A child's eye view of war

28th June 1996 at 01:00
A Schoolchild in World War 2. By Albany Bilbe and Liz George Wayland Photopack Pounds 18.99 + VAT. Age range 7-11.

One way to make sense of the senseless is to see destruction and death through the eyes of a child, such as in Anne Frank's Diary. Experiences on the Home Front were not as horrific as those in Europe, but there is plenty to account for. This durable pack aims to guide children down some of the roads their grandparents trod.

It consists of 16 A4 photographs, each covered in plastic and with information written on the back. The text is at two levels, making the collection suitable for children between seven and 11. There is also a book of teacher's notes and photocopiable worksheets, and the now expected curriculum planner.

The pictures cover such themes as air raids, family life, evacuees and school. We see the sprawling democracy of the Tube stations, the meagre sufficiency of the weekly ration. One scene has several black children handing in their savings stamps; another, a Laura Knight painting, shows women handling barrage balloons.

The accompanying text goes some way to question propaganda and piety in the images, to draw attention to signs of poverty and unhappiness, to point out the differing roles of children as salvagers, shelterers, celebrants of victory or dead bodies. The brief account of the war's chronology mentions Churchill and D-Day, but culpably leaves out the Americans and the Russians.

The teacher's notes supply a lot more detail. Each photograph is set in a context and fitted with quotations and classroom activities. Work on the shelters, for example, might lead children to compare the Anderson, the Morrison, the cellar and the kitchen table across several criteria, as well as planning for underground emergencies, interviewing neighbours and designing their own mini-shelters from card.

These tasks are carefully thought out and cover all areas of the national curriculum, though history and English come naturally into close focus. The questions are designed to elicit the truth that there are often no exclusive truths; some townies lived in the country, others were exploited harshly.

There is enough to keep a good half-term's work going, to bridge the gap between now and then. For most juniors, the dust and flames of Coventry are as distant as the mud of Passchendaele or the ringing plains of windy Troy.

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