Big drum roll please as I welcome Sally Murphy to my blog today for her guest post. But before we go to Sally, for a chance to win a copy of this new picture book, don't forget to leave a comment on Sally's post or the review of Do Not Forget Australia.
Now, welcome Sally.
I’m really pleased to be here today. Thanks for having me.I thought I might talk a bit about where the characters for Do Not Forget Australia came from. I read your own interview with Sally Odgers recently where you commented that your characters usually come first. This is often true for me – a character comes, and then, as I get to know them, their story emerges.
But with Do Not Forget Australia, it was a little different. The story is based on a historical event – the destruction of the village of Villers-Bretonneux during World War 1 and its subsequent rebuilding,.
I knew that I wanted to focus on the role Australians played both in the battle and the rebuilding and especially on what led to the village school bearing a sign saying “Do Not Forget Australia”. But because this was to be for children, I wanted to somehow create a story that showed the events rather than simply telling them. I needed a character children could relate to.
So the character of Henri was born. A French child living in the village before its destruction and returning to it afterwards. How would it feel, I wondered, to see your town destroyed? And, since school is a big part of children’s daily lives, what would you feel about seeing your school destroyed?
As work on the story progressed I realised I needed to strengthen the Australian side of the story. The people of Australia, particularly Victoria, supported Villers-Bretonneux after the war, and it was money raised by schoolchildren which paid for the rebuilding of the school.
I decided I needed a second child, in Australia, who knows and cares about the war and about Villers-Bretonneux. Initially the two boys were unaware of each other – the stories were parallel, but definitely separate. It was only when I thought of a way of linking them that I think the story really came alive. What if Henri met an Australian soldier who had a son about the same age, back in Australia? Enter Billy, a boy who hates school, but hears about Henri through letters from his father. The two boys never meet, but they are connected.
So, whilst the historical events came first for this story, it was the characters, and their connection, which really made the story come to life. I hope that readers will care about those characters and thus learn the story of Villers-Bretonneux.
Now for the review of
Do Not Forget Australia.
by Sally Murphy & Sonia Kretschmar
Hardcover Picture book RRP $29.95
With Anzac Day coming up this picture book is sure to be snapped up by schools and adults who want to help children understand in a fun way the significance of Australia’s involvement in World War 1.
‘Who cares about Australia?’ Henri muttered. ‘It’s so far away.’
At the time Henri is annoyed because his friend Adele got the answer to the question in the test requiring them to name all the continents whereas Henri had forgotten about Australia. He is more interested in what is happening in his own country, France, and the war that has taken his father away and is pushing increasingly closer to the village where he lives. Soon for their safety Henri and his mother have to leave the village of Villers-Bretonneux.
On the other side of the world in Australia another boy, Billy, is selling newspapers telling what is happening in the war while he is missing his father who is away at war. Each day he waits for a letter from his father.
Henri and his mother eventually return to find their ruined village, where Henri’s school has been destroyed. Near the wrecked village some Australian soldiers are camped. These soldiers help Henri understand a little more of the terrible effect of war on so many lives.
This picture book in a heartfelt way picks up on the help provided by Australians to help rebuild the school at Villers-Brettoneux. The school re-opened in 1927 and still displays a plaque saying Do Not Forget Australia acknowledging the generosity of Australians, and in particular the Australian children, who helped raise much of the money for the school to be rebuilt.
Told through the eyes of two young boys, this is a touching story about people helping others who have suffered loss. It shows that both adults and children are able to make a difference in this world.
Sonia Kretschmar’s detailed illustrations aptly portray the emotions and feeling associated with wary and the joy when the school is re-opened. Even the grey-green end papers with the poppies and koalas are beautifully done. This is a worthy addition to any home or school library.
If you would like to win a copy of Do Not Forget Australia leave a comment on this review or Sally’s guest blog.