My friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton
Ill. by Clive Swan. Allen & Unwin, 2017. ISBN 9781760113827
(Age: 6+) Recommended. World War Two. Singapore. Hong Kong. Gibbons. Melbourne Zoo. Arthur Copper, working as an intelligence office in Hong Kong prior to the Second World War, rescued a small gibbon from a street stall. He took the animal home, calling him Tertius and training him to live with him as his pet. The pair developed a bond of friendship which saw Arthur taking Tertius with him from Hong Kong to Singapore before the Japanese advance, and then getting on the last boat to Australia when Singapore surrendered. Once in Australia difficulty with emigration authorities forced Arthur to make a difficult decision about his friend. But the warmth of their friendship remained in place.
In Swan's beautifully rendered illustrations, details of colonial Hong Kong and Singapore are shown through his understated and soft pallet of colours giving a sense of the muted, fearful atmosphere in these places as the Japanese forces made their way south. Readers will be able to identify images reflecting the Asian setting, images attesting to the times, and see hints of the encroaching war.
Tertius' story will win many hearts as readers see the lengths some people go to protect an animal they love, and be made aware of the mutual love and respect which existed between these two lone characters. I had fun trying to work out why the gibbon was called Tertius, and readers will be equally engrossed researching this name.