An eagle in the snow by Michael Morpurgo
Harper Collins, 2016. ISBN 9780008134150
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. War, Historical fiction, Blitz, War at home, World War One, World War Two. On the train traveling from bombed out Coventry to London where Barney and his mother will catch the train to Cornwall to stay with her sister, they are dogged by German planes and take shelter in a tunnel. Here their companion in the carriage tells them a story about a friend, one who showed great courage during World War One, a man he calls Billy.
Thus Morpurgo, an iconic story teller relates the story of a real decorated soldier, Henry Tandey, through a fictional tale fleshing out the details and making it accessible to a younger audience.
Through Barney, Morpurgo tells his story from a distance, wanting the listener to make up their own minds about this person, but at the same time, using the eyes of a frightened ten year old, having witnessed the horrors of Coventry when it was flattened in 1940. He saw his whole street demolished, his neighbours scrabbling at the rubble in the hope that someone was still alive, and was with his grandfather when he found his working companion, his horse, dead.
The man in the carriage tells the story in the dark of the tunnel, interrupted spasmodically by guards checking the passengers, and Barney is entranced.
Billy was heroic, receiving awards for his bravery and in 1918, leading two other men in an attack on a German post, overcoming and taking twelve men prisoner. Billy's bravery was pushed by one thought, to get the war over as soon as possible. He hated the killing and waste of life, so when one German soldier refused to put down his gun, Billy told the others not to shoot him, but let him go home. But years later, when sitting watching the news footage in a cinema, Billy sees who that soldier became: the new Fascist leader of Germany, Hitler.
Morpurgo's story follows that of Henry Tandey in the main, showing why this man was so brave but also showing the results of his good turn which had dire consequences. In Morpurgo's hands the bare bones of Tandey's life, becomes engrossing and rich, enabling young readers to look at the idea of bravery, of the choices people make, of the long term effects of war.
This is historical fiction at its very best.