Guernica a painting by Pablo Picasso, in response to the bombing of Guernica, Basque Country, by German and Italian warplanes.
Some of our children have experienced war directly or indirectly through a family member or friend. Many children will experience war through history and television. Although it is a very emotive subject, I feel that providing children with a safe and supportive environment in order to explore this subject is important. Exploring conflict through stories would go some way in supporting our children in their understanding of the reasons for war and how it affects all aspects of life. The use of stories might also enable some children to express opinions they have bottled up and develop empathy with characters as well as in life.
The books I have listed below under the broad heading ‘War’ represent a small selection of the wide range of text available and I hope these will give you a start.
- War has been experienced by all nations throughout history. It has had an impact on the way we live, our beliefs and our relationships with other nations.
- War has been depicted in stories, through poems, newspapers, letters home from the front, diaries kept by soldiers and civilians, on television, through the medium of twitter and other online social networks.
- War has also been enacted via board games during history. The best known war board game is chess. There are many variants of chess but they all share the same basic principle, conquering your opponent with minimal loss.
- War is not just experienced on the battle field by soldiers but also by civilians in war zones and civilians in the soldier’s home countries. It also continues to live on in the memory of a country and as well as participants of war.
- War has been depicted through the medium of art. Many people are familiar with Picasso’s Guernica and the Beayeax Tapestry but art produced by war artists are not as familiar. Ancient cultures have also used art to record battles and conquests of the victor.
A Child perspective
Archie’s War, My Scrapbook of The First World War 1914-1918 by me Archie Albright Aged 10 years
By Marcia Williams ISBN 978-1-4063-1002-3
The fictional scrapbook of young Archie records how the Great World war affected him and his family and friends. He records his experiences sometimes using comic book strips, sometimes drawing and letters are stuck into the scrapbook. We go through the different feeling Archie has when his farther becomes a soldier and he does not hear from. Archie shows us that children were very aware of the pressures men experienced if they were unable to fight or were conscious objectors.
My (secret) War Diary by Flossie Albright. My History of The Second World War 1939-1945
By Marcia Williams ISBN 978-1-4063-0940-9
The experiences of a young girl during WWII told through a fictional diary of Flossie Albright (daughter of Archie Albright who also kept a diary from 1914 – 1918) Flossie records the day to day happenings of a village during a critical period in Britain’s history. We see the changing nature of a village through her eyes. From the leaving of her father and other able-bodied men as they went to prepare for a war that they hoped would happen. To the arrival of evacuees from London, a Kinder child from Germany and Land Girls. All of which is tinged with a little sadness due the death of Flossie’s mother who died a few months after the birth of Flossie’s brother.
Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti and Ian McEwan
Rose Blanche witnesses an injustice when small boy is treated badly by a soldier and the town’s mayor. She does not understand why he is thrown into the back of a van so she follows it by running through the street to find out where the boy is being taken. Her discovery of children behind barbed wire further increases her unease. As a result of what she saw, Rose begins to steal food and go without food herself in order to keep the children behind the barbed wire alive. One morning the whole town begins to evacuate to escape the conquering Russian Army. But, Rose like the children does not survive.
Erika’s Story by Ruth Vander Zee, and Roberto Innocenti
A story of trusting in fate and the kindness of strangers. On their way to a death camp Erika’s parents take a risk to save someone very precious to them. By throwing their baby out of a train carriage. A complete stranger takes her in and brings her up despite the dangers involved and gave Erika the gift of life.
Tail-End Charlie by Mick Manning & Brita Granström
Based on the stories told to him by his father who was an RAF airgunner during WWII, Mick Manning gives us a different view of the war. From the images and text, you become very aware that the airmen were at risk of not only being shot down by enemy airmen, but also the fragility of the planes they flew.
One Boy’s War by Lynn Huggins-Cooper and Ian Benfold Haywood
There is an added poignancy to this tale because it is based on a young man who survived.
Despite being under age, he, like many of his friends wanted to go off to fight in the Great War especially when his father went off to war. After being accepted, Sydney is trained and shipped off to the front where the horrors of war become a reality. Due to censorship he is unable to convey this in his letters to his mother. Despite the horrors surrounding him Stanley still worries about his mother and father. The damage that is inflicted by war on families is brought to the fore by the final letter in the book from his father, telling his mother that he is coming home and looking forward to seeing him.
The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland and Tatsuro Kiuchi
Set against the background of the Vietnamese civil war we have a young girl who has to flee her country to escape possible persecution, taking with her a Lotus seed, a symbol of a lost way of life. This young girl grows up in an alien land to become a Grandmother. One day the Lotus seed is taken and planted by one of her grandchildren. The Grandmother is distressed that her precious treasure is taken, especially when her grandson cannot remember where he planted it, but, the blossoming of the seed provides a link between the past present and future.
Migration and societal changes because of war are some of the themes of this book.
Published when Gervelie was thirteen; this diary tells us about a young girl’s life in a war torn country, and the difficult if not traumatic decisions her parents made in order to keep her safe. We are exposed to the vacillating emotions of a young person who is relatively safe in Britain whilst worrying about her mother and step-sister in the Republic of Congo.
This recount is well supported with a variety of factual materials.
The Wall by Eve Bunitng and illustrated by Ronald Himler
A young boy shares in his father’s memories of his grandfather when visiting a war memorial erected to commemorate the Vietnamese war.
During a long day at the memorial a number of people including the young boy, stand in front of the wall to remember close relatives. This contrast with a group of school girls who place flags in memory of those who died or are missing in action. There are many regrets but the wall offers some limited solace.
Oranges in No Man’s Land by Elizabeth Laird
Set in the 1970’s at the time of the Lebanese civil war, Ayesha’s family is forced to flee during a rocket raid. Tragedy strikes and Ayesha is forced to help her Grandmother look after her brothers. Amongst this tragic situation, friendship blossoms and Ayesha finds inner courage to prevent another family tragedy.
A Bit of a Hero by Gervase Phinn
In his life so far, Tom is touched by a number of tragedies that he come to terms with in his own way. During his short life he has to come to terms with the untimely death of his fire fighter father, the school bully and sharing his mother’s affections with an American soldier. As their relationship builds the soldier supports Tom in resolving his issues with the school bully. Just when he has learnt to trust again tragedy strikes and the soldier is killed in Afghanistan.
This book is a good vehicle to support discussions with children who parents are soldiers.
ONLY YOU CAN SAVE MANKIND by Terry Pratchett
First published in 1992 but still a good read. It is set in the early days of computer games and Johnny Maxwell clocks up his score as he does battle with an alien fleet. Suddenly a message flashes on screen ‘We Surrender.’ With this, Johnny Maxwell gets sucked into the battle being waged in cyber space but this time it’s not Mankind from the Aliens but saving the Aliens from Mankind.
Friendship; relationships, overcoming problems and doing the right thing is all part of this short novel.
Dreaming in Black and White by Reinhardt Jung translated by Anthea Bell
A truly moving child’s point of view of war but this time for a German child whose disability would have placed him in the same situation of Jewish children during WWII. Told in flashbacks the book explores how it might have felt to be disabled in 1940’s Germany and the uncertainty felt by the main character when he realises that his father might agree with the government’s view of disability. It explores friendship between a German and Jewish child and how people can be intimidated.
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
We rarely if ever do we think about the animals there were pressed into service during wars. During WWI thousands of horses were used by all sides at the front as well as in other duties and they had to come from somewhere. This book tells the story of one horse that is sold into to the army against the wishes of a boy called Joey. It documents how the horse is treated by the British and Germans and his re-establishing of his relationship with Joey after the war.
The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo
Civilians of countries what have declare war can also experience of upheaval within its boundaries and this is the case in this story. Lily, main character is very attached to her pet cat Adolphus Tips who has many litters but is not allowed to keep any. With the coming of the evacuees, her father going to war and moving house to live with an uncle, Adolphus Tips goes missing. Many months later Lily is reunited with Adolphus with the aid of an American soldier and his friend. There is a twist at the end of the story.
War Game by Michael Foreman
A game of football on Christmas Day brings warring sides together during WWI. Four friends from Suffolk join up together and find themselves in horrific conditions in the trenches their only light relief comes when they meet other soldiers for a game of football but the twist is the solders are from the other side. It brings home to them futility of war especially when after the game they return to their trenches and await the recommencing of battle.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
Nine year old Anna is too engrossed with her busy lifestyle to notice the changes going on around her until her father disappears. Adult talk begins to attract her attention and she begins to gleam that the person on the poster who looks like Charlie Chaplin is a threat to her and her family. In order to ensure Anna and her mother is safe her father removes them to Zurich. Unfortunately this to is fraught with difficulties, mother cannot cook; she has to deal with learning new languages and the customs of this new country.
Books that enable children to explore conflict within a safe environment
TUSK TUSK by David McKee
Interesting front cover; the ends of the elephants trunks are shaped like guns. Although it is not made clear why, most of the elephants who at one time were friends become deadly enemies. After much fighting the elephants that did not hide in the forest are wiped out. Many years later, descendants from the elephant who had hidden in the forest emerge. Some have large ears, some have small ears but they are all grey this difference begins to cause difficulties but the last page / end paper suggest that they manage to resolve their differences.
Once by Morris Gleitzman
The image on the front cover prepare the reader as to the type of story they will experience, the Jewish experience during WWII but this time it is told from the point of view of a child.
We meet Felix in an orphanage where he has been placed by is parents in a desperate bid on their part to keep him safe from the fate they knew awaited them if they were capture by the Nazis. It is never made clear if they have been taken away to the death camps, it’s just hinted at.
In this tale we get a sence of how the innocence of childhood protected Felix from the true horrors for long time. His main concern, like most children was about the return of his parents to collect him. He builds mental strategies to help him cope with what is going on. Despite this situation he retains the ability to forge friendships in the orphanage and in the world outside.
Felix is forced to deal with the terrible circumstances he finds himself in, forging new relationships and surviving.
This book joins a group of books that looks at conflict from a child’s point of view. Two more books that tackle war in this way are Oranges in No Mans Land by Elizabeth Laird, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.