This is a great little book – one I’m so grateful to the author for bringing to my attention. It’s essentially self-published, but don’t let that put you off. Apart from an annoyingly long first-line paragraph inset, it’s an exceptionally polished presentation. As a short chapter book about bullying and pacifism, set at the time of the First World War, it presents moral and behaviour conflicts in a manner that makes it eminently accessible for children of primary school age. It would make a very good group read.
The author is a primary school teacher and says (his experience is one I can share from my own time working with this age range), “I believe there are many very capable readers in upper key stage 2 who are put off by longer novels but who do want to read challenging and interesting subject matter.”
The book is presented as the first in a series of “BigShorts” – short novels for strong readers, that Wootten intends publishing and promoting through his website. If subsequent titles are as good as this, ACHUKA will be happy to help promote them.
The writing is clear, visual and uncluttered. The characters are finely delineated – the bully, the victim, the pacifist father, the strict schoolteacher, the friend & accomplice – but all very believable. The conflict between the main character’s parents – his father the conscientious objector, and his mother who has to bear the brunt of fellow women’s resentment that while their husbands are away fighting hers is at home shirking – is one of the best aspects of the book.
Female readers might want George’s friend, Emma, to play a more forthright role in subsequent adventures.
Oh, and there is animal interest, in a cat named Azar.
The formula is a good one.
Topical fiction about life in Afghanistan under the Taliban by award winning Canadian author.
Published in the US in 2012, My Name Is Parvana, is a sequel to The breadwinner trilogy.
When Oxford Children’s Books published it in the UK earlier this year, they also reissued the first book in The Breadwinner sequence (with compatible cover design).
2014 has been a significant year for Bernard Ashley.
It was 40 years ago that his first novel, The Trouble With Donovan Croft, was published.
And Orchard Books celebrated the 15th anniversary of Little Soldier by reissuing it with a new cover design, at the same time as publishing a brand new novel, set during WW1, Shadow Of The Zeppelin.
I always think short story anthologies make ideal presents for young readers, especially when you can’t be sure what books they have already read, or might be given by somebody else.
And look at the list of authors represented here:
Each story has been specially commissioned for this collection so they won’t have been read anywhere else, even if the recipient is already a fan of several of these authors, as well they might be.
It’s a wonderfully well curated anthology, with full notes on all the contributors, as well as an Introduction and Editor’s Note by Tony Bradman himself.
Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders, reviewed by Linda Buckley-Archer
his is a skilful and deeply moving piece of work: poignant, beautifully judged, not a crass pastiche but a respectful homage that recycles its source material to pack a powerful anti-war punch. Saunders’s novel does what fiction does best: it focuses on individuals we care about in order to make a universal point. Transplanting these familiar characters – bookish Robert, cheerful, decent Cyril – into the trenches tugs at the heartstrings in a way that bare statistics can’t.
The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett, reviewed by Mal Peet
Like her marvellous fellow Australian Margo Lanagan, Hartnett is unconcerned with the age of her readership or its presumed level of literacy or understanding. She takes her readers into the lush jungle of language and leaves them there, entranced by its sounds.
Sally Gardner interviewed in The Observer
about her new novel Tinder
I told my editor, “It’s not for children”. I wanted to do an anti-war book. What I really wanted to write about was the thirty years’ war [which raged from 1618 to 1648]. It was a grotesque historical episode. It was the first time on a battlefield that they would assemble 1,000 men and they would march forward like a machine in these square formations. Now, with the first world war anniversary coming up, we are entering this era of glorification. But it wasn’t glorious. It was a calamity.
Stay Where You Are & Then Leave by John Boyne, reviewed by Tony Bradman
Bradman has a number of quibbles and reservations about John Boyne’s new First World War novel, but ends on a positive note.
Early on, we are told that Alfie had often heard Prime Minister Asquith’s name "on the wireless", which would have been difficult in 1914 as the BBC only started broadcasting in 1922. Some of the dialogue feels anachronistic: I don’t think anyone in 1918 would have said "a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do". That cliche – both the phrase and the hackneyed, John Wayne ideal of masculine courage it aims to encapsulate – came out of Hollywood in the 1950s.
And yet my final verdict is positive. Stay Where You Are and Then Leave has its faults, but ultimately it is a good, solid, engaging read that manages to avoid too much sentimentality. That won’t be true of many of the first world war books heading our way next year.
Q&A with YA author Elizabeth Wein
New York-born author Elizabeth Wein first made her name writing young adult novels set in Arthurian Britain and sixth-century Ethiopia. In 2012, she attracted universal acclaim with her World War II thriller, Code Name Verity, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Carnegie Medal. Praised for its clever use of unreliable narration, courageous but fallible characters, and meticulous attention to historical detail, the novel tells the story of two young women – a spy and a pilot – fighting to survive in enemy-occupied France. Her follow-up novel, Rose Under Fire, follows the misadventures of a young American pilot who finds herself confined in the infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp in northern Germany.
Publication of Shahana launches ‘Through My Eyes, a new Australian fiction series set in contemporary warzones:
Through My Eyes invites young readers to enter the fragile worlds of children living in contemporary war zones. Every day in an increasing number of countries, children are desperately trying to survive as their families and their whole way of life is destroyed by war. This new series is a tribute to such children and the themes of courage, determination, triumph and perseverance will inspire, challenge and engage young readers, creating greater cross cultural understanding and informed empathy.
Several stories set in the World Wars have been written for younger readers but very little has been published about more contemporary conflicts and those within Asian settings. War affects the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the boy or girl and these stories will appeal to all readers.
The idea for the series was principally inspired by the success of the Parvana series by Deborah Ellis and by my own extensive experience as a primary school teacher-librarian and English as a Second Language teacher. Having had the privilege of listening to the incredible experiences of children and war, I believe these life-changing situations are best told through stories that are character-driven but based on meticulous research and understanding of the issues each war-torn region raises. The continuing controversy surrounding Australia’s role in providing asylum for displaced peoples from the world’s war-zones, and the request by students for more books of this genre provided further context for the decision to create this series.
This is not a non-fiction series, but through the strong, character-driven story lines the readers will be aware of the specific time, place and military conflict. Individual stories on this theme have been written, but this will be the first time a series has been created that deals with a range of children’s experiences in war-torn countries.
—Lyn White, series editor