The Tortoise and the Soldier by Michael Foreman
Hardcover, 128 pages
Henry Holt and Co, November 24, 2015
Saw this pop up in my McMillan new book feed and bought it immediately.
This one is going in our school library And my home library. (I am delivering two books to our library today so great day!)
First, full disclosure, I have a tortoise obsessed son who Loves military history so I took a chance based on the description that this would be something he would want to read.
Now this book is a bit young for his reading level (and just like me he read it in one sitting yesterday evening). But it is a wonderful story with beautiful watercolor illustrations and real photographs throughout.
The story starts in the 1950s with our narrator Trevor, going to visit an older gentleman in his small English village who has a tortoise. The Editor wants to know if the tortoise has woken up from his Winter bromation and is walking about yet. So over on his old rickety bike rushes the young teen to see what the big deal about this tortoise is. Trevor asks Mr Friston what’s the tortoises’ story. So while Trevor works around the yard, Mr Friston, recounts his story as a young sailor aboard the HMS Implacable.
Along the way we meet Mr Henry Friston as a young man, Ali Pasha (prince among tortoises), and many exotic locations where Henry was stationed during WWI. I am sure a bit of artistic liscense has been taken, but the book is filled with actual pictures of Henry, the tortoise, and artifacts from Henry’ time in the Royal Navy. The stories about Galipoli are realistic and not pretty, but Mr Foreman tempers the death and tragedy of trench warfare with occasional sometimes dark humor. My favorite is when a truce is called where both sides took “a half time in hell” for first aid and burial to be rendered to both sides. Or later when Henry is carting aboard crates of dates (Ali’ favorite food). This is a middle grade book though, and while some of the story might give sensitive readers pause, it is done in small doses with a huge dollop of compassion and humanity to balance the horror. Besides this is a story about war, and trench ware fare no less.
The author Mr Foreman does explain that he met Mr Friston driving the local bus usually filled with soldiers in WWII, and became friends with Dan, Mr Friston’ son. It was Dan who introduced Michael to Ali Pasha, and he grew up hearing stories about Henry’ time in WWI over many years. So while the story about Henry and his adventures with Ali Pasha are true, the narrative about the newspaper and a young boy learning about it over days is not.