Saturday 3 August 2013

What Was the War Like, Grandma?

What Was the War Like, Grandma? by Rachel Tonkin (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781922179265
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

With a new edition of this book - the first published in 1995 - opportunity opens for a new generation of readers to learn about WW2 through Emmy’s eyes and voice.

The announcement in 1939 that Australia is at war sets off the informative text and detailed illustrations that take us through the stages of enlistment, brownouts, blackouts, and the air raids at school which force the children into the garden trenches that would hopefully keep them safe.

There is a reality and urgency in every illustrated scene. The expressions on the children’s faces are cheeky and vibrant as we view the antics in the classroom.  Like a movie, the illustrations blast across the page with the narrative attached, through the daily rituals of ordinary people as they adapt and survive through changing times.

There are joyous scenes of children entertaining adults to raise money for the war effort, while rationing governs their lives and recycling becomes an art. But there are always the cunning that used tricks to get things they wanted and couldn’t normally have, like beer.

We learn about the people who were exempt from joining up because of the importance of their work, and the way that women moved into men’s roles such as tram conductors and the land army.

Australians hadn’t heard of hamburgers before the Americans landed and were billeted with families. Because letters were heavily censored, some soldiers would write the name of the place where they were fighting beneath the stamp, and mothers would steam them off to learn where their sons were fighting.

But what is most obvious is that in no matter what situation children found themselves to be, they would always have fun for their inventive minds created new games from their new situations, and play never stopped.

At the end of the book Rachel Tonkin explains how she resourced her information. This is a great learning and teaching tool for readers of all ages, enhanced greatly by the outstanding illustrations that accompany the text.

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