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Half a Man
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Half a Man

by Michael Morpurgo, Gemma O'Callaghan (Illustrator)
 

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Revered author Michael Morpurgo evokes the post-war Britain of his childhood in this unflinching and deeply poignant tale of the physical and mental scars of war.

From a young age, Michael was both fascinated by and afraid of his grandfather. Grandpa’s ship was torpedoed during the Second World War, leaving him with terrible burns. Every time he came to

Overview

Revered author Michael Morpurgo evokes the post-war Britain of his childhood in this unflinching and deeply poignant tale of the physical and mental scars of war.

From a young age, Michael was both fascinated by and afraid of his grandfather. Grandpa’s ship was torpedoed during the Second World War, leaving him with terrible burns. Every time he came to stay, Michael was warned by his mother that he must not stare, he must not make too much noise, he must not ask Grandpa any questions about his past. As he grows older, Michael stays with his grandfather during the summer holidays and learns the story behind Grandpa’s injuries, finally getting to know the real man behind the solemn figure from his childhood. Michael can see beyond the burns, and this gives him the power to begin healing scars that have divided his family for so long.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
11/24/2014
Master storyteller Morpurgo imagines the ordeal of one of WWII’s grievously burned soldiers, narrated in a remarkably authentic voice by the man’s grandson, Michael. Michael’s mother tells him never to stare at Grandpa when he visits (“He had three half-fingers on one hand and no fingers at all on the other. His top lip had almost completely disappeared, and one of his ears was little more than a hole in his head”). Yet, somehow, avoiding looking at Grandpa means only half-seeing him, and seeing him as “half a man.” As Michael grows older, he begins visiting Grandpa on the island where he lives. Grandpa shares the horrors of the attack that left him scarred and the decades of misery that followed. Still more affectingly, he thanks Michael for looking at him—for really seeing him. O’Callaghan’s prints, however, choose not to look. The characters are seen from far off, their features absent or indistinct, while the quiet landscape expresses the story’s sadness. Morpurgo is at his best when dealing with ordinary people wrestling with huge emotions, and this story may bring tears to unsuspecting readers. Ages 10–up. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
Morpurgo writes with great sensitivity and grace... Veterans are still returning from war with scars and trauma; this short story may help families heal.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Morpurgo has penned an extraordinary little book of pain and triumph. ... The text is lovingly illustrated by O’Callaghan in ink with a screen-printing technique that captures the story and the emotions brilliantly. ... With our returning wounded warriors of today, this is a timely and superb addition to all collections and not to be missed.
—School Library Journal (starred review)

At once stark and tender, this slim volume brims with the pain of loss but also, finally, with the happier ache of loving reconciliation.
—The Wall Street Journal

O’Callaghan’s saturated pen-and-ink illustrations reflect the magnitude of Morpurgo’s storytelling, creating full-page vistas and adding movement to the narrative through smaller action panels. Well suited for the more serious or contemplative reader, this is rich with positive insights into ways goodness can surpass one’s flaws.
—Booklist

Master storyteller Morpurgo imagines the ordeal of one of WWII’s grievously burned soldiers, narrated in a remarkably authentic voice by the man’s grandson, Michael. ... Morpurgo is at his best when dealing with ordinary people wrestling with huge emotions, and this story may bring tears to unsuspecting readers.
—Publishers Weekly

It’s a poignant tale, and O’Callaghan’s spare illustrations, rendered in ink and screen prints with primarily oranges, blacks, and shades of blue, capture well the vivid emotions of this story, while also leaving a lot to the reader’s imagination.
—Kirkus Reviews

It’s the connection between the boy and his grandfather that readers will remember...The matter-of-fact tone of the narration balances the intensity of the events in the story.
—Literacy Daily

Children's Literature - Ellen Welty
Michael’s grandfather was terribly burned in the war, leaving him scarred and disfigured. Michael always has nightmares before his grandfather’s visits, partly because of his mother’s instructions to never look at his grandfather’s face or hands. As a result, they have taken on an unnatural horror. As Michael gets older, he starts spending some time in the summer with his grandfather on his remote island home. Without his mother’s instructions, Michael is finally able to look at his grandfather and to see the man inside the burned face. The two of them form a lasting bond. The book mentions Dr. McIndoe, whose pioneering work in plastic surgery for the victims of burns was revolutionary. The illustrations are spare and deceptively simple, capturing the suppressed emotions in the story better than more elaborate paintings would have. Michael gradually hears the story of his grandfather’s injuries from his grandfather and comes to understand much about the man. The half man he had seen when he was a young boy has become a loved member of Michael’s family. Reviewer: Ellen Welty; Ages 10 up.
School Library Journal
★ 01/01/2015
Gr 3 Up—Morpurgo has penned an extraordinary little book of pain and triumph. It is a fictionalized tale but is based on the heroic work of Dr. McIndoe, a pioneering plastic surgeon who treated severely burned soldiers during World War II. The narrator is Michael, a young boy whose grandfather is severely disfigured from burns sustained during the war. His grandfather lives a solitary and misanthropic life and only visits family during the holidays. These are tense and frightening times for the young boy, due in no small part to his mother exhorting him to never stare at his grandfather's face, and it is always a relief when he leaves. When Michael begins spending summers with him on his remote island home, the two gradually form a loving and enduring bond. Michael now looks directly at his grandfather's face, and this simple gesture is a balm to a soldier who had considered himself "half a man." The text is lovingly illustrated by O'Callaghan in ink with a screen-printing technique that captures the story and the emotions brilliantly. The scenes where the grandfather describes his harrowing ordeal are made that much more potent with her haunting images. This title will resonate with a variety of readers, including children who are interested in World War II, fans of R.J. Palacio's Wonder (Random, 2012), and is an outstanding choice for reluctant readers. With our returning wounded warriors of today, this is a timely and superb addition to all collections and not to be missed.—Amy Nolan, St. Joseph Public Library, St. Joseph, MI
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-12-06
A grandson's loving homage to his war-scarred grandfather.Michael has been told to never stare at his grandfather when he comes for rare visits. During World War II, Grandpa served on a British merchant vessel that was torpedoed and engulfed in flames, leaving his face a grotesque mask. When Michael turns 12, he starts spending summers with Grandpa, fishing off the Isles of Scilly. It is only when Michael is older, a high school graduate, that the grandfather recounts what happened in all its horrific detail. Facially disfigured, missing fingers and turning to drink, he was abandoned by his wife, who took their daughter, the narrator's mother, with her. "No one wants a monster for a husband. No one wants half a man…." At his death, he leaves a note for his grandson asking that the family gather together to scatter his ashes in the sea. They do, and gannets, a sign of good luck, fly overhead. Morpurgo writes with great sensitivity and grace, dedicating the book to a World War II burn victim who underwent experimental reconstructive surgery. The ink-and-screen-printed illustrations in blues and oranges vividly contrast the violence of the recalled violence with the calm serenity of water. Veterans are still returning from war with scars and trauma; this short story may help families heal. A sorrowful yet ultimately redeeming tale. (Fiction. 12-16)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780763677473
Publisher:
Candlewick Press
Publication date:
02/24/2015
Pages:
64
Sales rank:
1,234,929
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile:
770L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Michael Morpurgo, the British Children’s Laureate from 2003 to 2005 and the recipient of many awards, has written more than one hundred books, including Singing for Mrs. Pettigrew, illustrated by Peter Bailey; The Mozart Question, illustrated by Michael Foreman; and I Believe in Unicorns, illustrated by Gary Blythe. His hugely popular novel War Horse was made into both a critically acclaimed stage play and a highly successful film. Michael Morpurgo lives in Devon, England.

Gemma O’Callaghan is an illustrator and printmaker. This is her first book for children. She lives in England.

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