NOTE: THIS BOOK HAS A RELEASE DATE OF 1 MARCH 2014
Across northern France,
poppies bloom in the fields
where once, many years ago …
millions of men fought and died.
In northern France, poppies bloom where once was war. Petals take to the air and track the story of war in northern France, travelling from today back through time to focus on a particular battle. Villers-Bretonneux, a small village, was the site of a pivotal battle between German forces and Australian soldiers. Many, many died, but the battle was successful in halting the progression of the Germans. Many of the dead are still unidentified, but none are forgotten. Memorials to named and unnamed soldiers remind just how hard-fought and hard-won was the freedom now enjoyed. In the years following WWI, Victorian children helped to raise money to rebuild the Villers-Bretonneux school. This link, forged in war, is reinforced by Australian animal carvings in the school hall, and promises to not forget. Illustrations show both the darkness and the light, with dark cover and images set in black pages. The painterly images sit like photos on the page, connecting the past with the present. A poppy petal floats through each opening. A final page provides more information about the battle and its aftermath.
For many years, most Australians had some direct link to WWI in Europe, whether it was a parent, a relative, a neighbour. But as time passes, these links become more distant and there is a risk that the connection with and relevance of that time fades. 2014 marks the centenary of the beginning of WWI. For Australia, WWI was the first opportunity to demonstrate internationally their new nationhood. Thousands of Australians died in many different theatres of war. The Villers-Bretonneux was one of these, and for many years, many of the fallen were unidentified, if not forgotten. The Villers-Bretonneux village and school continue to honour the Australians who died there, just as the poppies symbolise their spilt blood. Plant brings this historical non-fiction story to a new generation of young readers, allowing the war to sit just off-page, but not diminishing or underplaying any of the importance of the battle. He shows new readers how the past influences the present and can inform the future. In multicultural Australia, this story will be unfamiliar to some, but ‘The Poppy’ will help to remedy this. Recommended for early and middle primary readers.
The Poppy, Andrew Plant Ford Street Publishing, 2014 ISBN: hb 9781925000313, pb 9781925000320
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author and bookseller