As we draw closer to Anzac Day and we seem to be on a real book sharing spree recently, I thought I’d share some of the books that we have on our shelf about Anzac Day and wars.
We have quite a large collection of these as I’ve been buying them for a long while now. As I saw a new one I bought it. You see it never pays to say, “I’ll buy that someday” when it comes to books as they never seem to stay around for long. I’ve learned this the hard way.
Reading books is a lovely way to remember something significant. Which would you prefer? Completing yet another worksheet about the Anzacs and Gallipoli or snuggling up with Mum on the couch listening to another great story.
It works for school kids too. I always opted for reading aloud in preference to getting the class to colour yet another picture of Simpson and his donkey.
So my Anzac collection started way before I had my own children however it seems to grow much faster with the motivation of buying for my own children.
In the collection there are several reference titles, but the majority of the collection are pictures books and a few novels.
I also have a book full of photos from war times. I picked it up for $2 one day and it’s been great for browsing through and painting a picture of what it was like in war times. There’s nothing gruesome in it but it does show the reality of their day to day lives – the trenches, the steep hillsides, the crowded conditions, the mud plus a few rare moments of fun. The book is a wonderful treasure that sparks lots of discussion every time we pull it out.
But our favourite part of the our Anzac collection are the picture books.
“My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day” is aimed at a young audience. It focuses on the events of Anzac Day – getting up early for the memorial and watching their Grandad march. Details of the war are kept short, simple and sad in a gentle way, rather than scary, making it perfect for preschool aged children. The theme of the book is remembering.
“Simpson and His Donkey” is a well known and well loved story. When I taught at schools I used to have to tell the story with a version photocopied from a book I got somewhere. I still have that tattered old thing somewhere. There was no delightful picture book to share with the children. We certainly were missing out as this title is absolutely wonderful and the illustrations are even better. If you only had one book to share on Anzac Day I would recommend this one. It illustrates the best and worst of war. The worst tragedies but the best and bravest men. The book is not at all gruesome but you do get a sense of danger at every turn and the hero of the story is killed. I would suggest a slightly older audience for this one, but it depends on your children. (For those who do not know the story of Jack Simpson Kirkpatrick and his donkey Duffy – Simpson was stretcher-bearer who used a donkey to help carry wounded men to safety but the danger to his own life was great.)
“Only a Donkey” is another twist on the story of Simpson and his donkey. Rather than focusing on the details of Simpson’s heroic work this book highlights the “magic” of helping others, just as Simpson did when he risked his life time and time again to get the wounded to safety. A lovely book for a slightly older audience again, not because of the mature content but because of the deeper nature of the storyline. This title always inspires lots of discussion about compassion and helping others even when there is a cost to yourself.
“Anzac Day Parade” looks from the cover and the large brief text to be suited to younger children but it is not! This is one of the saddest titles we own. The text is poetic but carries a very solemn message. The young boy wants to know about how exciting the war was. The veteran sets him straight and with so few words you can almost feel the breaking of the old man’s heart as he remembers and struggles to look forward, caught in the horror of the past. I’d suggest Grade 5 and up for this title. It’s a significant book but you need some maturity to explore these issues and the illustration and text hint at many concepts that could be further explored.
Okay, well technically this next book isn’t about the Anzacs or World War 1. The battles along the Kokoda trail were fought during the Second World War. But I always use Anzac Day to remember any and all of the wars that Australians have fought in.
Sadly the battles along the Kokoda Track are ones that don’t seem to get a lot of focus in school. It was certainly something I learned nothing about. As an adult I’d heard the word “Kokoda” but had no sense of what it was or meant. How can it be that one of the most important and significant battles for Australia is so badly neglected in school. Or perhaps it was just my experience but I suspect not. If we’d lost this battle Australia may well have been invaded by enemy forces. I want my boys to know about this war and those people who saved our country from attack.
“Angel of Kokoda” tells the story of how the battles effected the Papua New Guinean people, through the story of one boy living in a mission. When the war comes to his home he is caught up amongst the fighting and then comes upon a wounded soldier who he does his best to care for. It sounds like a gruesome war story and the illustrations and colouring suggest that it was, but there is beauty in the story and the suggestion that not all was ugly in the war. The beauty was again in the hearts of the people. Once again this story is more suited to older children. I’d suggest grade 5 and up. There is a lot to explore in this story as it sends you hunting out answers to the many questions that it raises but doesn’t answer for you. I love a book that does that.
This next book, “My Mother’s Eyes” is a book by the same author as the title above. It’s a relatively new book on our shelf, arriving only a fortnight ago. It’s about a boy who enlists as a solider before he’s old enough. The illustrations are in the same style as those in “Angel of Kokoda”, and also include letters written by the boy to his mother. I like that this book describes the horrors of war in a way that is appropriate but not romanticised. I want my boys to understand that war is a terrible thing without them having to see the true reality of it. This book does this so well, leaving so much unspoken but yet understood by those who are mature enough to know.
“Memorial” is an interesting title, probably not one of my preferred titles. Someone recommended it to me and I was led astray. Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe I didn’t “get” the message. But it seems to me that the book is more about the tree than remembering the war. There’s hardly a mention of war times but lots of remembering the ceremony when they planted the tree and fun times surrounding the tree. I understood that they wanted to cut it down but…well I never did like Gary Crew’s stuff. Maybe someone else can find value in it. It left me scratching my head.
The next few books are books I’ve picked up in Bargain Bins. It pays to check them!
“In Flanders Fields” is a book that will melt your heart. The illustrations in this book are on the unpleasant side with fallen soldiers lying on the ground and draped over barbed wire. There’s also a lone skull in one picture. However the ugliness and dreariness in the illustrations are important. They compliment and contrast with the storyline beautifully. Amidst all of that ugliness, on Christmas Day, one soldier does one tender but incredibly dangerous, almost crazy thing. It’s a very small thing that has a very great warming effect on everyone, including the reader. A really delightful book. One of my favourites.
“Grandad’s Medals” is actually a New Zealand focused title. You find this out when you see the flag and they start to sing the National Anthem. This creates a good opportunity to explain that New Zealand soldiers fought alongside Australians and also observe Anzac Day.
The story tells of the close relationship between a child and their Grandad and continues on to describe the events of Anzac Day. The book draws your attention to the solemn nature of the day and the increasing numbers of veterans who are no longer able to march. Without saying it in the text, I get the impression that perhaps one day the child will go on to march and remember for their Grandad so that the soldiers will never be forgotten. This title is another good book for the younger crowd.
“Photographs in the Mud” is another picture book about the campaigns on the Kokoda Track. This is my favourite of the two Kokoda books I have…but it is sad. This book gives more details about the battles and the soldiers involved while reminding the reader of the families, that both sides of the enemy line, left behind at home. Your hearts will break for their wives and children, reminding you that the families left behind were also the victims of wars. I’d suggest that this book would be best for children from Grade Three and up, as the images of war include blood and the ending is quite sad.
“One Boy’s War” is a bit of a cheat in my Anzac list of books. It’s not about Australians in war, but you’d never know if you didn’t read the additional information at the end of the story (or notice that they were flying the wrong flag). The main character is actually from Ireland but the conditions were such that it could easily have been about an Australian. The main character in the story is too young to go to war but lies and enlists after his father joins. You sense that the men believed they were off on some marvelous adventure but the thoughts of the young solider show that he quickly realises his mistake, although in each of his letters home he is optimistic and elusive about the real nature of the war. While I appreciate the storyline of this book and the insight into the soldiers’ feelings, this book was a little rough around the edges. The language used is that which might have been used by the boy…not always delightful…and missing some of the literary beauty of the other titles. There’s quite a lot of gruesomeness in the text of this story and very little hope. But still it’s a valuable title for much older children. War is an ugly thing and sometimes it’s hard to present a pretty picture of it.
“What Was the War Like, Grandma?” is another of my favourite titles. This book is unlike any of the others books as it tells us about life in Australia during World War 2. I found it fascinating, as have the boys. I suppose we always thought that life went on as always here as the wars were fought so far away. This book tells us what life was like – practising air raid drills, blacking out windows so light couldn’t be seen from the skies, rationing foods, making things for the war effort and women doing the work of men. I’d suggest that this book would be great for children from Grade 3 and right up to adults!
This next batch of books I bought when we were in Canberra visiting the Australian War Memorial. They have quite a lot of children’s literature for purchase. You can also purchase them online.
“Why are they Marching, Daddy?” is different to the other picture books. The literary quality is not the focus as much as presenting a lot of information about the Anzacs and war. It does this as the main character, a little girl, asks her Daddy questions. Lacking literary flair isn’t necessarily a negative but it does make it stand out from the other picture books. It’s still a valuable title and one that could be appreciated by a younger audience.
“Wearing the Poppy” could be considered the older audience version of the previous title. Once again this book focuses on presenting lots of information rather than a storyline, yet the voice implies a story…a story of a family member who fought in the war. This title has lots of photographs which gives this book a unique advantage over the other titles. There are also copies of letters included in the illustrations.
Of the three books I bought from the Australian War Memorial this next one is my favourite. “The Unknown Australian Soldier” doesn’t visually ‘look’ great – the illustrations are a poor combinations of photographs and sketchy watercolours and the text is way too small – BUT the storyline is actually very informative. The children are taken back into war times by the ghost or dream figure of the ‘Unknown Soldier’. During their tour the soldier answers their questions and gives them a deeper understanding of the war. Grade 3 children and up would appreciate and learn a lot from this title.
And finally a smattering of novels to finish off my list. I actually have a lot of other war related novels but I stuck to specifically Anzac ones this time.
I’ll admit, I’ve only read one of these four so far, and that was a long time ago, so I can’t review them for you. But soon we’ll be moving on from picture books and reading novels leading up to Anzac Day. When that day comes I promise I’ll review a list of them for you.
“At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”