This is actually not about a book written for children; it's about a book written by children. It all began a couple of years ago, when a member of my writing class, Heather Redman, wrote a piece about the time she met a German prisoner of war. She was six years old, he was tall, blonde and handsome, and he had driven a group of Italian POWs from their camp near Wells to clear out the ditches, or rhynes, near Heather's home. He was an officer, so he didn't have to work himself, and he whiled away the time chatting to Heather and making bracelets out of scraps of coloured wire. Heather was thrilled when he made one specially for her: this was wartime, her family didn't have much money, and presents were in short supply.Her father was furious that she was hobnobbing with the enemy, but her mother told him smartly not to be so silly, and Heather was allowed to keep it - which she did so safely that she still has it to this day.
Not long after Heather wrote her story, the group was asked to lend some of the pieces they had written about war to an exhibition in Wells Museum to celebrate the life of Harry Patch - up to his recent death the last surviving Tommy to have fought in the 1914-18 war. In Wells there is a group of children called the Wells Bookworms, led by the very dynamic Siobhan Goodwin. They read books, and each week post a review in the local paper. As it happened, they had recently read a book by Michael Morpurgo - Little Manfred - about a prisoner of war who made friends with a child, and so they visited the exhibition. Struck by the similarities between Heather's story and Morpurgo's, they got in touch with her. She went to meet them, and later showed them where her childhood home had been and where she had met the soldier.
Intrigued, they explored further, and they soon discovered that a number of Italian POWs stayed on after the war and married local girls - and one of them was related to one of the Bookworms. So they went to talk to him, too. And then they decided to write a book which would weave together the stories of Heather and Giuseppe and his sweetheart Sybil. So they did, just like that.
The project got the backing of the Wells Festival of Literature, which has paid for a copy of the book to be sent to every primary school in Somerset, and it has also been translated into Italian. There was a launch in September, and Heather, Giuseppe and Sybil have been interviewed on local radio and I believe will be appearing on regional TV too. The first print run has almost sold out, but more copies will be printed - it's really caught people's imagination in these parts.
|At the launch - Heather is second from the left in the front row, and Giuseppe and Sybil are next to her. The children are behind them.|
Heather is a remarkable lady. She's 75, but she still works part-time in a shop, and cites one of her hobbies as 'looking after old ladies'. She never expected to become a celebrity, but it's happened - and all because she loves writing, and children love a good story. Marvellous!
For more information, or to obtain a copy of the book, see www.wellsbookworms.co.uk