Thursday 21 March 2024

Deadly Waters

Deadly Waters by Helen Chapman (Omnibus Books, Scholastic) PB RRP $17.99 ISBN: 9781743835104

Reviewed by Kellie Nissen

Growing up in New South Wales, Clifford ‘Digger’ Hopping had his sights set on playing cricket for Australia. Priorities change as you grow older, however, and with rumblings from Europe, Cliff signs up to train with the Royal Australian Navy.

Then, the telegram arrives and before he knows it, Cliff finds himself at sea, being fired upon by enemy ships and aircraft, all while trying to keep his fellow Australians, allies, and himself, safe.

That’s the abridged version of Deadly Waters by Helen Chapman. But, this summary barely scratches the surface as Chapman takes readers, with Digger, into the heart of the Second World War and all the action, excitement and devastation in a way I personally have not experienced before.

Part of Scholastic’s Australia’s Second World War series, Deadly Waters becomes extra special, and poignant, when we realise that the character, Cliff, is actually Helen Chapman’s father, and that the story we’re reading was told to Chapman by her father, who completed active service as a young seaman for the Royal Australian Navy during World War II.

Nobody without the same lived experience can possibly know what it is like to be at sea for months on end, without seeing your family – save for the occasional, often censored, letter. None of us could know the raw fear of wondering if you’ll survive the next submarine attack or raid from a Japanese kamikaze aircraft. And no-one can understand the joy of reuniting with loved ones after months of wondering if you’ll ever see them again. However, Helen Chapman brings her readers as close as possible to these emotions and experiences.

Deadly Waters does not glorify war in any way; instead, it’s honest and raw and heartfelt storytelling at its very best.

The backmatter, which includes maps, a historical timeline and links to virtual experiences related to the story, is a wonderful supplement to the first person narrative. In addition, Helen Chapman’s website contains additional teaching resources from Scholastic, photos of her father and family, and images of news clippings and other relevant materials, all working to deepen the story and enhance connection and understanding.

Written for children aged 9–12 (Years 4, 5 and 6), Deadly Waters is a perfect addition to the Australian Curriculum: History, giving readers an up-close understanding of Australia’s part in the Second World War from the inside perspective. I would also suggest the story is an excellent read for adolescents and adults alike who want to gain a greater, more personal, insight into historical events such as these.

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