Sunday, November 11, 2018

Poppy Field by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman

Today is Veterans' Day in the United States and Remembrance Day for the rest of the world. And while it is important to honor and say thank you to those who serve and have served in the armed forces, today is even more special. It is the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice that ended the Great War, or World War I as it later came to be called.

No one had ever experienced a war like WWI before. New weapons were developed that had devastating results on both soldiers and civilians. From the air, planes could now drop bombs on battlefields and cities; at sea, submarines could now torpedo battleships and cargo ships carrying food and supplies; and on the battlefield, tanks with machine guns and canons could roll over no man's land and attack their enemies in the trenches, while chemical weapons like chlorine, mustard gas and flamethrowers were also used in trench warfare. It's no wonder so many returned suffering from PTSD.

To commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day, Michael Morpurgo has written a lovely book that tells a fictionalized story of how and why the poppy have became the flower that symbolizes the sacrifices made by those who have fought in their country's wars.

Young Martens Merkel lives on a farm in Flanders near Ypres in Belgium with his mother and grandfather. The farm, once part of No Man's Land in WWI, is in the middle of a vast poppy field and surrounded by several cemeteries. Sadly, Martens father was killed while plowing one of his fields by an unexploded shell. There is also a part of a poem written on an old wrinkled paper, framed and hanging on the hallway wall in the Merkel home. It is the beginning of a poem and Martens loves to hear his grandfather tell the story connected to that poem.

When Martens' grandfather's mother Marie was an eight year old girl, she used to sell eggs at a field hospital to the English soldiers. In the spring of 1915, the poppies were in bloom and Marie would pick some to give to those who bought her eggs. One morning, there weren't many soldiers to buy eggs, but Marie noticed one sitting nearby, writing in a notebook. Irritated at her for interrupting him, he threw the now scrunched paper he had been writing on away, but he asked Marie if she would place her poppies on the grave of his best friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who had been killed the day before and who loved poppies. The poppies immediately began to blow away, but the soldier didn't seem to mind and began writing again - a poem dedicated to his friend.

Marie's mother read and translated what was on the paper she kept, and the whole family agreed that the words were too precious to throw away. Her father made a frame and hung it on the wall. The
poem is, of course, In Flanders Fields by John McCrea, a Canadian surgeon and Lieutenant-Colonel.

There is much more to the story Martens' grandfather tells, which becomes a nice blending of the fictional Merkel family history and some factual wartime history, including war's aftermath. Michael Morpurgo has a wonderful ability to take real events and write a story around them that works perfectly for young readers, entertaining and informing at that same time. Here, he says in an interview, he wanted kids to understand why it is important to remember those who fought in a long ago war by bringing it into the present, as well as showing the impact war has on civilians. And he has done an outstanding job of that with Poppy Field.

The 100th anniversary of the end of the World War I is perfect timing, since it has been in the news so much this weekend and kids can witness world leaders acknowledging the men and women who served their country, and who gave their lives then, just as they do now.

Be sure to read the Afterword for more information on the history of In Flanders Fields, John McCrea, and how the poppy became the symbol of remembrance.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased from Book Depository for my personal library.

Don't forget in all the commemorations, however, that this is also Veterans' Day in the US and 
remember the thank all veterans for their service. 
In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Kingdom Falls (Book 3 of the Ravenmaster Trilogy) by John Owen Theobald

When last we left Anna Cooper and her boyfriend Timothy Squire, it was June 5, 1944 and the D-Day invasion was about to begin. Timothy and his friend Arthur Lightfoot, both sappers, are on their way to France with orders to disarm bridges wired by the Nazis so that the Allies could pass over them safely when they arrive. Book 3 begins the very next day - June 6, 1944.

Anna, still in London, has learned that the father, Wilhelm Esser, she believed to be dead, has had a big hand in developing Hitler's Vengeance Bombs, or V2 bombs that are so fast and powerful, there is no escaping or surviving them. After her father gives her the information about how the bombs work, and where they are being sent from, Anna decides to hide her father in the Tower of London, her official home.

But having the information about the bombs doesn't mean anyone will listen to Anna. Especially after an not after she loses her pilot's licensee and is stripped of her wings. Anna may have been grounded but her fellow pilots in the ATA aren't and their commander, Pauline Gower, isn't above turning a blind eye on the use of Spitfires with which Anna and her friends can practice dive bombing under the tutelage of Joy Brooks. Joy, you will remember, is an African American pilot who couldn't fly for the Untied States, but was welcomed into the ATA. And, oh yes, Anna manages to get some wings and papers to fly, just maybe not her own.

Meanwhile, Timothy Squire and the other men in D-Company are in France, but not where they should be, landing in a swampy river and losing most of their equipment and a few men. Eventually, Timothy and Arthur get separated when they are attacked by Germans, and Timothy is sure Arthur has been killed. Timothy is eventually found by a group of French partisans and spends the rest of the war fighting with them.

When his family receives notice that Timothy is missing in action, Anna never loses faith that he is alive and will return to her.

A Kingdom Falls is an exciting third novel. There is perhaps more action both on the battlefield and at home in it than in the previous novels as the war draws to a conclusion, but that would be expectable. And readers should never lose sight of the fact that Anna and Timothy are still just teenagers. But war matures young people fast, and Theobald has taken that into consideration as he developed his characters. It may not be quite as obvious with Anna and Timothy, but is sure is with Anna's friend Florence Swift. In These Dark WingsFlo spent the blitz in Canada, learning about comics and ice cream. She returned to England in What the Raven Brings, but it is in A Kingdom Falls Flo decides to become a nurse in France, and you can see how she has changed.

One of the things I liked about The Ravenmaster Trilogy is that Theobald writes from different points of view, and in A Kingdom Falls readers knows just what is happening to tow more familiar characters, including pilot Cecil Rafferty, rich, handsome, but rejected by Anna, and, of course, Flo. The switching of point of view throughout is not the least bit confusing and really adds to the excitement and tension of the novel. I have to confess that I secretly wanted to hear directly from Anna father, the Nazi Will Esser. I really wondered what he would have to say, but readers learn much from his through his interactions with Anna.

I am sorry to have to say good-bye to Anna and Timothy now that the trilogy has come to and end, but I was glad that Theobald brought it all to a very satisfying conclusion.

A Kingdom Falls, and in fact, all three books in The Ravenmaster Trilogy, offer an exciting window into many aspects of World War II and how it impacted the lives of young people. Theobald handles themes of war, friendship, loyalty, love, betrayal and survival in the lives of his characters realistically through his engaging narrators. I can't recommend this trilogy more.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was sent to me by the author, John Owen Theobald