Private Peaceful

Since I’ve been researching Great War literature, several people have asked me if I’ve read Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful, a children’s book published in 2003. They have spoken highly of its dramatic power,and its depiction of the horrors of the time. I’m essentially interested in fiction written before about 1930, but I thought I should take a look at this modern reworking of Great War material.

Morpurgo is a highly regarded children’s writer. This book was shortlisted for the Whitbread Award, and he was Children’s Laureate from 2003 to 2005. His book is very readable, written mostly in simple sentences and one-syllable words. I should imagine that it is aimed at ten year olds. There is a fair sprinkling of the kind of words that ten year olds enjoy – “fart”, “arse”and “goolies” for example.

The first half of the book is a standard misery memoir about rural poverty. The Peaceful family scrape a measly living working for the Colonel, the sadistic local squire (depicted with about the psychological complexity of the average panto villain). They also suffer at the hands of a cruel schoolteacher, who wields his cane vindictively. The Peacefuls, by contrast, are sensitive and kind to animals, and protective of one another. Their decency is especially shown by the way they care for Big Joe, the brother with special needs and a big heart.

An interesting minor aspect of the book is the message it gives its young reader about female sexuality. Young Molly is loved by the Peacefuls, and when Charlie makes her pregnant this is shown as natural and good. There are two older women though. The boys’ mother is unsexual, accepting the role of protective carer for her children. The great-aunt, though, who has a relationship with the Colonel, is shown as passionate, vindictive and evil. It’s the same message children are constantly fed by TV – when it comes to women, sexuality and passion are strictly for the young.

1914 arrives (before this, historical detail has been thin, though there is an episode where the boys see an aeroplane for the first time). Molly, who works as slavey for the vicious Colonel and has to iron his Times every morning, reads that

some Archduke – whatever that was – had been shot in a place called Sarajevo – wherever that was – and Germany and France were very angry with each other about it. They were gathering their armies to fight with each other and,if they did, then we’d be in it soon because we’d have to fight on the French side against the Germans.

So the war is caused by random inexplicable events far away, and Britain will be drawn in for murky reasons. Morpurgo gives no indication that the men of 1914-18 were fighting for anything. They were just fighting because they were supposed to. There is a caricature of a recruiting rally, and another of those vindictive older women calling Tommo Peaceful “chicken” because he hasn’t joined up.

Eventually Charlie and Tommo Peaceful do join the army, out of no idealism, but because they are bullied into it by the nasty characters. Their sergeant at Etaples is just as sadistic, vicious and one-dimensional as the Colonel and teacher of their childhood. When Charlie defends his younger brother from the sergeant’s cruelty he is sentenced to Field Punishment Number 1, and the author indulges himself with a bit of crucifixion imagery.

In battle, Charlie behaves equally heroically, carrying his wounded officer back to the lines under fire. (In this book, junior officers are represented as generally nice, but liable to die.) War is grim, but they survive a gas attack. They notice that the German soldiers are humans, just like themselves.

Trouble comes when the nasty sergeant from Etaples turns up to take charge of the Peaceful brothers’ platoon.

During one mini-battle, a trench wall collapses on Tommo. The sergeant orders the platoon on to near-certain massacre. Charlie refuses, saying he will stay to look after his brother. When the sergeant returns (though most of the rest of the unit have been wiped out) Charlie is charged with cowardice and, inevitably, sentenced to be shot at dawn.

It wasn’t a trial, Tommo. They’d made up their minds I was guilty before they even sat down . I had three of them, a brigadier and two captains looking down their noses at me as if I was some sort of dirt.

So saintly Charlie is shot (“Field Marshal Haig is God out here and Haig has signed… He has decreed that Private Peaceful will die…”) As for his brother:

The next day the regiment is marching up the road towards the Somme. It is late June, and they say there is going to be an almighty push and we’re going to be part of it. We’ll push them all the way to Berlin. I’ve heard that before. All I know is that I must survive. I have promises to keep.

That’s the end of the story, with Tommo heading off for the massacre of July 1st on the Somme. Modern children are allowed no hint that Britain eventually won the war, with Field Marshal Haig contributing considerably to that victory.

I don’t especially object to historical inaccuracy in children’s books. If that was the only thing wrong with Private Peaceful, I’d just be amused by the way that this book is the ideological mirror-image of Brereton’s With French at the Front of 1914.

What bothers me is its total lack of moral complexity. Children in the book’s target age range are quite capable of handling the ambiguities of the excellent Harry Potter series, or responding to the complex ethical questions raised by the best of the Doctor Who series on television. In this book they are offered nothing more than a wallow in self-righteousness and self-pity. The world is melodramatically divided into nasty people and victims, and everything is made clunkingly obvious.

How does a writer like this get shortlisted for the Whitbread? Who appointed him Children’s Laureate? The Queen? Should we be concerned that books as intellectually sloppy as this are taught to children in school.

The latest news is that another Morpurgo book about the Great War is to be adapted for the National Theatre. War Horse is a sort of “Black Beauty in the trenches”, so far as I can gather. I’ll be fascinated to see what sort of reception it gets.

Reading this book, I was reminded of Douglas Jerrold’s comments on some of the war books of the late twenties:

These books all reflect (intentionally or otherwise) the illusion that the war was avoidable and futile, and… the illusion that it was recognised as futile by those who fought it.


As for their infinite pity, nothing is easier, unfortunately, than to be bravely sympathetic about the sufferings of the past.

Jerrold goes on to consider how wallowing in the sufferings of the past can be a substitute for dealing with the problems of the present. Which is the way some of us feel about the government’s granting of pardons to WW1 deserters while failing to give adequate support to soldiers damaged by the war in Iraq…


  1. Dan
    Posted April 1, 2007 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    What a great post. Does anybody actually know the Children’s Laureate thing happens? I remember going to revival of Journey’s End a couple of years ago, and finding Private Peaceful for sale in the lobby. Quite how one would reconcile the two, unless one was either deeply mistaught, or presented with the historical context of both, I was unsure.

    • ZAINEB
      Posted November 10, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      could you please write an imaginatively about your day at school.You must convey emotions you should use powerful language
      you could use present tense like Marpurgo.

    • Bianca
      Posted April 24, 2015 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      I feel like this review does not make justice of the complexity of the book. It’s touching in it’s many layers, from Tommo and Charlie’s brotherly relationship, to Tommo’s love for Molly and his hurt at her relationship with Charlie, to his fear, curiosity and courage when in came to the war. It dismisses the book making it seem innatractive to people who haven’t read it, when it’s actually a book for some people, but not everyone. Clearly, It wasn’t a book for someone as inept as you, who can’t appreciate it fully. The critics at Whitbread knew better, as they are experienced, much more than any of us. Comparing it to Harry Potter, a completely different book, is wrong, like comparing the Bible and Percy Jackson, two very different topics, one made to entertain and amuse, while the other is fiction based on real heroes and an extremely real topic. I myself, strongly recommend you read the book.

  2. im
    Posted April 11, 2007 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    i read private peaceful its brilliant

  3. Jodie
    Posted May 6, 2007 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    What are you talking about????? this is a great book! How dare you say that can you believe it is being taught in schools!!!! It is a very good meaningful book, and maybe because you are all grown up you dont think it is good, but I loved it!! So…… in your face!!!!

    • Posted October 19, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      yh its really good we have it at school!!!

      • jonny523
        Posted March 6, 2019 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        me too

    • Anonymous
      Posted December 13, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      its the best book ever its xtreamly sad

      • Anonymous
        Posted March 28, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

        It’s my favorite book.

      • jonny523
        Posted March 6, 2019 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

        very sad

    • Posted June 14, 2019 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      i know, i loved it!!!

  4. Kate
    Posted May 6, 2007 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree with you Jodie!!!

  5. Posted May 6, 2007 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    Jodie –
    Mr Morpurgo is quite a skilful writer, so he manages to make something that maybe seems deeply meaningful, but I think he’s a dishonest writer, or maybe just a lazy one.
    He’s writing a historical novel, but he has not taken much trouble to find out how people actually behaved or thought ninety years ago.
    In particular he seems to believe the myth that everyone who broke military rules was likely to be shot at dawn. There are no records of anyone doing what Charlie did being shot. The army was not as unrelenting as he indicates, either.90% of those sentenced to be shot had their sentences reduced by generals such as Douglas Haig.
    More importantly, Mr Morpurgo does not give a convincing picture of human nature. He divides people into the nice and the nasty. The Peacefuls are always nice, and other characters are presented as simply vicious. The squire, the schoolmaster and the sergeant are shown as cruel, but we are given no reason for their cruelty. This is lazy writing on Mr Morpurgo’s part. A novelist who does not bother to give characters reasons for their actions is not doing his job. Worse than that, he is telling lies about human nature. Good writers make you aware that other people – even those you don’t agree with -are human beings just as complicated as you are yourself.
    You suggest that I don’t like it because it’s a children’s book. Not so. I have a great respect for the Harry Potter books, because J.K.Rowling makes you think about her characters. Snape, for example, seems just an unpleasant teacher in the first books, but gradually we get to know more about him, and see that he has a point of view that is not the same as Harry’s, but is just as genuine. As we read on in the Harry Potter series, our feelings become more complicated, and we have to re-think them. That is what good books do for us – they make us better able to understand other people – and this is what Private Peaceful doesn’t do. It just asks us to get weepy about fictional victims, which is too much like feeling sorry for ourselves for my taste… Books can do better than that.

    • Nach-yo-cheese
      Posted January 11, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      Your opinion on this subject is strong, but also, I would partially agree with your issue with the deprived human nature issue in the book. However, the punishment of being killed by firing squad verily did occur during WWI, which is why I am against you on that matter.

  6. Cheyenne;;
    Posted January 31, 2008 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    i love this book, i awesome … i had to read it ..


  7. Rhea
    Posted April 18, 2008 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    Mr. Simmers, so your saying that that goodness is not represented as well as it should be..I think that the characters in this book were dipicted well becsaue some were a good influence on the other adn helped the other in some ways
    I have to do an essay on How goodness and self-sacrfice is central to this story ..could you please give me some points.

  8. Posted April 18, 2008 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    Rhea –
    Mr Morpurgo divides the world into the good and the bad. The squire, the great-aunt, the teacher and the sergeant are totally evil. The Peaceful family are all good and kind and nice. My answer to Jodie above explains how this is sentimental, because it is not like real life.
    Charlie Peaceful sacrifices himself by staying behind to help his brother, and Mr Morpurgo tells us that he would have been shot for that. This is not historically accurate. What he would have been charged with under Section 5(1) of the disciplinary code was:
    “When on active service, without orders from his superior officer, leaving the ranks on pretence of taking wounded men to the rear.”
    The maximum penalty for this was prison, not death.
    Mr Morpurgo has invented an impossible situation to make his readers cry. Some readers enjoy crying, but I think that a better writer would have made his story more true to the facts of history, and of human nature.

    • timothy o connell
      Posted May 8, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      …and this from the man who thinks Haig was a bit of a hero!!! give us a break…”If i was fierce and bald and short of breath i’d live with scarlet majors at the base!!!!” an incompetent arrogant twat!

  9. Anonymous
    Posted May 21, 2008 at 5:03 pm | Permalink


  10. Rhea
    Posted June 9, 2008 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    What are the key themes and ideas explored in this book?
    What are Charlie and Tommo characters like?

  11. Rhea
    Posted June 9, 2008 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    How has Morpugo made animals associate with the characters

  12. Rhea
    Posted June 9, 2008 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    How has Morpugo made animals associate with the characters and wat was the poitn of singing oranges and lemons?

  13. Posted June 9, 2008 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Rhea –
    How bright of you to send me your homework questions! You will obviously go far in the modern world, where success mostly comes from delegating actual work to one’s inferiors.

    The key themes of the book are the nastiness of war, the niceness of the Peacefuls, and the superiority of Mr Morpurgo and his readers to horrible people who think that wars sometimes have to be fought to combat aggression.

    How has Morpurgo made animals associate with characters? Sentimentally.

    What was the point of singing “Oranges and lemons”?
    Well, you’ve got to sing something.

    I hope this helps.

    • Nach-yo-cheese
      Posted January 11, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      Reading your reply to that person was quite humourous.

    • Teri
      Posted January 5, 2012 at 4:20 am | Permalink

      You seem to be very sure of yourself, although you seem to have done exactly what you are accusing Morpurgo of – glossing over some facts and exaggerating others to get your own point across – ” Charlie and Tommo Peaceful do join the army, out of no idealism, but because they are bullied into it by the nasty characters” – well, not in the version I read – Charlie has idealism, and Tommo follows him as that is what Tommo does.

      Also, just because Morpurgo’s intentions are not the same as yours, this does not mean that Morpurgo is foolish and simplistic ” Children in the book’s target age range are quite capable of handling the ambiguities” and because he hasn’t written in a similar vein to “Harry Potter” (the franchise that has an unambiguous formulaic plot that is repeated in each novel, albeit in an entertaining way) is therefore undeserving of his award. Obviously the people (all millions of them) who like the novel are all stupid, gullible and ill informed.

      You seem to misunderstand that this is a fictionalised account – this NOVEL will not be found in the History section of libraries or bookshops. Morpurgo’s intention is to create sympathy for a character so that the readers can examine an aspect of history that may not put the Brits and the Military in the best light – like shooting deserters for cowardice without a proper trial, some of them being young boys who shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Most of the audience for this novel will live in Britain or have some link with Britain, so using this novel in schools as a starting point to examine the issues raised could actually bring up plenty of “moral complexity”!

      Instead it seems that you are annoyed that this novel doesn’t have the same agenda as you do – you seem particularly keen to refute any criticism about Haig – yet plenty of letters and poems of the time reflect that the soldiers fighting at the front felt that the desire to win the war was more important to the those in power than the welfare of the men themselves. Obviously not all the soldiers felt this, but some did, so why is it so bad for someone to have written a novel that is accessible for young people that reflects this point of view? After all, there is plenty of fiction out there that shows the glory of war and winning – despite this not being everyone’s experience!

      You also seem to be annoyed that the book represents a point if view that is quite current at the moment – that war is wrong. However, this is the social and historical context of the world we are now living in. Perhaps you would like to criticise Shakespeare for reflecting societies actual fear of the supernatural, magic and witches at the time of writing “Macbeth”?

      As for your reply to the girl asking about the themes of the novel, your glib, biased responses demonstrates a smugness that falls short of respecting her critical inquiry. Someone was looking for enlightenment – you served up faecetiousness – shame on you.

      • Posted January 8, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        Dear Teri,
        Thank you for your forthright comments. I don’t understand your claim that Charlie is not bullied. The Colonel threatens to throw the boys’ mother out of her home and Molly’s out of her job unless he enlists. If that isn’t bullying, I don’t know what is.
        I agree that a good teacher could use this novel to raise morally complex issues – but he or she would have to work against the grain of this book. Mr Morpurgo prefers to keep things cut and dried, separating humanity into goodies and baddies.
        I really do object to the book on literary grounds, not political ones. I have often expressed my enthusiasm for another work of children’s literature – the Charley’s War series – that takes a line I don’t particularly agree with, but does it with verve and skill, and shows a real feel for and interest in the period.
        And when a student goes online and asks a stranger to do her homework for her, I’m afraid that I actually do believe that she deserves to be teased, just a little.

  14. kelly
    Posted June 30, 2008 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    I really like this book i am only half way through it but it is great as a class at school i think the whole class are enjoying it go private peaceful

  15. charlotte
    Posted June 30, 2008 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    love it

  16. tanya
    Posted June 30, 2008 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    really love it we are reading it at school

  17. Posted October 18, 2008 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    I’m doing a project on this book for my grade 9 english assignment, and for a part of it it says for you to give a description of the characters. Both how they act and how they look. I can’t seem to find how they look anywhere (Charlie, Tommo, Molly, Mother, and Big Joe, apart from Big Joe being mentally disabled).

    Could someone please help me 🙂
    I need to hand this part of the assignment in on Friday November the 7th

  18. Posted October 19, 2008 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Colin – sorry, but I don’t feel like doing your homework for you.

    Mind you, it does sound rather a dull assignment. Can’t you ask your teacher for a more interesting kind of project – like organising a mock battle, maybe, or even a mock firing squad?

  19. Posted November 12, 2008 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    haha thanks anyways thoough

    and no my teacher wouldn’t do that, were only in grade 9. this is a book report. and I do not believe it is in the book at all 😦

    and that wouldn’t be do homework for me

  20. Posted November 12, 2008 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    and just out of curiosity, would you actually be executed for that? I don’t think so, because wouldn’t it count as helping someone out, and saving his life?

    *just curiosity

  21. Posted November 12, 2008 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Colin –
    No, he wouldn’t have been executed for that. As I wrote in an earlier answer, stopping in the advance to help the wounded was indeed strictly speaking an offence, though many men must have done it and escaped punishment.
    What he would have been charged with under Section 5(1) of the disciplinary code was:
    “When on active service, without orders from his superior officer, leaving the ranks on pretence of taking wounded men to the rear.”
    The maximum penalty for this was prison, not death. The fact that he had stopped for his brother would certainly have counted in his favour.

  22. Posted November 21, 2008 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    haha sorry, and thanks for all the help.

  23. Greet Van den Eynde
    Posted August 21, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Dear sir
    Preparing my lessons for my students about the novel Private Peaceful, I found your site. We don’t consider this novel as a children’s book, but a book for youngsters from 15-18, just because of the theme of it.
    Why I wanted to participate in this blog is that I don’t understand your problem with the book. In our (Dutch) translation hasn’t been mentioned that it is an historic novel. And concerning the black-white characters: youngsters are used to these characterisations because they are used all the time.
    I’ve chosen this book for the theme: WW I and as a literature and language teacher I prefer referring to my history colleque, who will be glad to tell my students about the historical facts. Literature should do something else than telling just facts I should think.
    G. Van den Eynde

  24. Posted August 21, 2009 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Greet –
    I don’t quite understand what you are saying. You chose the book for its WW1 historical theme, but you don’t think that the history matters? There seems to be a contradiction here.
    I agree that in a novel literary qualities are more important than strict fidelity to history – but in this case, the characters are stereotyped, the story is sentimental and the emotions are false. Surely 15-18 year old students can handle more complex and challenging texts than this?

    • lily
      Posted December 6, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

      i think this is because there is only in english!

  25. Iman
    Posted November 14, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Simmers, you are a very thoughful man, but I must partially disagree with you. I think it is a good book, however it is not my favourite. I think you a right about Mr. Morpurgo only showing the Peacefuls as kind, sincere people. Everyone has their nefarious sides. I have to write an essay writing about how Mr. Morpurogo presents the character of Charlie. I am nearly done, but could you give me some tips. Thank you.

  26. Iman
    Posted November 14, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    I will not ask you to do my homewrok, just to share a bit of your knowledge with me. I am sorry to trouble you.

  27. Posted November 14, 2009 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Fair enough, Iman.

    If you’re writing about how Mr M presents Charlie, I suggest you write a paragraph about his relations with his family, a paragraph about his relations with Molly, and one about him in the Army. Wopuld that be what your teacher is looking for?

    • Iman
      Posted November 14, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      Yes thank you!

  28. Anonymous
    Posted November 25, 2009 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    wow i don’t think u understand the book at all

  29. Kin pin
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    i AGREE to a certain extent but i need to find where charlie is a hero and i have a few but if you could help please then post a comment (i am not askig you to do my homework just for a few references and tips)

    • Posted November 29, 2009 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      A suggestion about how to write about Charlie’s Heroism.

      First write about how the Army expects a soldier to be a hero – obeying orders and putting his duty as a soldier before everything else (like his family).
      Then write about how Charlie is heroic in ways that the Army does not approve of – like sticking up for his brother.

      Any use?

      • Kin pin
        Posted November 30, 2009 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

        Thankyou this is just what i needed

  30. abbie
    Posted December 29, 2009 at 5:43 pm | Permalink


  31. Posted March 10, 2010 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    It Is A Good Book For The Old People

  32. thelookingglasschild
    Posted August 7, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Simmers,

    Firstly I must thank you for being perhaps the only critical reviewer of this book. After reading many reviews that fail to see past Morpurgo’s reputation, reading this was very refreshing.
    I am currently writing an essay on the intended understanding of war for young readers in ‘Private Peaceful’, and am trying to find a variety of opinions on the novel. If it’s of no trouble to you, please could you post your view on what messages about Morpurgo tries to convey and whether you think he was successful in doing so?
    Thank you very much for your time,
    Estrella (International Baccalaureate Student)

  33. Posted August 7, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Estrella –
    I think Mr Morpurgo’s message is that war is a bad thing – as though that were not pretty obvious to everybody. He expresses this very crudely, and
    exaggerates this message by making his representative ordinary soldiers nothing but virtuous victims, so simple-minded that they have no idea why they are fighting in the war. All the authority figures are not just wrong, but deliberately bad, like villains in a pantomime.
    It is a very simplified view, which misses out on the actual moral complexities of war – when people motivated by the very best of intentions do horrible things to one another.
    His depiction of the First World War bears only a tenuous relation to historical fact.

    • derps
      Posted January 11, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Mr. Simmers,I don’t understand what your issue is with the book. Sure, it’s stereotypical to a certain degree, but deliberately for children to capably understand it. Surely you must agree.

  34. Georgia
    Posted August 31, 2010 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    how is sacrifice and courage shown in the book and how does it realte to teenagers in modern day society. Thanks

  35. Madi
    Posted August 31, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Well i personally think this book was amazing and Michael morpurgo displayed the war in a different angle and it was fabulously written


  36. pal
    Posted August 31, 2010 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    private peaceful is a moving novel , i respect charlie so much he’s got a reet personality n seems like one of the boys

  37. Anonymous
    Posted November 7, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Mr Simmers, you are an idiot arent you. Seriously it was an amzing book!!!

  38. Posted November 29, 2010 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr Simmers,
    I have not read Private Peaceful, however I loved your review and your handling of the commentary. I have just finished Mr Morpurgo’s ‘War Horse’ and although it does read like ‘black beauty in WWI’ I remember reading similar impressionable stories when I was a young teen. I kind of prefer to that stirring of emotions than some of the hideously over-dramatized melodramas about drugs and sex. My how times have changed.

    I learned to look critically at childrens’ books as well as adults during my degree for Library Science in the late 80s. WWI and WWII literature is a favorite theme of mine – both vintage and recently published. Some are keep your chin up ‘propaganda’ learning experiences and others are grittier. I like them all.

    Good for you on not doing the kids homework for them. Sometimes they actually need to read the book and think about it, and sometimes they need a different perspective. 😀


  39. Posted December 11, 2010 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Ah well I don’t like it, it compares Charlie to God and makes him to PERFECT! I’d rather read AXIS POWERS HETALIA, it’s more educational… (APH) and funny.

  40. Posted December 11, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I’d never heard of Axis Powers Hetalia – but now that I’ve looked it up on Wikipedia, I think I may investigate it – so thanks.

  41. Rex
    Posted January 18, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed reading this book but I can see where you’re coming from. I agree with you when you say that it’s okay to not be completely factual and I do agree that it was wrong to put that sort of message across without clearly outlining that things wouldn’t normally be done that way. (Personally I believe that nobody should have been shot in any circumstances but that’s never going to happen.)

    I can see what you’re saying about the black and white simple characters but I see it as because the novel is in first person, this is how Tommo views the world. I do think Charlie was put across as too much of a hero to the point where it was just silly. I felt that Tommo’s heartbreak and the betrayal could have been looked into more to show that Charlie isn’t perfect.

    I do agree with some of the things you have stated but I still believe it is a wonderful book and an interesting read.

  42. Posted January 25, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    “Government’s granting of pardons to WW1 deserters” costs the government virtually nothing. It certainly came too late for the deserter’s families. It’s now a hollow gesture because it’s too lttle and too late.
    “While failing to give adequate support to soldiers damaged by the war in Iraq…”
    is an unconscionable breach of faith with the British serviceman or woman. Putting the military in harm’s way is the business of war but that same government has the responsibility and duty to care for those injured in the conflict. I wonder if Parliament is anything like the US Congress, the majority of whose members have never worn the uniform of their country, never heard the whistle of a bullet by their head, never went hungry or cold or separated from loved ones for an extended time, etc.

  43. Posted May 12, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    cool i luv private peaceful

  44. James
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    The best book in the world I’m doing this for my speech on boks

  45. James
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    he brought me closer to the trenches than any other film, book or docmentry

  46. Meghan
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    I’ve only read the top comments. But I’m afraid I completely disagree with your point of view.
    Yes, I agree with the whole idea of Morpurgo’s books not being completely realistic etc. But I’m fourteen and I read this book in school and thoroughly enjoyed it! I realise some of the plots wouldn’t actually happen, I think everyone in my class does because we’ve learnt about the World war’s in History lessons. Morpurgo’s book is a STORY. I think the way he makes alot of his plots etc obvious makes it an easier read for children. Afterall, it is a childrens book.

    • Posted May 31, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

      Yes, no fiction will ever be entirely accurate, and all children’s books have to simplify issues.
      My concern about Mr Morpurgo’s book is that he doesn’t fictionalise or simplify very intelligently, but uses some very easy and sentimental clichés. I think that children deserve better.

  47. Jessie Lunatique
    Posted September 4, 2011 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    I’m studying this book in school, and I quite liked it as a piece of fiction. However, I do agree with you, as I personally think the good/bad sort of stereotype is dramatically overused. Out of curiosity, how would you view Charlie’s character? I’m doing an essay on him through Tommo’s eyes, and I’d like to get some other people’s opinions as well.

    J. Lunatique

    • Posted September 4, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      Dear Jessie,
      I sympathise with you. That’s a very difficult homework subject, since there is so little to say. Like the author, Tommo thinks Charlie is marvellous, and that’s about it.
      Can’t you ask you teacher whether you can write about how Charlie seems when looked at through the sergeant’s eyes instead? That would be a lot more fun.

  48. J
    Posted September 4, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Sorry but you are a complete idiot comparing harry potter to what actually happened to CHILDREN in ww1 is just ludicrous to them there was no happy ending perhaps if the kids of the same age today were tought more about this kind of thing snd less about actions without consiquences then we would all be a lot bettet off

  49. CARLA
    Posted September 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Simmers,
    I need to compare a a piece of Tommo’s childhood to my own. The only topics I can think of are school life, work life and home life. But everybody has already chosen these topics and many similar to them. I’m not brilliant at English but I would like to choose an interesting topic for the task to make my work stand out. I wanted to do how Tommo fancies Molly and how in our days it is quite different but then I’m not sure if it would be an appropriate topic. My other topic idea is about the governing (not sure if that is the correct use of the word) body of Tommo’s village (?) and how it compares to modern Hong Kong governing body.
    If you have time, please comment and tell me which is a better option for me.

  50. George Simmers
    Posted September 15, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Comparing the governing bodies sounds a good idea – but remember that the picture of the wicked squire in the novel is fictional – and bears no relation to rural English life at the start of the twentieth century.

    • CARLA
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Mr. Simmers!
      I handed in my project and got a A-!!!
      It’s my highest grade so far. 🙂

    • Anonymous
      Posted January 11, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

      Dear Mr.Simmers,
      You are a cool and knowledgeable man. I am a year 7 student and had an English assessment and thanks to all your comments I have learnt my more things. So thank you got all of your information and teachings. 🙂

      • Ray
        Posted January 11, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

        Oh and by the way, Mr.Simmers, my name us Ray, just to let u know

  51. Posted October 8, 2011 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    I accept your opinion; none-the-less, I unashamedly love the story and its impact on adolescent readers.

    I have just read it to my class of 12- to 13-year-olds. Our main focus was the theme of conflict – especially conflict with self. We also looked for examples of ‘values’, including identifying the values portrayed by both ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’, e.g.,honesty, courage, justice, compassion, self-discipline, loyalty and forgiveness. We also touched on retribution and redemption – again, enough examples for my lowest readers to comprehend and discuss with confidence.

    The abiding value of Private Peaceful, for my students, is that it has inspired them to read and write further. Students have taken the book home for their parents to read; they have read and compared other Michael Morpurgo books; they have researched World War 1, and have been inspired to write their own sequels – including contriving for Albert (from War Horse) to meet with Tommo. For some of my less able writers, the hunger to know what happened next has been the best writing motivation they have had all year.

    For all that you suggest this book lacks, it will still resonate with my students for many years to come and will be, for many of them, an identifiable turning point in their attitude towards reading, history and novel studies. For many, its the first book they have ever ‘loved’ – and certainly the first that has induced tears.

    Some of my reluctant readers may now even feel confident enough to approach Harry Potter.

  52. FP
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    What absolute nonsense. Anyone who cannot appreciate the subtleties of the message of this book in comparison to the trite rubbish of ‘Harry Potter’ isn’t qualified to comment on children’s literature at all. They most certainly will also never have entered an English classroom. One of the most moving books I’ve read and, in this era of ‘Help for Heroes’nonsense, one everybody should.

  53. Daniel
    Posted February 19, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Do you like repeating yourself? No? Better find a better line of argument seems weak. He is a writer for Children. He made a fictional account for a Novel. He based it on the accounts of people who had survived the war. The perspective of children are divided into good and bad people. The grey area you crave so badly for only develop when we grow older to try and justify action that should never have happened in the first place. Like people used religion as shield, the Crusades for example. It all falls to opinion you say? Well I think the book is showing how society demands evil people and reinforcement of unnecessary violence. Who are you to say I’m wrong? Or Morpurgo is wrong to have written the Novel. But then again there are those who are more qualified then other in such matters right? But then democracy would fall apart. However, could you do a review on the Twilight book? I would love to see what you have to say about them.

  54. Anonymous
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Very good

  55. A.O'D.
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    It shocks and sickens me that a grown man has nothing better to do than squabble with young hormonal teenagers. Mr Simmers, in my opinion you should not try to change the minds of these teenagers.It would be best if you simply posted “These are my opinions,those are yours.I apologize if I came across as rude.You are entitled to your opinions as I am to mine.” Or something to that effect. Please,be the mature one,dont argue with a bunch of teens!I am sure a man of your intelligence has better to do.Besides I think it is good that these teens have their opinions and actually read books,instead of wasting their time drinking,smoking,engaging in inappropriate gestures of affection with one another,etc. Yes,of course you can give them your opinion,but dont try to change theirs!This should be a discussion,not an agressive debate!
    To be honest,I am a little ashamed of myself to be posting this,as I often feel it is a waste of time,but while researching the book I came across this conversation and thought it was appalling.I can feel the frustration of these young ones who know that what is going on here is wrong and futile.There are no right or wrong opinions here,but it is wrong that you do not have the maturity accept their opinions.Replying and trying to prove your point only makes them angrier.This is a futile and pointless fight.No good comes of it and all it does is make the people involved (and,in my case,the people reading)frustrated.I am afraid to say Mr Simmers,that you are coming across as quite arrogant.But I am not one to judge by simply reading your replies,and I understand that you are just trying to let youngsters in on your opinions.But please,stop.Be the mature one and accept these teens ideas.They want to be treated as adults too.Dont be infantile,you dont have to agree with them but there is no need to disagree quite so strongly,it really annoys them.You seem too sure of yourself,and they think that it is because you are an adult you have an over-inflated ego.I dont know.But seriously,I advise you to stop.Dont lower the teens opinions of adults even more,its pretty darn low already,which is quite a problem in our society today,but,I can see how it occurs,and this is a classic example.My apologies if I also come across as rude,I dont mean to.I have spent a long time being told that I am wrong,and stupid,because of my opinions,and I dont wish anyone else to feel the same.
    Yours sincerely,
    Ms A.O’D.

    • A.O'D.
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      P.S. I do not wish for an reply if it is one to tell me that I am wrong,stupid,rude,etc. I am not only speaking to Mr Simmers,but anyone else who reads this.But if you agree,or have questions,sure,go for it.
      Also,dont bother being rude to me and expect me to give my calm and logical explaination or opinion etc.Il just get pissed off (excuse my French) and give you a piece of my mind,and not the piece you’d want to be given.

  56. unknown
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    I did this in school and the book was terrible, it has no plot and everything George Simmers has said I completely agree with. I read a lot and this book would definitely come under my top 10 least favourite

  57. unknown
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    Also we have to do a essay on it where we answer the question ‘How does the novel ‘Private Peaceful’ show the best and worst in human nature?’

    Being mean doesn’t make you bad, it makes you mean and the same thing with being nice it doesn’t make you good to be nice. I also find that there are no shades of grey in this book everyone is incredibly evil or really good

  58. al
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    i came here too see if i could find an explanation to why charlie is nicknamed private. can anyone help?

  59. Iarora
    Posted May 13, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Okay, so personally I believe that everyone should just stop telling Mr Simmers he is wrong because that is just his opinion and I kind of agree with him although I have to say I sort of enjoyed reading the book… Whilst reading the book I began to wonder what the fundamental and key themes to the book were… I wonder if you could enlighten me Mr Simmers. thank you

  60. Iarora
    Posted May 13, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much… I was just wondering if jealousy was one too? I think this because of the jealousy tommo felt about Molly and Charlie.. But you could also say that was not a theme but an aspect of the story??? Greatly appreciate your viewpoint… This is not homework so don’t feel like you need to get back quick… Thank you again

  61. Lola
    Posted May 16, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Hello, how would you analyse +compare and think about different roles of charactars
    Thanks, xxx

  62. Lola
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    Okie dokie 😉

  63. Isla
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Hello, I have got an English exam coming up and it is a compare and contrast question about some characters… I don’t know which ones yet but does anyone have any advice? Thanks to anyone who answers.

  64. Anonymous
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    im not keen on the story

  65. yow mamma
    Posted September 20, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Permalink


  66. Anonymous
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    wat are the main themes

  67. Anonymous
    Posted December 7, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    I have to write an essay and describe Tommo, my feelings for him and why he makes me feel sympathy towards him. Any tips please? I don’t know where to start

  68. Anonymous
    Posted December 7, 2013 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    never mind, I’ve thought of something.

  69. Peter
    Posted September 4, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Just wondering isn’t Hanley not Haige

  70. sophie
    Posted September 23, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    I believe that Mr Simmers shouldn’t express his views so forth rightly; others have opinions too and should not be dismissed just because you believe the book is unbelievable.
    My son studied the book 2 years ago for an History project and it inspired him to research further the topic of WW1 which i believe to be a positive outcome.
    I later read the book out of curiosity and believe it to be one of the best books i have ever read. I am 32 years old.

    Therefore when i read your report i was outraged and I ask you to withhold your opinions rather than forcing them on others.


  71. Francisca
    Posted April 24, 2015 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I feel like this review does not make justice of the complexity of the book. It’s touching in it’s many layers, from Tommo and Charlie’s brotherly relationship, to Tommo’s love for Molly and his hurt at her relationship with Charlie, to his fear, curiosity and courage when in came to the war. It dismisses the book making it seem innatractive to people who haven’t read it, when it’s actually a book for some people, but not everyone. Clearly, It wasn’t a book for someone as inept as you, who can’t appreciate it fully. The critics at Whitbread knew better, as they are experienced, much more than any of us. Comparing it to Harry Potter, a completely different book, is wrong, like comparing the Bible and Percy Jackson, two very different topics, one made to entertain and amuse, while the other is fiction based on real heroes and an extremely real topic. I myself, strongly recommend you read the book.

  72. Bill
    Posted April 25, 2015 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    I do love this thread and the issues it throws up. Every so often someone else discovers it and I feel drawn to flip back at the various issues. Getting a class to analyse this thread, alongside the book that started it, would be a splendid project. In the mean time, Francisca’s post had me rather confused, even once I had worked out who Percy Jackson was. I thought comparing him with the Bible seemed a reasonable idea, once I had worked out that the Bible was the “fiction based on real heroes and an extremely real topic”. But I am still not sure whether I am recommended to read Private Peaceful, one of the Percy Jackson books, or the Bible. After reading the Wikipedia entry on Percy, I must accept that I have to read more about Percy (rather than reread the other two). I was especially fascinated to learn that “Like most demigods, Percy has ADHD and dyslexia”. I am not really sure that doing your homework via Google isn’t the most splendidly liberating experience, although it must be a terrible strain on those who have to assess the results.

  73. Marie
    Posted December 19, 2015 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    Amazed at the reactions here to what seemed to me a thorough and well-argued review. Personally I felt that the book over-used misery as a way of generating an emotional response in the reader. You are spot on about the characters being pantomime baddies and goodies. I was reading this to my children as we enjoy much historical fiction, but I pulled the plug on this one fairly swiftly after reading ahead on my own and finding out what it was like. If they want to read it themselves as teenagers, it could be a springboard for discussion – but I don’t want to impose this tear-jerker on them myself.

  74. Anonymous
    Posted January 27, 2018 at 5:25 pm | Permalink


  75. jonny523
    Posted March 6, 2019 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Really great book, I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a deep book

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] rather overdone parable about the First World War nearly a century later. Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful  has a very similar mixture of sententiousness, melodrama and historical […]

  2. […] rather overdone parable about the First World War nearly a century later. Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful has a very similar mixture of sententiousness, melodrama and historical […]

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