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My Brother’s War – David Hill

Dulce et decorum est

‘This item is from The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford (www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit); © [Copyright notice]’.

    My brother's War

So, I finished on Anzac Day, which seemed appropriate – and here are my thoughts.

I did really like this book.  Quite a lot. If I could give a 4.5…..

This book is an amazing journey.  Set in New Zealand, in 1917, it is the story of two brothers, and the choices they make once the  1916 Conscription Law is passed.  Older brother, William, enlists and younger brother, Edmund, is a conscientious objector.  (After two years of having their young men go to war, never to return, there were plentiful objectors to conscription, as can be seen in this  Te Ara photo and article ) Because of their disagreement, the two brothers have not spoken for over a year.

William is treated as a hero by many of the townsfolk, and Edmund as a coward – although there are people along the way who quietly sympathise with his view and support him.  Their mother and sister, left at home, have to cope with this view of the boys, and there are a few allusions to how difficult this could be, at times.

There are seven sections to the book: At First, Before Sailing, On Ship, Getting Ready, The Trenches, First Attack, Second Attack.  The boys’ parallel journeys are told in each section both with an authorial bird’s eye view from each character, and through letters from Edmund and William, home.

Something I really did like about the book was the length of time it took for the characters to begin to question their views about wars and the army.  There’s no sudden revelation, and in the end there is not one right view.

In the trenches, Edmund has been refusing to obey any army commands.  The trouble is, it is hard to decide what is a command and what is humanity and compassion.  Edmund, unlike Archie, decides that he will choose to be humane and help the stretcher bearers bring in the wounded from No Man’s Land.   One of the men asks Edmund which ‘lot’ he is with:

Edmund shook his head. “I’m a conscientious objector.  The army put this uniform on me.” The soldier who’d offered him the cigarette glared. “So why are you doing this, if you’ve got such high and might ideas about war?”

“My ideas aren’t high and mighty,” Edmund told him. “They’re just mine. And I’m doing this to try and save lives, instead of destroying them.” The man who’d challenged him was silent. 

What a time to be having a discussion like this, Edmund thought.  He almost laughed, and felt a shudder run through his aching body.  He was close to breaking point.  he and most of the others around him.  How much more of this could a human being stand?

The descriptions of the trenches and life in the army for both William and Edmund are heartbreakingly realistic.  Anyone who has read Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks – will understand the true horror of the Battle of the Somme.  And, of course it brought to mind ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ – Wilfred Owen.

David Hill says he was inspired to write this book after reading ‘We Will Not Cease’ – Archibald Baxter.  I feel the need to go and read that now.

This book will provoke some intense discussion in classrooms, no doubt, alongside the opportunity to really do some research into those who went to war, or those who stayed behind, using primary source and secondary source material.  I know it will enhance the understanding of ANZAC day for many of the people who read it, as well as encouraging some critical and reflective thinking about war.

anzac poppies

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Filed under Children 10+, Children 12+, Four stars, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Uncategorized

Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credits

CJJ Guide to Extra Credit

Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit is the second book in the Charlie Joe Jackson series, and it is another entertaining read from author Tommy Greenwald.  Charlie Joe Jackson has to deal with the consequence of yet another barely mediocre report card.  Dad has lost patience, and even Mom is not sympathetic.  His Guidance Counsellor, Ms Ferrell, comes up with a great plan – Camp Rituhbukkee (pronounced Camp Read a Bookie) ‘because reading is fun’ – yeah right.  Charlie Joe Jackson is not convinced.

In true form, CJJ comes up with an alternative plan to reclaim his summer break –  getting all A’s and one B, ‘”A freebie” my mom said, cracking herself up.’  The trouble is, he’s not quite sure how to go about it – having never gone into that kind of territory before.  CJJ goes to his big sister for some advice…

‘Megan was in high school, and had been getting straight A’s all her life.  She loved reading.  She loved doing homework.

Now that I think about it, its kind of amazing we’re related.

…I explained the situation to her.

She bolted upright when I got to the good part.  (Or should I say the bad part.)


“It’s not totally impossible.”

…”How are your grades so far this quarter?” Megan asked.


“No, really”


“I thought so.  Are you annoying your teachers?”

“Definitely not.”

“No, really.”

“Maybe a little.”‘

Turns out, the only way to lift his grades is to study (gasp!) with the help of his friends, and to do extra credits in Art, Drama and Gym.  In doing this, CJJ manages to get himself into plenty of scrapes, including posing for a painting – in costume – as a boy foxhunter, taking part in a musical about paper towels, and figuring out how to get extra credit in PE, after having hit Mr Radonski on the head with a badminton racquet on Opposite-Hand Thursday.

‘Charlie Joe’s Tip #6


Do as I say, not as I do.’

I love Charlie Joe Jackson’s great mix of subversive and slapstick humour, and so do my two teenage sons – one of whom is a confirmed and determined non-reader.  The development of character in these books is believable, but what is really great is that all the emotional upheaval is dealt with in a relatively straight forward way, with no long internal monologues.  Realities of life are discussed and dealt with.  Friendships have their upheavals and move on.  Complications arise and have to be dealt with.
This book stays true to the format of the first book, with short chapters (and I mean REALLY short) interspersed with slightly longer chapters, and little doodle-like illustrations to keep it moving and entertaining.

Get to know Charlie Joe as soon as you can.  Highly recommended!

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Filed under Children 10+, humour

My Name is Mina – David Almond


‘My Name is Mina’, published in 2010, is a prequel to ‘Skellig’, published by David Almond in 1998.  I read Skellig a very long time ago, and remember loving it, which is why I gave this book a go.
It is the story of Mina McKee – the way Mina plays with words in this book, it’s not too far a leap to hear her name in a ‘minor key’. The book is written as her journal, and it is presented with different typefaces for different experimentations and playings with words.  I wasn’t sure I liked this at first, but it actually works very well.  I like the way perspective is played with in this book.  Instead of there being more than one character’s perspective, we are told the story through Mina’s eyes, but she changes perspective at times, writing about herself in the third person.  Events are not told in a linear way, but as and when Mina feels she can tell them.
Mina is being homeschooled at the moment, because of an incident at school on SATS day. Mina is very open about her memory being slightly selective and admits to some embellishment of the incident.  I love the way that this means that we have to read it with our peripheral vision, in a sense – we cannot look directly at the scene to know what happened.  We need to look at the edges and the hints.  This lovely reveal/not reveal leaves scope for interpretation.  The incident involves her teacher, Mrs Scullery, and THE HEAD TEACHER, a piece of writing called, ‘Glibbertysnark’ and Mina’s mother being called in to school.  We are not told, but that must make Mina about 11 years old, since in the UK the SATS are tested at Year 2 and Year 6.
Mina’s father died many years ago, so that her memories of him feel, at times, like dreams…’I half-remembered the smell of his breath and the stubble on his cheek as he kissed me goodnight, the slight roughness of his skin as he stroked my cheek, his voice as he whispered me his Good Night.  And I lay with the books around me and the strange half-vague, half-intense memories* inside me, and felt very small indeed.’  The asterisk is for a footnote – I am not quite sure how I feel about these.  Sometimes they feel like they were written by an older Mina – sometimes they feel a bit contrived -but actually I think that’s OK, since this is Mina’s journal, and she is very much experimenting with language and who she is, and what everything means…and that can sound contrived at times.
Like one or two other readers of this book, I feel that I didn’t fully engage with Mina until about halfway through the book. She doesn’t make it easy for you.  While I felt her mother was presented as a loving and wise person, I really felt she was not developed at all as a character.  Again, this is appropriate – in the sense that children don’t question who their parents are, as characters, or their motivations, apart from how they affect the child.  There was one moment where we caught a glimpse of Mum’s real life, when Mina reflects on her day at Corinthian Avenue (an alternative school), where she ‘saw’ her father, and she realises it’s just possible her mother may have spent some time with Colin Pope.  ‘When I look back now, I suspect that Mum had her own secret that afternoon…I remember seeing her smile to herself as we drove across the river.  Was it Colin Pope?  Had she taken the chance to be with him that day, freed from her weird daughter?  I suspect she had.’ 
Once you do engage with Mina, she’s kind of stuck like glue…she’s very hard to get out of your head.  It is well worth taking the time…this is a great read.  In many ways I would like to give it five stars, but because it is so hard to get to the point where you commit to the book, I feel I can only give it four.        


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Filed under Children 10+, Children 12+, Uncategorized