100 years ago today the guns fell silent. After four years of fighting, loss and destruction the war to end all wars was finally over. And for 100 years we have been honouring those who fell, those who survived and those who continue to fight ever since. War is an incredibly devisive subject but no matter your view it is important to remember what has been lost in the name of freedom.
For those of us in the UK, November 11th is a day for us to pay tribute to all those affected by War. There is a wealth of material out there to help us remember, to commemorate and appreciate what has been lost for our future and the future of our children. It is also a way for us to teach our children and younger generation empathy and compassion. Below is a small selection of both adult and children’s books that I personally recommend. There are of course many more so please do add your own personal recommendations in the comments section below.
My first selection are four books by author Hilary Robinson and illustrator Martin Impey. I first discovered Where The Poppies Now Grow several years ago when I worked on the editorial team at Lovereading4kids. It is an incredibly beautifully illustrated book with a moving story about two friends who went to war told in Hilary’s memorable verse. As soon as I saw it I knew that it would be an important book and would help raise discussion and understanding with young children about the First World War . Since then Hilary and Martin have gone on to produce three more tales taking us right through to the end of the War and each story encouraging empathy and hope through difficult times.
Where The Poppies Now Grow by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey
This moving poetic text matched with warm-hearted illustrations captures the lives of two friends and the parts they played in the enormous military campaign of the First World War. From their early days playing together through to their old age they shared everything. Above all, as young men they courageously shared the danger and devastation of the war which took place on their very own land. The result is a book that reflects the lasting importance of both friendship and place and how they can help to heal the tragedy of war.
The Christmas Truce by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey
It’s Christmas Eve 1914. A group of tired soldiers start singing Stille Nacht. Soldiers the other side of No Man’s Land respond with Silent Night. The next day, soldiers on both sides put down their weapons and celebrate the spirit of Christmas Day with a friendly football match. In the sequel to the hugely popular Where The Poppies Now Grow, The Christmas Truce finds soldiers Ben and Ray shaking hands in friendship with Karl and Lars, a tribute to that remarkable moment in history when, for one day, peace found a place.
Flo of the Somme by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey
Following on from Where The Poppies Now Grow and The Christmas Truce, Flo of the Somme pays tribute to the remarkable bravery of the animals who risked their lives during World War 1. Set in a bygone age, Mercy Dog Flo has more to contend with than racing across dangerous battlefields. Can she reach the injured in time with her medical kit, and can she lead Ray and the ambulance unit to the injured? With poignant poetic text sensitively written for a young audience, the rich illustration detail significant landmarksof a battle which is recognised as one of the most costliest engagements of World War 1.
Peace Lily by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey
Peace Lily follows on from Where The Poppies Now Grow, The Christmas Truce and Flo Of The Somme and finds childhood friend, Lily, follow Ben and Ray to the battlefields. Peace Lily marks the contribution made by women to the First World War and celebrates the common humanity shown by all, on all sides.
A Song For Will by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey
When World War One is declared on 4th August 1914, errand boy, Alfie, is disappointed that he is too young to sign up. But his frustration turns to despair as he begins to realise the brutal consequences of battle. During the four year conflict, Alfie’s exchange of letters with Heligan stone mason, Fred Paynter, and the visits home of gardener, William Guy, paint a poignant picture of life at the front. Reading them in a peaceful corner of England, the sanctuary of Heligan, Alfie realises just how different his life could have been. Can Fred and Will survive the horrors of the Somme in 1916? And what worrying news might Alfie receive about other battles? Published in partnership with the Lost Gardens of Heligan and drawing on facts from their archives A Song For Will is a beautiful story of longing and loss, of discovery and hope.
Recently I’ve added a few titles to my school library. There is of course a wealth of choices available but I felt these in particular earned a space there. Each of these books are beautifully produced and I hope will inspire the children to pick them up and read them.
Poppy Field by Michael Morpurgo
Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman have teamed up with the Royal British Legion to tell an original story that explains the meaning behind the poppy.
In Flanders’ fields, young Martens knows his family’s story, for it is as precious as the faded poem hanging in their home. From a poor girl comforting a grieving soldier, to an unexpected meeting of strangers, to a father’s tragic death many decades after treaties were signed, war has shaped Martens’s family in profound ways – it is their history as much as any nation’s.
This is an absolutely beautifully produced book and is perfect to share with younger reader or equally a special read for any age. It is incredibly moving and shows us the effect the war had on the generations since it began over a hundred years ago. Truly special and a small donation goes to the British legion for every copy sold.
The Great War: Stories Inspired by Objects from the First World War
The Great War is a powerful collection of stories by bestselling authors, each inspired by a different object from the First World War. From a soldier’s writing case to the nose of a Zeppelin bomb, each object illuminates an aspect of life during the war, and each story reminds us of the millions of individual lives that were changed forever by the four years of fighting. This remarkable book is illustrated by the Kate Greenaway Medal-winning Jim Kay. Featuring new work from: AL Kennedy, Tracy Chevalier, Michael Morpurgo, David Almond, Marcus Sedgwick, Adele Geras, Ursula Dubosarsky, John Boyne, Timothée de Fombelle, Sheena Wilkinson, Tanya Lee Stone.
Poems from the First World War: Published in Association with Imperial War Museum
Poems from the First World War is a moving and powerful collection of poems written by soldiers, nurses, mothers, sweethearts and family and friends who experienced WWI from different standpoints. It records the early excitement and patriotism, the bravery, friendship and loyalty of the soldiers, and the heartbreak, disillusionment and regret as the war went on to damage a generation. It includes poems from Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Vera Brittain, Eleanor Farjeon, Edward Thomas, Laurence Binyon, John McCrae, Siegfried Sassoon and many more.
The Imperial War Museum was founded in 1917 to collect and display material relating to the ‘Great War’, which was still being fought. Today IWM is unique in its coverage of conflicts, especially those involving Britain and the Commonwealth, from the First World War to the present. They seek to provide for, and to encourage, the study and understanding of the history of modern war and wartime experience.
The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (Penguin Classics)
Reflecting the voices of poets, soldiers, the families they left behind and their comrades who would never return, The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry, previously published as In Flanders Fields, is edited with an introduction by George Walter in Penguin Classics.
Unrivalled for its range and intensity, the poetry of the First World War continues to have a powerful effect on readers. This anthology reflects the diverse experience of those who lived through the war – bringing together the words of poets, soldiers and civilians affected by the conflict. Including famous verses from Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen; pieces by less well-known writers such as Gilbert Frankau and Osbert Sitwell; works by women describing the emotions of those at home; and the anonymous lyrics of soldiers’ songs, The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry offers a blend of voices that is both unique and profoundly moving.
This collection has been arranged thematically, moving through the war’s different stages from conscription through to its aftermath, to offer the reader a variety of perspectives on the same common experiences. George Walter’s introduction discusses the role and scope of First World War poetry anthologies, and how the canon has changed over the years. This edition also contains notes and biographies.
The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay – 9yrs +
The Skylarks’ War is a beautiful story following the loves and losses of a family growing up against the harsh backdrop of World War One, from the award-winning Hilary McKay.
Clarry and her older brother Peter live for their summers in Cornwall, staying with their grandparents and running free with their charismatic cousin, Rupert. But normal life resumes each September – boarding school for Peter and Rupert, and a boring life for Clarry at home with her absent father, as the shadow of a terrible war looms ever closer.
When Rupert goes off to fight at the front, Clarry feels their skylark summers are finally slipping away from them. Can their family survive this fearful war?
The next title is for YA readers and adults. I have to admit that I saw the BBC adaptation of this before I read the book but both were incredibly moving. It has been some years since I first read Birdsong, but it has always stayed with me.
Bird Song by Sebastian Faulks
Birdsong is a mesmerising story of love and war spanning three generations between WW1 and present day
1910. Amiens, Northern France. Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman, arrives in the French city to stay with the Azaire family. He falls in love with unhappily married Isabelle and the two enter a tempestuous love affair. But, with the world on the brink of war, the relationship falters. With his love for Isabelle forever engraved on his heart, Stephen volunteers to fight on the Western Front and enters the unimaginable dark world beneath the trenches of No Man’s Land. From award-winning writer Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong is an exceptionally moving and unforgettable portrait of the ruthlessness of war and the indestructibility of love.
Regeneration by Pat Barker
The modern classic of contemporary war fiction – a Man Booker Prize-nominated examination of World War I and its deep legacy of human traumas.
‘A brilliant novel. Intense and subtle’ Peter Kemp, Sunday Times
Craiglockhart War Hospital, Scotland, 1917, and army psychiatrist William Rivers is treating shell-shocked soldiers. Under his care are the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, as well as mute Billy Prior, who is only able to communicate by means of pencil and paper. Rivers’s job is to make the men in his charge healthy enough to fight. Yet the closer he gets to mending his patients’ minds the harder becomes every decision to send them back to the horrors of the front. Pat Barker’s Regenerationis the classic exploration of how the traumas of war brutalised a generation of young men.
This is the first novel in Pat Barkers Regeneration Trilogy. It is followed by The Eye in the Door and Man Booker Prize winner, The Ghost Road.
In the world we live in today there can be times when it is easy to question the sacrifice that so many made and continue to make. There seems to be so little peace within the world. I know there have been moments when I have wondered if all those who died would have believed it worthwhile if they saw the hate that continues to permeate through our world today. Not one single person should have to die in the name of peace but it is not peace that kills, it is hate. Every person and animal who has fought for peace shall be remembered; those who lost their lives and those who survived such horrors. I hope this continues for another 100 years, and then another, and another. I hope that remembrance reminds us that real people lie at the heart of conflict. Real lives. I worry that our young especially an be desensitised to the horror of war by the constant barrage of violent games, film and tv. So these occasions when we actually connect the atrocities to real people, when we make it relatable, are incredibly important.