Dorothy Neal White
Newsletter 39
May 2008


This year’s Annual General Meeting will be followed by an event with a difference. In 2007 the National Library Gallery celebrated the centenary of Reed Publishing with a great exhibition Good books make good citizens: 100 years of Reed Publishing”. To quote the press release “This is a familiar and iconic world of good keen men, rugged high country adventures, colonial epics and mischievous pohutukawa fairies.”

Inspired by the latter, Susan Bartel (Turnbull Promotions) asked Lynne Jackett if she could adapt a story from Avis Acres’ adventures of Hutu and Kawa for performance in the exhibition’s related events programme. She could – and National Library staff dressed up and enacted this thrilling tale for an audience of public and children (and staff, astounded at their colleagues’ talent). Much fun was had by all – and very fortunately for us the whole performance of Hutu and Kawa find an island was captured on video and this has been made available to entertain Friends at the AGM.

An evening not to be missed!

Image of The cast of  the adaption of Avis Acres’ adventures of Hutu and Kawa
The cast of the adaption of Avis Acres’ adventures of Hutu and Kawa

Cast of Hutu and Kawa at the end of their performance,

National Library Auditorium, November 2007

To give the best venue for the showing of the video the Annual General Meeting of the Friends will be held this year in the National Library Auditorium on Wednesday 28 May 2008. We will meet for preliminary drinks and nibbles in the Auditorium foyer from 5.30pm and the AGM will follow at 6pm.

All the current committee members are happy to remain on the committee for 2008-2009, although Emma intends to step down as President. Very fortunately, committee member David Retter is willing to take on this role if this suits the membership (you will find a profile of David later in the newsletter).

The proposed 2008-2009 Committee is:

Patron: Margaret Mahy
President: David Retter
Treasurer: Trevor Mowbray
Correspondence Secretary: Barbara Robertson
Notetaker: Lynne Jackett
Newsletter: Joan McCracken
Committee: Janet Blake, Tania Connelly, Audrey Cooper, Alison
Grant, Mary Hutton, Emma MacDonald.
If any other members would like to join this enthusiastic group please contact Emma MacDonald or phone 917 2967 (day).

Copies of the full minutes of the 2007 AGM were sent out with the September 2007 newsletter and are also available on the website

An important topic for the AGM will be a decision about the future of the FDNW Scholarship – for more details see the Scholarship report below.


It is also time for subscriptions to be renewed. The 2007 Annual General Meeting agreed to hold the subscription rate at $20 a year. You may also like to make a contribution to the Scholarship fund so we can continue and / or increase the amount we are able to offer a student doing research based on the DNW Collection. A separate line has been included on the form for those Friends who would like to make such a donation. We will be very happy to accept your payment at the AGM, or post it to the address given on the form.
Link to membership form.


We are delighted to announce that Bea Turner has been awarded the Friends’ Scholarship for this year. Bea intends to use the Collection to interrogate the Victorian myths of childhood through the representation of the child and the world in fantasy literature and fairytales of the period. We will present Bea with the scholarship and she will give a brief presentation about her research at the AGM.

As agreed at the 2007 AGM, a small committee has been looking at the future of the Scholarship. It is the recommendation of this group that the Scholarship be extended to students outside Wellington, and a proposal to this effect will be tabled at the AGM for ratification by the membership.


Susan is delighted that Angelina Sbroma has taken up the scholarship to undertake research in the Susan Price Collection. We had intended to hold a celebratory event at the Price family home earlier this year, however, because of ill-health, this was not possible. I am sure members of the Friends will join the Committee in wishing Susan and Hugh Price full recoveries and will be thinking of Beverley as she supports them through their treatments.

At the launch of Notes, Books, Authors, Number 10: Willingly to War by Andrew Francis in September 2007, Susan entertained Friends with a fascinating talk on six books for children set in World War I. Susan has very kindly provided a summary of her talk and it is included on p10 of this newsletter.



The first part of 2008 has been busy. My first challenge for the year was to write and present the Selection module for the Children’s Literature option in Victoria University’s Master of Library and Information Science. Actually, writing it wasn’t so bad, but presenting it to the class via audio conference with simultaneous online “chat” really kept me on my toes!

Cover of Little Black Sambo

The MLIS module included a section on censorship, so I was up to date with the topic when the Society of Authors and Wellington City Libraries celebrated banned books week in late February. I read one of my childhood favourites, Little Black Sambo, to audiences at Johnsonville and Newtown Public Libraries. The story itself is not at all racist. The problem lies with the name “Sambo” which was considered by earlier generations of African Americans to be a pejorative term. Apparently it is no longer considered a racist name. The other reason the book was disliked was because Helen Bannerman’s illustrations were considered to portray racial stereotypes – again African American, which is odd, as the characters and setting are Indian! My theory is that Bannerman, while a skilled writer, was an inept illustrator and just drew badly. She was then poorly served by the printing processes of the time. As a small Samoan boy in the Newtown audience noted “They probably didn’t like him because he was so very, very black!” – and he pointed to the over-inked image of Sambo which was so dark it was hard to see any of his features at all.


There is a large number of researchers at present. One or two are studying for post-graduate degrees at Victoria University of Wellington. Most of them, however, are enrolled in the paper ENG 444 Pirates, fags and new women: Victorian and Edwardian adolescent fiction. They visit in groups of 3 or 4 to look at publications in the Annuals and Serials sequence, and appear to be enjoying their research.


The Christmas display featuring numerous illustrators’ interpretations of A visit from Saint Nicholas has now been replaced by “Yarooooh! Oh crikey!” “Oh, poop, poop!” Happy 100th birthday to … – a celebration of some of the children’s book character anniversaries that fall in 2008. I am now working on a display that will feature the work of British illustrators Posy Simmonds and Charles Keeping. This will be linked to two exhibitions in the main Gallery that will open in August.

Can any of you help with this mystery?

A Friend recalls a book she read in the mid-1940s. She is fairly sure it had a red cover. It had black and white illustrations. The main protagonist may have been called Peter Piper and he goes to London. There are fields. He may have played a flute and she thinks it featured Gog and Magog. Does this book ring a bell with anyone? If yes, please contact Lynne (04 474 3084 or email so she can pass the information on.

Lynne Jackett

Research Librarian, Dorothy Neal White Collection & National Childrens Collection


University of Auckland education lecturer Wayne Mills, initiator of children’s literature quizzes in New Zealand and internationally, is the winner of the 2008 Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal and Lecture Award. The award recognises Wayne Mills’ achievement in establishing the popular Kids’ Lit Quiz held annually in New Zealand and in 2003 expanding this to an international event. ‘Wayne Mills is widely regarded as one of New Zealand’s foremost authorities on children’s and young adult books,’ says Dr Libby Limbrick, chair of the Storylines Trust and Head of the School of Arts, Languages and Literacies at the Faculty of Education, University of Auckland. ‘He has made an outstanding contribution to children’s literacy both in New Zealand and in countries participating in the Kids’ Lit Quiz, inspiring young readers, their parents and teachers.’

From the first event featuring 14 teams, held in Waikato in 1991, the quizzes have grown to 423 teams from 244 schools competing around New Zealand.

The Margaret Mahy Medal was presented to Wayne Mills at the Storylines Children’s Literature Trust’s annual Margaret Mahy Day in Auckland on Saturday 29 March 2008.

Storylines website


Sir John White


One of the long-time members of the Friends, Sir John White, died at the end of 2007. Sir John and Lady White regularly attended meetings and donated books to the collection. Lady Elspeth White was the author of our Note-Books-Authors 3 Mrs George Cupples (1989).

The life of Sir John White was long, well lived and full of love: for his wife and family, his profession and his country. He was born in Dunedin in 1912. His family moved to Wellington in the early 1920s and he followed a well-established tradition when he decided to study law at Victoria University College.

Like many young lawyers in those days, when he graduated he learned shorthand and typing. This enabled him to become a judge’s associate – first for Mr Justice Ostler and later, Mr Justice Qulliam. The shorthand, however, was to lead to more than experience in the courts.

General Freyberg interviewed him in 1939 for the position of his PA/ADC. Thanks to his shorthand and typing skills, within 36 hours John White was given the position, commissioned, uniformed and dispatched abroad. He kept Freyberg’s diary and developed into an excellent photographer. Sir John’s wartime experience was extraordinary – it shaped him and remained a thread throughout his life until he died.

After the war, he went into practice, and was actively involved in the legal community. In 1966 he was appointed Solicitor General and QC. In 1970 he became a Judge of what was then called the Supreme Court and remained so for 15 years. Following retirement in 1985 he continued as an Acting Judge in New Zealand and was also invited to conduct a Royal Commission in Fiji and sit as Acting Chief Justice and a member of the Court of Appeal of the Solomon Islands. His contribution to law in the Pacific was significant.

Sir John will be remembered as courteous, patient, compassionate and understanding. He made an outstanding contribution to the law and we are the lesser for his passing.

Our sympathy goes to Sir John White’s family.

Adapted from the Obituary written by David Collins QC, Honorary Fellow, VUW Law Faculty

Published in A year in review 2007, Victoria University of Wellington, Law Faculty

Bruce Morris

It is with sadness that we note the death of Bruce Morris, former Friends’ Committee member and Wellington children’s bookshop owner. Bruce passed away on the 12th of November in Kingston Hospital, London, from pneumonia. Bruce was in the terminal stages of MS.

Anne de Roo

Born Gore, 23 September 1931
Died Palmerston North, 6 September 2007

New Zealand author Anne de Roo wrote many well-known books for older children. She began writing while still at school, even then having a need to write as urgent as the need to breathe. She arrived at Canterbury University College from the North Island in 1951, and was persuaded to show her work to the Professor of English, John Garrett, who encouraged her.

Recognising in the shy, serious young woman both her isolation, and her intellectual and theological interests, Garrett suggested that she might join the Student Christian Movement. Here she found congenial peers and an easy blend of serious discussion and socialisation. She learnt to have fun, making lifelong friends.

After graduating a breakdown led to voluntary hospitalisation. She was luckier than Janet Frame, a few years earlier, as at least one psychiatrist was understanding, although thereafter depression always lurked. The friendship of Rosalie and Patric Carey in Dunedin helped her through a bad time. And she became involved in the Globe Theatre community there.

In 1961 she decided to go to England, realised that the background for he writing would always be New Zealand. Before she left she covered large areas of the South Island on a Moped, with a tent, to refresh her memories of various locales. Letters written from England in the early 1960s, and the accounts of friends who know her there, show the amazing fortitude with which she struggled to make a bare living, always writing in any time she could snatch. Often enduring wretched living conditions, she worked as a governess, handyman-gardener, egg-collector – anything that would bring in a little money and give her time to write. In a letter to a friend in 1967, after years of rejection, she wrote of her disbelief and euphoria of having her book The gold dog accepted by Hart Davis. She had a £50 cheque on the bookcase, “to be gloated over until I unwillingly hand it over to the bank and with it, I suppose, the most exciting month of my life. I’ve spent years coming to some sad sort of terms with the futility of myself as a failed writer. It’s early yet to come to terms with myself as the author of at least one published book.”

Cover of Jacky Nobody

But that one novice book was the precursor of a steady output. Stories came flowing from respected publishing houses. They were set in areas form North Cape to North Otago and were often historical. Two of her books, Traveller, set in the MacKenzie Country, and Jacky Nobody, a story of Russell at the time of Hone Heke, are included in the list of 100 best New Zealand books of all time.

She returned to New Zealand in 1973, settling in Palmerston North. Here she again became involved in theatre, and soon a new sort of writing took hold of her. In 1978 her musical pantomime, The dragon master, was produced with great success at the Opera House. In 1983, Jacky Nobody, after multiple rejections, was accepted by Methuen, who were rewarded when it was chosen as NZ Children’s Book of the Year. A financial breakthrough came when a Norwegian publisher bought the rights to Boy and the sea beast. Then Traveller was taken up by the Japanese as a school text. The royalties that followed these successes enabled her at last to own the roof over head, a tiny railway worker’s cottage in Palmerston North.

The same tenacity led her to complete a taxing theology course in later life, and to launch a small business, Church Mouse Press, when the wider publishing world closed its doors. Sadly, changing tastes made her books less publishable. “A bit of sex needed”, one publishing agent told her. She decided to write no more children’s books except for small religious ones, but still kept writing up to the last few weeks of her life.

Her last unpublished book, Letters to Julian, is an adult novel drawing on her fascination with the 14th century mystic, Julian of Norwich. Her love of history and of Christian theology come into their own. Two parallel stories are ingeniously woven together, one modern, the other medieval.

With characteristic courage, Andy, as Christchurch friends called her, wrote a hymn for her funeral service and expressed decided opinions about the organisation of this ceremony.

Reprinted from The Press, Christchurch
Obituaries: Bruce Rennie


Keep up-to-date with information about books for children by New Zealand writers and illustrators.

New Zealand Children’s Books in Print is a fully annotated catalogue of children’s books currently in print for children from birth to secondary school, plus teacher/parent resource books, by New Zealand authors and illustrators (excluding text books or series readers). It includes fiction, poetry and non-fiction. Titles published both in New Zealand and overseas are included.

Listings include full publication information, a short description and age recommendations. There are five indexes – by author, illustrator, photographer, translator and title.

This publication is a useful resource for librarians, teachers, authors and illustrators, booksellers, publishers and others interested in children’s books.

Copies can be ordered now – only $16.00 plus p&p. Send your order by email to Crissi Blair, phone or post and your copy will be sent to you with an invoice.

Crissi Blair


The 15th annual Storylines Festival of New Zealand Children’s Writers and Illustrators will be held this year from 5 to 8 June. International guests Babette Cole (UK) and Carole Wilkinson (Australia) will join over 50 New Zealand writers, illustrators, storytellers and performers in free Family Days in Auckland, Wellington, Whangarei and, for the first time ever, in Christchurch.

Cartoon logo for Storylines

The Wellington Family Day will be held in a new venue this year – at Te Whaea Dance & Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Road, Newtown, on Sunday 8 June 2008, from 10am-3pm. The day will include story-telling, performances, book making, artists in action, and the opportunity to meet Hairy Maclary and enter the birthday card competition to celebrate his 25th birthday.

Illustration by Babette Cole (from

As part of the Festival the Heritage Hotel seminar will be held in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The theme this year is From fabulous to familiar and will feature Babette Cole and Carole Wilkinson with a local chair. In Wellington the seminar will be held in the National Library Auditorium on Thursday 12 June 2008, with drinks and nibbles in the foyer from 6.30pm.

Storylines logo

The seminar will start at 7pm and will be followed by book signing. The Chair will be Dylan Owen (National Advisor for the National Library Schools Collection in Wellington and the convenor of judges for the 2008 New Zealand Post Book Awards).

More details about the events throughout the country are available on the Storylines website

Ham Sandwiches and Lashings of Ginger Beer
An introductory ramble from the newest committee memberNo child ever left Miss Johnson’s primer class at Northcote School, Christchurch, without being able to read; she considered it her mission in life and was a patient and kind teacher. My mother can still embarrassingly recall tales of the homework reading of Chicken Licken, Hen Len, Duck Luck and the sky falling!

Another of my most vivid memories of childhood reading is being taken by my grandmother to Smith’s Bookshop in Christchurch to buy Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. Every school holiday she would take me to town to buy the next one in the series, second-hand of course; I think they cost about 6d, until I had them all (and still do). English-born, I guess it was as close to an English childhood as I could get. We would follow each purchase with ham sandwiches and lashings of ginger beer at the Dainty Inn in High Street and marvel at its aerial mechanism that sent orders to the kitchen. Then my grandmother would go to one of those private lending libraries a few doors down for her own reading requirements.

Much later, having joined the staff of National Archives (now Archives New Zealand) in 1978, with a shiny new MA and little idea of what I wanted to do with it, I quickly found my niche in the Reference team answering mountains of public enquiries (all two of us, and, dear reader, I quickly married the other archivist!). I moved to the Alexander Turnbull Library in 1980 and organised research services from the Manuscripts and Archives collections until 2001 when I became Team Leader in the Library’s Research Centre.

I took early retirement from the Library in March 2007 and since that time I have been catching up on some personal research projects that I had never really had time to pursue.

I am conducting research around the First World War in general and on children’s literature in particular, looking at the nature of education, imperialism, patriotism, conscientious objection, heroism, duty, honour, fear, death and memory.

I have been enjoying reading all the ‘classics’:

The Boy Scouts and the Army Airship (Howard Payson, 1914)

Fighting in the Clouds for France (James Fiske, 1915)

The Young Reporter at the Battle Front (Howard Garis, 1915)

From Billabong to London also Jim and Wally and Captain Jim (Mary Grant Bruce, 1915, 1916 & 1919)

Dreadnoughts of the Dogger: a Story of the War on the North Sea (Robert Leighton, 1916)

The Red Cross Girls in the British Trenches and … in the French Firing Line (Margaret Vandercook, both 1916)

A Hero of Liège, also Burton of the Flying Corps and Stories of War and Peace (Herbert Strang, 1914, 1916 & 1917)

At Grips With the Turk, also Under Haig in Flanders and With the Allies on the Rhine (F S Brereton, 1916, 1917 & 1919)

The Boy Allies on the Somme and … at Verdun (both Clair Hayes, 1917)

Image of Cover of A Patriotic School Girl

A Patriotic Schoolgirl (Angela Brazil, 1918)

Ruth Fielding at the War Front (Alice Emerson, 1918)

A Lively Bit of the Front: a Tale of the New Zealand Rifles on the Western Front and To the Fore With the Tanks! (both Percy Westerman, 1918)

The Young Anzacs, also The Anzac War-Trail and The Aussie Crusaders (Joseph Bowes, 1918, 1919 & 1920)

Tom Slade with the Boys Over There (Percy Fitzhugh, 1918)

The Brighton Boys with the Flying Corps and … in the Trenches (both James Driscoll, 1918)

Tommy of the Tanks (Escott Lynn, 1919)

Uncle Sam’s Boys Smash the Germans (Irving Hancock, 1919); and Thrilling Deeds of British Airmen and How We Baffled the Germans: the Exciting Adventures of Two Boys in South-West Africa (Eric Wood, 1917 & 1919);

not forgetting the lovely Empire and Oxford Annuals and also some of the pre-war reading: With Clive in India and A Dash for Khartoum (G A Henty, 1884 & 1892); Soldiers of the Queen (Harold Avery, 1898); Scouting for Buller (Herbert Hayens, 1902); Brave Deeds of Youthful Heroes (Religious Tract Society, 1905) and A Collegian in Khaki (William Johnston, 1910). All supplemented with works like: Marksmanship for Boys and My Adventures as a Spy (both Baden-Powell, 1914); The War, 1914: a History and an Explanation for Boys and Girls (Elizabeth O’Neill, 1914) and The British Army Book (P Danby & C Field, 1915). I think shell-shock is starting to set in!

I have been happily mining the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library, the National Library’s General Lending Collection and of course, the Dorothy Neal White Collection, with masses still to do there.

Ah, life on the other side of the public counter….

David Retter
FDNW Committee

Six Children’s Books about the First World War

Summary of a talk given by Susan Price to the Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection on 19th September 2007 on the occasion of the launch of Notes, Books, Authors, Number10: Willingly to War by Andrew Francis.

I have chosen some books written about the First World War to share with you. From the many available in the Susan Price Collection I have selected just six. Most were written well after 1918, but these titles complement Andrew’s study of the attitudes reflected in the Boys’ Own Paper and similar publications in the decade before the First World War.

For many in the western world, the War changed everything. The catastrophic years 1914-18 caused an upheaval of thought. After the war many writers rejected the class-ridden, racist, jingoistic, and imperialist stance of the Edwardian years, and this was reflected in the 1930s, when a growing number of stories began to appear about children of many races, and from a wider variety of backgrounds. Armstrong Sperry’s Call it Courage (1940) about a Polynesian boy, Kate Seredy’s The Singing Tree (1939) about Hungarians who fought on the German side in the First World War, Enid Bagnold’s National Velvet (1930) about the courageous daughter of a butcher, and Eve Garnett’s Family from One End Street (1937) about the children of a washerwoman and a dustman, all have a post-war flavour. These writers had more of a world view, and wished to open children’s minds to a less nationalistic and less class-ridden society.

Many of the famous children’s writers of the 1920s – 1940s had seen and experienced the horrors of conflict at first hand, and wanted to write about peace, not war. Naomi Mitchison and Enid Bagnold had served as VADs (volunteer nurses), AA Milne and Ernest Shepard had been in the front line, and Arthur Ransome was in Russia at the time of the Revolution in 1917. Noel Streatfeild matured suddenly at the age of 19, when a favourite cousin on leave, who could not stop vomiting, told her about life in the trenches. Very soon he was killed.

Some ex-servicemen, however, still wanted to write about the excitements of war, not peace. Not all writers for children were able to shake off Edwardian attitudes. W E Johns, who wrote Biggles, and C S Lewis who created Narnia, both emerged from their war experiences captivated by the drama of combat, and each produced series of books that glorified conflict. Incredibly, C S Lewis wrote about the wounded of Narnia being healed, instantly, by a magic cordial!! If only…!

War is an important theme in modern children’s literature, and the books I have chosen to share with you all treat war honestly… the writers try to tell the truth (though children are too young for the whole truth). War is not glorious, but causes searing, enduring pain. I have a large collection of books that tell of the tragedy of the First World War, and it was hard to choose a mere six to share with you today. I shall begin with a story for eight year olds, and end with a novel for young adults.

1) Lucy Fitch Perkins The Belgian Twins (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1917)(London: Jonathan Cape, 1940)

Look at that first publication date – 1917! The Belgian Twins was the first realistic war novel written for eight year olds. It was based on the true story (even the locket part of it was true) of the German invasion of Belgium in August 1914, when two young children, Jan and Marie, become separated from their parents.

Image of open book The Belgian Twins

They finally reach Holland and are sent to New York, via England, as war orphans. In America the twins are fostered by a Belgian woman who had emigrated to the USA years earlier. To her amazement she discovers that the locket Marie is wearing holds a photograph of her own sister! Eventually the family is reunited.

2) K M Peyton Flambards in Summer (London: Oxford University Press, 1969)

Cover of Flambards in Summer

This novel, the third in the Flambards trilogy, had a profound effect on me when I was 13 in 1973. These chilling sentences appear in the opening pages:

But in 1916 a young woman dressed in mourning did not evoke a second glance. There were too many of them.

As soon as I read this I knew I had found something that mattered deeply. As I read Flambards in Summer I began to comprehend the scale of the disaster and human suffering that was the First World War. The almost sixty year gap between 1916 and 1973 became insignificant as I identified with the newly widowed Christina. Reading this engrossing story helped shape my belief system: the suffering caused by war is so often pointless. I have given the Flambards trilogy to about twenty-five youngsters over the last twenty years.

3) Marjorie Darke A Long Way to Go (London: Kestrel Books (Penguin), 1978)

Cover of A Long Way to Go

A Long Way to Go is an important book on several levels. It is the story of a black family living in London in 1914, a time when Britain had a very small black population. But not only does Luke Knight belong to an ethnic minority; he also thinks fighting is wrong. Those who refused to fight in the First World War had a tough time, and Luke had four years of intense suffering. We also meet Luke’s twin sister Bella who had been a suffragette, and who cannot understand why Luke was a conscientious objector. In this balanced, honest novel readers are given the chance to explore differing points of view.

4) Judith O’Neill Deepwater (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987)

Deepwater is a novel that would be of particular interest to Andrew Francis because of his interest in the build-up of anti-German attitudes before 1914. The story is set in rural Australia, 200 miles from Melbourne. The farming families are struggling with severe drought, and some of them take their frustrations out on the Henschke family, even though the Henschkes had been born in Australia, could not speak German, and whose eldest son had joined the Australian army. Deepwater paints a vivid picture of the vicious anti-German hysteria of the time.

5) Jennifer Beck The Bantam and the Soldier, ilustrated by Robin Belton (Auckland: Scholastic, 1996)

Jennifer Beck The Bantam and the Soldier, ilustrated by Robin Belton (Auckland: Scholastic, 1996)

Among a number of fine New Zealand stories about the First World War The Bantam and the Soldier stands out because of its superb illustrations. The picture book for older readers is a growing genre in children’s literature, and is an excellent development. Pictures, especially about an historical setting, often convey so much more than words. Belton’s sensitive drawings show something of what it was like to be in the front line in 1917. In the trenches Arthur managed to keep his sanity by caring for a bantam hen he found trapped in a hedge after an explosion. When Arthur returned to New Zealand he (like so many soldiers) did not want to talk about his war experiences, but he found he could tell the story of Bertha the bantam…and that, too, was therapeutic.

6) David Metzenthen Boys of Blood and Bone (Melbourne, Penguin Books, 2003)

David Metzenthen Boys of Blood and Bone (Melbourne, Penguin Books, 2003)

Boys of Blood and Bone is for mature young adults. Andy, a young Australian soldier, dies in France in 1918, but before leaving home, he has made a girl, Frances- Jane, pregnant. This links the paired plots of the novel together, because the baby grew up and had descendants, helping to keep Andy’s memory alive in the small outback town where he grew up. We meet Janine, his great-granddaughter, who by 2000 is a young woman, and we also meet Miss Hainsworth, the woman whom Andy had really wanted to marry: she is still alert at 101.

In 1917 a young man was encouraged to volunteer to fight and kill and perhaps die. Andy’s bravery was admired, but society was shocked that he had made a girl pregnant. Warfare was seen as noble: creating new life, out of wedlock, was not. Boys of Blood and Bone explores the differing values of 1917 and 2000.

The young people of 2000 suffer their own tragedy when Janine’s boyfriend is killed in a car accident. One death is shocking – how must it have felt in 1914-18 when thousands of boys were dying every month? Boys of Blood and Bone tackles some of the questions I have often thought about. What it would be like, having to climb over the top of a trench into a hail of shells and bullets? How did men find the courage to face almost certain death? How did they stay sane in the middle of such horrifying carnage? If I had been there I would probably have gone mad, and been shot for desertion.

In this book, partly through the use of diary entries, David Metzenthen uses some of the language and thought processes of young men who grew up a century ago, and makes their lives vivid. Boys of Blood and Bone is a compelling novel which I would recommend to anyone who really wants to know about life on the Western Front in 1917 and 1918. I have shared this book with several adolescents who wished to understand the First World War.


These six books, published from the 1930s to the present day, demonstrate a profound shift in writers’ attitudes. Andrew Francis has shown that Edwardian stories taught that war was glorious, that the British were honest and the Germans evil. The books I have described show a greater humanity and a greater realism.


New on the FDNW website:

the August 2007 newsletter & this May 2008 newsletter
the AGM minutes
news about bookplate project

Suggestions and contributions to the site are welcomed by webmaster Jeff Hunt -phone 04 479 6123 or email or contact him through the website


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