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The Champion


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About the Author

Maurice Gee is one of New Zealand's best-known writers for adults and children. He has won a number of literary awards, including the Wattie Award, the Deutz Medal for Fiction, the New Zealand Fiction Award and the New Zealand Children's Book of the Year Award. Maurice Gee lives in Nelson with his wife Margareta, and has two daughters and a son.


In the vein of Summer of My German Soldier , this World War II novel traces the growing friendship between a young New Zealander and an American private on leave. Twelve-year-old Rex, who has spent a considerable amount of time fantasizing about battlefield heroics, is sorely disappointed to find that the soldier who is to stay in his home for two weeks is ``only'' a low-ranking black. Private Jackson Coop is not well received by the bigoted adults of Kettle Creek, but his sharp wit, honesty and gentle nature win him the affection of many children in the small community. After an incident at school, in which Jack gets the better of a cruel teacher, even Rex cannot help admiring the reluctant soldier from the Chicago slums. As it grows increasingly complex, this book sheds light onto the darkest sides of war, and the personal tragedies of its sharply defined characters will touch readers from all walks of life. Particularly memorable are Rex's eccentric grandparents; his father, whose dealings with the black market are a source of humor as well as tension; and two children, Dawn and Leo, who are perhaps the most sensitive to Private Coop's deep sadness. Wrought with as much intelligence as heart, this tender story can be savored many times. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)

Gr 6-9-Rex Pascoe looks back on his childhood in New Zealand during World War II, when Jackson Coop, a black American soldier wounded in battle, stays with his family for two weeks as he recuperates. Rex's sister Gloria; his open-minded poet mother; and likable but scheming father welcome Jack with open arms, but it takes time for the then 12-year-old Rex to overcome his racial prejudice. The boy also resents that ``his soldier'' falls short of his image of a fearless hero, but he eventually joins his family and classmates in helping Jack cope with the racially motivated hostility of two American soldiers and of suspicious New Zealanders. The private finally goes AWOL, setting in motion a fast-paced, tragic climax. The man's fear of the war and his ironic views of his black identity ring true, but he's so kind, generous, and sensitive that he seems saintly compared to the mere mortals who surround him. Strong secondary characters give the story depth, and young readers are exposed to a vivid picture of another place and time. (Some may be offended by the narrator's casual use of the word ``Jap,'' but it's historically accurate.) Readers who overlook the simplistic portrait of Jack as a veritable paragon of virtue will find an involving, action-packed novel filled with well-developed characters.-Jack Forman, Mesa College Library, San Diego

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