'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Review: Don't Forget Australia

Henri doesn't care about Australia. It's so far away! And anyway, he's far more interested about what's happening in France - and is it ever huge. The war is coming. It's getting closer and closer to his village. It's the war that took his papa away - why should he care about some far off place called Australia? He has bigger things to focus on.

The time has come for Henri to leave his village. The war is too close now. Looking around at the bare wintry branches of the trees, Henri wonders if he'll ever see his village again.

On the other side of the world, in Australia, it's a warm summer day. Billy steps off the tram and heads into school reluctantly. He can't stop thinking of his father who is in the cold fields of France, fighting a war his country didn't even begin. Alas, letters come infrequently, and the young lad and his mother live with the terror of never quite knowing . . . will his father come home?

As Henri's village, home and school is decimated by the war, Billy's father, a surviving soldier, befriends the young French boy, who shows him where his school used to be. Billy's father admits his son would probably be happy if he didn't have to go to school back in Melbourne, but as he looks at the young French boy, he also knows that when you don't have something . . . you kind of miss it.

Fast forward nine years, and the school house at Villers-Bretonneux has been rebuilt - thanks to money sent by the Australian soldiers who fought on their soil. Henri fondly remembers his soldier friend and that befriended him long before. Across the school's facade is a sign - Do Not Forget Australia.

Straddling the lives of two young boys, innocents of war, this is a touching story of the companionship and mutual support that is one of the few positives that stem from the horrors of war. Murphy has written a warm account between two fictional boys who would never have met in real life, but whose connection would last forever.

The author makes note at the end of the story on the real life battle that took place at Villers-Bretonneux, a site that now hosts an Australian National Memorial, and the real life gift Australians gave to the people of this decimated village, where so many - Frence and Australian - lost their lives.

Illustrator Kretschmar's stunning illustrations add whimsy and a vintage feel to this story, and are pure pleasure to look at - rounding out a memorable and worthwhile story. I'm personally loving the current spate of historical fiction books that bring to life the smallest of stories . . . that have the biggest impact of all.

Title: Don't Forget Australia
Author: Sally Murphy
Illustrator: Sonia Kretschmar
Publisher: Walker Books, $29.95 RRP
Publication Date: 1 March 2012
Format: Hard cover
ISBN: 9781921529863
For ages: 6 - 12
Type: Picture Book