The field of human conflict

My Story from Scholastic (pound;4.99 each), is a series of first-person historical fiction accounts (for Year 4 and above) closely based on real events. Any series written by a range of authors will show some variation in quality, but the latest batch compensates for this with a uniformity of subject matter: all four of the new titles have a war theme and male main characters.

Battle of Britain, Harry Woods 1939-1941 by Chris Priestley cleverly uses extracts from Winston Churchill's speeches in a manner that recreates the responses of those listening at the time. When Churchill comes out with, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few," one of Harry's RAF colleagues shouts out, "He must have been looking at our mess bills!" In a story about war you expect such bursts of humour to be clouded by darker events, and Priestley shows that he can write effective high drama when he describes a close encounter between Harry and a German pilot, after they have both been rescued from the sea by a fishing boat. This is a fine book about the early stages of the Second World War and the part played in it by the RAF.

The First World War is featured in The Trenches by Jim Eldridge. Civil War by Vince Cross covers seven years (1643-1650) in the life of Thomas Adamson, from the age of 13 to his marriage at 20. It's a fast-moving and exciting read, full of pistol-shot action, which ends, as all the books do, with an enlightening historical note, a handy timeline and contemporary illustrations.

The characters in the My Story books are fictional, but, as Clive Gifford says in his introduction to World War 1: True Stories (Wayland pound;4.99), "Truth really can be stranger than fiction, and more exciting."

Including stories about well-known figures from both sides of the conflict, such as Lawrence of Arabia and Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron), as well as less familiar tales, Gifford adopts an accessible matter-of-fact style with appeal for Year 4 and above. There is a companion volume, World War II: True Stories, and both are indexed.

Clive Gifford has also written The Water Puppets for Watts' Survivors series. This story about the war in Vietnam from the perspective of a 13-year-old Vietnamese boy is for older readers in Year 5 and above.

Great Events is a useful historical reference series for infants. The level of the text and format is similar to the old Ladybird titles, except that the illustrations are in black-and-white and appear on every page. There are four titles by Gillian Clements: The Battle of Hastings, The Gunpowder Plot, The Great Fire of London and The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (Watts pound;7.99 each).

The Big House is a series of Victorian adventures for slightly older readers in Years 2 to 4. The back cover of A Fire In The Village by George Buchanan (Watts pound;7.99) says: "Read these stories set in and around the Big House to find out what Victorian life was like", but the author manages to resist the temptation to overload the story with laboured historical references.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary, East Sussex

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