The Happiness Box is an Aussie wartime book of hope

The Happiness Box book review

What is this about?: This is a kid’s picture book that is actually about a book — The Happiness Box, created during WW2 in Changi prison,

What else is this about?: Teaching young readers about the war, about hope and what it means to hold on to it despite everything else going on around them.


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.

  • This is the true story of Australian prisoners of war who created a picture book called The Happiness Box as a Christmas present for children interned in Changi Prison.
  • The book was written for children to chase away fear and give them hope, and contained the “secrets to happiness” such as the importance of friendship, kindness, compassion, generosity, loyalty, faith, courage and hard work.
  • The Happiness Box survived the war. It toured Australia along with Sir Don Bradman’s cricket bat and Ned Kelly’s helmet as part of the National Treasures exhibition from Australia’s great libraries. The book currently resides in the State Library of NSW.

The Happiness Box is a book about a book, which just makes it all the more poignant.

It introduces young readers to Australian Sergeant David Griffin, known as Griff to his friends. With stark illustrations, readers follow Griff as he and his fellow soldiers are taken prisoner by the Japanese and taken to Changi prison.

There the book delves into the conditions of the prison, and the fact that soldiers grew sick and didn’t have enough food to eat. There is also something hopeful too in the way the prisoners tried their best to boost morale with concerns and team games like football. But to Griff, it was the kids in the prison that his thoughts often wandered.

For Christmas, he asked for and received permission for the prisoners to make gifts for the children — like trains and even a model of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But, Griff wrote a book. It was about three friends — a lizard, monkey ad frog — who discovered the secrets to happiness. It was supposed to help the kids find hope and help them be brave in their surroundings. However the book aroused suspicions of the prison guards and as a result there were no gifts for the children.

The years after that were hard, but Griff survived to see the Japanese surrender — and to see his book retrieved from a box buried in the prison’s garden.

Now the book is a national treasure, and is kept safe in the State Library of New South Wales. 

It’s a gloriously simple tale, but this book takes on the topic of the realities of war and what prisoners go through. The illustrations are eye-catching, and as emotive as the story, sharing with readers what the soldiers went through.

The Happiness Box is out 23/7 at a bookstore near you! (especially if you’re in Australia)


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