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reviews 8 – 10 Junior/Middle

Walter Tull’s Scrapbook NON-FICTION


Michaela Morgan, Frances Lincoln, 32pp, 978 184780 212 5, £11.99 hbk

As we approach the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, many schools will face the dilemma of how to translate the scale of casualties into something meaningful for young children. Focussing on an individual is one solution, and it would be hard to find a more remarkable hero than Walter Tull, the first black officer in the British Army. Presented as an imaginary scrapbook, illustrated with artwork, photographs, maps and memorabilia, the device allows the story to be told through Tull’s own voice. The grandson of a slave in Barbados, he was orphaned before he was ten and brought up in a children’s home in London’s East End. Life there was hard, but Walter’s skill on the football pitch was soon recognised. Through training and dedication he ascends through the club leagues, eventually being signed as a professional player by Tottenham Hotspurs. His colour made him the target of jeers and insults at matches, but he refused to be distracted. On the outbreak of war he volunteers for the Footballer’s Battalion, part of the Middlesex Regiment. Once at the Front he describes his experience of life in the trenches, recounting the ‘Christmas Miracle’, when German and British soldiers crawled out of their muddy holes to shake hands and start a game of football. Tull survives an extended period at the Front before being invalided out for a period of recuperation from Shellshock. Returning to the Somme later that year his account paints a vivid and shocking picture of the nightmarish existence of mud, explosions, barbed wire, machine-gun fire and death. For his ‘cool head and strong heart’ he is commissioned as an Officer, the first black Officer in the British Army. Two years later on 25 March 1918 during the second Battle of the Somme, he was shot while crossing No Man’s Land aged just 29 years. In spite of attempts by his men, his body was never recovered, and his name is inscribed among the missing on the Arras Memorial. Tull’s bravery and leadership won him a commendation for the Military Cross, though he died before it could be awarded. What makes this account especially vivid is the wealth of

period photographs, of his early years and family, as a professional footballer, with his fellow officers, and the copies of official telegrams reporting his death. The letter from his Commanding Officer is only partly visible, but you can pick out the words ‘conscientious, popular’. What you can’t read is his statement that he had lost a friend. An inspiring account of courage and leadership.


Fantastic Mr Dahl NON-FICTION


Michael Rosen, ill. Quentin Blake, Puffin, 168pp, 978 10 141 32213 1, £6.99 pbk

Remarkably this is described as the first ‘authorised biography of Roald Dahl written especially for children’. It opens with a description of an interview in which Dahl was asked the ingredients of a good story for children. ‘Above all it must be FUNNY.’ So who better to tell the story of the dreamer, prankster, fighter pilot, spy and hugely popular storyteller than Michael Rosen, whose own award-winning books always put humour at the top of the agenda, and who describes himself (albeit in modestly small lettering on the front cover) as ‘Roald Dahl’s biggest fan’. Rosen explores how the events of Dahl’s life influenced and found their way into his writing, from the beating and bullying of boarding school days (think of Miss Trunchbull), to the myths and Norse legends his mother told him of wicked trolls and monstrous giants (think of the BFG). He recounts idyllic summers spent in the Norwegian fjords, fishing, boating, collecting birds’ eggs, with a clamour of noisy family and friends but always with time to think, wonder and dream. Rosen gets right under the skin of Dahl the writer, analysing just how he builds up suspense and captures the reader’s attention. He includes plenty of examples from the books, and even storylines that were discarded. Matilda, it seems, was originally to be the wickedest child in the world with kind, long-suffering parents. The pages are enlivened by Quentin Blake’s wonderfully inventive characters, Twits, Willie Wonka and Witches amongst them, but there are also drawings of family trees and favourite foods, in addition to reproductions of boyhood letters home, passports, family photos

and of course Dahl writing in his little brick hut. Roald Dahl’s life may have been, like his books, nothing short of extraordinary, but this biography belongs in the same category – Fantastic! SU

Cover to Cover NON-FICTION

Rob Lewis, Pont, 32pp, 9781848514676, £5.99 pbk

The story of how a book is created, from author’s bright idea to the delivery of finished printed copies. Author and illustrator Rob Lewis, twice winner of the Tir na nOg prize, uses animal characters from his own picture books to play the parts of author, illustrator and editor, but photos are also used to show people involved in the process at the publishing house and printing works. Happily this author receives a proper contract and royalties, and the printing company is a family business celebrating its 120th anniversary in rural Wales. Simple explanation is given of the actual printing process, from the scanning of artwork to plate-making in four separate colours, showing how paper is fed through the 4-colour press, as well as the finishing processes of folding, stitching and laminating. Useful for background information before an author visit. SU

The Gruffalo in Scots HHHHH

Julia Donaldson ill Alex Sheffler translated by James Robertson, ItchyCoo 28pp 978 184502503-8 £6.99 pbk

Thistle Street: a braw Scots story for bairns


Mike Nicholson ill. Claire Keay Floris Books 32pp 978-086315-910-7 £5.99 pbk

‘I depone aat I wull be leal and bear aefauld alleadgance tae her majesty, her airs an ony fa come aifter her anent the laa.’

Thus spake several members of the Scottish Parliament when taking the oath of allegiance at Holyrood last year, choosing to use Scots (or a recovered


version of it), rather than standard English, as a proclamation of national identity. The resurgence of Scots progresses apace. Like English, it is a tongue which varies from region to region, town to town, and even suburb to suburb. The political question as to which of these varieties should be the basis of the written form is being settled in a creative, de facto manner by the flourishing of works from such publishers as Itchy Coo, who have pioneered both original children’s books in Scots, and translations of classics.

The Gruffalo is an excellent example of this process. The layout, illustrations and storyline of the original have been exactly retained. James Robertson’s translation of Donaldson’s verse keeps largely to the rhythmic pattern and rhyme scheme of the original, with some minor adjustments to accommodate Scots vocabulary and syntax. Young readers who love the humour and ingenuity of the original will probably appreciate the vivid and intriguing new perspective provided by making such comparisons ‘poisonous wart’ with ‘pizenous plook’, ‘roasted fox’ with ‘hot tod stew’ and ‘owl ice cream’ with ‘hoolet in batter’.

Floris books have also contributed to the growth in Scottish themed children’s literature through their Kelpie series. Thistle Street is an addition to the Picture Kelpies, aimed at younger readers. Claire Keay’s illustrations depict a cheery stroll down the main street of a traditional coastal town, meeting a range of characters, from a schoolboy on a scooter, through various independent shopkeepers, to a rather caricatural caber tosser. The rhyming storyline is in standard English, but 13 common Scots words are cleverly introduced as climactic end-rhymes, the meaning of each of them primed by the mini-story expressed in the verse. Several other Scots words and phrases are embedded into the illustrations as shop and boat names.

Both of these books are enjoyable in their own right for the stories they tell and the pictures they present. They are also very promising as attractive and light-hearted resources for raising awareness of language variation. In this respect, they deserve a readership extending far more widely than Scotland. GH

10 – 14 Middle/Secondary

Terezín – A Story of the Holocaust NON-FICTION


Ruth Thomson, Franklin Watts, 978-1445116556, 64pp, £9.99 hbk

Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January was created to preserve the memory of those who lost their lives in the Holocaust under Nazi persecution. What book could better mark the event than Ruth Thomson’s award-winning Terezín.

In her acceptance speech at the recent Educational Writers’ Award organised by the Society of Authors and ALCS, she said that her main intention in writing the book was ‘to give a voice to those whose voices had been silenced’. Her original inspiration arose from her research into Holocaust Ar t for the Ben Gurion Museum. She was intrigued by a powerful series of prints by the artist Leo Haas, and wanted to know more about his background and the place they depicted. Journeys led her to Prague and

to Terezín, a small fortress town in the Czech Republic, originally named after the Empress Maria Theresa. In 1941 the Nazis renamed it Theresienstadt, turning it into a ghetto, initially for Czech Jews, but later imprisoning German, Austrian, Dutch and Danish Jews. It became a transit camp from which thousands of prisoners were sent to Auschwitz and other death camps.

What happened in Terezín in those terrible years is told through the words of its inmates, both adults and children,

their accounts drawn from secret diaries, testimonials written during and after the war, and recorded interviews. Alongside their words are the drawings, sketches and paintings made by the inmates, many of whom were artists and designers used by the Nazis in technical drawing studios to illustrate official reports, maps and charts. Away from supervision they recorded their own images of the reality of camplife, secretly and at great risk hiding the artwork, some of which was recovered

Books for Keeps No.198 January 2013 25

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