Friday, 17 April 2015

ANZAC Boys – Tony Bradman – Barrington Stoke - Challenged Reader Review

Reading Age 8
Interest Age 10+

The Anzac Boy’s is an emotional read, which although part of Barrington Stokes titles that have been published to commemorate the centenary of WWI is much more than a story of war. Tony weaves a story that comments on many things posing poignant questions about war and the treatment of vulnerable children, but its core is family.

The ANZAC Boys explores the complexity of family; loss, regret, hurt, hate and ultimately understanding and forgiveness, as it follows the path of two brothers Bert and Frank who at the tender ages of 12 and 9 have already lost much; both parents, their home, and soon their country as the orphanage where they reside ships them off to the new world. After the long journey the two boys are parted as The Church sends Frank to New Zealand and Bert to an orphanage in Australia. Bert is riddled with guilt for breaking a promise he made to Frank that he would take care of him, and over the next four years tries to contact his brother with no avail.

‘The cart I was in swung left, and Frank’s to the right. I watched in horror as Frank’s cart vanished into the gloom.
It was a week before they told me my brother had been sent to New Zealand.’

Tony has penned a book that within a frugal word count, really shows the atrocity of the treatment of the vulnerable children in the care of The Catholic Church, who were forced to work hard labour, sub-let out to farmer and ranchers with no pay or care for their welfare. As Bert grows into a man he begins to question the church’s methods and the merits of the education that it provides especially when he turns sixteen and he receives a letter from the intuition to tell him he must fend for himself.

‘I worked from dawn to dusk for a dour, mean farmer who treated me like a slave.’
‘Nobody cared if I lived or died. There were moments I wasn’t sure that I cared myself.’

Bert embraces his freedom and sets out to better his life and find Frank, despite contacting every orphanage in New Zealand he has no luck and with the onset of world war one joins the Australian Imperial Army. Whilst on his way with the rest of the combined Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the ANZACs, Bert is reunited with less than enthusiastic Frank, who is now grown and heading into battle too.

‘I was staring at one of the Kiwis, and he was staring back at me.
“I… don’t believe it,” I murmured. I felt like I was in a dream. “Frank?” I said. “Frank?”
The Kiwi knocked over his hair as he stood up. His face was white and hard with rage.’

As the brothers are sent to Gallipoi, Bert tries to win back his brother affection in a world of death and destruction. The ANZAC Boys explores many complex and difficult issues, with the details of horrifying situations are weaved together in a tactful and subtle way yet persevering the gravity and emotional impact.

‘The 25th of April 1915 was the worst day of my life, even worse than the day Mum died or the day Frank and I were separated.’
‘It was utter chaos – brutal and bloody and awful. ‘

The Anzac boys which is inspired by the real life and is a testament to the power of verbal storytelling which had preserved a very personal story for almost one hundred years, before Tony chose it as the basis of this moving story of family bonds and perseverance.

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