Monday 22 April 2013

The Promise: The Town That Never Forgets: N’oublions jamais l’Australia

The Promise: The Town That Never Forgets: N’oublions jamais l’Australia by Derek Guille, illustrated by Kaff-eine, translated by Anne-Sophie Biguet (One Day Hill)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-0-9873139-6-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

In the north of France is a village called Villers-Bretonneux. This village, only an hour from Paris, has a special connection to Australia. Nearly one hundred years ago, the citizens of Villers-Bretonneux made a promise to never forget the Australians who saved them from occupation during World War I.

And as former ABC radio presenter Derek Guille discovered in 2007, when he accompanied the members of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra to Villers-Bretonneux, the village has made good on this promise.

This is an eye opening book about a part of our history and present of which I knew nothing. Guille writes not only about the war which occupied the village, but also about the rebuilding, about the bonds formed, and about the interest and knowledge the village has of Australia to this day.

He also writes about the performance of the Melbourne Villers-Bretonneux Brass Ensemble at a ceremony held in the war memorial at the edge of the village. Nelson Ferguson was one of the Australian soldiers wounded in the 1918 ANZAC Day battle which halted the German advance into the village. Almost a century later, his grandson was one of the musicians honouring him. Via a mobile phone held high in the air, the vast distance was bridged and family members in Melbourne listened to the service.

This is a picture book with a difference. It is non-fiction with much more words than would normally be in this format. This makes it suitable for older children and with the text blending historical facts with the author’s personal experience it reads smoothly as a narrative story. Each page is first in English, then in French which helps to further convey the connection between the Australians and the French.

I love the painted illustrations. They are unique, compelling me to keep turning the pages and to really look at each one. They exude an atmosphere of playfulness, colour, movement and hope. Even the pictures of the war focus on bandaging the wounded rather than battle scenes.

The ending is wonderfully rounded out with the mention of Villers-Bretonneux helping Victoria rebuild schools after the Black Saturday bushfires. The illustration which accompanies this is my favourite.

In bringing the air of friendship to the fore, Guille’s writing style makes this story an interesting, emotional and uplifting one as well as being informative. I must admit, it brought tears to my eyes as I read the last page. I hope many children, teens and adults read this book. It illustrates the importance of community and how small the world really is.

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