Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Exciting new Kiwis at War series

On the centenary of the beginning of WW1 - Monday 4th August 2014 - Scholastic launched the first book in an exciting new series.  The five authors were on hand to share what the theme of their book was going to be about, which battles their protagonists would fight in, and what their speciality was. It was really interesting to hear the serendipity moments the authors had while researching their books and how they were going to connect with one book to another.

Susan Brocker's book 'Riding Into War' was officially launched that night. Susan told us about her connection with the Great War. Her Grandfather McGee, a Mounted Rifleman, fought at Gallipoli and lost his brother there. She used it as inspiration for her book.

Riding Into War is about 17 year old Billy Bowman and his best friend Jack signing up for war with their horses in August 1914. At the beginning of the story the boys are keen for adventure and travel, and are really excited to take up arms. We read about their experiences at Awapuni training camp, on board the ship taking them to Egypt, and at training camp in the desert. By then the boys are desperate to get into the action and fear the war will be over before they get a chance to fight. They needn't fear - they're despatched to Gallipoli (without their horses) and from the moment they land on ANZAC cove they're right in the desperate, horrific action.

Susan's love of horses shines through in this story through the main character's care of his horse and others. I won't give away what happens to the two boys but Billy does meet nurse Harriett the main character in the next book in the series, written by Diana Menefy due out next year.

Diana Menefy told us that her character Harriett would be one of the first 50 nurses to arrive in Alexandria to care for the many thousands of wounded soldiers. Diana found through her research that the nurses worked seven days a week sometimes 20 hours a day. If they got to the point of utter exhaustion and began weeping - they'd be given a couple of hours rest to compose themselves and then they'd be back into the weary work of trying to save the soldiers.

Diana showed us photographs of the floating hospitals that would pick up the soldiers from Turkey (Gallipoli) and sail back to Egypt. Only the severely wounded soldiers could have a bed - the rest lay on the floor. It is where the term 'walking wounded' came from - if they still had their limbs, no matter what other horrific wounds they had - they had to walk to the hospital.

Diana hinted at a possible friendship/romance with a soldier that may feature in David Hair's book - due out in 2016. David Hair had only started researching his book. His main character would be in the New Zealand Maori Pioneer Battalion.  They became the diggers and took part in the Battle of Somme in 1916. David found an interesting real character in his research who foretold some of the disasters that happened. David intends including him in the story.

Brian Falkner is writing the fourth book in the series due out in 2017. Brian's book is so far off he has only just begun his preliminary research. He wants to bring in the theme about the rise of technology. Brian told us that planes featured the first time in this war, as did tanks, and both caused many thousands of injuries. Brian discovered two real soldiers - Sir Keith Parks who destroyed 20 aeroplanes, and the ace pilot Keith Caldwell who destroyed 25 enemy aeroplanes, both of whom he wants to include in his story somehow. And yes his main character is going to be a pilot.

Brian told us that the life expectancy of the Royal Flying Corp pilots was about two weeks in the war. He will share some of his research in a blog he is going to write about his unfolding story: www.brianfalkner.com

Des Hunt's book in the series is loosely based on his Uncle's war. Des told us that his Uncle never talked about his experiences to the family but he did confide in Des, when as a youngster Des stayed on his Uncle's farm. Des said his Uncle's love of animals and the land will come through in his main character's story. Des wants to include about the use of chemistry in the war so it will be interesting to see if his character or soldiers in his battalion experience mustard gas poisoning. This story focusses on the last year of the Great War - 1918 - in France (book due out 2018).

Each book will feature a timeline of the year their main character features in, a glossary of key military words, photographs from the time, and an extensive bibliography.

Scholastic has chosen five excellent writers. Susan Brocker has set a high benchmark, of which the others will sure to maintain. Children will enjoy reading about the adventures during the Great War but will also learn about the horrors of war through graphic descriptions, which will have the side-benefit (for the teenagers/adults reading the books) of creating empathy for the soldiers whilst acknowledging the realities of war.

Kiwis At War: 1914 Riding into War by Susan Brocker (Scholastic)
ISBN: 978-1-77543-206-7
RRP $19.50  paperback,  RRP US$9.50 e-book
Ages 12+
216 pp
Teacher notes here

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