I begin my PGCE (teacher training) course in September and as part of my preparation is to read many different children’s books. I have just finished Private Peaceful and it is a truly remarkable, moving read that I had to post a review.
By Michael Morpurgo.
Age range: 10yrs +
“Tommo” Peaceful is recalling his childhood from those terrible battlefields. He remembers his big brother Charlie taking him to his first day of school, the death of his father, his mum working hard to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table. He remembers his brother Joe, who some called simple, but who to Tommo was very special. He also recalls the only girl in his life, Molly, and how Charlie somehow took her away from him. But as the World turned to War, he had to grow up fast. Together Charlie and Tommo enlist and are sent to France, almost immediately, to what could only be described as pure hell on Earth. Bullets, bombs, death. Shells, noise, dirt. Disease, rats, stench. Charlie and Tommo fight for their lives and to stay together–facing certain death in the face every time they try to advance the British lines.”
A short synopsis:
Tommo tells his story in account form, from the past to the present day. He recalls his childhood, his family and Molly the girl he met on his first day of school and fell in love with. She later married his older brother Charlie after having a secret relationship with him and becoming pregnant. Soon after Charlie and Molly’s wedding the two Peaceful brothers are sent to Belgium to fight in the Great War. The rest of the story describes the brothers’ experiences during the War. When Tommo gets injured, Charlie disobeys an order from their Sergeant and stays with Tommo. As a result Charlie is accused of cowardice and court martialled.
Morpurgo has set the chapters of the book so that they countdown to Charlie’s execution. It’s very clever and extremely powerful; strong emotions are evoked from the reader as you experience the dreadful moment of Charlie’s impending death getting closer and closer. At dawn Charlie is marched before the firing squad where he dies singing Oranges and Lemons. The story ends in the present tense with Tommo promising to take care of Molly and their young son, Little Tommo.
This book shows the devastating mistreatment of soldiers during the War and the unfair endings that many brave soldiers suffered. The friendship between the Peaceful brothers is so beautifully portrayed that you cannot help but come to love them. The unwavering trust between the soldiers in the trenches is heart-wrenching, they suffered such appalling conditions, mistreatment and early death yet they still dreamed of the future and getting home to their families. Many never returned home, so many young men died fighting a seemingly unwinnable war. It is truly devastating.
This a beautiful example of Michael Morpurgo’s wonderful writing style and effortless story-telling. I first read this book as part of an English class at school and the story of Tommo and his brother, Charlie’s experiences during the War stayed with me long after the final page. I took great pleasure in re-reading this superb story. And I am not ashamed to admit that it brought me to tears.
I feel that this is a particularly poignant story as the centenary of the First World War is marked this year.