A white feather given to someone came to symbolise cowardice during the traumatic times of World War I. And that is the central theme that Catherine and David MacPhail explore in this moving, special and quite unexpectedly haunting little children’s book, published by the dyslexia-friendly Barrington Stoke.
It’s all about a young boy called Tony who lost his brother Charlie on the frontline in the war. As well as grieving for the loss of his brother – and the fact his mum is depressed and delusional because she still believes Charlie is alive – the family are treated like pariahs and outcasts in their town because Charlie was shot by firing squad for being a coward.
It is truly a difficult subject to write about, especially for children, because it’s difficult to imagine the barbarity and horror of war, let alone how snap judgments were made on the chaotic frontline and soldiers put to death if they abandoned their posts, or refused to fight the enemy.
But this book does show how Tony’s grief plays out, because he gets a chance to discover the real story of what happened to his brother on the frontline…via Charlie’s still-alive commanding officer. He embarks on a secret mission to get close to the man – who is shell-shocked from being in the war and very ill – and see if he will reveal the truth of why his brother was put to death.
I won’t give away anymore but, suffice to say, Tony goes to great lengths to rectify the memory and reputation of his soldier brother with the black cloud of the war ending (and so many men not returning home) constantly in the background. This is a really gripping, educational and intriguing book for readers of all strengths.