cover image Half a Man

Half a Man

Michael Morpurgo, illus. by Gemma O’Callaghan. Candlewick, $16.99 (64p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7747-3

Master storyteller Morpurgo imagines the ordeal of one of WWII’s grievously burned soldiers, narrated in a remarkably authentic voice by the man’s grandson, Michael. Michael’s mother tells him never to stare at Grandpa when he visits (“He had three half-fingers on one hand and no fingers at all on the other. His top lip had almost completely disappeared, and one of his ears was little more than a hole in his head”). Yet, somehow, avoiding looking at Grandpa means only half-seeing him, and seeing him as “half a man.” As Michael grows older, he begins visiting Grandpa on the island where he lives. Grandpa shares the horrors of the attack that left him scarred and the decades of misery that followed. Still more affectingly, he thanks Michael for looking at him—for really seeing him. O’Callaghan’s prints, however, choose not to look. The characters are seen from far off, their features absent or indistinct, while the quiet landscape expresses the story’s sadness. Morpurgo is at his best when dealing with ordinary people wrestling with huge emotions, and this story may bring tears to unsuspecting readers. Ages 10–up. (Feb.)