As Remembrance Day approaches, it is time to look at the wonderful array of books available for teaching children about the important practices of remembrance and commemoration.
It is essential that children are taught about the key events of the 20th century including the First and Second World Wars. Each year, there are fewer and fewer veterans left to share their stories of these huge conflicts. The torch has very firmly been passed to younger generations to share, understand and remember. One of the best ways to develop understanding and empathy in children is through books. Children can walk alongside characters and see war through their eyes.
Over the past number of years, there have been very significant anniversaries of these conflicts: the centenary of the end of the First World War in 2018, 75 years since the D-Day landings in 2019 and, most recently, the 75th anniversary of VE and VJ Day in 2020. In the wake of these commemorations, there have been numerous new books published for children. Teachers and parents have so much choice when it comes to sharing these important events with children.
Amongst all of these lovely new books, it is also important to keep hold of the classics that have been around for years and decide which are the best stories to share with our children.
In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae
by Linda Granfield & illustrated by Janet Wilson. Published by Stoddart Kids
In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae is the most beautiful, poignant book for sharing remembrance with children. I have used it every single year of my teaching career and my copy is falling apart. It explores the history behind the writing and publication of this well-known poem, the experiences of soldiers during the First World War and the development of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.
The heart of this book is the poem itself. Powerful paintings depict each line with details that take your breath away. Readers feel the significance of every word as they are drawn into the hardship, loss and sacrifice of those whose voices we hear.
Although this is a Canadian publication, it is available in the UK.
Bunny the Brave War Horse
by Elizabeth MacLeod & illustrated by Marie Lafrance. Published by Kids Can Press
Another Canadian publication, Bunny the Brave War Horse is a beautiful picture book telling the story of a soldier and his horse during the First World War. Readers journey with Bunny across the Atlantic Ocean in a huge ship, through a gas attack, delivering important messages and even through the loss of his rider. This is an emotional story but it is shared in a sensitive manner that develops empathy in its readers.
As a picture book full of information about the role of horses in the First World War, it is a great accompaniment to the novel War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. Whether it’s with the whole class to give another perspective and develop learning further or as an alternative text for less confident readers, it fits in perfectly.
War Horse (picture book)
by Michael Morpurgo & illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole. Published by Egmont Books
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo is a powerful story exploring the events of the First World War. Told from the point of view of Joey, a strong horse sent to war, readers are pulled right into the heart of the conflict.
In 2020, this incredible story has been adapted into a picture book for younger readers. Aimed at children aged 5 to 7 years old, it will allow them to access this important story and develop their understanding of the impact of war on both people and animals.
Middle Grade Novels
Daisy and the Unknown Warrior
by Tony Bradman & illustrated by Tania Rex. Published by Barrington Stoke
Daisy and the Unknown Warrior is a powerful and important story commemorating the centenary of the burial of Britain’s Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey in November 1920.
Tony Bradman tells the story from the point of view of Daisy, an 11-year-old girl, who lost her father in the First World War. “Missing, presumed dead”, he was one of thousands of soldiers who never returned home and were lost on the battlefields. Daisy, her mother and her younger brothers never got to say good-bye. There was no funeral, no grave, no closure, leaving them upset and angry. When Daisy hears about the Unknown Warrior, she wonders if it could be her Dad. Just maybe, he was the one found and brought back to London. Daisy will do all she can to be there on the 11th November and say good-bye.
There is such significance in reading this story now, 100 years later. Even in our own challenging times, we are reminded of those who came before and gave up so much. For our tomorrow, they gave their today. Important facts about the origin of Armistice Day and the traditions that are now so familiar are explained in language children will be able to easily understand. Details about the impact of the war on the women and children left behind are clearly portrayed through Daisy and her mother’s daily life: her mother’s job then loss of that job when the men returned, the children’s school and clothing, and the struggles to make ends meet jump off the page into the reader’s imagination. We are there, in 1920 London, with Daisy and her family. The Historical Note at the end of the book takes readers’ knowledge even further.
Published by Barrington Stoke, this story is dyslexia-friendly and very accessible for readers across a range of ages and abilities.
Owen and the Soldier
by Lisa Thompson & illustrated by Mike Lowery. Published by Barrington Stoke
I was drawn in by the very first line, “Everyone has a secret, don’t they?” This beautiful story of friendship, loss and hope brings home the message that we might not know what people are going through.
11-year-old Owen is quiet and doesn’t like to share what he’s thinking. Then, one day, he makes an unlikely friend – the First World War stone soldier in the Remembrance Garden in the park. Every day, Owen sits with the soldier and begins to find his voice.
Written for age 8+, this touching story is very accessible and suitable for both primary and secondary readers. It is a story of remembering those who have come before and honouring their sacrifice while becoming stronger in ourselves.
The Time School Series
by Nikki Young. Published by Hashtag Press
Where do you come from? Who came before us? These powerful questions about heritage and the rich history of our homes, schools and towns launch readers into the first fantastic story in the Time School series. Four friends have just started Year 7 in a Yorkshire mill town near Leeds. Surrounded by soot-stained Yorkshire stone Victorian buildings, Jess, Nadia, Ash and Tomma don’t think very much about their roots and those who walked the corridors of their school before them. Then one day, everything changes. A power cut makes them late for school and in a mad rush to board the train, they find themselves all alone in a strange carriage. When they arrive at school, the Yorkshire stone is the colour of golden sand, boys and girls are on separate playgrounds and the school uniform is not at all like the one they are wearing. Could they have travelled back in time?
In the first book of the series, We Will Remember Them, the children find themselves in November 1918. The impact of the First World War is all around them and the effect on the local people is clear. It’s not just the soldiers in Europe who have their lives changed by war. Jess and her friends realise the importance of remembrance and that the soldiers on the war memorial are so much more than just names.
Author, Nikki Young, has created a free comprehension guide to accompany We Will Remember Them. You can find it on her website.
In the second book of the series, We Will Honour Them, the children travel back in time to 1947. As they join the other children in lessons, they find that this is not a happy time. The winter has been incredibly harsh and cold, unemployment and food shortages are causing hardship and hunger, while a group of bullies is making children’s lives miserable. One particular target is a Polish boy named Kam. Nadia and her friends get to know him and begin to understand that the end of the Second World War did not mean peace for everyone. In March 1947, the Polish Resettlement Act officially allowed Polish people to remain and work in the UK. Unfortunately, despite the new legislation, it took many years for these new residents to be accepted and honoured for their contribution to the war effort.
After the War
by Tom Palmer. Published by Barrington Stoke.
After the War is the book every teacher of the Holocaust needs. This carefully researched and accurate retelling of the horrors and hopes of the Second World War pulls readers into the reality faced by three brave Polish Jewish boys who find themselves in the serene beauty of the Lake District in the days following the war. Their peaceful surroundings are miles away from the grey, painful concentration camp where they spent many years. On the Calgarth Estate, they have the chance to rebuild their lives, growing stronger in both body and mind. The kindness of the people of Lake Windermere gives the boys a new sense of family and teaches them that there is good in the world.
This is a story of compassion and welcome, of finding peace and belonging. Fear of the unknown has become ingrained in Yossi, Leo and Mordecai. They struggle to trust and struggle to understand that they are now safe with enough food to eat and a warm bed to sleep in. Gradually, day by day, they learn that the horrors of their past are over but the loss they’ve suffered is real – loss of childhood, loss of loved ones, loss of strength and loss of trust. The task of rebuilding their lives will take time but it is possible.
Using the power of memories, Tom Palmer cleverly moves this story between the boys’ new life in Cumbria and the struggles of Auschwitz. Each new experience triggers painful memories that pull them back as they strive to step towards a different future. Yossi, Leo and Mordecai are united in loss and a shared experience. Together they are determined to build a new, positive life and discover who they truly are – who they are meant to be.
More Stories of Remembrance
First World War
- Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer
- Over the Line by Tom Palmer
- Poppy Field by Michael Morpurgo
- A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo
- The Christmas Truce: The Place Where Peace was Found by Hilary Robinson & Martin Impey
- The Little Hen and the Great War by Jennifer Beck & Robyn Belton
- Flo of the Somme by Hilary Robinson & Martin Impey
- War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
- Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
Second World War
- D-Day Dog by Tom Palmer
- Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll
- When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
- Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian
- The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
- Friend or Foe by Michael Morpurgo
- Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr
- The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo
This is by no means an exhaustive list of books. There are so many more that could be included.
For free teaching resources about remembrance, visit the Big Ideas website.
Big Ideas is an organisation that works with community groups to tell the stories of those who might be forgotten. In 2018, my Year 6 class and I were fortunate to work with Big Ideas on their Remember RAF100 project with links to the First World War airfield on our school grounds. You can find out more here.