Friday, 22 June 2018

Billy the Kid by Michael Morpurgo

Billy the Kid by Michael Morpurgo: Book review for primary teachers.

Billy the Kid is the story of an 80 year old man whose dream was to play for Chelsea. It is told in the first person as Billy sits on a park bench watching a group of children knock a football around. As he watches them, he recalls events from his life, from fond memories of playing football with his Dad to the Second World War and its devastating effects on him and his family and his struggles when he turned to vagrancy.

The novel isn't divided into chapters. Instead each section is punctuated with a fleeting recollection and short commentary on what he observes whilst sitting on the bench. These are marked by the use of a slightly different font. This naturalistic jump between past and present may prove to be challenging for less experienced readers and thus makes the novel more suited to children aged 10+. Some of the content relating to the deaths of family members and the war also makes it more suited to older children.

As the novel is told through a series of recollections, you have two main timelines: the 'real' time timeline, ie the present, which takes place over the course of a few hours whilst the 80 year old Billy sits on the bench observing the children play football and culminating in him attending the match of his beloved Chelsea; the second is the timeline of his life which is told through the recollections. Some of the recollections are date specific as they relate to events during the Second World War. It might be useful for children to plot the two timelines in order to sequence the events as they unfold.

There are some interesting instances of foreshadowing throughout the novel. These provide opportunities to develop pupils prediction skills beyond those they have developed through their early reading, by identifying the key phrases which indicate that Billy's life is going to change. In order to predict what might happen children will need to not only use their knowledge of what has already occurred in the novel they will need to use their wider knowledge of WW II.

Billy's character arc is an interesting one to map. He develops from a happy, confident child to a lonely, sad, elderly man who gradually, once again, experiences companionship and has his love of football rekindled. Each of the changes in his personality can be mapped against specific events which occur during his life. A discussion of these points will help children understand the cause and effect nature of quality narrative. How Billy felt at the various points in his life could be explored through the use of hot-seating and thought-tracking.

The novel also raises a number of moral issues. Billy's father tells him that he 'must never go fighting in a war, any war.' Billy does try to keep his promise to his father but following the death of this brother feels the need to go and fight for his country. Later in the novel, the issues of alcohol and vagrancy are addressed both in a moving and sensitive way.

At the end of the novel we are provided with a series of author's notes which provide useful information of factual events relating the WW II. These could be researched further.

 Although football is a key feature of the book,you don't have to be a fan of football to enjoy it. It also addresses the devastating effects war has on families the lives of individuals.

No comments:

Post a Comment