The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War; illustrated by Jim Kay


greatwarThe Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War; illustrated by Jim Kay
Candlewick, 2015.

It is hard to make World War One relevant to contemporary kids, particularly American ones; this handsome collection, is a valiant attempt to do that by focusing on the short and long-term effects that the war has on different children.

These eleven exceptional stories, written by authors such as Michael Morpurgo, Marcus Sedgwick and Tanya Lee Stone, are each inspired by a military or civilian object. These come mostly from the Imperial War Museum collection and include a war-time butter dish with an inscription from the prime minister, a Victoria Cross, sheet music and a soldier’s writing case.Great War Warhorsefield

Most are set in England, but there are also stories from Ireland, France, America, and Australia. Some take place during or immediately after the war and others in more contemporary times. Each looks at the toll, both direct and oblique, that the conflict has on a child, and how it transformed everyone’s life, rarely for the better. This is particularly poignant in Sheena Wilkinson’s quietly moving “Each Slow Dusk” as well as A. L. Kennedy’s more immediate “Another Kind of Missing”.

great war tankBinding the collection together are Jim Kay’s (A Monster Calls, 2011) exquisitely beautiful ink and charcoal war scenes, which are shown both as double page spreads and then as shards and splatters across other pages.

Back matter includes photographs of the objects with accompanying information, and short bios of the writers.

Like the similarly intentioned Above the Dreamless Dead, this was originally published in the U. K. in 2014 to mark the centenary of the start of the war and is also a worthy addition to middle and high school libraries, as well as public library collections. However, I think both short stories and historical settings can be a hard sell, so the combination probably means few kids will pick it up, though Jim Kay’s illustrations could reel some in.

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