Author Michael Morpurgo “Awards” a Medal

By Deborah Jensen 

Looking to bring a young reader to a nuanced and thoughtful tale of family, identity, and history? Michael Morpurgo, author of the international bestseller War Horse, has written “an intricately layered story within a story,” A Medal for Leroy, published first in Britain and now available in paperback in the U.S.

Michael, growing up biracial in 1940s London, remembers nothing of his father, Roy, an RAF pilot. And no one in the family will talk about him. Then, he receives a parcel after his Auntie Snowdrop has died, and discovers a hidden note that reveals the real story of his father, and intrigues him with his grandfather’s activities during World War I. Determined to find the truth among long-hidden family secrets, Michael learns that his grandfather, Leroy, made three excursions into a battle zone to rescue wounded men. His fellow soldiers insisted he deserved special commendation for his heroic efforts but his actions went unacknowledged because of racial barriers. Michael sets out to change that.

Writing in Newsday, Mary Quattlebaum notes that through his efforts, Michael “begins to understand the forces that shaped him and his family.”

Morpurgo’s inspiration for A Medal for Leroy was Lt. Walter Tull, the first black combat officer in the British army whose exceptional bravery during the war was never recognized. In his book, his protagonist Michael rights the family record. And Morpurgo includes a postscript about his discovery of Walter Tull’s tale, information on Tull’s life, and stories of other black soldiers whose bravery has been honored, finally.