Around the 25th April- Anzac Day- there are usually a few books released for children that explain about World War I, telling the stories of the Australian and New Zealander soldiers that fought for freedom and peace. In 2014, for the centenary, there have been even more stories published which show the Anzac spirit.
Below are some of the picture story books that have been released about Australian and New Zealand soldiers, and their involvement in war.
I Was Only Nineteen – John Schumann (Illustrated by Craig Smith)
John Schumann, the lead singer of Australian band Redgum, wrote the lyrics to this popular song in just 15 minutes in 1983, as a way of showing his feelings about the way Australian soldiers were treated on their return from the Vietnam War. Now popular children’s illustrator Craig Smith has brought the words to life in a picture story book, allowing a whole new generation to explore the meanings behind the powerful verses. In this book, a young Aussie, seeking adventure, proudly dons his green and khaki uniform and slouch hat, and heads into the unknown jungles of Asia with his fellow conscripts. But while he is there, he witnesses the horrors of war that other veterans never told, including landmines that kill his mates, gun fights in the jungle and the glow of napalm as it destroys everything in its path. The vivid illustrations bring the lyrics to life- not only of the war, but also of the after-effects he feels as an older man back in Australia with his grandson. This book is probably best suited to older children, considering the mature content, but is well-worth looking at for a different view of Australia’s ‘least popular’ war.
Do Not Forget Australia – Sally Murphy (Illustrated by Sonia Kretschmar)
This Anzac book aimed at children is slightly different to others in the genre. While many stories are told about the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in the war, there are not many that are told from a child’s perspective- especially a foreign child! This book begins in the small French village of Villers-Bretonneux in 1918. Henri has just finished a test in school about the continents, where he remembered all but one- Australia. This is despite the fact that hundreds of soldiers- many of them Australian- have been passing through his village daily, on their way to the front. As war moves closer and closer to his village, Henri and his mother are told to evacuate their home. On their return, they are horrified to discover that their village has been ruined during the fighting, with their house partially destroyed and the school a pile of rubble. Henri, along with his friend Adele, befriends some of the Australian soldiers who have set up camp near the village, and who helped to defend the township. They bring them food, listen to them tell stories, and attempt to break through the language barrier. Meanwhile, in Melbourne, Australia, Billy is waiting anxiously for news from his father, who is fighting in the war in France. He rushes home from school every day, hoping to find a letter from the front.
One day, he receives a letter from his father, telling him about a young boy he has met named Henri. He explains that the village school was destroyed and Billy starts to wonder what he can do to help... Nine years later, the war is over, the village has been restored and the school has been rebuilt. With monetary help from the Victorians of Australia, Villers-Bretonneux is once again thriving. A monument has been built to honour the fallen soldiers who helped to defend the village, and a large yellow sign hangs in the school playground saying, ‘Do not forget Australia.’ Although Henri once forgot the continent, he will never forget it, and its generosity, again.
This book highlights the strong bond that was formed between the Australians and the French during World War I, when the village of Villers-Bretonneux was attacked. Even though they didn’t know them personally, many Australian soldiers died trying to protect the village and its people, and the act has never been forgotten. This is an important story about hope and courage, told across two continents and linked by simple acts of kindness.
Anzac Biscuits – Phil Cummings (Illustrated by Owen Swan)
Warm and safe in their kitchen at home, Rachel and her mother decide to make some biscuits for Dad, who is away at war. Rachel gathers the flour and accidentally drops some pots and pans which make an awful clamour. Meanwhile, her father is laying low in a field of flowers, as guns chatter and bombs explode nearby. Rachel and her mother cover the table in flour (which looks like snow) and oats (which look like snowflakes), while, far away in a distant land, cold snow falls onto a young soldier’s head. Rachel licks sticky treacle off her fingers and smells burning red gum as she stokes the fire. Her father walks through thick mud, which clings to his boots, and smells the smoke of recently fired guns. Rachel and her mother finish making the biscuits and agree that Dad will love them. When he receives his care package, he does.
This is a beautifully told story, juxtaposing the harsh reality of war for a young soldier, with the homely comfort his wife and daughter are experiencing as they await his safe return. It gives us a chance to remember the sacrifices that have been made by our soldiers, and recognise that the families that are torn apart and left behind are sacrificing just as much. Rachel and her mother make the biscuits with more than just physical ingredients- they also add love, warmth and hope into the mixture- providing their father and husband with extra support and care. This would make a lovely gift for a child who is waiting for a parent or loved one to come home from active service in the Armed Forces.
A Day To Remember: The Story of Anzac Day – Jackie French (Illustrated by Mark Wilson)
This picture story book, aimed at older children, tells the story of Anzac Day- from its conception on April 25, 1915 (when the Anzacs first stormed the shores of Gallipoli in World War I), to the present day, where ceremonies are held annually to commemorate all Australian and New Zealand soldiers who have fallen during wartime. Leading readers through the years, French notes important things that happened during these times, including other wars that the Australians and New Zealanders became involved in, the erection of war monuments and cenotaphs, the increasing popularity of dawn services, and the great tourist pilgrimage to Gallipoli on Anzac Day. She explains how Anzac Day marches and services were originally a men’s-only affair, but slowly grew to include women and children, and how, no matter where we are in the world, Anzac Day is an important memorial day for all Australians and New Zealanders. The pencil illustrations that accompany the text are confronting in their realism, and feature scenes from wartime, as well as reproductions of old photographs and memorabilia. This book is more about the facts than a personalised story, but don’t let this deter you. Children will learn a lot about Anzac Day by reading this 2013 short-listed book by the Children’s Book Council of Australia