True life stories in narrative form

Sad Book


Sad Book by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake

ISBN-13: 978-0744598988

Written about a particularly difficult period in the author’s life.

Few words but powerful in their conveyance of the emotions the author experienced a very difficult period in his life. The sudden death of his son Eddie.

Whilst this book reflects on going pain, it is also a celebration of the life of Eddie. You are privy to the key moments of his life and the deep and continuing love the author has for his son.

An emotionally difficult book but worth using with children of most ages as a way into enabling children to talk about death and develop strategies to cope with it. It also reinforces the message that when someone dies it’s alright to think about them and that there will be happiness as well as sadness. I’m sure that there are other uses that have not been covered here.

If you wish to find out more about Eddie then he appears in other Michael Rosen books Quick Let’s Get Out Of Here and You Wait Till I’m Older Than You.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

ISBN-10: 0007274777

A classic that is well worth the read. This book is based on a critical period in the author’s life that shaped her life. It depicts in narrative form the changing circumstances of a child who is pitched into a new life through dreadful events that were beyond her parents’ control. We enter the life of the main character Anna who in her comfortable life is not concerned with what is happening around her until her father disappears. From this point on the family life plunges from wealth to poverty, security to statelessness in an unfamiliar land (England). s

Judith Kerr was one of the lucky children who managed to escape Nazi Germany with her parents. Like most young children who go on a long journey she had to make a choice in what toy to take with her, she chose the wrong toy, hence the title.

Guardian video interview via the link below. Don’t be put off by the advert it stops after about 30 seconds.

Judith Kerr is also the author of the Mog books.

The Mystery of Eilean Mor by Gary Crew and Jeremy Geddes


The unsolved mystery of the disappearance of three lighthouse keepers in December 1900 forms the basis of this historical picture book. On the 15th of December it was noted by a ship and locals that the beam from lighthouse had stopped. Due to the atrocious weather investigations could not begin until twelve days later.

In this book the author speculates about what might have happened whilst retaining the facts as reported in newspaper articles.

Great to show pupils how a true event can be a spring board for writing and graphics and the validity of pinching and integrating known events into their work.

An article about the event can be found using this link.

Vision of Beauty: The Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker by Kathryn Lasky

ISBN: 978-0-7445-8219-2

How many children know the history or woman behind communally used straightening hair products?  Not many.

In my opinion this books offers the opportunity explore, science, history and business through this biography of a pioneering black woman who came up with the idea behind one of the process that is used in  black hair dressing (also used on some European type hair).

This biography tells the story of Sarah Breedlove Walker life from her start in a life of poverty to becoming richest African-American woman of her times and a major philanthropist. Including explanations of her research and experiments until she came up with a marketable product.

Some links you may wish to explore.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein

ISBN 978-0761317913

They no longer exist except in pictures / films but in their day the Twin Tower of the Manhattan’s World Trade Centre were major landmarks. Initially they were not well thought of; but this changed in 1974 with the daring feat of a French tight rope walker Philippe Petit.

This book chronicles Philippe Petit’s his life story and the build up to the tight rope walk. It outlines his early life and how he gained and honed his acrobatic skills. Also the lengths he went to carry out this walk. Not that we would advocate some of the techniques Petit employed to gain access to the top of the towers you have to admire his determination.

Linking this book with the videos on YouTube and the officially produced video / DVD called Man on the Wire gives the reader an all round experience.

Some examples of videos on YouTube.

Out of India by Jamila Gavin


Memories of a girl of Indian and English origin. Great link to war-time Britain and Indian independence.

A childhood located on two continents offered the young Jamila Gavin a rare experience which perhaps she did not appreciate at the time. Moving between two distinct cultures on a regular basis during the war years as well as the Indian independence. We get the sense of a time that was already fading and is now gone. Travel by trains and boat to major destinations, contrasting family values, family tragedy, friendships or lack of them are all conveyed in this short novel.

Good link or way into introducing WWII with children with a link to the Indian continent.

Coming to England by Floella Benjamin


Many children who came to England from the Caribbean will recognise many of the events and feelings expressed in this autobiography of television presenter and Peer of the Realm Floella Benjamin. We get aglimpse into her family’s move from Trinidad to England, her adjustments to a new and cold environment. One of the opening paragraphs describes her first sight of English houses. It documents how she adjusted and coped with this new life, cultural and racial differences, as well as a new school and making new friendships.

You can get three different covers. These could be used to support a discussion about purpose and audience (same purpose but publishers targeting different audiences).

Ethel and Ernest  A true story by Raymond Briggs


The author has use the graphic format to tell the life story of his parents from the moment they met until their death in a short period of each other. Their life time spans a number of eras. We see the author’s mum going from being in service to eventually working in an office. His father’s working life reflects what many men did during this period of our recent history; he worked for one employer for his own working life. Displaying his retirement certificate on the living room wall with pride.

The intimate conversations are conveyed beautifully, expectations are clearly relayed and the warmth and close relationship between his parents are palpable.

Although the focus is on the life of Ethel and Ernest we cannot forget the elements of the author’s life that is portrayed.

The author’s use of font, layout and white space to convey emotions is well executed.

Most of this book is suitable for children within KS2 but you need to read it all before deciding if to use all of it.

Grave of the Fireflies DVD

From the famous Studio Ghibli

I think most Key Stage 2+ children could cope with it in the context of their WWII studies. This is a great film and worth watching as it gives a different perspective on the second world war. It is not as harrowing as the blurb above but teachers will need to watch it and select carefully.

Japanese animated war drama film written and directed by Isao Takahata

The story is based on a bestselling novel by Akiyuki Nosaka. A survivor of the firebombing of Kobe in World War II, Nosaka battled starvation and actually lost his younger sister to malnutrition. Haunted for years by the experience, driven by the guilt of his sister’s death, he wrote the book in hopes of silencing the ghosts surrounding him.

Great to exemplify how other cultures were affected by WWII.

If you are using Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo then this would link nicely with Kensuke’s reflections of what might have happened to his son.

You tube has the film broken down into chapters. See chapter 1.

The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo

Set in Africa and England this story maps the life experience of a boy and one of the loves of his life, a white lion cub. Michael Morpurgo has used some of his boarding school experience to support the writing of chapter 1 and chapter 2.

I, Matthew Henson Polar Explorer


This picture book tells about and episode from the life of a Black American polar explorer. Being a polar explore must have been a difficult challenge, but, to be a black person with such aspirations must have been just about impossible. This book tells the story of one man’s determination to reach the pole and the hurdles he had to overcome.

I think Matthew Henson is better known in America and this books gives us in Britain the opportunity to learn about his.

Several internet sites about his life.


About booksfrommybookshelf

I am a passionate reader of children's books (Primary aged) with a particular interest in picture books. I am always on the look out for children's books at are written by authors from other countries. I am also keen on technology and try to keep abreast of what is happening in a fast changing world. At present my day job is to support teachers and local authorities in the Yorkshire and Humber region (UK), which I really enjoy. Another aspect of my work is to present nationally developed work for the National Strategies. With economic cuts my job will terminate in Spring next year and I may be carrying out independent work based around high quality picture books. My other interest include my allotment, knitting and last but not least my family. My Twitter name is Orlama.
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