Review Blog

Nov 13 2014

I was only nineteen by John Schumann

cover image

Ill. by Craig Smith. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743317235
(Age: 10+) Recommended. Picture book for older readers. War. Vietnam. Song. Conscription
The song penned by John Schumann is now so well known that I am surprised it has taken this long for a book such as this to be produced. Readers will not help but hum it as it is read, and I am sure many classrooms will access the song to play before and after they read this stunning presentation. There are versions of it on Youtube.
The song, written in the early eighties, in response to Schumann's brother in law's time in Vietnam, tells of the young men conscripted by the Australian Government to serve in this overseas war. They could not vote nor drink in a hotel, but were told to fight, and could do little about the fact that their number had come up in the lottery.
The war became increasingly unpopular, conscription was abandoned and the forces withdrawn from Vietnam, but even today, returned soldiers are fighting the results of their service.
Craig Smith's illustrations show a young boy talking to his grandfather, a returned serviceman. As the reader turns the pages they will see what happened to the child's grandfather, a young man conscripted then trained at Puckapunyal, choosing the card which sent him to Vietnam. In Vietnam, the images range from sitting in a bar, relaxing with R&R, to the images of fighting in the fields which can leave no reader in doubt of the brutality of war. Smith's depiction of the landmine explosion and helicopter evacuation of the wounded men are hauntingly memorable in a book full of stunning images.
At a time where Anzac and World War One are being remembered over the world, this book is a standout contribution to those books giving younger readers an idea of our historical involvement in overseas wars.
Fran Knight

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