THE BOOK: Kokoda (Teen Edition) by Peter Fitzsimons.
Published by Hachette Australia in 2016
Cover reproduced with permission from Kokoda: Teen edition by Peter FitzSimons, Hachette Australia, 2016.
The Summary: Kokoda is a well written narrative non fiction book by an acclaimed Australian writer Peter Fitzsimons. The story is about a group of young Australian men, most still teenagers, trying to make a stand against the much stronger Imperial Japanese Army in the treacherous terrain of Papua New Guinea. The story of the Kokoda trail is eerily similar to Gallipoli, and for many people this historical event builds upon the ANZAC legend. Aimed at readers over 12 years old, this book is ideal for teenagers to read for recreational and academic purposes.
The Good: Fitzsimons captures the essence of the young Australian men magnificently. His use of colloquial language and casual references to Sydney strests gives the reader confidence in the author’s authenticity and veracity. Kokoda is a well written text that describes the events of 1942 in superb detail. Battle scenes and forced marches are brought to life vividly. His use of language was subtle, allowing the reader to become engaged with the story but at the same time not overwhelming them with military jargon and complex sentences. This book’s storyline and prosaic style would suit teenage boys very well.
The Bad: The format of the book was consistent with other expository texts with the inclusion of a contents page, maps, photographs, reference list and index. But unlike many other information texts, this book did not have any other additional resources, such as links to further reading or websites such as the Australian War Memorial Kokoda Collection.
The Interesting: It was interesting reading Fitzsimons’ perspective on the Kokoda campaign as his stance differs from the viewpoints of other war writers and journalists. Unlike the official war reports, Fitzsimons is quite scathing of the military hierarchy’s competency. He is very blunt in the way he points out that Australians died in New Guinea because of mismanagement. He also points out the conflict between the celebrated MacArthur’s battle plan and Pott’s frontline perspective. Fitzsimons is just short of scathing in the way he refers to MacArthurs’s speaking of battle tactics whilst safely ensconced in his office over 2000 km away from the jungles of New Guinea. He also discusses the Battle of Milne and points out the manner in which MacArthur claimed the victory as part of his plan rather than the effort of Australian boots on the ground.
The Verdict: Kokoda meets content standards within the Year 10 History Curriculum – Experiences of Australians during World War 2. It is an excellent resource for teenagers as it contains both facts and figures, yet written in a narrative style. This style allows the reader to become engaged with the text and have an increased recall of the information within. Intermixing prose and factual information requires the reader to become more analytical and thus improves critical thinking skills. The conflicting views that Fitzsimons offers about MacArther gives the reader a chance to question bias in texts. The book also allows the reader to connect their prior knowledge of the Gallipolli digger to the story of the Kokoda trekker and build their knowledge of Australian history. Additionally, as the book is classified as a non fiction resource, more classroom teachers are comfortable using them as resources for teaching and learning. This is because some educators have an unconscious bias towards the implementation of literature outside the language arts curriculum. Kokoda would be an asset for high school library collections and a useful literacy resource.