the story is the bugle; Jack’s Bugle, that brought something singular to the men at Gallipoli and which remained along with a bent photo, the only reminder for Harry of his friend.

Krista Bell has again used a single object - the bugle - to create an interesting reflection on the war that was to end all wars. The story of the bugle is in itself a whole separate tale, uncovered at the end. These books are treasures and serve to remind us Lest We Forget.

Outstanding watercolour illustrations by Belinda Elliott take the reader back to the time and place perfectly with her perceptive translation of the text.


Sunday, 20 April 2014

Creforce: The Anzacs and the Battle of Crete

Creforce: The Anzacs and the Battle of Crete by Stella Tzobanakis (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 18.99
ISBN 9781742030821
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Creforce was the name of the Commonwealth and Allied Forces of Crete. This reissue from The Drum series concentrates on the Australian and New Zealand Forces that took part in the historic ten-day Battle of Crete. It also covers the invasion of the Greek mainland, and includes an expansive history of WW2 during those catastrophic times.
  
The Battle of Crete was fought in May 1941, when German paratroopers fell from the sky, with the ANZAC, British and Greek units defending the island. The Germans encountered mass resistance from the island’s population. The Cretan’s knowledge of the mountains and their ability to survive there indefinitely proved to be their greatest weapon against the German invaders.

Lack of food forced soldiers to depend on the charity of strangers. What little they had was shared with the soldiers. Whole villages paid if a person was discovered harbouring an enemy of the Germans. The accounts of the Allied soldiers’ heroic attempts to fight with a shortage of guns and ammunition, in tattered clothing and shared boots, is deeply moving.


The statistics here are amazing. The layout is terrific. Its informative fact boxes include biographies of famous people associated with the Greek Resistance. Archival photos appear throughout the book. Customs, traditions, language, music, and past history of the island form the background of this comprehensive narrative on the invasion of Greece and Crete during WW2.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Along the Road to Gundagai

Along the Road to Gundagai by Jack O’Hagan, illustrated by Andrew McLean (Omnibus Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-979-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Although the words of this song are familiar to me, I had no idea of the wistful story representing young men sent to the first Word War which lies behind the lyrics. This book tells the story of a young soldier in World War I who is injured and hospitalised. Through this he relives memories of home. And it is through the illustrations that we get the emotions which go deeper than the jaunty, happy song seems to suggest on the surface.

Andrew McLean uses charcoal and watercolour to create these pictures, then scans and colours them on an iPad. His powerful images contrast the dark, heavy depictions of war with the lighter, rosier memories of home. There are many such contrasts within the pages. A constant eerie glow hangs over the war scenes while the pictures of home have a sunrise shine to them. There is a fabulous illustration of young soldiers washing in a creek near a bombed out building, then the next page shows children playing freely in the waters of the Murrumbidgee River. And the use of horses is a theme which runs throughout, creating a further divide between war and peace.

O’Hagan, a prolific Australian song writer, wrote Along the Road to Gundagai in 1922 and it was an instant success. Even if you think you know this song well, read the book and see it with a new perspective.

This is an excellent book with beautiful illustrations but keep in mind that, although a picture book with a simple concept, some of the illustrations are powerful and could be frightening for very young children. It is ultimately a story about war and as such depicts scenes from the battlefront.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Simpson and his Donkey

Simpson and his Donkey by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frane Lessac (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781921529542
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The heroic life and death of Jack Simpson and his donkey is presented again by husband and wife team Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac. It starts with Jack’s life before he sailed for Australia, then aboard as a stoker. His working history shows us the man he was, and how easy it was for Jack to serve ‘king and country’ when the war broke out. 

But fear replaced the sense of adventure that many soldiers set out with, when the fighting started on the ‘razorback ridges’. Jack was working tirelessly carrying wounded to the boats to be evacuated, when he came upon a stray donkey which he named Duffy. Thus they became Simpson and his donkey.

This immortal story has been brought to life again through Greenwood’s ability to tell a great tale, and make it sound fresh and new. Lessac’s insightful illustrations fit like a glove around Greenwood’s words. Detailed and expressive, each full page illustration gives up all of Simpson’s bravery, determination and courage, as he carries water to thirsty troops, and makes the return journey with a wounded soldier on Duffy’s back. One of them being his childhood friend Billy.

It also gives us a clear picture of Gallipoli and the conditions the men experienced there. It’s a salute to this part of Australian history that is in our hearts and memories.

Simpson was admired and respected as ‘the bravest of the brave’ due to his humanity. He died the way he lived - always doing what was right, and serving others. He was buried at Hell Spit. We must also reflect as we turn each page of this beautifully illustrated edition with its poetic prose, on all that we are because of Gallipoli.

Lest We Forget.