In the week before ANZAC Day appropriate stories set during the time of what was then termed The Great War help us to understand the hardships that were endured by many brave soldiers, that many children were orphaned and the grief and sorrow many people around the world endured.
Each year in the lead up to ANZAC Day I share a variety of picture books about World War I with my primary school classes during their library lessons. This includes discussion of the themes presented in the book along with the history and importance of ANZAC day and WWI.
On Tuesday morning last week I took delivery of some new books which included The Little Stowaway – A True Story by Vicki Bennett and Tull Suwannakit (illustrator). After a quick read through this book I changed my plans for my lessons for the week and instead chose to use this one across the board, which is a big ask for a picture book on this subject.
Set 100 years ago in France, this story tells the tale of Australian Airman Tim Tovell and the French orphan whom he befriended during the war. Honore, or Henri as the Aussies call him, provides the first person voice for the story.
The illustrations capture the character of the people involved, showing their warmth and mateship, along with the hardships of facing the war. These are beautifully juxtaposed with photographs that have been shared by relatives of Tim Tovell, and it is these photographs in particular that make this book really come to life and bring home the message for students that this war really did happen and the people in these stories, though no longer with us, are worth remembering.
The looks of realisation on the faces of the children as I read to them, whether they were 6 or 12 years of age, was a powerful indication to me that this book was really special, and the language used, though romanticised to some degree, gives an authentic insight into the life, hardships and dreams of this small orphaned boy.
In the past, I have used Libby Hathorn and Phil Lesnie’s beautiful book A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy with my older students. This book is about a young boy named Henri who gives his dog to an Australian soldier to take home. This book has a note to say that there were rumours of a story that a young boy had also been smuggled back to Australia. I was so excited to recognise the link between these two books and wonder if both parties have now read each other’s version.
Whilst there are now so many picture books published on this topic, it is important for us to choose ones that have been well researched, and presented in a respectful and honest way. My Grandad Marches on ANZAC Day (Catriona Hoy and Benjamin Johnson), CBCA Notable ANZAC Biscuits (Phil Cummings and Owen Swan), and CBCA Award Winning One Minute’s Silence (David Metzenthen and Michael Camilleri) are some of the books that are always at the top of my list. They provoke much thought from the children at an age-appropriate level - the text and illustrations work so well together to enable students to make connections on an emotional level so that they may, at least in part, begin to understand the hardship, tragedy, mateship and bravery that give these stories of war a purpose today. The Little Stowaway is certainly a very worthy addition to my list.
Which ANZAC themed picture books take pride of place on your bookshelf?
Teacher-Librarian (M.Ed), Hagley Farm School (K-6), Tasmania