Michael doesn’t know much about his father, but he does know that he died in a plane crash in World War II. He remembers that his mother (or, as he calls her, his maman) was inconsolable, but tight-lipped about the details of his father’s history. Even after his father has died, Michael and his maman make regular trips to visit his father’s Auntie Pish and Auntie Snowdrop in Folkestone. His aunties seem taciturn and dreamy, respectively, but Michael learns that they may be keeping secrets about their family history. A look into his past changes Michael’s perspective forever.
In A MEDAL FOR LEROY, author Michael Morpurgo tells a moving, multi-generational story of a young boy discovering his roots. With a slim book of only 130 pages, the amount of depth with which Morpurgo imbues all of his central characters is extraordinary. From the beginning of the story, the reader is sure that she is in the hands of a master storyteller. Morpurgo also wrote WAR HORSE, a famous adult book that has been adapted into a highly successful play and film. A MEDAL FOR LEROY tackles similar themes, such as war and animals that follow different kinds of heroes through life. Instead of a horse, this time, he follows several generations of own very dear Jack Russell terrier named Jasper.
A MEDAL FOR LEROY treats issues of race in a very sophisticated way. Michael’s grandmother’s family raised their eyebrows at her affection for a man who they described as different from themselves. Michael notes that his father has dark skin in his photograph, and observes that he and his father have the same tightly curled hair. His aunties are white. Only once does Morpurgo state that a character “is black,” and this is used very intentionally to address the topic of interracial relationships and children. Morpurgo manages to have a discussion about race and racism without being reductive or “other”-ing his characters based on race.
This book packs a heavy punch for such a slender volume. It is a historical fiction piece with two narrative points of view, and it leaves the reader feeling close to all of the main characters in the book, even the non-narrators. It combines the grand scale of World Wars with the intimate space of personal tragedy to create a book that feels much bigger than it is, in the best way possible.
A MEDAL FOR LEROY is a nice story but I have to say that the recommended guidelines given for it are more than a bit skewed.
For 10 year olds. Really?
I mean we have some really horrendous prejudice going on in this book, and there's a mother pretending that her baby belonged to someone else (who was killed), and people lying for decades; and I can't imagine that a 10 year old would be fascinated by this, nor that every parent would want to sit down and have to explain 'how these things happen'.
The story itself is one that adults and Young Adults should like. The setting isn't very well described so it really could have taken place at any time. And the story within a story really works for this tale.
A MEDAL FOR LEROY is very slow to start. The first 68 pages basically are used to describe Micheal's life with his mother, two aunts and their dog. But after that, the history gains momentum.
--I don't recommend it as a history supplement. There's really nothing that attaches the story the time frame covered, other than the specific mention of dates and the wars. --It certainly could be used as the basis of a discussion of prejudice and how insidiously evil it is.