Sunday 4 April 2021

The Flying Angel


The Flying Angel by Vicki Bennett, illustrated by Tull Suwannakit (Scholastic) PB RRP $24.99 978 1 74383 551 7

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

The Flying Angel is a picture book inspired by the remarkable life of Sister Marie Eileen Craig. She was a nurse to soldiers on the frontline in Papua New Guinea. The nurses were known as Flying Angels and helped transport injured soldiers back to Australia. This book shines a light upon the important contribution of the Flying Angels during war.

Vicki Bennett is a best-selling author, who has a passion for Australian history. She wrote the award-winning picture book The Little Stowaway. Vicki’s voice captures the emotion of World War Two with a certain gentleness. She doesn’t shy away from the sadness of war but leaves the reader with a clear understanding of its impact. As we follow Marie’s life, the theme of nursing is woven into the story from the start to the finish. The text gives a voice to Marie and we are shown a window into her world. It is as if Marie is speaking to us through the text.

This story favours longer sentences to give the reader time to absorb the story and fully appreciate its message. Dialogue is used sparingly but to great effect. I love how the story ends, with the impact of Marie’s actions upon the lives of soldiers lovingly conveyed. The reader is left satisfied and knows that Marie saved lives during World War Two and that is what she set out to do.

The illustrations, by Tull Suwannakit, capture the mood and tone of this story. The cover clearly shows that this is an historical picture book with the image of Marie in her nurse’s uniform and a red poppy. Her eyes call the reader inside. The endpapers of photographs, objects and sketches depict the Flying Angels and early parts of Marie’s life. Although the cover and endpapers are in the colours of the era, the rest of the story is illustrated in muted tones of sepia, greys, creams, and blacks with the odd splash of red, for the red cross symbol and fire. This allows the reader to feel the impact of war and its seriousness. But it’s also like looking through a lens back in time to an era when photographs were in black and white. The use of perspective in the spreads dramatize the events and feelings of Marie. Tull cleverly brings in a touch of diversity with an indigenous nurse helping to unload Alfred from the back of a truck. The text and illustrations are a perfect match in this book.

 This is a picture book for children 4 years and older. Schools are seeking books that showcase the role of Australian women in war and this book fills that hole. It brings an important part of Australian history to life and it is a wonderful book for any Australian child to understand another part of our war history. It is a special picture book.

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