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This is Where I Stand

Scholastic, 2021
Illustrated by Kieran Rynhart
ISBN 9781775433842
Shortlisted for the Children’s and Young Adults Book Awards 2021

A beautiful story centred around the statue of a World War One soldier. The statue describes his own memories of the war, as well as what he has seen from his pedestal as the years have passed.

When I wrote this story, I was thinking of the “Untidy Soldier” statue in Devonport, which was unveiled in 1924. It has stood there ever since, unchanging, while around it so many other things have changed. Years have gone past; children have grown up and people have got older. The way we think about and mark Anzac Day  has changed, but the statue hasn’t.

I especially like this statue because of the story behind it. Many of the World War One memorial statues were carved in Italy, but a few were made by New Zealand sculptors, and this was one of them. It was made by Frank Lynch (there were actually two castings, and the other one is in Masterton), and he imagined it as an Anzac soldier, about to leave Gallipoli, and taking off his hat in honour of his dead comrades and friends who had died and been buried there. The “Untidy Soldier” nickname came about because of the figure’s creased and scruffy uniform, with undone buttons and trailing bootlaces, as if to show that the Anzacs weren’t always impeccably turned out, but were nevertheless loyal mates and brave heroes of war.

Frank Lynch had himself served at Gallipoli and in France and he modelled the statue on his brother Joseph.

But the story could be about any soldier statue in any town, just as it could be about any soldier. This book is all about time and memory; how some things change, and others don’t. It was a challenge to get across that sense of time, and to build in the soldier’s own story, without making the text seem too “jumpy” or disjointed. 

The illustrator

I love Kieran Rynhardt’s thoughtful and hauntingly beautiful illustrations, which have added so much to the text. He had his own challenge: to try and bring energy and movement to a story about a statue which is, of course, unmoving. I’m so impressed by how he has done this, and created such a sense of the surrounding community and of time passing while the soldier statue watches on.

A highlight for me was being able to attend the Anzac Day service at the foot of the Untidy Soldier statue while I was on the Easter residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre on Takarunga Mt Victoria in 2019. Many Anzac services around the country had been cancelled in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque shootings, but the official service in Devonport was also cancelled, but a community-led one went ahead. 

The falling-down socks and trailing boot laces are one reason why the statue got its name: The Untidy Soldier.

The Devonport “Untidy Soldier” statue was unveiled on Sunday 13 April 1924. This article from the Auckland Star newspaper of 14 April describes the reaction of some of the crowd afterwards. I like the way they argued over the details of his uniform – these “experts” must surely have been returned soldiers themselves. I especially like the comment about how the Aussies often complained about losing parts of their uniforms to Kiwi soldiers “bivvied” nearby!

Media Interviews

Interview: Philippa Werry Talks about This is Where I Stand, NZ Booklovers, 30 March 2021

“Words that came to mind as I read the book: ethereal, wistful, humility, moving, sad, and heartfelt. This is one book you will want to keep and visit for a reminder of wars past, and not just on Anzac Days”. Interview with Terry Toner on The Book Show, Radio Southland, 21 April 2021 (starts at about 25.50)

Interview with Radio Rhema, 22 April 2021

Meet Philippa Werry, a finalist for The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, Kete: new books from Aotearoa

“I love the fact that our tamariki can now read so many more books set in New Zealand and see their own lives reflected here.” NZCYA finalists talk to us about being reflected in a book, Read NZ Te Pou Muramura, 29 June 2021

Reviews

“When all is said and done, when even the survivors are dead and gone, the memorials remain. In eloquent prose, Philippa Werry, author of several children’s novels including The Telegram, set in World War One, and an impressive collection of non-fiction titles, recalls a century of dawn parades.”
Ann Packer in the Listener, 24 April 2021

“Author Philippa Werry’s strong focus on New Zealand history and stories shines yet again in this picture book” … read more
NZ Booklovers

“This picture book takes an unusual and very moving approach to our history and how we mark it… This is a beautifully-produced book with a strong, well-presented message. While young children can understand it, the statue’s story also resonates strongly with adults. It is sure to be read aloud at future ANZAC services.”
Trevor Agnew in The Source (online arm of Magpies magazine)

“Werry’s lyrical prose is spare and full of emotion, perfectly matched by Rynhart’s haunting, sepia-toned illustrations that add extra layers to this poignant story of remembrance. This is Where I Stand is a wonderful addition to our collection of Anzac stories and ideal for sharing with children aged 5+” … read more
The Children’s Bookshop, Kilbirnie

“There are many Anzac Day books for children, but this one shines bright in the crowd… A beautifully haunting sophisticated picture book for children aged 5-12 years.”
Chelsea Heap in Magpies, May 2021

“There is so much to love about this book. The language is poetical and just beautiful… The illustrations are stunning.. Together, the language and art work make this a beautiful book” … read more
Book Trailers for Kids and YA

“Perfect to understand the sacrifices of war and the passage of time” … read more
Bobs Books Blog

“This book would provide a great starting point for a discussion on war, bravery, beliefs, history, change and really anything to do with the human spirit” … read more
Read NZ: School Library (I really appreciate the honesty of this review, from someone who said that initially she did not expect to like it)

“The whole book makes the hairs on the neck stand up and sends tingles down the spine… A read that will generate much discussion and would be a valuable addition to any home or classroom” … read more
A Word about Books

“Now standing silent, always watching and never changing, the soldier stands in memory of all those lost before him…. A reminder – hushed and beautiful” … read more
WhatBookNext.com

“I love the way the text is written in heightened prose, almost as a poem. The words beg to be read aloud, slowly and with frequent pauses to allow the implications of the soldier’s world to sink in” … read more
KiwiReviewsNZ

You can find teacher notes for This is Where I Stand here.

New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2021
Book sales table, thanks to The Children’s Bookshop, Kilbirnie
Kieran Rynhart (illustrator) and Philippa Werry (author)
All the finalists in the picture book section: L to R: Nicola Daly (judge), Kate Parker, Laura Shallcrass, Kimberly Andrews, Lael Chisholm, Chris Gurney, Philippa Werry, Kieran Rynhart and Hon Jan Tinetti
Another highlight of the book awards = there is always pizza, thanks to Hell Pizza, sponsor of the Hell Reading Challenge!
From Essence (the Rotorua Daily Post weekend publication) 15 May 2021

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