Exploring World War 1

Monday 4 August 2014 marked exactly 100 years since Britain joined the war in 1914 with lights turned out across the UK in honour of those who lost their lives. This is just the beginning of a series of events that will take place over the next 4 years  to commemorate World War 1. There has also been a huge increase in the amount of World War 1 related  books published for children, some of which I will outline here. Firstly though it is worth recommending a few notable websites that will be excellent resources for teaching the Great War:

  1. BBC Schools World War 1 (now on BBC Bitesize) – An excellent resource which includes assembly plans, interactive guides, audio, video, animations and activities on a range of themes (Primary and Secondary)
  2. The Bookstrust website – booklists and teaching resources
  3. The National Archives First World War website – A vast collection of records from WW1 including diaries, government documents, letters, maps and photographs.
  4. Imperial War Museum – A useful website but also a fantastic place for a school visit. Admission is free and they have just opened their First World War galleries which include a recreated trench. (Primary and Secondary)
  5. British Library World War One website – Includes a range of  teaching resources (Secondary)
  6. WW1C – An Open Educational Resource supporting new directions in teaching World War One (Secondary)

Now on to the books.

Picture books

Charlie’s War Illustrated: Remembering World War One by Mick Manning and Brita Granström (Franklin Watts). The story, in magazine format, of the author’s grandfather and great uncles who served in World War 1. Includes diagrams, maps and artefacts.

Archie’s War by Marcia Williams (Walker Books). Told from the point of view of a 10 year old boy in London, this accesible scrapbook documents the impact of the war on the children growing up amongst it.

One Boy’s War by Lyn Huggins-Cooper and Ian Benfold Haywood (Frances Lincoln). The contrast of a young soldier’s letters home to his mum and his own private journal entries make this a very powerful story.

Where the Poppies Now Grow by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey (Strauss House). Using the familiar “This is the house that Jack built” pattern to build the story, this book follows two young boys as they grow up into soldiers.

War Game: Village Green to No-man’s Land by Michael Foreman (Pavillion). A moving picture book based on the famous Christmas Day truce when a football match was played against the German soldiers.

Graphic Novels

Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier by Barroux (Phoenix Yard). The entries from an unknown soldier’s journal have been turned into a powerful graphic novel through the illustrations of Barroux.

Fiction for Younger Readers

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (Egmont). Told from the viewpoint of a horse who was commandered for war duty, this powerful story presents the war from both sides.

The Silver Donkey by Sonia Hartnett (Walker). Two young girls in France find an injured deserter who is trying to get back to his sick brother. He repays their help with stories based on his good luck charm; a tiny silver donkey.

Soldier Dog by Sam Angus (Macmillan). 14 year old Stanley runs away to join the war and becomes a messenger dog handler. An useful book for looking at animals in war and also the little known messenger dog service used in World War 1 where 7000 dogs lost their lives during action.

Over the Line by Tom Palmer (Barrington Stoke). Dyslexic-friendly story about a football team who enlist as soldiers. Recommended for reluctant or struggling readers.

Stay Where You are and Then Leave by John Boyne (Doubleday). It’s 4 years after the war broke out and Alfie has just found out that his father is not on a secret special war mission but has actually been in a nearby hospital being treated for something called shellshock. A brave book tackling the horrors of war.

The Amazing Tale of Ali Pasha by Michael Foreman (Templar). A fictional tale based on the true story of a tortoise who became the companion of a soldier at Gallilpoli. Told through journal entries and a recount of events to a reporter in 1950.

Fiction for Older Readers

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo (Lions). A must-read powerful tale of a young farm boy who is forced to grow up too soon in the trenches of World War 1. The book is particularly useful for discussing so-called cowardice and desertion by soldiers in the war. Recommended for reluctant readers.

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Objects from the First World War by various authors (Walker). A collection of short stories by authors such as David Almond, Marcus Sedgwick and John Boyne with powerful illustrations by Jim Kay (A Monster Calls). Each story was prompted by an object from the war including a recruitment poster and the nose of a Zeppelin bomb.

War Girls by various authors (Andersen Press). A collection of stories detailing the impact of the war on young women. Includes stories by authors such as Mary Hooper, Berlie Doherty and Melvin Burgess.

Tilly’s Promise by Linda Newbery (Barrington Stoke). Aimed at teenagers with a lower reading age, the story follows a young nurse whose brother with learning difficulties has been sent to the front line. Recommended for dyslexic, struggling or reluctant readers.

The Trenches: Billy Stevens, The Western Front 1914-1918 by Jim Eldridge (Scholastic). Part of the My Story series which are based on historical events, this book is a fictionalised diary of the underage soldier Billy Stevens.


Poems from the First World War edited by Gaby Morgan. An excellent anthology of poems written by  people actually involved in the war (including women).

In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by Linda Granfield (Puffin). Tells the story of how the poet John McCrae came to write the poem ‘In Flanders Field’. The lines of the poem are interspersed with illustrations and information on the war including how the public responded to the poem and how it led to the poppy becoming a symbol of the war.

What Are We Fighting For? by Roger Stevens and Brian Moses (Macmillan). A collection of poems by modern poets looking back on not just World War 1 but also on more recent conflicts. A useful text to use for contrasting the war poetry written at the time and the poetry written in retrospect.


Walter Tull’s Scrapbook by Michaela Morgan (Frances Lincoln). This is the true story of Walter Tull’s life presented as a fictionalised scrapbook and using actual photos, documents and records. Walter Tull was a professional footballer and the first black officer in the British Army

Dear Jelly: Family Letters from the First World War by Sarah Ridley (Franklin Watts). A collection of letters and cartoons sent home by two brothers to their younger sisters during World War 1.

War in the Trenches: Remembering World War One by Peter Hicks (National Archives). A very well laid out information book for children looking at life in the trenches and covering topics such as toilets, feet care, food, discipline and time off. You can find the accompanying teacher’s notes and classroom activities for this book here.


For more World War One booklists, please see Lovereading4kids.co.uk and CLPE.




5 thoughts on “Exploring World War 1

  1. Thank you for putting my ‘Trench Warfare’ book in your non-fictions section! I am a local author, living in Brighton.

    1. No problem Peter. We were very impressed with your book when it arrived and thought it a worthy addition to the list. I’m sure our trainee teachers will be inspired to use it in their teaching practice. Best wishes!

  2. Hi again! I’ve been in touch with the publishers and they’ve sent me the downloads – classroom activities based on the book – that I wrote just after finishing it. They’re not perfect, one or two spelling mistakes, but they might be useful to the students . If you’re interested, send me your e-mail address and I can send them to you! I’m away next week, so I can send them after March 2nd. Best wishes, Peter.

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