REVIEW: The Happiness Box – A Wartime Book of Hope by Mark Greenwood and illustrated by Andrew McLean

Published: 1st August 2018

Publisher: Walker Books Australia

Pages: 32

Format: Hardback picture book (borrowed from the library)

RRP: $26.99

5/5 Stars

In 1942, Sergeant “Griff” Griffin was a prisoner of war. With Christmas approaching, he decided to make a book for the children cooped up in nearby Changi Prison. The book was said to contain the secrets to happiness. But the enemy was suspicious …

With this picture book, award winners Mark Greenwood and Andrew McLean bring to life the inspirational true story of a book that became a National Treasure.

The Happiness Box is the true story of Australian soldiers held in prisoner-of-war camps in Changi during World War II. During their imprisonment, a group of soldiers sought permission to make Christmas presents for the children imprisoned alongside them. While some soldiers make toys from wood, Sergeant ‘Griff’ Griffin wrote a book titled ‘The Happiness Box.’ The book was wrongly deemed as propaganda with secret messages and was destined to be destroyed. This picture book is the story of the men who inspired others and keep morale going when all was but lost. Of the brave few who defied the odds and brought history home with them at the end of the war.  It speaks to the true history of the national treasure ‘The Happiness Box’; it’s an origin story for a book that has captured the Australian heart & Anzac spirit.

As a non-fiction picture book for older readers, The Happiness Box, is a brilliant teaching resource to understand the realities of war and this time period. Mark Greenwood’s story is heavy in implications but told simply through a conversational narrative that seeks to educate and inspire the reader. Greenwood has gone to great lengths to break down the language while remaining factual to the men represented and their legacy, making sure the story remains accessible to future generations for years to come. Andrew McLean’s illustrations are stunning; McLean has perfected the fine balance between depicting the horrific nature of war and the hopeful morale that these soldiers offered others, sometimes at a cost to themselves. The end result is a picture book that has the promise to change the reader’s lives by example.

The Happiness Box is a book that honestly surprised me. I thought I knew what I was getting into going into this picture book, but I have never heard of the original ‘ Happiness Box‘  book before. Having finished this book, I now want to research this time more thoroughly then what I was taught in school. I can not thank Mark Greenwood and Andrew McLean for bringing the actions (and story) of these soldiers to broader audiences.

Full of heart, soul and compassion, The Happiness Box is a story that needs to be in every primary classroom around Australia.

The Happiness Box: A Wartime Book of Hope was shortlisted for the Eve Pownall Award in the 2019 CBCA awards. It was awarded the status of Honour Book from the award panel.

To purchase a copy of THE HAPPINESS BOX: A Wartime Book of Hope, visit the following online retailers:

Walker Books Australia | Amazon AUS | Angus & Robertson | Bootopia | Book Depository | Dymocks | Harry Hartog | QBD

To learn more about Mark Greenwood, visit the following social media sites:

Mark Greenwood’s Website  | Goodreads |

To learn more about Andrew McLean, visit the following social media sites:

Andrew McLean’s website | Goodreads

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