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


Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Hardcover, 304 pgs
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The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay is an engaging way for young readers (age 10+) to learn about World War I through the touchstones and artifacts left behind by soldiers, their families, and the war itself.  From a writing case to a toy soldier, these stories draw inspiration from these objects, building a world in the past that could be as real today as it was then.  There are stories from Michael Morpurgo and Tracy Chevalier, and like many short story collections some stories shine brighter than others, with “Captain Rosalie” being bitter sweet and “Our Jacko” inspiring.  These stories will evoke deep emotions in readers, as they learn not only about the realities of war and loss, but also the connections we have to objects that come from our ancestors.

“I keep the compass shined up and the safety catch on so the little needle doesn’t swing and break.  When I hold it and let it go and hunt out north, it bobs around like anything, like something on water, and it’s hard to tell where you are or what it’s saying.  That’s because I can’t keep my hands still enough.  But my dad could.  He kept his hands steady all the way, and he found home.” (“Another Kind of Missing,” pg 27)

“For in order for a story to work, it has to have a purpose, a structure, a journey, and a resolution.  And in reality, war has none of these things.  War is simply a near-random sequence of horrors, and so to make a story out of war is to lie.”  (“Don’t Call It Glory,” pg 65)

“But for music, I might have just stayed there,
keeping time with the
swoosh, swoosh, swoosh
of my push broom
for always.

Maybe making something of yourself is about
just keeping time
but doing something of substance,
something risky,
something you couldn’t fathom having the
to do until
do it. (“A Harlem Hellfighter and His Horn,” pg. 153)

Beyond the short stories told in this collection, there is one, long narrative poem, “A Harlem Hellfighter and His Horn,” which mirrored the rhythm and blues played by the main character.  But it also highlights the desire to seize the moment when it comes, rather than wait until its gone to desire it.

“So I won’t waste it:
War can break a man.
Slam him down on his back in the
dark.” (“A Harlem Hellfighter and His Horn,” pg. 166)

Each of these pieces brings forth some of the hidden feelings of those left behind by soldiers and those who are less than eager to fight, but they also illustrate the complexity of war and its allure.  Kay’s illustrations are in black and white and give the collection just the right amount of gruesome horror, but these are accompanied by facts about the war from women entering the workforce and the types of jobs they assumed to the conditions of the trenches.

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay would be a great addition to any classroom willing and able to go beyond the traditional teachings of just WWII and other wars.  WWI was an important part of history that should not be forgotten, as it illustrates not only the brutality of ambitious people, but also the realities of bravery and cowardice, particularly through the eyes of children who are left behind.