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Book review: Meet the Anzacs, by Claire Saxby

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 4, 2014


Meet the AnzacsThis year, as everyone knows, is the centenary of the beginning of the Great War, and next year is the centenary of the Gallipoli landing – and it is obvious already that there is a flood of new books about the Anzacs. Teachers are going to have to be discerning about what they use and how they use these new books, because if there’s one bit of research that every teacher of history should know, it’s that students get very tired of covering the same topic again and again.

At my school, we already have a good collection of picture books from commercial publishers and numerous kits from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Shrine of Remembrance and the Australian War Memorial.  Some of them are better than others, because it takes writerly skill to treat this topic in a way that’s suitable for primary school children yet isn’t too sentimental, mawkish or jingoistic. We want children to know their history, but we also want them to learn the processes of history: investigating evidence, exploring different points of view, and recognising that there’s more than one way of telling the story of Australia’s participation in this war.  At my school, we also need to tread warily: some of our refugee students know about war at first hand.   And I needn’t remind readers of this blog that we now have politicians revisiting interference in the history curriculum with nationalistic demands that sit uneasily with the spirit of teaching the history of this or any other topic.

Meet the Anzacs is the fifth in the the Random House Meet … series of picture books focussing on men and women of Australia’s history, but it’s the first that’s not about a particular person.  (The other one in this series that I’ve reviewed was Meet Mary McKillop)  but we’ve also got Meet Ned Kelly and due for release soon is my own personal hero, Meet Douglas Mawson.  Meet the Anzacs is pretty much what you’d expect it to be: it’s suitable  for primary aged children in content and style, explaining the assorted reasons men had for enlistment and the amateurish training they had, but tactfully omitting the hooliganism and worse of the Anzacs in Egypt, and leaving the carnage on the beach to the imagination.  I really liked the way this was handled: text telling the reader that the landing was not at all what the soldiers had expected, with a double page picture showing what a lost cause the venture was because of the geography of Anzac Cove.   This would be a great page for discussion, I think.  The art work, by Max Berry is particularly good because, as you can see from the front cover, it de-sentimentalises the men.  These soldiers look like real Aussie blokes.

But the arrival of Meet the Anzacs made me realise that my school needed a plan for 2014, so that each area of the school is covering a different aspect of the Anzac Story.  Using content from the Australian Curriculum for History, we’ve sorted out who’s doing what this year, and have left ourselves ‘wriggle-room’ for 2015.  Meet the Anzacs is well suited for the Gallipoli centenary next year because it explains the facts in simple terms that make it suitable for Year 1 & 2 and the illustrations by Max Berry are excellent.

The plan for Preps
We’re keeping it low-key for the preps.  anzac-biscuits_002No stories of blood and suffering for five-year-olds, it’s not appropriate.  Prep history is mainly concerned with learning about the past through photos and artifacts, so they’re going to read Phil Cumming’s lovely book, Anzac Biscuits about a child baking biscuits for her father, and the soldier eventually receiving the biscuits from his daughter at the front.  It’s a beautiful, tender book, and the pictures by Owen Swan link the family separated by war using visual symbols such as snowflakes at the front and flour being sprinkled on the kitchen table.  Classes will bake some biscuits too, of course.  I also found a terrific photo of a soldier posing with his wife on the eve of his departure for war: the children can talk about clothing of the past, including the uniform, and they can also investigate the concept of photos as evidence of events that happened long ago.  But I am hoping that someone will issue something else that’s suitably gentle for this age group, in time for next year.  (I found one called The ANZAC Puppy by New Zealand author Peter Millett at Fishpond, and it looks as if it might be suitable, but I haven’t got a copy of it yet.  Update: Peter Millett kindly sent me a copy and my review is here.)

Years 1 & 2

We Remember KitWe Remember Big BookThe AC content for Years 1 & 2 suggests investigating local buildings of historical significance, so these classes are going to walk to our local war memorial for the school’s wreath-laying ceremony.  They’ll also use the ‘We Remember’ kit produced by the Australian War Memorial: it has useful posters of memorials and symbols such as honour rolls and wreaths, and it includes a Big Book ‘Remembering Charlie Cooper’ about some kids who become interested in the names on their local memorial.  It’s not great literature and the illustrations are a bit pedestrian,  but the story covers the topic well without being too heavy-handed for this age group.  We’ve also got a full-sized poster of the Shrine of Remembrance, and they’ll use that too.  (There is a book called My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day but they had that one last year).  Publishers could usefully check out the Australian Curriculum for this age group and commission a really talented writer of children’s books to produce something appropriate for 2015 as well.

Years 3 & 4

The PromiseThe House That was Built in a DayThe AC for Years 3 & 4 includes looking at commemorations around the world, and we’ve tweaked this a bit so that we can use three books that we have in our collection.  The first is a new one called The Promise, by Derek Guille, and it’s a bilingual book, written in French and English, about how Australian soldiers liberated the village of Villers-Bretonneux on 25 April 1918, and how school children from Victoria raised money to help rebuild the village school.  With an unusual plot-line involving a commemoration by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the books shows how the villagers have kept their promise that they would never forget Australia. (There is another one on this theme called Le Quesnoy: The Story of the Town New Zealand Saved by Glyn Harper which might be worth getting hold of too.)

A War far AwayAnzac Cottage: The House That Was Built in a Day  by Valerie Everett isn’t a story from overseas, but this tale of a house that was built by 200 people in Perth for one of the first wounded ANZAC soldiers to return from Gallipoli is about the 90th anniversary of this community event, and I think it’s an appropriate text to use.  The other text is rather old one called A War Far Away by Pauline Cartwright.  It may be hard to find: it’s about a Kiwi teacher who goes away to war and is killed.  It’s a bit sombre, but I like the way it shows the human cost of war in the wider community and I think it’s all right for this age group.  (ISBN: 0170078205, EAN 9780170078207 & originally part of a set of books called The Highgate Collection, now out of print.  A smart publisher would reissue this).

Years 5 & 6

DevotionAustralian Women in WarYears 5 & 6 are going to research the role of women in WW1.  They’ll use a DVA publication called Devotion and another called Australian Women in War  (both of which you can download for free here) – we also have some posters typical of their era: one that shows the nurses of the 1942 Banka Island massacre needing to be avenged and another which proclaims that war is a man’s job.  I would also recommend that anyone doing this topic also read Kitty’s War by Janet Butler: it is a superb history which interrogates Nurse Kitty McNaughton’s diary, analysing what she included and what she left out, and why.  It’s also a vivid picture of the dangers nurses faced and the discrimination they dealt with, and any teacher who reads it will be able to enliven her lessons with an authentic and riveting story.  If you can’t get hold of it, read my review instead: it’s a poor substitute for the real thing but it’s better than nothing.  It’s high time that a publisher produced a picture biography of the nurses of WW1, and Kitty McNaughton would be an ideal subject.

M is for MatesIn the Library, I’m developing a unit for Years 5 & 6 called Indigenous Service.  Last year with Y 3 & 4, I taught a unit called Animals at War, using the DVA kit, M is for Mates. (Again, download it for free by clicking the link).  Students researched ways in which animals were used: donkeys (yes, including the famous one), horses, carrier-pigeons, dogs and camels.  This is an interesting way of making children aware of war beyond the trench warfare images: they learned about how the animals were and weren’t cared for, and at the end of the unit we had a lively discussion about the ethics of using animals in warfare, given how we now feel about animal welfare issues.  I’ll teach this unit again next year in 1915.  Update: Peter Millett’s book The Anzac Day Puppy is ideal for this unit, see my review here.

Indigenous ServiceThe Indigenous Service unit for this year will be closely based on advice in the Indigenous Service kit for Primary schools. (Make sure you download the one for Primary schools.

Other books you might use can be found at Kidsize Living.

Download our plan in Word and adapt it to suit your own school.  ANZAC COMMEMORATIONS (Whole School Plan) 2014-5 (2)

 

Click the book covers to buy these books from Fishpond.

Anzac Cottage: The House That Was Built in a DayThe ANZAC Puppy My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day Meet the ANZACs (Meet...) Kitty's War

10 Responses to “Book review: Meet the Anzacs, by Claire Saxby”

  1. Peter said

    Hi Lisa. Pete Millett here, author of the Anzac Puppy. Yes my book would be good book for a gentle intro to war. The story focuses on the friendship of a soldier and his dog with the war in the background. There are no images that would upset younger readers. Should be available in OZ. I’m guessing Scholastic would be distributing it there. Drop me a line if it’s not. Pete

    • Lisa Hill said

      Hi Peter, lovely to hear from you, and to have your input about this title, it’s good to have that reassurance.
      I’ve just checked on Fishpond and Booko.com, and it looks as if it’s just coming on the market this March. Is that right?
      I’ll pre-order it, if that’s the case.
      Cheers
      Lisa

      • Peter said

        I’d have to double check with my publisher. I know its on sale this week in NZ. Will get back to you. Have a look at my web page and there’s some background information to the book there. I like your comment about ‘Anzac overload’ for kids at this time of the year. I’ve tried to write something fresh and original that will grab kids attention. Cheers Pete

  2. Peter said

    Hi Lisa, Peter Milllett here, author of The Anzac Puppy. Yes, my book would be safe intro to war for younger readers. It focuses on a friendship between a soldier and a dog with no upsetting scenes. It should be available in OZ via Scholastic Books. Drop me a line if its not. Cheers, Pete

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