‘Leo’s War ~ Based on the astonishing true story of Monsignor Hugh O’ Flaherty, the Irish Oscar Schindler who saved over 6,500 lives during the German occupation of Rome in World War II’
Leo’s War is a beautiful story told through the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy. Written by Patricia Murphy and published by Poolbeg Press, it is part of the Hands on History collection.
I am thrilled to be joining the blog tour today. Patricia has written a fascinating guest post entitled ‘Introducing Children to Historical Fiction’ and my own twelve-year-old daughter, Emily, has a few words to say also.
What I find really wonderful about Emily’s few words is the use of the term time-machine. Emily has not seen Patricia’s guest post and I think it shows just how good this book is, and how important Patricia’s books are for children, to help them understand our history in a much more fun and interesting way.
Read on and you’ll see what I mean….
About the Book:
It’s 1943 and young Leo tries to protect his disabled sister Ruby as the Nazis invade Italy. After his mother is arrested, he turns to Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty to save them.
But he is no ordinary priest. Known as ‘The Pimpernel of the Vatican’, the Monsignor is the legendary organizer of the Rome Escape Line. Soon Leo is helping out with this secret network dedicated to saving the lives of escaped prisoners of war, partisans and Jews.
But as the sinister Nazi leader Kappler closes in on the network, can Leo and his sister stay out of his evil clutches?
Reviewed by Emily Hearne (Age 12)
‘Leo’s War is like a time-machine. I really felt like I was there in 1943 with Leo and Ruby by my side.
I learnt so much and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in history’
Purchase Link ~ Leo’s War
INTRODUCING CHILDREN TO HISTORICAL FICTION
by Patricia Murphy
Once when I went to speak to a group of children about my novel, Molly’s Diary, set in the 1916 Rising, a lively eight year old put his hand up and said, “Missus, are you really over a hundred?” The teachers and I all laughed but I took it as a compliment that he thought I really had been a twelve-year old girl in Easter 1916 as guerilla war raged in Dublin. Somehow I had remained remarkably well preserved as a living link with history.
In the absence of humans with exceptional longevity, historical fiction is often the nearest we can get to re-entering the past. And sometimes when I speak to a group of children I hold up my book and say, “Welcome aboard my time machine!”
A historical novel is a way of travelling through time for close encounters with past lives, not as old fossils but as truly realized humans. Obviously children can read the history of an era but historical fiction goes beyond dates and facts and hopefully catapults the reader into the past as a living, breathing thing.
Leo’s War is set in Rome during the Nazi occupation of World War 2 and told through the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy who turns to Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty to help him. What the history books won’t convey is the fear of being sprawled on the ground and seeing a pair of jackboots ready to kick you in the stomach. Or the bitter, claggy taste of disgusting rationed bread made out of a flour of mulberry leaves and chickpeas. Or even the cosmic jubilation as American tanks rolled into the narrow cobbled streets of a city used to conquerors, on liberation day.
At the beginning of Ava’s Diary, my novel about the Irish civil war, 12-year-old Irish-American Ava declares “history isn’t the cheeriest subject. ‘And then they all died.’ It never has a happy ending.” But when she discovers old letters from participants in Ireland’s civil war, the past begins to speak to her. The “dead people” suddenly come alive, as people who once walked the earth full of contradictions and hope – just like her in fact. Their experiences become a prism through which she views the conflict at the heart of her own family. But also in reflecting on distressing news such as the civil war in Syria.
So historical fiction can create empathy and understanding. But it also reveals links and can help explain why things are as they are today. And by gaining an understanding that there was nothing inevitable about how events turned out, children can learn to interrogate their own time. This sense of questioning and that there is more than one side to a story and not necessarily the one that gets recorded, is all the more important in an era of fake news. History is not just heritage. It is not just what the official version says it is.
This ability to allow other voices to tell their story is also one of the joys of the historical fiction –specifically to tell the story through the eyes of a child. For children don’t generally get to write their version and they get left out of the narrative. And yet they are the ones most affected, who have to pick up the pieces and move on. Finding them, hidden in the margins of other people’s accounts, sticking their heads into photographs, flitting in out of memoirs, is one of the pleasures of research. It feels like picking up a dropped stitch from the tapestry of history, reclaiming a lost life, finding hidden treasure.
Once you hook children into history, who knows where it can end. There are so many brilliant authors of historical fiction from Phillip Pullman to Nicola Pierce, so many periods to explore from Victorian London to the Battle of the Boyne. Other authors such as Sally Gardner and Caroline Busher experiment with cross-genre fantasy and historical fiction.
Children may also go on to read Anne Frank’s Diary or even straightforward history books. It’s a rich seam, full of wonders and jewels, as well as horror and happenstance.
Often, both parents and children and even grandparents read my books. This is a double and triple whammy, a way of sharing a sense of history together. For it also opens up the understanding that we are all part of a living past. That one’s parents and grandparents are witnesses to their time. But also some day you, young reader might be too.
So as fellow time-travellers, I hope readers will hop aboard my time machine and see the past with new eyes. Who knows maybe some of these young readers will learn from their encounters and make a real difference in the future. And maybe some day as old-timers they will face a class of children and talk about “the olden days” of plastic, hand-held devices and when they still read books made out of paper.
Patricia Murphy is the bestselling author of The Easter Rising 1916 – Molly’s Diary and Dan’s Diary – the War of Independence 1920-22 published by Poolbeg.
She has also written the prize-winning “The Chingles” trilogy of children’s Celtic fantasy novels.
Patricia is also an award winning Producer/Director of documentaries including Children of Helen House, the BBC series on a children’s hospice and Born to Be Different Channel 4’s flagship series following children born with disabilities.
Many of her groundbreaking programmes are about children’s rights and topics such as growing up in care, crime and the criminal justice system. She has also made a number of history programmes including Worst Jobs in History with Tony Robinson for Channel 4 and has produced and directed films for the Open University.
Patricia grew up in Dublin and is a graduate in English and History from Trinity College Dublin and of Journalism at Dublin City University.
She now lives in Oxford with her husband and young daughter.
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There is a famous movie about Hugh O Flaherty played by Gregory Peck I think! Must look it up myself. Thanks Joanne!