As we commemorate the 100th year anniversary of the beginning of World War One and as Remembrance Day has passed for another year, it is a good opportunity to share family history and Australia’s involvement in the Great War with the next generation. The Great War and subsequent wars cast a shadow over many lives to this day and by sharing these stories we keep the memories and sacrifices made, alive.
The Soldier’s Gift written by Tony Palmer and beautifully illustrated by Jane Tanner is a recently published picture book suitable for ages six and up. This poignant story introduces us to Tom and Emily who live and work on their father’s farm. As the Great War continued into its second year, Tom turns 18 and is encouraged to enlist by his uncle. Tom writes from the Turkish front to his beloved sister Emily and sends her some seeds from the Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis) which was the variety of tree Turkish soldiers cut down to reinforce trenches at Gallipoli. As the story unfolds, these seeds are planted back in Australia and carefully tended by Emily. As the trees grow, they become a symbol of hope and healing.
The Soldier’s Gift also includes two pages of factual information on World War One at the end of the book, including some information about the real families who planted Aleppo Pine seeds in remembrance of their fallen sons.
I had the privilege of meeting Morris Gleitzman early this year at the Armadale Library where he spoke about the origins of one of his latest books Loyal Creatures. The seed of the book started out as a 20 minute monologue Gleitzman was commissioned to write by his friend Michael Morpugo, the author of War Horse. This piece was to accompany the National Theatre of London’s stage production of War Horse, providing a perspective on the role Australian horses played in World War One. I had the opportunity to watch the 20 minute monologue and was completely riveted by the compelling narrative of Frank and Daisy.
Gleitzman discovered the characters of Daisy and Frank had more to tell and consequently wrote Loyal Creatures. This novel would be suitable for independent readers from 10 years and above, or could be read by adults to younger children. I loaned my copy to my 93 year old grandmother and given her formative years growing up on a Western Australian farm, thoroughly enjoyed reading this book too. In contrast to the magnificent thoroughbred, Joey, in Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, Frank’s horse Daisy is a whaler.
A cross with the draft horse and another seven different breeds, the whaler was bred for endurance and strength and highly suited to dry and harsh conditions. When the Aussie soldiers turned up in Egypt for training with their whalers, the English officers jeered from the saddles of their thoroughbreds at the rough Australians and their ugly horses. The jeering however, quickly turned to respect when soldiers and their horses had long campaigns through the desert with minimal water for days at a time. The thoroughbreds started to drop dead with their riders following soon after, while the whalers and their riders remained standing. After the war, only one whaler was brought back to Australia. What happened to the rest? Loyal Creatures gives us an answer.
Although pre – dating World War One, here’s a classic rhyme to share:
Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down.
This rhyme is particularly fun to sing and play if you’re outdoors with your children and have a bit of a hill or crest of grass to use.
I also found a delightful online publication (pdf) titled Twinkle, Twinkle Southern Cross: The Forgotten Folklore of Australian Nursery Rhymes by Robert Holden available from the National Library of Australia if you are interested in more nostalgic rhymes from Australia’s colonial history.
Drawing inspiration from The Soldier’s Gift here’s a little envelope origami activity. Follow this easy origami envelope link for instructions. You can encourage your children to imagine they are Tom or Emily writing to each other during World War One, get them to write a little letter or draw a picture related to the story before folding. After folding, you may want to venture out into the neighbourhood to find some suitable “seeds” to add to the envelope for that special touch.
One sheet of A4 page
Pen and or coloured pencils
Want more World War One children’s literature? Visit Coolbellup library for the last few days of our Remembrance display.