Oratia Books, 2022
Illustrated by Burak Akbay
The Water Bottle is a picture book set in two countries (Turkey and New Zealand) and two time frames (1915 and today). I hope it’s a story about how today’s young people can build friendships with others who may at first seem “different”, and learn how to look at well-known historical events from a new perspective.
The publishers and I started off with the idea of some kind of artefact that might become a precious family treasure, either in Turkey or in New Zealand. I came across the true story of an Otago soldier’s handkerchief that had been a treasured heirloom of a family in a Turkish village for over a hundred years. I looked at museum websites to see what other artefacts might have come back here, like pinecones, coins or wooden spoons. But I kept coming back to the idea of a water bottle, because that seemed to symbolise some of the hardships of the campaign, in which water was such a precious commodity.
There are several stories of Anzac and Turkish soldiers sharing food or water or rescuing each other. Some people say these are myths that didn’t happen, but there are examples in newspapers and diaries. The photos might be staged, but they might also be authentic, or based on things that actually happened.
“One case is told where a Turk dressed the wounds of a British soldier under fire. Another left a water-bottle with a wounded Australian. Another Australian, who was taken prisoner but escaped, states that he was very well treated.” (Sydney Mail, 30 June 1915)
I also tried to choose names for all the characters that were appropriate to their culture and age and to the story. One of the children is called Airini, which means “peace”. Tom’s great-great-uncle was called Claude, which was the name of my grandfather (also at Gallipoli). I looked up the meanings of Turkish names and liked the name Derya which means “sea, ocean”. That seemed fitting for someone who crossed the sea to come to New Zealand.
This book is about how we can show compassion even in difficult times, and how we can reconcile differences from the past. It was a challenge to write a story that tried to get that across without romanticising the events of the Gallipoli campaign.
I love Burak Akbay’s warm, colourful and sometimes achingly strange illustrations, which have added so much to the text. He had his own challenge: to illustrate scenes on the far side of the world which he had never seen, as well as those set in his own country, and scenes set in the past as well as the present day. I’m so impressed by how he has done this, creating a sense of growing friendship among the three children, while not shying away form the horrors of the Gallipoli campaign.
It was an unusual experience to work with an overseas illustrator and I really enjoyed it. Picture book writers and illustrators often work quite separately, but because Burak was in Turkey, we sent him suggestions for some New Zealand scenes, like what a typical war memorial or classroom might look like. But of course he was very familiar with the Turkish scenes, and it was fascinating to see his interpretation of them, and to watch the illustrations developing as he worked on them.
Going to Gallipoli
In 2014, I was lucky enough to go to Gallipoli with Gallipoli Volunteers, a group of Australian and New Zealanders who helped out with the Anzac Day services. In the days beforehand, we went round the Gallipoli peninsula with a wonderful Turkish guide called Baris. The Anzac cemeteries are beautifully cared for and very moving. But it was a privilege to visit the Turkish commemoration sites as well.
The names of 2800 soldiers are recorded on tiers of steps down the hillside.
WATER: CHEAP AT £1000 A DROP. The Price Men at Gallipoli Would Gladly Have Paid for Water.
Sunday Times (Sydney), Sun 29 Dec 1918 pg 16
“If you are looking to support stories for Anzac Day, The water bottle wil be a great addition to your library… The book offers two sides of the conflict and shows how we can bridge gaps, compassion for others and the value of friendships. The superb illustrations are by Turkish artist, Burak Akbay.”
Swings & Roundabouts (the magazine for Early Childhood Centres), Autumn 2023
“Two sides of the same conflict are seen through the eyes of a Turkish and a Kiwi child when their families become neighbours in New Zealand.”
Ann Packer in The Listener, 23 April 2022
“Beautifully illustrated, the story is a complex and enlightening story of the connection between Turkey and New Zealand and both demonstrates the ANZAC spirit, and educates children about important aspects from our past. It’s a timeless, and vital story”…read more
Chris Reed in NZ Booklovers
“A poignant story about friendships, bridging gaps, WWI, and finding something in common with new friends” … read more
Maria Gill in KidsBooksNZ
“Superbly illustrated by Turkish Illustrator Burak Akbay…Old enemies can be friends. Just in time for ANZAC Day. For everybody” … read more
Bobs Books Blog
Teacher notes for The Water Bottle are available here.