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The King's Medal by Maria Gill

Poppa reveals a war medal in his hand to his grandson. Manu asks, "Did you win it?"

"Sort of, a King gave it to me," the old man says.

So begins the true story of the Anzac soldiers saving the Greek King in World War II. Falling under the category of creative non-fiction, The King's Medal is based on true events which occured in Crete during WWII.

Avoiding German paratroopers and renegade Crete mountaineers, the grandfather recalls his perilous journey trekking from one side of the island to the other, trudging up a ravine, across the White Mountains and through a narrow gorge until his eventual arrival to the coast and a ship that can take him to safety.

Manu discovers a tale of bravery, teamwork and sacrifice, and sees his grandfather in a new light.

As author Maria Gill says, people associate war stories with death and misery. While she doesn't shy away from that aspect, the story revolves around the brave New Zealand soldiers guarding the Greek king and getting him to safety.

I didn't know a great deal about this particular event of WWII but this picture book offers an action-packed story of bravery and loyalty.

A spread at the back includes descriptions and detailed illustrations of the different medals awarded to members of 12 Platoon. Gill helpfully includes more background information and detail about the true story here too.

The illustrations by Alistair Hughes are full of detail and realistic, with lots of emotion. There are no actual photographs used, but Hughes brings the atmosphere, environment and emotion to life with his drawings in intricate detail. Whether it is a sky full of parachutes or two lonely soldiers rowing into an inky night, Hughes does a brilliant job of transporting the reader right into the action.

An education and important story, Gill has once again found another story of courage in our history that was in danger of being forgotten and retold it for the next generation.

Reviewed by Rebekah Lyell Upstart Press, RRP $24.99