Michael Morpurgo was born in St. Albans, England, in 1943. He is one of the most well-known authors of books for children and young people. After studying in London he first had a job as a teacher and following that, he and his wife Clare went to Devon, where in 1976 they created the charity project ‘Farms for City Children’, which gives children from socially poor parts of cities the possibility to spend time in the country.
During his ten years as a teacher and inspired by Ted Hughes’ ‘Poetry in the Making’, Michael Morpurgo began writing. Since 1982 he has been a freelance writer and has been honoured with, among other prizes, the renowned ‘Whitbread Children’s Award’.
Morpurgo’s book ‘Kensuke’s Kingdom’, published in 1999, tells the story of the eleven-year-old Michael who, following a ship’s misfortune, is washed up on to the beach of a small island where he meets an old Japanese man, Kensuke. The author describes how both slowly come closer to each other and how these shipwrecked people, being culturally so different, come to understand each other more and more. Morpurgo was prompted to write this adventure story by a true account of a shipwreck which he had taken from the press. In England the book was awarded, among other prizes, the ‘Children’s Book Award’ in 2000.
The ‘Black Queen’ (2001) is a similar adventure story. After Billy, by some “stupid chance”, meets his ominous neighbour, Mrs Blume, who is always dressed in black from her hat to her shoes and who looks like a real witch, the complicated and exciting developments take their unstoppable course. When Billy, dressed as Mrs Blume, has to take care of her cat, he soon suspects that “the black witch” is hiding some secret.
In ‘Toro! Toro!’, Morpurgo tells the story of Antonito who, after his first visit to a bullfight, realises that he must preserve his young bull Paco, whom he has lovingly brought up with a bottle, from this deadly fate. In the very night when Antonita wants to save Paco the village is destroyed by Franco’s soldiers. In a way both “touching and exiting” (‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’) Morpurgo combines here actual shots taken from recent history, like the Spanish Civil War, the suffering of refugees and soldiers and the ambivalence of the bullfight rituals in Andalusia with moments, full of adventure, consolation and hope, in a personal and exciting story.
In his book for teenagers “The Sleeping Sword” (2002) the reality and fantasy worlds of the main character are closey intertwined. The blind Bun tells his friend Anna his made-up story in which he breaks into a burrow, finds the precious sword Excalibur and carries it in an adventurous journey with King Arthur. Bun has hardly finished the story when he flounces off to his father and actually falls into a burrow.
Just like the novel “Toro! Toro!” the novel for young people “War Horse” (2002) tells of the close relationship between a young person and an animal. The central theme is the first world war. The farm boy Albert and Joey the horse are split up as Albert’s father out of desperation sells the horse into the war. The gruesomeness and destruction of the war is told from the viewpoint of the horse, who must witness it all at the front, before they find each other again. Morpurgo’s internationally multiple prize winning novel, “Private Peacful” also plays out on the front of the first world war. The novel insistantly portrays the gruesome reality of the front and the wait for the attack from the perspective of Thomas, as well as memories of his untroubled childhood spent with his brother Charlie, which was broken off at this time.
Morpurgo has written over ninety books for all age groups which have been translated into many languages and some even filmed. Together with Ted Hughes he founded ‘The Children’s Laureate’ in 1999, a two-year honorary post the purpose of which is to encourage young people to read and to gain greater respect for and pay more attention to children’s and young people’s literature. Between 2003 and 2005 he held this position himself. Michael Morpurgo was made an Officer of the Order of he British Empire in 2006, and Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 2004. The writer lives in Devon with his wife, Clare, and their three children and five grandchildren.
© international literature festival berlin