Tag Archives: War Stories

The Fighting Stingrays – Simon Mitchell

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9780143784104

Penguin Random House

9780143784104

July 31, 2017

Puffin (AU YR)

RRP $17.99

This is, in old parlance, a ripping yarn – a real Boys’ Own adventure. Charlie, Alf and Masa are the best of mates who go to school together, fish, swim and most of all are ‘The Fighting Stingrays’ determined to beat all imaginary Nazis and even Hitler himself. Of course, the Nazis aren’t very near to beautiful Thursday Island but that doesn’t stop them.

Charlie is one of the few white kids on the island which is a glorious melting pot of cultures in the 1940s. For decades the island has been peaceful although not without its injustices as Charlie discovers when he realises just how his father treats his pearl divers.

The boys’ loyalties and friendship are tested severely however when the threat of Japanese invasion looms nearer and nearer. Masa, who has lost his pearl diving dad, is about to be interned with the rest of the Japanese on the island and his two mates know they can’t let that happen. Add to the mix a certifiably insane, bigoted and criminal commanding officer in charge of the island’s troops and here is an adventure fraught with risk, danger and what seems an impossible task.

This is a great read and has it all; suspense, drama, danger, initiative and courage.

Not only will it provide readers with a gripping narrative but offer a viewpoint of a rarely discussed incident in Australia’s wartime history as well as some history of the Torres Strait islands.

Highly recommended for readers, particularly boys, from around ten years upwards.

 

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ANZAC Day 2017

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Two books which it seemed appropriate to save for this year’s commemoration – both of them not to be missed.

 

Kokoda: Younger Readers edition – Peter FitzSimons

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OCT 25, 2016 | 9780734417435 | RRP $14.99

Hachette Australia

Imprint: Lothian Children’s Books

Journalist Peter FitzSimons has proven himself as Australia’s top non-fiction writer, consistently leading bestseller lists. The original edition of Kokoda was described as ‘engrossing narrative’ (Sydney Morning Herald) and its success with the audience spoke for itself.

In some inspired publishing, this edition has been produced for young adult/teen readers and will be a valuable addition to any library, particularly in the study of Modern History and Australia/Asia relations.

In 1942 young Australian soldiers – so young that many were still teenagers – were confronted by a campaign that was so seemingly impossible that it still beggars belief.  Faced with the Imperial Japanese forces these legendary diggers took on some of the wildest and untamed terrain in the world and became a force with which to be reckoned.

Take a look inside here. It is quite simply un-put-downable.

Highly recommended for secondary students from Year 7 upwards.

Sachiko – Caren Stelson

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ISBN: 9781467789035
Imprint: Lerner PG – Carolrhoda Books
Walker Australia-HEDS
November 1, 2016

Australian RRP: $27.99
New Zealand RRP: $29.99

No doubt many of us would think we are pretty familiar with the tragic history of the atomic blasting of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. We’ve shared many recounts and also more fictionalised accounts of this terrible time.

This non-fiction totally changed my understanding of this event and its hideous aftermath.

Sachiko Yasui was six years old when Nagasaki was ripped apart on August 9th 1942. In the process her family and their after-life was also torn to shreds.

The clouds parted

Pikadon!

Toshi. Aki. Ichiro. They are gone now.

So is Misa.

My father.

My mother.

I nearly died too.

So Sachiko began a talk to primary school children fifty years after the event. Through all her struggles in the intervening years she had kept quiet about her family’s tragedy and the ongoing problems she and her parents faced.

Since that time she has continued to share a message of the importance of peace to schools and groups.

Caren Stelson spent many hours in interviewing Sachiko and researching primary sources to construct what is the most moving history of this disaster I’ve ever experienced.

She has used photographs of both Sachiko and Nagasaki to illustrate the non-fiction narrative as well as including copious references, notes, glossary and more.

Again, this is an important book for the study of modern history but more than that it is a testament to the faith that can endure and salvage a person’s life from circumstances more dire than any of us can imagine.

Highly recommended for readers from around 12 years upwards.

 

The Hero Maker: A Biography of Paul Brickhill

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The Hero Maker: A Biography of Paul Brickhill

The Australian behind the legendary stories The Dam Busters, The Great Escape and Reach for the Sky

By Stephen Dando-Collins

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Penguin Random House

ISBN 9780857988126

August 29, 2016

Imprint : Vintage Australia

RRP: $34.99

 

As the daughter of a Lancaster wireless operator/air gunner growing up in the Sydney suburbs one of my favourite spots in our house was in front of our fireplace which had built in bookshelves on either side. My father was a voracious reader and Paul Brickhill’s books were among his favourites. I had also consumed them all by the time I was 12 and returned to them many times over the years. Now those same copies reside on my own bookshelf.

Having been raised on such a steady diet of Brickhill and knowing that my father had (at some stage) been acquainted with him (who knows where?), it would be reasonable to expect that I might have had some knowledge of the man’s life. The only thing I’ve ever known was that he was a journalist.

Thanks to this wonderful biography, which I have also devoured as greedily as I did the man’s books, I now have a much greater awareness of this hugely successful writer and his often troubled life.

Because I urge you to read this for yourself (I could almost impatiently stamp my foot and say ‘you must’!) there is no need for much detail regarding the content. Dando-Collins takes us on the full journey of Brickhill’s life including some background history regarding his family’s involvement with newspapers. He describes the young Paul’s childhood on the North Shore of Sydney and his meeting with a solitary unkempt boy of similar age named Peter Finch who became a lifelong friend. An uninspired school experience led to some unfulfilling jobs until Brickhill gained a foothold in the newspaper business which was his heritage, rising quickly through the ranks from copyboy to journalist. Despite enjoying some accolades for his work Paul felt in need of a new challenge and adventure and decided to realise his childhood dream of flying by joining the RAAF (despite initial disdain of enlisting). Before too long he was a fully-fledged Spitfire pilot and on combat missions but was shot down near Tunis narrowly escaping death as he abandoned his ‘kite’ and was captured by Italians who of course promptly handed him over to the Germans. There followed a long stint in Stalag 3 which Paul was later to make famous – or infamous – as the setting for The Great Escape (RIP The Fifty). Although an integral member of the X Organisation Brickhill was not among the escapees and at the close of war was force marched across Germany with other POWs along with retreating German troops and refugees. Returning to civilian life after the trauma and privations of POW existence was not easy for many survivors, Paul among them but his determination to tell the story of the Great Escape and honour his comrades drove him to complete his first ‘escape’ book. Almost ten years later, with other escape books,  The Dam Busters and (what I still regard as) his ‘tour de force’ Reach for the Sky, the biography of Douglas Bader, Brickhill was celebrated around the world for both books and screen adaptations as well as journalistic pieces.

The rigours of the war were not the stuff of easy and calm futures and Paul’s tempestuous and tumultuous marriage to young model Margot eventually collapsed into catastrophe. This is no kid gloves account of Brickhill’s personal life. His unpredictable moods and tempers (including striking his wife on a number of occasions), the depression, mental illness, heavy drinking and reclusiveness are all revealed.  When his marriage finally faltered it seemed that so did Paul’s creativity and though he ‘worked’ on several projects over the next two decades, he more or less lived rather like a hermit in his small top floor unit in Balmoral, Sydney, without ever publishing again.

Some critics have dismissed Brickhill’s work as being too ‘journalistic’ but I will say I have never enjoyed reading newspapers and the like, but I love reading Brickhill. If their comments refer to the fact that he employs his skills of journalistic details and observation, yes he does. But he also has a deft touch for laconic humour and the ability to weave facts into a cracking yarn. For me the absolute joy of this book was that Dando-Collin’s literary style appears to echo the very essence of the subject’s own work and at times I could ‘hear’ Brickhill’s voice telling his own story in his own words.

I am so grateful to Random House Australia for allowing me the privilege of reading and reviewing this volume. I am also grateful to Stephen Dando-Collins who has breathed life again into one of the integral storytellers in my life. How fitting in 2016, the 100th anniversary of his birth and 25th anniversary of his death that Paul Brickhill’s skill and story can be brought to a new generation of readers and this tribute which is a testament to his global acclaim is both perfect and poignant.

If you have secondary students who are keen on biographies I suggest this would be a valuable addition to your collection but above all, as an Australian reader, I highly recommend it to you to celebrate the life of one of our most widely recognised writers.

 

A blog Q&A with Stephen is being organised now so stay tuned for more!

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Flt-Lt Paul Brickhill

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Kevin Albert Warren – this one is for you Father Bear x

The50Memorial

Five Children on the Western Front – Kate Saunders

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Allen & Unwin Australia

ISBN: 9780571310951
Australian Pub.: November 2014
Publisher: Faber
Imprint: Faber Child Trade
Subject: Children’s fiction
Suitable for ages: 9-12

If you, like me, love E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It stories, then this new book will thoroughly delight you.

Time has passed and the children are grown up – well the four ‘Bigguns’ are grown up. Lamb is no longer the baby of the family. Little sister Edie takes on that role.  To their great surprise, Lamb and Edie discover the Psammead in the gravel pit at the bottom of their garden and realise that all the marvellous stories told to them by the Bigguns are true!

No one, least of all It, knows why or how he has reappeared but as the Great War begins its dreadful havoc, both the older and younger Pembertons begin to see that the return of the Psammead has been for real purpose for themselves and for the strange magical sand fairy.

Beautifully written and echoing the style of the originals, retaining their flavour of time and place but still extremely appealing to modern readers, this novel would make a fine addition to your collection for the upcoming centenary commemoration of the ANZACs. It is both humorous and poignant, and while there are certainly tragic events they are couched in such a way that readers will not be left distraught. Young readers will gain a deeper understanding of what the Great War was like, not just for soldiers but for those who were nursing or working in other capacities, as well as for children and family at home.

Your more adventurous readers of around 12-14 looking for something different will enjoy this.

Highly recommended for your collection.