Morpurgo, Michael 1943–
Morpurgo, Michael 1943–
Born October 5, 1943, in St. Albans, England; son of Tony Valentine Bridge and Catherine Noel Kippe; stepson of Jake Eric Morpurgo; married Clare Allen, 1963; children: three children. Education: King's College London, B.A., 1967.
Home—Winkleigh, Devon, England. Agent—David Higham Associates, 5-8 Lower John St., Golden Square, London W1R 4HA, England.
Writer and educator. Primary school teacher, 1967-75. Joint founder and director, Farms for City Children, 1976—; opened Nethercourt House farm, 1976, Treginnis Isaf, 1989, and Wick Court, 1998.
Whitbread Award runner up, 1982, for War Horse; Carnegie Medal runner up, 1988, for King of the Cloud Forests; London Guardian Children's Fiction Prize runner up, 1991, for Waiting for Anya; Silver Pencil Award (Holland); Best Books selection, School Library Journal, 1995, and Top of the List selection for Youth Fiction, Booklist, 1995, both for The War of Jenkins' Ear; Whitbread Award, 1995, for The Wreck of the Zanzibar; Nestlé Smarties Gold Medal, 1997, for The Butterfly Lion; Editor's Choice, Books for Keeps, 1999, for Cockadoodle-Doo, Mr. Sultana!; named Member, Order of the British Empire, 1999, for creating Farms for City Children; named children's laureate of Scotland, c. 2004; Carnegie Medal shortlist, and Guardian Children's Fiction Prize longlist, both 2004, and Blue Peter Book Award, 2005, all for Private Peaceful; Blue Peter Award shortlist, 2006, for The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips.
FICTION; FOR CHILDREN
It Never Rained: Five Stories, illustrated by Isabelle Hutchins, Macmillan (London, England), 1974.
Thatcher Jones, illustrated by Trevor Ridley, Macmillan (London, England), 1975.
Long Way Home, Macmillan (London, England), 1975.
(Compiler with Graham Barrett) The Story-Teller, Ward Lock (London, England), 1976.
Friend or Foe, illustrated by Trevor Stubley, Macmillan (London, England), 1977.
What Shall We Do with It?, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont, Ward Lock (London, England), 1978.
Do All You Dare, photographs by Bob Cathmoir, Ward Lock (London, England), 1978.
(Editor) All around the Year, photographs by James Ravilious, drawings by Robin Ravilious, new poems by Ted Hughes, J. Murray (London, England), 1979.
The Day I Took the Bull By the Horn, Ward Lock (London, England), 1979.
The Ghost-Fish, Ward Lock (London, England), 1979.
Love at First Sight, Ward Lock (London, England), 1979.
That's How, Ward Lock (London, England), 1979.
The Marble Crusher and Other Stories, illustrated by Trevor Stubley, Macmillan (London, England), 1980.
The Nine Lives of Montezuma, illustrated by Margery Gill, Kaye & Ward (Kingswood, England), 1980.
Miss Wirtle's Revenge, illustrated by Graham Clarke, Kaye & Ward (Kingswood, England), 1981.
The White Horse of Zennor, and Other Stories from below the Eagle's Nest, Kaye & Ward (Kingswood, England), 1982.
The War Horse, Kaye & Ward (Kingswood, England), 1982, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1983, reprinted, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2007.
Twist of Gold, Kaye & Ward (Kingswood, England), 1983, Viking (New York, NY), 1993, reprinted, Egmont (London, England), 2007.
Little Foxes, illustrated by Gareth Floyd, Kaye & Ward (Kingswood, England), 1984.
Why the Whales Came, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1985.
Tom's Sausage Lion, illustrated by Robina Green, A. & C. Black (London, England), 1986, BBC Consumer Publishing, 2003.
Jo-Jo, the Melon Donkey, illustrated by Chris Molan, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1987, illustrated by Tony Kerins, Heinemann (London, England), 1995.
King of the Cloud Forests, Viking (New York, NY), 1988.
My Friend Walter, Heinemann (London, England), 1988.
(With Shoo Rayner) Mossop's Last Chance, A. & C. Black (London, England), 1988.
Mr. Nobody's Eyes, Heinemann (London, England), 1989, Viking (New York, NY), 1990, reprinted, Egmont (London, England), 1989.
Conker, Heinemann (London, England), 1989.
(With Shoo Rayner) Albertine, Goose Queen, A. & C. Black (London, England), 1989.
(With Shoo Rayner) Jigger's Day Off, A. & C. Black (London, England), 1990.
Waiting for Anya, Heinemann (London, England), 1990, Viking (New York, NY), 1991, reprinted, Egmont (London, England), 2007.
Colly's Barn, illustrated as Alasdair Bright, Heinemann (London, England), 1991, published as The Marble Crusher, Egmont (London, England), 2007.
(With Shoo Rayner) And Pigs Might Fly!, A. & C. Black (London, England), 1991.
The Sandman and the Turtles, Heinemann (London, England), 1991, Philomel (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Shoo Rayner) Martians at Mudpuddle Farm, A. & C. Black (London, England), 1992.
The War of Jenkins' Ear, Heinemann (London, England), 1993, Philomel (New York, NY), 1995, reprinted, Egmont (London, England), 2007.
Snakes and Ladders, Heinemann (London, England), 1994.
(Editor) Ghostly Haunts, illustrated by Nilesh Mistry, Pavilion (London, England), 1994.
Arthur, High King of Britain, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Pavilion (London, England), 1994, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1995.
The Dancing Bear, illustrated by Christian Birmingham, Young Lion (London, England), 1994, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1996.
(With Shoo Rayner) Stories from Mudpuddle Farm (including the previously published And Pigs Might Fly!, Martians at Mudpuddle Farm, and Jigger's Day Off), A. & C. Black (London, England), 1995.
(With Shoo Rayner) Mum's the Word, A. & C. Black (London, England), 1995.
(Editor) Muck and Magic: Tales from the Countryside, forward by HRH The Princess Royal, Heinemann (London, England), 1995.
The Wreck of the Zanzibar, illustrated by Christian Birmingham, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
Blodin the Beast, illustrated by Christina Balit, Fulcrum (Golden, CO), 1995.
Sam's Duck, illustrated by Keith Bowen, Collins (London, England), 1996.
The King in the Forest, illustrated by T. Kerins, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
The Butterfly Lion, illustrated by Christian Birmingham, Collins (London, England), 1996.
The Ghost of Grania O'Malley, Heinemann (London, England), 1996, Viking (New York, NY), 1996.
Robin of Sherwood, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1996.
(Editor) Beyond the Rainbow Warrior, Pavilion (London, England), 1996.
The Marble Crusher (includes The Marble Crusher, Colly's Barn, and Conker), Mammoth (London, England), 1997.
Farm Boy, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Pavilion (London, England), 1997.
Red Eyes at Night, illustrated by Tony Ross, Hodder (London, England), 1997.
Wartman, illustrated by Joanna Carey, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1998.
Escape from Shangri-La, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Cockadoodle-Doo, Mr. Santana!, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998, published as Cockadoodle-Doo, Mr Sultana!, illustrated by Holly Swain, Scholastic (London, England), 1998.
(Reteller) Joan of Arc of Domremy, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1999.
(Compiler) Animal Stories, illustrated by Andrew Davidson, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 1999.
Kensuke's Kingdom, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Heinemann (London, England), 1999, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.
The Rainbow Bear, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Doubleday (London, England), 1999.
Billy the Kid, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Pavilion (London, England), 2000.
Black Queen, Corgi Juvenile (London, England), 2000.
(Compiler) The Kingfisher Book of Great Boy Stories: A Treasury of Classics from Children's Literature, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 2000.
Wombat Goes Walkabout, illustrated by Christian Birmingham, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.
The Silver Swan, illustrated by Christian Birmingham, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2000.
From Hereabout Hill, Mammoth (London, England), 2000.
Who's a Big Bully Then?, illustrated by Joanna Carey, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2000.
Mister Skip, Roaring Good Reads, 2000.
The King in the Forest, Hodder and Stoughton (London England), 2001.
Toro! Toro!, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Collins (London, England), 2002.
Out of the Ashes, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Macmillan (London, England), 2002.
Cool!, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Collins (London, England), 2002.
Because a Fire Was in My Head, Faber and Faber (London, England), 2002.
Beastman of Ballyloch, HarperCollins Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.
Jim Davis: A High-Sea Adventure, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.
The Last Wolf, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Doubleday (London, England), 2002.
Sleeping Sword, Egmont (London, England), 2003.
Gentle Giant, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Collins (London, England), 2003.
Mairi's Mermaid, illustrated by Lucy Richards, Crabtree Publishing (New York, NY), 2003.
Cool as a Cucumber, illustrated by Tor Freeman, Walker (London, England), 2003.
Private Peaceful Walker (London, England), 2003, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2006.
(Reteller) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.
Who's a Big Bully Then?, illustrated by Joanna Carey, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2004.
Little Albatross, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Doubleday (London, England), 2004.
Dolphin Boy, illustrated by Michael Forman, Anderson (London, England), 2004.
(Reteller) The Orchard Book of Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark, Orchard (London, England), 2004, published as The McElderry Book of Aesop's Fables, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 2005.
I Believe in Unicorns, illustrated by Gary Blythe, Walker (London, England), 2005, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2006.
(Reteller) Beowulf, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2006.
The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2006.
Alone on a Wide Sea, HarperCollins (London, England), 2006.
On Angel Wings, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Egmont (London, England), 2006, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2007.
It's a Dog's Life, illustrated by Judith Allibone, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2007.
(Compiler with Clifford Simmons) Living Poets, J. Murray (London, England), 1974.
(Librettist) Words of Songs, music by Phyllis Tate, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1985.
Some of Morpurgo's books have been translated into Gaelic and Welsh.
Why the Whales Came was adapted as a film titled When the Whales Came, 1989, by Golden Swan Films; My Friend Walter was adapted as a television film by Portobello Films for Thames Television/ WonderWorks, 1993; Out of the Ashes was adapted as a television film; Billy the Kid was adapted as a play, produced in Southwark, England, 2007. Several of Morpurgo's books have been adapted as audiobooks, including Kensuke's Kingdom, 2001; and Private Peaceful, read by Jeff Woodman, Recorded Books, 2005.
British author Michael Morpurgo has, over the years, contributed original children's literature in historical fiction, animal stories, fantasies, picture books, easy readers, and retellings of legend and myth. Often employing the rural setting he knows so well, he places his young protagonist in challenging situations that ultimately test their character. Often praised for the simple elegance of their prose, his works are "heartwarming and sensitive," according to Jennifer Taylor in St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers.
Since leaving childhood himself, Morpurgo has hardly spent a day out of the company of children. A father by age twenty, he was a grandfather at age forty-three; a teacher in primary schools for a decade, he has also helped to run Farms for City Children—a venture that brings urban children to the countryside—since 1976. Although his books are generally uplifting and teach ethical lessons, Morpurgo is never preachy; his ability to spin an engaging tale is what has made books such as Why the Whales Came, The War of Jenkins' Ear, Waiting for Anya,The Wreck of the Zanzibar, Escape from Shangri-La, Out of the Ashes, and The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips so popular.
Morpurgo was born on October 5, 1943, in St. Albans, England, into a country that had been at war with Nazi Germany for over four years. At the age of seven he went away to a grammar school in Sussex where he was introduced to "class war," as he recalled to Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper. "The schoolboys and the village boys had fights and difficulties; walking along cow paths, we'd hurl insults at each other. It was an indication that there were people out there who didn't like you because of the way you spoke, and we didn't like them either. And while things have changed since the 1950s, class still seems to me to be a cancer that riddles our society." As a young schoolboy Morpurgo was viewed by his friends as "good at rugby and a bit stupid," as he admitted in his Young Writer interview. It was not until years later that Morpurgo gained his love of reading, especially the novels of Robert Louis Stevenson, Paul Gallico, and Ernest Hemingway and the poetry of Ted Hughes, a poet laureate of England and a close friend of Morpurgo's.
At age fourteen Morpurgo entered Kings School in Canterbury, graduating in 1962. The following year he married Clare Allen, daughter of the publisher of Penguin books, and the couple eventually raised two sons and one daughter. Meanwhile, he completed his degree at King's College London in 1967, and then became a teacher and completed his compulsory service in the British Army. While working as a teacher he determined to become a writer. "I had a notion I could tell a tale when the children I was teaching really seemed to want to listen to the tales I told them," Morpurgo noted in Young Writer. "An acid test." Reading Ted Hughes's Poetry in the Making influenced the young man to think that he too could string words together rhythmically and literally got him writing. "No better invitation to write was ever written and I accepted," Morpurgo remarked in Young Writer. "I love the sound of words, the rhythm of a sentence."
Living in the countryside, Morpurgo also wanted to introduce city-born-and-bred kids to the wonders of nature. To that end, he and his wife started Farms for City Children in the 1970s. Under this program, kids come to stay at the farm and work and take care of animals for several weeks. So popular has the program become, that the Morpurgos operate three farms where more than two thousand children per year have the opportunity to get in touch with nature and themselves. In 1999, Morpurgo and his wife were honored in the Queen's Birthday List with the MBE for their work with Farms for City Children.
Morpurgo's early work includes both short novels for ten-to twelve-year-olds and picture books for younger readers. With books such as Miss Wirtle's Revenge, a tale about a little girl who competes successfully against a class full of boys, Morpurgo was noted for establishing a writing career "successfully outside the mainstream," in the opinion of Times Literary Supplement reviewer Josephine Karavasil. His short novel Nine Lives of Montezuma, published in 1980, details nine narrow-escape adventures of a farmyard cat named Montezuma. Told from the cat's point of view, the book also follows the farming year as a background story. When Montezuma dies, the cat knows that there is a descendant to take its place in the scheme of things on the farm. In Junior Bookshelf D.A. Young noted that the story "is told without sentimentality, though not without sentiment," and recommended Nine Lives of Montezuma "with confidence to cat-lovers of any age."
Animals play a starring role in Morpurgo's first book to be published in the United States. Based on a true story, War Horse is the story of World War I as seen through the eyes of Joey, a farm horse commandeered by the British Cavalry in 1914. Mounted troops stood little chance against the mechanized horrors of modern warfare, and Joey endures bombardment and capture by the Germans. He is set to work pulling ambulances and guns, worked by different masters but never forgetting young Albert, the kind son of his original owner back in England. In the end, persistence and courage pay off as Joey and Albert are reunited. Kate M. Flanagan, writing in Horn Book, noted that "the courage of the horse and his undying devotion to the boy" permeate this book, which she maintained was written with "elegant, old-fashioned grace." In Voice of Youth Advocates Diane G. Yates commented that Morpurgo's "message about the futility and carnage of war comes across loud and clear." Highlighting similarities between War Horse and Anna Sewell's classic Black Beauty, Margery Fisher concluded in Growing Point that Morpurgo's book "is a most accomplished piece of story-telling, full of sympathy for an animal manipulated by man but preserving its dignity." Warmly received on both sides of the Atlantic, War Horse helped win an international audience for Morpurgo.
Morpurgo's novel Twist of Gold begins in 1840s Ireland. When famine hits, Sean and Annie O'Brien set off for North America to find their father, an adventurous journey that takes them across the ocean and then across a continent via wagon train and river boat. A story of a childhood test, Twist of Gold was described by Fisher as a "touching and inventive adventure story." More attention came Morpurgo's way with the 1985 publication of Why the Whales Came, a novel that was subsequently adapted for film. Set in 1914 on Bryher in the Scilly Islands off England's southwest coast, Why the Whales Came introduces siblings Gracie and Daniel. Forbidden to associate with the Birdman, a strange old man on the far side of the island the children realize that the deaf old man is actually lonely, not evil. As the three become fast friends, war hovers ominously in the background. On Bryher there is another, parallel war between the islanders and the sea and weather. When a whale washes ashore, Gracie, Daniel, and the Birdman must convince residents to return the creature to the sea rather than butcher it and risk calling forth an ancient curse. "The success of Morpurgo's novel comes … from its portrait of the two children and from its exploration of the blend of superstition and communal spirit existing in an isolated settlement," noted Crouch. Cindy Darling Codell, writing in School Library Journal, commented that Morpurgo's language "is lean, yet lyrical," and that his descriptive paragraphs "let readers taste the salt of the sea and feel the grit of the islander's lives." In Growing Point Fisher dubbed Why the Whales Came "a forceful and exciting narrative."
The Scilly Islands also provide a setting for Morpurgo's Whitbread Award-winning novel Wreck of the Zanzibar, the story of a childhood on Bryher Island as told through the diary of Laura, and of her secret treasure, Zanzibar, a wooden tortoise. Laura's narrative is the record of a harsh life, of adversity and the will to overcome. Crouch commented that The Wreck of the Zanzibar, while a short book, is "by no means a slight one," and praised the "beautiful timing throughout." A further tale with an island setting is recounted in Ghost of Grania O'Malley, a story set off the coast of Ireland and involving young Jessie, her American cousin Jack, and the ghost of the female pirate Grania O'Malley as they battle to prevent the ecological destruction of the island.
Morpurgo tells another animal-centered story in Jo-Jo, the Melon Donkey, a picture book for older children set in 16th-century Venice. Jo-Jo, a bedraggled old donkey owned by a melon farmer, is laughed at when he stands in the town's main square. The Doge's (chief magistrate's) daughter decides to be his friend, however, and when offered any horse in the kingdom, she opts for Jo-Jo, to her father's disgust. Ultimately, Jo-Jo helps to save the city from a flood and becomes a hero, whereupon the Doge allows the girl her wish. Amy Spaulding, writing in School Library Journal, noted that the "writing style follows that of the literary fairy tale, being at once simple and elegant." A Kirkus Reviews critic commented that, "with a nice blend of humor and sadness, Morpurgo brings to life the vibrancy of 16th-century Venice."
Illustrated by Christian Birmingham, The Dancing Bear features another animal in its picture-book story about young singer Roxanne and the orphaned bear cub she has raised. When a film crew comes to her remote village to make a video, Roxanne is lured by bright lights, and decides ultimately to leave with the group, pursuing fame and fortune as an entertainer. Her bear dies the following day. Although enjoying the poignant story, School Library Journal contributor Kathy East felt that Morpurgo's lesson is "likely to appeal more to adults, who will relate to the elderly narrator and his style, than to children."
In his picture books, Morpurgo often teams with illustrator Michael Foreman. In The Rainbow Bear, for example, the collaborators bring to life a story about a polar bear that decides to hunt rainbows rather than seals. The book is "a fable about the folly of trying to become something that you naturally are not," according to London Observer critic Kate Kellaway. As the reviewer further noted, Morpurgo's story is "gracefully told and elegantly concluded." Other picture-book collaborations between Morpurgo and Foreman include Cockadoodle-Doo, Mr. Sultana!, Gentle Giant, Little Albatross, and Dolphin Boy. A retelling of a traditional story about a rooster that refuses to be cheated out of a button it finds, Cockadoodle-Doo, Mr. Sultana! was praised by School Librarian critic Mary Medlicott as "rumbustiously full of life," with language "as rich as a plum pudding." Dolphin Boy, in which an impoverished seaside town is entertained by a group of dolphins, was praised by a Kirkus Reviews critic as "a happy tale" that "celebrates a collective act of kindness." Other illustrators noted for their collaboration with Morpurgo include Gary Blythe, Tony Ross, and Christian Birmingham.
As it does in his picture books, Morpurgo's love of animals also finds its way into his writing for young adults In Little Foxes, for example, young Billy feels attracted to the wildlife living near a ruined church; the mythic Yeti save a lost boy in King of the Cloud Forests; Ocky the chimpanzee becomes a boy's companion in Mr. Nobody's Eyes; giant turtles populate a child's dreams in The Sandman and the Turtles, Farm Boy details the memories of four generations of an English farming family, and Toro! Toro! a man recalls his love for a bull in his native Spain. Reviewing King of the Cloud Forests, Jacqueline Simms wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that Morpurgo's "marvelous adventure story … will surely become a perennial favourite," and Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books contributor Roger Sutton predicted the "brief and dramatic novel … may woo reluctant readers back to the fold." "Morpurgo's storytelling style is unhurried," noted School Library Journal critic Lee Bock in a review of Farm Boy, while a Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "a small gem" and an "expertly crafted reminder that stories can link generations." In School Library Journal, Shawn Brommer described Toro! Toro! as "ideal for reluctant readers" in its focus "on the loss and grief that grows out of times of war."
Like Toro! Toro!, many of Morpurgo's novels are set during wartime and focus on the repercussions of political aggression. Waiting for Anya focuses on the plight of Jewish children in France during World War II, while in Escape from Shangri-La an old man's memories of rescuing British forces from Dunkirk are rekindled by a granddaughter's affection. Another old man reflects on his life from boyhood to his years of soccer-playing as a youth, and then his capture by enemy troops during World War II in Billy the Kid. Returning to World War I, Private Peaceful follows the recollections of a young boy who, by lying about his age, followed his older brother from the family's farm into the British Army and, ultimately, into the trenches at the war's front lines.
Waiting for Anya is set in the Pyrenees just after the surrender of the French forces. Jo, a young shepherd, becomes involved in a scheme to save the local children when he discovers that a man named Benjamin is hiding them at a farm near the village of Lescun. Benjamin is smuggling the children across the border into Spain; he is also waiting for his own daughter, Anya, to make her way to his safe house from Paris. Jo begins delivering supplies to the farm, a job that becomes far riskier after the Nazis occupy Lescun and threaten to kill anyone aiding fugitives. Soon, however, the entire town is aiding the effort to smuggle the children across the border. Although Benjamin is captured and sent to Auschwitz, Anya finally turns up at the farm and is saved at the end of this "gripping, clearly written story," as Ellen Fader described it in Horn Book. Crouch, reviewing the novel in Junior Bookshelf, called Waiting for Anya "an intensely exciting story guaranteed to keep a sensitive reader on the edge of his chair." Morpurgo's story is "rich in the qualities which make for critical approval," Crouch added, concluding that while "there have been many Second World War stories for the young, none … deals more convincingly with its perils and dilemmas."
In Escape from Shangri-La an old tramp named Popsicle turns out to be Cessie's long-lost grandfather. When the old man has a stroke, he is admitted to the Shangri-La nursing home, but his heath quickly declines. Finally Cessie finds her grandfather's real home: an old lifeboat that was used to help in the evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk during World War II. From a photograph and news clippings, Cessie learns that her grandfather took part in this heroic effort. After a faded photo of the Frenchwoman who hid him from the Germans after he fell overboard during the rescue effort makes Popsicle recall the past, Cessie helps her grandfather and other unhappy residents of the home make a break for it. Together they head to France to track down this woman, only to discover that the woman never returned from German arrest in 1940. "Readers will enjoy the climactic adventure and respond on a deeper level to the friendship between a spirited child and a lifelong loner," wrote John Peters in a Booklist review of Escape from Shangri-La.
Fourteen-year-old Thomas Peaceful is the narrator of Morpurgo's highly lauded novel Private Peaceful, in which "exquisitely written vignettes explore bonds of brotherhood that cannot be broken by the physical and psychological horrors" of World War I, according to Horn Book contributor Peter D. Sieruta. After Thomas's older brother Charlie enlists in the British Army and ships out for France, the young teen lies about his age and signs up as well. In what Booklist critic Hazel Rochman described as a "terse and beautiful narrative," Thomas recalls his life from the cold depth of a trench, realizing that he will likely not survive the battle to be waged the following day. "Using first-person narration, Morpurgo draws readers into this young man's life, relating memories that are idyllic, sobering, and poignant," wrote School Library Journal contributor Delia Fritz. The plot builds through the tragedy of a brother's mental illness, a frustrated love, the indignities of poverty, and a father's death. In praise of the novel, Rochman added that Morpurgo's suspenseful ending is "shocking, honest, and unforgettable."
Taking a lighter tone than he does in many of his stories focusing on war, Morpurgo introduces a spirited preteen girl through the pages of a decades-old diary in TheAmazing Story of Adolphus Tips. The diary is given by Lily Tregenza to her grandson, Boowie, and through it he gets to know a new side of the older woman he knows only as Grandma. Lily, a spirited young girl, watches her father leave to fight in World War II when she is twelve. When the family is forced to leave their Devon farmhouse on the English coast, so that the area can be used by U.S. Army troops rehearsing for the invasion of the French coast at Normandy, Lily's beloved cat Tips becomes missing. Worried about her cat, as well as about her father's safety, Lily learns to deal with both through her friendship with an African-American soldier named Adolphus. Lily's "personal story of anger and love is as gripping as the war drama" within her tale is set, according to Rochman, while in Kirkus Reviews a critic praised the girl's narration as "clear and believable."
Turning to his memories of his school years, Morpurgo sets The War of Jenkins' Ear in an English boarding school. Here young Toby Jenkins meets a remarkable boy named Christopher who claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Although Christopher begins to develop a following among the students, he is betrayed by one of his friends and expelled from the school for blasphemy. Quill and Quire contributor Joanne Schott commented of the novel that "a strict school of 40 years ago makes a credible setting and gives scope for the complex relationships Morpurgo uses to examine questions of belief and credulity, deception and self-deception, loyalty and the pressure of doubt." Tim Rausch, writing in School Library Journal, called The War of Jenkins' Ear a book that "tackles provocative themes, dealing with the issues of hate, revenge, prejudice, and especially faith in an intelligent and fresh manner."
In Kensuke's Kingdom Morpurgo transports readers to an exotic setting. Here a young boy, who fell overboard from his family's boat, makes his way to a remote island. On his own except for a dog he befriends, the boy meets a mysterious old Japanese man, the Kensuke of the title, who slowly allows the boy into his heart. From an island, readers are transported into the past in The Last Wolf, which finds an old man researching his family tree on a computer his granddaughter has let him use. While doing his research, the man stumbles across an account taking place during the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland in 1745, when a young boy whose parents had been killed found a similarly orphaned wolf pup. Together the two managed to escape to Canada and a new life. Kensuke's Kingdom "must be ranked alongside Morpurgo's best," declared Linda Newbery in a School Librarian review, the critic adding that, "like several of his most successful stories, [the novel] has the feel of a fable."
Taking place in 2001, Out of the Ashes finds thirteen-year-old Becky Morley keeping a diary of the disastrous outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease that has broken out in England. Becky, a farmer's daughter, is proud of her dad and loves her country life and her horse. All this changes as the epidemic reaches their Devon farm, as it did all three of the author's own farms in his Farms for City Children program. Within a matter of months the work of a lifetime has been destroyed for the Morleys and other farmers like them, although Morpurgo ends his novel on a positive note. George Hunt, writing in Books for Keeps dubbed Out of the Ashes a "short novel powerfully told," and a Times Educational Supplement critic described the book as a "hard-hitting" and "heartfelt account" of a contemporary tragedy.
In addition to his original stories, Morpurgo has also breathed new life into old legends, from the stories of King Arthur to Aesop's Fables, Beowulf, a new version of the legend of Robin Hood, and a version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight featuring Foreman's illustrations. Arthur, High King of Britain, which Morpurgo reshapes as a time-travel adventure, was dubbed "the real thing—darkness and all," by Heather McCammond-Watts in her Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books review. With Robin of Sherwood added twists such as an albino Marion create an "outstanding new version of the Robin Hood legend," according to Nancy Zachary in Voice of Youth Advocates. Morpurgo's version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is introduced to new generations through what Connie C. Rockman described in School Library Journal as "the vibrant and compelling voice of a storyteller," and a Kirkus Reviews writer praised it as a "handsomely packaged" and "fluid translation of the 14th-century tale."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Children's Literature Review, Volume 51, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 116-151.
Hobson, Margaret, Jennifer Madden and Ray Pryterch, Children's Fiction Sourcebook: A Survey of Children's Books for 6-13 Year Olds, Ashgate Publishing (Aldershot, Hampshire, England), 1992, pp. 154-155.
St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 603-605.
Booklist, January 1, 1996, Ilene Cooper, interview with Morpurgo, p. 816; October 1, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Robin of Sherwood, p. 350; June 1, 1997, Kathleen Squires, review of The Butterfly Lion, p. 1704; September 15, 1998, John Peters, review of Escape from Shangri-La, p. 231; February 15, 2004, Todd Morning, review of Toro! Toro!, p. 1060; April 15, 2004, Connie Fletcher, review of Gentle Giant, p. 1447; October 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Private Peaceful, p. 326; November 1, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, p. 480; May 1, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of The McElderry Book of Aesop's Fables, p. 1588; April 15, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, p. 59; March 1, 2007, Linda Perkins, review of Beowulf, p. 74.
Books for Keeps, September, 1997, Clive Barnes, review of Sam's Duck, p. 23; May, 1998, Gwynneth Bailey, review of Red Eyes at Night, p. 24; March, 1999, Rosemary Stores, review of Cockadoodle-Doo, Mr. Sultana!, p. 21; May, 1999, review of The Rainbow Bear, p. 6; January, 2002, George Hunt, review of Out of the Ashes, p. 23; March, 2002, George Hunt, review of Toro! Toro!, p. 22.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July-August, 1988, Roger Sutton, review of King of the Cloud Forests, pp. 234-235; May, 1995, Heather McCammond-Watts, review of Arthur, High King of Britain, p. 317; December, 2004, Deborah Stevenson, review of Private Peaceful, p. 177.
Carousel, spring, 1997, p. 17.
Growing Point, November, 1980, Margery Fisher, review of The Nine Lives of Montezuma, p. 3776; November, 1982, Margery Fisher, review of War Horse, p. 3989; January, 1984, Margery Fisher, review of Twist of Gold, pp. 4183-4184; January, 1987, Margery Fisher, review of Why the Whales Came, p. 4749; November, 1989, pp. 5240-5245.
Horn Book, December, 1983, Kate M. Flanagan, review of War Horse, pp. 711-712; July-August, 1991, Ellen Fader, review of Waiting for Anya, p. 458; March-April, 1996, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of The Wreck of the Zanzibar, p. 198; November-December, 2004, Peter D. Sieruta, review of Private Peaceful, p. 713.
Junior Bookshelf, December, 1980, D.A. Young, review of The Nine Lives of Montezuma, p. 294; December, 1985, Marcus Crouch, review of Why the Whales Came, p. 279; August, 1988, pp. 179-180; December, 1989, pp. 298-299; February, 1991, Marcus Crouch, review of Waiting for Anya, pp. 35-36; June, 1992, pp. 113-114; August, 1995, Marcus Crouch, review of The Wreck of the Zanzibar, p. 148.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1987, review of Jo-Jo, the Melon Donkey, p. 1677; April 15, 1997, review of The Butterfly Lion, p. 645; December 15, 1998, review of Farm Boy; September 15, 2004, review of Private Peaceful, p. 916; October 15, 2004, review of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, p. 1011; January 1, 2005, review of Dolphin Boy, p. 55; June 1, 2005, review of The McElderry Book of Aesop's Fables, p. 641; April 1, 2006, review of The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, p. 352; October 15, 2006, reviews of I Believe in Unicorns and Beowulf, p. 1075.
Magpies, November, 1999, Catherine McClellan, review of Wombat Goes Walkabout, p. 6.
Observer (London, England), October 24, 1999, review of Wombat Goes Walkabout, p. 13, Kate Kellaway, review of The Rainbow Bear, p. 13.
Publishers Weekly, May 12, 1997, pp. 76-77; February 12, 1999, review of Joan of Arc of Domremy, p. 95; December 6, 2004, review of Private Peaceful, p. 60.
Quill and Quire, July, 1993, Joanne Schott, review of The War of Jenkins' Ear, p. 59.
School Librarian, February, 1997, p. 33; autumn, 1998, Norton Hodges, review of Escape from Shangri-La, p. 147; spring, 1999, Jam Cooper, review of Joan of Arc of Domremy, pp. 40-41; summer, 1999, Mary Medlicott, review of Cockadoodle-Doo, Mr. Sultana!, p. 79; winter, 1999, Linda Newbery, review of Kensuke's Kingdom, p. 192; spring, 2001, Chris Brown, review of Billy the Kid, pp. 47-48; summer, 2001, Nikki Gamble, review of The Silver Swan, p. 90; autumn, 2001, Chris Brown, review of Out of the Ashes, pp. 158-159.
School Library Journal, February, 1987, Cindy Darling Codell, review of Why the Whales Came, p. 82; April, 1988, Amy Spaulding, review of Jo-Jo, the Melon Donkey, p. 87; July, 1995, Helen Gregory, review of Arthur, High King of Britain, p. 89; September, 1995, Tim Rausch, review of The War of Jenkins' Ear, p. 219; May, 1996, Kathy East, review of The Dancing Bear, p. 114; August, 1997, Gebregeorgis Yohannes, review of The Butterfly Lion, p. 158; March, 1999, Lee Bock, review of Farm Boy, p. 212; May, 1999, Shirley Wilton, review of Joan of Arc of Domremy, p. 128; April, 2001, Edith Ching, review of The Kingfisher Book of Great Boy Stories: A Treasury of Classics from Children's Literature, p. 146; March, 2004, Kathy Krasniewicz, review of Gentle Giant, p. 120; May, 2004, Shawn Brommer, review of Toro! Toro!, p. 154; October, 2004, Connie C. Rockman, review of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, p. 172; November, 2004, Delia Fritz, review of Private Peaceful, p. 150; June, 2005, review of The McElderry Book of Aesop's Fables, p. 140; August, 2006, Jane G. Connor, review of The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, p. 126; December, 2006, Susan Helper, review of I Believe in Unicorns, p. 110.
Times Educational Supplement, February 8, 2002, review of The Last Wolf, Toro! Toro!, and Out of the Ashes, pp. 20-21; November 5, 2004, Geraldine Brennan, "Dear Mr. Morpingo: Inside the World of Michael Morpurgo," p. 19.
Times Literary Supplement, March 26, 1982, Josephine Karavasil, "Matters of Rhythm and Register," p. 347; February 19, 1988, Jacqueline Simms, "Magic Man," p. 200.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1984, Diane G. Yates, review of War Horse, p. 32; February, 1997, Nancy Zachary, review of Robin of Sherwood, p. 330; June, 1998, Kathleen Beck, review of The War of Jenkins' Ear, pp. 103-104.
Achuka,http://www.achuka.com/ (April 20, 2003), "Michael Morpurgo."
Michael Morpurgo Home Page,http://www.michaelmorpurgo.org (November 15, 2007).
Young Writer Online,http://www.mystworld.com/youngwriter/ (February 12, 2003), "Michael Morpurgo."