NNFN – your weekly round up plus a focus on 1WW non-fiction for young readers

nnfnfedted300pxA week into National Non-Fiction November and we hope you’ve all begun your adventures through the world of non-fiction for children and young people.

Lots of great non-fiction books were reviewed and highlighted this week, including Barroux’s Line of Fire and Little Big Books, edited by Hendrik Hellige & Robert Klanten, both over on The Illustrated Forest. There was lots of love for the great non-fiction produced by Usborne including reviews from Rhino Reads (who also discussed an alternative term to ‘non-fiction’) and ReadItDaddy. Usborne themselves got in on the act, highlighting their pick of what they publish. Why not discover a new title by taking a look?

Want some history non-fiction suggestions? ReadItDaddy shared his top ten Non-Fiction history books to celebrate National Non Fiction Month. What would you add to his list?

Philip Ardagh drew readers’ attention to our month long celebration as part of his latest blog for Booktrust. Have you read any of his non-fiction?

Leighton Park school shared how they are celebrating non-fiction. Do let us know if your school is doing something special to highlight non-fiction this month – we’d love to share ideas.

Talk Radio Europe‘s evening Book Show on Thursday carried an interview with non-fiction author David Long talking about his new book for Faber, ‘Jet the Rescue Dog’. You can listen to the interview here: http://www.fcbg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/dlong.mp3

World Book Day also spread the word about National Non-Fiction November, and carried a post by Marcia Williams with a giveaway – why not enter for the chance to win a copy of ‘Archie’s War’.

For today, however, we’ve got a special contribution from FCBG National Executive member, Chris Routh. Chris is a school librarian and has prepared a list of First World War non-fiction and some thoughts on compiling such a list.

Thoughts on compiling a list of non-fiction about World War One for young readers by Chris Routh

‘A personal favourite (if it is possible to have such a thing) is War Game by Michael Foreman. Strictly speaking this is a historical novel, which describes what happened to many young men at the time, inspired by and based on the experiences of the author’s uncles. It has always been a puzzle to me that the book won the Nestle Children’s Book Prize for 6-8 year olds in 1993. Don’t get me wrong, this beautifully told and illustrated book very deservedly won the overall prize that year – it’s the age category that is the puzzle.

War Game provides a very powerful commentary on the shift from young men’s initial feelings of excitement about going to war (fuelled by youthful spirit and patriotism), to the fear and despair (faced with the horrific reality of war in the trenches). Although the famous Christmas Day Truce and football game is a central and uplifting part of the narrative, the closing images are truly haunting and for some younger readers may be very disturbing. I am yet to be convinced that 6-8 year olds would fully appreciate the irony here. The animated film, with its added layers of sound and music, is even more emotionally affecting. Personally, I would pitch both versions at 11-14 year olds and there are some excellent associated teaching resources available at: http://www.channel4.com/learning/main/netnotes/seriesid264.htm

I suppose what I am talking about here, is the difficulty of making appropriate choices and particularly for younger readers. The question is, when and how do we help children to find out about, understand and engage with WW1. To a large extent this will depend on the child/children. However, a good starting point might be with books which give an insight into what it was like to be a child during the war years and one of the best books for this is Archie’s War – which has been well documented elsewhere, including: http://www.fcbg.org.uk/why-a-scrapbook-marcia-williams-on-pushing-the-boundaries-of-book-formats/

John Boyne’s novel Stay where you are and then leave, also reveals something of the impact of the war on those left at home. The story explores a range of ‘grown up’ themes – including shell shock, the changing role of women, conscientious objection and prejudice within the local community – but it is told through the eyes of Alfie Summerfield, who is only 5 years old at the outset of the war.

Perhaps a combination of carefully chosen stories like these and well written and presented information books is the best way forward. Even better if the stories children encounter include ones from their own family’s history or locality, which may help them to connect with the events and begin to understand the relevance of what happened to their own lives.’


Chris has researched a great deal of First World War non-fiction and has created a booklist specially for National Non-Fiction November. This list is available as an illustrated, printable PDF; Just click here to download it. You can also read about the choices she made below.

Soldiers of the First World War: Voices from the Trenches by Simon Adams
This thought-provoking account of the war is brought to life by the words of some of the young men who fought in it – from Britain and its Empire, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, the United States and more. Regardless of the side they fought on, they all shared very similar experiences and feelings. In this respect, the book would make a good starting point for discussing ‘war’ in general with students of 11 plus.

Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier by Barroux
This much applauded graphic presentation of a French soldier’s diary discovered by the illustrator, provides the story of the first few months of the First World War and then stops abruptly. Although there are clues about the soldier’s identity, we will probably never know what happened to him. Visit the accompanying website www.lineoffirebook.com for more information including teachers’ resources and background information which includes a glossary and timeline, an explanation of the French perspective of the war and notes by the translator.

The Story of World War One by Richard Brassey
This beautifully illustrated picture book offer a simple introduction to the First world War, which is ideal for younger (or more sensitive) readers of around 6 – 11. It covers the key events, includes clearly presented maps and diagrams, and introduces a wide range of people involved in and affected by the war both at home and abroad.

The Story of First World War by Paul Dowswell
Published this year in association with the Imperial War Museums, this provides an accessible and well-presented overview of the Great War. Paul Dowswell pitches the text just right for 9-12 year olds and there is a wide range of colourful illustrations including contemporary art, photographs, posters and maps. This is an excellent book for both home and school – ideal for dipping into or for research. Usbourne has published several other titles about the First World War, each of which is pitched at a different interest age.

50 Things You Should Know About the First World War by Jim Eldridge
This chronological account is packed with fascinating facts. Each year begins with a clearly presented map and timeline showing the powers involved, the frontlines, main battles and key events. The full-colour spreads are illustrated with contemporary photographs and images, plus engaging infographics. While the index, glossary and Who’s Who gallery facilitate research, this also makes an excellent book for browsing and dipping into, and particularly for 9 – 12 year olds.

Animal Bravery in Wartime (Beyond the Call of Duty) by Peter Hicks
This is one of a series which explores outstanding bravery and courage during wartime. Animal Bravery contains a wide range of true stories about animals that risked their lives, without choice, to help humans in frightening and dangerous situations. Featuring dogs, horses, mules, camels, pigeons and cats, this offers a different perspective on the war, which will appeal to many 9 – 12 year olds. Other relevant titles in the series are Bravery in World War One and Civilian Bravery in the World Wars.

War in the Trenches: Remembering World War One by Peter Hicks
Rather than cataloguing the main events of the war, this provides fascinating insights into what daily life in the trenches was really like. It presents a much more rounded (and palatable) picture than elsewhere, making it ideal for 9-12 year olds. It includes sections on what the soldiers did during their time off, how they interacted with the local people and what they did for entertainment, as well as details of their daily work, what they ate and drank, health and hygiene and more – all enhanced by diagrams, illustrations and quotes.

Walter Tull’s Scrapbook by Michaela Morgan
This fictionalised account of a true story presented in the form of a scrapbook is told in first person and profusely illustrated with photos and documents, resulting in an engaging account of one man’s courage. Walter Tull was the first black British professional outfield football player and also the first black officer in the British Army. In spite of being recommended for a Military Cross, Walter was never awarded it because of the colour of his skin. For many young readers of around 9 -12, this story will have an appeal and resonance that reaches beyond its World War One context.

Women in World War 1 (Remembering World War 1) by Nick Hunter
This explores the impact of World War One on women and their roles. It takes an international perspective and uses individual’s stories and words to illustrate each topic. The book also covers what happened to women after the war was over. This is a traditional non-fiction title with familiar organisational features and therefore well-suited for use in school and of particular interest to readers of 9-12 years old. There are three other titles in this accessible series Campaigns of World War 1, The Home Fronts of World War 1 and Life on the Western Front.

Charlie’s War Illustrated: Remembering World War One by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom
This is the story of the author’s grandfather who fought in the artillery on the front line in Egypt, Palestine and France – and lived to tell the tale. Photos, postcards, cigarette cards and the like are effectively combined with full-colour illustrations to provide authenticity. Charlie’s War is a sensitively told and beautifully illustrated biography which makes it ideal for younger readers of 6 – 11.

Brothers at War – A First World War Family History by Sarah Ridley
Perhaps one of the best ways to help young readers begin to understand the relevance of World War 1 to themselves is through their own family stories. In Brothers at War, the author and her daughter research the stories of four members of their own family. As they delve into their family archives and official sources, some fascinating and very different wartime experiences emerge. The book is as much about the research process as it is about what happened during World War One.

The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme by Joe Sacco
Inside the stout slip case is a 24 foot long illustrated panorama depicting the first day of what has been referred to as the worst day in the history of the British Army which resulted in 57, 000 casualties, 30, 000 of which occurred during the first hour. The accompanying 16 page booklet includes an essay by Adam Hochschild and Sacco’s annotations. A stunning visual account of war at its worst. Recommended for 11 plus.

Cowards: The True Story of the Men Who Refused to Fight by Marcus Sedgwick
Although only 66 pages long, this little book packs a powerful punch. Erstwhile novelist, Marcus Sedgwick, tells the real life story of two conscientious objectors, Alfred Evans and Howard Marten, who faced imprisonment, and later the death sentence, by refusing to fight and staying true to what they believed. The reader is thereby invited to think about whether the choices these men made should actually be considered as acts of courage rather than evidence of cowardice.

War Horse: Interactive Edition from the App Store on iTunes
This fabulous App offers a wide range of options. You can read the unabridged novel (illustrated by Michael Foreman); view a specially filmed performance presented by the author with musical accompaniment; and hear Michael Morpurgo talk about what inspired the book. The App can also be used to find out about the historical context of the story from a timeline of information bites and filmed interviews of historians and WW1 experts. Superb value for money!


Many thanks to Chris for this helpful, interesting and wide-ranging booklist, and also to everyone who has already taken part in National Non-Fiction November. The adventure continues next week!

One response to “NNFN – your weekly round up plus a focus on 1WW non-fiction for young readers”

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