Archive for History

National Geographic just for you

There are a few things that you can not avoid in life and homework is one of them! Here at Christchurch City Libraries we want to make homework as painless as possible. To help beat the due date blues, we welcome National Geographic Kids online.

National Geographic Kids can be searched by itself or  through the National Geographic Digital Archive. This resource is geared toward 6-14 year olds and it includes:

  • National Geographic Kids magazine 2009-present (3 month embargo);
  • National Geographic Kids books which include award-winning photos and maps;
  • Kid-friendly, downloadable images perfect for assignments.

Have a play and see what you think! You can find this electronic resource 24/7 through the catalogue or at the Source, all you need is your library card number, PIN and a sense of adventure and wonder!
Who doesn’t want to know that two unmanned spacecraft have been travelling through outer space for 33 years?

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My Brother’s War by David Hill

My Brother’s War by David Hill is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  This was one of the books that I hadn’t read at the time it was released, but I read it recently as part of my challenge to read all of the 2013 finalists. 

My Dear Mother,

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’ve joined the Army!

Don’t be angry at me, Mother dear. I know you were glad when I wasn’t chosen in the ballot. But some of my friends were, and since they will be fighting for King and Country, I want to do the same.

It’s New Zealand, 1914, and the biggest war the world has known has just broken out in Europe.

William eagerly enlists for the army but his younger brother, Edmund, is a conscientious objector and refuses to fight. While William trains to be a soldier, Edmund is arrested.

Both brothers will end up on the bloody battlefields of France, but their journeys there are very different. And what they experience at the front line will challenge the beliefs that led them there.

My Brother’s War is a compelling story about two brothers who have very different opinions and experiences of the First World War.  William feels very strongly that he needs to play his part in the war and so he enlists in the army.  The people in his town commend him for being brave and doing his part.  He believes he is doing what is right to protect his country and the people he loves.  He can’t understand his brother and thinks that his refusal to enlist is ‘wrong and stupid.’  His brother, Edmund, is a conscientious objector who believes it is wrong to go to war and kill other people.  The story switches between their two points-of-view so you see the huge differences in their experience of war.  The story is mainly told in the third person, but each of the characters write letters to their mother which gives more of an insight into their thoughts and feelings.

You experience the build up to the fighting and the horrible conditions of the battlefield through William’s story, but it was Edmund’s story that shocked me.  I knew a little about conscientious objectors before reading this book but Edmund’s story really opened my eyes to how horribly they were treated.  Conscientious objectors like Edmund were labeled cowards and treated like second-class citizens.  Edmund constantly refuses to obey army orders, but in the end really has no choice.  He’s put on a boat and taken to France where he is forced on to the battlefields.  In the training camps he is locked away with little food and water, and he also faces excruciating punishment for not following orders.  Edmund is incredibly strong-willed though and stands by his principles.

A quote from Edmund towards the end of the book sums up war perfectly , ‘I never knew some men could do such dreadful things to one another, and I never knew some men could be so kind and brave.’

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Cyclone Bola by Kath Beattie

It is 1988, and twelve-year-old Amy’s boat-mad parents are going on a sailing trip from Vanuatu back to New Zealand. Amy is most unimpressed, especially when her mother and father decide to send her to stay at her great-aunt and uncle’s home in Gisborne. Reluctantly she leaves for Gisborne, anticipating a boring stay at a farm; she couldn’t be more wrong.

Uncle Jim and Aunty June are both kind, charming people. Amy has fun exploring the vineyard they own, and begins to enjoy country life, even liking the nearby school that she attends. However, her stay is ruined by the stressful news that a cyclone is coming dangerously close to Vanuatu. Amy is concerned for her parents’ safety, and desperately tries to contact them. It doesn’t hit her that the cyclone could reach New Zealand until it is upon them.

Amy can only watch as the quiet countryside is transformed. The cyclone is destroying the land and putting lives in danger as fierce wind and rain attack Gisborne. As Amy, her uncle and aunt try to survive the storm, she wonders; when will it end? Will she see her parents again? The answers are uncertain; everyone’s fates are in the hands of the merciless cyclone.

 Cyclone Bola is a fascinating read; one of the latest book in the My New Zealand Story series. It’s a wonderful book to read for a project, as it has plenty of useful information on the topic of Cyclone Bola, and keeps you turning pages as Amy’s exciting tale unfolds. At the back of the book there are photographs of damage, to give readers an idea of just how destructive the cyclone really was. If you want to learn about the devastating Cyclone Bola- part of New Zealand’s history, then this is the book for you!

Reviewed by Tierney.

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Author Blog 1 – David Hill

I guess the main event for me during the first week of April has been that I’ve been lucky enough to be short-listed for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards. My novel My Brother’s War is in the Junior Fiction section, so you all have to rush straight out and vote for me!

Authors are always asked “Where do your ideas come from?” and the idea for My Brother’s War came from my Uncle Fred.

The book is a story of two NZ brothers in World War 1. William can’t wait to enlist in the Army, and experience the thrilling adventure of war. Edmund however is a Conscientious Objector: he believes that all war is wrong, and he refuses to enlist. So he’s arrested and sent to prison. In different ways, the two brothers are sent to the terrible battlefields in France. What happens to them? You’ll have to read the book to find out, heh, heh.

Anyway, my Uncle Fred was my father’s eldest brother, much older than my Dad. He was a gentle, white-haired farmer, always shy and quiet. I never took much notice of him. Then Dad began telling me about him – how he’d been in WW1; how he’d fought in France and been badly wounded by shell fragments; how he had nightmares for years afterwards, and ended up totally opposed to war. So the book really began because I wanted to honour someone who mattered to me. A lot of what I write starts that way.

I don’t expect to win in the Awards, by the way. There are wonderful books by other authors. Do read Kate de Goldi’s The ABC with Honora Lee, or Mandy Hager’s The Nature of Ash, or…or ANY of the other finalists.

Anyway, I’ve also been writing during this week. I sit at my untidy desk, in a little room between the kitchen and the back porch, in a small side street in new Plymouth, and I mumble to myself and scribble and scratch on the paper. I’ve been writing some book reviews, plus a small story about a kid at a new school who wants to seem special, so makes up all sorts of stuff about herself, and gets into a real tangle. It’s full of terrible jokes. I like writing terrible jokes……

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Guest Author: Melinda Szymanik on A Winter’s Day in 1939

Today we’re joined by the wonderful Melinda Szymanik, author of the powerful new book, A Winter’s Day in 1939.  Based on her father’s experiences during World War II, A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a story of family, the harsh realities of war, and the fight for survival against the odds. Melinda has written a really interesting post for us about why and how she wrote A Winter’s Day in 1939.

Why and How I wrote A Winter’s Day in 1939

When the Soviet soldiers come and order them out, Adam and his family have no idea where they are going or if they will ever come back.  The Germans have attacked Poland and the world is at war. Boarding a cattle train Adam and his family embark on a journey that will cover thousands of miles and several years, and change all their lives forever. And mine too. Because Adam’s story, the story told in my new novel A Winter’s Day in 1939, is very much my Dad’s story.

I often heard fragments of this story from my dad when I was growing up.  It was shocking, and sad, and amazing.  My Dad’s family was forced out of their home and taken to a labour camp in Russia. It was freezing cold, and many people died from disease or starvation. Even when the Soviets finally let them go, they spent weeks travelling around the USSR , were made to work on Soviet farms and were still hungry and often sick, with no idea of where they might end up next.  As a child growing up in a peaceful place like New Zealand it was hard to imagine the real dangers and terrible conditions my father experienced.

I didn’t get to know the full story until I was grown up with children of my own and was regularly writing stories for children.  I wrote a short story, also called A Winter’s Day in 1939, based on a single event I knew fairly well  from my Dad‘s childhood – when Soviet Soldiers first come to order them off their farm, the only home my father had known up till that point in his life. The story was published in The Australian School Magazine.  I showed the short story to the publishers Scholastic who liked it too. They wondered if I could turn it in to a novel.  This was a chance to tell my father’s story. By now I knew it was an important story that should be shared

Luckily my Dad had made notes about his life during World War Two; about twenty pages all typed up.  However I know people’s real lives don’t always fit into the framework of a novel and I knew I would have to emphasize some things and maybe leave other things out.

I read and researched to add the right details to the story. And asked my parents lots of questions. How cold was it in Poland in January 1940? Who or what were the NKVD? What were the trains like? What are the symptoms of typhoid? How do you make your own skis? Some information was hard to find. Some of the places that existed in the 1940s aren’t there anymore. And people didn’t keep records about how many people were taken to the USSR from Poland or what happened to particular individuals. But what I wanted to give readers most of all was a sense of how it felt to live that life.  So this then is the story of a twelve year old Polish boy in the USSR during World War 2 that all started on A Winter’s Day in 1939.

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A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik

Taken from their home, forced to leave their country, put to work in labour camps, frozen and starved, Adam and his family doubt that they will ever make it out alive. Even if they were to get away, they might freeze to death, or starve, or the bears might get them. For the Polish refugees, the whole of the USSR becomes a prison from which there is seemingly no escape.

 

A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a story of family, the harsh realities of war, and the fight for survival against the odds.  Adam and his family are ripped from their safe, comfortable life in Poland and transported to prison camps in Russia, in freezing conditions and with little to eat and drink.  They get transported in dirty, stinking train carriages with a stove and a pipe as a toilet, live in cramped barracks with many other families, and are forced to work for the good of Russia.  People die of exposure to the freezing conditions and disease is rife.  In these conditions you need to have to will to survive, and for Adam and his family, this is what is keeping them going.

The story is narrated by Adam, so you see everything through his eyes.  You feel how much he wants to survive and how important his family is to him. You get a real sense of how desperate their situation gets as time goes by, especially when it comes to food.  When a clerk at one of the evacuation centers apologizes to Adam for the lack of food, Adam says ‘He sounded sorry about it but that was no help to us.  You couldn’t eat ‘sorry.” You want so much for Adam and his family to survive the war and be able to return home, but you don’t know if their story will have a happy ending.

One of the things that stands out in Melinda’s story is the sense that Adam, his family, and the other refugees around them, hadn’t done anything wrong, yet they’re treated the way they are.  Adam says this himself, ‘We were being punished but I hadn’t done anything wrong.  None of us had.’ These people have been thrown out of their homes and sent to prison camps for no reason what so ever.

A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a war story that hasn’t been told before and it will have an affect on readers of all ages.  Stories like Melinda’s help us to remember all those people who died during this horrific period of history and I’ll certainly remember Adam’s story for a long time.

4 out of 5 stars

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History

ImageFor my latest book I’ve been researching a lot of history, right back to 1096 AD when the Crusading Knights left Europe and retook Jerusalem. Did you know that before the First Crusade there was a People’s Crusade that was made up of fewer knights and many pilgrims including women and children. Around 40 000 left on that pilgrimage (they weren’t called Crusades back then) and they were wiped out in what is now Turkey.

Is there any moment in history that you find interesting or inspiring?

How about one of these:

* Signing the Treaty of Waitangi

* Discovery of New Zealand by Tasman, Cook or Polynesian voyager

* The First or Second World War

* King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

* Rome and the Roman Empire

* The Ancient Greeks

* The Ice Age – men lived alongside mammoth, sabre tooth, giant sloths etc. (I wrote a teen series set in this period – The Chronicles of Stone.

* Early settlers in New Zealand or Australia

* First powered flight by the Wright brothers or Richard Pearce

History offers some great material for writing. So does the future. Perhaps I’ll write something about this on my next blog.

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