Review Blog

Apr 30 2018

Flamingo boy by Michael Morpurgo

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HarperCollins, 2018. ISBN 9780008134648
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. Themes: World War Two, Gypsies, Nazis, Bullying, Flamingoes, Animals, Trust, Vincent van Gogh. At the end of his final year at school, Vincent dons a backpack and walks though the Camargue in Southern France, once the home of Vincent the name on the painting which has always been in his bedroom. Suddenly ill, he is befriended by a woman and man who share a house: Lorenzo is a seemingly simple man, devoted to his animals, and the woman, Zia, once a gypsy, cares for him as a lifelong friend would.
One night Zia begins her story, allowing Vincent to see what lies beneath their friendship, how they came to share a house, and the tale of how they survived the war.
Morpurgo layers story upon story in this mesmerising account, as he rounds out each of the main characters, filling in their backgrounds as we read. Each story is intimate and revealing, reflecting the way we should all behave in the face of tyranny and injustice.
Zia's family owns a carousel which they play each year in the local town. Lorenzo loves to ride the horse on the carousel and the two families grow closer. Zia hates school where she is bullied for being a gypeo, and Lorenzo's mother offers to teach her at the farm. When the Nazis take over the area, the gypsy family moves to the farm, a place of safety away from prying eyes, as gypsies are one of the groups sent to prison camps.
Here Lorenzo shows Zia his hospital shed where he cares for injured animals, especially the flamingo a familiar sight in the Camargue as they nest there every year. But people stealing the flamingo eggs are stopped by Lorenzo and his father, and in retaliation tell the authorities where the gypsy family is hiding.
This is yet another masterful story from Morpurgo, giving the readers a revealing tale of World War Two, making it more intimate by placing it within a small community, wrapping it with environmental concerns, reflecting the schemes of the Nazi invaders, but tempering it with sympathy shown by the man in charge.
Readers will recognise the bullying which occurs on many levels: the children as they taunt the 'flamingo boy', and Zia, the gypsy girl, the Jewish teacher removed from the school, the townspeople informing on the family hiding at the farm and the Nazi thugs who take the family from the farm, showing readers how easy it is to denigrate others.
Zia and Lorenzo are still friends and Morpurgo ties the story together with Vincent van Gogh, the name he started with, who killed himself because he was so alone. Morpurgo makes his point with composure in this highly readable book.
This novel is most suitable for middle school readers, and teachers wanting a novel to initiate discussion around the idea of bullying in all of its forms, from Nazism to that found in the community and classroom.
Fran Knight

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