by Michael Morpurgo.

Famous writer. The boys have read quite a few of his books, and I’ve skimmed through a couple to find out what they were reading (anyone else doing that?)… he’s quite a prolific author, and I’ve also seen one of his plays, not the famous one ‘War horse’ but ‘the butterfly lion’ which I really enjoyed.

Mixed feelings about this one in particular. I read it because it was part of my College class on children’s literature.

It’s the story of Michael who grows up fatherless in the years after the war, with a devoted French mother and two eccentric aunts who’d adopted and raised his father, orphan from the war. Or so he thought. Family secrets come to light, he has to revised all he’d ever known about his life and he finally learn who he is and where he comes from. So far so good.

In true Morpurgo’s style the story goes back and forward in time and swaps points of view too, which could potentially be quite challenging for some children… although the layout is really quite ‘childish’, with big spaces between the lines and lots of hand drawn illustrations. Weird mix.

On the good side:

  • Well written
  • interesting story
  • the way delicate subjects, like grief and death, are dealt with is very good and age appropriate. He doesn’t shy away from them but puts them into perspective for the young readers

On the bad side:

  • there are two things that stand out for me first when he refers to one of the aunt as wanting to become a nurse ‘because she liked boys’… REALLY??? I know he tries to explain in the following page that she’d had this really strict and isolated upbringing, blah blah, BUT STILL!! It’s is such a silly comment that I can’t quite understand what it was all about… was it meant to be funny? Because it really wasn’t….
  • And then at the end – after we found out that his grandad was a black soldier in the 1WW – he writes this: ‘…. we’ll be together again… in a peaceful place where the colour of a man’s skin is invisible..’ NO NO NO… This is a real bug bear of mine, you don’t ‘erase’ people’s skin! You don’t tell them they are invisible! It is so the wrong word to use; it’s like denying someone who they are… you see them and realise that we are all people, we don’t ‘not see them’. It’s the wrong expression, it’ such a white perspective that it’s hurtful.

I know that Mr Morpurgo didn’t mean to sound racist, I’m sure he isn’t, but expressions like this one shouldn’t be used. It doesn’t teach children to value everyone regardless of what they look like or come from, differences need to be acknowledged and accepted not swept under the carpet. Does it make sense?

One very good thing about this novel though is that he took inspiration from the real life story of Walter Tull, one of the first black professional football players in the UK, and the first black combat officer of the British Army, despite Army rules stating that officers ‘must be of pure European descent’ to old any actual command or power. He died in action and was put forward for a Military Cross but it was never awarded, most likely because of his race. It’s a story that needs to be told.

And I’m sure he didn’t mean to sound sexist either… but he seems to be better at writing about boys than girls/female characters… boys are always the heroes… (at least in the books I’ve read) and the women/girls are always the supporting characters. Even animals seem to have more importance!


What should I make of this?

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