Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

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Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: The story of two brothers during the First World War, Private Peaceful is probably for the older primary school child or the young teenager. It is emotionally challenging, but it would suit any young reader interested in history from a human perspective. Despite the uncomfortable truths contained within, there is something about Morpurgo that neither patronises nor shields. It deserves every accolade.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: August 2004
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
ISBN: 0007150075

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A Times Educational Supplement Teachers' Top 100 Book

I happened to interview three farm boy veterans, then well into their eighties, when I was researching my book War Horse. They told me something of what they had lived through. There was no poetry in their stories, only horror and regret and great sadness for the loss of good friends. So I came to write Private Peaceful.

It is always good to know the motivation for the writing of a book, don't you think? Are there ever events or stories told by others which touch you so deeply that you think you'd like to explore them further, in your own mind, in your own words? Perhaps then, you would be able to understand them better. Perhaps then, you would be able to think through how you feel about them. In Private Peaceful, Michael Morpugo has written a book inspired by the stories of those men in the awful trenches of the First World War. And it feels as much as though he's trying to explain them to himself as he is trying to explain them to us.

Private Thomas Peaceful - Tommo - joined up for the war while still underage. He left his quiet, rural English village to follow his brother Charlie into soldiering. Charlie had been forced to enlist by the jingoistic squire, a weak but spiteful, petty man. Tommo - ridden with jealousy since Charlie has married his childhood sweetheart, Molly - forgets past bitterness and refuses to allow his brother to go to France alone. The Peacefuls are close family, brought even closer by the death of their father which happened when Tommo was just a tiny boy. Their "simple" brother, Big Joe, their mother, Charlie, Tommo, and Molly too, were a secure unit of love and mutual support. And it is this family, this love, this way of life which Tommo is determined to think of tonight, during his long vigil.

As he sits in the cold, lonely, dank trench, Tommo remembers his home and his family. He remembers school. He remembers his mother and he remembers Big Joe singing all day long. He remembers how he loved Molly and he remembers how jealous he was when she fell in love with Charlie. But, most of all, he remembers Charlie, and how Charlie never really let him down. And gradually, the hands on the watch Charlie gave him - a lovely, valuable, silver watch - turn. And gradually, Tommo's vigil passes. And gradually, but irrevocably, passes the time left before Tommo's life changes forever.

Michael Morpugo, the current Children's Laureate, is a prolific writer. Like Dick King Smith, he writes for children of all ages. And like Dick King Smith, he can be patchy. I think he's at his best writing for late primary perhaps early secondary children; those aged from about ten and up as he does here with Private Peaceful. He has such a quiet voice, such a gentle way with words. This tone makes his books accessible and not daunting to read. Moreover, the restrained but lyrical style conceals both a great depth of feeling and a set of strong opinions. Morpugo's books often concern themselves with loneliness, pain and injustice. They call for the righting of wrongs. And this appeals to the passion in children, who haven't yet become jaded by life's compromises.

Private Peaceful is a wonderful example of the best of Morpugo's talents. As young Tommo sits in his trench, determinedly calling his memories to mind - "Remember. Remembrances are real," he tells himself - we see a picture drawn. And the picture is not one of countless thousands of faceless young men, merely numbers in a history book of a scale too huge to comprehend. The picture is of a real human being, a young man with hopes and dreams and remembrances. The picture is of a young man with a loved way of life; a young man with family and friends and ties to his home. And through this young man, we gain an unforced, but wonderfully evocative picture of rural life during this time: vivid; vibrant; sometimes cruel. It's quiet, it's gentle and it's effortless. And yet we are never deceived, for we are ever aware of the waiting, Tommo's waiting.

War is far from the most glorious of human achievements. And yet we see it glorified often; through films and computer games, through the toys with which children play. Private Peaceful understands the dignity of valour but it also understands the privations, the fear, and the horror. It is, on occasion, a graphic book; describing as it does life in the trenches and the extinguishing of life outside them. But it is not an horrific book. Morpugo's writing, simple and straightforward as it is, paints an honest picture and a painful one, yet it is quite suitable for children of sensibility. That's a hard trick to pull off. That same writing; gentle, quiet, open, is also persistent and portentous. There is tension which remains unrelieved until the very closing pages of the book. It's then we understand Tommo's vigil.

I really liked Private Peaceful. It has that air of confidence in its views I really admire - it's the sort of confidence which is happy to tell the story and leave readers to draw their own conclusions. It's secure in its belief there's only one conclusion to draw. I think it is kind enough not to frighten children, but honest enough to allow them to make a judgement of their own about the other side of war, the side with real people in it, the side where those real people suffer and die. It doesn't patronise its young readers with hectoring and lecturing, and neither does it try to shield them from the valuable knowledge and understanding it contains. It's a wonderful example of how powerful individual experience can be in helping us towards an understanding of great events, past, present, and perhaps even future. And for that reason alone, I think it's a required book for children.

Private Peaceful would be wonderful in the hands of an enthusiastic teacher, forming part of a cross-discipline topic in history, literacy and citizenship, for it asks questions and test beliefs in all of these areas. Equally, it would be a valuable investment to the home educator for all the same reasons. Its quiet, private tone would perhaps make it less suitable for reading aloud than many books, but it would be a great volume to have on the family shelf as it's certain to provoke discussion between parent and child. And that, really, can only be a good thing.

Me? I just enjoyed reading it. And I cried at the end. I thought Private Peaceful was lovely. I think I'll leave you with a lovely bit because Morpugo's words are better than mine:

"He's become like a big brother to everyone... There isn't a man in the company who doesn't look up to Charlie. Being his real brother I could feel I live in his shadow, but I never have and I do not now. I live in his glow."

If you think your child needs a simpler book about the Great War, try our review of Billy The Kid, also by Michael Morpurgo.

Booklists.jpg Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo is in the Top Ten Teen Books That Adults Should Read.

Booklists.jpg Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo is in the Most Read Reviews On Bookbag.

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lynelle_44 said:

Honestly I loved this book it was amazing and interesting its counted as one of my favorites. I chose this book for an English class for my senior year in High School at Gallup High School in Gallup, New Mexico. And I am still doing research on this book for my book report which is worth half of my grade. But just my comments I love it.. its an inspiration and gives a good outlook on what the meaning of family really is.

tinacaution said:

The way I rad it, Tommo is sitting in a barn, alone,reflecting on his life,unwilling to sleep. The reasons for the location and his determination to remain awake throughout the night only become apparentat the end of the book. Morpurgo succeeds in keeping us wondering throughout the book.

Both of my grandfathers fought in WW1, one at Ypres and the other in the Somme. My mother's father had trench foot and my father's father joined The Black Watch - also lieing about his age -16. He was wounded in the side by a bayonett. Like Charlie, he was sent back to the trenches on recovery.

The whole family has enjoyed this book - from ages 12 to 85!

Jill replied:

Thank you for such a lovely comment!

claph said:

best book ever

laughing-lil said:

This is a fantastic book and definetely worth reading. i give this book 10 out of 10, but if your for happy books this book is not for you!

jammy2006 said:

i love this book me nd my class read it and did an essay on it

crzy sox said:

i chose this book to read for an assignment in history class and i'm glad i did. following the story of Tommo's life, feeling the love, the hate, the pain, the joy. it all felt so real. i loved it. it was an inspirational novel and it was very interesting but at the same time very easy to follow. Michael Morpurgo, you've done an amazing job.

jay s.b. said:

the book is absolutely amazing, i read it in my english lesson's and it is fabulous

Graham Kent said:

I love this book because it appeals to so many people, I read it for an English essay and I just fell in love with it and read it again. this bit on the front really sums it up. I love that it is truthful and tell the war for what it really was.