The three young soldiers in the story are best friends from school, and they leave New Zealand together to go and fight at Gallipoli. Landing first in Egypt, they travel by ship to Anzac Cove and dig into trenches to fight the Turkish troops holding the peninsula. Conditions are tough and Joe gets sick, but his mates help him off on the hospital ship. Then Harry is fatally wounded and his burial has to take place on the cliff-top, away from the snipers. The three friends are reunited many years later, when two men fly to Gallipoli and lay poppies on Harry's grave. The illustrated factual text on pages 30-31 spread provides extra information about the events pictured in the story.
The story behind the book
Best mates is my first picture book and it was a privilege to have it illustrated by Bob Kerr. Bob had previously illustrated a School Journal story for me about Paddy the wanderer, the small dog who made his home on the Wellington wharves in the 1930s, and I really like his style. Because we both live in the same city, I was able to pop down to his studio and watch his amazing illustrations taking shape. We talked over the story together and I knew that Bob really understood what I was trying to say in it. He had also been to Gallipoli himself, some years before, so he was very careful about getting the landscape exactly right. When we had the book launch, he brought along some of the original watercolours and everyone else was as bowled over by them as I was.
Bob Kerr is a painter and award-winning illustrator, known for his depiction of Terry and the Gunrunners in the 1970s series written by Stephen Ballantyne. His book After the War published by Mallinson Rendell in 2000 was a finalist in the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards and winner of the Russell Clark Award for 2001. Bob lives in Wellington and works from a studio in Cuba Street where young soldiers were photographed before they left to go to war.
Philippa with the book Best of Mates at Chunuk Bair on Anzac Day 2014
Philippa with the book Best of Mates and Bob's illustration of the landing at Anzac Cove, with the Gallipoli shoreline in the background
• Bob Kerr's studio is in a building where a photographer once took photographs of young men going off to World War One. A few years ago, the glass negatives of about 120 of those photographs were found and Te Papa is working to identify the soldiers pictured in them, and to make contact with their descendants and find out what happened to the men in the war. You can read more about The Berry Boys on the Te Papa blog.
• Investigate your local war memorial and find out what names are on it and if any of those families still live in the area.
• Read some books about World War One. Some good ones to start with are My brother's war by David Hill, Nice day for a war by Matt Elliott and Chris Slane, and War horse by Michael Morpurgo.
"Philippa Werry and Bob Kerr have collaborated here to bring a graphic picture in simple but telling words and stunning illustrations of the Gallipoli Campaign, of friendship and of the Australian, New Zealand and Turkish soldiers who were involved." read more
Listen to Graham Beattie talk about Best Mates, one of 5 books he reviews about World War One
Graham Beattie on Afternoons on Radio NZ, 22 April 2014
"Great book for children to show why we should never forget"
Bob's books blog
"A great way to help children connect with Anzac Day, and to really understand the meaning behind it" read more