One Minute’s Silence

Authored by David Metzenthen
Illustrated by Michael Camilleri
Published by Allen & Unwin

This book has been awarded the status of ‘Honour Book’ by The Children’s Book Council of Australia and was the 2015 winner in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. It is a stunning book. The premise is that people are asked on Remembrance Day every year, to observe ‘one minute’s silence’ in memory of the Anzacs and the Turkish troops who fought in Gallipoli from April to December 1915.

What makes this book so memorable is the fact that here, we are now being asked to consider the perspectives of both Anzacs and Turks. Perhaps for the first time we realise that in every conflict there are competing rights and competing points of view. We also begin to see that perhaps we are often more like our ‘enemies’ than we are different. We may not share the ideology of those who broker war, but we have much in common with those who choose to – or who are obliged to – fight in it.

Metzenthen’s text is rhythmic and calm while asking powerful question after powerful question. Camilleri’s sepia shaded, pencil drawings depict starkly and beautifully the raw, lived reality of the horror of war – for both sides. The endpapers show the enlarged inner workings of a timepiece and a tiny image of what could be a school or barracks or prisoner-of-war camp. What is the significance of this little institution-type building?

The opening double page spread shows us a class of ten bored teenagers being asked by their teacher to observe the ‘one minute’s silence’. We see them again at the end, now visibly shaken by the experience of listening to and visualising the story. And, as we examine the images of the war, we notice that each of the students’ faces is included – a stark reminder that they are the same age as many of those who fought.

This is an extremely valuable book in that it is impartial in its treatment of the subject. We fear and hate our enemies, forgetting that, for them, we are the enemy. This is not a book for young children but would be a very useful resource in senior primary or post primary settings. It could be used for multi-curricular purposes, for example in the history, civics, geography, religion, and art classrooms. It would be an ideal starting point for a philosophy discussion.

The images and message linger long after reading it.