When the Children’s Book Council announces the short lists for the annual awards, I always look at them with interest, and usually quite a bit of frustration. While there are always books that are very good, there are always some which are more, shall we say, worthy. By that I mean, books that some adults think children should read, rather than want to read. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want bad books, or dumb books to be on the lists, but I would just like the Council to think more about their audience, and the fact that WE WANT CHILDREN TO READ BOOKS. Not be put of by books which are too wordy, or dark, or a strange format. My view is that a child with a book in their hand is a good thing, no matter what it is. Children go through phases of wanting easy reads, and then more challenging reads at different times. Think about your own reading. We all like to relax with something that is easy. It can’t be War and Peace all of the time. At least not for me. Anyway enough of the rant.
I’ve just read When We Were Two by Robert Newton which is on the short list for older readers, and I’m very happy to say that it is one that I think thoroughly deserves to be there.
It is about Dan and Eddie, brothers who are escaping their violent father, and trying to get to their mother. It is during the early stages of The Great War, and the boys are in the country, so it is no small matter to cover to walk to Port Macquarie from their home, and on the way they meet a few different people, some good and some bad. When they meet a group of men who are on a march to join up for the war, the two boys become part of their troup.
Dan had planned to leave on his own, but his brain damaged brother Eddie and his dog Bess wouldn’t let Dan go on his own. The relationship between the two boys is done beautifully and the reason for Eddie’s brain damage is slowly revealed, along with the guilt Dan has about it. Eddie is a wonderful character, very sweet and gentle, when he isn’t being exasperating that is. The times are evoked well, and as a coming of age story, it is a winner.
There are Teacher’s note available from the Penguin website, and so this would be a terrific choice for classroom discussion for 12 and up.