The Happiness Box: a Wartime Book of Hope*

Written by Mark Greenwood

Illustrated by Andrew McLean

Reviewed by Maria Parenti-Baldey

*Shortlisted for the CBCA Awards.

The Happiness Box is a powerful, thought provoking story set during World War 1. The story follows Sergeant “Griff” Griffin and allied troops into a military compound near Changi Prison in 1942.

Griff wrote a story about three friends – Winston the lizard, Martin the monkey and Wobbly the frog. It was meant to be a book of hope and ‘the secret to happiness’. But, General Saito became suspicious of the name Winston, believing the book contained coded messages. No handmade toys were given out at Christmas. Griff’s book was secretly buried in the barrack gardens instead of being destroyed.

Andrew McLean’s vivid illustrative scenes showed shirtless, emancipated bodies in harsh conditions. The bleak earthy tones showed realistic scenes of troops lining-up for food, sheltering from the sun and sleeping on the bamboo beds. In the opening pages, the illustrator created stunning illustrations of jungle fires reflected against the faces of weary soldiers in the dugouts. The murky blends of browns, beige and grey showed exhausted allied soldiers being prodded into prisoners of war lines. The plain endpapers are as bleak as the mud of Changi Prison. The illustrator captured the mood of the book well.

The Happiness Box gives hope to those in unexpected, dark and challenging situations. It reveals the perseverance and inspiration of one man whose book buried in Changi Prison, created by David Griffin with drawings by Leslie Greener, lives on as a National Treasure.

Walker Books Australia  2018 Hardback $26.99 32 pages  Age 7+ ISBN: 9781925081381

More information about David Griffin

From  National Library of Australia National Treasures: At Christmas in 1942, a group of Allied prisoners-of-war in Selarang Barracks, Singapore, with permission from their Japanese captors, made presents for the children of nearby Changi Jail. Sergeant David Griffin (1915–2004), an articled clerk from Sydney, came up with the idea of a book. The Happiness Box was a tale of a chi-chak lizard (gecko), a monkey and a frog on a quest for the secret of happiness. Griffin wrote the story, Bruce Blakey (b.1916) typed it, Leslie Greener (1900–1975), an English artist, writer and former editor of the Australian weekly, Pix, drew the illustrations, and then it was bound—all in less than 48 hours. During inspection, the Japanese became suspicious because the lizard was called Winston (like the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill) and, thinking the book might contain coded messages, ordered it confiscated. Major Phillip Head told the Japanese he would destroy the book, but instead buried it in a metal container with army records until Singapore was liberated on 5 September 1945.

Teachers Notes available from Pandora Archive.

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