Lest we forget: Books to remember the ANZACs

Last year in the lead up to Anzac Day I had some of our wonderful New Zealand authors and illustrators join me on the blog to talk about their Anzac books and what Anzac Day means to them.  You can read their posts by clicking on the links below.  You can also read about my favourite Anzac books and Philippa Werry’s fantastic new non-fiction book about Anzac Day, Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story.

Christchurch City Libraries has a great info page about Anzac Day and Gallipoli for children, with basic facts and links to some interesting websites.

Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story by Philippa Werry

Why do we celebrate Anzac Day?  Why were donkeys used at Gallipoli?  Why do we wear poppies on Anzac Day? Why is the last post played at the Dawn Service?  Why do we have Anzac biscuits?  All these questions and more are answered in Philippa Werry’s new book, Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story – What it is and why it matters

Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story – What it is and why it matters is a fascinating, beautifully designed, thoroughly researched, and very accessible book for New Zealand children about Anzac Day.  It’s one of those non-fiction books that is both great for teachers to use in the classroom or for children to delve in to by themselves.  Philippa has written it in such a way that it is accessible for children of different ages, from 8 years and up, with lots of images to break up the text.  This book is different from other non-fiction books about Anzac Day and New Zealand’s involvement, as it looks at not only the past, but also the present and how we commemorate today.

Everything you would expect to find in a book about Anzac Day is here – what it is and why we celebrate it, a timeline of the Gallipoli campaign, profiles of key New Zealanders who played a part, and statistics of casualties and deaths.  However, it’s the focus on why Anzac Day matters and how we celebrate it now that really makes this book stand out.  There is a whole chapter about how we remember the war dead with poppies and war memorials, and another chapter on Anzac Day commemorations both in New Zealand and around the world.  There are also lots of fact boxes with tidbits of information about the animals at Gallipoli, Anzac biscuits, the New Zealand flag, and why the New Zealanders had ‘lemon-squeezer’ hats.

There are lots of primary resources in the book (which makes it great for teachers), from photos and newspaper clippings, to soldier’s diaries and paintings.  Philippa has created some incredibly helpful material at the back of the book too, including a glossary, bibliography, a list of helpful and authoritative websites, and a list of ‘More things to do’ to extend children’s understanding of the topic.

Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story – What it is and why it matters should be in every home, school and library in the country.  It’s a book that will be well-used and well-read.

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: Glenda Kane on Anzac Day Parade

Today I’m joined by Glenda Kane, author of the picture book, Anzac Day Parade.  Glanda tells us about her Anzac memories and why she wrote her story.

My husband is Australian and I’m a Kiwi, so we’re Anzacs. Having travelled a lot, we realise we’re pretty lucky to live in this peaceful corner of the world.

We have three sons who love playing war games. To them, it’s fun. But I wanted them to understand that, in real life, war is not a game.

“There he stood on the sun-parched hill, a straggler from 18th Battalion.”

I’d attended an Anzac Day service at the Auckland Cenotaph with my family. Afterwards, I noticed an old man dressed in his best jacket – complete with medals – leaning on a walking stick, staring out towards Rangitoto. A small boy was looking at him with an expression of awe.

At that moment, I wondered what the old soldier was seeing as he gazed into the distance. What was he remembering? What had he been through? And what did the little boy think?

I’ll never know who they were. I just went away and made up the story.

“Did ya shoot them dead,” asked the bright-eyed boy. “Did it feel real cool to kill?” With a voice bereft of joy, he sighed: “No son, it was no thrill.”

When the illustrator, Lisa Allen, needed an old soldier to become her model, we contacted 92-year-old Crete veteran Noel Dromgool and his wife, Peggy. They allowed us to photograph Noel while he reminisced about training, battle, defeat, and his long internment in a prisoner of war camp.

We were privileged to hear his stories over the course of an afternoon. We left with immense respect for a man and his mates who sacrificed so much for their country and for future generations – us, and our children.

Quite a long time passed before the book was printed. Finally, I phoned Noel and Peggy to tell them it was published. There was no reply. Eventually I called another number listed under ‘Dromgool’ in the phone book. It turned out to be Noel’s son.

I explained who I was and said I wanted to show his father the new book. “Bad news, I’m afraid,” he said. “Dad died.” I wanted to cry. Instead, I asked if I could send the book to Peggy. “I’m afraid she died, too.”

The youngest soldiers from the Second World War are now at least 85 years old.

If anyone has a grandparent or great-uncle or neighbour who fought in the war, talk to them; ask them questions; write down their story. Do it now. There isn’t much time left.

I’m proud to say that when Noel’s son saw Anzac Day Parade he said he thought it was “pretty bloody good,” and that his dad would’ve thought so, too.

I hope young readers think it’s pretty good as well.

Guest Post: Feana Tu‘akoi on Lest We Forget

Today I’m joined by Feana Tu’akoi, author of the picture book, Lest We Forget.  Feana tells us about her Anzac memories and why she wrote her story.

When I was a kid, war horrified me. The terror, hardship and ruined lives – it seemed like such a stupid way to sort out our countries’ differences. I didn’t want any part of it. And I definitely didn’t want to celebrate it.

But I was a brownie and then a girl guide in small town South Canterbury. So, every year I had to march in the ANZAC parade.

I hated it – all those speeches, raving on about the brave soldiers who fought for victory. How could it be a victory when so many people died? What about the fathers, brothers and sons, on both sides, who never came back? What about the people who did come back, but were permanently damaged? I thought we should have been able to find a better way.

When my family moved to the North Island, I stopped going to the parades. But then I studied history at university. I talked to people who were involved in World War II and I realised that things weren’t as black and white as I’d thought.

Lots of people actually wanted to go to war, for lots of different reasons. They thought that they were protecting their families and helping to make the world a better place.

So my husband, Sione, and I went along to a Dawn Parade. I was shocked. Nobody talked about how glorious war was, or even that it was the right thing to do. They just talked about how important it was for us to remember, so that we could all continue to live in peace.

That was when I realised. We weren’t there to celebrate war. We were there, Lest We Forget. And that’s why I wrote this book. We need to remember the past, so we can make better decisions in the future.

I think that the next generation is smart enough to do just that. And that’s why I dedicated this book to my kids.

Feana Tu‘akoi, March 2012.

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.


New Zealand at war: New books from Ken Catran

Ken Catran is one of New Zealand’s most prolific authors for children and young adults.  He’s an incredibly flexible writer because he writes for different age groups and in different genres.  One of my favourite books by Ken Catran is the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards 2011 finalist, Smiling Jack.  A lot of Ken’s books deal with war and the way that it affects those both at war and at home.

Ken has recently had two new books published which focus on New Zealand’s role in war. These two new books focus on two wars that most New Zealanders know very little about, the second Boer War (1899-1902) and the Malayan Emergency (1948-60).

When the Empire Calls – published by Scholastic New Zealand

It is 1899 and the Boer War has just begun in Africa. The Boer War is the first overseas conflict that New Zealand as a nation is involved in. Young men and women are eager to sign up to help the British Empire. Patriotism sweeps through New Zealand, even reaching small farming communities like Huia.

James McDonald is a teenage boy who lives on a farm in Huia with his parents and brothers and sisters. When his two older brothers sign up James is left to help his father run the farm. Left behind by his brothers and two sisters who are training to be nurses James has to assume extra responsibility and also grow up quickly. The reality of war is illustrated vividly by James’ brother Edward in his letters home and James begins to worry that he may never see his brothers alive again.

“Croaky Fred” who owns Fred’s Grocery Emporium is a person who believes that war is neither glorious nor justified. He challenges James to question his assumptions and ideas about the war. Fred’s outspoken views are considered unpatriotic by many townsfolk, who are unaware that Fred is himself a war hero who knows only too well the horrors of war. Unfortunately for James and his family, Fred’s concerns and dire predictions don’t turn out to be unfounded.

Earth Dragon, Fire Hare – published by HarperCollins New Zealand

New Zealand’s forgotten war, fought in the deep green jungles of Malaya. In 1948, Britain and her allies are pitted against Communist terrorists in a struggle for freedom. On opposing sides are Peter Hayes, a young Kiwi soldier, and Ng, a dedicated guerrilla. They are enemies but, as the bitter conflict deepens, both will ask questions. Who fights for freedom? Who is the oppressor?

And then a chance horoscope links them … to meet in battle. Destiny also decrees that Peter and Ng will become unlikely comrades. But in this treacherous and bloody war, nothing is as it seems – not even trust. The path to honour and the search for peace promise to be hard-fought and come at the highest cost. EARTH DRAGON, FIRE HARE is the ultimate tale of war.

Enter my Anzac books giveaway to win a copy of When Empire Calls and Earth Dragon, Fire Hare.