The Red Poppy
Written by David Hill
Illustrated by Fifi Colston
Reviewed by Katharine Derrick
Teaching notes available at:
New Zealand soldier, Jim McLeod waits in the trenches on the Western Front, France. Soon the battle will begin and he’s scared. The guns roar and Jim and the other soldiers engage with the enemy. Jim is injured and takes refuge in a shell crater only to find he is sharing it with an enemy soldier. Pooling their resources, and with the help of Nipper the messenger dog and a red poppy, they send for help.
Hill uses a number of techniques to capture the horror and fear of the soldiers involved in the battle. Our first introduction to Jim is him writing a letter to his mother and sister. He mentions nothing of the war or his feelings, a subtle indication that these are too horrific to burden his family with. Hill then uses a ticking clock scenario in the countdown to battle, a change in font to emphasise tension, and the red poppies – a symbol of war definitely but also a symbol of hope, courage and acceptance.
Colston’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the text. Before the book was out I got a sneak preview of the cover and the image of the stark landscape, the men in the trenches and the expression in the dog’s eyes evoked an emotional response and I had to read the book. Colston maintains the starkness and emotion throughout; in the men’s eyes, in their slumped shoulders, in the splashes of red on a sombre background.
Even though The Red Poppy is a picture book, I have included it in my reviews because the themes covered make it a great resource for students in Years 7-10 studying our involvement in the World Wars, especially from a more personal level.
Hill, David and Colston, Fifi (ill). The Red Poppy, Scholastic New Zealand Ltd, Auckland, 2012.
For more information on New Zealand’s involvement in World War I go to: