Thursday, December 06, 2007
Book learning #40
The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall.
I first read this book just before the BBC adaptation in the early/mid 1980's. It stood out as one of the most enjoyable books of my childhood and one of the first books beyond the Roald Dahl/Michael Rosen obsessed pre teen years of reading (I was a few years away from presidential biographies at this point).
I just read it to my class. It's a very English book, set on the blitzed out home front of World War two, full of coppers and milk bottles, jerries and shrapnel and the school culture and rough and tumble of the 1940's. I knew that my American kids were too young and too, well, not English enough to understand or enjoy this book. I was delighted to be able to read it to an appreciative audience.
OK, I was happy to read it to my class. They really weren't that appreciative. I think sometimes they just put up with my choices. I think most of them enjoyed it but when we discussed it after reading there were some very honest opinions expressed. It's certainly more of a boy's book and there aren't a huge ammount of laughs. It is about a boy who wrenches a machine gun off a crashed German bomber and gets into all sorts of scrapes with his friends, a German pilot and a simple fella who collects milk bottles and says "where you going now?".
On the other hand, as an adult reading a very well written and highly acclaimed children's classic, there are many plusses to this book that my class may have missed. The interpretation of the Home Front seems more believable than many other books, the angst of family life was great, the shit scared descriptions of air raids, the fumbling German airman hiding from the authorities who stumbles into the gang of kids, all great stuff.
Worth a look.