Sunday September 2, 2012
What about Malaya’s war children?
Tots to Teens
By DAPHNE LEE
NINA Bawden died on Aug 22, aged 87, and so I re-read Carrie’s War. I have about half-a-dozen of her books (there are over 40, written for adults and children), but Carrie’s War is my favourite and the only one I re-read.
It’s a comforting book, but it has sad moments and funny moments, and spooky-magical moments.
It’s a children’s book but I appreciate it more now (in my 40s) than I did when I first read it in my early teens.
I like the way the book ends with the hope of romance for the widowed Carrie. I like how Bawden makes us sympathise with even the most hateful adult character in the book.
Carrie’s War is set in Britain during World War II and is based on Bawden’s own experiences as a war evacuee. Carrie and her brother, Nick, travel by train to a small Welsh town where they are billeted with the timid Louise Evans and her bully of a brother, Samuel, who owns a grocery shop and is “very strong Chapel”.
The children don’t take long to settle in. Mr Evans is a control freak but isn’t entirely horrid, and Miss Evans is very kind. Then they make friends with fellow evacuee Albert Sandwich, who is lodging with the Evans’ older sister, Dilys. Dilys’ house is in a dark, mysterious valley, but Carrie and Nick love it because of Albert, and the housekeeper, Hepzibah Green, who might be a witch but is, in any case, a very good cook, and the strange handyman Mister Johnny, who gobbles and spits, and becomes Nick’s best friend.
When I read it this time round, I thought about all the other children’s books that are set during WWII. I’ve read so many.
Quite apart from the ones that focus on the Jewish Holocaust (Once by Morris Gleitzman, Number The Stars by Lois Lowry and When Hitler Stole White Rabbit by Judith Kerr, to name just three), there are books like Good Night Mister Tom by Michelle Margorian, The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall, Dawn Of Fear by Susan Cooper, The Edge Of The Cloud (part of the Flambards series) by K.M. Peyton, and Noel Streatfeild’s When The Siren Wailed.
I love all these books, but I suddenly thought, “Where are the Malaysian children’s books set during World War II?” Where are the children’s books that depict, not Carrie’s war, not the war experienced by English children, or Jewish children, but the war experienced by children living in Malaya and other parts of South-East Asia?
I am reminded of the stories my mother used to tell me – of hiding in the jungle, of not having rice to eat, of having to learn to sing the Japanese anthem, of being given bars of chocolate by Australian soldiers after Japan fell.
It suddenly seems ridiculous that these stories aren’t in books, available to every Malaysian child, yet I have read over two dozen books describing the experiences of European children during World War II.
I used to complain that the war in Malaya and the Japanese occupation of this country had been written to death by Malaysian authors, but I think this period needs to be portrayed in local children’s and teen fiction. I think all periods of this region’s history are potentially rich settings for local fiction for young readers. We are simply waiting for someone to write the stories down.
> Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.