Will you commemorate WWI in the classroom?

A colleague has suggested that as World War I will be commemorated during the period 2014 – 2018, it would be appropriate to bring some related literature into the classroom. Below are reviews of some of the titles she felt were worth exploring in the classroom.

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave (John Boyne)
‘Stay Where You Are and Then Leave’ is beautifully written and enjoyable, but it does not shy away from the harshness of wartime and the effect the war had on the entire country.  Alfie is only nine years old, so he escapes battle, but what’s most heartbreaking to me is that he has no idea that he’ll be forced to experience exactly what Georgie has been through in 21 years time when World War II breaks out. ‘Stay Where You Are and Then Leave’ is almost a crash course in World War I history, weaving an emotional story with the reality of war, as well as an understanding of cultural attitudes. It is a wonderful novel that shares a very important part of our history, tough to read at times but incredibly rewarding.

Also by John Boyne, The Absolutist – the reviews are mixed:

‘The Absolutist’  is another wartime story, but this time it's the first world war. It depicts a relationship between two soldiers, Tristan Sadler and Will Bancroft, the latter of who gravitates towards being the most extreme form of conscientious objector, refusing any role at all in the campaign: an absolutist. The story is narrated by Tristan, and we cut between his trepidatious (sic) visit to Will's older sister in Norwich in 1919, and his experience in the war. The book is neatly structured and effortlessly readable, perhaps by virtue of being too direct. Some moral ambiguity is imported by an enjoyably sensational finale, but I would have appreciated more along the way, and a slower burn as the relationship between the principals begins during training at Aldershot.
(The Guardian)

Another review says the following:
Even so, there is almost too much tragedy in this novel. Tristan, already cast out by his own family before the story starts, continues to despise himself for the rest of his life. Readable and well-written as his story is, there is still a certain relief when it is over. (The Independent)

John Boyne also wrote ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, the story of a young boy growing up during World War II. Macrat offers an excellent resource pack for Grade 8 or 9 that will guide your learners through this thought provoking and moving novel.

The War Horse (Michael Morpurgo) - for junior readers
‘War Horse’ recounts the experiences of Joey, a horse purchased by the Army for service in World War I in France and the attempts of young Albert, his previous owner, to bring him safely home.
The book has also been made into a play adapted by Nick Stafford. The play, also called ‘War Horse’, was staged at the Olivier Theatre (National Theatre) in London. The production opened on 17 October 2007 and was met with critical acclaim – its use of life-size puppets of horses from the Handspring Puppet Company (a South African company) has won many awards for design. In 2011, Steven Spielberg produced a film version of the novel.

You could link any of these titles with film study using, for example, the movie ‘Gallipolli’. You could also study war poems from WWI. Macrat’s poetry resource pack ‘The Breaking of Nations’ provides a selection of worksheets on war poetry and it might be interesting to compare poems, and changes in attitudes, from WWI with those written during and after WWII.

Happy teaching!


Categories: Lesson Ideas

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