Showing posts with label War Horse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label War Horse. Show all posts

Friday, 7 December 2012

Giveaway - win a copy of Michael Morpurgo's brilliant new novel

Michael Morpurgo is one of the most prolific writers around. He began writing stories as a primary schoolteacher 40 years ago and has since written more than 120 books. I remember my two children excitedly discovering The Butterfly Lion, a tale that so enthralled them that they proceeded to whizz through every other Morpurgo book they could lay their hands on.

Morpurgo, who was children’s laureate from 2003 to 2005, has the knack of writing books that catapult you into a different world. And none more so than his latest novel, A Medal for Leroy.

Partly inspired by Morpurgo’s own life and partly by the life of Walter Tull, the only black soldier to serve in the British Army during the First World War, A Medal for Leroy is a poignant story, movingly told.

As Morpurgo explains: “Walter Tull was the inspiration for Leroy in my story. This extraordinary young man had grown up in an orphanage in London, had played football for Spurs, then joined up with his pals when war began in 1914.

“He was incredibly brave in the field of battle and deserved a medal for gallantry. He never received one. He died leading his men into attack in 1918. He has no known grave. Many of the issues raised in this book spring from the life and death of this brave young man. This is why the book is dedicated to his memory.”

A Medal for Leroy, charmingly illustrated by Michael Foreman, is the story of Michael, a little boy living in London with his French mother after the Second World War.

Michael’s father died a hero before he was born, shot down in a dogfight over the Channel in 1940. But Michael has one of his medals and occasionally visits his two aged aunts, Auntie Pish and Auntie Snowdrop, to scatter snowdrops on the sea in his memory.

After Auntie Snowdrop's death, Michael discovers a writing pad tucked behind a photograph of his father. It's filled with his aunt's writing and contains family secrets that have remained hidden for years. “I knew even as I began to read – and I have no idea how I knew – that my life would be changed forever," says Michael, "that after I’d read this I would never be the same person again.”

Morpurgo has had a stupendous year. First the movies of War Horse and Private Peaceful (weepies, both of them) hit the big screen, and now he has written this fine new novel. Suitable for children aged nine and over, it is compelling and thought-provoking. Vintage Morpurgo.

Thanks to HarperCollins, I have two copies of A Medal for Leroy to give away. All you have to do is leave a comment about your favourite children's book at the end of this post.

This giveaway is open to readers with UK postal addresses only.

Plus, as a special Christmas promotion, you can buy A Medal for Leroy and get Little Manfred free.  Find out more here.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Two films for half term - Madagascar 3 and Private Peaceful

For the first time in 18 years I haven’t got a clue when half term actually is. It might be this week but then again it could be next. In the past I’d be rushing out to get Halloween pumpkins and planning what to do on Bonfire Night – but now my son and daughter are at university I don’t have to do any of it (sob).

But ironically I was invited to two film previews recently – both for new children’s movies being released in time for half term. Actually, when I pitched up for the screening of Madagascar 3 - Europe's Most Wanted at the Empire in London's Leicester Square I nearly made my excuses and left. The vast auditorium was filled with harassed looking parents and small children clutching balloons, Chupa Chip lollies (they were being handed out for free) and geeky 3D glasses. I felt a bit like a spare part.

But I stayed – and I’m so glad I did. With its stunning animation and madcap characters, Madagascar 3 is 80 minutes well spent. Children will love the crazy tale of New York zoo escapees Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), while adults will chuckle at the in-jokes and witty script.

The plot is silly to say the least, but it doesn’t matter a jot. I hadn’t seen the two earlier Madagascar films but the latest instalment takes up where the previous ones left off. The four animals are living in Africa but they’re bored stiff with their natural habitat and are desperate to head home to the hustle and bustle of New York. So that’s what they do, except along the way there’s a manic car chase through Monte Carlo, a train ride across Europe (where they join a travelling circus) and a dazzling circus performance in London. Best of all, it’s got the best movie villain I’ve seen in a long time –  the utterly terrifying Chantel Du Bois (voiced by Frances McDormand), a French cop who looks like Cruella de Vil and sounds like something out of  ‘Allo, ‘Allo.

But if your children are older and you’re after a more serious movie, then Private Peaceful is just the thing.

Private Peaceful is apparently Michael Morpurgo’s favourite of all the books he has written. It's a shame that the film adaptation has been released so soon after War Horse because it covers – with far less fanfare - much of the same First World War territory. In many ways it reminded me of the Sunday afternoon dramas I used to watch on TV as a child. The story of two brothers who fall in love with the same girl and then both sign up, a decision that ultimately leads to tragedy, it’s moving, thought-provoking and beautifully done. Oh, and any film that stars the brilliant Maxine Peake (as the boys' mum) is fine by me.

Madagascar 3, certificate PG, and Private Peaceful, certificate 12A, are showing in UK cinemas now.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Friday book review - Farm Boy by Michael Morpurgo

My husband’s the only person I know who didn’t cry at War Horse. Everyone else wept buckets - during the play, during Steven Spielberg’s lavish, Oscar-nominated movie or (in my case) both. Actually, I think the Times reviewer who reported on the New York film premiere got it just about right when he said: “If you don’t cry in War Horse, it’s because you have no tear ducts.”

But up until this week I didn’t realise that Michael Morpurgo wrote a sequel to War Horse back in 1997. It’s called Farm Boy and HarperCollins Children’s Books, who published a new edition ahead of the film release, kindly sent me a copy.

Farm Boy is set in the same Devon village as War Horse and continues the tale of heroic horse Joey ("strong as an ox, and gentle as a lamb") and Albert, his owner.

The story is narrated by Albert’s teenage great grandson, who lives in London but spends most of his holidays in the countryside with his beloved grandfather, Albert’s son. He loves hearing tales of how Joey was sold to the cavalry and sent to the warfront in France and how 14 year old Albert was so distraught he joined up to find him.

“Now there’s millions of men over there, millions of horses, too,” writes Morpurgo. “Needle in a haystack you might think, and you’d be right. It took him three years of looking, but he never gave up. Just staying alive was the difficult bit.”

Former children’s laureate Morpurgo movingly portrays the bond between grandson and grandfather, particularly as the old man reflects on the past and reveals a secret he’s kept to himself for years. He’s wonderful too at evoking rural life – hay in June, wheat in July and potatoes and cider apples in October. Add in Michael Foreman’s illustrations of the rolling Devon landscape and it’s an irresistible mix. Children who loved War Horse will enjoy finding out what happened to Joey when he returned from the war – and I reckon their parents will too.

Farm Boy by Michael Morpurgo (HarperCollins, £5.99)

Friday, 25 November 2011

Friday book review - The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Michael Morpurgo and Emma Chichester Clark

I’ve been a fan of artist Emma Chichester Clark for more years than I can remember. When we moved house this year (aaagh - I’m still recovering) I took stacks of children’s books to a local primary school but I couldn’t bear to part with my Chichester Clark collection. I bought some of them (below) before my daughter was born – I Never Saw a Purple Cow and Listen to This for starters – and the illustrations still look as vibrant and fresh as they did 20 years ago.

Chichester Clark, who was taught by Quentin Blake in her art student days, has written and illustrated scores of children’s books. In recent years she’s also worked with former children’s laureate Michael Morpurgo and they make a formidable team. The duo’s latest collaboration is a retelling of Robert Browning’s classic poem, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, and in the aftermath of this summer’s riots, it’s a parable for our times. As Morpurgo himself has said: “We are failing our young people, who feel they are living without hope, without jobs and a sense of a future.”

The story is seen through the eyes of a young boy who describes how the rich and greedy live like kings and queens in the town of Hamelin, while the sick and poor have to scavenge for scraps of food. Mountains of rubbish rot in the streets, rats run riot and the town council promises action but never keeps its word. But all hope isn’t lost. When a tall thin man in extraordinary clothes suddenly appears in the council chamber and pledges to get rid of the rats, it looks as though life will take a turn for the better. But is it too late for the people to change their ways for good?

Morpurgo and Chichester Clark have done a wonderful job of bringing the pied piper to life on the page. Master storyteller Morpurgo describes him as “so light and nimble on his feet that it seemed as if he was walking on air” while Chichester Clark’s illustrations show a dashing figure in a stylish chequered jacket, multi-patterned trousers, dashing red sombrero and fingerless gloves.

Children of all ages will enjoy this ultimately uplifting story, which is perfect for reading aloud. And take time along the way to appreciate Chichester Clark’s gorgeous (and intricately detailed) illustrations.

PS. Speaking of Michael Morpurgo, Steven Spielberg’s highly-anticipated movie of War Horse is due out in January. I can’t wait to see it...

The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Michael Morpurgo and Emma Chichester Clark (Walker Books, £12.99)

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