This is a powerful story about the tragic impact of the First World War on both the soldiers who fought and the families that they left behind.
The war is over and the whole town is celebrating as the soldiers march past. They are home at last. Sixteen year old Tony watches the parade but does not join in the celebrations. His brother, Charlie, is not coming home. Tony’s mother has refused to accept that her older son has died and sits at home watching and waiting for him to walk through the door. She has lost a grip on reality and although physically there the mother he knows is gone, temporarily or possibly for good. Tony is grieving both for the loss of his brother and his mother. There is worse still for him to bear as his brother died in circumstances he finds difficult to believe. As Tony leaves the town after the parade his former teacher hands him a white feather, the symbol of cowardice. The feather was for his beloved and admired brother, Charlie.
This is a moving and at times shocking story of a young man’s attempts to clear his brother’s name. Tony is so distraught at the accusation against Charlie that he is prepared to go to extreme lengths to prove that his brother was not a traitor. As his quest continues and he gets ever closer to solving the mystery surrounding his brother’s death it becomes apparent that even those who Tony considers his enemy may be suffering from the horrors of this war too.
Mother and son duo Catherine and David MacPhail have created a book that will make young readers pause and think about aspects of World War One not always covered in children’s books and this would prompt much discussion in the classroom. Although as a reader we have great sympathy for Tony’s distress it is clear by the end of the story that everyone, in different ways, has been altered by the trauma of war. Although we never meet Charlie his voice is a strong one and in some ways speaks for the many other young men who lost their lives. Several different themes are touched upon in this short but gripping book including, grief, shell shock, trauma and loyalty. I think that this book would be a valuable addition to school library or classroom shelves.
Thank you to the publishers, Barrington Stoke, for providing me with this review copy. As with all their titles White Feather is presented in a super readable style making it especially suitable for dyslexic, less confident or reluctant readers of about 9+ The book cover artwork and vignettes are by Mary Kate McDevitt
If you would like a taste of the story the first chapter is available here.
If you are looking for more titles linked to World War 1 I can highly recommend Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer also published by Barrington Stoke. Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey have created a wonderful series of picture books for children of all ages. These include Peace Lily told from the viewpoint of a young nurse and The Christmas Truce a poignant retelling of the famous events of Christmas 1914.