My favourite Anzac novels

In my other Anzac posts I’ve highlighted some great new Anzac books from New Zealand authors.  In my last Anzac post I want to tell you about a couple of my favourite Anzac books, The Ghosts of Iron Bottom Sound by Sandy Nelson and A Rose for the Anzac Boys by Jackie French.

The Ghosts of Iron Bottom Sound by Sandy Nelson

What would you do if the ghosts of World War Two were stuck inside your head and wouldn’t leave you alone?  Paddy is an ordinary New Zealand kid who becomes obsessed with a book that he gets from the library about the wrecks of warships sunk in World War Two at Guadalcanal.  This book is special – the ghosts of men who were killed in these battles are trapped inside and they want everyone to remember why they died.  The ghosts call out to Paddy but only he can hear their voices.  Whose voices are they and why are they reaching out to him?  The ghosts tell him he has to ask his grandfather about the battle at Guadalcanal, but his grandfather has never talked about the war so how will Paddy get him to tell him his story?

The Ghosts of Iron Bottom Sound is a fantastic and unique book about the horrors of war and how it affects people.  The ghosts of the war talking to Paddy is a really interesting way to tell the story and Sandy Nelson makes you really care about what happens to the characters.  This is now one of my favourite war stories. Sandy Nelson joined us on the Christchurch Kids Blog in 2011 to talk about her book and the research she did before writing her story.  Her posts are really interesting and well worth checking out.

A Rose for the Anzac Boys by Jackie French

The ′War to end all Wars′, as seen through the eyes of three young women

It is 1915. War is being fought on a horrific scale in the trenches of France, but it might as well be a world away from sixteen-year-old New Zealander Midge Macpherson, at school in England learning to be a young lady. But the war is coming closer: Midge′s brothers are in the army, and her twin, Tim, is listed as ′missing′ in the devastating defeat of the Anzac forces at Gallipoli .

Desperate to do their bit – and avoid the boredom of school and the restrictions of Society – Midge and her friends Ethel and Anne start a canteen in France, caring for the endless flow of wounded soldiers returning from the front. Midge, recruited by the over-stretched ambulance service, is thrust into carnage and scenes of courage she could never have imagined. And when the war is over, all three girls – and their Anzac boys as well – discover that even going ′home′ can be both strange and wonderful.

Exhaustively researched but written with the lightest of touches, this is Jackie French at her very best.

The reason I love A Rose for the Anzac Boys is because it tells history from a female perspective.  In this case it tells the stories of a group of Australian girls who travel to France to do what they can for the war effort.  Jackie French is an amazing writer and she always tells a good story. Jackie also provides detailed historical notes at the end of the book so you can see how historically accurate her story is.

  • I’m currently reading David Hill’s My Brother’s War and Ken Catran’s Earth Dragon, Fire Hare, both of which are shortlisted in the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  I’m sure I will be able to add these two to my list of favourite Anzac stories too.

Guest Post: David Hill and Fifi Colston on The Red Poppy

This year there are a bumper crop of books about New Zealand’s involvement in war being published to coincide with Anzac Day on April 25.  The Red Poppy is one of them that really stands out for me because of it’s well-told story by David Hill and it’s stunning illustrations by Fifi Colston.  It’s a story full of tension, but ultimately about the friendship between enemies and the loyalty and bravery of one little dog.

I asked both David and Fifi if they would be able to tell me a little about their book and what it meant to them:

David Hill

The Red Poppy is a senior picture book which tells the story of a young soldier in a terrifying battle on the Western Front in France, during World War 1. Jim McLeod and his battalion have to attack across the open ground, into the face of artillery and machine-gun fire from the German trenches. With them goes the little black messenger dog, Nipper, whose job is to carry back requests for help, to save wounded men. As they charge across the open ground, past a place where red poppies grow among the shattered trees and buildings, Jim is hit by a bullet. He falls into a deep shell-hole, at the bottom of which lies a wounded German soldier. What happens between the two men, and the part played by Nipper in trying to save them, is the rest of the story.

I’ve dedicated my part in The Red Poppy to my uncles who fought in both World Wars. Their stories of the great battles and the courage of soldiers fascinated me from when I was a kid, and finally I had the chance to honour them in a story. Mud and huge guns and fear and the red poppies that have become the symbol of Anzac Day are all in this book.

Fifi Colston

My husband’s grandfather Rothwell, wrote postcards to his fiancé Hilda, from 1914-1918. Particularly poignant were two from France; they said simply “Am O.K” and “Keep smiling!” I was in the process of scanning and blogging these cards for the family (http://wartimepostcards.blogspot.co.nz/) when Scholastic asked me if I would look at a very special story to illustrate. I had decided some time ago that the next book I illustrated had to really mean something to me on a very personal level. Illustrating a book is a labour of love and I wanted to make a body of work that would enthrall me and push me to produce as excellent work as I could. For that I’d need to relate to the story; it had to move me. Then I read David’s manuscript. Jim’s letter home never mentioning the horrors of the trenches struck an immediate chord with me; those cheerful words from a young man, disguising the reality of his situation. Rothwell did come home from France to be a husband and father, but was far from ‘o.k’; dying just a few short years later from the cruel ravages of his war experience. Illustrating this book has been a journey through his time for me. I visited war museums, studied WW1 uniform, grew red poppies, photographed mud and rubbed chalk pastel until my fingers bled. I have learned much and my artwork is a tribute to him. It’s been a real pleasure working with David, Diana and Penny at Scholastic and Penny Newman the brilliant book designer who created the vision with me.