Saturday, March 4, 2017

A heartwarming children's war book

Torty and the Soldier: A story of a true WWI survivor by Jennifer Beck, Fifi Colston (Scholastic)

Stewart Little (the real one, not the movie character) had been walking to a field hospital in Salonika when he saw a small tortoise run over in 1916. Half buried in the dusty road Stewart picked up the squashed tortoise and took it back to the hospital ship where he worked. He cared for it while they traveled back and forth from England to France then Malta and back to England. Even though he was told no pets were allowed back into New Zealand he hid the tortoise, which had gone into hibernation in his kitbag. It lived with him for the rest of his life. This is their true story.

To accompany this heartwarming story is Fifi Colston's stunning sepia coloured illustrations. Fifi visited the real tortoise in Napier and the replica at Te Papa while finding reference material about the reptile before painting the images. This is the second children's war book, Fifi has illustrated. The first being The Red Poppy written by David Hill. Fifi captures just the right tone for the book and I love how she brings in texture, shading and morphs in other images.

Jennifer Beck communicated with the relatives of Stewart Little while researching the book. She'll be launching Torty and the Soldier with the family in Morrinsville this week. Jennifer Beck also wrote The Bantam and the Soldier, illustrated by Robyn-Belton. You can see an interview with Jennifer Beck here.

The creative non-fiction story will teach children about empathy for animals, and the span of a tortoise's life over several generations of a human's life. It's another untold story from WWI and 4-8 year old children (and older) will love this gentle tale.

ISBN: 978-1-77543-484-9
RRP $19.99 (hardback)

Torty and the Soldier and The Red Poppy also feature in a children's war book exhibition currently travelling around Australia. For more information about the Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages Exhibition go here.

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