A Medal for Leroy
Michael Morpurgo (Juvenile Historical Fiction)
Michael has no father, brothers, or sisters. Just his mother, Maman, and two aunts: Auntie Pish and Auntie Snowdrop. It is 1940s London and right after the war. Michael’s friends call him “Poodle” because of his frizzy hair and French ancestry. But Michael doesn’t mind much. In fact, he likes being different, being special. Regarding his father, Michael knows only what his mother has told him: his father’s name was Roy, he was a Spitfire pilot, and he was killed in the war. But when Michael’s aunt passes away, she leaves behind a clue that will not only shed light on his past, but also finally reveal who he is.
A Medal for Leroy was inspired by the true story of Walter Tull, the first black person to serve as an officer in the British Army. Like his fictional counterpart in this story (Michael’s grandfather, Leroy), Tull grew up in an orphanage, played soccer, served heroically in battle, and has no known grave. Both Tull and Leroy deserved a medal for bravery, but were denied because of the color of their skin. Morpurgo is a master storyteller (author of the spectacular novel War Horse) and provides his characters with a surprising amount of depth given that his book is only 130 pages. He delicately tackles the ugliness of racial intolerance and inequality while showing young readers the value of having dignity in the face of disgrace and showing love without reservations or conditions.
In a world that still seems divided by so many factors, it is worth looking at the words that Michael’s aunt, who served as a nurse during the First World War, wrote to Michael: “It was while I was with those poor wounded soldiers that I first understood, Michael, that when all’s said and done, it’s what we all want and need most: to love and to be loved.” Words lovingly passed along to a beloved nephew that would serve us all to remember today and always.
* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com