And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda / Eric Bogle & Bruce Whatley
This book made me cry.
There are many anti-war songs but there are two that seem to be firmly linked to the Australian identify – And The Band played Waltzing Matilda and I Was Only Nineteen. Both of these songs have now been turned into picture books.
I Was Only Nineteen words by John Schumann and pictures by Craig Smith was Notable for the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Picture Book of the Year.
And the book I am reviewing today was Shortlisted in the same category this year.
Picture Book of the Year notable books are about the relationship between words and pictures
Picture Book of the Year notable books are about the relationship between words and pictures and with this book I think that Bruce Whatley has brilliantly illustrated this song. The main character, who is the song’s voice, looks like a perfect consolidation of so many men that you see in pictures from that time. I like that at the beginning he doesn’t look ‘happy’ but rather looks like he’s just been caught looking out of the book. This is carried through all of his pictures throughout the book very naturally and it makes the character even more relatable because he always looks familiar. We see him on the page alone at the beginning of the book and then all of the war scenes are large, full page illustrations and you have no idea where he is – giving you the impression that they may even be what he sees. Then we see him again after an injury when he looks rather wearier – even here he’s not been drawn as miserable but injured and weary and sad.
The picture of all of the wounded soldiers on their way back from war is an especially sad one – you see no faces, they are all either turned away or bandaged and the way they are positioned adds to the grief of the lines in the song.
The colour palette of the book is very in keeping with what you think of as the colours of the time, lots of mud browns and green with creams and blues and greys. There are very deliberate touches of red used through the book and the pictures aren’t overtly violent or graphic but there is an element of confusion to the line outlines that adds to the tone of the song.
100th Anniversary of World War I
We are in the 100th anniversary of WWI which started with the anniversary of the ships leaving Albany port, the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli and we are now into the portion of the anniversary dedicated to The Western Front. Over the past few years there have been a great many books dedicated to the topic of war – especially for children and young people. This book is part of that tide and I believe these books are important and will hopefully prove this line from the song wrong
And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore.
They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war.
And the young people ask, “What are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question.
Given that this song was written during the Vietnam War the lines make sense given the political and social context but I believe this book, and books like it, will ensure that children won’t have to ask that question as they grow older and will understand why they are marching.
I am giving this book five out of five. I really enjoyed it. It would be for upper primary/high school aged children.