Monday, April 4, 2011

The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo

After his grandfather dies, 12 year old Michael, nicknamed Boowie, receives what appears to be a very long letter from his grandmother. She tells him to read all the way through it and no peeking at the end or he will ruin the surprise.

Most of the pages are diary entries by his grandma, Lily Tregenza, when she was a young girl of 11, beginning on September 10, 1943. Lily lives on a farm in Slapton, South Devon with her mother and grandfather. Her dad is fighting in Africa. Lily also has a cat named Tips that she loves very much.

School has just begun, and life is about to change. There are lot more evacuees in Slapton, including Barry Turner, whose dad was killed in the war and who keeps smiling at Lily. The new teacher is a Dutch Jew who escaped Holland with her husband just before the Nazis arrived. Lily doesn’t like her until she hears that Mrs. Blumfeld’s husband has been killed in action. To top it all off, her village is full of American soldiers or gum chewing “ruddy Yanks” as her grandfather refers to them. But at least she still has beloved Tips.

On November 13, 1943, everyone in Slapton is summoned to a meeting at the church. There, they are told that they must all leave the area for a while because the beach and village are needed for the soldiers to practice landings at sea for the coming invasion of France. Everything of value must be removed, including livestock, because the area, which will be surrounded by barbed wire, will be very dangerous.

Lily’s grandfather flatly refuses to go. He hates the war, having served in the trenches of World War I and never got over what he had witnessed then. Even after most of the people are gone, he refuses to go. When Barry learns he can’t move with the family he is living with and ends up moving in with Lily’s family. Then Barry falls in love with the farm and his presence and enthusiasm seem to rejuvenate Lily’s grandfather.

But it is Lily’s teacher, Mrs. Blumfeld, who finally convinces him to make the move, explaining to him how this move will help end the war. Lily, meantime, has made friends with two American soldiers, Adolphus T. Madison, called Adie, and his best friend Harry. They are both young black men from Atlanta, Georgia, the first blacks that Lily has ever seen and she is enchanted by their open friendliness.

Moving day finally comes and trouble starts when Lily can’t find Tips. She searches everywhere, but no Tips. The next day, she goes back and searches again. Adie and Harry also lend a hand by bringing in reinforcements to help look to no avail. Finally, the area is closed off with Tips is still missing. Lily then starts sneaking through the barbed wire to return to the farm to find her beloved cat. On one of her searches, Lily is caught and taken to the officer in charge. He has Adie and Harry take her back home and Adie makes her promise not to return to the farm, that they will continue looking for Tips, but that she will probably find her way to Lily herself. Despite her promise, Lily tries to find Tips one more time. This time, Barry follows her and after they get caught in some very scary, explosive maneuvers, Lily decides to give up her search for Tips.

Finally, in March 1944, Adie and Harry show up and, sure enough, they have found Tips. But she only stays put a few days and she is gone again. Tips had been found in the hotel, and shortly after her second disappearance, the hotel is destroyed in an explosion. Lily loses all hope that she will ever see Tips again.

On April 7, 1944 Adie and Harry bring over hot dogs, ketchup and soda pop. They all have a wonderful time at what becomes known as the Great Hot Dog Feast. But on May 1st Lily is told that Harry has been killed. During some maneuvers, they were in ships waiting to do practice landings. The ships were torpedoed by German E-boats and hundreds of soldiers were killed. This is also the day that Lily realizes that she loves Adie more than anyone or anything and would forever.

Eventually Tips does find her way home again and Lily changes her name to Adolphus Tips, in honor of Adie. Tips lives for three years after that. Lily’s dad comes home after the war, Barry returns to his mother in London and things pretty much go back to normal.

But this isn’t the end of the story, far from it. At this point, I can only tell you what Boowie’s grandma told him:

The surprise comes right at the very end. So don’t cheat, Boowie. Don’t look at the end. Let it be a surprise for you - as it still is for me.
And, boy, was it a surprise!

Michael Morpurgo is a master storyteller. This was such a simple story, and yet so compelling. I couldn’t recommend it more highly. It is a story is about love, friendship, helping each other and keeping promises. Lily is a typical kid, complaining to her diary about giving up her favorite candy for the war, sometimes forgetting to worry about her dad, giving her teacher a hard time ‘just because.’ But she is also kind, courageous and an adventurer, as her grandson already knows from experience. The diary dates were selected for a reason, beginning with the arrival of American soldiers and, with the exception of two later October entries, ending on June 6, 1944, D-day, the day Adie left Slapton with the US Army for the invasion of France.

The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips was awarded the Sheffield Children’s Book Award in 2006.

This book is recommended for readers age 9-12.
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL.

The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips offers a wonderful window into the lives of what it may have been like for the people who were asked to give up everything and disrupt their lives for the war. The evacuation of Slapton was a real event, as was the torpedoing of the ships waiting to being the practice landings.

For more information on the the events that this novel centers on, see The dister that may have saved D-Day

Monument to the 3,000 people asked to evacuate their homes and farms for the 15,000 American soldiers to practice landings for D-Day from
Devon County Council 

This is book 5 of my British Books Challenge hosted by The Bookette


  1. I liked all the various pieces of this book, but for me the book as a whole didn't gel; the whole was less than the sum of the parts. I didn't like the frame around the letters around the secret. But the historical part was good.

  2. I like Michael Morpugo! This book is sitting on my shelf waiting for me. Thanks for the review.

  3. Beth, the framing didn't bother me, but the fact that I didn't look ahead to see the surprise amazes me.
    Kathy - definitely give this a try, it is such a fast read, I read it in one afternoon.

  4. Very nice review. Historical fiction stories are some of my favorites. This book sounds interesting. Thanks.

  5. Such a good review! You always make me want to read the books, Alex. I have to ask if you've discovered the Persephone books...women writers of the 1940's WWII and just after. They are fantastic.


  6. Absolutely! This was my first ever Michael Morpurgo read and I loved it. There was a simple beauty to it and it was heartwarming. Great post!

  7. This is my second favorite book.

  8. This the best book ever!

    1. i love michael murpurgo books...they are so interesting!! and the sad ones willmake you cry!!! Thanks a lot alex...Well Doen Keep it up!!