Tinui Anzac Day children’s book a people’s history story
Masterton illustrator and writer Michelle O’Connell says telling stories about war is more about people than numbers.
Michelle’s new children’s picture book ‘Tinui – The Last Post’ is based on the experience of a young bugler at the Anzac Day commemoration. Tinui is a small village in the Wairarapa and is reputed to be the first place in the world to have held Anzac Day commemorations.
The illustrator and writer of two previous books published by BMS Books – ‘Leaving for the Front – A Boy’s Story’ and ‘The Crossing – Michael’s Story’, Masterton-based Michelle attended the 2016 Anzac Day commemoration at Tinui.
During the ceremony, she was struck by the performance of the then 12-year-old bugler Linda Morgan, who was a descendant of one of a soldier from Tinui.
“She stood up on the military tank and played The Last Post and the Reveille and it was that moment I knew that this would be her story, illustrated and told through her music and her voice. I went home and started pouring that into the story and my drawing.”
Michelle believes the history behind her books is important and needs to be preserved.
‘Leaving for the Front’ told the story of how she and her son Christopher took part in an event to remember soldiers who left Masterton by train to go to World War One. For ‘The Crossing’, Michelle participated in the march across the Rimutaka Range held on behalf of the descendants, of which she is one, to remember soldiers who marched from Featherston to Trentham during the war and told by her son Michael.
“I’ve grown up in this area and not known this history. That’s what really drives me forward to think that these are the stories I want to take out to our community, so young people know them and grow up with them.”
She wants children to know the emotions behind war and not to be told what to think about war.
“However you feel about the subject of war in our history it’s about getting the information out and the children choosing how they think and what they feel about it.”
Michelle says the important thing for her is how we look at history not based on numbers but on people. Facts and dates may be helpful, as she has found through her research, but it is the people.
“When you can anchor a person to that number, anchor a story to it, that’s when it’s meaningful.
What Linda did on that day, to climb up on the tank to play, with her great-uncle’s name on the memorial, showed that these were not names that are forgotten the past.
“These are real people with lives that they didn’t get to live, and there are descendants here today who remember them.”
As a children’s picture book, ‘Tinui – The Last Post’ provides children with access to their own history in a way that they can understand, Michelle says.
Children do not necessarily have to be able to read to follow the story of the pictures in the book. Michelle relates her own experience as a very young child in being given the book ‘The Pied Piper of Hameln’ and being so engaged with the pictures that she was driven by a desire to draw and write books.
Michelle is a painter, working in oils. For her books, each illustration is hand-drawn, starting with a drawing using graphite and water colour paints. She then works with publisher BMS Books to produce the final book for production.
“Even if they cannot read the words of the story, I would hope that the child could follow the pictures and get a feeling of it through the art, the detail and the people,” Michelle says.
A comprehensive Notes for Teachers is an important aspect of Michelle’s books, and has been expanded with more options in this book.
Michelle, who has been a teacher, said so much information is available and the job is busy, it was important to be able to access resources easily. Having a single resource with a broad range of learning options meant teachers could pick up an idea and do one activity with five-year-olds or do another with 11-year-olds.
Visits to schools are an important part of Michelle’s role and she receives a lot of questions from children and teachers.
“Now that I’ve been around schools, with hundreds of children, it helps inform what I do in the future.”
Teachers have said how it is important to have the facts and sources available in the book so that they know where to go to be able to access information for lessons readily.
‘Tinui – The Last Post’ is due to be launched at the Masterton Public Library at 11am on 22 April 2017.
Listen to audio interviews with Michelle O’Connell at
For more information, contact Michael Smith
Publisher and Director
BMS Books an imprint of Business Media Service Ltd
Business Media Services Ltd
Tel: (07) 349-4107; Int: 64-7-349-4107
5 High Street, Rotorua, New Zealand 3010
Breathe New Life Into Your Writing
Michelle O'Connell interview in audio
Listen to this interview with writer and illustrator Michelle O'Connell.