We like finding historical fiction books and since we have been reading quite a bit about the First World War I thought I would share two WW1 fictional stories that the kids have recently read and enjoyed.
The first is the classic The 39 Steps: Band 18/Pearl (Collins Big Cat). I happened to spot this story while I was searching the Collins Big Cat reading series for History readers (my son likes using their readers for his History learning). I must admit I have never actually read The 39 Steps, but I had heard it was a good story so I thought it might be worth trying and it was, my son really enjoyed the story. (We actually started reading the book together but he could not wait for me to finish the story with him the next day so he finished it by himself.)
The story is set around the beginning of the First World War. So it does not cover life during the war or trench life but it does give the kids a good idea of the lifestyle lived by people in the UK just before the outbreak. My kids found it interesting that the newspapers were still such an important way of communicating information back then (when the story ran in the newspaper showing the photo of Richard Hannay most people seemed to have read it). And the fact that most people seemed to rely on trains and not that many people had their own cars.
We also found the story opened up ideas like – what would happen if the side you were fighting against got hold of your battle plans? Did countries really send spies into other countries to try and gain intelligence and how did they do that? And the fact that the imposter had to deliver the information in person (no email back then). And the big one could the First World War been avoided?
This version of The 39 Steps is a condensed version of the original story. We have read a few of these condensed stories with the kids and we have actually found that once the kids have read the condensed versions they often seek out the originals and either read the original themselves or ask to read it as family book. (I have found it works especially well with highly sensitive kids because they already know the basic plot of the story so they don’t tend to stop reading the originals when it gets a bit scary).
The Second book we have read is The Silver Hand (Flashbacks). I got this one last year, not really knowing that much about it but we have read a number of the books in the flashback series and enjoyed them.
This story is based around a village on the front line so you get a very real understanding of what life must have been like for those people living through the war and the soldiers fighting on both sides. Both my kids immediately picked up on the flu that was killing lots of the German soldiers, it was a great talking point – how soldiers already weak would be more susceptible to falling sick and how medicine was not that advance. (War time medicine is actually a great topic to look at with the kids because during wars there always ends up being a lot of medical advancement.)
My son was intrigued by the friendship between the French girl and the German boy. And I must admit I really liked this element of the story. I want the kids to see the human side to the wars, that there are people are both sides who get hurt and people on both sides who try to do good. I especially liked that the German boy was at the front line wanting to help the soldiers get better (it helps to emphasise that not all Germans are bad). I think this friendship helps the kids to start thinking about ideas like that.
I know that having spies in stories makes it exciting but it also shows the kids that side of war, that there were everyday people doing dangerous tasks trying to help the soldiers. My daughter especially loved that it was her mom (female character) who was part of the spies network.
There were a few moments when my son came to me and said I hope the two friends are going to survive, but they do and although there are moments when they were in danger it was not terrifying or gruesome.
We think book of these stories are great for kids learning about WW1. They are both exciting and informative but not too scary. The kids and I recommend these two stories.