Today I give you not one but two books by award winning author and Children's Laureate (2003 - 2005) MICHAEL MORPURGO.
WARNING: The following paragraph contains what some readers may view as spoilers, highlight if you wish to do so by scrolling over the text.
Though fictional both books are based on actual events. The first, the story of a fictional character, one of the many young soldiers executed by firing squad between 1914 and 1918 for the crime(s) of desertion, cowardice, simply falling asleep at their post. The second, the story of a fictional character based on the individuals who, destined to end their lives in a concentration camp, literally, using their musical abilities, played to save their lives.
As young Thomas Peaceful looks back over his childhood from the war-torn battlefields of France, his memories are full of family life deep in the countryside.
But the clock is ticking, and every moment Tommo spends remembering how things used to be, means another moment closer to something which will change his life forever.
....... Outer back cover.
FIRST SENTENCE (Five past ten): They've gone now, and I'm alone at last.
MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 124): I'm overwhelmed by fear, numbed by it, and for the moment that fear banishes the wretched discomfort of my wet feet and frozen hands.
MY THOUGHTS: Narrated by younger sibling Thomas 'Tommo' Peaceful (not quite 16) Private Peaceful is the fictional but heartbreaking story (I advise you have your tissues at the ready) of a young man's recollections not just of the battlefields of First World France but of his childhood home.
A deeply moving novel with a storyline that takes a glimpse at several issues other than that of war (disability, bullying and class to name but a few) this is a story not just about conflict but about friendship, love and loyalty and, perhaps most of all, humanity.
Obviously thoroughly researched, as a book aimed at children (the recommended reading age for this is 10+) Michael Morpurgo, as you might expect, does remarkably well to pitch the story so that the reader is left in no uncertainty about the horrors of war without it being too harrowing a read.
THE MOZART QUESTION.
"The time has come, I think, not to lie any more."
When cub reporter Lesley is sent to Venice to interview a world-renowned violinist, the journalist is told she can ask Paolo Levi anything about his life and career as a musician, but on no account must she ask him the Mozart question.
Paolo has finally realized he must reveal the truth.
..... Inner front cover.
FIRST SENTENCE (Page 7): The question I am most often asked is always easy enough to answer.
MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 54) "....Every performance was your best performance, not to please them, but to show them what you could do, to prove to them how good you were despite all they were doing to humiliate you, to destroy you in body and soul....."
MY THOUGHTS: For all it's simplicity, perhaps because of it, this is actually my favourite read of the three Michael Murpurgo books I've so far read. (See my review of The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips HERE)
As a beautifully written novella, The Mozart Question is a very short and quick read (75 or so pages) made even shorter by all of the illustrations (many of them double pages) which it has to be said, though excellently done, did nothing for my overall enjoyment of this tremendous story.
A simple but great way to introduce the whole topic of World War Two and, not wishing to say too much, the holocaust to younger readers (I know this would sit beautifully on the school curriculum for those in primary schools), though as an older, much older, reader I nevertheless found this a remarkably enjoyable and, indeed, poignant read.
KEEP THEM OR NOT?: Both lent to me by a friend (thanks Anya), I do not think I shall be purchasing a copy of Private Peaceful but intend to purchase a copy of The Mozart Question for the shelves.