Michael Morpurgo writes a lot of books about war. Several of them also include animals. A fair number, too, include those unbelievable coincidences in which our friend Charles Dickens also indulged. War Horse, for example, irritates me as a book, a film and a show, because it ends with a deus ex machina - Joey and Albert ending up in the same place? Come on, now.
We forgive Dickens and Morpurgo. After all, we crave happy endings. The horse delights, anyway, in whichever form we consume the story, and we love the other characters as well.
A Medal for Leroy also includes war, an animal (several actually – various generations of a Jack Russell called Jasper), a happy ending and characters we grow to love. Yet it does not rely on any strange coincidences. This could have happened to anyone. Leroy, Michael, the two aunties and mum Christine are people to whom the reader can relate. The ending is satisfying and brings closure but is not a rip-roaring “happily ever after” affair. It is all the more believable and satisfying for being thus.
There are some parallels between Leroy’s life and that of Walter Tull, the first black player at Tottenham Hotspur and the third professional black player in the UK. Normally soldiers had to be “of pure European blood” so both Tull and Leroy were unusual in being allowed to fight in the Great War. Leroy is not Tull, however: he was more for The Arsenal.
This is an ideal crossover book. It is very accessible to fluent, junior school children, may appeal to teens as it has young people in it and will certainly not be too simplistic in content for adults.Morpurgo is after all a master story-teller.