All in the past
Historical fact and fiction for young adults
Three historical books to engage young adult readers – reviewed by Kate Shepherd.
Flight Path by David Hill pb 9780143770527 $18.00
We meet Jack after his flying training in Canada and on his way to a flying base in England where he will be the bomb-aimer/nose gunner in a team of young airmen flying Lancaster bombers on bombing missions over France and Germany. He is only 18 years old, is a Kiwi and is flying in a crew consisting of an Englishman, an Aussie, a Pole and 3 other Kiwis. The book is set early in 1944 and ends some months after the Allied Invasion of June 6th 1944 but in that short time many colleagues don’t survive. At one stage Jack works out that if 18 planes fail to return then that is 130 men who are killed or taken prisoner.
David Hill has obviously done a lot of research for this book and he succeeds in giving us a lot of information about the war overall, as seen through the eyes of a young bomb-aimer who had a very good view of what was happening on the ground below. The crews are sent on exhausting missions, often all night, three or four times each week. Through Jack’s eyes, we see the build up to the Allied Invasion and the Invasion itself, also the launch pads for the V2 missiles causing so much destruction to the civilians in cities in England and also the destruction that the bombers cause when they bomb cities like Berlin.
We get to know the different attitudes of the airmen towards to the Germans and the importance of the very tight bond which developed between the bomber crews. It describes the conditions in wartime Britain and his growing love for a young English woman. Some of the atrocities committed early in the war in war torn Poland are described through the eyes of the Polish co-pilot. While some want to take revenge on all Germans, others are aware that many Germans are caught up in a war that they do not support. There is plenty to discuss in this gripping story which will keep alive for a new generation a very important part of the history of WW2. (10 – 15 years)
Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr pb 9781760290023 $16.99
Wendy Orr has written a most impressive historical novel. Set in the Bronze Age, it is inspired by the well-known wall paintings of the Minoan civilisation where young bull dancers perform acrobatic feats over the backs of enormous bulls. Aissa is a young girl whose turbulent life has been full of twists and turns. She has been rejected by her mother, the Lady, because she is not perfect, and is forced for much of her life to live as an outcast. However the gods seem determined that Aissa be chosen as one of many thirteen year olds sent as tribute from surrounding islands to the Minoan King and destined to be trained as bull dancers for twelve months.
Those that survive can win their freedom and free their islands from sending tribute each year to the Bull King. This is a vivid and absorbing story, written alternately in prose and lyrical free verse. The combination works very effectively and moves effortlessly from one to the other. The story takes place in a world where blood flows freely but Aissa has learnt resilience from her time as an outcast. Wendy Orr brings to life the culture and seasonal rituals of these people as well as daily life among the farmers, goat herders and healers. It is a most enjoyable historical novel with a touch of magic. KS (9 – 13 years)
William Bligh: a stormy story of tempestuous times Story by Michael Sedunary Artwork by Bern Emmerichs pb 9780994289568 $19.95
Michael Sedunary has such an easy-going style in writing about historical figures. He appears to be discussing what is purported to have happened and how various people may regard these events rather than state the bare facts. It is a very engaging way of writing about history as it also invites us to see the person behind the historical figure.
Coupled with the fascinating, detailed ceramic illustrations of Bern Emmerichs, it makes this an exceptional work which questions some of the prejudices and helps us look at the turbulent story of William Bligh and the Mutiny of the Bounty and also at his time as Governor of New South Wales during the Rum Rebellion in a very different light. (9 – 14 years)
Feature Image: Bern Emmerich’s The Golden Fleece vs The Milky Bar Kid (painted ceramic, fired, 30 x 60 cm).
Credit: Courtesy the artist and Scott Livesey Galleries, Melbourne Australia