Wednesday, January 11, 2017

An eagle in the snow by Michael Morpurgo

A what if story based on 'true events' - perhaps they are true perhaps they are not.  Either way the story telling in this book by Michael Morpurgo is quite compelling.  One other thing that makes this story easy to read is the white space and large font size - perfect for Middle Primary readers.

Barney and his mother are travelling away from Coventry which has been badly bombed during WWII.  Their home is lost :

"We found the world about us a place of rubble and ruin, hot with fires that were still smoldering everywhere...  Only the lamppost was left, the one outside where our house had been, the one that shone into my window at night-times."

In the train carriage with Ma and Barney there is a man who has a story to tell.  The story of a friend who served as a private in World War I. The train is bombed and the group are stranded in the dark in a tunnel.  The man has five matches and as each is struck he recounts the story of Billy Byron.

Michael Morpurgo based his story on the life of Private Henry Tandey who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Military Medal and Victoria Cross. Only 628 of these were awarded mainly to officers.  Clearly he was a brave man but the myth or story is that he may also have spared the life of a young German solider who was actually Hitler.

"A little fellow, bareheaded he was, no cap, his uniform covered in mud. He stands there, looking back at us, staring. ... He pushes his dark hair off his forehead with the back of his hand ... 'Don't shoot him lads.  There's been enough killing done today."

If you read this book make sure you read the Afterword which explains the historical details.  You might also read this article from the BBC with a different point of view about this possibility.  One detail referred to in all versions of this story is the painting part of which you can see below of Private Tandey.  Hitler supposedly had a copy of this painting which he showed to the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

Listen to an audio sample.  Here is the trailer from the publisher.  I picked up An eagle in the Snow because it featured in our NSW School magazine Bookshelf titles for 2016.

I would also recommend When Hitler Stole Pink rabbit, Carrie's war, Vinnie's war, Hurricane Summer by Robert Swindells, Christmas in the trenches and another book by Michael Morpurgo An Elephant in the garden.

Michael Foreman has illustrated nearly all Michael Morpurgo books.  Here is one of the illustrations from this book.

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