The Red Poppy
David Hill and Fifi Colston
The trenches of World War I are the powerful setting for Kiwi children’s book “The Red Poppy”.
Written by David Hill and illustrated by Fifi Colston, it centres on Jim McLeod - a scared young New Zealand soldier who finds himself a long way from home in the European theatre of war. He conceals his fears from his own family, penning a rose tinted account of trench life in a letter to his family. But we are left on no doubt about his despair, as he is about to engage with the enemy in an impending advance on enemy lines.
With pared down prose from teen fiction writer Hill, the tension builds towards the moment they go over the top. Also gearing up for the attack is another key character - Nipper, proudly described as having “killed more rats than any other messenger dog”, and pictured standing over a multiple rodent massacre, in one of Colston’s striking yet suitably bleak illustrations. Her palette of earthy colours is broken only by the red of the poppies and the spatter of blood.
Jim survives the initial artillery onslaught, only to be wounded in no-man’s land – where he finds himself trapped in a shell crater with a badly wounded German soldier. This is no simple tale of heroes and villains.
Hill was inspired to write the book after listening to the song The Red Poppy by Canadian musician Rob Kennedy, and this is included on a CD packaged with this handsomely printed hardback.
Grim, poignant and ultimately full of hope this is a bold and rewarding children’s book, and an excellent way to engage young readers in the subject of the Great War.