The opportunity to critique a childhood idol is an uncomfortable proposition. When I was a child my mother would thrust a library book in my hands after we’d run down the bus I was always late for. One of these books was Misery Guts, by Morris Gleitzman, a book that fostered my love of reading. I remain forever indebted to him.
Gleitzman’s new novel, Loyal Creatures, continues his legacy of placing ordinary children in extraordinary, trying circumstances. Frank is a bullish bush kid, of a size that belies his tender years. His mother has passed away and he lives a hard-working life with his father.
War has broken out and Frank is desperate to enlist, despite being underage. He pleads with his father to allow him to bring his loyal horse Daisy to the showgrounds for a trial, but his father refuses. One day Frank’s father receives a white feather in the mail, a signal of cowardice from the community, and gives in to Frank’s requests on one condition. They go to war together, and thus begin a journey that will change their lives forever.
Growing up, stories of The Great War never fascinated me like other boys. They terrified me. I was born on ANZAC Day, in a small town that had the highest enlistment rate of any place in Australia during WWI. The legacy of war was everywhere, and all I could think of was what if it was me? What if I was one of those foolhardy young men desperate for an adventure, who jumped aboard those ships, never to return? Few books can answer those questions as poignantly as Loyal Creatures.
There is an incredible empathy to Gleitzman’s work, spilling over generously into his latest effort. I suspect war terrifies and frustrates him just as much as it does I, and every inch of bravado Frank shows in the opening pages of the novel is met with anger and sadness later as he discovers what war truly is. An horrific, unnecessary loss of life.
Loyal Creatures has something in it for all ages, another telling story of courage and sacrifice during WWI that we should never forget. As a Morris Gleitzman fan, I can truly say he is on top form with Loyal Creatures. Don’t miss it.