Thursday 8 August 2013

Archie’s war: my scrapbook of the First World War 1914-1918 by Marcia Williams

Archie’s war: my scrapbook of the First World War 1914-1918 by Marcia Williams (Walker Books, 2007)

45 pages with masses of illustrations

Subjects: World War One, France, England, Christmas, Edith Cavell, the Red Baron, Lusitania, evacuees, diaries, letters, armistice, junior fiction (Year 6-8)

In 1914, Archie Albright (10 years old, as it says on the cover) is living with his family in London’s East End and he gets this scrapbook as a birthday present from his uncle. Using the format of Archie’s scrapbook, the author includes newspaper cuttings, printed casualty lists, cigarette cards, letters and postcards, stamps, photographs, jokes, diary entries and comic strips, as if Archie has stuck or drawn them in.
The time period allows us to trace the progress of the war from the initial enthusiasm to dark days, injuries and deaths, food shortages, Zeppelins and the first German bombers. Some news relates to Archie’s family, friends and local neighbourhood, but there are bigger stories, like those of Edith Cavell, the Red Baron or the sinking of the Lusitania. Archie’s uncle, father and brother all sign up and his mother goes to work in a munitions factory. Later he goes to live in the country. It’s an amazingly detailed and very believable account of what it must have been like to be a child growing up through World War One.

This book might not be so good for reading aloud, because there is so much information on each page, but it would captivate any child who enjoys comics, or the sort of book where you can lift up flaps and envelopes to discover what's hidden inside.

Here is a review from the Historical novel society. I hadn't heard of them before, but apparently they are a literary society devoted to promoting the enjoyment of historical fiction. They are based in the USA and the UK, but welcome members - both readers and writers - from all round the world. 

This review from The Bookbag calls it "a real gem of a book".

What would it have been like for a 10 year old growing up in NZ during World War One? How would his or her experience be the same as Archie’s, and how would it be different?
What happens to the Schoenfelds who own the grocery in Archie’s street? 
Did anything similar happen in New Zealand?
(Find out about the history of Somes Island.) 

Author's website:
Marcia Williams has a brilliant, funny, eye-catching and colourful  website. You can find it here.

She has also written a follow-up, or companion volume: My secret war diary by me, Flossie Albright (2008), written by Flossie when her dad (Archie) goes off to fight in World War Two.

Other books you might like:
Lord of the nutcracker men by Iain Lawrence also tells the story of a ten -year-old London boy whose father goes to war, and who gets sent to live in the country.

New Zealand connection:
Further to the mention of Somes Island above, this photograph shows one of the internees on the island (people of German, Italian and Japanese descent) in World War Two. They often used their spare time to make objects for sale- this man is making something from paua shell.  

‘Enemy aliens’ on Somes Island
David Green. 'Citizenship - 1840–1948: British subjects', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 15-Nov-12 
You can see examples of the sort of things they made on the Te Papa website.

view details
German-born Hans Hansen decorated this box while he was interned as an 'enemy alien' on Somes/Matiu Island during World War I.

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