Teaching Resources

New books on the block

SND05-4-Tchg Res. Book Reviews - Jims Letters 300x225Jim’s Letters, Glyn Harper, Penguin


Professor of War Studies Glyn Harper’s new children’s book is based around correspondence between a New Zealand boy and his Gallipoli-bound soldier brother.

Jim’s Letters recounts fictional soldier Jim Duncan’s travels and experiences during World War I in Egypt and Gallipoli through letters to his younger brother, Thomas, who lives on the family sheep station in the South Island.

Beautifully illustrated by graphic artist Jenny Cooper and with removable realistic folded letters, the story of 18-year-old Jim’s expeditions is based on research from Professor Harper’s Letters from Gallipoli: New Zealand Soldiers Write Home (Auckland University Press, 2011), a collection of 190 letters previously unpublished from a pool of more than 600 collected from archives, newspapers and family collections.

In the book, Jim’s first messages home are full of buoyant anticipation and bravado as he regales the sights and sounds of Cairo, the military training, and the camaraderie with fellow soldiers as they approach the battle zones of Europe and Turkey.

Young brother Thomas’s replies contain a sense of envy and admiration mingled with uncertainty and concern felt by their parents.

“We pray each night that you are safe. Mum says Gallipoli is no place for an 18-year-old boy and she should have made you wait until you were 20. I wish I could be with you Jim…”

Jim’s final letter to his family from the trenches of Gallipoli describes the intense heat, the terrible food, the burying of dead soldiers, while conveying his mixed feelings. He writes: “War is certainly not the great adventure I thought it would be,” but concludes on a cheery note with; “Please tell Mum not to worry about me. I would not have missed this experience for the world.”

Professor Harper says he balked initially at the idea of ending the book with Jim being killed, but felt it was the most honest conclusion. By the time the actual Gallipoli campaign ended on August 8 – nine months after it began – nearly 3000 New Zealand soldiers were dead, along with more than 80,000 Turkish, 44,000 British and French, and over 8500 Australian soldiers.

The story ends with the last un-posted letter from Thomas tenderly expressing his love, admiration and sense of loss to his dead brother and has brought some readers to tears. “My wife cried, my editor cried, my publicist cried. It’s had quite an effect,” Professor Harper says.

As well as honouring a significant event in New Zealand history, he hopes the book will give young people an appreciation of both the legacy of World War I, and of the idea that going to war at any time incurs a huge cost to society through the loss of young lives. For ages 5-8

Hills of Gold
Brent Leslie
Reviewed by Lee Murray

Following the success of his first young adult historical novel Jock Logan and the Sea Devil, Brent Leslie’s latest offering, Hills of Gold is another richly drawn historical novel for teens set in the turbulent industrial and political period of the early 1900s.

Hills of Gold involves two parallel, yet interrelated stories. The first occurs in New Zealand at Waihi’s Martha mine at the time of the mining strikes and is the tale of likeable, hardworking 14-year-old Russell Cooper, forced to step into his father’s boots when he succumbs to pthisis.

The second story tells of Russell’s uncle, John Anderson, an expert mining engineer, employed in Russia by the British owners of the Lena Gold Mining Joint Stock Company to quell unrest amongst the Russian peasant mine workers. It was inspired by the life of John Robinson, a forebear of the author. With vocabulary and style appropriate to the day, and covering issues such as developments in women’s suffrage, the union movement, prohibition, even transport technology,

Hills of Gold provides a colourful, and terrifyingly accurate snapshot of the period. I expect history and social studies teachers will be grabbing for this novel as Leslie has a way of bringing the past to life, making Hills of Gold both an entertaining and provoking addition to the curriculum.

Back-to-Front Bob
Belinda Ellis

This special picture book cleverly combines words and visuals for a delightful dose of word play and fabulous fun with grammar – the words are often illustrations, or hidden within the illustrations (look closely and you’ll discover all sorts of surprises!)
For ages 4-8 years

My NZ Story: Harbour Bridge
Philippa Werry

The Auckland Harbour Bridge is under construction. Simon likes watching the bridge being built, and talking to his uncle and his mates about what’s happening on site. Everyone says that life on the North Shore will change once the bridge is finished … but what does that mean for Simon and his family?
For ages 10+ years

Esau the Paw
Chris Gurney
& John Bennett

Esau the Paw was a very cool cat. No cat was fluffier, be sure of that … But what happens when a long-haired cat becomes too matted to brush?
 Popular author Chris Gurney’s funny rhyming text won’t disappoint fans. This story is based on her own cat, Chevy!
For ages 3-7 years


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