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Real Guns confronts the topical issues of gun control and the effects of war—past and present—on returning soldiers and their families. Jon, like many young boys, is fascinated by guns. He finds a loaded pistol hidden under his parents’ bed, with nearly tragic consequences.

The close call prompts his father to explain to Jon why he needs to keep the gun, forging a much closer bond between father and son, and emphasising the need for parents to talk to their children about issues affecting their safety.

Patrick Murphy’s stunning illustrations are a perfect complement to Reiter’s timeless story, allowing younger readers to better understand why guns are at once a necessary part of contemporary life but also a danger when they get into the wrong hands.

See the review from Education Queensland below for the book's relevance to school curricula.

This important book is also available in German and Spanish editions.




David P Reiter

Dr David P Reiter is an multi-award winning author and publisher living in Brisbane. He has written sixteen fiction, poetry and children’s titles, as well as scripts and multimedia. He’s won the Queensland Premier’s Award and been shortlisted for the Steele Rudd and Adelaide Festival Awards. He’s presented his work to audiences in Australia and overseas and received several grants from the Australia Council and Arts Queensland.


Patrick J Murphy
Patrick J Murphy B.A. was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he still lives and works. He studied art and art history at Belfast Institute and exhibits his contemporary oil paintings internationally. Past exhibitions include the Agora Gallery, New York, U.S.A.





ISBN 9781876819835 (HB, 36pp); 36pp;
216mm x 280mm

AU $26 US$24 NZ $28 CA $24 GBP £15 €17
ISBN 9781876819842 (PB, 36pp); 36pp;
216mm x 280mm
AU $18 US $18 NZ $20 CA
GBP £9 €11
ISBN 9781921479762 (ePub) AU $8 US $8 NZ $10 CA
GBP £6 €7

"Like many young boys, Jon is fascinated by guns. He also listens in to his parents' conversations. He enjoys his toy machine-water pistol, but when he overhears that his father, against his mother's most vehement protests, has a real gun hidden in the house, he is on a quest to find it. And find it he does, cold and black and heavy, and with almost disasterous consequences. Subsequently, Jon learns of his father's traumatic experiences as a soldier, his post-war suffering and his dependence on his weapon for a feeling of security. He also begins to understand the depth of his parents' love for him and the concept of responsible gun handling.

Based on an episode in the author's youth, Real Guns is told in simple, direct, understated language. The emotional issues confronting former soldiers and their families are presented with deep compassion. Patrick Murphy was born and lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His strongly emotional Expressionist art work, with its flat expanses of intense acrylic colour applied with bold obvious brushstrokes, lack of perspective and little detail adds drama to the sombre mood of the text. Pages are broken into sections and shapes starkly outlined by strong lines of black or brown. The vivid reds, oranges, yellows, blues and greens, the dark purples, browns, black and grey contrast with each other creating a feeling of energy. A striking and exceptional example of illustration complementing text. Recommended for Upper Primary - Senior Secondary."

- JS, Reading Time

"Each year two children’s book authors and illustrators are invited to undertake a short writer’s residency at Bundanon on the Shoalhaven River of the south coast of N.S.W. as part of an education program for schools coinciding with Book Week for Schools.

Local Public Schools are targeted and invited to attend day sessions with these writer/illustrators during this time.  A short program is designed in collaboration with the resident for the visiting group.

Both text and illustration are featured, highlighting the skills of these selected authors and illustrators.  Areas of professional experience, competency, articulation, diversity and imagination in literacy for young students are addressed.

In August of 2007 publisher/writer David Reiter was a guest resident and presented two sessions from his residence to two schools.

David’s presentation involved quite an expressive and intimate reading of his work; The Greenhouse Effect and audience response to his recently completed book; Young Guns, which deals with quite an extreme but believable set of circumstances exceeded the expectations of all staff present at the session. 

This was particularly interesting to watch in progress as it was especially relevant to one of these schools, being families from the Naval Base division at Nowra, the message was especially topical.

Prompted by David and with the assistance of the school teachers present, the students displayed a very mature and intelligent level of understanding of the context and message in the story. The students hung onto every word and nuance, exploring the story in incredible depth and with great enthusiasm. It was obvious in their answers to questions raised, that they were able to identify the more subtle clues given in the illustration of the story and clearly were impressed by the integrity of the author’s intention. 

On speaking to the school staff afterward, their degree of satisfaction with David’s presentation was very high and developed the student’s skills of articulation and reason.  I personally feel that the intimate nature of the reading which David gave, also added to the degree of comfort experienced by the students, allowing them to investigate the contentious and challenging nature of the subject matter."

Gaillyn Cooper
Education Manager (acting)
Bundanon Trust (New South Wales)


Woven into this sobering story are the serious issues of gun control, gun safety and the pervasive effects of war on returning soldiers and their families. It has wide curriculum applications in both Studies of Society and Environment (Time, Continuity and Change; Levels 3 – 4) and Health and Physical Education (Promoting the Health of Individuals and Communities; Levels 3 – 4).

When Jon discovers a loaded gun under his parents’ bed, he is mesmerised by its cold, hard, metallic reality. The gun, already a source of conflict between his parents, is accidentally fired by Jon, starkly confronting all family members and prompting them to assess their own contribution to the potentially fatal accident. Underlying themes include the adult’s role of responsibility in parent-child relationships, gun usage, post-traumatic stress disorder, war and father-son relationships. The intentionally simplistic and stylised illustrations focus the reader on the issue being explored on each page and simultaneously convey the subtexts of parallel stories. While a loaded a gun left within reach of a child may seem so irresponsible as to undermine the plausibility of the story, it serves to illuminate the seemingly inexplicable behaviours sometimes associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. Rich in its understated complexity, this book offers wide scope for discussion and reflection on the serious and contentious issues raised."

- © Education Queensland, Review, January, 2008

"Real Guns is a disturbing story about a boy who finds his dad’s army service revolver under his parents’ bed. Based upon a personal experience of the author, the story describes how Jon can’t resist the urge to sneak into his parents’ room and hold the gun. Just once. Of course the deed does not go unnoticed. His mother surprises him as he is posing in front of the mirror with it. The gun goes off, shattering the mirror. Later, when Jon’s dad comes home, they discuss the horrors and atrocities of war and how it has affected Jon’s father.
Despite the horrific nature of this morality tale, I found Reiter’s style somehow cool, detached and matter of fact. There is an honesty in the telling, which would perhaps have been explored more effectively if written in first person, from the child’s perspective.
Illustrator Patrick J. Murphy’s nightmarish, simplistic style dominates both figures and surroundings in strong, blood-like colours, geometric shapes and heavy black outlines vaguely reminiscent of Matisse. The images are powerful and, curiously, the figures appear Hispanic looking. There is a relentless heavy mood to this story, echoed very effectively by these illustrations. None of the figures smile, except on the very last page, where the moral of the story is summarised.
As a children’s book I find it difficult to place in a particular age group. The large format is more suited to a younger readership, but the reading vocabulary is that of mid to upper primary. Also, the subject matter makes it awkward to place. Here in Australia, where gun licences are restricted and gun ownership not encouraged, relevance may be an issue, however in America, where every citizen has the right to bear arms, it may find a larger market. Given the subject matter and look of the book, it would probably appeal more to boys than girls."

- Dawn Meredith, BuzzWords

"Real Guns is not an anti gun story but it teases out the idea that guns exist in our society, are in some instances a necessity, but must always be treated in a safe manner. They are real.

The text has almost a conversational quality which leads perfectly into being able to open dialogue about guns, their place in society and the sometimes blurred ideas that children have about what is a real gun, a toy gun or a game.
Patrick J Murphy’s illustrations compliment the text and are presented in a bold, simple style with vivid colours.

After reading Real Guns, author David Reiter speaks with children, not at them, allowing them to discover and articulate their point of view. He offers insight into why he chose the topic of gun safety.
As a publisher, he is also able to demystify the publishing process, explaining how books are selected or rejected for publication, how an illustrator is found to compliment the text, etc.

A valuable experience for children."

– Andrea Anderson, Librarian, Seven Hills and Cannon Hills State Schools (Queensland)

"Michael wanted me to let you know that he really liked the book (although it did make him cry a little —I don't think I was supposed to notice that!)
He said, "Guns make people want to kill other people.  It must be scary being a soldier."  And then, "can I get a big water pistol for my birthday?""

– Leanne Hansen, mother of 8-year-old Michael




Read more on Google Book Search

to Echte Waffen, the German edition of Real Guns

to Las Armas de Fuego, the Spanish edition of Real Guns

to the full Education Qld review for libraries (key in Real Guns as search item)

to David's most recent book, Tiger Tames the Min Min

David's profile

Teacher's Guide for Real Guns



Jon thought about the plastic machine gun his father bought him for his sixth birthday. It was huge and dark green and Jon could fill it up with water and outlast all the other boys on the block. With one squeeze of the trigger he could shoot a stream of water clear across the street. But he knew it wasn't a real gun.

Jon's father kept a real gun in the house. Jon knew because he'd heard his father and mother talking about the gun one night when he was supposed to be asleep.
'I want you to get rid of that gun,' his mother had said.
'I can't,' his father said.
'But it scares me,' his mother said.
'There's no need to be frightened,' his father said. 'It's in a safe place.'
'I know where it is,' his mother said.
'Of course,' his father said. 'You and I have no secrets.'

Jon lay there in bed thinking about his father's gun. If only I could see it, he thought. Just once. But first he'd have to find it.