As today is ANZAC day, I wanted to share with you a beautiful new book that I picked up from my local library. This is Where I Stand is told from the viewpoint of a statue of a World War I soldier who narrates to the reader what he has witnessed from his years on his pedestal before recounting his memories of the war.
No matter the weather a soldier stands proudly on his plinth. Ever awake, he witnesses the seasons as they change, the people as they visit and the nocturnal animals that awaken from their daytime slumber. Some people stop and stare, others pass by as if he wasn’t there. Curious children reach out to touch and to feel, their eyes drawn to the gun that hangs from his shoulder. Once a year, the solider is joined by others who proudly display war medals and light up the dawn skies with their candles and torches. They have come to join him, to remember, to pay tribute to those that have given their lives for their country.
The solider does not just see, he remembers. His mind thinks back to the time he was the soldier heading off to battle. He hears and sees the sights and the sounds of the port as he boarded the ship and his journey to Gallipoli is as clear as if it were yesterday; oceans, deserts, busy streets, beaches and war torn villages. He remembers the battlefield and its victims.
This is Where I Stand is superb and is a book that I highly recommend sharing with children of all ages. It is a striking picture book that highlights the realities of war and the significance of statues that honour its victims. It pays tribute to ANZAC day, the protests and acknowledges the Covid pandemic that prevented mass gatherings.
The read is powerful and emotional. The language is rich; small creatures scuttle, the trees stir in a breeze, the soldier slips into the shadows that slide over him. Words are chosen carefully for effect - linger, glint, slung and clink. Not a word is wasted. Accompanying the prose are illustrations by Kieran Rynhart that are both beautiful and haunting in equal measure. Evocative double page spreads are sombre and provide many opportunities for pausing, reflecting and quiet contemplation.
War is brutal and Philippa Werry does not shy away from its realities. The sound of gunfire is contrasted with the silence of the graves. In poignant and tear-inducing scenes the soldier recalls the victims of war - his comrades and their families. Those who lost their lives and those who survived but would never be the same again, the scars of war and the atrocities witnessed permanently etched into the memory.
The whole book makes the hairs on the neck stand up and sends tingles down the spine. Whether it be standing beside the soldier on the battlefield or gazing up at the statue, you feel like you are there. You can hear the sounds of bugles, songs, poems and marching feet. You can see yourself traipsing through ground, “The colour of mud,” and bearing witness to “The red flash of poppies.”
The presentation of the book is first class. The gold writing embossed on the front cover is made to look as though it is engraved on the plinth that our statue stands on - I found myself carefully tracing over the letters. The red end papers are the colour of the blood-red poppies. These are small things but it is this kind of care and attention to detail that make a book extra special.
A read that will generate much discussion and would be a valuable addition to any home or classroom.
Recommended for 4+.