“We will remember them”

This is the first in a series of blogs that I will be writing over the period of the World War I Remembrance.  We have spent the last year thinking about the whole concept of the war and the four years of horror that affected so many families across the globe.  From this month, we will no doubt be thinking about individual battles as they took place, but unlike in previous conflicts these battles could last months rather than just a day or so.

I have tried to consider the best way to arrange the books that I am going to highlight in the blogs, but apart from a slight grouping by age range I have decided not to put them into any ‘box’.  Before last year there had always been a small number of titles that were based in the war period but in the last few months there has been a tremendous increase in works being published.

I first started to think about what books were available well over a year ago, as I knew that schools would be asking for suggestions and I was thinking about a short training session to highlight resources.

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The first collection of books include several that have now reached the category of “modern classic”.  The first of these is “The Singing Tree” by Kate Seredy (Viking, 1939), which was a Newbery Honor book in the USA but which did not come to the UK until 50 years after its publication.  Unusually it is set in Hungary and shows a different focus from those we are used to. “The Rinaldi Ring” by Jenny Nimmo (Mammoth, 1999) is the poignant story of a doomed romance during the great war and the mystery that a young boy tries to unravel eighty years later.  For older readers we have the wonderful writing of Theresa Breslin, with her book “Remembrance” (Random House, 2002), which still brings a lump to my throat if I read any of it.  It is the story of five young people who go to war and how they, and their families cope with the consequences.  A series of books that were extremely popular when I started in libraries were the “Flambard” series by K M Peyton and they have just be reprinted, although only one of them actually has a setting in the war they do cover the build up and then the aftermath and the way the whole country was changed by the events.Perhaps one of the best know children’s books about the war is “Private Peaceful” by Michael Morpurgo.  this deeply moving story is now part of the national curriculum and 

there are a group of books which have our relationship with animals at the core of the story.  Sometimes they are based on a true story, whilst others are imaginary events, but based on issues that did occur during the war.  “War Horse”, by Michael Morpurgo has become something of a phenomenon.  Not only has it been an immensely successful film and stage show (I am seeing it for the second time in January 2015), but Michael Morpurgo has put together a really moving event, with readings from the book and songs from the stage  show.  Morris Gleitzman has also written a tribute to the animals that went to war.  His “Loyal Creatures” has taken a similar theme to Morpurgo ( it is based on a workshop script for the “War Horse” tour of Australia) and acknowledges the support he received.  However his work is set in the surrounds of the Dardanelles campaign and Gallipoli and the ending is not as positive as we would like, but it is very realistic and haunting.

One of the highights of the past year was  “the amazing tale of Ali Pasha” by Michael Foreman, which was based on a true story and was the tale of a young sailor from East Anglia who made a lifelongfriend of the tortoise he found in a pot hole in Gallipoli.  The illustrations are atmospheric and often extremely poignant; it really is a lovely book. Another story with a dog as one of the main character’s is “Archie’s War” by Margi McAllister, which follows the life of young Archie as his brother tries to enlist, despite being underage, and the search for the missing son of the ‘big house’.  It tells of the realities of war and the tragic consequences to those who went to war and came back, both injured and traumatized by the experience.

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Christmas is almost upon us.

Every year we seem to find Christmas preparations getting earlier, with the shops starting the marketing as early as the end of August.  However I try and keep things in perspective until the beginning of December, although you do have to think of cakes and puddings a bit earlier.  The build up to the festivities has always started with the arrival of the latest Christmas/winter themed picturebooks and ends with a surfeit of “Muppet Christmas Carol”.  This year I am going to highlight a couple of new books and several ‘old’ favourites and I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have done.

The Christmas Eve Ghost by Shirley Hughes

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Walker books, 9781406320633

This wonderful evocation of Christmas in the 1930s is really something special from the amazing Shirley Hughes.  It is set in working class Liverpool and gives us an insight into how people  were influenced by their religious upbringing.  When their widowed mother has to leave them for a short while, Bronwen and Dylan are frightened by the odd thumping sound coming from their outhouse.  Lucky their neighbour, Mrs O’Riley took them in to her home and found the reason for the sounds.  The story is full of pathos and has a real lesson for us all about the meaning of goodwill to all men.

 

Alfie’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes

This book came out last year and stars one of the favourite characters in children’s picturebooks.  Perhaps Alfie and Annie Rose live a somewhat idealized life compared to many, put they still have to go through all the worries and hopes about the coming festivities. This story perfectly shows the excitement that the  children experience in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  From Christmas carols and plays, to making decorations and mince pies, we join Alfie and Annie Rose in their preparations and their enjoyment of the big day.

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Red Fox, 9781849416498

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Little Angel by  Ruth Brown

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Andersen Press, 9780862648467

Although this book was first published in 1998 it is still one of my favourites.  The gentle humour  surrounding the young angel  is a reminder that not everyone wants a halo and wings.  The twist at the end is something of a lightbulb moment that makes sense of the whole story and Ruth Brown did a magnificent job in leading us away from the real plot.  It should be read in every primary school at this time of year.

 

 

 

Cat in the Manger by Michael Foreman

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Andersen Press, 9780862649277

An enchanting retelling of the nativity story, but from the perspective of a cat who takes shelter in the stable on that cold winter’s night  in Bethlehem.  It is a very grumpy cat, so we get his opinions about cattle, donkeys, sheep and all the other animals and people who arrive to see the new baby that has been born. However, the lives of all there were changed by that event and even the cat is mellowed by his experience.

 

The Snow day by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb (illust)

Whilst this new book is not specifically about Christmas it is about the simple joys of snow and the  magic of imagination which can flourish when we change to our normal routines and attitudes.  This really had me chuckling at the events and the two characters.  It is a gentle book , full of hope and a belief in the simpler ways of enjoying life. I am preparing a longer review of this book for the School Librarian, but it had to make an appearance in my own listing for this year and will definitely be on my annual “to read” list.

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Puffin, 9780723288923

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Snow by Walter de la Mare and Carolina Rabei (illust)

I first spoke about this book in my previous review of picture books.  It is a lovely re-drawing of the poem by de la Mare, with a slightly 1950s feel to the illustrations with their simplicity and limited colour palette.  there is that really simple joy which comes from making the most of what surrounds us and which we often forget in the hustle bustle of the modern world.

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The final two books have elements that bring them together.  They  have gatherings of people, although in some stories it is a greater number than in others.  There is a strong sense of family and friendship and also of making the best of things when there are a few problems.

The first of the books is a very old favourite that I have told on endless occasions in libraries and schools

One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth

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Harpercollins, 9780007146932

A wonderful story of friendship featuring the loveable Percy the Park keeper and the wide assortment of animals that live in his park.  When the snow falls heavily the animals arrive at Percy’s hut for a bit of shelter, and how things work out makes for a magical tale which never fails.

 

 

Christmas in Exeter Street by Diana Hendry and John lawrence (illust)

Amazingly this book was first written in 1989 and I can only suppose I missed it because we moved to Cyprus at the end of that year. It is a very funny tale of what happens when a house if filled lierally to the rafters with people seeking shelter for the Christmas break.  We end up with 18 children that father Christmas has to remember, never mind all the adults.  It is rather like a festive game of ‘sardines’.  Thankfully the book was republished last year by Walker books, so it is available to a whole new audience.

 

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Walker books, 978406343038

I do hope that you get the chance to read some of these books and in particular have the chance to read them to a young audience because they really do add to that magical feel that we have for Christmas.