Posts Tagged war

Tomi Ungerer

I’ve mentioned Tomi Ungerer‘s Three Robbers before. I came across another of his great picture books, Otto: The Autobiography of a Teddy Bear, a while back while browsing in the Tate Modern bookshop. I was immediately impressed by how the book manages to deal with war and racial hatred in such an accessible way for childen. Here’s what Rosemary Stone says about the book in Books for Keeps:

In 1940 Ungerer’s native Alsace was annexed by the Nazis and the then 8-year-old Tomi subjected to Nazi indoctrination in school. This powerfully moving picture book tale of Otto the teddy bear is perhaps a riposte to that experience. Told in the first person by Otto, we hear about the games he plays with his owner David and David’s friend Oscar – one of which results in the indelible ink stain on the bear’s head. Nazi occupation leads to David being obliged to wear a yellow star and then he and his family are deported. Otto, left behind with Oscar, then witnesses another farewell when Oscar’s father has to leave for the front. When the bombing starts Otto saves a black GI’s life by deflecting a bullet, is taken back to the US with him and given to his daughter. Eventually, battered and caked in mud he ends up in an antique shop and is bought by the now elderly Oscar – who is then reunited with David. Both survived terrifying experiences and will now stay united with each other and with Otto.

Ungerer writes of the terrible events of war, pitching his account clearly and accessibly for younger readers. His use of a teddy bear as the central character (he is a well known collector of antique toys) helps to make events that could be too overwhelming manageable. His dynamic pencil line, the positioning of his figures and his consummate use of inks and watercolour wash convey the emotional resonance of happy times (the boys absorbed in their games with Otto) as well as painful and terrifying ones. This is a story of loss (both boys lose their parents in the war) but also of the constancy of love as represented by the faithful Otto. The book is handsomely produced on matt stock which adds to its period feel.

Tomi Ungerer: Illustration from Tomi Ungerer's Moon Man

There’s a fine gallery of images of Ungerer’s work at the Guardian.  This picture is from Moon Man.

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More War Horse

(c) Bridget Worth

It’s curious what fiction can do, how a painting in a story can become a real painting. Such a picture,  invented in War Horse had to be created for real. I’m copying this blog:

Morpurgo’s myth revealed

By Emily Butcher | Published: 31 OCTOBER 2011

After 20 years, Michael Morpurgo reveals the hidden truth behind the opening lines of his hugely popular novel War Horse, in a warm and humorous interview with Clare Balding.

In the old school they now use for the village hall, below the clock that has stood always at one minute past ten, hangs a small dusty painting of a horse. He stands, a splendid red bay with a remarkable white cross emblazoned on his forehead and with four perfectly matched white socks. He looks wistfully out of the picture, his ears pricked forward, his head turned as if he has just noticed us standing there.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Little did Michael know, when he first drafted these fictional lines back in 1981, what a worldwide success his book, and the subsequent National Theatre stage production, would become; nor the havoc it would wreak on a certain Mrs Weeks of Iddesleigh, Devon.

Mrs Weeks, the lady who now lives next to the village hall mentioned in Michael’s opening lines, is regularly inundated with War Horse enthusiasts searching for the painting of Joey. However, their quest has always been in vain as the painting has never existed…until now.

To help Mrs Weeks stave off disappointed visitors, Michael asked Ali Bannister, the equine artist from the upcoming Spielberg-directed film, to create an oil painting ofJoey. And, before it takes pride of place on the wall of Iddesleigh village hall, visitors to the National Army Museum can see the painting displayed for the first time ever in the War Horse: Fact & Fiction exhibition.

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“I go about once every six weeks to make sure it’s still there”!

… and now, watching this, I realise there’s a sequel, and one of those beautifully drawn and painted books by Michael Foreman (I’ve mentioned these before), and Morpurgo’s favourite among his books…

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War Horse

With the film coming out, I thought it was about time we read Michael’s Morpurgo‘s book, and even, if possible, went to see the play with its amazing horse puppets.

Naturally, you have to think, is it suitable for children? It’s a children’s book, and a children’s play, but for what age? It’s a book about World War I after all. There’s the trenches, there’s killing, death.

I downloaded the book from audible.co.uk in audio format – and we’re listening to it now in the car on the way to and from school. John Keating has an unusually slow and deliberate way of reading, but he does the accents very well.

As for the play, I’ve been looking at booking some seats in the spring. Checking the reviews, I thought the Guardian one was interesting:

 …it seems excessively fortuitous that Joey, captured by the enemy, falls into the caring hands of a German captain as horse-obsessed as Albert . And when the rescued Joey in 1918 is saved from slaughter only by a jammed pistol it seems providence is working overtime. But the narrative failings are overcome by the brilliant work of the Handspring Puppet Company…

Is it really excessively fortuitous? Is providence really working overtime? It is a children’s story after all. Aren’t children entitled to identify with the characters in their books, to want them to survive, succeed? Michael Morpurgo is taking his readers on a harrowing journey into the horror of the Great War. This is not a formula book; you don’t know where it’s going to take you. Before we started it I needed to check that the protagonist, Joey, doesn’t die in the end. (And he doesn’t in the play or the film.) The book is telling the story of a terrible time.
It’s interesting to listen to Michael Morpurgo talking about it. As he said in the Evening Standard:

I met a man in a pub. It was in my village, The Duke of York, in Iddesleigh in Devon. He was in his eighties and I knew he’d been to the First World War as a young man. For no good reason I happened to ask him what regiment he’d been in. “Devon ­Yeomanry,” he said, “I was there with ‘orses.” He told me things beside the fire in the pub that day that you don’t read in poems or books, that you didn’t see in films. It was as if he was taking me by the hand and showing me, ­passing it on; about living with fear and horror, about how the only person he could talk to was his horse, when he was feeding him at night, alone.

Then some weeks later I came across a picture by one FW Reed, painted in 1917, of British cavalry horses in the First World War charging up a hill towards the German positions, towards the wire. Some were already entangled in it. Like the private in the old song, they were “hanging on the old barbed wire”. I telephoned the Imperial War Museum and asked if they knew how many horses had been killed in the First World War. A million or more, they told me, and that was just in the British army; probably eight million horses died on all sides. With the real possibility now growing in my head that I might write a story about the First World War, not from one side or the other, but from the perspective of a horse that is used by both armies, so that it could be a story of the universal suffering of that war, or any war, I began my research.

And how will the film be? Blockbusters, family films, can be clichéd, sentimental. Trailers even more so:

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pink rabbit

Have I not mentioned Judith Kerr before here, and her wonderful book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit? I’ve just been listening to her on Desert Island Disks.

She made me quite proud to be a Londoner:

We found a kind of humour and tolerance here which didn’t, I think, exist in other countries at the time. I think I became a Brit, as you might say, during the war because the people here were so extraordinarily good. We were here right through the blitz and the bombing. People were being killed every night and there were my parents walking about with their German accents and nobody ever once said anything nasty to them. I came really to feel that I would never want to live anywhere else. And even my father who loved France when he was asked after the war, wouldn’t you like to go back to France, where he could speak the language, he said but I would have to take the entire English population with me.

She’s in the Guardian too:

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